Authors: A. L. Summers
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons--living or dead--is entirely coincidental.
Pulling Rank @ 2014 by A. L. Summers. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles or reviews.
The airman puts my suitcase on the bed. Then, she places my hanging bag in the closet of the Visiting Officer’s Quarters before she comes to attention. “Anything else for you, Major?”
I look at the airman, Cotter, according to her name tag. She could have been me 20 years ago. She has been assigned the grunt work of babysitting a visiting major, which probably means she is fresh out of basic training.
“At ease, airman,” I say. Airman Cotter falls into a stiff “parade, rest” position. I sigh. Yep, fresh out of basic. “Airman, what’s your name?” I ask, as I begin to remove my dress coat.
“Theresa. Theresa Cotter, ma’am.”
“Okay. Airman, I only have one standing order. When we’re alone my name is Eliza, not Major. And relax. I can’t have you standing around like you have a stick up your ass all day.”
I can see the panic in Airman Cotter’s eyes. “Uh. Yes, Major,” she finally says.
I grin at her. “May I call you Theresa? Or do you have another name that you go by?”
“My friends call me Teddy, ma’am.”
“Would you mind if I called you Teddy when we’re in private? Airman Cotter is so…formal.”
Again, I can see the panic in Teddy’s eyes. She has probably never had an officer talk to her like this before. I can tell she has no idea what to do. “Um. No, Major.”
“Teddy, this is the Air Force, okay? We’re not the Marines. Things are a little less formal. You’re going to be my guide and right hand man, so to speak, for the next four weeks. This will go much more smoothly for both of us if we are comfortable around each other.” I grin at her. “Captains, majors, and colonels are thick around here. It would be nice to actually hear my name now and then.”
I see Teddy relax. I can’t say she slumps, but that stick up her ass is gone. “I understand, uh, Eliza.”
I smile at her and finish shucking my coat. I catch Teddy’s face out of the corner of my eye and mentally sigh. Even the fucking women! I can’t help what I look like. It pisses me off to no end that the first thing, and sometimes the only thing, men see are my tits. That’s part of the reason I wear my dress blues as much as I do. The dress uniform tends to flatten me out and hide some of my curves. I wear my hair pinned up and glasses when I’m on duty. It helps people see something more than my tits, ass, and legs. I like the fact that men find me appealing, but it would be nice if they would at least acknowledge that I have a brain.
I’m tired and I feel grungy. Flying in the back of a cargo plane from Ohio to Nevada isn’t exactly first-class accommodations. I’m ready to change into my civilian clothes. I find out that Teddy is a Nevada native. We chat, as I unpack. I’ve never been to Nellis Air Force Base; so, Teddy offers to show me around the area. I relieve her briefly, while I shower and get cleaned up. We spend the next three hours prowling Las Vegas. By the time she drops me off at my tiny living quarters, I have made a new friend.
I am at Nellis Air Force Base to evaluate some software upgrades to the F-16 Falcon. It’s software that I designed. The F-16 was first introduced in the 1970s. I’m working to help extend its service life, since the upgrades allow the F-16 to perform better, at least in the testing phase. If I can pull this off, I’m almost certain to earn my lieutenant colonel oak leaves.
However, like so many things, what works great in the lab doesn’t always work so well in the field. That’s why I’m here. The Air Force has given me two pilots and two planes to play with. My job is to ensure we will see improvements in real combat scenarios.
I’m dressed in my battle dress uniform when Airman Cotter picks me up the next morning and shuttles me to the hanger. It’s a heck of a lot more comfortable than the dress blues I normally wear. If I end up crawling around inside a bird, I want to be comfortable.
You can tell a lot about a squadron by how they maintain their hangars. Nellis is known for their crack outfits, it is the home of the Thunderbirds after all, and it shows. Even though the hangar floor is concrete, it glows like polished marble. As I stride in, I can see Captain Ronald “French” Frye talking to another man.
French met me on the flight line along with Airman Cotter yesterday. I assume the other man must be my other pilot, Captain Daniel Anderson. There are no such things as ugly fighter jocks. These two men are no exception. All pilots, but especially fighter pilots, possess a swaggering self-confidence that gives them a catnip like appeal to women. Indecision in the cockpit only serves to get pilots killed, so men who are not self-assured wash out early. Fighting heavy g-forces in modern aircrafts require them to stay fit. As a result, they are all slender and well-built.
French is a good looking guy; but, Captain Anderson…oh my God! Slap his picture on an Air Force recruiting poster with the words
Come Fly with Me
underneath and half the women in America will be in line the next day.
French and Anderson are talking with their hands, fighting some future or past air battle. They both have big grins on their face as I walk up. “Good morning, Captains,”
I say, as I tuck my flight cap into my belt.
The two men turn to face me. French’s smile gets even wider, while Anderson’s slowly fades. “Major Cameron, allow me to introduce Captain Daniel “Boomer” Anderson. Boomer, Major Eliza Cameron,” French says, making the introductions.
I hold out my hand. Captain Anderson takes it and shakes it firmly. “Nice to meet you, Major Cameron,” he says. He is perfectly polite and respectful, but the warmth I saw in his face when he was talking to French is gone.
