Lucien’s Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

You know what feels good?  When you have something that lives up to the hype.  Something surpassing it is rad as fuck, but given how often things crash and burn and don’t live anywhere NEAR up to the hype, it’s pretty fantastic when something you are hyped for lives up to all your expectations.  And this game did just that.  It was amazing.  I haven’t played something this fun in years.  A lot of games I’ve played lately have been just okay or mediocre, but this was such a breath of fresh air in my life.  Ever wanted to RP as a pilot in Top Gun?  I just got done rewatching that, ironically enough, so I did!  This game gave me and a girly-mate of mine the closest that we’ll ever get to a dream we had, but can never have due to physical problems.  For me it was a head injury and the fact I’m a giant.  For her it’s being mute because of an illness.  But we got to feel that rush.  Lots to talk about, so let’s get down to it.

The plot of this game is set in the alternate universe Earth of Strangereal.  Here, years after the Lighthouse War, the space elevator has been completed.  But the completion of it brought strife between the kingdoms of Erusea and Osea.  When Erusea declares war, it’s up to you as the silent protagonist, callsign Trigger, to bring an end to the conflict.  The plot of this game is more window dressing than anything, so don’t take it too seriously.  They just needed something to keep you invested.  And it isn’t terribly done.  There are some neat twists with neat ideas.  Such as when the satellite networks of both nation crash and everyone is on their own.  Wonder what would happen in the real world with such a situation.

What’s great about this game?  Everything!  For starters, the flying.  This game, you can pick two methods of flying.  You can have it be more simulation, or it can be more arcade.  Both methods are fantastic.  If you’re a newcomer to the franchise, I suggest going arcade.  Trust me, it does nothing to hurt immersion.  I haven’t played a fighter jet sim in forever, so that’s how I play.  Flying in this game is intuitive and fun as fuck.

The environments are gorgeous!  Though, there’s a caveat to that.  See, the developers wisely chose to stress framerate instead of backdrops for more advanced consoles, so when you get up close stuff ain’t always pretty.  But that was not an issue for me.  Overall the environments are GLORIOUS!  I play on a PS4 Pro, and holy fuck!  This game looks amazing.  The lighting is always pitch-perfect.  No matter what time of day you’re flying, it looks stupendous.  There were only a couple missions where the visuals bored me, but given the number of missions and all the parts of them that play a little differently, that is not a black mark against it.

So, what do you do in this game?  Lots, actually.  There are a couple basic types of missions.  You have your straightforward affairs of going somewhere and accomplishing an objective, though you almost always have something coming into the mix to eff things up or making things more complicated.  Then there are the dog-fighting missions, where you are pitted against foes, either the annoying-at-first drones, or ace pilots who are not playing around.  Then there are my favorite types of missions – smashing shit up!  These missions are typically wide open, and you are given one directive – blow shit up.  Lots and lots of shit.  You have a score you have to get to in order to succeed in the mission.  These missions are awesome, and I would have liked just one or two more.  It was great to just let out steam and go nuts.

Now, as this franchise has a pedigree of being very faithful to the fighter jets they are using, since while the world is fictional the jets are not, the big question becomes – what about the planes?  I can say, they are amazing!  For those of you who didn’t know, I live just down the way from an Air Force base, and my favorite days walking are when I get to see the F-22A Raptors flying around.  Those things are awesome, so getting to actually earn and fly one was a dream come true.  No joke, I was in love.  I think I still am.  But there are a TON of fighters, from models in America, Russia, Europe, and even China.  Since the actual corporations who designed these things are represented, they clearly went above and beyond to get it right.  The detail in the jets if phenomenal, and I cannot tell you how much I loved it.  Which are my favorites?  Alright, you greedy people, here is a list of my favorites, in order of my much I love them – F-22A Raptor, F-15C Eagle, and the F/A-18 Super Hornet.  Have to show love to that last one, given that the Navy is my jam.  Hooyah!

