Disclaimer 1: The characters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer do not belong to me. All I do is write about my imaginings for them.
Disclaimer 2: There is minor femslash in the story.
I was awoken, or at least came back to awareness, by the insistent tapping on my foot. I opened one eye wearily and saw Buffy was still laying facing away from me but now her head was turned back to me, I could barely heard her voice over the roar of the engines, "Pacific!"
I looked past her and despite the glare of the sun setting almost directly in front of us I could make out the twinkle of water on the horizon. I looked down through the clear Plexiglas nose and could see the golden hills of California; then I felt the plane bank slightly as it turned onto a more southerly course. Buffy had turned her attention back to the view in front of us, her form rounded and indistinct in the multiple layers of clothing she was wearing to combat the freezing temperatures at altitude. From the view outside I could tell we had descended quite a ways, we were probably down to about 8000 feet, confirmed by the fact that Buffy didn't have her oxygen mask on any longer.
I started breaking out of the cocoon I'd made by wrapping blankets around me in an unsuccessful attempt to stay warm and comfortable for the long flight. The nose of the B-17F we were in was not well sealed, especially since no one had bothered to plug the empty holes through which the forward machine guns normally protruded. An icy wind had torn through the area chilling everything and even causing frost to form on some of the exposed metal beams when we had been at cruising altitude. Now it had warmed up considerably, it was probably above freezing.
I stretched, trying to loosen muscles aching from the inactivity brought on by the long flight. We had left Washington early this morning and had been in the air for over twelve hours, finally it seemed it was coming to an end. As I stretched my legs a jabbing pain came from my right leg, the wound in it was still healing and it disliked being stressed. I could get around pretty well with the help of a cane but it was a ways from being fully healed. I took off the oxygen mask and took a deep breath of fresh air, then rubbed my face to try and get rid of the numb spots where the mask had been clamped against it for so long. I took a couple of the blankets I'd been using and jammed them behind me and leaned back against them. I found I could stretch out my legs beside Buffy, only having to nudge her to get her to move over a little, and I had a fairly comfortable sitting place with a good view out of the nose. In the distance I could see the hills and then the Pacific Ocean; we had to be getting close to LA.
It had been a whirlwind six days since we'd left England; I still could not believe that the Army Air Force was actually going to let us put together a female fighter group, even an 'experimental and provisional' one as they classified it. But the war was not going well, the German's were still charging across Russia with no signs of anybody stopping them. The only hope I could see for the Russian's was the infamous Russian winter, but so far the winter had held off, the last I'd heard the Germans were within a hundred miles of Moscow. The Japs in the Pacific were also still running wild, although we were fighting hard on some island down near Australia called Guadalcanal - it wasn't clear who was going to win that battle.
The Army Air Force desperately needed fighter groups, both for what offensive capability they had and to escort the growing bomber forces. The long touted ability of the bomber's to defend themselves, whether they were called 'Flying Fortresses' like the one we were in or not, had proven to be woefully inadequate against modern fighters, they were being cut to ribbons. Fighter pilots could be trained only so fast, and when you had to start from scratch it took more than a year. The powers had finally realized that there was a largely untapped pool of trained pilots, women, that could be used to fill the gap until raw recruits could be trained in the numbers needed to meet requirements. And given that Colonel Miller, our former CO in the 89th Fighter Group, had let Buffy command a squadron that had racked up more kills in two months than any other entire fighter group had thrown the argument that women couldn't fly in combat right out the window.
President Roosevelt had taken the bull by the horns and ordered us back to the States to organize the 101st Fighter Group, Female, Experimental and Provisional and we had less than three months to do it. Fortunately the group itself was already mostly formed in terms of personnel and equipment, the male pilots that had already been assigned had been reassigned to other new groups. Buffy and I were on our way to Burbank to pick up two new P-38s from the Lockheed factory before starting a cross country tour to find the 70 plus female pilots we needed for the group.
We had flown back from England along with some enlisted personnel from our old squadron that we'd managed to get out of Colonel Miller so we would have some people that actually knew us in the new group. Hopefully they would help the rest of the personnel accept the fact that they would be working with and for women. We'd gotten Master, now First, Sergeant Gunderson, the 611ths maintenance chief to agree to be the maintenance chief for the 101st, along with Billy 'Mac' MacKinley my former crew chief and Sgt. Timmons, Buffy's crew chief and a beast of a mechanic along with another couple of mechanics. Colonel Miller had also sent Sergeant Halloran, his Admin sergeant, along to be Buffy's Admin sergeant which I thought was a real nice gesture, I knew how good Halloran was. They were all headed down to Eglin on the Florida pan handle where the group was assembling.
