Content Warning: Coarse language mostly
Season: Mostly set in 1997, six years before Enemy Mine.
Summary: Ever wondered what Major Evan Lorne’s call sign is, and more importantly the story behind it? Let me offer you just one possibility! This is pure Lorne ... an AU look at just one small slice of his background.
Spoilers for: None ... well, spoilers for the Canadian TV documentary series Jetstream but I’m guessing that won’t be an issue for most readers.
Acknowledgements: Wikipedia used for information about various fighter wings, AFB’s, jet specs, and training Lorne would have had to do to be who he is when we’re introduced to him. I used lots of information gleaned from the Discovery Channel program Jetstream (excellent documentary, narrated by Kavan Smith). See www dot discoverychannel dot ca / jetstream / if you want to find out more.
Disclaimer: The Stargate characters, storylines, etc aren’t mine. I am unfortunately not associated in any way with the creators, owners, or producers of Stargate or any of its media franchises – if I was we’d be seeing them on TV for some time to come *sighs dejectedly*. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, equipment, etc are the property of whoever owns them. The original characters and plot and anything else I made up are the property of me, the author. No copyright infringement is intended.
Copyright (c) 2009 ShaViva
The story starts in February of 1997 when our wonderful Evan Lorne is 26 years old and a Captain working out of Edwards AFB in California. I hope you enjoy!
Chapter 1: Rookie again
“Captain Lorne,” the voice on the other end of the phone was unfamiliar and all business. Evan sat up abruptly, dropping his feet from the table where he’d been resting them back to the floor. “This is Major Baker from 410 Squadron, Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake Alberta. There’s a slot with your name on it in the next CF-18 training program ... if you want it.”
“Me Sir?” For a moment Evan was speechless. He’d put his name in for the International Officer Exchange program but hadn’t expected it to result in an offer like this one.
“You’re a pilot aren’t you?” Major Baker asked, his tone of faint amusement suggesting this wasn’t the first time he’d got stunned disbelief from the other end of the phone.
“Yes Sir ... I am Sir,” Lorne replied emphatically. “And yes Sir – I want it.” He didn't have to think about it ... the chance to fly something new was a no brainer as far as he was concerned, no matter how it had come about. And the chance to fly a Hornet - the one jet above all others that he really wanted to fly - made his decision an instant one.
“You had me worried there for a minute Captain,” the Major said. “Never had anyone say no before.” He then went on to explain that Evan was being transferred on Officer exchange – before he could take a place on a Canadian fighter wing he had to do the F-18 training – hence his place on the next program. Major Baker paused for a moment and then continued briskly. “The paperwork’s on its way ... you’ll report for duty in two weeks.”
“Thank you Sir,” Evan said, unable to keep the grin plastered all over his face from leaking into his voice.
“Don’t thank me just yet son,” Major Baker replied. “You’ve just signed up for one of the toughest training programs around ... and you’ll be cursing me before you get to the end.”
“Maybe Sir ... but I will get to the end,” Evan said confidently, understanding what the other man was trying to tell him but sure that he would make it through.
“See that you do,” Major Baker said. “We’ll see you in two weeks Captain.”
“Yes Sir,” Lorne replied before hanging up the phone in a daze. “I’m going to Canada,” he said aloud. It wasn’t exactly what he’d been thinking of as ‘International’ but he’d take it just the same.
Two weeks later Lorne arrived in Alberta, stepping off the plane and taking a transport straight to the base. The climate change was going to be an adjustment, especially after his year at Edwards air force base in Mojave California. If there was ever a greater contrast between base assignments, Evan would struggle to imagine it. On the surface the two bases looked remarkably similar – there were only so many ways to set out a system of runways and support buildings in a big open space. The road map was where the similarities stopped though. He’d gone from hot, dusty and just plain brown to cold, lush and green. Shivering slightly, Lorne pulled his jacket closer ... bloody cold in fact.
Catching sight of the home hangar for his new squadron ... the 410, also known as the Cougars, Evan grinned. Flying something new was exciting and he was keen to get started.
Looking around for directions to the main office with the intention of officially reporting for duty, Evan immediately spotted the row of CF-18 Hornets parked on the tarmac some distance away ... everything was quieter than he’d been expecting, until sound reached him, coming in fast from a distance.
The roar of a plane preparing to land drew his attention across to the nearest runway. Even from this distance it was loud but Evan didn’t cover his ears. Instead, he watched, pulse beating a little harder than usual, as the pilot guided the jet back to Earth, the wheels slamming down on the tarmac harder than Evan was used to.
It was a thing of beauty ... grace and power balanced through the magic of technology and engineering ... and he was going to fly one.
“Captain Lorne?” a voice called Evan back to the task at hand.
“Yes Sir,” Lorne gave a crisp salute, his eye’s noting the name stitched above the other man’s shirt pocket ... Major Thomas Baker. “Sorry Sir,” he said. Being distracted from reporting in on time probably wasn’t the best first impression he could have created.
“Understandable Captain,” Baker replied lightly, casting his own eyes to where the F-18 was taxiing to a stop for post flight checks. Turning back to Evan he nodded towards one of the buildings. “The rest of your class are already assembled ... you best join them.”
“Yes Sir,” Evan gave another smart salute before turning in the direction the Major had indicated. He’d known flying in that the rest of his class would already have been ferried in and settled at the base. His duties at Edwards prior to being dismissed had him working up to the very last minute and this really had been the earliest he could get there.
Signing in at the front desk Lorne followed the directions given and slipped into the back of a small class room just before the instructor began speaking. There were two rows of students but something about their postures and general demeanour said the six at the front were the rest of his class – the rookies.
“Good morning,” the instructor said. “I’m Major Nathan Collins. Welcome to Fighter town, and welcome to the F-18.”
The first week passed in a blur of training sessions and studying. They called it ground school – back to basics. And they had to get through it all before they’d be allowed anywhere near an actual F-18 ... in fact it would be weeks before they’d get their first chance to fly one.
Getting to know his classmates happened without effort as they spent hours and hours in close proximity – lessons and off time all spent focusing on the machine they were there to conquer.
Captain Marcus Price, Lieutenant Cade Boston, Lieutenant Neil Somerton, Captain Andrew Rider, Captain John Jones and Captain Paul Merlin ... the men who began as six faceless names to Evan soon became his friends and comrades in arms. They helped each other study – testing knowledge, grilling on the emergency protocols they’d have to get 100 percent correct every test – and they ribbed each other mercilessly, targeting any sign of potential weakness as a way to blow off steam. Like the fact that Cade always blushed when they teased him about his poster boy good looks. Or how Neil was always just so damn happy, no matter how tired they all got.