What are the downsides?  The characters in this game are all stereotypes.  Plus, there are plot points that go nowhere.  Like one of your own having a person who was close to uncovering something killed, but they never tell you what and you never see that character again.  I don’t hate them, but there isn’t a single memorable character in this game.  The plot is also WAY melodramatic.  I mean to the ENTH degree.  That being said, it does keep you going.  It was neat to get to the conclusion.  Most of that coming from the well-animated cutscenes that mix in real world stuff with digital stuff.  Neat effect, and pretty to look at.

Overall, this game was everything I could have asked for and more.  It’s not the most complicated thing in the world, plot-wise, but that’s okay.  The goal is to keep you invested to see it through and want to hop into the pilot’s seat again to dog-fight once more.  Plus, since all levels have a score, you keep coming back to one-up your score and earn more currency to buy planes.  It was hard to earn my F-22, but when I finally did, so worth it.  Part of me wanted to be wearing a flight suit while I played.  I felt the need.  The need, for speed!  This year is off to an amazing start, and this game has set the bar INCREDIBLY high.  I love it so much.  If you have even a passing interest in a fighter jet sim game, you CANNOT go wrong by getting it.

Final Verdict
9 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

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The Dream

I woke up in my rack.  All these years later, I recognized it in an instant.  Even recognized what ship I was on.  The USS Zumwalt.  Why was I here?  This made no sense?  Sitting up from my rack, I noticed that I was wearing a TOS.  What the hell was going on?!  Looking around the room, I saw Rodriguez’s stuff, but not the lady herself.  I stood up, looking down at my OPSAT.  Maybe it could tell me what was going on.
Osprey, what’s going on?
A brief wait.
Pierce, get on deck.  The enemy is on the ship!
I looked up, seeing right by the door, there was a QCW-05 hanging there on a hook.  There was also a holster for my Five Seven.  Why was there a Chinese rifle?  My SC-20K would be here on the ship.  No time to think about it.  If the enemy was on the ship, and I was told to get up top, I had to go.  Moving fast, always checking my corners.  The ship was silent!  Moreso than usual.  Where was the crew?  And why was it so dark?  Over 2/3 of the lights were out.  Not broken, but just out.  This made no fucking sense.  I know that Lt told me to get up on deck, but the command deck had to have people.  Why was I here if no one else was?
The walk there was so ominous.  Felt like the walls were pressing in around me.  Moved as fast as I dared.  Each clanking sound or groan of metal and I felt my nerves get even more on edge.  What the fuck was happening here?!  My training told me that it was a bad idea, but as I got closer, going up ladders and through doors, I started to run.  Had to get to the command deck, see what was happening here.  I could feel myself being watched.  What lights there were seemed to be getting more and more red.
I burst through the door, but there was no one in here!  Not a single person at their station.  Was I all alone on here?  Looking around, I saw my OPSAT had a new message.
Get to the landing pad, Pierce!  Your target is there!
Wanted to leave.  Wanted to understand.  Nothing was rational.
Osprey, what’s going on?!  Where is everyone?!  Why am I alone?  I don’t understand the mission.
Just follow your orders, Pierce.  Kill the target
.
I leaned up against the wall.  Even that didn’t help how exposed I felt.  No sound.  Just ominous silence.  The creaking of bulkheads.  Movement as the ocean tossed the ship a bit.  Not much, but enough to notice.  Some beeping at the consoles, but I didn’t know enough to know what any of it meant.  I wasn’t trained for this stuff.  Lifted my weapon.  If I killed my target, maybe I could get out of this nightmare.  As good a reasoning as I could find.  Back into the dark passageways.  The darkness got even more oppressive.  I was jumping at every sound.  Where were my sisters?  They would NEVER send one of us in solo.  Even at the most reserved, they send you with one other person.  But it was clear, nobody else was in here.  All the questions, without a single answer.
Passageway after passageway, it almost felt like every open door had a shadow looking at me.  They were filled with darkness.  Finally, I got out to the landing pad.  Bringing my weapon to bear, I sighted down on my target.  That’s when I saw them.  It was a silhouette, but they were there.  So Osprey wasn’t lying to me.  Alright, so I just kill this person, and then I get out of this mess?  Worked for me.  My weapon had a red dot sight, with an attachment of a zoomed scope to get in closer that I could flick on and off.  Nice!  Zoomed in.  Wanted to make absolutely sure that my target was dead.  As I looked through it, something threw me off.  This silhouette looked familiar.  It had a female form.  A woman as my target?
OPSAT buzzed.  Do it, Pierce!