We had gotten one other man from our old group, Corporal Markoff, he was an okay ground crewman but he was really an artist, he'd painted the nose art on Buffy's plane and most of the other planes in the group. He'd been sent on orders of the public affairs officer so that Buffy's new plane could be painted to match what she'd been flying in England. Buffy's original was a wreck in some field near the Ardennes Forest. I didn't think the PA officer really knew what Markoff had painted on Buffy's plane or he wouldn't have insisted that he be sent. The PA had been all hot about the public relations tour he wanted us to do while we were flying cross country. Fortunately Buffy had gotten most of it cancelled when we were in Washington, there simply wasn't enough time if we were to get the group organized and back to England by the first of the year as General Richardson, CG of VIII Fighter Command, wanted.
The flight back from England had been long and boring but had been in reasonable comfort, the B-17 we'd flown in had been converted to a high speed VIP transport so it actually had some decent seats and was sealed up pretty good, unlike the one we were in now. Then we'd spent three days in Washington, meeting and greeting various VIPs, most of whom had been reasonably cordial if a little skeptical about women fighter pilots. I think the ones that really didn't like the idea had avoided us. The last day the President had pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on Buffy, although it was clear from his remarks that he was really pissed that some Senator was blocking the award of a Medal of Honor to her. He'd also pinned a Distinguished Flying Cross on both of us. Actually it added two oak leaf clusters to Buffy's since they were her second and third time she had been awarded the DFC, I got the DFC and an oak leaf cluster. They had finally gotten around to awarding us the DFCs Major Jenkins had put us up for because of the work we did with our 'Top Gun' school at March Field the previous winter and spring. My second and Buffy's third DFC were for our time with the 611th.
Buffy had had a word with Markoff before he'd left for the west coast; I'd hoped she asked him to tone down the painting on her aircraft but I had my doubts. When Markoff had painted the first version, right after it had been sprung on the squadron that their new CO and XO were women, he had been pushing the bounds of decency. Actually he'd stepped completely over the bounds as far as I was concerned, although I did love the painting it took me a long time to understand why Buffy let herself be depicted that way. The painting was clearly of her, and she was basically nude! Markoff had painted her as an archer, standing with her bow partially drawn and looking for a target. The only clothing she had on was a pair of transparent pants that I referred to as 'Turkish Harem Pantaloons' for lack of a better description. The only thing that kept her from being completely exposed was that he'd drawn the lower part of the bow so that it covered her privates, but just barely. And there was nothing to cover her breasts, not any clothing above her trim waist at all, but at least had had the taste to cover her nipples with her overly long blonde hair. The only parts of the painting that were inaccurate was her hair, she didn't wear it that long, and the size of her breasts. That was the one thing Buffy had complained about, she didn't like being put on display as a 'balloon boobed bimbo', but she'd never voiced that thought to anyone but me as far as I knew. Instead she'd accepted the painting and demanded it be kept waxed and protected, if the guys thought they were going to throw here by playing on her sexuality she was going to throw it right back at them.
What I'd finally realized was that we were interlopers in a male world; our sexuality was going to be an issue no matter what we did or said. Buffy had taken the issue and made it a non-issue by simply accepting the sometimes crude humor the same as any male pilot would and going on from there. Once the men realized that they weren't going to get her goat by trying to embarrass or fluster her, the occurrences dropped to no more than they would for anybody else and maybe even lower, the men really respected her. Plus, she was more than willing to turn the tables on them and make just as crude a joke based on their sexuality as they did on her, which flustered them more than it did her. She told me she'd learned to handle arrogant chauvinists when she learned to deal with Spike, a friend from her old world. Or maybe an enemy, I wasn't quite sure, sometimes she referred to him as a vampire but I didn't know if that was figurative or literal, she'd refused to go into any details about him.
Beyond Buffy's obvious capability as a fighter pilot and leader her ability to interact with the men of our squadron as an equal, never claiming any privileges for herself or me beyond what our rank and position demanded, was what had made it work. In fact she was the most casual CO I'd ever known, outside of work she demanded an informality that was beyond Army norms. She'd told me one time that she knew it was completely out of her men's realm of reality to be led in war by a woman, and that to get over that they had to forget she was a woman and know what she was as a person. She did everything she could to break down the barriers between her and her men, and it had worked! Our squadron was the best fighting unit in the Army Air Force, and our record proved it. Sometimes I just sat back in wonder when I realized that I was part of that, it seemed so incomprehensible except that we did it.
The fact that I was the second leading US, and for that matter Ally, ace in the war also didn't seem possible. But then flying with Buffy all the time it didn't seem much of an accomplishment, she just made it happen. It wasn't that I didn't think what we had accomplished was insignificant, I knew intellectually that it was. But the way Buffy fought and led us, racking up kills was just part of the job. The fact that targets were plentiful and we were flying our asses off also helped.
I felt a tap on my leg and came out of my revere, I looked up at Buffy and when I met her eyes she turned and pointed out of the nose. I looked down and saw the outskirts of LA under us and in the distance could make out the LA airport. The plane was descending quickly now and I heard the whine of the flaps extending and the heavier grinding of the gear going down. A couple of minutes later and we touched down, bounced a little and then settled back down for good.
