The B Team



All characters that appear in this chapter of B-Team are my own. The military airfield called Matthias, located on the United States Department Of Energy's Hanford Site in eastern Washington, is fictional. This story is a continuation of the original four part "B-Team". My special thanks to Tigermark for his continued assistance, participation, and encouragement in the crafting of this story.

The B Team is copyright The Silver Coyote
2003



Evolution

Annie shivered as she finished cleaning up the leftover tools of the cookie - making project. The last batch of chocolate chip cookies little Marie had helped her remove from the oven a few minutes ago were cooling on the kitchen counter. Her son Joshua and daughter Marie were now in the family room watching a DVD on television. As she glanced into the family room to check on them she could see the sun setting over the Rocky Mountains through the large west facing windows on the front of their home. The cold, dark blue sky was full of scattered clouds taking on hues of red, orange, yellow, and gold. Her pups were transfixed by the Spongebob Squarepants cartoon they were watching. They paid no attention to the marvelous vista filling the window behind them. Annie stood there in the archway opening onto the family room from the kitchen, gazing at the sunset. She wondered if Joe was looking at a similar sight from the flight deck of Intermountain's C-130.

Her shiver was due to the temperature in their home. She guessed it to be a bit below seventy now, the outside air temperature was probably already dipping below forty degrees, and would get down to the high twenties overnight. She looked around the corner of the archway towards the large, double-hearth fireplace that separated their family room from their living room. There were a few chunks of oak and eucalyptus on the family room hearth, but not enough for the evening.

No sense turning on the central heating if we don't need to, Annie thought. "Joshua, would you help mommie?"

Annie's son looked over his right shoulder towards her. He was a carbon copy of Joe, right down to his facial markings, except for his overall lighter, red fox build. Of course, he was only nine years old, there was certainly a lot of growing in his future.

"What do you need, mom?" He looked steadily at her, ignoring the television.

In Joe's absence he's such a big pup, Annie mused. Joshua behaved much more maturely and stoically than most nine year olds, probably because of Joe's sporadic absences overnight. When Joe was home Joshua was all nine year old pup, running and chasing and playing tag with his sister and father and friends, but when Joe was gone overnight flying Joshua became the coyote of the house.

She smiled sweetly at her son. "Would you please bring a few pieces of firewood in from the back yard so we can have a fire this evening?"

Joshua was on his feet before she finished her question, happy to please his mother. "Sure mom." Glancing at his little sister as he began to walk towards the patio door he said "C'mon Marie, help me."

Seven year old Marie glanced at her older brother. As much as her brother was a copy of her father, she was a miniature Annie except for her fur color. Whereas Annie's fur was a highlighted auburn color under strawberry blond hair, Marie's fur was the traditional red color typical of her mother's Maryland Red Fox lineage. Marie looked very much like Annie's sister Rachel except for her eyes. Where Rachel's were a hazel color, Marie's were a piercing blue under her long auburn hair.

Marie rose to her feet wordlessly and followed her brother to the patio door. As her children went outside to fetch some firewood from their backyard, Annie moved to the family room hearth and knelt to open the screen. As she lifted some firewood onto the grating she paused, ears up, and tilted her head slightly to one side. She could hear the faint sound of a twin-engine piston aircraft somewhere overhead, probably heading for Centennial Airport to the southeast, judging by it's height and direction of travel. Once again she thought of Joe, and wondered where he was.

###

The panel of The Bitch was bathed in soft red light, the luminosity of the three MFDs in the panel adjusted to match the illumination of the rest of the instrumentation. It was almost dark on the flight deck. The drone of the turboprops had been steady in their padded ears for hours now, except for the brief stopover at the secure transient ramp at Tinker AFB for fuel and crew rotation. Rick now sat comfortably at Joe's left, pilot in command. Behind them Steve slouched casually at the navigator's position, quietly obtaining updated weather and pirep information on the laptop connected to The Bitch's internal systems. Behind Rick, Slam Whiteline dozed comfortably in the jumpseat. The panel clocks said it was just about sunset, but who could tell? They'd been in the clouds since somewhere around the Nebraska - Colorado border, making their way through a stalled weather front stretching from the Dakotas down through eastern Wyoming and across western Colorado.

"How you doin', Rick?" Joe asked quietly on the intercom.

Rick nodded and smiled towards Joe. "It's kind of nice not having to worry about passenger comfort and cabin service," he admitted. He motioned towards the ceiling with his right paw. "I'm not sure I like slogging along in the soup, though. It's better on top." Rick grinned slyly at his unintended double entendre. He had been referring to the weather.