Ugh!  Leave me alone!  Sighting back, again my aim was halted.  This person was familiar.  I knew this figure.  Wait, no!  It couldn’t be!  Stopped.  Lowered my weapon.  Stepped out onto the deck.
“Jean?!”  I called out.  “Is that you?!”  Ran as fast as I could, to reach her.  But when I arrived at where she stood, she wasn’t there anymore.  Like she had disappeared in the prevailing darkness.
Another buzz.  Dammit, Pierce!  Your target’s moved to the engine room!  Eliminate them!  That is an order!
Didn’t even care about that now.  I had to find her.  Why was she here?!  Why wouldn’t she talk to me.  Ran like a woman possessed inside.  The doors were all open, and I could feel the shadow eyes on me.  Through another passageway, until I reached my destination.  There was just enough light inside to see the same dark silhouette.
“Jean!  It’s you, right?!  Why are you here?!”  Again I ran at her, desperate to be where she was.  Right as I was about to reach her, the lights came on, blaring in my face.  Went blind for a couple.  Had adapted to the darkness.  Then they went down again, and she was gone.
“Jean!” I cried, desperately.  “Where are you?!  Why won’t you talk to me?!  PLEASE!”  Now I was screaming.
Yet-another buzz.  You have disobeyed orders, Pierce!  I will have you court-martialed if you do not follow my command!  Eliminate your target!  It’s gonna stick, this time.  No weaseling out of it with the Admiral.  Do the only thing you’re good at and kill your target!
Rage bubbled up inside me.  Fucking bastard!  I’m not a killer!  I’m an assassin!  And why does he want me to kill my wife?!  I would never do that!  Not in a million years.  I would protect her!  I’d do it now!  If they wanted her dead, I’d keep her safe.  Nobody could ever harm her while I am looking out for her.
You don’t believe that, Pierce.  You’re a killer.  We trained you, taught you, molded you.  This is all you know how to do.  You know I’m right.
That’s not true!  I was more than just a killing machine!  Jean showed me that I wasn’t just what they wanted me to be.  I was more.
How often do you think about killing, Pierce?  Be honest.
Tears started pouring down my face.  They’re wrong!  They had to be.  I’m not the monster they wanted me to be!  I got free!  I have a family again!
You’ll kill them, Pierce.  Just like you did your father.
I put that rotten piece of shit out of his misery!  After all he put me through, why shouldn’t I have been the one to finish things?!  It was quick and painless.  More than he would EVER have done for me!  He was dying anyway.  Why shouldn’t I have had the right to do that?!  Was more than those doctors were doing, keeping him alive as meat and tubes.
You didn’t do that to put him out of his misery.  You did it for revenge.
I didn’t have to listen to this!  Where was she?  I had been running down passageways, desperately looking wherever I could think.
Your target is on the landing pad, Pierce.  Eliminate them!
I wouldn’t!  We would get away from here and I would never have to think about any of this again!  We’d go home together.  I’d show her the ocean, wake up with the distant sound flowing in.  Hear her breathing next to me as we sat on the veranda together and ate breakfast.  Cuddled at night watching the moon.  I’d never let anyone hurt her.
Ran out onto the landing pad, seeing that same dark silhouette.
“Jean?  Is that you?  Please, talk to me!”  Was red, puffy, face streaked from tears.  The silhouette didn’t move.  “Are you mad?  Is that it?  Did I do something wrong?”  No response.  Just the breeze in the night air.  Tropical air.  “I’m sorry for what happened.  I would give anything for it to be me and not you!”  Dropped my weapon to the deck.  “You don’t know how hard it’s been without you.  I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.  I’m starting to think that I’m turning into a psychopath.  I need you so much.”
The silhouette just stood there in silence.
Felt anger bubbling up.  “So that’s it?!  You’re just gonna stand there and let me hurt?!  I fucking need you, and you’re just gonna stand there?!  I told you we’d be forever!  I made vows for better or for worse!  Does that mean nothing to you?!”
More silence.
“God-dammit, talk to me!”  I screamed at the top of my lungs.
Still nothing.
Drew my side-arm.  “Fucking talk to me, or I’ll open fire!  Tell me something!  Tell me anything!  Please!”
Just stood there.
“Don’t make me do this, Jean.  Please don’t make me do this.”  Sighting through the tears that streamed down my face without stop.  “Please…”
Only the wind.
“Fine.  Have it your way.”  Looking down, I fired.  The suppressed sound, ringing out in the endless night.
Just then, a light from the tower above came on.  It showed her, standing there, in her NWUs.  The old ones, blue and perfect.  I loved those things.  The green ones were so repulsive.  Blood poured out of her eye-socket, where the bullet had gone through.  The face was a mask of disbelief and pain.
“You killed me, Quinn.  You, and no one else.”  She fell and hit the deck.
I dropped to my knees.  A screaming, anguished cry escaped me, unrelenting, echoing out into the dark and endless sea.

