The Flagship

It was a couple hours later as the eight fighters came within range of the Fifth Choir.  The Delenheim military called their air fleets Choirs because of the fact that the airships had much in common with angels.  Thus, a grouping of them was called a Choir.  Since they were a theology, it wasn’t questioned.  The Choir was made up of seven airships.  There was a large battleship at the center, long, slender and smooth.  It’s white hull was beautiful to look at.  In addition to the anti-air and medium-sized batteries, there were three massive cannons on the top.  There was a large raised section toward the back.  It was like a tower. 
There were three cruisers, in the same vein as the battleship.  They were gathered in a circle around it, clearly its major line of defense.  They were well-armed, appearing to have a base section that could open.  The last set of airships were small ones that were made to move quickly.  They were a fair distance out, as if they were lookouts.  They were armed, but it was armament that wasn’t for a long-standing fight.  They would hold the line until the rest of their fleet showed up.
Aurealia came on the comm.  “Pious Devotion, this is Deckartt, Page and the Sky Devils, requesting permission to land.”
The curved front of the ship opened up, showing a long runway inside.
“Roger, Deckartt, you are clear to land.  Glad to see that the Devils have arrived.”
Booker couldn’t help but grin.
They came in through the opening, landing on a very well-kept runway.  The inside of the battleship held about 30 fighters.  The maintenance crews were hard at work, prepping them for battle.  Of course, the landing bay was small in comparison to the rest of the ship. 
As they landed, people were gathering.  Their fighters were led into the free spots.  Booker was the first one to get out.  He dropped to the deck, looking around.  The grin he had was ear-to-ear.  He was loving it.  Being back on a Delenheim airship, about to be engaged in battle with a powerful enemy.  His force had been the underdogs in the last war, now they were again.  It was a good day. 
Emily dropped out of her fighter as well, running over to where her commander stood.
“Man, this brings back memories!”
“For real.  Though this ship is about a thousand times better stocked and armed than the last one we served on.”
“For real!  That thing was a fucking bucket!  I wanted a shot just looking at the rust in some places.”  The two shared a laugh.
It was then that a young woman walked over.  She had a rather shy look on her face, like she was told to talk to them but was too nervous to start.  She had long brown hair that was tied in a ponytail in the back.  It was almost black, it was so dark.  Her skin was naturally tan, but just a little.  There was a softness to her that was irresistible to both of them when they tried not to stare.  She was wearing a jumpsuit that the two of them knew well.
“Uh, hi.  My name’s Koraline, but you can call me Kora.  Everybody else does.  Or just Kay, if you want.  I, uh…I’m in charge of looking after you two’s fighters.”
Despite how cute she was trying to talk, the two couldn’t help but find her lack of conviction disturbing.  To break the ice, Booker walked over.
“What can you tell me about these models?”
She looked them over, smiling.  “They’re gorgeous!  Given the various mix of hardware, I’d say that they are custom models, but the design is based on Asquerian interceptors.  Fast, maneuverable, but with some alterations to the armor so that they can take a few more hits.  Oh, and you replaced the regular guns with Asquerian model machine cannons, reserved for their heavy bombers and anti-aircraft guns on airships.”  She walked closer, running her hands along the hull.  She hopped onto the wing and looked inside.  “Asquerian controls, very nice!  I bet it handles like a dream!  With all the mix of hardware, it’s a good thing I’m assigned to look after them!  I originally worked at a naval port in Frada.  I had to deal with all kinds of airships there.  I can easily work with both.”
The two were impressed.
“Welcome to the Sky Devils, Koraline.  For the remainder of our time here, anyway.”  He shook her hand.  The girl was blushing like crazy.  She seemed more at ease around Emily, which bummed her.  It was clear, she was drawn to Booker.  He looked over at his wingmate and she shrugged.  Can’t win ’em all.
“Oh, and make sure to tell anyone else to leave the one with the three engines alone.  That one is taken very special care of by the pilot.  He doesn’t like people touching his plane.”
Koraline nodded.  “Sure thing.”

