It was dark inside of the room as the door opened. There was an insignia in stained glass that had moonlight shining in.
“We will NOT condone your actions, Admiral! We cannot afford to go to war!”
“War is upon us, Your Eminence. You and the rest of the Representatives don’t want to acknowledge it, but it’s true. There were already brushfire conflicts brewing on the border. What happened in the bay was only a matter of time.”
The woman was well-dressed, with an air of aristocratic ego guiding her. She sat down at the large table in the room, letting out a sigh. “Perhaps you’re right. But the Council is against it. They are voting to avoid conflict, by whatever means necessary.”
“You can’t be serious! Why?! It wasn’t like this problem just popped up yesterday! War has been on the horizon for as long as I have served in the Air Navy. What could possibly compel the Council to roll over?!” The woman had a military outfit that was simple and well-decorated. She had a couple of scars running down her face and two rapiers hanging by her sides.
The aristocrat looked at the insignia. “The situation is dire for our nation. The Crystal mines in Bellan have become unreliable. Without Crystals, our airships don’t function, our fighters don’t fly and our cities aren’t powered. We don’t have the resources to maintain a large-scale war right now. Our prospectors are doing their best to find alternative sources of fuel, but it’s touch-and-go, at best.”
The Admiral sat down as well, letting out a sigh. “Damn it all. The timing could have been better.”
“Indeed. We cannot win this war with a hammer. We have to win it with a knife. What we need is a fighting force. A single large detachment who can act as our sword in this fight, while the rest of our forces are able to hold the line at home. The way I see it, that’s the only way we can sustain a conflict. We defend too long, we run out of Crystals. We go on the offensive too hard, same problem. Do you disagree?”
She shook her head. “I do not, Your Eminence. There is merit to your plan. What’s more, it might work. We have a detail of our elite fighter pilots and airship commanders. They are like no other. They have something of a harsh reputation among the rest of the military, but they get the job done.”
“Excellent, but it will take more than that. We need outside assistance, from a group who can be depended on, if the price is right.” She stared right at the Admiral. “You know who I speak of, yes?”
Her eyes went wide. “You can’t! They are guns for hire! Mercenaries! The only loyalty they have is to their next paycheck!”
“But they are the best. If the goal is to have a single detail as our sword, we need the best at our side. They are loyal, so long as we pay. You have a commanding officer who served with their leader, correct?”
“Good, have her send the message, and make it urgent. I want them here within the week to negotiate a contract with us. We cannot afford to wait. I anticipate that war will be declared within the day, if not two.”
She didn’t look certain, but she nodded. “Understood, Your Eminence. I’ll get it done.”
“Very good, Admiral. If there is nothing else.”
She stood up, saluting, turning to leave. “Goddess help us.”
Dawn was just coming over the building. Made years ago, the aged brick was pale and warmed by the sun. The mist was hanging outside as the sun’s rays got over the mountains. The sounds of animals could be heard as they came alive for the day-shift. Like most mornings here, it was quiet. That was how they liked it. In addition to the two buildings on the site, there were six hangars. They were leftover from the last war between the two nations, Asqueria and Delenheim. As such, there were a couple of anti-aircraft batteries that were still polished and functioned. They hadn’t been used in some time, but the man who maintained them had a philosophy that one could never be too careful.
Inside each hanger was an aircraft. All but one were single-man fighters that were part of the base’s namesake – the Sky Devils. The Devils, as most called them, were the deadliest mercenary force in the country. Their allegiance was to no one, save whoever was giving them money. They had a reputation that ruffled feathers, but not enough for them to be unable to get work. Each member of the team had their own fighter, each with its own history. Some were custom-modified fighters from the various groups they served with. Others were the planes they had when they were part of the military. There were two that were made from the ground up. Their leader and his second-in-command flew those.
Along with the hangars, there was the barracks where they lived. While they could be called barracks, they were closer to apartments. The Devils had fees that were beyond outrageous, but they earned their pay in spades. There was also the maintenance crew, but they didn’t live on-base, except for their leader.
It was going to be a warm summer day, as they had been for a while. The heat wasn’t entirely oppressive, but it was getting there. From the office at the top of the main building, a window popped open and the sound of a radio could be heard. Having a radio was no longer an impressive thing anymore. They were becoming a common household item. A song played about old love in a foreign city. The singer was trying to woo her, but there were signs in the song that it was more about sex than love, but that wouldn’t be appropriate to sing openly. The culture of this nation was very much against sexual expression. The song echoed far in the still dawn. A light came on in the office and little puffs of smoke came out of the open window.