The “highlight” of that first week was the almost 900 page manual on the F-18 they were handed and instructed to know from cover to cover. And not just know – understand and be able to apply to any given situation. They had a little over three weeks to learn it all – they’d be tested and if they didn’t get a high enough mark they’d be out. The pressure was intense – hours spent hunched over their computers or flight manuals, taking notes and then rewriting them over and over again.
Lorne had an advantage because he’d flown a development version of the F-16 and in many ways it was comparable. But just because you could fly one plane didn’t mean you could just jump into the cockpit of another. Hell, even guys who’d qualified to fly an F-18 still had to come back and refresh after they’d been out of action for more than a year. Major Collins had said it on the first day ... their previous experience counted for nothing. The F-18 was the first plane Evan had ever contemplated flying that was widely considered to be not completely stable ... and therefore potentially unpredictable. Every pilot wanting to fly one had to be fully prepared to react in every situation.
Lorne had been reduced back to junior officer status too, a point hammered home when his class was ordered to clean and reorganise the officers club during their first week – apparently something every class had to do. Evan wasn’t an ego driven man – unassuming and quiet, he went about the business of following orders much as he always did and even enjoyed it a little when they got to the painting portion of the day.
“Man, if my Mom could see me now,” he muttered as he welded a large paint brush and started on the skirting boards.
“She want more for you that to be a glorified tradesman?” Captain Andrew Rider – Drew - joked with an amused chuckle.
“Art teacher,” Evan explained, giving just the barest details. It amused his family that he’d chosen a military way of life when he’d always been so intensely private within himself. The two didn’t exactly go hand in hand but Lorne had learned over the years how to play the game.
“You paint then?” Drew asked, curious instead of teasing now.
“Used to,” Evan revealed. “Weekends mostly. Had to give it up after graduation ... no time,” Evan looked across at Drew with a modest grin, “which is a gift to the art world since I pretty much sucked at it.”
“Let me guess ... you wanted to do jet portraits but none of them would stay still long enough,” Drew suggested, still teasing.
“Something like that,” Evan agreed, good natured. He’d made friends with all of their class but Andrew Rider and he had just clicked from the first day ... each teasing the other about the superiority of their own country and its military, its sporting teams, and anything else they possibly could.
“So your family didn’t mind you going off and joining the air force?” Drew asked, this time more serious.
“I don’t think mind is quite the right word,” Evan answered the question thoughtfully. “My Mom probably wishes I’d been drawn to something a little less dangerous – something that would keep me close to home. But she understands ... and she always encouraged me to go for whatever I wanted.” He stood and shifted position to the next section of skirting requiring painting and then squatted down again. “What about you?”
“My Dad is over the moon that I’m here – tells everyone any chance he gets that his son’s gonna be a fighter pilot,” Drew said, a little embarrassed. “My Mom teases him about it but he says she’s just as bad.”
“That’s great,” Lorne smiled as he continued to paint.
“What about your Dad – is he bragging to anyone who’ll listen?” Drew asked curiously.
“No,” Evan said, the smile dropping from his face abruptly. “I ah – he never got to see me fly. He was killed when I was ten.” The privacy fences had slammed down and his face was a careful mask of indifference. Thankfully Drew was sensitive enough to pick up on it and quickly moved the conversation to hockey and the relative merits of their respective teams.
The Human Centrifuge.
A machine of apparent torture designed to simulate what pulling g’s was really like. A machine to prove once and for all whether you had what it took to be a fighter pilot.
As the days drew nearer for their trip to Toronto to test in one it was the only thing anyone could talk about. What it would be like. Horror stories they’d each heard, whether they were true or not. All of it was hashed and rehashed over and over during every free period, even as they crammed for the Hornet operations test.
Lorne kept silent for most of it ... he hadn’t shared much about his prior postings but that was about to change as one of them finally thought of the obvious question.
“Has anyone done the centrifuge before?” Neil Somerton asked.
Evan remained silent as one by one the others admitted that they hadn’t.
“I’ve pulled 5-g’s in a CF-104 Starfighter though,” Marcus Price offered.
“What about you Evan?” It was Drew who noticed that Lorne hadn’t actually answered the question.
“I’ve done it,” Evan admitted reluctantly.
“You’ve been in the human centrifuge?” Neil asked, surprised, obviously not having expected anyone to actually say yes. “What was it like?”
“Have you ever been tackled to the ground and had someone sit on your chest?” Evan asked. “Because it’s like that only imagine it's a giant ... a really huge and incredibly heavy giant sitting on you instead.” Noting the dismayed looks, Lorne continued. “It’s doable Neil,” he said firmly. “There’s no reason why all of us can’t pass that test first time.”
“How many g’s you pull?” Drew asked.
“What, ever?” Evan stalled, trying to decide how much he should reveal. Drew nodded, everyone silent as they waited for Lorne to answer the question.
“Nine,” he admitted finally. “But I had the g-suit on and it was only a few seconds.”
“No way man!” Neil returned incredulously. “That’s just ... no way!”
“You were at Edwards AFB before here, right?” John Jones, the oldest and their unofficial leader spoke up. “Don’t they do test flights for like NASA and stuff?”
“Yeah,” Evan grinned suddenly. “You know guys, I’d like to tell you more but then I’d have to kill you all.” Six pairs of eyes looked at him silently. “Classified,” Lorne explained somewhat lamely when nobody laughed. “Ah ... joking. My last post was for NASA – at Dryden FRC ... high speed research. Had to take the plane to the limit to be doing my job properly. “
“NASA?” And suddenly everyone was looking at Evan with expressions that might have been awe.
“It’s not as impressive as it sounds,” Evan discounted, flushing slightly in embarrassment. “I wanted to be an astronaut so Edwards seemed like the place to be to get noticed.”
“Did you apply for the Astronaut training program?” Drew asked.
“Yeah,” Lorne admitted, shrugging as he added, “shortlisted but didn't quite make it. But hey, I haven’t given up yet.” Before anyone could ask more questions, Evan glanced around. “Enough from me ... I want to hear about you guys. Cade ... what were you doing before they invited you here?” He deliberately chose the shyest amongst them with a subtle reminder that they’d all been chosen – that someone had seen something worth developing in each of them.
Smiling, Cade Boston launched into speech, talking about his last post animatedly. That led to each of them sharing something of themselves and put Evan back into the shadows - just where he liked to be.
Over the following week, each of his classmates found a private moment to talk to Evan about the Human Centrifuge. None of them wanted to admit to their peers that they were worried about passing the most demanding of all the tests they’d have to do in it ... sustaining 15 seconds at 6-g’s without going into g-LOC – gravity induced loss of consciousness ... but they all were. Having someone who’d been there and done it was too valuable a resource to pass up.
Patiently Evan took them all through it – what to expect, what had helped him get through it - putting their minds at ease as he countered all the rumours they'd heard. It was a nice complement to the formal training and guidance they all received once they were at DRDC Toronto.