At that very moment, Griffin was getting out of his plan.  He was in love with this ship.  His eyes were all over it, immediately wanting to ask questions.  He couldn’t help the amount of looks he was getting from the crew.  It was almost all women, and they liked what they saw.  The amount of women he saw in the Delenheim military he had seen was on his mind, so he walked over to Firo, who was also getting looks.
“Hey Firo, can I ask you – why are there so many women in the military of Delenheim.  I mean, was I just not accustomed to seeing them thanks to our time in Asqueria?”
His comrade chuckled.  “Nah, it ain’t that.  Delenheim has far more women in the Air Navy than men.  They believe that women are better pilots.  Can’t say as I can disagree too hard.  They raise some of the best pilots in the world here.”
Griffin nodded, smiling.  “Impressive.  Though I am seeing where Emily gets her openly flirtatious behavior.”
There was a warm chuckle.  “Yeah, but you’ll also get a lot of looks of confusion too.  Seeing male pilots, it’s almost unheard of.  To be a man in their naval forces, you really have to prove yourself.”
“I see.  Fascinating.  I shall have to learn more about Delenheim’s customs as we go along.”
“For sure.”

Duke and Herschel were getting out of their fighter, with the gathered crowd gasping Herschel’s size.
He waved at them, smiling.  “I suppose I should be used to this reaction.”
His wife chuckled, clinging to his arm.  “They are just enamored with your size.  Can’t say I blame them.”
“Indeed.  They are all so, young.”
That got a look.  “You aren’t going to go running off with some young thing here are you?  Especially since they seem to share a few traits with Emily.”
The man shook his head, laughing.  “Of course not!  After all, if I did, you might hurt me!  Can’t risk that!”
She punched him in the arm, walking away.  “Well, I never!”
He ran after her, groaning.  I can never tell when she’s serious and when she’s not.

Belle got out of her plane, plopping down on the ground in front of a tiny young thing.  The girl was smiling up at her.
“Hey there!  My name’s Elizania Morane Relfo!  You can call me Ellie!  I’m going to be your mechanic!”
The girl was so enthusiastic, the pilot couldn’t help but find her endearing.  “You’re so cute!  I want to pick you up like a big cat!”
The tiny little girl tried to look indignant, but that just made her cuter.  “Hey, I know what I’m doing!  I’m the best damn mechanic in the whole fleet!  I could take your bird apart with my eyes closed!  Asquerian models are easy to tinker with.”
Rubbing the top of the girl’s head, Belle giggled.  “I believe you.  I look forward to working with you.”
Despite the indignant fact, she couldn’t help but enjoy the compliment. 

Page got out of her bird, running over to where Emily was.
“Hey!  We didn’t get a lot of time to talk back at the Naval Command.  You free to talk later?”
She got a cold look in response.  “You have a problem staying in formation, pilot.”
She looked hurt.  “Ma’am?”
“Your fighter was all over the place.  Staying in formation helps keep us alive, pilot.  Remember that.”  She started walking away, leaving Page looking more than a little hurt.
Booker walked over to her, leaning down.  “You have to go at the kid that hard?  She looks like she’s about to cry.”
Emily had a half-smile.  “She’s the LC’s protegee.  You remember how she was with us.  We start babying her, she’ll come to us to do just that.  We’d undermine the LC’s work, just by talking to her.  We gotta treat her cold, or she won’t learn nothing.  She may hate me for it, but it’ll make her a damn good pilot one day.  The fact that she seems to like me will make it so that she listens to me.”
“She’ll also resent the fuck out of you, since she’ll be coming to you all the time, looking for your approval.”
“I have no doubt.  I eventually saw why the Lieutenant was cold to us.  Hopefully she will see why I am cold to her.  If not, then she’ll hate my guts and be a damn good pilot.  Either way, we help.”
Booker was in shock.  “Wow, you certainly did a 180.  Pretty young thing like that, I would have thought you’d be all over that!”
Emily smiled.  “What can I say, being back with the Lieutenant, or the Lieutenant Commander now, it got me feeling all nostalgic.  Though I haven’t given up on getting to chase that skirt.  Or flightsuit, as the case may be.”  She sealed it with a wink.
“We’ll see.”  They met up with their comrades, headed to meet with Aurealia on the elevator.

