Oscar and Rudy took a moment to look around after exiting the tan government car, enjoying the beauty and serenity of the land while taking deep breaths of the fresh, country air. “HI!” The happy greeting brought their attention to the pretty young woman, dressed in denim cut-off shorts and pink tank top, crouching in the flower garden next to the house. She stood and ambled toward them with a sparkling smile, taking off her gardening gloves as she went.
“Hi.” They chimed in unison before hugs were shared.
“So what brings you out here to the Austin homestead?” She inquired, hoping it was just a social visit. After seeing the look cross Oscar’s face she already knew it wasn’t.
“I was hoping to speak with you and Steve. Is he here?” Oscar asked with a genuine smile.
“Yes, as a matter of fact he is. Follow me.” As the trio headed into the house Kayce glanced at Rudy, “I hope you’re not here on business.” She commented with a grin. A pang of concern hit her stomach whenever the doctor arrived unexpectedly.
“No, I’m just here to see my ‘nephew’.” His thumb pointed to his left. “He’s the one here on business.” They followed Kayce through the neatly kept house to the office. Standing outside a closed door she held her finger vertically to her lips.
Oscar whispered, “What’s going on?”
She grinned and gave a hushed reply. “Kyle’s been sick with a bad cold. Steve caught it yesterday but insists he’s not sick. So he’s been doing a lot of work around the ranch and wearing himself out. This morning he looked exhausted so I conned him into resting.”
“You conned him?” Rudy chuckled and she nodded with a giggle. “Since our son always wants to do whatever his daddy is doing, I told him Kyle needed a nap and asked Steve to take him in here for some quiet time. He did and this is the result.” She silently swung open the door to Steve’s home office and three hearts were warmed at the sight.
On the couch before them was Steve lying on his back with his left leg bent and foot on the floor, his left arm resting outstretched on the small table in front of the couch, a children’s book in his relaxed hand. His right arm was wrapped protectively around the small body sleeping on top of him. Steve’s brown head was turned slightly towards them and his eyes were closed, his face peaceful. Riding the gentle rise and fall of his daddy’s broad chest was his little boy lying face down, his right arm on Steve’s chest, his left folded under his cheek, pillowing his head. The matching face was also towards them as he slumbered quietly.
The threesome muffled their chuckles at the similar looking boys sleeping soundly. “See.” Kayce commented. “It worked like a charm.” She stepped into the carpeted room with the two men following. Reaching down she removed Steve’s arm from Kyle’s back before gently lifting her three-year-old into her arms. The weary child never woke, curling into his mother’s chest as his sock-footed legs hung limply off her forearm.
As soon as the lightweight was removed from his chest Steve stirred and opened his eyes in confusion, seeing three pairs of eyes looking down at him with silly grins on their faces. “What’s going on?” He mumbled sleepily.
“I’ll be right back. Can I get you boys anything? Coffee? Juice?” Kayce asked and after received negative responses from both guests she went to put Kyle in his bed. Steve swung his other leg off the couch as Rudy and Oscar took seats in the leather chairs across from him.
“Well pal, I have an interesting proposition.” He gave his operative a charming smile as he watched Steve rub tiredness from his face then raised an eyebrow.
“Oh really.” He replied in a low, stuffy voice. At that moment Kayce returned and handed Steve a cup of hot coffee knowing he would need a clear head if Oscar were here to talk business.
“Thanks.” He said as she handed him the mug before taking the seat next to him. “Okay, shoot.” He responded as he sipped the caffeinated beverage.
”Well actually it’s for the both of you.” He quickly held his hand up to stop the defensive response he knew would be forthcoming. “Just hear me out before you say anything, okay?”
Steve and Kayce both nodded silently and waited. Neither thrilled with the idea of going out on assignment together, their last pairing resulting in Steve getting shot, left behind and assumed dead. Kayce still had an occasional nightmare from the experience, usually when Steve was gone and she was sleeping in their bed alone.
“The Russians have produced an incredibly agile prototype aircraft that, by now, has top secret weaponry…our weaponry. We had developed a highly advance air-to-air missile system that was stolen eight months ago. The aircraft is also state of the art and their design. I need you to go in and bring it back.”
“The whole aircraft?” Steve asked and Oscar nodded affirmatively.