The plane slowed and then turned onto a taxiway and headed back down the field. In the distance I saw the dark green army hanger at the end of the field, a small crowd standing around watching us as we approached. The pilot brought us in close and then with a burst of throttle swung the plane around so she was pointed out, then the engines started shutting down until they all came to a stop and there was blessed silence. Buffy was up and squirming around, unzipping and struggling out of the heavy sheepskin lined leather flying clothes. I started copying her and in a few minutes we were both down to slacks, shirts and ties. Buffy dragged our duffels out from under the navigator's table and we got out our leather jackets and Officer's caps.
I opened the nose hatch and then stood back as Buffy dropped through it and then tossed out our duffels followed by my cane. I lowered myself through the hatch until my toes touched the ground and then let go. I staggered as my injured leg refused to take my weight and I started to go down. Buffy's strong grip on my arm kept me from falling, after a moment I got my balance and she let go of me and stuck my cane in my hand, "You okay, Barb?"
"Yeah – just stiff from being cooped up for so long."
She nodded in understanding and then turned to the two officers approaching us and came to attention. I followed suit and brought my hand up in salute with her as the senior officer came to a halt and stood stiffly at attention opposite us, Buffy spoke formally, "Good afternoon, Maj… Colonel Taylor!"
I saw the man that had inducted us into the Army, Major Zack Taylor, although he now had the silver oak leaves of a Lieutenant Colonel on his collar points instead of the gold oak leaves like the last time we'd seen him. He returned Buffy and my salutes and then shook his head, "Buffy… what the hell have you been doing!?"
"Following orders, sir!"
He glanced over at me and then back to her and held out his hand to her, "Yeah? I thought the last thing I told you was to stay out of trouble?!"
Buffy grinned sheepishly at him as she took his hand and shook it, "I tried, sir… I really did."
He snorted at her and then turned to me and held out his hand to me, I smiled at him as I took it, "Sir, she actually did… sort of."
He snorted again as he released my hand, "Well, you aren't doing a very good job right now!"
Buffy and I were both startled; Buffy scowled a little, "We haven't been here long enough to do anything yet!"
There were some thumps behind us and I glanced back and saw the flight crew had dropped out of the plane. The pilot and copilot, both 1st Lieutenants, were on the ground and the flight engineer, a staff sergeant, was in the hatch handing out their bags. A few moments later he was on the ground and through a hasty salute at us as he turned to follow the pilots. Colonel Taylor's voice rang out, "Lieutenant!"
The two officers turned around and hastily came to attention; Colonel Taylor glared at them until they finally raised their hands in salute. After a few moments he, along with Buffy and I, returned their salutes and then he said, "Is that the way you normally behave around senior officers?"
The officers reddened but then one, the pilot I thought, responded, "No sir! By your leave, sir!"
After a few moments Taylor gave a sharp node of his head, "Dismissed."
After they had walked out of earshot of us he said, "Do you get a lot of that?"
Buffy shrugged, I shook my head, "Not too much sir, for the most part we're more like something exotic… they don't know quite how to deal with us."
"I'm not sure I know how to deal with you two," the Colonel said, then turned to the young 2nd Lieutenant standing by him, "this is my aide, Lieutenant Rollins."
Buffy held out her hand, "Nice to meet you, Lieutenant."
He stared at her wide eyed for a moment before he took her hand, "It's an honor, ma'am!"
Buffy held on to his hand, not letting go of it, as she turned to me, "Do you think if I got a tattoo across my forehead that said "I AM NOT A MA'AM" it would do any good?"
"I don't think it would fit. Besides, if you think you get stared at a lot now…"
She turned back to him and released his hand, "I'm not a 'ma'am'; sir or Major is preferred."
Colonel Taylor chuckled, "I think the lieutenant here would classify you as exotic."
He reddened a little and I held out my hand to try to ease his discomfort, he took it and gave me a firm shake, "Lieutenant."
"So why am I in trouble now?"
"You were supposed to be in dress uniform, with medals."
"Dress uniform!? After riding all day in a fu… freaking B-17!"
The Colonel looked at her coolly for a moment and then turned to me, "You've been working on her, haven't you?"
"I've been trying, sir."
He turned back to Buffy, "That's what I told the PR flacks, they can wait until tomorrow. I imagine all you want right now is a quick shower and a bed."
"Actually, all I want right now is some food… a lot of it. Then I'll take the shower and bed." Buffy turned to me as she finished.
"Food sounds awfully good to me, although if it takes too long I might be asleep by the time it gets here." Despite having spent most of the day cocooned in blankets I still felt exhausted.
Taylor nodded, "I've got you a room, actually a small suite, at the Ambassador Hotel. They've got a decent restaurant but it might be better if you used room service, if some reporter spots you you're liable to get mobbed."
Buffy nodded, "Sounds like a plan, sir."
"My car is over here," he replied as he turned and started toward a Plymouth staff car painted khaki with a large white star on the door.
I turned to get my duffel but Rollins had stepped up and grabbed both of our duffels, "I've got it, ma… Sir."