The leader of the Devils, Booker Sands, was sitting at his desk, smoking a cigarette. He had slept on the couch, and there were a couple of beer bottles sitting on the floor beside it. He turned up the radio, letting the gentle music bring life to him. Nearly 30, his leather jacket had several insignias, all of which were in the native symbols of his people’s language.
There was a knock on the door.
The door opened to see the Chief Mechanic, Seran Musa, coming in. He was an older man who had long gray hair that was tied into a pony-tail behind him. He had the look of a typical grease-monkey. Hair that was stained with various fluids, a jumpsuit that was similarly covered in stains that were long-past coming out and skin that was as dry and cracked.
“You look great, kid. Gotta say, the bags under your eyes are a good touch.”
Booker flipped him off. “Yeah, yeah. Fuck you too. So, what can I do for ya, Chief?”
“Well, I know that checking the mail is asking FAR too much of you these days, so I went and did it for you. Got some neat stuff. A couple of people wanting to supply us new weapons for the fighters.”
He rolled his eyes. “They never give up.”
“Indeed. Oh, and there is another young woman from Delenheim’s military wanting to join up.”
“I’m not recruiting right now. Building another hangar is one giant pain the ass, and I’m not keeping her gear out in the cold. A disservice to the machine.”
“Glad you recognize that. A pity you’re not recruiting. She included a photo in her dossier. Girl’s cute.”
That got his attention. “How cute?”
The Chief sent the file plopping over on his desk. “See for yourself.”
True enough, she had blonde hair that was cut pixie-short. She was an accomplished pilot, but her dossier didn’t impress him much. Not compared to who he had in his unit.
“A pity she’s not all the much of a cut above the cloth. I haven’t chased a skirt in a long time. She is cute.”
“I hear ya. I hear that Emily is chasing skirts, these days.”
That got a chuckle out of him. “I swear, she’s a regular heart-breaker! Whether it be the guys who she jilts or the girls who she ditches, that girl has a pretty hefty record. She’s gotten more skirts than any of the guys here.”
“I don’t know how that little bitch does it! Given how people are around here, I would think that she would have so many guys looking to give her what-for.”
Booker winked at him. “Oh, she has that now and again, but she can take care of herself. Nothing deflates a guy more than when he gets his ass kicked by a lady half his size who can use a knife and her fists.” The two laughed at the image. “Anyway, this girl’s good, but she’s not Devils good. Hopefully she didn’t leave the service. It’d be a bummer waste of talent.”
“I hear ya. Oh, and we also got a telegraph! They sent it from town! Seems important. Someone’s looking to give you a job. Seems like know ya, given how they worded it.”
He looked up, taking it from the Chief. He read it over, a smile coming to his face. “You said that you were in the middle of a retrofit on Duke’s plane. How much longer you need.”
That look was familiar enough to him that he knew better than to argue. “I can have it all wrapped up in a couple of days, boss. Three at most.”
“Alright, get to it! Tell the others, when ya see ’em to rally at dining hall. We got a job!”
“Hell yeah! I look forward to the debriefing.” The man did as bidden. Booker watched as he left, staring at the sky outside. It was going to be a beautiful day.
Regina Dermald, or Duke, as most people knew her by, was sitting in the dining hall with a cup of coffee and a muffin. Her husband, Herschel, was sitting next to her. The contrast between the two was incredible, with her being a petite woman who looked too frail for her own good and him being a muscled beast. However, despite his appearance, Herschel was about as calm and quiet as it got, unless you hit him. Most people know – you didn’t hit him. Not unless you had a long-standing death wish that was going unnoticed. Duke, on the other hand, was a life-wire who had no fuse. She would just go off, and Goddess help you if she did. How they made it work was anyone’s guess.
With them was Gerald Griffin, who went by his last name. A quirky man, to say the least, he was something of an odd duck of the group, in that he spent as much time tinkering on his bird as he did flying it. He was known for being up all night when he had something he wanted to do with it. He handled all of his own repairs, only asking for help for installing new parts. His bird was also odd, since he came from a desert society deep in the south. His skin was dark as midnight, but his eyes were yellow as a snake. Same kind of iris’ too. It was strange, but they got used to it. He sat with a couple of muffins, coffee and the newspaper.
“You two read the story about the attack on the border of Oerba? Apparently, some dumb-shit Commander of their military in Delenheim decided to bomb the hell out of some of their troops who were on a training exercise. Their stated reason is that they were across the border.”
“Like that means shit to the Oerban government! It’s gonna be war. It’ll probably be on the news when they declare it.”
Herschel shook his head. “I don’t like that none. Ain’t we got enough problems without another war breaking out?”
Duke smiled up at him. “Oh, but war is good for us, my dear! War means that we get hired. Trust me, at some point in all this, somebody will be reaching out to us.”
