I hadn’t had a pixie cut in years. It never felt natural. But there are rules when you’re a pilot. You can’t have long hair. It gets in the way of your helmet. Getting it shaved was not what I wanted. The price for having to answer the call, I guess. My head felt cold. That was not cool. But what do you do? There are no quick answers to life’s problems. Especially now. War had officially been declared by the Colonies. The Colonial Fleet was massing and preparing to strike. Earth’s forces were also gathering. This was worrying. Earth had a larger force than us. By about four to one, really. This was a war that was either going to be very quick and bloody defeat, or a long, protracted victory. Way I saw it, it couldn’t be one or the other. War is a frightening thing.. At least if you have any perspective.
This wasn’t the first war I had been involved with. Truth is, we stood with the Earth forces during the Uprising. Got to know some amazing pilots. The girl I roomed with back then had been all kinds of fun. For a while, we’d been close. Part of me wondered if I would end up meeting her in the battles to come. It was a sad prospect. Friends shouldn’t be killing friends in war. I suppose I should say that people shouldn’t be killing anyone. But that’s how life is. Groj knows, the people of Earth had done enough killing of one-another in war.
More thoughts came to me as I walked down the hall toward the hangar. Like how it did feel nice to be back in a jumpsuit. The haircut aside, I did like being back in uniform. Had been off active duty for too long. Looking at the logo of my squadron on my arm, it was a very uplifting feeling. I was looking forward to seeing them again. We lived all over the Colonies. I hadn’t seen some of them in a couple years.
Then there was the thought about Jack. I was glad that he wasn’t going to be seeing combat. He works in R&D. That’s fine by me. I want my boyfriend someplace safe. When this war is over, if I survive, I’m going to propose to him. It’s time we buried the hatchet already. Everybody’s been wondering why we haven’t. The fact was that we hadn’t talked about it. I guess we took the peace we had for granted. Not this time. I’m going to ask him to marry me when I get back. Would be a twist on how these things normally were supposed to work, but hey, us Colonial women aren’t like those prissy snobs back planetside.
“Hey, Baillie!” called someone, busting my train of thought.
I looked up to see one of my wingmen, Mick. He was the lankiest man you’ve ever seen. Almost looked unhealthy. But he was a damn-good pilot. I’ve watched him pull turns that would sheer most ships in two. The wonders of a g-suit.
“Hey Mick,” I called back, smiling at him.
He matched pace with me as we headed toward the hangar.
“So, you hear anything about the mission?”
I shook my head. “No. It’s all very hush-hush. Way I see it, they got something big planned.”
“After what happened at Valentine, those Earth fucks gotta pay!”
Very true. “Damn straight! I know that Fleet Command has a plan. Way I hear it, we’re unveiling new Mechs. Jack won’t say anything about it, but I know when he’s working on something big. Way I figure it, they’re making Mechs for fighting planetside.”
“Think the fighting will get that far?”
A cold look came to my face. “They attacked us where we live. How else are we going to attack them?”
A nervous nod. “Yeah, I guess. How is Jack, by the way?”
“Worried about me. Naturally.”
Mick smiled at me. “He’s a good guy.”
A warm feeling inside. “Yeah.” The hangar door was in front of me. The warm feeling died. Now it was time to see what the war ahead has in store for me.
The first thing you notice about this place is just how big it is. It’s fucking enormous! Filled to the brim with Mechs, fighters, and other craft, all of which were being worked on. Something about the sound of machinery, welding, and people working on it just makes this warm feeling inside. While I’m not much for being at war, I will admit that I desperately missed this kind of atmosphere. Maybe I’ll look into being a shuttle pilot when I’m done. It’s easy work, and I could be in a place where I wanted to be.
It was then that I saw Lieutenant Gabriel Sinclair. His Mech stood out among the others. It was sleek, beautiful, and in landing mode. It could change between the two. Sinclair was something of a hero among us Mech and fighter jocks. During the Uprising, he lead a team of four that took out an entire Automaton base by themselves. The footage from that battle is incredible. Watching those tin-cans explode while desperately trying to kill five Mechs was just amazing.