"Thanks, Lieutenant." I followed Buffy and the Colonel over to the car, they got in the back but I opted for the front passenger seat, it had more leg room and was easier to get into and out of with my injured leg. The Lieutenant put our duffels in the trunk and then got behind the wheel.
Twenty minutes later we pulled up in front of the Ambassador Hotel. A door man stepped up and opened both doors on the passenger side of the car in one sweep, assisted by the fact that the rear door was hinged at the back. I got out of the car using my cane to steady myself. The Colonel got out of the back seat and then Buffy clambered out; she looked around for a moment with her golden blonde hair gleaming in the light from the setting sun; then she clapped her officer's cap onto her head.
I heard a shout from down the street, "That's her!"
I looked down the sidewalk and about twenty or thirty feet away there were a half dozen men, all of them seemed to have large cameras in their hands. They were all looking at us and another one shouted, "That's Summers and Thompson!"
Then they were all charging toward us, flashes started going off as some of them held up their cameras and snapped pictures of us. The Colonel stepped forward and held up his hands as they got close, "Hold it boys!"
The group came to a disorganized stop in front of us, flash bulbs going off occasionally as some of them continued to snap pictures. Others were yelling questions at us.
"Miss Summers, what's it like to be back in the states?"
"Ma'am, how does it feel to kill?"
At first Buffy almost seemed to cringe behind Colonel Taylor, but then she stepped out from behind him as he yelled at the reporters, "Hey guys! How about giving her a break, she's just flown clear across the country!"
"Hold on, I can take a little!" Buffy yelled out as she held up her hand. She looked at the small crowd of reporters in front of her and then glanced over her shoulder to me and gave me a quick look; I stepped up beside her as she turned back to the crowd. "Hey guys, be kind with the pictures would you, I just spent a long time on a plane."
There was a chuckle from some of the reporters and others just waited, I was glad to see they were at least being a little polite. I glanced around and noticed the growing crowd on the sidewalk around us, they were keeping back but stopping to watch what was going on, their curiosity aroused. Buffy concentrated on the reporters in front of us, I saw there were seven men and in the back one woman standing just a bit apart but she had a notebook and pencil in her hands ready to write down anything we said.
Buffy grinned at the reporters, "I'll let you each ask one question, be careful what you ask because if I can't, or won't, answer it you don't get another one!" She pointed to the closest reporter, "You first."
Buffy cut him off, "And I really dislike being called 'ma'am'!"
"Uh… Mi…" He started up again and then stopped at Buffy's scowl, she pointed to the gold oak leaf on her collar point and he tried for the third time, "Major, how does it feel to be the leading ace in the Army?"
Buffy thought for a moment, "I'm proud of my accomplishments, don't doubt that for a moment, but it wasn't just me. It was all the people that trained me, starting with Major Thompson here, and all the people that supported me both in the air and on the ground. All the men in the 89th, and especially the 611th Squadron, are incredible fighters and comrades. I'm sure some of them will be exceeding my score shortly, but I'll be back and I'll see if I can't regain my lead! But it is a team effort; I was the leader and got more targets than most. But everybody, from the ground crew that kept my plane flying to my fellow pilots that fought with me and saved my a… tail more times than I can count; that's what made it possible." She pointed to the next reporter, "Your turn!"
Before he could ask a question the first reporter spoke again, "Thank you, Major."
The second reporter glanced at him and scowled a little, then turned to Buffy, "How did you get credit for such an inflated number? Why did you think anyone would ever believe you shot down any enemy planes much less 63?" He gave her a nasty grin, "What did you really do?"
Buffy went white and then started to flush red, I grabbed her arm but she shrugged my hand off as she took a half step forward, he cringed a little under her glare but then she took her eyes off of him and scanned the rest of the crowd, "I'm going to respond to that this time, and never again!" She turned her gaze back to the reporter that had asked the questions, "You think I screwed my way to that score? Listen up and listen good! I don't fu… screw some man for anything other than our mutual pleasure. What I do for a living is shoot down airplanes, and I'm da… darn good at it! Better than anyone I know or have heard about! The Army Air Force has determined that I've done it 63 times, that's from them – not me! So if you have any questions about how many planes I have shot down, take it up with them!" She glared at the reporter, "And the next time you ask me such an insulting question I'm going to rip your head off and shove it so far up your ass you're going to need a glass navel to see out!"
She turned to the next reporter, "Do you think you can ask a civil question?"
He was silent for a moment, and then asked, "Do you really think it's a woman's place to be on the front lines?"
Buffy paused and looked over the crowd, "I don't think it's anybody's place to be on the front lines, but we don't have a choice do we? Somebody has to be there and I think that it is the place of whoever can do the job the best. I think more men have that ability than women, because of the way they are, because of the way they are raised, but that doesn't mean that there aren't women who do have the ability. And I think it is incredibly stupid to ignore that pool of talent, any pool of talent, that will help us win this war as fast and at the lowest cost we possibly can. To do otherwise is not just stupid, it's evil! Because it means more people are going to lose their lives, more people are going to be injured; more time is going to be wasted on this foolishness than is necessary. Whoever is the best, whether a man or a woman, should be doing the job."