After the introductory speeches, Captain Charles, the man in charge of the testing, called for volunteers to go first and Evan felt the weight of all eyes on him. They’d all feel better once someone had shown them that it could be done.
“I’ll do it,” he said easily, not minding the less than subtle pressure.
They went in twos, Drew naturally falling into step beside him. “Now remember, this is doable,” Drew coached with a faint grin, reminding Evan of his own words.
“Laugh it up,” Evan said with a bland expression. “Just remember – you’re next.”
They put on their g-suits – specially designed with bladders running up the legs and across the stomach. In a real situation the bladders would inflate under high g’s and force the blood to stay where it belonged, but for the test each trainee would have to go it alone without that assistance. Charles took them through a run down on what they needed to do, having each practice before judging them ready to proceed.
And then Evan was strapped into the chair inside a claustrophobia inducing unit mounted on the long arm that made up the guts of the machine. The large circular room, brightly lit and all white, was silent as Lorne waited for them to give him his cue.
“Launching AR6 for 15 in three ... two ... one ... mark.”
Evan began his anti-g straining manoeuvres immediately, tensing his abdominals and his leg muscles while taking quick, short breaths. The pressure on his chest was intense ... the equivalent of half a tonne of weight pressing down on him. Breathing was difficult, the threat of g –LOC never far away.
But to Lorne it was familiar ... with a cool head and firm concentration he completed the 15 seconds with ease, coming down feeling tired and a little sore but overall happy to have set the right example.
“Your turn,” he told Drew, slapping a hand to his shoulder as the two switched places.
By the end of the day they’d all completed the ultimate test, along with a number of others required for them to qualify to be fighter pilots. It was the first big hurdle and they’d leapt over it.
The human centrifuge might be the most dreaded test but it wasn’t the only one ... in fact, pretty much every day at 410 squadron was about being tested in one way or another. Being tested, and trained so that life and death decisions could be made automatically. Having to think about it when the ground was coming towards you at frightening speed would be something that only happened once. There were no second chances.
Heading into week three, Lorne walked into the training room to see the pilot’s seat for the F-18 taking centre stage. Ejecting wasn’t something any pilot wanted to think about but it was a possibility they had to train for. Thankfully Lorne hadn’t needed to eject since he’d first started flying planes with that capability and with any luck he never would. Because learning about the Martin-Baker ejector seat, hearing about it from someone who’d actually ejected for real, was an eye opener.
As Evan listened to the man speaking of being disoriented, of how quickly it all happened, his mind shifted to the past ... to the knock on the door and a strangers sad face telling them his father wasn't coming home. "Don't go there," he coached himself silently, pushing the past to the back of his mind where it belonged and refocussing on the instructor.
Being a fighter pilot meant flying the jet strapped into your seat tight - 4 straps for each leg, and 6 for the torso – while you literally sat on a rocket. If needed, the charge would shoot your seat clear of the cockpit while a second charge blew your restraints and released the parachute. It would all happen in two seconds and when you made it back to Earth the landing would be hard – really hard.
That’s if you were lucky ... if you were unlucky you’d have to parachute into water and there’d be no time to think about what should be done once you were down. Lorne spent a day in the pool training for just that scenario - being pulled backwards into the water and having to fight his way from the restraints within seconds while they continued to drag him along. That wasn’t the end of it – he then had to escape from the suffocating hold of the parachute canopy itself before it pulled him under.
“Too cold for your Yankee blood?” Drew teased when Lorne dragged himself from the pool for what felt like the hundredth time, teeth chattering.
“Oh yeah,” for once Evan didn’t even try to pretend otherwise. “I hate the cold,” he muttered as he dragged a towel around himself and towelled off.
“We’re almost done,” Drew said bracingly. “Then we can go warm up with a few drinks.”
“I am there,” Lorne said feelingly, pulling his sweater over his head and then hunching into the nearest chair. California had never seemed so far away as it did that day.
Not everything being thrown at them was to be dreaded. Week three also saw them finally allowed inside the F-18 flight simulator. Evan had been looking forward to it since the day he’d set foot on the base. The cockpit of an F-18 might look like a confusing array of buttons, dials and displays but to him it was much more than that ... mastering every aspect, controlling 'the beast' was his ticket to the sky. He'd been there before, the planes he'd flown at Dryden FRC just as powerful and complex, but the added edge of instability gave the F-18 an extra allure.
When it was his turn all Lorne could think was that finally it was time to have some fun.
They threw every kind of emergency at him ... systems failures, tower overshoots, near misses. On the outside he was calm and controlled, giving nothing away as he dealt with every situation using a combination of what he’d learned about the F-18 and his prior experiences. Inside he was grinning ... it was the most fun he’d had since his last test flight at Dryden FRC and he wanted it to keep going. When it was over he left the simulator reluctantly, already looking forward to his next session.
“Well done Captain,” the simulator operator told him, clearly impressed.
“I guess some of that prior experience does count after all,” Evan commented easily.
Back in the trainees lounge, Lorne sat and listened quietly as the others talked about their own first sessions and all the mistakes they’d made.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he finally commented when it seemed Cade in particular was beating himself up about not having got it right first time. “Make as many mistakes as it takes in that simulator and work out how to overcome them without having to think about it ... then you really will be prepared to fly the real version.”
“Lorne’s right,” Jones agreed. “They have to see that we can handle the high pressure situations ... implies that we kind of have to make mistakes in the first place. I’d rather make them in the simulator than in the air.”
“Man, I can’t wait for that first flight,” Cade said reverently.
Evan didn’t say anything but inside he was thinking ‘Hell yes!'
Sitting in an exam room couldn’t possibly be anyone’s idea of a good time. Lorne took a seat for their first written test, thoughts focussed on what he needed to get it done. Everything was important ... a mark of 85 percent was required but their instructor had pointed out that rarely did they see marks below 95 percent – just to put the pressure on that much more.
And then there were the red pages ... dealing with critical emergencies that required an immediate response and what they were expected to do if one of them occurred ... they’d be tested on all of them and would have to give a word perfect reply in order to pass.
The room was silence ... Evan writing neatly and rapidly as he worked steadily through each section, not letting himself look at the big picture. Each question was a mission on its own and letting himself think too much about what was up next only made the whole thing seem too big. The only thing he did pay attention to was the time – not finishing wasn’t acceptable.
Three hours later it was over ... they’d all had the chance to show that yes, they could absorb 900 pages of facts and procedures and demonstrate their understanding by regurgitating it in written form.
“Thank God that’s over,” Price commented as they all exited the room.
“You got that right,” Evan agreed with a grin. “I don’t know about you guys but I’ve always hated exams.”
“Maybe you should have gone into the art business after all,” Drew teased. “Pretty sure a shit load of exams are in your future if you continue on this road.”
