Three weeks. Three grueling weeks of trying and failing to get the pilot and her support to cooperate. Every day bled into around the same thing. They would get up, with one trying to very diligently to be an educated pilot who is informed about her machine and its capabilities. Her studying was commendable. Then there was the pilot herself. Distant, unconcerned with anything other than getting into the simulator, the two would get into long, protracted arguments that would serve only to have them grow further and further apart. To those on the outside watching their interactions, it was like seeing bitter enemies being stuck in a room together, secretly finding ways to kill each other.
When the two got where the pilot wanted to be, in the simulator, things were even worse. Constant failure to communicate while the pilot was paying attention to the task at hand and saying virtually nothing to her comrade, if anything at all, then being baffled as to why she was so out of sync with her. Failed battle after failed battle, where having the Eternal Shield was the least of their problems. The constant bickering meant that they were not even paying attention to the simulated battle at hand. At one point, the pilot completely stopped paying attention to the battle and turned around to argue.
The commanding officers reprimanded them harshly. Both were stuck on every punishment duty they could think of. This only made things worse, with one blaming the other. Three weeks, and it was more than a little clear that there was to be no compromise between them. The ship’s counselors couldn’t make a dent. These two were tasked with leading the charge with the newest weapon in the Fleet, which was slated to go into battle in under a month, and it hadn’t even gone out into space for actual flight yet.
In the Rear Admiral’s ready-room, there was a harsh discussion between him, his attendant, the CO of the two, and the ship’s counselors.
“Sir, we gotta get rid of them. There’s time to find a new crew and get them trained. Barely enough. If these two women want to cat-fight every day, then I say kick them out. Send them to separate ships and be done with it,” the attendant said, looking grim.
“Or we could threaten them with dishonorable discharge. Maybe that would make the bitches wanna play ball,” the CO chimed in.
Rear Admiral Williams was rubbing his temples. This same conversation had been going on for three weeks. Now it was filtering out to the rest of the ship. The cat-fights of the two crew for the most advanced ship in the Fleet. People were chuckling everywhere. The situation was grim and the entire ship was now getting a reputation because of it. Didn’t help that they would continue their bickering after leaving APO space.
Looking over to the counselors. “What do you suggest?”
An older woman, blonde hair and lines on her face looked up. She was calm, collected. “Sir, if I may, there’s no reason to get rid of both of them. Just get rid of one. Lt. Mills has shown that she wants to put in the time and effort to learn all she can about this machine and be good at her job. Based on the interviews we have done, it’s clear she is dedicated to this. Meanwhile, Lt. Jelineau doesn’t seem to care less about the machine and only wants to fly. That’s great. Her flight experience would make her one hell of a pilot. Send her to some other ship and get a new pilot who can work better with Mills. It’s an easy solution.”
The Attendant shook his head. “Yeah, and what squadron is going to give up a good pilot now?” He looked at the Rear Admiral. “Sir, let’s kick the pilot to the curb or transfer her off ship and get one of our own. We got some damn good men and women in this outfit. I’m sure one of them can be trained to take over. We don’t have time to negotiate with other ships for a replacement. We are headed to battle in just under a month!”
It was a good argument. This close to their fleet being sent into battle, the odds of getting a pilot they wanted was slim. All of the ships were busy getting themselves ready, and by now most of their pilots had learned their squadrons and machines.
The Rear Admiral shook his head. “We can’t just get some new pilot and hope for them to learn to use this armor in under a month.” Standing up, he walked to the simulated window, looking out at the stars. Everyone was silent for a long time.
Finally, the CO looked up. “We could always just scrap it. Send the armor back to Fleet Command and say we couldn’t get a crew able to pilot it correctly. Not even a lie. Wouldn’t make us look good, but it’s a hell of a lot better than taking the new model out into battle for the first time only to watch it blow up. This bird has a hell of a lot of potential. I don’t want to see this project scrapped because of two incompetent crew.” The room got even more sullen.
For a long time, the Rear Admiral looked at the stars. “There’s something about those two. I saw it when I looked at them. They’re damn good at what they do.” Looking over at the CO. “Independently, they both aced their roles, correct?”
He looked defeated. “Aye, sir. When they’re not together, to two really do kick ass. Jelineau can hit a bulls-eye at any range and move like you wouldn’t believe, while Mills has really gotten a handle on the Eternal Shield. I’m not gonna deny they are amazing.”