There was silence for several moments, and then I heard someone behind us start to clap and glanced back, a young woman with a little girl standing beside her was clapping her hands. Soon the people around her joined in and it was several minutes before they came to a stop, Buffy had turned around and in the silence she spoke softly but loud enough for the young woman to hear, "Thank you."
She nodded at Buffy, "No, we should be thanking you."
Buffy shook her head and squatted down; she looked at the young girl, around ten I would guess, "What's your name?"
The girl looked at Buffy wide eyed and clutched at her mother's skirt, but then she said in a clear voice, "Mary."
"What do you want to do when you grow up?"
"I want to be a fighter pilot! Just like you!"
Buffy smiled at her and held out her hand, the little girl came forward and reached out and took Buffy's hand, "It's nice to meet you, Mary. I hope you don't ever have to be a fighter pilot like me, I have to do a lot of things I would rather not do. But remember, you can do… you can be anything you want to be."
Buffy let go of the girl's hand and stood back up and turned back to the reporters in front of us, she glanced at them and pointed to the next one, "Your question?"
"What's it like to kill?"
Buffy looked at him for a moment, "Don't like the easy questions, do you?" He shook his head and waited, "Its bad… it's not something I like to do. But I can live with what I have to do and unfortunately at this time it is necessary."
She continued to answer the reporter's questions, I noticed Colonel Taylor looking at her and then his eye caught mine; he gave a quick nod of approval. Finally she pointed to the woman at the back, "Okay, you've got the last question."
The woman seemed caught off guard, maybe she'd expected to be ignored? But after a moment she asked, "Are you a lesbian?"
Buffy started to redden and muttered under her breath, to softly for anybody but me and the Colonel to hear, "What the hell happened to don't ask, don't tell?" Then she shook her head and spoke in her normal voice, "No. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, but now I need to leave you. As you can see I desperately need my beauty rest."
With that she turned to the hotel and led us in, the doormen jerking the door open for her just in time. There was a crowd just inside the doors, they had evidently been watching the goings on out on the sidewalk, Buffy jerked to a stop as she got through the doors. Colonel Taylor stepped in front of her and shouted "Come on people, make way!"
Lieutenant Rollins stepped up beside him with our duffels and the two of them started through the crowd, Buffy and I followed close behind and the crowd parted to let us through. It only took a minute to sign the registration and pick up the keys to our room and then the Colonel led us to the elevators and we got out of the public view.
Forty-five minutes later I was standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom drying my hair when Buffy spoke from the door into her bedroom, "Foods here."
I turned and looked at her; she'd taken her shower first while I rested my leg. Her hair was still a little damp but she'd pulled it back in a ponytail and left it at that. In deference to the men out in the main room she'd put pants and a shirt back on, but I noticed she hadn't bothered with a bra, "Buffy?"
She looked at me quizzically, "What?"
"Being a little risqué?" I glanced at her chest and then back to her face.
She looked down at herself, "Jesus! The shirts plenty heavy enough! They've been strapped up for six days, they need a little freedom!"
I couldn't stop myself from giggling a little, "Crazy Slayer!"
She shrugged, "Yeah, so what else is new? Food!"
"Go for it, I'll be out in a couple."
I finished drying my hair and put on a fresh uniform, not bothering with the tie or any of the accouterments that normally adorned it. As I went out into the lounge area of our suite I saw the two men and Buffy were sitting around a table loaded with food but no one was eating. As I came up to the table the Colonel and Rollins both stood up, Rollins came around and held my chair for me. I took my seat and thanked him, when they had resumed their seats I turned to the Colonel, "You shouldn't have waited for me, sir."
He smiled at me, "Buffy and I have already discussed this, we're dropping the formalities for the evening, even Gary here," he said as he nodded at Rollins.
"Yes sir… Zack."
He snorted, "So would you tell me how the little blonde here led a squadron to shooting down more than 200 krauts in less than two months?"
"She has a secret weapon."
"And that is?"
Before I could say anything Buffy spoke up, "I flash my tits and while they're staring at them in utter awe everybody gets a free shot!"
The Colonel stared at her in shock for a moment and I spoke up, "I think she's getting tired of that question."
Buffy glared at me, "I think she's getting tired of everyone thinking there is some magic behind it rather than just working hard at it! And a hell of a lot of luck."
"She's being modest… remember the incident where the cadet got wounded on the gunnery range?"
He nodded, "I read the report."
"Buffy's got an amazing sense of spatial relationships. She can maneuver her flight so everybody has targets. Heck, I remember one time she maneuvered the entire group and at least 50% of us had targets in range when she was done. When you're flying with her it just doesn't seem, or rather it just isn't that hard to get kills."
Buffy snorted loudly and reached for one of the covered dishes, "Let's eat!"