"How's that again?" Steve asked with a chuckle as he looked up and forward.

Rick glanced over his right shoulder at Steve. "Up at flight level four ten the sky is clear and you can see forever. We've been stuck in this cloud layer for almost two hundred miles." He paused, sighing slightly.

Slam snored softly behind Rick.

"Maybe this will help cheer you up," Steve said, looking back to his laptop screen and beginning to read. "The weather has moved east from Hanford. The current information is sky overcast with bases at nine thousand, temperature three nine, dew point two eight, visibility fifteen in light haze, pressure is twenty nine dot eight nine and rising, wind out of the west southwest at five. No rain in the past hour, forecast is for skies to be clearing by tomorrow morning."

Joe nodded slightly. "Looks like an easy approach. What's that, several thousand feet between the cloud and the ground?"

"At least eight thousand," Steve replied. His tail twitched slightly. "Matthias elevation is four hundred ninety seven feet."

Joe looked carefully at Steve. He'd been flying with Steve long enough to know that Steve was working at suppressing a smile. His muzzle was relaxed, but there was a tightness around his twinkling golden eyes, a set to his eyebrows, that said something was going on between his ears.

Joe grinned at him just before turning back to the panel. They were IFR, high over northwestern Colorado, in the cloud. Looking outside for traffic was useless, so they monitored flight and navigation instruments and glanced occasionally at the doppler radar display. They were working with Denver Center, but at this altitude in this sector there wasn't much traffic. Outside of a couple of advisories the radio had been quiet since passing the Denver area. Joe's grin faded as he manipulated the range and azimuth controls of the radar.

"So what were you saying about being on top?" Steve asked quietly.

Rick grinned again. "Nothing, especially. It's just boring down here. Nothing to see, stumbling along at half the speed we'd be doing in one of the jets at forty one thousand..."

"...no tiger striped skunks in the back," Steve finished, laughing briefly. "Yeah, I know. Not a very glamorous life, is it?"

Rick shook his head slowly, smiling at the memory of a passenger of notoriety they had escorted on a charter some weeks ago. He turned his attention to the GPS moving map display on the number three MFD in the lower center of the panel.

"Well Joe, looks like he's the newest member of The Breed." Steve said.

Joe turned in his seat, tearing his attention from the radar display, to look at Steve with a smile of his own. "He seems to have assumed the proper mental state, doesn't he?"

Rick's eyebrows raised a bit in question, his look turning serious. "The Breed?" he asked.

"Canis Aer Cargus," Steve intoned respectfully, as though referring to one of superior rank and experience. Steve's gaze held Rick's steadily. "You're evolving, my friend."

Rick's expression was unchanged. He had no idea what Steve was referring to. He looked to Joe for clarification.

Joe was working hard trying not to laugh out loud.

"What?" Rick asked, sensing the restrained humor on the part of his peers.

Joe inhaled and held his breath momentarily. As he exhaled he muttered something that Rick didn't catch.

"Say again?" Rick prompted.

Joe held Rick's gaze, struggling mightily to keep a straight face. He spoke clearly and slowly. "Air. Freight. Dog."

"Air freight dog?" Rick looked surprised. He glanced at Steve, who nodded.

"Welcome to the club, my brother," Steve said ceremoniously. "You have attained the lofty position of Air Freight Dog, which entitles you to certain benefits such as spending long hours at the front end of accidents looking for a place to happen, eating and enjoying vending machine food, and becoming intimately familiar with every holding pattern between the oceans." Steve laughed at Rick's facial expression. "You'll never again see the inside of a terminal, nor taste hot food, nor enjoy the privilege of sentient cargo on a manifest."

Rick snorted, trying not to laugh himself. He controlled his own facial expression, and attempted to put on an air of superiority. "That's fine for you," he said stuffily. "You're canids. I'm mustelidae. I'm nowhere near canid."

"That's not your fault," Joe teased.

"It doesn't matter," Steve said. "You, my brother, are becoming an air freight dog."

"Wonderful," Rick muttered, turning back to the panel in front of him. He was doing a good job of feigning annoyance, but not good enough. Neither of his waking crewmates were fooled.

Joe reached across the center pedestal with his left paw and clapped Rick on the shoulder. Grinning as Rick turned his head to face him, Joe said "woof woof".

"Yep," Steve said as he noisily returned to his navigator's duties. "You'll be howling at the stars with us by the time we get back to Columbus." Steve smiled to the laptop display in front of him.