Sin’s Mech was so nice to look at too. There was a rule in the force – the only person who does repairs to his Mech is him. I swear, I’ve seen that man up tinkering with his beast long into the night. It’s rumored that it’s a real monster to fly. Other pilots who’ve tried end up getting messed up by the g-forces and how difficult the controls were to keep in line. I guess it takes a special kind of pilot to take on that beast. In landing mode, it stood on four legs. Like a walking tank, but sleeker. The units around his were much the same. A man with his own unit of specialized Mechs. That’s the kind of jockey that the rest of us dreamed we could be. I’m a damn good pilot, but I know that I’m not that good.
The fighters were all gathered in one area. Sleek, beautiful, with that steel that had special coating on it to make it immune to space weather. You laugh, but it’s a real thing. Out here, gravity waves, tiny clouds of dust particles, or just radiation spikes are a real problem. Space is a fickle mistress. And if you don’t treat her right, she’ll fuck with you. It’s something us jocks are trained for.
Next to those, there were the Valkyrie-class fighters. Hadn’t seen those in a while. These things are giant buckets of hellfire. They can rain down javelin torpedoes in such a way that they can turn all manner of starships and structures to rubble in seconds. They fly like bricks, though, so it requires a special kind of pilot. I’ve worked with those before. They’re cruel, but once you learn how to work them, they aren’t like any vessel you’ve piloted. Part of me wonders if that’s what piloting Sin’s Mech is like.
Which lead me to where the Mechs were. Standing on four legs, each of them was quite imposing. In fighter mode, they were incredible. The Swiss army knives of warfare. Weapons for all occasions. Long-range javelin torpedoes. Medium-range cannons. Close-range sonic burst cannons. There were also Mechs equipped with long-range range particle cannons. These guns were incredible. Watching them work is amazing. There’s this little glitter-like effect after it fires with particles dispersing. So pretty. One of those was going to be mine. I’d have to tinker with my new bird, but it would be worth it. Sin’s got one thing right – always know your machine.
The two of us turn a corner and that’s when we see them – our old squadron. It was just like old times. The lot of us, chilling in a hangar, drinking coffee and waiting for orders. You never realize how much you miss something until it’s gone. Angie comes running over. The girl is super-tiny and had a fact that makes her look 12. Especially with her hair short. It’s adorable. She wraps her arms around me. The rest of the team comes over and greetings are exchanged. Like no time at all had passed. Nobody talks about the conflict at hand. Best to avoid the ugly subjects until they are staring you in the face, right? However, the good feeling was not to last.
A man in an officer’s uniform came over to me.
I stand at attention. “Yes sir!”
“As you were. I have orders for you.” He holds out a piece of paper.
“Carry on.” And he walks away.
The others look at me. I look at the papers. My jaw drops.
“What is it?”
I look at them. “I’m being reassigned.”
“That’s bullshit! We fly together.”
Mick looks at me critically. “Who are you being put with?”
My eyes meet his. “Wild Dog squadron.”
Angie’s eyes go wide. “That’s Sin’s squadron! They’re an elite unit!”
It doesn’t seem real. Like, how did I qualify for this? I’m a good pilot. But not that good, right? No. This has to be a mistake. Just then, I turn around and there he is. Lt. Sinclair. His shaven black hair, just stubble on his head. The one eye that’s blue and the other that’s red. It’s fake. Lost in an explosion. The scar on his face. He looks so serious. It’s humbling. This man is a legend, and he wants me to fly on his wing. It doesn’t seem real.
“Sir! Apologies. I didn’t see you there.”
Then there’s something I don’t think anyone’s ever seen from him – a smile. “It’s alright, Pilot, First Class.”
A promotion to boot? “Sir?”
“If you fly in my squadron, you aren’t just a pilot anymore.” He points to their Mechs. “I’ve seen your record as a pilot. It’s impressive, to say the least. 23 engagements, and never a scratch on you.”
My cheeks go beet red. “Well, that’s just when I’ve been a Mech jockey, sir. My days as a Valkyrie pilot weren’t so good.”