“With all due respect, sir, that doesn’t count for shit if they can’t work together,” the Attendant remarked.
Looking back at them, Williams sat back at his desk. “I can feel there is real potential here. But I can’t deny the possibility that I’m wrong. So here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to give them one more week to get their act together.” Turning to the CO. “In the meantime, I want you to start scouting potential candidates who can be potential replacements. Understood?”
Everyone stood up, saluting. “Aye-aye!”
As the meeting was going on, Kate walked into the hangar with their bird. It hadn’t been given a name yet. One of the many things that her and her compatriot couldn’t agree on. There were only a couple lights on, which was fine. When the door closed, she leaned against the wall beside it, slid down to the floor, and started to cry.
It was clear that they were going to be kicked off this soon. The entire ship saw the two of them as a joke. Endless arguments, each of them having every ugly duty that could be assigned as punishment. If it wasn’t for the fact that they were supposed to be the crew for this bird, it was clear both of them would have been either kicked off the ship or kicked out of the Fleet. This machine was the only thing saving their careers from dishonorable discharge. And it hadn’t even gone into space yet. The damn thing sat there, collecting dust, because that fucking bitch couldn’t listen to me! She wrapped her arms around her knees and put her head against it, sobbing.
This was going to be how her career ended. Her wings really were a joke now. One that the entire ship was laughing at. Looking down at them, a dark look came to her face. Might as well get rid of them now! Their CO or the Admiral was gonna do it eventually anyway. No point prolonging the inevitable. She tore them off her uniform, throwing them at the bird as hard as she possibly could. They clanged off the cockpit, falling to the deck.
From inside the cockpit, Quinn’s eyes came open. What the hell?! Still half-asleep, she pulled up the sensors on the machine. An impact had happened. Something hit the bird?! From where?! That’s when she saw a shadow on the floor. Guess this was something to be addressed.
Opening up the hatch, she pulled out her tablet and brought the lights up. That’s when she saw Kate, on the floor, curled up, tear streaks on her face.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
Looking up, equally confused, Kate hit back, “What do you care? Why are you here?”
“I was trying to get some sleep. Then some stuck-up bitch decided to throw shit and not.”
“Go to your rack if you wanna sleep.”
Looking down. “Can’t sleep there. Too much noise.”
Kate rolled her eyes, resting her head again. “Whatever.”
Seeing a glint of metal on the floor, Quinn reached down and picked it up. The wings that go on one’s uniform, signifying that you’re a pilot. Why’d she throw this at my bird?
“What, you don’t want the wings anymore?”
Looking up, rage coming into her eyes. “Can you just leave me the fuck alone, Quinn?! Is it possible for once for you to keep your fucking attitude away from me for one goddamn second?! Maybe realize that no one wants you here and go be a bitter cunt somewhere else?! Can you do that?!”
Oh, so that’s how it is. “Why? Wanna be alone while you wallow in self-pity?”
Standing up fast, balling her fists. “That’s it! I am fucking done with your fucking attitude!” She ran right at her, tagging the girl hard in the face. Being thrown back, Quinn balled her fists up and ran back at her. Tackling Kate, she landed on top of her, punching her face over and over again. Her support tech smashed her knee into Quinn’s back, using the opportunity to get up and take a swing at her again, this time tagging her shoulder and chin. The two women grappled for several minutes, until Kate had Quinn by her uniform, looking to catch her in the face again. In a bid of desperation, she wrestled the arm that was holding her away, tearing open the buttons on her NSU’s. There was exposed two necklaces. The first was her tags, but the second got Kate’s attention.
It was a necklace with several things hanging from it. The first was a feather. Next was a locket with a heart on it. Then there was a ring that was stainless steel, with something that looked like chain links wrapping around a metal interior. It was clearly far too big for her. Lastly there was a cross. A symbol of the Christian religion. Seeing those was virtually unheard of. That religion supposedly died out 200 years ago.
Quinn pulled back, desperately trying to close her uniform, trying to hide the necklace from her assailant.
Stepping back, Kate gave her a confused look. “What’s up with the necklace?”
“None of your fucking business!” Tears started welling up.
This was a first. In all the fights and bitterness between them, Kate had never seen her about to cry. It deflated things pretty quick. In that moment, this person who she had had such issue with seemed very human.
“You can talk to me, Quinn. We’re supposed to be a team.”