I woke up in a pool of different hair.  Now it was dark brown, almost black.  Parts of it were streaked blonde.  She was beside me, naked, almost cuddling but not.  Sat up.  Didn’t put on a robe or anything as I stood up.  Walked over to the doors leading out onto the veranda from my room.  Walked right outside.  It was pouring down rain.  Quite cold, for Washington.  It didn’t even register.  Nothing did.  I didn’t feel anything.  Walked out onto the sopping grass, headed toward the cliff.  When I got there, I stood.  Looking out onto the drop.  I could do it.  Jump off the edge, fall, and that would be it.  Everything would be over.  I could be with my wife again.  There was this little voice in my head, telling me not to.  It sounded like someone I knew.  Who could that be?  With all this rain, it was hard to hear.
Then it got louder.  “Quinn?!  What are you doing?!  Come inside!”
Who was that?  Didn’t matter.  Nothing would matter pretty soon here.
The sound of feet stomping on the grass.  “Quinn, what the fuck are you doing?!  Get away from the edge!”
A hand grabbed my arm.  I shrugged it off.  This person was annoying.
“Quinn, what’s going on?!  What are you doing out here?!”  They sounded so worried.  Why?  Who was I to them?
Looked over, saw the hair, on this girl.  She had no clothes on, like me.  There was this look of fear on her face.
“Come on!  Let’s go back inside!  Please!”  Gentle coaxing.  She sounded so worried.  Was that genuine concern?
I looked back out at the dark ocean, how it called to me.
“Please, Quinn!  Let’s go inside!  I’m begging you!”
Confusion.  Then I saw an image in my head.  Emily!  Flashed back to reality.  The fog was gone.  I stepped back.  Saw Ashley standing there, soaking wet and looking scared to death.
“Let’s go inside!  Please!”
I nodded, starting back toward the house.  She put an arm around my shoulder, leading me in.  When we got inside, she shut the door and now I could see that she was crying.  She collapsed to the floor, sobbing.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?!” she demanded.  “Were you trying to kill yourself?  Is that it?!  Jesus fucking Christ!  Why would you do that to me?!  Fucking bitch!”
My legs suddenly gave out, and I hit the floor, leaning on the cold glass of the door.
“I’m sorry, Ashley.  I’m so sorry.”
We just sat there, with her crying and me not having any words to say, and wishing desperately that I did.

Until next time, a quote,

“What have I…what have I done?” – Heero Yuy, Gundam Wing

Peace out,

Maverick

Amazon Sucks

I will admit fully to just looking to vent with this post.  Amazon has been pissing me off lately, and I felt like coming to my online audience, who is coming up on 1,000 on WordPress alone and talking to you about it.  Seeing if you have had any similar problems.  In the age of online convenience, it never ceases to amaze how inconvenient it all can be.  The worst part is that there is no recourse for the average consumer.  It’s all being handled by computers and people hundreds or in my case thousands of miles away that I can’t do a damn thing about.  Because they don’t care about the average consumer.  They really don’t.  Plenty of online personalities I follow on YouTube talk about what a brick wall that is, but the other online platforms are no better.  Let me prove it.