“Actually there are two already produced. We figure its payback. They stole our weapon system we steal their planes.”
Steve immediately understood the gravity of the mission. “I guess Jaime isn’t an option?” He asked hopefully. Oscar nodded negatively. “I need two pilots. Two bionic pilots.”
Kayce took a breath to inquired about the specifics when, over Oscar’s shoulder, she saw her son standing half-asleep in the doorway rubbing his glassy eyes. She stopped short of her words not wanting him to hear the conversation. Rudy immediately noticed her hesitation and followed her gaze to the door. “I’ll get him.” The doctor stood and knelt before the boy. “Hi Kyle. How about we get some juice? I bet you’re thirsty.” The fevered, tow headed boy with flushed cheeks, just nodded and let his uncle Rudy lift him up to carry him to the kitchen.
“So?” Oscar asked in a hopeful tone.
“I think we need some more details before we can discuss it.” Oscar nodded knowingly and removed an intelligence file from his black leather bag. He laid it out and began outlining the mission.
“As you know the Russian only recently commissioned their first carrier, a Kiev class called the ‘Kiev’. Right now they don’t have any conventional winged aircraft except their YAK-38 Forger VTOL Fighter. The ship carries mostly helicopters. They have recently designed and built the newest fighter for their navy, the YAK- 41. It is that aircraft that holds our weapon system and it is now operational. I need you two to go in and get the planes.” The tall man sat back and waited for a response.
Throughout the abbreviated presentation there were occasional glances between husband and wife. Afterward the threesome found Rudy sitting on the couch watching cartoons with Kyle quietly lying next to him.
“How about staying for lunch? I’m sure it’s been awhile since you two ate a healthy home cooked meal.”
“Sounds good but I’m afraid we need to catch a flight back to Washington.”
Rudy lightly tousled the darkening blonde hair on Kyle’s head. “I’ll see ya Kyle.”
“See ya Uncle Rudy.” He replied with a tired, lopsided smile before looking up to Oscar. “Bye Uncle Oscar.”
“Good bye Kyle. I hope you feel better.” Before the sentiment was finished the boy nodded and his eyes already returned to Bugs Bunny.
That night while lying together in bed Steve broached the subject on both their minds. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
He heard a heavy sigh escape her lips. “I know I should say no but to be honest the chance to fly a top military jet is too exciting to pass up.” She looked up from where her head rested on his bare, muscular chest to see his crooked smile. “What?”
“I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist.”
“Yep, just like a kid at Christmas.” Kayce chuckled at her own transparentness.
“Well, I guess I’ll call Oscar tomorrow to let him know we are in.”
“I wonder how long we’ll be away from Kyle.”
“I’m not sure. We could probably be brought up to speed using the flight simulator. Maybe Oscar can have it moved here to California. After that the final training will need to be completed on the aircraft carrier.”
She looked at him in surprise, “Do you really think Oscar would take the time and money to move a whole flight simulator to Ventura AFB?”
Steve chuckled at her naïveté as he ran his hand through her silky hair, “My dearest wife, you are new to the OSI aren’t you? Let me give you a little piece of valuable advice. When Oscar really wants a bionic agent and seeing as how there are only three of us, we can negotiate for anything.” She stared at him unsure whether to believe him or not. “If you don’t believe me ask Jaime.”
She smiled and snuggled into him feeling a little better about their decision knowing they may not have to be away from home as long as she thought.
The Captain of the USS Liberty shook hands with the Air Force officer before the male trio sat down to discuss concerns of the upcoming mission. Oscar broke the ice unsure how the man would take the unusual situation; women were not accepted on naval ships for a reason… there were no co-ed accommodations.
“Captain Harding, from what our intelligence has been able to uncover the YAK-41 is similar in size and flight characteristics to our Navy and Air Force F-4 Phantom II. My operatives, both pilots, will be training in the F-4s and flight simulator here at Ventura before coming on board your ship, at which time their final training for carrier landings will take place.”
“I’m curious Mr. Goldman why naval pilots were not chosen for this assignment.”
“My agents have special skills that are needed to insure the mission’s success.” He saw the uncertainty in the man’s eyes. “I’m well aware of the fact that my asking an Air Force pilot to act as a naval aviator is unconventional but in this case it is a necessity.”
