A quarter mile to go, almost there, five seconds, all the world he cared about a-tiptoe, holding its breath. The big tanker pulling abeam the fighter on approach.
The blue shirt working his way aft to the deck edge elevator, tripping across an night enshrouded tie-down chain, reeling suddenly to his right, arms grasping for purchase in the darkness, legs churning underneath him, fighting for his footing, stumbling across the foul line before falling to his knees, head bowed. Disgraced.
The arresting gear officer facing forward on the starboard side aft, his back to the approaching Hornet, seeing the blue shirt fall across the foul line and taking his thumb off the dead-man switch, like he’d been trained.
The deck status light turning from green to red. The sudden shout on the LSO platform, “FOUL DECK!”
The momentary pause, considering, rejecting, releasing: “Wave-off, wave-off. Foul deck.” Hitting the pickle switch’s guarded button, the red lights flashing on their backs. Regretfully. Nothing to be done – just the way things are.
An explosive, unitary curse on the bridge, in the tower, in the cockpit of the AT2’s jet undergoing maintenance. A chorus of disbelieving shouts and curses in CATCC, in the ready room, in maintenance control, across the ship.
Full power and catch the AOA, harsh language in his mask before taking a ragged breath and keying the mike, “311 airborne.”
“311 approach, roger. Take angels one-point-two, your tanker at right one o’clock and one mile, report plugged and receiving.”