The next morning we were up early and grabbed a quick breakfast before Colonel Taylor picked us up for the ride out to the Lockheed factory in Burbank. Since we were going to be out in public to some extent we were wearing our 'good' flying uniforms, khaki slacks and shirts with a necktie and our leather flying jackets, dress shoes, and officer's cap. In addition to our oak leaves and pilot's wings we also had on our ribbons. Most of the time when we were flying we wore our 'working' uniform, the same khaki's except no ribbons and we usually wore heavier boots and a soft overseas cap that we could stuff in our pocket when we were actually flying.
When we got to the plant we were led into an office complex where we met some of the top company men and the leaders of the P-38 development team including Hall Hibbard and Kelly Johnson. After a while I guess Buffy got tired of the socializing, she asked Hibbard, "Are we ever going to get our planes so we can get to work?"
He looked at her a little startled and then glanced to the other company officials, "Uh… well we were hopping you'd talk to our people… the factory workers we mean… we've sort of set up for it."
"You mean you want me to make a bloody speech?!" She turned on Colonel Taylor, "I thought I'd gotten the public relations crap cancelled!"
"Buffy!" I snapped.
The Colonel scowled at her, "Major, remember your little speech outside the hotel last night? These people are also part of that team that put you in the air!"
Buffy flushed, "Sorry sir," then she turned to the company executives, "I'd be happy… I'd be honored to speak to your people."
A junior executive type came into the room at that moment and went over to Robert Gross, the president of Lockheed, and whispered in his ear. He looked over at Buffy and nodded to her, "You've got your wish Miss Summers, the men are all assembled now."
"Thank you, sir, but it's 'Major' if you don't mind… for some reason 'Miss' just doesn't seem to have the right connotation for most of the things I'm involved in."
He nodded to her, "Fine, Major, if you'll follow me?"
He led us down several halls until we came out into the open area of a huge hanger; in front of us was a platform about eight feet tall. As we went up a set of stairs at the back of the platform the view opened up. It looked like the hanger had been hastily cleared; I could see planes of various types parked on the tarmac outside of the large open doors at the far end of the hanger. On the floor in front of the stage a crowd filled almost the entire area. The stage itself was about ten feet by twenty and there was a microphone on a stand up near the front edge. As we came into view the crowd noise picked up, then some cheers, whistles and clapping started filling the hanger.
On either side of the stage were large cloth covered objects, by the shape visible under the cloth I knew there were P-38s. The planes were parked at either corner of the stage, angled at about forty-five degrees so their noses were pointed toward the center of the hanger. Some light ropes hung down from the ceiling of the hanger high overhead and were attached to the cloth drapes at various points; I guess they were planning on some kind of dramatic reveal of our new planes at some point. Then I noticed Markoff standing off to the side near the plane on the right.
As we walked across the stage I looked over the crowd, it appeared to be mostly factory workers although several other groups clustered slightly apart from the main mass of bodies. Over on the right side there was a small cluster of men more neatly dressed, engineers and managers I imagined. On the left side beside one of the covered P-38s was a cluster of women in skirts and dresses, the secretarial pool I guessed. Behind them were half a dozen more women, but these women were in uniform and all but one of them were wearing leather flying jackets. With a shock I realized I recognized two of them, Helen Carson and Tammy Nelson, they'd been in our advanced training class. Then I realized the one woman in uniform but who wasn't wearing a flying jacket was Sarah Harkens, another pilot from our class.
We stopped a couple feet from the front of the stage and Mr. Gross walked up to the mike and tapped on it, a booming noise filled the hanger and then he spoke into it, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to Major Buffy Summers and Major Barbara Thompson, the leading aces of the war!"
There were cheers and clapping, along with a couple cat calls from the back but they were quickly silenced. Buffy and I walked up beside Mr. Gross and after a moment I started waving at the crowd, I couldn't think of anything else to do. After a couple minutes the noise started to go down and Mr. Gross leaned into the microphone, "Mi… Major Summers, would you mind saying a few words?"
He stepped away from the mike and Buffy moved over in his place. She looked up at the mike; it was taller than her, and then started fiddling with the stand. Suddenly it came loose and the mike slid down until it was about half the height it had been, a loud screech followed by a boom echoing around the hanger as it slid down. Buffy looked sheepishly at it then brought it back up to a good height for her and locked it in place; then she addressed the crowd, "That's why they don't let me work on the planes."
A chuckle went through the crowd along with a smattering of applause. She looked out over the crowd and was silent for several moments. Then she started to speak.
"The first thing I want to say is thank-you, thank-you from the bottom of my heart. Without the magnificent plane you provided me, without all the work and effort you put into her, I wouldn't be alive today." The crowd roared and clapped. Buffy glanced over at me and after a moment I realized what she was silently asking, I nodded in agreement, when they had quieted she continued, "Neither of us would be alive."
"What we've done is important, but what you do is just as important. We couldn't do what we do if you didn't do your job, and do it well! On the last combat flight I made, the one where I was downed, the plane that you people made, the plane that I had flown for over three months and made every single kill in, saved my life! She took a lot of damage but dished out even more, and she still got me back on the ground safe and sound. I asked her to do more than she could and survive, but she did it willingly and sacrificed herself to save me and my squadron mates." The roar of the crowd stopped her, she waited calmly until they quieted and she could continue.