The Naval Officer eyed Steve who sat relaxed in his chair. “Learning to fly on and off an aircraft carrier usually takes months. Do you really think you can do it in just a few weeks?”
“Yes.” Steve replied confidently and saw the disbelief in the Captain’s eyes. “We have to Captain if we don’t that hardware can be used to kill many U.S. pilots from all branches of the military.”
After seeing the determined blue stare the black-haired man folded his hands on the round tabletop. “I’m familiar with your flying record Colonel and might I add it is quite impressive. You may be one of a very few who can pull off this training without getting yourself killed. Who is your other pilot?” He turned to look at Oscar and immediately saw the subtle eye contact with Steve before he answered, knowing this would be difficult for the military Captain to swallow. The director was just glad the Admiral had already ordered the Captain to cooperate to the fullest.
“That would be Kayce Austin.” He replied simply.
“Is he an Air Force pilot also?”
Steve sat forward and responded. “Kayce is my wife and no she is not a military pilot.”
The shocked Captain sat back in his chair, his arms folding across his chest not willing to accept this easily. “Let me get this straight. You want me to allow a civilian pilot with no military experience to fly a multi-million dollar aircraft on and off my ship… putting a co-pilot, not to mention my deck crew, at risk? What about physical conditioning? Women are not strong enough to handle the extreme gravitational forces on the body. She’ll blackout and crash.”
Steve wasn’t sure the Captain was voicing valid concerns or he was just a male chauvinist. He inwardly smiled knowing Kayce would have verbally taken this man apart if she suspected the later to be true and the poor man wouldn’t have even be aware of it until it was all over. Oscar remained a silent observer, wondering how Steve would handle this sensitive situation.
The former astronaut sat forward placing his elbows on the table, his voice calm and professional. “Well Captain since you seem impressed by my flying expertise I think you should know that flying T-38’s in simulated dog fighting, my wife beat me 2 out of 3.”
“So you’re saying she has some experience in military jets?” He asked in surprise and Steve nodded.
“Some and I can assure you she has the best natural ability I have ever seen in any military or civilian pilot, male or female.”
The naval officer leaned back in his chair, keeping eye contact with Steve. He mentally debated whether or not to be brutally honest about his personal thoughts on this mission. Being the type of man known for speaking his mind he took a deep breath, reminded himself of the OSI director’s clout and phrased his opinions as diplomatically as possible.
“May I honest with you Colonel?” Steve silently nodded affirmatively so the Captain continued. “I run a very tight ship, the tightest in the navy, and I won’t be able to provide your wife with the plush accommodations such as gourmet meals, weekly manicures and long hot showers she is no doubt used to. I also don’t have the space to store the 80 pieces of luggage she will be bringing on board.”
Steve didn’t know whether to get into an argument with this misinformed man or just laugh out loud. Before he could decide on a reaction a small smile grew on his lips.
“Captain, my wife will not expect nor demand what you anticipate. The only things she will require are five flight suits; I’d say a size 32, and the flight gear to do her job.”
The tall lanky man glanced at Oscar then back to Steve who continued to challenge him with his confident stare. Knowing he was backed into a corner and not having any real say in whether the two operatives came aboard his ship he silently yielded.
“Alright Colonel. I’ll be sure to have those items available. I assume you will be bringing your own flight gear?”
“Well then gentlemen, the repairs to the USS Liberty will be completed in 3 weeks. I will see you then.”
Steve nodded and stood with the other two men. After handshakes were exchanged the uniformed man moved towards the door. Stopping with his hand on the knob he turned with one final question. “Colonel, your wife….she’s pretty?”
Steve’s brow furled in confusion and he answered matter-of-factly. “Yes, why?”
“I’m just wondering how I’m going to keep thousands of enlisted young men, most of whom are barely out of their teens, under control for weeks with a pretty woman on board.”
Steve smiled. “Don’t concern yourself Captain. I have every confidence that my wife can handle herself tactfully and professionally in any given situation.”
“Very well then. I’ll see you and Mrs. Austin in 3 weeks.” After the door shut the two remaining men broke into quiet chuckles.
“I have a feeling by the time this mission is over the Captain will never forget Kayce.” Oscar declared.
“She’s going to have a field day with him if he keeps up that chauvinistic attitude.”