“I said I hated them,” Evan shot back. “Didn’t say I couldn’t do them.”
“Oh – well that’s all right then,” Drew returned, ducking out of the way when Lorne attempted to throw a fist his way.
“You’re an ass Drew,” Evan said even as he tried not to laugh.
“An ass who’s about to dress up like a flight suit wearing penguin,” Drew pointed out, reminding them all of the next task on their agenda.
Their own official welcome to the Cougar’s party. A welcome party with a difference since they’d all have to serve behind the bar as well as act as waiters for the entire base. They were the staff as well as the guests of honour ... just another one of those ‘you are the lowest rung now and don’t forget it’ activities they’d have to get through. It was a ‘show us how much you want it’ thing, as well as a clear message that ego did not belong in the cockpit of an F-18.
“It’s been a while since I bartended,” Evan said as he pulled on the crisp white shirt, buttoning it quickly and then reaching for the black bow tie.
“Sounds like a man with experience,” Jones announced, finished with his own bow tie. “Guess that puts in you charge behind the bar.”
“I never said I was any good at it,” Evan complained, even though the assignment suited him. Pulling his khaki flight suit over the top and zipping it up quickly, Lorne turned to see the rest of his class were also pretty much ready to go.
Apart from their dealings with the officers as instructors the class had so far had little to do with the powers that be on base. Now they were thrust into the social side and clearly on display.
Evan knew the game ... put the new guys on the spot, force them to interact with people they’d be able to avoid otherwise ... tease them a little too just to see what they were made of. He gladly took a spot behind the bar, mixing drinks with a calm competence and occasional flair that advertised he’d not only done it before but had in all likelihood spent a number of hours at the task.
“Captain,” Evan looked up from preparing a drink to see Major Baker standing at the bar.
“Sir,” he greeted the base second in command respectfully, straightening unconsciously as he handed the completed drink to it's recipient.
“At ease,” Baker said casually.
“What can I get you Sir?” Lorne waved a hand at the array of alcohol stretched out behind him.
“A Madras,” Baker requested, the look on his face suggesting he wasn’t sure Lorne would have even heard of one, let alone know what to put in it.
“Coming up Sir,” Evan replied, grabbing a shaker and pouring the correct measures of vodka, cranberry and orange juice inside. Shaking it a few times as he grabbed a highball glass and scooped up a few cubes of ice, Evan then skilfully poured the mix into the glass. “You want the garnish Sir?” he asked.
“Why not,” Baker said, grinning in amusement as Evan added a slice of lime to sit over the edge of the glass. “Thank you Captain.”
“No problem Sir,” Evan replied, looking for his next customer but not finding one.
“So I take it this isn’t the first time you’ve served behind the bar,” Baker commented.
“No Sir,” Evan replied, crossing his arms over his chest and resting some of his weight on the bar behind him. “Worked all through military college.”
“The base salary not enough for you,” Baker asked, “or did you just have expensive hobbies?”
“Ah, more the latter Sir,” Lorne returned, having no intention of admitting to providing financial assistance to his Mom and sister in those years, until his sister had won a scholarship to Art school and his Mom had insisted he quit sending her money.
“I’ve seen your file Captain,” Baker reminded Evan. “A lot of flight hours before you even made it into the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program. That doesn’t come cheap.”
“No it doesn’t Sir,” Evan agreed. “Worth every drink I ever poured and then some. You know how it is Sir ... I had to fly, didn’t have a choice.”
“We get a lot of dedicated fliers here Evan,” Baker grabbed Lorne’s attention by addressing him by his first name. “Not sure I’ve ever had one with your background though ... your sheer love of the sky. I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me you actually enjoyed the Human Centrifuge.” It was an interesting comment because it was generally accepted that no one liked the centrifuge.
“I wouldn’t go that far Sir,” Evan replied, not sure what to say and trying hard not to appear as uncomfortable as he felt. Having the spotlight on him wasn’t something he coveted and he suddenly realised his tactical mistake. Serving at the bar had allowed him to hide but it also now had him pinned down without an easy escape.
“Relax Captain,” Baker advised with a chuckle. “Now – you’ve hidden behind the bar for long enough. Time to come out and meet some people who share your passions. You’re going to be working with some of them once you’ve finished the training program so now’s the time to start building your network.”
“Yes Sir,” Lorne reluctantly gave up his place for Jones to step into, following Baker out into the room at large.
What followed was about what you’d expect from a group of mostly men - military men at that - in possession of large quantities of alcohol and with something to celebrate.
Lorne and every member of his class had to participate in more than one beer call ... the rest of the group singing a silly song that ended with the command to drink. Evan played along, downing entire bottles of the local brew until he was on the edges of being very drunk.
That was also about the time when everyone else was already completely shitfaced – a good thing for someone who wanted to fit in but at the same time didn’t want to lose that much control over themselves. No one even noticed when Evan stopped responding to beer call, nor when he switched to soda.
The party went on ... and on ... more than one person telling Evan that it wasn’t considered a party at all unless they were all still going strong when Friday night had long turned into Saturday morning.
Finally things wound down and Lorne was free to return to his room, steady on his feet since he’d stopped drinking hours before. He might not be drunk but he was dead tired ... weeks of sleep deprivation as he crammed as many hours into every day as he could manage catching up to him.
He’d been officially welcomed, passed his first big tests, and made new friends over the past four weeks. Four weeks and he hadn’t even touched an F-18 yet. It was a good start though and he’d get his chance before too much longer.
Falling onto his bed fully clothed, Evan closed his eyes and let sleep find him.
I must acknowledge again the Jetsteam program ... the basic key activities I've portrayed here all came from there - I wouldn't have had a clue what they do in fighter pilot training without it!
Chapter 2: Joining the club
It was week nine in the training program and finally Lorne was going to get his first ride in an F-18. The prior weeks had been hectic and exhausting and it was about to get worse. As with everything else, before they could fly the F-18 they had to know all the flight worthiness tests - cold. There were 155 external pre-flight checks before they'd even be able to sit in the cockpit and another 194 cockpit checks once they did. Amazingly, 76 of those had to be done before they could even start the engine and another 45 were just for that alone.
Captain James Reed, the safety officer, did their first and only F-18 walk around, showing them every check and giving them the reasons for doing it. It was another overload of information they'd have to absorb any way they could.
Evan took copious notes, rewrote those, and then wrote them out again until finally he was confident he'd be able to follow the sequence imprinted in his head. It was one of those times during the course when having experience of a similar aircraft wasn't a favour. The similarities were confusing at times because an F-18 wasn't the same as the planes he'd flown for NASA - Lorne had to try extra hard to set aside his prior training and make a new space for information now labelled 'Hornet'. He didn't want to overwrite the old stuff - he just needed to blank it out for the time being.