So, I got robbed on Christmas Eve.  No joke.  Someone came to my sealed apartment building, to a package that Amazon left outside my door, and stole it.  How do I know?  Because I saw the evidence that they disposed of outside in the ashtray outside the building.  The loathesome human being just ripped the package open and left the contents in there.  Needless to say, I was livid.  Beyond livid.  I wanted to find this person and rip their guts out and put their head on the front of my car the way hunters do with deer.  I can think of a LOT of people that deserve that treatment, now that I think about it.

Immediately I filed a complaint with my apartment building.  My thought was – why couldn’t the USPS guy have just left a slip in my mailbox instead of leaving the package outside my door?  It was Christmas Eve, after all, and I had places to be.  Specifically places that weren’t there to be.  I got a response the next day of business that blew my mind.  See, I have Amazon Prime, for reasons that I’m starting to question.  At first it was great to not have to pay shipping on lots of stuff, but now I’m seeing the downside.  And Amazon has a policy about stuff that is sent from Amazon locations and not independent sellers in respect to USPS.  Their policy is that they can’t just put a slip in your box.  They HAVE to leave it outside of your place of residence.  There’s no room for negotiations.

Needless to say, I was pissed.  So, since Amazon has this stupid-ass policy of having to leave packages in unsecure locations, they assume the liability for if the package is stolen.  So, I went to their website to see how I could get in touch with them about a refund.  And let me tell you – their website’s Help section is the biggest pain in the ass ever.  They have no section for if something is stolen.  You can type it into their help menu, and it just tells you to wait a couple days.

So then I decide – this is pointless, how can I get in touch with a person?  I have a right to a refund, and I want to talk to somebody about that.  Finding the talk to someone link is also annoying, having to sift through their endless un-Help(ful) section to find an option to speak to someone on the phone or via chat.  I picked the chat option.  To the credit of the person I was talking to, they only fed my corporate jargon for a bit before actually approving my refund.  All’s well that ends well?  Not really.  I still have to face the reality that if I want to order something again from them, I get to pay the gamble of if it gets stolen or not.  Nice work, Amazon.

Then tonight, Amazon’s wonderful customer service decided to strike again!  See, I have a class for college that I am attending again to get certification for medical coding and billing.  First class for this new mission, and the cost of textbooks is obscene.  Figured I can rent it.  That was far cheaper.  Everything was going smoothly, until I got to check-out.  Been using the same payment method I’ve been using for ages.  Never been a problem.  Except this time, they won’t take it.  Why?  Because they demand I get a card that has an expiration of at least 07/2019.  What?  Are you fucking kidding me?!  I decide to go back and see if I can get Help on this  Their un-Help(ful) section tells me nothing.  So again, I decide to just cut out their website’s bullshit and talk to a person again.

Got a dude tonight, and he told me this is the official policy of the store.  For insurance purposes, they have to have a card that doesn’t expire until more than 45 days when the textbook has to be returned.  You have got to be fucking with me.  So, they are saying that I have to go to my bank and get a new card, then go back on there and do this whole process over again.  And by the time I do, I can guarantee that the textbook will be gone.  After all, business is closed on Sunday, and I have work from 8 to 4 tomorrow.  And my bank would have to send me the card via the mail anyway.  This is such bullshit.

What’s the moral of this?  All stories have to have a moral, right?  The moral is that Amazon fucking sucks, but because everything is a fucking online monopoly, they’re the only game in town.  I’d say fuck them, but the shit I want is cheapest with them, so I’m stuck with the pricks.  Brilliant.