Oscar grinned with a twinkle in his eye, “It will certainly make for an interesting cruise. Are you going to warn her?”
“No way! I want to see her face if and when the Captain’s true colors show.” Steve responded with a wink at the taller man.
As a favor to his operatives Oscar had an F-4 Phantom simulator in Miramar disassembled, flown to Ventura then reassembled. It would be used to train the two pilots for carrier landings. Since the Air Force also utilized the F-4 since 1962 Steve was already familiar with the aircraft so he instructed Kayce until she was proficient.
In the beginning of the training they flew two flights a day with pre-flights and debriefings before and after. Additional night hours were also added. Kayce, although unsure at the beginning as to how they would handle the student/instructor roles, found they made a good team. By the second week it was all solo flying and simulated aerial maneuvers. Steve taught her every trick he had learned in his years of flying. He was just thankful she was a receptive student and a quick study.
The simulator time gradually became a heated competition which was common among pilots, helping to bring their skills to a higher level. When Oscar stopped in on occasion to see about their progress he heard some of the banter being passed back and forth between the husband and wife. Although he heard the challenges that were issued neither Steve nor Kayce would reveal what the stakes actually were. When asked, the two pilots would just glance at one another and laugh, their usual response being “you don’t want to know Oscar.”
The 16 hour days were long and tedious at times but neither one complained. Both were grateful to have the training in California where they could spend their nights at home with their son. This was the first time in a year that the parents appreciated their decision to hire Kayce’s longtime friend Sarah as a nanny for Kyle. It gave the agents peace of mind since they no longer had Steve’s parents available. Their deaths in a house fire still so recent.
When Sarah had a day or two off Jaime was always happy to step in and care for the little boy. She enjoyed every minute with him and he with her.
As Steve and Kayce packed their bags and said goodbye to their son they were both anxious to get the mission underway and over with so their lives and the life of their son could return to normal. Little did they know when they pulled away from the house that things would be very different when they returned home.
In San Diego Oscar was on deck wandering aimlessly about with his hand in the pockets of his tan pants. The strong breeze off the ocean that rippled his clothes was warm, not requiring him to zipper the tan windbreaker he wore over his white shirt.
A glance at the dock told him Dr. Wells had arrived, the taxi pulling away quickly for his next fare. The two men shook hands and Rudy immediately gauged his friend’s stress level, it was high. The doctor understood why. This was a top priority mission and would take a lot of skill and luck to be successful. Aside from that the doctor also knew Oscar hated sending Steve and Kayce out together on such dangerous assignments. Usually one to detach himself emotionally from his job Oscar found it impossible when it involved Kayce and Steve.
“I take it they aren’t on board yet?”
Oscar glanced at the expensive gold timepiece on his left wrist, a gift from Steve. He nodded and began chewing his lip.
Another taxi pulled up along side the immense ship. Two figures exited the yellow vehicle, each carrying a large black duffle bag and Oscar’s shoulders relaxed ever so slightly seeing the bionic pair trotting up the ramp.
“Hi Rudy.” Kayce hugged the doctor who was a little surprised by her change of appearance. Gone was her shoulder length hair and in its place was a short shag that left wisps of hair curling out from her long neck. It was blonder too from the hours she spent in the California sun. He smiled at her then saw Steve was looking tan too, both of them seemed in good health. Oscar smiled knowingly at Steve, “Well, shall we go meet the Captain?”
Steve returned the smile and Kayce didn’t miss the exchange. “What’s going on you two?”
“Oh, nothing.” Steve replied and placed a gentle hand on the small of her back to escort her to the bridge.
Rudy and Oscar followed the couple and Rudy leaned in and whispered, “Is there something going on?” The question caused a grin to form on the tall man’s lips.
“Steve and I happen to know the Captain may actually be a male chauvinist.”
Rudy chuckled at the response, “You’re kidding?” Oscar nodded negatively. Rudy commented, “And Kayce doesn’t know it yet?” Another negative response, “Oh this IS going to be fun!”
On the bridge the Captain’s assistant announced the visitors. “Captain, Mr. Goldman and Colonel Austin have arrived sir!”
The captain rose from his chair and dismissed the observant man. Seeing the foursome he smiled graciously. “Mr. Goldman, Colonel Austin welcome aboard the USS Liberty.” Handshakes were exchanged before Oscar finished with the introductions.