Each trainee was assigned an instructor - the person who'd sit in the back seat until such time as they'd done enough flying time to convince everyone they were ready to fly solo. Lorne was assigned to Major Baker himself and had to endure the ribbing from his classmates about how tough the base second in command would likely be on him.
"You better watch what you say too," Drew advised with a slight smirk as the group got ready for their very first flight. "He'll be playing it back for everyone to hear - using you as an example to the rest of us!"
It was a truth they all lived by - there were no secrets in the world of fighter pilots. Everything displayed on the HUD was recorded - every action and everything they said. Recorded and played back in post flight debriefs. And if you made a mistake everyone would get to relive it live and up close.
"I've got nothing to hide," Evan shot back. "You better watch that yourself Drew ... I hear Major Collins isn't exactly chatty behind the stick. You might have to learn how to be quiet for a change."
"Not all of us are the strong and silent type," Drew teased back, never one to give an inch when the two of them got going.
"Guys," Jones subtlety reminded everyone to refocus on the task at hand.
Lorne and Drew exchanged amused glances before finishing up their preparations - g-suits and harness supports and everything else needed to gear up for a flight in an F-18 all donned and tightened into place.
"Let's do this," Jones announced with an excited grin.
Everyone followed him out the door, heading out to link up with their assigned instructors. "Hey Drew?" Lorne stopped just before they peeled off in different directions. "Don't break the plane okay."
Drew laughed. "Ha - you either! Your Yankee government might not take you back if they get hit with a 32 million dollar bill on your account."
"I'll keep that in mind," Evan replied, raising a hand in a casual wave that said it all - good luck, have fun, don't stuff it up!
The group would take off in a staggered schedule to avoid confusion during takeoff. Lorne was going to be the last to head up ... he stood poised at the windows, watching as one by one his class mates completed their checks and then took to the sky.
So far so good.
"You ready Captain?" Major Baker announced his arrival, having Lorne spinning and straightening abruptly.
"Yes Sir," he said, excitement twinkling in his eyes even though he kept his expression carefully bland.
"Let's go then," Baker waved a hand, motioning for Lorne to lead the way.
He stood silently as Evan went through all the flight worthiness tests ... it took patience to wait out a rookies first run - experienced pilots could knock all the checks off in less than 5 minutes. Rookies more usually took forty five minutes ... Evan, with his prior experiences and the extra focus he'd put on studying the sequence, did it in twenty.
It almost felt like an anticlimax to be sitting in the cockpit, engine running, ready to take off. Lorne was all business as he calmly reported each stage as complete.
“Engines good ... Mil power check ... EGT, fuel flow, nozzle, oil is good ... Going into burner.”
The power was there at his fingertips ... his to command. As the aircraft picked up speed he continued calmly.
“We’re at 145 ... Cleared to take off."
When they hit the required speed Lorne pulled back on the stick and the F-18 rose effortlessly into the sky.
"Good job," Baker said over the radio. "Don't come out of burner."
"Gear, flaps up, 220," Evan said seconds later ... they were away!
"Out of burner," Baker instructed. "Now ... show me your stuff."
Permission to cut loose granted, Lorne immediately took the aircraft through basic manoeuvres - flying patterns – including rolls, climbs and stalls. It was adrenalin pumping, heart racing, ride of your life stuff but the idea was to show that you had a cool head and discipline in the cockpit. No one would get to take an F-18 out solo unless they'd convinced their instructor they were ready for it.
"Coming up," Lorne announced before taking the plane into a steep climb that would see them hit vertical.
"That's it ... nice and aggressive," Baker coached. "Keep pulling."
"And 180," Lorne confirmed, keeping the plane there for a few seconds before letting the left wing drop, guiding the plane into a controlled descent.
Everything was going great and Lorne was having the time of his life ... until his flight control system flashed a warning.
"FCS 19," Lorne reported to Baker. "Initiating red page response." The FCS was the system that controlled flaps, rudder, and everything needed to steer the plane. A warning could mean nothing more than a computer glitch or it could mean there was a serious problem. There were backups but the first step was to shut down the system, reboot it, and hope that the problem was corrected.
"Acknowledged," Baker replied, letting Lorne handle it for the moment.
Evan shut down the system, waited a moment and then restarted it. When the screens came back up the FCS was still flashing. "Reboot unsuccessful," he reported calmly. "Taking us on approach back to base and attempting secondary restart."
The decision to return to base could have come from Baker as the instructor but Lorne knew the procedure and didn't give the other man a chance to order him home. As soon as the FCS had flashed the trip had been over. Now it was about landing the plane safely.
The first reboot was like hitting Control Alt Delete on a home computer ... a soft restart of the systems. The secondary restart was like switching the computer off at the power, waiting a few moments and then switching it on again. Lorne was calm and controlled as he followed the steps, the planes inertia enough to keep them on an even heading as he waited to see if the restart would be successful.
"Secondary reboot unsuccessful," Lorne reported once the system had reinitialised and the FCS warning was still flashing. "Switching to back up systems."
"Keep it steady," Baker instructed. "Prepare for landing."
"Yes Sir," Lorne acknowledged, procedures to prepare the plane for landing coming to him automatically and being executed flawlessly.
"You ready to do this?" Baker asked, no hint of censure or suggestion that he wasn't evident in the tone. The FCS warning didn't specify a specific issue - the backup systems would engage flaps, rudder and landing gear when required - unless there was something wrong with one of them. It wasn't the level of challenge the Major would have wanted for any rookie on their first flight but he was willing to give Lorne the chance to bring the plane down, if he felt himself up for it.
"Yes Sir," Lorne returned confidently. Everything was about coordinating all the information and all the actions needed to land ... the HUD readings on speed and g-force, whether the E bracket (which measured angle on landing and how high the nose was) was sitting where it should be.
"Gear down ...," Evan reported, approaching the runway with everything lined up as it should be. "And flaps ... sluggish," Evan was calm as he tried again to get the flaps engaged. They wouldn't be able to reduce speed enough for landing without them. "Flaps down," he confirmed a moment later.
"Keep your speed up," Baker reminded him. It was what made the F-18 such a beast to land ... you had to bring it down fast and hard because it had never been designed to land on land. It was a navy plane, designed to land on an aircraft carrier at sea where you flew it down to impact, the grab hook at the back ripping off speed in less than a 100 metres. Lorne had seen it that first day when he'd watched an F-18 land up close for the first time ... now he was doing it himself and it all felt a lot faster and more counter intuitive than it had seemed from the ground.
Lorne was silent now as he controlled the aircraft with precision. The ground rose up to meet them, wheels screeching onto the tarmac and jostling them slightly. They were down and the plane was still in one piece.
"Nice job Captain," Baker congratulated him from the back as they slowed and taxied down the runaway towards the park zone.