"I know that you work long hours in often trying conditions, but I ask you to please keep up the good work! We rely on you to do our job, and as long as you provide us with the planes, good strong planes, we'll do our job!" Another roar went through the crowd, after they quieted Buffy started again "I'm not much of a speaker and I'm sure you've got better things to do than stand around listening to me make hot air."
This time it was laughter that drowned her out, she smiled and waved at them and when the quieted she finished, "So I think, I hope, I've said enough that you know how much I, how much we all, appreciate your work. I'll let my friend and the best XO and maintenance officer I've ever had take over."
Applause and cheers filled the hanger as she stepped back from the mike and waved me up to it. I stepped up and looked over the crowd, after a few moments they quieted. "She's a liar, she's the speaker not me!"
Roars and cheers and laughs filled the hanger as I turned and looked at Buffy, her hand started to move and I knew she was going to give me the finger. I know my eyes went wide and I jerked my head in a quick negative shake, fortunately she remembered where we were and she just glared at me. I turned back to the crowd and waited for them to quiet, "I really can't add a lot to what Buffy, Major Summers, has already said. Twice your planes have brought me back, both of us shot up, but both times they got me on the ground in one piece. So, thank-you for the great work you do - and keep it up!"
I stepped back from the mike and over to where Buffy was standing. I guess the executives had expected us to talk longer, there was a couple of moments of confusion before Mr. Gross stepped back to the mike, "Well… thank-you for your kind remarks. I guess we should give these young ladies their new planes so they can get back to work!"
He raised his hands slowly up and the crowd roar increased as the cloth drapes covering the shapes on either side of the stage rose toward the hanger ceiling. As the planes became visible I could see their gleaming skin, although they were painted in drab green and brown camouflage colors they had been waxed to the point where they had a deep shine despite the matte finish. The drapes cleared the planes and on the plane to my right I could see in neat script under the cockpit Plexiglas 'Major Barbara Thompson'. Forward of the wing and below the front edge of the canopy were rows of bright red rectangles, a white circle containing a Nazi swastika was in the center of each rectangle. I did a quick count; there were four rows with ten of the flags in each row, and one partial row at the bottom with four more flags.
Then I noticed there was some nose art forward of the flags, my old plane had never had any and I wondered with some trepidation what Markoff had done to me. Almost reluctantly I looked more closely at it; I realized it was a painting of a kid in coveralls and t-shirt, the shoulder length dark, curly hair making it clear it was a girl. Her hand was back and she was getting ready to through something, looking closer I realized it was an orange and another one had already been thrown and was in front of her, the way it was drawn it was clear it was speeding away from her. Her other hand held a couple more oranges ready to be thrown. Below the girl in the same script as my name under the cockpit coaming but twice as large was 'Barbie Doll'. I wondered where he had come up with that when I heard snickering beside me, I glanced at Buffy and she was looking at my plane, barely able to suppress her laughter, her eyes gleaming.
"You want to let me in on the joke?" I whispered.
On the other side of the stage there was a rising clamor of wolf whistles and shouts and cheers coming from the people closest to the nose of the other plane. More and more people were crowding in but we couldn't see what was there since it was on the far side of the fuselage. Markoff must have recreated his original work or something like it by the crowd's reaction; I just hoped he hadn't gone too far. Buffy was noticing the same reaction and she scowled a little, and then said sharply under her breath, "He had better have listened to me!"
I tried to cover up my own snicker and Buffy gave me a sharp look, I asked her, "Do you want to go check it out?"
"I guess we better," Buffy responded, I looked back over at her new plane and saw Markoff standing by the port prop, he grinned at us and gave us an 'OK' with his thumb and finger. Buffy turned to the VIPs on the stage and called out, "We're going down for a closer look, but they look like beautiful birds!"
She headed for the back of the stage and I followed her down the stairs and around to her plane. We came up from the rear and ducked under the port wing to come out by the engine nacelle next to Markoff. I looked up at the painting on Buffy's plane, it was almost exactly the same as the one he had done for me on canvas. The painting depicted Buffy looking into the distance, her eyes searching for a target for the arrow she had nocked in the long bow that slanted across her body. She was nude from the waist up but her long blonde hair covered enough of her breasts that the nipples and areoles were concealed. Unlike the first version he had done her breasts were not exaggerated, they were about the same as in reality, maybe they were enhanced a little but it was subtle if at all. She wore a diaphanous pair of baggy pants, Turkish Harem Pantaloons I called them, which did nothing to conceal her flat belly and slim legs, only the curve of her thigh and the position of the lower part of the bow concealed her bush.
The crowd around the nose of the plane had quieted when we appeared, now some chattering and whispering were starting up. Buffy examined it for a couple of moments and then turned to Markoff, "Thank-you, it's beautiful. You've got a good eye, even if I won't pose for you."