They stopped on the top of the spire section of the ship.  It opened to show a very open bridge.  It was deceptively open.  There were segments where protective shielding could come up, in the event of an ugly fire-fight.  There was a woman with shimmering blonde hair that hung down to her back.  It was done in a braid, ending just above the center.  She was wearing a casual uniform, not wanting to look grand for anyone.  Her rank was clear.  She was the captain.  With her was a slightly younger man with jet-black hair.
The Captain stood up, walking over.  She held out her hand.  “A pleasure to meet you.  My name is Captain Hera Dieratess.  I am the leader of the Fifth Choir and will be commanding this operation.”
Booker shook her hand.  “I’m Booker Sands, and these are my comrades.  We are the Sky Devils.”
“Indeed.  Your reputation precedes you.  I was part of an operation that was fighting against you during the brushfire conflict with Asqueria.  You gave my crew a good licking.  Made us feel like proper idiots.  Glad that we could have you on our side this time.”
He looked a little sheepish at the comment.  “Well, water under the bridge, I hope.”
The Captain chuckled, nodding.  “Oh yeah.  All’s well that ends well.  Now, I’m sure you were given a mission brief from Naval Command, yes?”
He nodded.  “Yeah, go behind enemy lines and hit ’em where it hurts.  Go in, strike and get out.  Clean and simple.  Sounds good.”
“Exactly.  Glad that I won’t have to cover old ground.  As for your involvement in this effort, I am giving you command of not only your own forces, but also a squadron of ten fighters.  You will be one of our hammers in this fight.  I take it that that won’t be a problem.”
His look got more serious.  “I can do that, but ma’am, I have some of the best pilots in the world with me.  We have on-a-dime reaction and are a great team.  I need that kind of commitment from your people.  I can’t have anyone questioning my orders out there.”
“Oh, I can assure you, they are professionals, and some of the best.  However, to form unit cohesion, I am going to have your first sortie be a practice run with just them.  Your own crew can stay behind and observe, give them pointers.  You are being given a field command as Lieutenant Commander, while each member of your squadron is given a field rank of Flight Lieutenant.  That way, there will be no misunderstandings.  Since we are hoping to get things rolling sooner, rather than later, I was hoping you could run that practice sortie in the morning.  Break of dawn.”
Booker stood at attention, saluting.  “Yes ma’am!”  The rest of the squad did as well.
Captain Hera was impressed, saluting back.  “Excellent!  Since you are officers, you each get your own quarters.  Aside from the two who are clearly a couple.”  She saw the rings hanging from necklaces that they couldn’t wear on their fingers in flight.  “Married couple, I see.  I’ll have the Lieutenant Commander show you to the living quarters.  Dismissed!”
They all saluted again, following her back to the elevator.

After they were settled in, with the quarters being much smaller than what they were used to, the lot of them were more than happy to get some rest.  They had been flying almost all day and it was exhausting.  Duke and Herschel were trying to find a way that they could sleep on a standard-issue cot together.  It was going to be more than a little tricky.  Griffin was eager to write in his journal.  Firo was letting his mind zen, watching the clouds pass by outside.  Belle was already fast-asleep.  The girl had a gift at being able to sleep anywhere, anytime.  Emily was doing a few exercises before crashing and Booker was deep in thought. 
Already, he had more responsibilities.  More than he had bargained for.  He wasn’t worried about an expanded command.  His own people would follow his orders.  He would find out how worthy these ten newcomers to his pack were.  The best case scenario would be to find someone within who could be a squadron leader, allowing him to lead his own people, while having them as back-up.  But one couldn’t be sure without field testing.  It took him back to days gone by.  As he stared out the window, he smiled.  Finally, I’m back home.

Until next time, a quote,

“I need to determine for myself if peace and the expense of lives can really be defined as peace.  And I will become evil itself to find out!”  -Wufei Chang, Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz

Peace out,

Maverick

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