"Thank you Sir," Lorne replied, only then thinking about the 'what ifs'. He had the base 2IC in the back seat and he'd landed using secondary flight control systems ... in hindsight maybe he should have handed over control to the Major. He was pretty sure that wiping out with your commanding officer on board would be something your career would never live down - if you survived - and he could only thank all those hours of study ... and even more hours in the air ... that had seen him through.
Of course there was an investigation ... when anything went wrong during an F-18 flight there was always an investigation. It was the rule of 410 squadron ... one pilot's mistake was everyone's lesson. No one had time to make all the possible mistakes that could be made ... only by learning from every mistake made would they be prepared to react in every situation. At the weekly all officers meeting even the senior pilots fessed up - replays of the HUD and voice tapes accompanying the personal accounting of what had happened and how the situation had been addressed.
In Lorne's case, all the pre-flight checks were reviewed to determine whether he'd missed something obvious to explain the failure. His following the procedures while in the air were also scrutinised and in the end it was determined that a systems error had led to the flaps being unable to engage with primary systems - that had caused the warning. It had been a real failure – without secondary systems Evan couldn’t have landed the plane ... not without serious risk. Lorne was in the clear and ended up getting a rare pat on the back for his cool head and for having the guts to make his first landing such a difficult one.
Back with his classmates, Lorne grinned. "How'd it go guys?" he asked, eager to hear their tales and put his own behind him.
Any cause for celebration was jumped on and exploited ... and their first flights in a Hornet certainly fit the bill. That night Lorne and his class mates went down to the officers rec room, already crowded with practically everyone on base. It was loud and energetic and just the place to sit back and reflect without being able to talk too much.
While fighter piloting was predominantly a male game so far, base personnel in general were a good mix of both genders, the girls forming their own 'clique' just as the trainees had. That night they sat in a close circle, looking over at Lorne's table from time to time and then laughing conspiratorially as they jotted things down on a piece of paper.
"I wonder what they're talking about?" Drew commented, all of them unable to ignore the very obvious behaviour.
"Probably this years poll," Jones said lightly.
"Poll?" Cade asked curiously.
"You haven't heard about that?" Jones asked in surprise, looking around at the group and getting six negative reactions. "Ah," Jones grinned suddenly. "It's tradition ... every course the girls conduct a poll ... vote for their number one pick for 'Rookie Most Wanted'. The base CO knows about it but lets it slide - it's kind of like their little pay back for not having any female Canadian fighter pilots yet."
"They hand out any prizes for winning?" Drew asked in amusement.
"Nah - unless you count six months of teasing and having your picture up in their locker room a prize," Jones returned. "They usually announce their pick after the first F-18 rookie flights ... which would be tonight."
"You know ... I'm feeling a sudden bout of tiredness coming on," Cade joked, raising his eyebrow at Evan questioningly. "We could call it an early night." Lorne smiled but kept quiet as Jones replied in his stead.
"It'll only be worse if they pick you and you're not here," Jones pointed out. "The pride of the rookies is at stake here Cade - if you win you're expected to take it like a man, be a good sport, all of that."
"Poster Boy here is looking a little green around the gills," Marcus Price joked. "You not ready for that honour kid?"
"Hell no!" Cade blushed as usual. "Please don't let them pick me."
"It's not just looks," Jones said bracingly. "I knew a guy who did the course two years ago ... said the girls made quite the production out of detailing their criteria when they announced their selection - just to increase the embarrassment." Noticing one of the girls standing up with a sheet of paper in hand, he grinned. "Heads up boys - the show's about to start."
Captain Steph Riley stood up, letting out an ear splitting whistle that had the whole room quieting instantly. "Yes, it's that time of the year again ... Ladies choice for Rookie Most Wanted," Steph announced loudly. Catching Major Baker's eye at a table across the room where all the instructors were sitting, she added "with your permission Sir?"
"Go ahead Captain," Baker said, clearly amused.
"Thank you Sir," Steph said, looking over at the rookies with a mischievous expression. "The competition this year was tough and we had to make up a few new criteria to weed out a winner."
There was cheering and catcalls from the crowd and Steph had to hold up her hands again to get everyone to quiet down.
"This year’s pick, whom we've dubbed "the rookie your Mom would most want you to fall in love with" is ...," Steph paused for effect, grinning as people yelled out for her to get on with it, "Captain Evan Lorne!"
"Shit," Lorne muttered, his face blank as the room erupted into loud calls for Evan to get up. He hadn't been expecting that ... he wasn't even a Canadian for god’s sake.
"Oh you're in trouble now," Drew slapped a hand to Evan's back sharply, grinning like an idiot. "Time to get up there and take your medicine like a man," he added, his words echoed by the rest of the class who were all grinning in a combination of relief they hadn't been chosen and enjoyment of Evan's clear embarrassment.
"Do I have to?" he looked to Drew pleadingly, even as he reluctantly stood up. "One of you put them up to this right? Cade - you're taller, and a hell of a lot better looking ... wanna trade places?"
"NO way man!" Cade laughed, happy for once not to be the one blushing in embarrassment. "The glory is all yours."
"Right," Lorne took a deep breath, pinning each of them with a pointed look that said they'd better not add to the ribbing he was already getting from the rest of the room. Scooting around chairs and tables he made his way towards Captain Riley, working at putting a bland and calm expression on his face.
"Captain," she greeted him with a grin that said she was really enjoying herself. Behind her the rest of the girls whistled and cheered and called out things that were suggestive and just not right to Lorne's mind.
"Captain," he said blandly, playing along as she placed a homemade medallion around his neck with a huge #1 painted on it.
"Do you want to hear why we chose you?" she asked with a teasing smile.
"Not particularly," Evan said honestly. "But I'm guessing you'll be telling me anyway."
"How about the rest of you?" Steph called out. "Do you want to hear why we chose the Captain here for this year’s Rookie Most Wanted?"
"Hell yes," the calls came from everywhere, including his own table. Lorne shot them a look that said they'd pay for that later.
"Okay .. okay," Steph waited until everyone was quiet, making a play on peering at her paper before continuing. "You'll be interested to know that you didn't score highest on any of our criteria but you were the most consistent."
"You're making me sound like a high fibre diet - boring but good for you," Evan joked, getting a round of laughter in reward.
"Very funny," Steph commented, her blue eyes sparkling with mirth. "To summarise ... we, the female population of Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake, have dubbed you this year’s Rookie Most Wanted because you're unfailingly polite to everyone, you're talented but modest, you've got that cute Yankee accent thing going, we hear you're very good with your hands," everyone laughed at that one as Evan struggled not to flush bright red, "and gosh darn it you're just so nice."
"Ah ... okay," Evan didn't know what to say. "You sure you don't want to do a recount ... got some major talent sitting right there just waiting to shine," he nodded towards the table of trainees.
