Chapter Two: The Blue Eyed Man
Paige woke on her own and stretched leisurely. She had slept herself out. It surprised her that Jester had not paged her for another mission. She sat up straight in bed, her mind going back to the events from the day before. Jester hadn’t come home with her. She looked at her pager. It was already nine. Jester was an early riser, up with the sun more often than not, and if he had returned last night he would have been up and about with it. She stamped on her boots and headed hastily out into the hall. She ran straight into the blond man. He steadied her, grinning as she glanced up and into his eyes. “Excuse me.” He said, his soft voice revealing an Australian sounding accent. He walked around her and into the room right next door. Paige reached up and touched her arm where his hand had been steadying her, then shook her head to clear it. She wondered why he affected her that way. Was it his extraordinary eyes? She shook her head again. No time for that now. She was too worried about Jester. She strode up and into the mess hall. Jester was sitting alone at one of the tables, his medical kit open as he wound a bandage around his hand. Paige approached quietly. “Jester?” She said softly. When Jester turned to her Paige’s heart broke. His ice blue eyes, once so full of life and vigor were dead, and cold. She knew then that he hadn’t found Tris and didn’t think that he ever would. Paige looked away, unable to bear their pain filled stare as tears welled up in her eyes. She had never seen his eyes so lifeless. He had always been the one who had loved the crowds, the performances. To see him look so dead pained her to her core. He spoke quietly, his voice as lifeless and evocative as his haunting eyes. “We’re going on a mission at thirteen hundred hours. Be ready.” Paige looked back at him, studying in injured hand. “What happened to your hand sir?” she asked softly. Jester looked down at his hand as if he hadn’t really thought about the fact that he was bandaging it. “It’s just a minor burn. Be ready to fly.” He hurriedly packed up his medical kit and walked out. Paige shook her head sadly, walking into the kitchen and fixing herself breakfast, though after that she didn’t feel much like eating. As she was picking at her food Christina walked in. “have you seen…” The older woman asked as she sat down across from Paige. Paige just nodded. Christina shook her head. “I wish we could help him. She said softly. “He doesn’t want our help. Right now he just wants to be left alone.” Christina sighed and nodded, rising slowly and walking toward the barracks. Paige threw her plate away and headed up toward the bathroom for a shower.

When Paige arrived in the hanger just after lunch Jester was waiting on her. “Are you read to fly?” Paige nodded. “Good, follow me up.” He walked quickly over to his plane and climbed in. Paige quickly climbed into her own F-16, painted with her call sign, archer, underneath the canopy. Jester roared out of the hanger as she strapped in and Paige followed as quickly as she dared. He didn’t wait for her confirmation as she fell in on his wing. “We’re heading out towards the ocean. There’s a fleet in harbor there and we’ve got some excocets waiting for them.” “How many do we have apiece?” Paige asked. “Six, the planes have been modified. You have eight sidewinders and four five hundred pound Durendall anti-runway bombs also. You known when we reach the target area.” Paige fell silent for the rest of the flight, not knowing what to say. She thought about what was torturing Jester. There was no reason Tris should not have made it to the base. She should have made it easer than any of the cowboys and yet they were there and she was not. Paige had known Tris pretty well back at their old base. Tris was gregarious and she had always been well liked and Jester had fallen in love with her at first sight. There was a muffled sound, like a sob, from Jester over the radio and then he hastily cut his off. She knew then he’d been thinking about Tris also. Paige bit her lip. Jester had been a big brother to her for so long now. It was hard to know that he was hurting, hard to be pushed away by him. She sighed and looked out her canopy, watching the landscape change for the rest of the flight. When Jester turned his radio back on he showed no signs of having been upset and Paige began to speculate if she had just imagined it. “We’re almost to the target site. We will be making four passes over the bay. Take out as many ships as possible on the first run. We won’t worry about them too much during the second run because of the MiG’s that should arrive. Second run, you take the ships, I’ll take the planes. Third run, we switch. Fourth, back like the second, you follow?” “Yes sir.” On our way out we’ll be flying over an airstrip. That’s what the Durendalls are for. Drop them on the runways then we run like hell, you got it?” “I got it.” “Alright Archer, be ready. We’re nearly there now.” Paige watched as the water ahead grew then they were over it and flying up along the coast and she could see the harbor ahead. As one they dropped down. As they flew over the crowded bay Jester launched his first three excocets and Paige followed suit. The missiles found their targets in an aircraft carrier, several battle ships and a few smaller ships. As they reached the other side of the bay the MiG’s came at them. There were four of them, all MiG-29’s. “Go!” Jester ordered and Paige turned, flying back out over the bay. As she seemingly retreated, she released another excocets and grinned, as a surfaced submarine was its target. She returned some of the fire from the ship below but their fire was weak at best and she saved most of her ammo for the air battle she knew was ahead. As she reached the other side of the bay she pulled an imelman and hotfooted it back to Jester and the MiGs. When she reached him again she saw the wreckage of three littering the terrain below but more had arrived at the party to replace those who had crashed. “Tag.” Paige said. “I’m it hmm?” Jester said as he turned his plane and booted it out towards the harbor. “You got it.” Paige dove into the MiGs. Three were left now and she planned to have taken care of all of them before Jester arrived back. One MiG started to follow Jester but Paige fired a burst from her guns that caught him in the side of his plane. He turned to face her, his plane smoking badly and Paige launched a sidewinder at him. The missile locked on to whatever fire she had started in the planes innards and split the plane in half. The pilot tried to eject but caught his canopy and tumbled to the ground lifelessly. Paige turned, dodging a sparrow missile launched from one of the other MiGs. She turned on that one, struggling to get on his tail as the other remaining one tried to get a clean shot at her. She let off bursts of gunfire, never getting close enough for missile lock. He turned suddenly and fled the fight, his plane smoking and loosening altitude.  The final MiG, seeing his chance, tried to settle in on her tail. He wasn’t watching his radar however, and Jester, returning from his run over the ships, fired a sidewinder that blew him out of the sky. Paige looked about at the clear sky. “Double run?” She asked Jester. “Why not?” He replied. Paige grinned. “You lead sir.” They flew back out over the bay; both dropping their last excocets and watching the ships below explode. Jester turned off toward the west. “When we get over the runway, drop the Durendalls then and run like hell.” As they came on the airstrip Paige could see why. There were several groups of bombers waiting to take off on the runway and around it. Jester screamed in low and fast, varying his payload over the planes and the runway. Paige followed his lead She watches as the bombs she dropped took care of the last of the bombers.  She flew up to where Jester was circling the destroyed runway in case of any more MiGs. As she fell in on his wing he spoke again. “Lets go home.”