There were some laughs and a couple of gasps from those in the crowd closest to us that had overheard her remark. She leaned up and gave Markoff a quick kiss on the cheek and he stammered his response, "It's… It was a pleasure, ma… Major, Sir!"
I heard a snort from behind me and turned and saw Colonel Taylor and Rollins had come out from under the wing; they were looking up at the nose art on Buffy's plane. Rollins was staring open mouthed at the painting and the Colonel's eyes kept darting from it to Buffy and back again. Finally he said, "Uh… well it certainly seems to capture you, Major Summers."
She grinned up at him, "Better than a set of coveralls, sir?"
I couldn't stop myself from snickering as I remembered when she'd taken her first check ride with then Captain Jenkins and she'd changed into a set of coveralls in the hanger and shocked the hell out of the Sergeant who was with her. She had accused both the Captain and Taylor of imagining her without the coveralls, both had vigorously denied it but we all knew she was right.
Taylor looked down at her, "Major… I'm not sure quite how to take that."
She nodded and stepped closer to him, then spoke quietly so only we could hear, "I've got to lead men and no matter what I do or say they are always going to be aware I'm a woman. It's better to just put it out there and let them adjust to it; they have to realize that my sex has nothing to do with my competence. If I tried to hide it or ignore it the sexual jokes and innuendos would just keep growing until they got a response, and that's a response I don't want to have to make. Instead I've found it's better to make a preemptive strike, I've got it and I'll flaunt it when I have to but otherwise it's just something that is."
The Colonel looked at her seriously for several moments and then nodded in understanding, "You're right… the worst thing for an officer is to be ridiculed… you've taken that away by embracing it, haven't you?"
"Yes sir, you could say that." Buffy turned back to her plane and gazed up at it; then I saw her eyes travel back toward the cockpit and I followed her gaze. I had thought the rows of flags on my plane were impressive; the rows on her plane filled the entire area between upper and bottom curves of the fuselage, six rows of ten flags and a seventh row with three more flags.
Some of the Lockheed executives had made their way around to where we were, the crowd moving reluctantly back to let them in. As Mr. Gross came up Buffy turned to him, "Thank-you sir, she's a beauty."
He tore his eyes off the nose art and turned to her, "Uh… Your welcome, mi… Major Summers. I hope she'll be as good as your previous plane. Your corporal is quite an… artist."
"I'm sure she will be and yes he is. Excuse me sir, I'd like to check her out a little closer."
He nodded to her and Buffy turned and ducked under the wing, a moment later I could see her up by the cockpit, leaning into it. After a few moments she stood up and yelled down, "She even smells new!"
I decided it was time to take a closer look at my new plane, as I turned toward her I caught Markoff's eye and jerked my head so he would follow me. We made our way through the crowd and I angled toward the left side of the nose so I could get a closer look at the nose art he had done. I stopped a couple of feet from it and examined the painting closely.
Like I had thought from my distant view the main figure was a young girl in coveralls and a t-shirt, running forward while throwing oranges at some unseen target. The girl had my dark, curly hair and could have been me at that age, although it was a little off from my memory of myself. I turned to Markoff, "Thanks, it's nice, but I don't really get the 'Barbie Doll', it doesn't seem to quite go with it?"
"Uh… yes sir," Markoff stammered, "Buffy came up with it… she seemed to get a real kick out of it but she wouldn't tell me why."
I nodded, "Yeah, she hasn't told me either, but it still doesn't seem to fit?"
Markoff looked around, nobody was close to us - he took a small sketch book out of the side pocket of his coveralls, "Major… Buffy nixed this for now but said I could do it if it was okay with you when we went overseas."
He flipped open the book and I was looking at a picture of me; I was in a sitting position, like I was sitting on the ground. It was a side view and my knees were drawn up and my arms were resting on them, braced to hold the 45 automatic in my hands. The gun had just been fired, flame and smoke jetting from the barrel and several shell casings were in the air. I had a grin a pleasure and there was a gleam in my eye, you felt that whatever I was shooting at was being hit. The problem was that I didn't have a stitch of clothing on; my breasts were just touching the tops of my thighs so my nipples were not exposed. The angle it was drawn from naturally concealed my privates, but the curve of my legs and ass was clearly visible.
I swallowed quickly a couple of times, it was a beautiful picture and very complimentary, but I didn't know if I wanted the world to see me like that. I looked up and saw Markoff was looking at me expectantly, "Uh… It's beautiful but… we'll have to discuss it later."
I thought for a moment, "Can you give me a copy? Maybe if I live with it for a while I'll be more comfortable with it."
He grinned at me, "Yes sir, I'll do a little larger format. I'll be able to get in more detail."
I could feel myself redden a little, "Sure… that would be nice."
I turned my attention back to my new plane but my thoughts were swirling through my head. 'Jesus, Buffy, what have you done to me? I'm actually considering having a nude painting done of myself and have it shown where anybody can see it?' I shook my head and concentrated on the plane.