"We're happy with our choice," Steph replied. "In fact, I've already heard a few comments from the ladies looking forward to seeing your picture up in our locker room this year."
Evan did flush then, looking down at the floor that he really wished would just open up and swallow him whole. More cheering and whistling erupted as Lorne looked up from his contemplation of his shoes. Time to man up – the pride of the rookies, as Jones had put it, was at stake.
"Fine," he said loudly. "I accept the title on the understanding that it'll remain here on Canadian soil. No taking out an advert in the US Air Force Times okay?"
"Deal," Steph said, holding out her hand for them to shake on it.
It wasn't a breach of protocol or regulations ... true, Lorne had only spoken to the Captain here and there but they were of equivalent rank and not in the same chain of command. Instead of shaking her hand he used it to pull her into his arms, dipping her close to the floor as he laid a flamboyant kiss on her lips that had the whole room whistling and stomping their feet.
Returning the now dazed Captain to her feet, Lorne paused to bow a couple of times, calling out "thank you, thank you," before he made his way gratefully back to his table.
"You rock Man," Cade exclaimed, patting Evan's back when he threw himself down next to the other man.
"I feel sick," Evan muttered, wondering what the hell had possessed him. He deliberately didn't look back at Captain Riley, sure she'd be staring daggers at his back right about then.
"Interesting way to say thank you Captain," Major Baker’s voice at his back had Lorne groaning silently. Could the night possibly get any worse?
"Ah ... thank you Sir?" Evan said uncertainly, swivelling to look up at the base 2IC. "I'm not gonna get into trouble for that am I?"
"I think you're safe," Baker replied in amusement, taking the only available seat at the table. "You might have created an expectation with Captain Riley though ... that was some kiss!"
"Oh God," Evan looked horrified, he hadn't even thought of that. "I hope not."
"Are you nuts man?" Cade looked at Lorne in disbelief. "She's ... she's ... hot!" Realising that might not be exactly the way to talk in front of a superior Cade's face blanched. "Ah ... respectfully speaking Sir," he said weakly.
"At ease Lieutenant," Baker replied with a laugh. "He's right ... Captain Riley does have a lot to recommend her. Our Canadian girls not good enough for you Lorne?"
"I'm sure she's a lovely girl Sir," Lorne was seriously uncomfortable now. "I'm just not ...," he trailed off, wondering how the hell to get himself out of this one.
“Hey, you never know – he might already have a girl waiting patiently for him back home,” Drew came to his rescue. “Is that it Evan? You got a girlfriend back in the States?”
“Not any more,” Evan replied with a completely straight face, using a mournful tone that stopped the conversation cold. Everyone looked at him with varying expressions of sympathy and awkwardness before Drew finally worked out that he was joking.
“Very funny,” Drew said, laughing along with everyone else.
“My girlfriend was an experimental F-16,” Evan said, intent on steering the conversation away from his love life, or lack thereof. “Static stability fly-by-wire flight control system, 20 mm cannon, six AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking short-range air-to-air missiles, maximum speed of over Mach 2, capable of pulling 9-g manoeuvres. Responsive ... always there just when I needed her.” He grinned suddenly. “Now I’ve thrown her over for a supermodel ... temperamental as hell but man, what a ride.”
Everyone laughed and Evan laughed with them, but deep down there was a serious truth. He’d devoted his life to flying ... to getting as high up the chain of pilots as he could ... and he was fully aware of what he’d sacrificed to get there. Romance, companionship ... a life ... something beyond the day to day hard slog of study, fly, review, exercise, study, sleep ... endlessly repeating until he got ... somewhere. Evan wasn’t even sure he knew where that somewhere was anymore, just that he needed to get there.
As the conversation shifted to talk of the Hornet, the men just as reverent about its attributes as they would have been talking about a woman, Lorne sat back and relaxed, finally off the hook. As far as honours went, Rookie Most Wanted was one he could definitely have done without!
The pace of the course picked up even more after that first day of flight ... each trainee continuing to push the heavy study load but adding in flights every day. Lorne was beyond tired but determined to keep sharp, fitting in quick naps where he could as he tried to make the most of every day. They were all exhausted and stupid mistakes started to creep in ... like forgetting to log a flight plan or double booking themselves for training sessions. More serious mistakes happened too ... landing the plane too hard instead of overshooting the tower, not following procedure on a yellow page emergency. Each weeks officers only meeting got longer and longer as the mistakes were relived and dissected until everyone understood how they'd happened and how to stop them from happening again in the future.
Lorne hadn't made any mistakes as yet and wasn't sure if that was due to grim determination or sheer dumb luck.
And then suddenly it was week eleven and they were staring their first solo flight in the face. After only four hours cumulative flight time in the F-18 they'd all been judged as having done enough to go up alone.
It was the day every rookie looked forward to.
Some of the instructors had more than 2000 hours of flight time in an F-18 ... for the trainees it was the first minute of the first hour of their careers as solo fliers.
Lorne had flown ‘first’ solo flights before – they all had - but in a F-18 it seemed to take on an extra dimension ... if one of the myriad of things that could go wrong did, there was no instructor in the backseat to take over, to approve the chosen course of action, to offer encouragement.
It all came down to him.
This time Lorne was first up ... as he strode across the tarmac a strange calm descended upon him. He’d had it happen before, pretty much every time he found himself in a potentially stressful or high adrenalin situation. It was like nerves ... worries ... fears were something he only felt before the fact. Once he was there and it was too late to back out all of that dropped away, leaving only confidence and resolve.
After Evan’s first F-18 flight, the solo version was almost an anti climax. There were no FCS warnings, no bad weather ... no mistakes.
It was just Captain Evan Lorne ... alone at 20,000 feet ... flying all the patterns and then calmly bringing her down again.
He felt exhilarated once he’d brought the aircraft to a stop. Sitting in the cockpit for a few moments he looked at all the controls – the buttons and dials and readouts – and then out across the tarmac. What a ride!
Grinning, Evan unstrapped and hauled himself out of the plane ... time to let someone else have their turn.
If first F-18 flights were something to celebrate, first solo flights were even more so ... they marked an important rite of passage ... an entry into an exclusive club.
To mark that occasion, each rookie got a call sign ... not one of their choosing but rather one chosen by their peers. There would even be a vote because in the call sign business, mob rules applied. It meant they’d joined a special family, one that would test them and demand that they prove themselves every day.
After the buzz of conversation that had taken place when they’d all returned from their solo flights ... incident free except that Jones had landed the plane down hard ... again ... the group was silent.
Lorne was trying not to run the possibilities in his head ... call signs that would be seriously cool and ones that would have him cringing for the rest of his life. There was no point ... for a man who was used to being in control, having something important completely out of his hands was uncomfortable.