When they reached the base Jester cursed. There were several black planes on the runway. Jester made a screeching landing and Paige came down beside him on the wide runway. When she had landed she could see that the mysterious planes were F-15’s and F-14’s. By the time she had gotten her canopy open Jester was already stalking across the runway towards the shack that held the secrete entrance to the base. Paige hurried to catch up and fell in at his shoulder as he faced a tall, dark skinned man waiting at the doorway. The two men stood just staring at each other for a moment. Jester finally spoke first. “Hello Jerund.” “Hello Jester.” The man responded in kind. Two other men walked out and stood beside him, at his shoulders as Paige had done with Jester. “Crix, Jayson.” Jester said quietly with a nod to each. “Jester.” They each returned. Jester turned back to Jerund. “I told you not to come here.” “Wyoming is gone. They hit a series of bases, Kansas, Ohio, and Oklahoma. Texas absorbed the Oklahoma and Ohio pilots, we came here.” Jerund said quietly. “And Kansas?” Jester asked. “No one got away.” Jerund said his expression pained. “Damn…” Jester looked at the ground for a moment, then back up at Jerund. “How many did you bring?” “Three squadrons lost the fourth.” The man looked out over Jesters shoulder at the now setting sun. “Twelve god pilots, gone.” He shook his head and looked back at Jester. “We’re working for the same goal here. It’s time to reconcile old differences and work collectively. The past is gone. I’m willing, are you?” Jerund put out his hand to be shaken. Jester hesitated a moment, then took it. “Deal.” Paige suddenly remembered Jerund. He had been a general from their old base caught up in some governmental venture. He had always wanted good pilots and Jester always had them. He had even tried to recruit Tris at one point. Jerund nodded as he released Jesters hand and he and his men disappeared into the shack. Jester walked toward the hanger, leaving Paige alone. She turned after a moment of thought and headed down into the base. As she walked through the mess hall she saw several of the dark suited pilots that made up Jerund’s wings. Paige remembered similar pilots from her old base. Always quiet, they, as a rule, kept to them selves. Now that she thought about it most were probably the same pilots. On their old base Paige had known Crix well, although how he had fallen in with Jerund was a mystery to her. He had been in one of the F-15 squadrons on their old base and before the war, had been quiet sociable. To see him so subdued was saddening, but she was relieved to find that he was still alive and well. Paige smiled, reminiscing a little on those old memories of happier times. She bumped straight into Michael, another of the pilots from Crix’s old squadron. He was clothed in the black flight suit also but smiled to see her. “Paige! Where’ve you been? Haven’t seen you in ages!” Paige grinned. Michael had always been a very pleasant man and usually was found with Crix. She should have known he wouldn’t be far behind his friend. “Jesters had me out flying mission these past few days.” Michael nodded. “Yea, heard he’s been quiet busy and you were usually his chosen wingman.” Paige tried to suppress a yawn but was unable to. Michael smiled. “You’re tired though I can see. Go on, get some rest; I’ll see you later.” Paige smiled her thanks and walked off down the steps to her room. As she opened her door she stopped cold. Sitting on her bed was the blond man. He smiled at her. “G’day.” He said with his distinctive accent. Paige smiled. “Hi.” She replied shyly. The man held out his hand. “I’m Cien Ranier.” His blue-violet eyes studied her face as she took his hand. Paige avoided his eyes. “I’m Paige Fardreamer.” Cien smiled widely. “That’s a pretty name.” Paige blushed furiously and looked at the floor. It had been a long time since she had been this nervous around guys and she wondered what was different about this Cien. He looked away. “I…I wanted to apologize for my behavior. I could tell you didn’t like it so I stopped. I needed to, but the way people looked at me when I was drunk, particularly you, finally brought me around.” Paige smiled. “Glad I could help.” She yawned again and Cien slapped his forehead. “What a jerk! Here I am blathering on and on and you just got back from a mission. I’ll go now.” He got up and started toward the door. “Wait!” Paige said. Cien turned to look back at her, his hand on the knob. “You going to be around?” Paige asked. “Yea, why?” “Just wondering.” Paige replied to his question, blushing. Cien reached out and gently traced a hand down her jaw. He blushed furiously as he dropped his hand, as if realizing he had touched her without meaning to. He rushed out the door and into the room next to hers, shutting the door softly. Paige closed her door and reached up, touching her face where Cien had touched her. She sat down on the edge of her bed then, kicking of her boots and laying back with a happy sigh. She curled up and soon fell asleep.