“Captain Harding I’d like to introduce Dr. Rudy Wells, our flight surgeon.”
“Dr. Wells, welcome aboard.” Steve held his breath when the handshaking stopped. His eyes stayed on the captain.
“And this is Kayce Austin, Colonel Austin’s wife and partner on this mission.”
Kayce held out her hand and shook the captain’s, “Its pleasure to meet you Captain Harding.”
The black haired man, taken aback by the young woman’s natural beauty, absent of makeup, jewelry and the usual frills, she dressed simply in black pants and a light blue, loose-fitting blouse. He mentally reminded himself that women had no place on his ship or in a military jet, He was about to make a tactful comment of the like when she spoke again.
Kayce, being an independent woman of the 1970’s, was already anticipating the captain would have chauvinistic reservations about her presence on his ship; it was an all-boys club after all. She decided to use her charm to gracefully deflect any remarks and hoping to keep him off balance. Keeping her voice smooth and sincere she commented, “Thank you for having us on board Captain. You must be an exceptional Naval Officer to command the respect of such a large crew not to mention the complete confidence of your superiors to be given this important assignment.”
Oscar, being out of the captain’s direct line of sight, grinned at her diplomacy. Steve smothered his chuckle with a light cough to clear his throat and Rudy held his serious expression successfully in check. As predicted Captain Harding immediately lost his train of thought and smiled at the pretty woman as he thanked her.
“Shall we go and speak with the crew? I feel we need to give them some idea why there is a woman on board. I’d like to diminish their curiosity as to who you are and why you are here Mrs. Austin.”
“Please call me Kayce. My husband carries a big enough title for the both of us.” She smiled as the captain turned and led the way off the bridge. Kayce turned with a devilish smile and sent a wink her husband’s way before following the naval officer.
Oscar whispered into Steve’s ear, “That was a little disappointing don’t you think?”
Steve grinned, “It’s obvious she already anticipated his views. I’m sure the captain will slip up sooner or later.”
Oscar shook his head, “At least I know where to put her if she ever leaves the field.”
“Diplomatic Corps.” The three men laughed and hastened their steps to catch up with Kayce and the Captain.
The large below deck hanger was half filled with stored aircraft and about 100 men milling about. Only the ones directly involved in the mission were present, pilots, deck crew, medical staff and mechanics. At the arrival of their captain the men immediately fell into formation and stood at attention until the captain gave the order.
“At ease men.” He followed every one of his men’s gaze, glancing over his shoulder, to where Kayce casually stood with the three other guests. There was whispering amongst the large group.
“Gentlemen, may I have your attention…” Seeing a few eyes still on the pretty blonde he specified his request, “Your undivided attention!”
All eyes refocused on their captain and waited to hear the details of this mission and the identities of their visitors.
“I’d like to introduce our four guests for part of this cruise. To my far left is Oscar Goldman, Director of the OSI. Next to him is Dr. Rudy Wells, on board as a Flight Surgeon. The third, you may already recognize, is Colonel Steve Austin, USAF. Next to him is Kayce Austin.”
A few faces fell immediately noticing the shared last name. The captain clarified for all those who still had hopeful looks on their faces. “Kayce Austin is Colonel Austin’s wife.” A few muffled, weak groans of disappointment were heard in the rear of the group causing Steve to chuckle quietly at the blush on Kayce’s cheeks. She heard him and turned, her icy glare silencing him immediately.
“Now our orders for the first phase of this assignment are to train Colonel Austin and his wife on carrier landings and takeoffs in 2 weeks. They are both already proficient in the F-4 Phantom.” The captain wore a smirk as he continued. “And even though the Colonel is an Air Force pilot I still think he may be able to hone his flying skills to match those of a Naval Aviator.”
Steve, along with the ships crew, chuckled at the expected teasing of the Air Force officer aboard a naval ship. Captain Harding cleared his throat while the chuckling subsided and finished. “Lt. O’Brien has volunteered to act as Flight Instructor for Colonel Austin and Lt. Jefferson has been assigned to Mrs. Austin.” A low rumble moved through the crew and Harding finished, “In the second phase of this mission these two pilots will be sent into Russia to retrieve two aircraft equipped with lethal air-to-air weapons system that was stolen from us and fly them back here where they will be immediately dismantled and flown off this carrier. So when the Russians come looking for it… it will already be gone. This is a top secret mission and at no time are you to discuss it with anyone not presently in this room. Gentlemen, I cannot stress enough that your best performance is expected… and with regards to our only female crew member, your best behavior is also expected. Any questions?” No one responded and the group was dismissed. O’Brien and Jefferson walked over and officially introduced themselves to their students.