"What will Dakota say?" Rick rhetorically asked himself aloud, a bemused look on his face.

"What an improvement!" Joe and Steve responded simultaneously, laughing.

The C-130 continued to bore four holes into the cloud deck high above the Colorado - Wyoming border.

###

The eucalyptus logs crackled fitfully in the large stone fireplace, the room was warm bordering on toasty. Annie was seated on the big leather sofa facing the fireplace, her feet on an ottoman in front of her. A half full glass of California Merlot sat on an end table to her right. Marie slept quietly on the sofa, curled up in a little ball with her head resting in Annie's lap. Annie's left arm was draped across Marie's back and shoulders, her left paw absently stroking the hair between Marie's ears. Annie's tail covered her daughter's legs and feet like a blanket. Joshua was asleep on the floor directly in front of her feet, wrapped in a small blanket near the hearth. There was a tranquility that permeated the room and her heart, a calm happiness whose only imperfection was the absence of the coyote she loved.

Annie glanced briefly at the clock in the entertainment center to the left of the fireplace. A bit past eight PM. Twenty hundred, Joe called it. Classic rock played softly from the stereo system speakers in the room. There was nothing on TV Annie desired to watch. She sat quietly, enjoying the peace of the evening, the closeness of her sleeping children, the warmth of the room, the tranquil stability of her life.

###

Many hundred miles to the east Matt Barstock leaned back in his chair, a fistful of documents in his left paw. He stared at the computer display in front of him. The numbers didn't lie. There were some major changes that were going to have to be made in the stable if Intermountain was going to continue to be profitable. The company was too top-heavy in fast iron. There just wasn't enough executive business coming in to keep the number of jets on hand earning money. They were probably going to have to get rid of two of them, maybe three. Certainly the Gulfstream G III, a potential buyer had been pestering Matt for months about a possible deal. Probably the Lear 55, too. Most executive customers preferred the Gulfstream G IV over the Lear 55, whatever the reason the G IV flew three missions for every one the 55 went out on.

Matt ran his right paw over his muzzle and across his graying chin. He was tired, but couldn't stop thinking about this. The long term success of his company depended on how he handled the things he was considering now.

On the other paw, cargo business had never been better. The Hercules was in the air as much as possible flying secure government cargoes, and Matt was taking enough calls for air freight contracts that he had been thinking of dumping one of the Citations in favor of buying a couple of stripped down, cargo-hauling King Airs. They already had a Caravan, but some customers wanted much higher speed and more payload than the Caravan could deliver. He had even put the Citations and the Lear into cargo service to meet the demand on occasion.

Matt could see operational changes coming, too. Kentiger was invading his executive charter business in the east, and he was none too happy about Billy the Damn Kid sucking up his gravy like that. On the other paw, air freight business in the west had taken such an upturn that he was considering opening an office with Tim Riggins and Joe Latrans as principle pilots in Colorado to meet the demand. Staff and ground crews could be handled locally, and local talent was no doubt available to fill SIC and navigator's seats as required. Basing the C-130 and a King Air in the Denver area would allow Intermountain faster response to some of the calls he had been taking from western customers, in particular the military.

Matt grumbled incoherently under his breath, wishing Angie were still around. He wanted some coffee. He scratched absently behind his right ear, his tail subconsciously wagging against the chair frame as he did so. He was very tired. Jerry had left earlier that evening after the boys had departed from Tinker AFB. It was apparent that the missing nose gear door was causing no problems whatsoever with the Hercules' flying characteristics. Matt was waiting somewhat impatiently for their arrival at Hanford, scheduled for some time after twenty two hundred hours local time. He was not about to end his day until he knew his boys and their cargo were down safely in Washington state.

Matt sighed and rubbed his eyes with his right paw. Finishing, he glanced again at the papers in his left paw. Placing them on his desk, he pushed back his chair and rose slowly to his feet. He needed that coffee. The terminal bar was still open, maybe he could drive over there and get a cup.

###

Annie had put her children to bed and was curled up on the sofa, feet beside her, bushy tail wrapped around her waist and laying in her lap. In front of her the fire she had made was blazing in their fireplace. An open copy of the current issue of Interior Design lay in her lap. Annie stared at the fire, slowly twirling the stem of her wine glass in her fingers, thinking of a certain coyote she loved.

The phone in the kitchen rang. Getting to her feet, Annie tossed the magazine on the low coffee table in front of the sofa as she placed the wine glass on the end table. By the time the phone was completing it's third ring Annie was in her kitchen, reaching for it.