“As you Captain,” I say. “But, please, call me Eliza. How’d you get tagged with Boomer?” I ask. I love pilot call signs. There’s a story behind every one of them. It’s usually a good way to break the ice.
“Yeah. I, uh, broke some windows once.”
I know there has to be more to the story than that, so I look to French to see if he will fill me in.
“Some windows?” French asks with a grin. “Boomer gets a little carried away sometimes. He, uh,
, the Rules of Engagement once and blew out the windows on a bunch of gawkers at Red Flag.”
That would have been a big no-no during an exercise. In fact, if he blew out windows going supersonic at too low an altitude, I’m surprised he’s not flying a desk somewhere. I file that bit of information away. “Gawkers? I’m not familiar with that term,” I say.
“Every year a bunch of people show up in RVs and camp in the desert just outside of the Red Flag playground. They come to watch the jets mix it up,” he responds, sheepishly. “But I got the bastard.”
I begin to laugh in delight, as does Teddy.
“You find something funny, Airman Cotter?” Boomer barks at her, looking past me.
“No, sir!” she responds crisply, snapping to attention. Her smile instantly disappears.
I wonder what Boomer’s problem is. “At ease, Captain,” I say gently. “It’s a great story. How long ago was this?” I ask, pulling his attention away from the poor airman.
“About five years,” French says when Boomer doesn’t answer.
“If you will excuse me, Major. I have to get ready to fly,” Boomer says.
“Dismissed,” I say, when he doesn’t turn on his own. So, he’s another one of those, is he? Another man who doesn’t think women should be in the military. Well, he can kiss my ass. Just like my parents. I have worked hard to get where I am. I am proud of what I have accomplished. I’m not quite forty and I’m already bucking for Lieutenant Colonel. If
Anderson has a problem with that, he can just suck it up.
“What’s his beef?” I ask French, as Boomer pivots and storms away.
“Don’t take it personally,” French says. “He’s a good guy. It just takes him a while to warm up new people.”
“New people…or women?”
French smiles. “I can see why you are a major. It’s not what you think. I don’t think it has anything to do with you being in the military. I don’t know what happened. He won’t tell me, but something must have happened that soured him on women. He lives like a monk. Never goes on dates…”
I soften slightly toward Boomer. At least it’s nothing personal. “So long as he does his job,” I say.
“Don’t worry. He’s a professional. He won’t let his personal problems get in the way.”
All the men and women are competent and professional. They don’t need someone meddling, so I stand back and let the ground crews prep the planes. When they salute, I don my headset. That way I can talk to my pilots and listen to their conversation.
“Boomer, French, Racetrack, this is AFRL,” I say. I don’t get a call sign, so I use the acronym for where I work, the Air Force Research Laboratory. “Do you copy?”
“Copy that AFRL,” French says, pronouncing it AAF-ril.
I quickly outline that to start I want to just do some range checks. I have “borrowed” a third bird this morning. It still has the standard software suite installed. I want to get some hard numbers on ranging.
While Boomer flies straight and level, French and Racetrack will come up from behind and try to get a radar lock. As much as I would like to put them in a combat situation and see what happens, I have to get some baselines first.
For the next two hours, the three jets shriek back and forth across the high desert. We do head-ons, follows, high jumps, and lows. The new software works fantastic, when it works. Although the range dramatically increases, the software keeps crashing. When it does, we are forced to reset. By the time I bring the three jets back in, Boomer and French have blistered the paint inside the cockpit with their language.
After the jets are checked over, I plug in my laptop and download the crash logs. Boomer immediately leaves. Apparently, he’s had enough for the day. French stays to watch me work. After watching over my shoulder for about ten minutes, he leaves, too.
It takes almost an hour before I find what I am looking for. “Sergeant!” I call, waving the crew chief to me. “Why is the line voltage on the number three processor card so low? It’s that way on both jets.”
The Sergeant rubs his chin a moment. “I remember something about that. Hang on a moment,” he says, before he turns and walks away. I smile as he goes. This is why I prefer the looser working relationships. It’s a lot quicker and easier to get things done when everyone isn’t saluting all the time.
“Here it is, Major.”
“Eliza,” I remind him gently. It’s Lee, isn’t it?” I ask.
“Here it is, Eliza,” Lee says. He shows me a tablet with the service bulletin on it. It seems the cards were failing at the higher voltages because of excess heat, so they lowered the voltage. In exchange, it has made the chips slightly flaky when they are being pushed.
I scratch furiously at my hair. It’s a nervous habit I have had for years. I usually fall back on it when I’m working over a knotty problem. “I don’t suppose we could boost the voltage back up, could we?” I finally ask.
“I wouldn’t recommend it, Eliza,” Lee says. “These boards have been in the jets for three years. Before we lowered the voltage, we were replacing them about every four months.”
I think for a moment, trying to figure out how to attack the problem. “Lee. You may dismiss your men when you are ready. I think you’re done here for the day. I have some work to do.”
Senior Master Sergeant Leonard Hazelton’s face splits into a wide grin. “Thank you, Major.” He turns to his men and women. “Alright boys and girls. Let’s get these birds ready to go in the morning, then the major has given us the rest of the day off.”
I smile to myself, as everyone begins to scurry about with renewed purpose. Nothing like a little carrot to focus the mind. It doesn’t hurt for them to find out that I’m not going to be a complete pain in their asses, too.