“Talk to you about what?! I got nothing to talk about!”
The anger started coming back. “God, what is it with you?! You work so hard to be distant from me. What the fuck did I do to deserve this?!”
“From the moment we met, you acted like you are such hot shit! Your mommy and daddy in uniform when they see you. Everyone treats you like you are meant to be here. Me? I had to bust my ass to get here! Had to show everyone that I can do what no one else can! What no one else would. Sure, I took stupid risks, but it got the job done. But there you were, with your little clique, looking at me like you are so much better. I got news for you, Kay, you ever get a look at whose name was at the top of the score in the sims at the Academy? It was me! I was the top ace at that school. But then that stupid accident happened and all of you were laughing your asses off as I was being shown the hatch. So fucking smug, right up to the end! Then I get here, to take on a job that no other pilot in the whole damn Fleet can do, and what do I see?! Your smug face still fucking judging me!”
The words were venomous, rage-filled. Tears were openly flowing down her face now. All of the airs she put on, being so tough, melting away. Kate looked down. It hurt her, for reasons she didn’t think of.
“Growing up, there was a lot that was expected of me,” she said. “I come from a Navy family. My parents served, my brother and sister serve. After I strike out due to health problems the first time, I finally get in. Everyone had such astronomical expectations, I pushed myself so much farther than I had to, because I couldn’t let them down. Because of who my parents are, everyone treated my differently. Guess I didn’t really see that before now.”
The two weren’t breathing as heavy anymore. They stood there, as if waiting for something to happen.
“I’m sorry, Quinn. I…I didn’t know I was hurting you. Can we start over? I’m tired of fighting. It’s making my fucking hair fall out the stress is so high. Can we start all of this over again? Please?”
Leaning against the armor, Quinn whispered, “okay.”
Slumping against the wall, she let out a breath. “Thank you.” Looking back at the necklace. “So, if you don’t mind me asking, what’s the story with that necklace? A lot of random things on there.”
The pilot looked down at it, running her fingers over the various trinkets. “I didn’t have a family, growing up. Was some duct rat orbital station kid. There were a lot of us on our station. We all had something with us to remember each other by, if we died. Happened a lot. Some kid would be cut up by the fans in the ducts, killed by thugs, sucked out into vacuum. Lost a lot of friends. Anytime one of them died, I took their memento and put it on a necklace. Now they’ll be with me forever.”
A sudden feeling of unimaginable guilt washed over her. All the self-pity she had been feeling about her family, and here this woman was, all alone in the world.
“You don’t have any family?” Kate asked.
“I’m sure there’s a father out there somewhere, in the genetic registry, but I don’t care enough to look. As for my mother, she told me to wait at the port for her to come back. In some ways, I’m still waiting. I waited there for as long as I could, until I realized she wasn’t coming back. Don’t know if she just ditched me there, died, or what. Doesn’t matter. I survived.”
In that moment, there was a sudden protective feeling that came over Kate. She had to look after this woman. So much darkness surrounded her. No wonder she was so desperate to prove herself. All her life she had to prove herself. Standing up, she walked over to where Quinn leaned, moving to put her arms around her.
She backed off. “I don’t need your sympathy!”
Looking right into her eyes. “This isn’t sympathy, Quinn.” Her arms wrapped around her. For a second, it was one-sided, until at last the pilot hugged her back, resting her head on Kate’s shoulder. At last, there was peace in the hangar.
From their display in the Rear Admiral’s office, Williams and his Attendant watched the event unfold.
“Well, they’re both out now, regardless, sir,” the Attendant sighed. “A physical altercation? No way we can cover that.”
Grabbing his tablet, Williams hit a couple sensors. The image suddenly went away, replaced with an error message.
“We have finally gotten these two to get along. It finally looks like the crew of our experimental armor has put their differences aside. So, I didn’t see anything. Did you?” His tone of voice was dead serious.
Pale as a corpse, he shook his head. “No sir.”
“Aye-aye, sir.” A quick salute.
When he left, the Rear Admiral smiled. So they were the team he wanted. All it took was them getting to the breaking point. His instincts were right. Turning back to the video footage, he saw the two women chatting, they seemed to almost be smiling. Instincts were spot on.
Until next time, a quote,
“I have you in my grasp. I shall not bend.” – Rachel Amber, Life is Strange: Before the Storm