"Hello?"

"Annie," a friendly feline voice purred in her ear.

"Hi Janie," Annie greeted her best friend. Janie Riggins was a cougar originally from Virginia. She and Annie had been friends for over twenty years. "What are you and Tim up to tonight?"

"Just sitting here staring at each other." Janie giggled. She and Annie were "Intermountain Wives", as both their husbands flew for the charter company. Their husbands sometimes shared the same schedule, but more often than not didn't. Very soon after Joe had hired out with Intermountain (at Tim's instigation) the two lady furs had taken to spending time with each other when one or both of their spouses were flying the line. In this way it had become habit that one would call and / or come spend time with the one whose spouse was gone. "Have you heard from Joe yet?" she asked.

Annie glanced at her watch before replying. "He called earlier today. There was some sort of hangup at Knoxville, I'm not expecting him to call from Hanford for at least an hour." Annie grinned. "Hey, I've just opened a bottle of some really good Merlot. Why don't you and Tim come over and share it with me?"

Janie giggled again as she turned away from the phone to look at her husband. "Put some clothes on," she instructed him. "We're going over to Annie's for a drink."

Annie heard Tim's baritone voice rumbling in the background, but didn't catch what he was saying. Then Janie was asking "Have you had anything to eat?"

"Marie and I made some cookies earlier, and the kids had some chicken and rice for dinner. I didn't feel like chicken..." She paused briefly as she screwed up her best teasing voice. "Why on earth are you coming to visit me if Tim's in front of you with no clothes on?" She laughed.

Janie laughed with her. "He just got out of the shower, silly girl. I worked him pretty hard today." Now Janie paused, correctly guessing that Annie's eyebrows had arched with this bit of information. Before Annie could say a word Janie continued "He pulled out that arbor and stuff off our patio this afternoon. He was pretty dirty."

"Oh." Annie's smile relaxed slightly. She heard more background conversation between Janie and her husband, then "We're going to order some pizza and pick it up on the way over. The usual?"

"Sure Janie, that sounds great. Thanks." Annie had a weak spot for pepperoni and cheese on thin crust.

"We'll be there in about twenty minutes. I love you!"

"I love you, Janie. See you guys in a few minutes." As Annie hung up the phone her tail was wagging slowly as she reflected upon the tender farewells she and Janie had been sharing for too many years.

Annie had been a bride's maid at Janie and Tim's wedding back in Virginia almost twenty years ago. Janie had been the one who had convinced Annie to move to Colorado to be near her and start over following Annie's failed first marriage in Maryland. She had been Annie's matron of honor at Annie and Joe's wedding here in Arvada fifteen years ago. The red fox and the cougar had been looking out for each other and sharing in each other's lives for over a quarter of a century. Janie was in many ways closer to Annie than Annie's sister Rachel was.

Annie walked back into the family room as she reminisced, proceeding to the wet bar and selecting two oversize wine glasses for the guests she knew would be arriving within a few minutes. She was happily anticipating their arrival and company.

###

They had flown out of the cloud layer fairly soon after beginning their descent at Baker City VOR, in the far northeastern corner of the state of Oregon. They had been descending slowly between bands of cloud as they flew northwest, the band above going broken as they approached their destination. They were still IFR. While the air around them was clear, the sky was dark, devoid of light. There was no moon above, and the undercast blanketed any ground lights below.

The CD ROM the Air Force had given them at Tinker was spinning in the laptop Steve worked with. On that CD had been all frequency and approach data they needed for the coupled GPS approach to the restricted military field west of Hanford. They had called Chinook Approach for clearance through the Tri Cities and Pasco Airport Class D airspace. Chinook Approach had approved their IFR descent with instructions to cross Pasco VOR at 4500 feet as they approached their destination just south of the Gable Mountains to the northwest.

As Steve programmed their GPS equipment via the laptop and coupled their approach to the MFDs for his pilots, Rick and Joe began their pre-landing checklist. They broke out of the lower cloud layer at almost exactly 9000 feet to see the lights of Richland, Washington ahead of them. They advised approach control that they were going VFR at 8,500 feet and were cleared for normal navigation.

"Rick, your GPS approach is on the number one MFD, the airport data is on number three. Joe, your call is Matthias Approach, here's your frequencies." Steve passed forward a scrap of paper with several radio frequencies written on it. Joe nodded his head to Steve as he accepted the paper and began to scan these numbers and turn knobs accordingly. As he was working on this one of the radios squawked at them.