O’Brien was short and stocky with a receding hairline making him look older then his 38 years. His eyes were narrow and sharp. He grinned as he shook hands with Steve, explaining he was a huge fan of the astronaut.
Jefferson was a tall and muscular man, filling out his flight suit perfectly. He greeted Kayce with a professional handshake but seemed tense. By the look of his non-verbal behavior and the words spoken by the captain the former psychologist was beginning to put the pieces together.
The instructors and students were given written training schedules for the week. It was intense even by Steve’s standards, reminding him of NASA training. A few questions were asked and answered, all understanding the training would begin the following morning at 0500 in the pre-flight room. The naval pilots took their leave and once the OSI group was alone with the captain Kayce asked her question.
“Captain, I couldn’t help but notice that O’Brien was a volunteer but you assigned Jefferson. Why is that?”
Steve bowed his head suspecting what the reason was. He wasn’t sure how Kayce would take the facts. “Well Mrs… Kayce, most military men do not want women in the military for a reason… especially flying jets.” The tone of his voice told her it was his view also.
“Why is that?” She asked wanting him to verbalize the reason out loud.
“They are a distraction and…”
“And what?” She demanded but in a soft tone.
“They feel women are weak and cannot hold up under the physical strain of flying.”
“I see. So you had to force Jefferson to fly with me because no one else would fly with a woman, is that correct?”
“That is correct.” He replied and Steve kept his arms folded across his chest and remained silent along with Oscar and Rudy. Kayce stood lost in thoughts for a moment. The foursome was surprised by Harding’s next comment. “Mr. Goldman, if this is going to be too much of an emotional strain on the lady you still have time to bring on another pilot in her place. I’m fairly confident the crew will not taunt her because she is a Colonel’s wife but I can’t guarantee it. There are over 3,000 crew members. I don’t have eyes everywhere.”
Oscar was about to reply when Kayce’s cool, assertive voice rose up. “Captain Harding, this assignment will not be an emotional strain on ‘the lady’, at least not where your crew is concerned. I expect to be treated no less then one of the boys. As for my flying skills, you needn’t be uneasy. I can handle an aircraft as well as any man and in the next few days you will see that if your personal opinions don’t blur your perception of the facts.” She politely excused herself and walked away with Steve following behind leaving the other men with stunned expressions on their faces.
Steve’s long strides enabled him to eat up the distance between him and his wife as she walked out onto the wind-swept deck. The ship was already on its way out to sea. He followed her at a short distance as she wandered off to a vacant spot off to the side, keeping clear of the men working. She stood near the deck’s edge, her arms crossed at her waist, the sea air filling her lungs to capacity.
“Kayce, are you okay?” Steve asked calmly.
She nodded affirmatively but remained silent. He stepped around her to see her face. As always her emotions were not hidden from him. “Wanna talk about it?”
“Not really.” She replied still staring out to the horizon. Steve bit back the small grin knowing she would begin talking soon. He waited and stared out at the water.
“I don’t know why I reacted like I did. I hope I wasn’t too impolite. After all, this is his ship and he and his crew are entitled to their opinions.”
“I think you handled yourself quite well back there. When you think about it we are still on American waters…” She turned to look at him. “There’s still that thing called ‘Freedom of Speech’.”
She allowed the small smile to grace her lips, “I hope I didn’t step over the line Steve. This assignment is going to be tough enough without personality conflicts.”
“That’s true but I have every confidence in your diplomacy and flying.” He grinned at her profile and heard the heavy sigh escape her lips. He thought for sure she was on the verge of tears, although it would take a lot for her to let it show. “Kayce?”
“It’s just not fair.”
“No it’s not and I’m sorry.”