Griffin frowned. “I don’t much like that. Sure, we’re mercs, but we aren’t just going with whatever person decides to start killing people, are we?”
The couple looked at him like he was dumb. “What line of work did you sign on for?”
As was customary, Emilia Jelineau (or Emily, as most people called her) was up around 11. She was dressed in a tank-top and shorts, stumbling down the hall. After using the facilities, she grabbed a towel and walked into the shower room. She threw off her clothes, not caring much where they landed. She turned on the water, making it cold enough to wake her up, then heating it to where she was comfortable, which tended to make everyone else wonder if she scalded herself. There was a tune that was being whistled as she soaped up her hair. The door opened, with another woman, Clairebelle, or just Belle, came in. She saw the clothes on the floor and groaned.
“For Goddess’ sake, Emi, why must you do this?! You leave your shit everywhere! Just yesterday morning, there was your underwear on the dining room table!”
The girl looked over at her, smiling as if seeing something in the past. “Oh yeah, that was a good night. She was cute!”
“You’re turning into a regular hussy, Emi.”
Emily just blew her a kiss, giggling to herself and turning back to the matter at hand. Belle got on the other shower in the room, separated by a marble wall that came up to their necks.
“So, what’s on your docket for today?” Belle asked.
“Fuck-all. For real, until we get another job, all I can do is to tinker with my bird, like Griffin does, or play cards with Booker. I’m going nuts around here! We haven’t had a job in almost two months! We can’t pay bills unless we get money.”
“I hear ya. Still, it ain’t so bad, once you get used to the quiet.”
“Speak for yourself! I happen to like to the rush of blowing holes in the enemy. It makes me feel alive! Well, that and getting to have some young tart over for dinner.” She sealed the last statement with a wink.
Belle rolled her eyes. “I don’t know why Booker puts up with you. In any other branch of the military, your cute little ass would have been kicked out by now.”
She popped her butt back and forth. “Damn right, and don’t you forget it! My ass is gorgeous!”
That elicited a groan. “Goddess be with me. It’s a good thing she’s a woman. Any male deity would have a word with you.”
She laughed. “Putting the moves on the Goddess. Not a bad idea…” The two laughed as they finished their shower, each heading back to their own rooms to get dressed. On Emily’s arm there was a tattoo. It was in the same insignia that Booker had on his jacket.
After getting dressed, she sauntered down to the kitchen and opened the fridge. A sour look came to her face, like she wasn’t finding what she wanted, but then perked up at a container that had a pastry inside. There was a name marked on the front, “Firo.” She looked around, smiling to herself.
“Well, it’s not like he’ll notice if I have a bite or two, right?” She opened it up and saw that it was an eclair, fresh and bursting with the sugary scent. She took another look around, grabbing it and bringing it to her lips. She took a big bite and let out a moan. “Oh Goddess! It’s better than sex!” A noise behind her caused her to suddenly look back. She was looking into the disheveled an shorter face of Firo Montevello. Putting it quickly back, she flashed him a warm smile.
“Hey, Firo! How’s it going? Now, there’s no need to make a big deal out of this, right? We’re all friends here.”
His eyes narrowed.
The door to the barracks swung open, with Emily running out full-tilt. Hot on her tail was Firo, a cold look on his face.
“Now, I know that that looked bad, but come on! There’s no need to get violent!” Emily called back as she ran.
“I’m going to take a bite out of your skull when I catch you, bitch!” Sure enough, he was gaining on her. Right as she got to the runway, he caught her. He tackled her onto the grass beyond it, with the two rolling as they fought.
The Chief and Herschel watched, with the Chief seeming rather amused. “That girl has got herself a death wish!”
“What’d she do?”
“From what I heard, took a bite out of Firo’s eclair.”
Herschel was in shock. “Idiot! He’s gonna kill her!”
“Best go over and break them up, before he breaks something on her.”
“Alright,” He groaned, walking over.
The man was so massive in muscle that he picked each one up with a single hand, holding them apart.
“This ain’t your business, Herschel! This is between me and the dyke!”
“The dyke?! Oh, now you’re gonna get it!”
“Alright, calm down, you two! I don’t wanna have to hold you here all day.”
The sound of Booker’s laughter greeted them as he walked over. “Well, glad to see that you all are enjoying your morning. When you’re through fighting like dogs, meet me in the dining room. We’ve got a job!”
That got everyone attention and immediately diffused the tension. A smile came to Emily’s face.
“About fucking time!”
Until next time, a quote,
“The glare of the morning sun was too oppressive.” -Yuichi Kannami, The Sky Crawlers