A small chuckle. The man is so soft-spoken. “True. But you’ve never been shot down. Piloting one of those buckets, that’s an accomplishment unto itself. Have you ever been in combat with a specialist Mech?”
I shake my head. “No sir. Simulator only.”
“I see. I can work with that. Follow me.”
Looking to the others, there are brief goodbyes. It is really sad. Everything is changing so quickly. They tell you never to get too attached to a squadron, because it can change just that fast. But we were family. Typically, most squadrons are. Advice might be good, but soldiers are family. Something civilians will never understand.
Heading across the hangar, Sinclair shows me to where his Mechs are docked. It’s there that I get to see each of the pilots. These people all have a reputation of badassery, and kill counts that rank at the top of their class. The look over at me and I can feel their eyes judging me critically.
“You know what kinds of Mechs these are?” Sin asks.
“Yes sir. Custom Sylph models. Made in similar specifications to your own.”
He nods. “Very good. Have you ever trained with something like this?”
This question had a purpose. I could feel the prying. “Well, sir…I kind of did some simulator testing with Sylph models, back when I was in the Academy. It wasn’t, strictly, approved by my teacher.”
That soft smile of his grew. “I know. I looked over the footage that was captured. You did well, considering the controls were completely alien to you. How did it feel?”
I was becoming more comfortable with this man. “Amazing, sir. It was a monster at first, but once I got a feel for it, and was willing to push myself to see what it could do, that felt awesome.” The memories came back. “Always wanted to see if I could pilot the real thing. But I knew that I never would. Got assigned to Locust Squadron, and that was that.”
“Well, those days are gone.” He pointed to a Mech just behind his own. “That Mech is yours. It’s fresh off the factory floor at R&D. I saw that you have a knack for heavy artillery. So, I had the tech people there fit this one with specialized micro-missiles. They are light, but powerful. And they can be stored in bulk. Granted, they have to be specially attached, and can be removed for recon or stealth missions. So there is additional weight. You’ll have to adjust for that.”
This machine was so beautiful! The sheer black hull. The African Wild Dog insignia on it. This Mech was the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen. Almost felt like crying. Leaving the squadron was hard, but how often does a person get the opportunity to do this?!
Sin then got serious. “I brought you into this squadron. I hope you know what that means.”
Frog in my throat.
“I expect you to be better than other pilots. This squadron does not get shot down. Ever. We do not fail a mission. Ever. During combat, I expect absolute perfection. If you fall short of that, I’ll kick your ass right back to the squadron you came from without a second thought. There are no second chances with me. There are no regrets. It’s either the best, or nothing. Understand?”
I wish there was a word to describe the apprehension and humility I felt, being stared down by this man. “Yes sir.”
“Good. I’ll give you some time to get to know your bird. We’ll be going on some testing runs for you to get acquainted with it and learn the controls. I expect you to learn quickly. You said that you learned by pushing yourself in the simulator. Keep that in mind when we are out in space. Understood?”
“Alright then. I’ll leave you to it.” And just like that, I see the best pilot in the fleet walking away. I’m going to be on his wing. But if I don’t do well enough, I’m out. To say that I felt the pressure is an understatement. I was terrified. Yet, when I looked back at my bird, something called out to me. Like it and I had met before, in another life. The pressure was high, but this was MY bird. Time to tinker with it. Like any good jockey, the first thing you do with a new piece of equipment was to know it up close and personal. First things first.
I climbed the ladder to the cockpit. It opened, and I saw that the inside was unlike any setup I had seen. It was more spacious. Climbing inside, I cued up the visual display. It was on multiple screens around me! So cool. The top of the cockpit closed, and I could see why these things didn’t look like they had windows. They didn’t. The windows were just displays from exterior cameras. Made to show you the outside without risking structural damage. Reaching down, I took the controls. Let me tell you, it was in that moment that I knew – this was MY Mech. No one else’s. Ever. Live or die, this bird and I were together. Time to get to work.
Until next time, a quote,
“A wise man changes his mind. A fool never will.” -Icelandic Proverb