She turned to look at him. “You have no idea what it’s like. I’m here to do a job, a job I was trained to do, to the best of my abilities. I expected some resistance because of my gender but now I realize everything I do will be put under a microscope… every flaw…every mistake… all because I’m a woman.” Steve knew to remain silent knowing he was one of the ‘enemy’, one of the boys, even though his views differed significantly. He had never had to deal with such discrimination. “All you have to do is go out there and fly. If you make a mistake so what? Now I have to be perform perfectly just to be taken seriously and if I fall short of perfection then it will be used to prove their point…that woman aren’t as good as men.” She looked at his lowered head. He brought it up when the silence continued. “Steve I don’t need this added pressure but now it’s there and I don’t know what to do about it.”
She went to wrap her arms around his waist, needing to feel his strength and security but he quickly grabbed her wrist causing her brow to furl. He placed his hand carefully in hers even though all he wanted to do was pull her into an embrace to comfort her he couldn’t, not here, not in view of the crew. “All you have to do it fly like you always do… like you were born to it. Once they see you can handle the plane they’ll forget you’re a girl.” He gave her a sweet lopsided grin and added, “Of course that might cause more friction.”
He chuckled, “Because then they will be upset that a woman can out fly them. You know some pilots can be very competitive.”
She smiled back, “Oh, only SOME pilots Colonel?” Steve nodded innocently.
“Feel better?” She nodded and he led her to their quarters. “Come on.”
Once there and the door was shut he lovingly wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly. She heard his whisper in her ear, “I’m sorry this will be so hard on you. I knew discrimination existed but I never saw it so clearly.” Kayce returned the embrace. “Why didn’t you hold me before?” She asked as she leaned back, his arms staying on her waist.
“I’m afraid Captain Harding has laid out a few strict rules for us while on his ship. I haven’t had a chance to tell you about them.”
“Oh yeah? Like what?”
“No public displays of affection.” She looked at him in shock so he clarified, “Doesn’t want the crew to be uncomfortable.”
“What else should I know?”
“Well, let’s see. Since there are no co-ed facilities on board you have access to the showers and bathroom in the morning from 4:00 am to 4:15 am at which time no crew member is allowed near the room.” He looked up at her, smiled and winked, “So be quick darlin.”
“What about you?”
“I can shower with the crew.”
“I see and what if I need to use the facilities during the day?”
“You knock to make sure that no one is there then you place this on the door.” He handed her a small, bright pink sign that clearly indicated “Woman on board.” She took it from his hand and sunk down onto the bunk the reality of the situation finally sinking in.
“I’m surprised the Captain let us share quarters.” She commented absently.
“He’s limited in space. They have to double up all quarters. We’re just lucky we are already married.” Steve chuckled and a devious glint touched his eye. “Then there’s the rule regarding…. marital relations.”
Her head shot up and her eyes went wide. “You mean that… that…Captain laid out rules for that too?” Steve didn’t reply, using all his self control to halt his laughter. When he remained silent she pushed, “Well?”
“The rule is every other day.”
She suddenly realized he was kidding and smack his arm, “You are incorrigible aren’t you.”
“Did he really set rules on that subject too? I mean we could be here weeks and under a lot of stress.” She asked in a more serious tone.
Steve looked at the floor and sighed, “He didn’t say it in so many words but it was implied that we… well, that we…refrain from enjoying ourselves. I think his words were, ‘Keep in mind this isn’t the Love Boat.’”
“Why in the world would he even broach the subject?” She wondered out loud. “Unless it’s because the man is jealous of the convenience for you. Poor man probably has to wait for shore leave and then has to pay for it.”
Steve laughed softly at her comment and nodded negatively. “I think it’s because these close quarters with metal walls cause a lot of echoing.” He looked at his wife with a devilish grin, “Maybe he assumes you are very vocal during such an activity.”
“Oh knock it off.” She replied in frustration. “Well, I guess it will be sweet when this is over.”
“Are you mad?” Steve asked cautiously while looking at her profile.
“Yes, I’m mad! I’m furious!” Steve’s surprise showed on his face not realizing his wife would be that upset over delayed relations with him. Did she really find him that irresistible?
Kayce stood in frustration and amble a few feet to the desk knowing exactly what Steve was thinking. “I mean 4 am is really early in the morning!”
His eyes glared at the pretty face displaying a huge ‘gotcha’ grin. “Very funny” he exclaimed as he threw the bunk pillow at her. She caught it and laughed uncontrollably at the injured look on his face.