Arriving at the rec rooms where everyone waited, the rituals began. First up was for each of them to get “roasted” which basically meant being subjected to what could only be described as a teasing combination of insult, praise and outlandish truth. Supposedly it was a great honour and the trainees even had the opportunity to roast their instructors in return if they chose.
Lorne smiled good naturedly as Major Baker took great delight in pointing out, using the various things Evan himself had done during the course as the example – all embellished - why the Canadian air force was better than its US counterpart. That done, all Evan had to do was drink beer from the end of a used gun barrel from the nose of an F-18, poured for him by Baker at the other end, to complete the ritual. The barrel was ridiculously long and getting yourself into a position close to the floor at the end of it was an exercise in partial humiliation in itself but Lorne did it with a grin.
Swiping beer from his chin, Evan stepped clear of the remaining beer splatter and gratefully made space for the next rookie to get his treatment.
Cade, Marcus, Neil, John, Paul and Drew ... they all stepped up to the barrel and took that drink, knowing that they were one step closer to joining the club.
“Okay,” Major Baker held up a hand to get everyone to be quiet. “It’s time for the call sign review. Boys,” he looked at the rookies with a grin. “You know where to go.”
“Yes Sir,” Jones motioned for the rest of them to follow him out of the rec room down the corridors to a small room far enough away they’d be unable to hear anything. To make sure of that they were accompanied by Captain Reed who almost gleefully locked them in before rejoining the others.
“Anyone want to start guessing possibilities?” Drew asked.
“Are you kidding?” Evan replied. “You’ve got a bunch of pilots already halfway to plastered, most of them with call signs they’d like a refund on ... and now they have the chance for a little payback ... I’m not sure I want to even imagine what they’ll come up with.”
“It was our solo flight,” Cade muttered. “We should get to choose our own call signs.”
“How many ‘Mavericks’ do you think the force can take?” Paul joked. “Besides, I’m sure everyone in that room thought the same thing at one time. Now they’re in there loving every minute. That’ll be us some day.”
“Do we really have to keep the call signs they give us forever?” Neil asked.
“You think Captain “Bean” Reed keeps that one by choice?” John returned. “Seems that pilots have long memories. The only one of us with any hope of leaving a bad call sign behind is Lorne.”
“We’ll make sure to remind him though, every chance we get,” Drew added, unperturbed when Evan shot him a frowning look.
“Agreed,” both John and Neil spoke at the same time.
“This is torture,” Cade complained. “How long is this gonna take?!”
“Too long,” Evan grinned suddenly. “Why? You in a hurry to be lumped with ‘Blushing’ Boston?”
“That better not be what they pick or I’m blaming you,” Cade shot back.
The conversation degenerated for a bit as possibilities more and more ridiculous were called out. And still no one came back to get them.
“They better finish this soon,” Drew muttered. “I seriously need to -,” he broke off as the lock clicked and the door opened.
“Ready boys?” Captain Reed asked, the grin on his face worrying everyone.
“As we’ll ever be,” John said, again leading the way back to the rec rooms. Lorne fell in at the rear, in no hurry at all.
That’s the order they went in, Captain John “Slammer” Jones being named for the hard landings he seemed unable to completely soften although luckily he had only damaged the landing gear once and that had been due to a fatigued landing strut. Jones grinned ... it signified something he didn’t want to highlight but without knowing the story behind it, it was actually a pretty cool sign. Shaking Reed’s hand, John took the shot he was handed and downed it in one go.
Evan felt almost guilty when Cade went next and was dubbed “Bashful”, a little too close to his own teasing suggestion. Cade blanched slightly but then rallied, nodding and doing his best to smile as he shook hands, drank his shot and then stepped back.
“Lieutenant,” Captain Reed smiled at Neil Somerton, “you’re now gonna be known as ‘Sunshine’, on account of the fact that everyone says you’re just way too happy.”
“Glad I’m not naturally grumpy then,” Neil replied, grinning and looking happy, already living up to his sign.
“Marcus,” the Captain called out next. “We hear you got full marks on the operations test ... and that makes you ‘Right’ Price.”
“Very clever Sir,” Price said with a chuckle. He shook the Captain's hand and tapped his shot glass with all those nearby before drinking it down.
“And Paul,” the Captain continued, “now known as ‘Wizard’, for obvious reasons, although you can tell everyone it’s because you’re magic behind the stick if you like Captain.”
“I could,” Paul agreed, obviously more than happy with his call sign, toasting everyone with his glass high.
“Captain Rider next,” Reed shot Drew a quick grin. “I’m guessing this won’t be the first time someone called you ‘Easy’ but you just tell them it’s on account of your last name and not because of your morals.”
Drew laughed, shaking the Captain's hand firmly and drinking his shot down quickly. Throwing Evan a quick glance, he grinned, clearly looking forward to what was coming next.
“And lastly we have our friend from the States,” Captain Reed concluded. “The boys and I are pretty proud of this one ... after your little award from the ladies a couple of weeks ago a little birdie told us about your deep affection for the aircraft you had to leave behind.”
Evan tensed as Reed grinned just a little too gleefully before delivering the punch line.
“So, from now on you’re gonna be ‘Love’ Lorne,” Reed announced. Each call sign had gotten a rousing cheer but Evan’s was by far the loudest.
“Lovelorn,” Drew couldn’t help but laugh. “That is pretty clever ... and rather fitting for the man who declared his affection for an inanimate object.”
“Yeah, it’s great,” Lorne replied, smiling as best he could while kicking himself mentally for that whole kissing Captain Riley incident. He really should have known better! Evan shook Captain Reed’s hand and then tossed back his shot in one go, slamming the empty glass down on the bar and motioning for another.
Things got even rowdier as more toasts were called out to the rookies who were now part of an exclusive membership.
All Evan could think about was the fact that from then on grown men would be calling him ‘Love’ ... all the time. It was embarrassing and silly and just totally uncool, but he’d live with it ... because at the end of the day it was his call sign ... and he’d earned it fair and square.
You might think ‘Love’ is a stupid call sign BUT let me tell you about the ones they had on Jetstream. Floater, T-bag, Guns, Carney, Tickler, and my personal favourites ... Nail’n for the guy whose last name was Coffin, and Blow for the guy whose last name was Jobin. Seriously.
And to save you a trip to the dictionary, for those who don’t know, lovelorn is an adjective that means unhappy in love, or suffering from unrequited love.
Again, lots of inspiration, aircraft flying speak, and specific details on what the trainees would do when came from Jetstream. In particular the FCS warning light thing did happen in the series although not as I've deplicted it. I made up some stuff though - numbering the FCS warning, the whole yearly poll for Rookie Most Wanted, and the thing with secondary systems being used to control gears and flaps during Lorne's first flight. Any errors with any of this or anything else included here are all mine.