"Intermountain forty four, contact Matthias approach on three zero one point six. Have a good evening, gentlefurs."

"Forty four," Joe acknowledged. "Have a good evening, we'll see you tomorrow." Joe reached up and set 301.600 in the backup display of the number two communications radio and then swapped that frequency over to the active display.

"Rick," Steve asked as he leaned forward between the two pilots, "do you see the IAP on your approach?"

"Yeah," Rick replied. "Rattlesnake, got it. Three thousand."

"Cool. We're set, then." Steve leaned back in his chair as he electronically interrogated the Seattle Flight Service Station with the laptop on a wireless link one last time. He was looking for any new pireps or updated weather. No new or unusual conditions greeted his interrogation. "Weather is stable," he informed his crewmates. "Pasco conditions are still overcast at 9000, wind still out of the west northwest at five knots."

Joe nodded again as he keyed his radio. "Matthias Approach, Intermountain forty four five south of Rattlesnake for the approach." Matthias was expecting them, so Joe didn't offer any information in the clear about their aircraft type or precise location.

"Intermountain forty four," a pleasant female voice greeted the aviators, "Matthias Approach. Squawk zero four zero seven and ident."

Joe dialed up 0407 on the transponder head and pressed the small IDENT button next to the display. He waited for the controller to call back.

In a basement of the small control tower at the restricted military airfield at the Hanford storage facility a young ground squirrel was acting as the controller for the evening. She almost immediately observed her new target approaching the Rattlesnake Mountains from the southeast, reporting an altitude of 3200 feet. The altitude readout was decrementing slowly.

"Intermountain forty four, radar contact four southeast of your IAF. Cross Rattlesnake at three thousand, you are cleared for the GPS approach to runway three two. Current conditions at Matthias measured overcast at nine thousand, visibility two zero, altimeter two niner niner zero, wind from two eight zero at seven. Expect landing runway three two, conditions dry. No traffic in the area."

"Rattlesnake at three thousand, cleared for the GPS approach to runway three two, and we have the field in sight. Intermountain forty four." Joe turned to Rick and said "We're in, brother."

Rick grinned at the horizon. "You guys aren't going to let this 'air freight dog' thing die any time soon, are you?" He glanced at Joe long enough to see him smile while nodding.

"Landing checklist?" Joe asked.

"Might as well," Rick replied, and the challenge - reply litany began.

Within a few minutes they were two miles from the threshold, flaps and gear appropriately deployed, and everything was in the green. Rick retarded the throttles slightly, watching the runway and approach lights as they slid towards the nose of their aircraft.

"Forty four, contact Matthias tower on three four one point seven five." The young controller paused momentarily and then added "Have a good night." Maybe, she thought, I'll see those guys at the bar later.

"See ya later." Joe replied while reaching up to change fequencies. He switched from the number two to number one comm radio and keyed up again. "Matthias tower, Intermountain forty for with you."

"Forty four," a deep male voice called, "you are cleared to land. Negative traffic, wind from two eight five at four."

"Cleared to land, forty four."

"Everybody strapped in?" Rick called, smiling faintly at the runway threshold.

Joe chuckled by way of a reply. After checking to see that the sleeping form of their coyote loadmaster was still strapped in, Steve replied "Check!"

Very soon the throttles came back and the nose came up. The runway end lights had just flashed out of Joe's peripheral vision when they felt the mains kiss the asphalt. Rick held the nose up as the airspeed decayed, and then let it drop to the runway as well. In spite of the almost twelve tons of lead, plywood, and instrumentation wrapped around their one hundred pound payload, the Hercules slowed to taxi speed in less than three thousand feet of runway.

"First class, Rick," Joe commented.

"Yeah, sweet!" Steve agreed.

"Forty four, remain this frequency. There will be an escort vehicle approaching you from your starboard side momentarily, follow him to your unloading area." As the controller finished this advisory Joe saw a white pickup with yellow strobes flashing come into his field of view beyond their starboard wingtip.

"Rick, what do you say we shut down the outer engines as we taxi?" Joe asked.

Rick nodded in agreement and reached overhead to begin the shutdown procedure for numbers one and four. As Joe reached for the shutdown checklist Steve spoke quietly to him.

"I just sent our touchdown time and numbers to the home office via the wireless network. We can call Matt when we've finished unloading."

"Unless he calls us first," Joe said with a wry grin. Joe looked carefully at the jumpseat behind Rick. "Hey Steve, you want to wake up sleeping beauty, there?"

Lance Corporal Slam Whiteline had slept through the landing.

 



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