Until next time, a quote,

“Some mother-fuckers are always trying to ice-skate uphill.” – Blade, Blade

Peace out,

Maverick

Blizzard Doesn’t Care About “Inclusion”, Neither Does Any Other Corporation

Recently Blizzard announced that Soldier 76 in Overwatch was gay, as part of their big push to be all progressive and whatnot.  However, a former employee who recently went public with the harassment they were getting at work decided to squash this idea that Blizzard cares about inclusivity pretty hard.  The post they wrote was pretty interesting, for those who think that Blizzard is adding themselves to the list of companies that they believe care about the LGBT community or any minority community.  As for me, I wasn’t surprised at all.  It seems that Blizzard says one thing, then does another.  For some, the revelation was shocking (assuming what the ex-employee said is true).  Not for me.  This all made perfect sense.

I have talked, at length, about the fact that companies like Disney are nothing but shilling to make money.  They put out info that they believe will get them social justice points because that’s mainstream, and Disney is all about pandering to the mainstream.  However, when you look at all their black and other minority characters, you can’t help but notice something – that the LGBT community is not represented at all.  Not even a little.  Strange, right?  I mean, Disney will preach on and on and on about how they want to promote diversity.  Wasn’t Finn supposed to be the first gay character in a Star Wars movie?  Well, that died and got replaced with him sucking face with a fat Asian chick.  Fat-ish, anyway.  Why did it get replaced?  For the same reason that Disney is full of shit – China.

China has one rule in American cinema that gets shown there – no ghosts, no gays.  The LGBT community does NOT make an appearance in the movies that go across the pond to an audience that is eclipsing the American one.  As streaming gets bigger and bigger here, that eclipse is only going to get larger.  And as Hollywood and the major corporations only care about making money, they won’t let that market slip away, regardless of how many people bitch and moan.  So all you #GiveElsaAGirlfriend and #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend people, you’re fucked.  Because Disney doesn’t care about you.  Hashtags be damned, you don’t mean shit to them.  They will swear up and down that you and yours are so important to them, but you are just a dollar sign to them.

So, when I hear that Blizzard is equally full of shit, saying one thing and then doing another, I am not surprised.  After all, this social justice stuff is just as much of a dollar sign to them, and since social justice stuff is the mainstream view right now, and Activision is their new overlord, they can’t afford to not do whatever they think the mainstream wants.  Ham-fisted pro-LGBT characters?  Sure, why not?  Even if it’s just another Dumbledore being gay or Lando being pan, talked about but never seen in the actual films (or books in the former example)  Never gonna be in the game, but it’s out there for the brownie points.

To all you social justice types who are so pleased about Blizzard making some rando character gay, or inclusion in Disney films, keep this in mind – the SECOND that the public at large is tired of all this social justice stuff (and make no bones about it, that day is coming), they are going to sell all this inclusion nonsense up the river just like Joel did to humanity in The Last of Us.  They care about your money, nothing else.

Until next time, a quote,

“But the chart says…!” – Rob Walker

Peace out,

Maverick

The Submarine Mission (Part 2)

John was smiling at me.
“Em was right, listening to you tell this stuff is pretty awesome!”
Ashley was right there with him.  “Oh yeah!  I can’t believe they had you do this kind of stuff.”
“And you volunteered for this, right?” he asked.
I nodded.  “Aye.  I wanted advanced combat training.  My CO in A School just happened to make me an offer to get into the STARS program.  Sheer chance got me everywhere I went.”
“Well, I guess I can’t fault serendipity on this.  After all, you saved my little girl.”
That made me feel good.
“Anyway, you were saying?”
“Things were about to get a lot more complicated…”

The Colonel looked back but couldn’t see me in the gloom.  I think his eyes went big.  A little hard to tell in night vision.
“Who are you?!”
“I’m with the STARS.  We’re here to get your package.  The SEALS are coming in to save your ass, but we need to secure that first.”  My voice was right in his ear, not more than a butterfly’s wings whisper.
He nodded.  “Damn right.  What’s in there is a matter of national security.”
“Then we don’t have much time.  Where is it?!”
A brief pause.  “It’s hidden in the ventilation in the bathroom of my cabin.  Room 2D.”
Typed into my OPSAT to Beacham.  Got that?
Didn’t have to wait long.  Got it.  Oscar Mike.  Head back to the rally point with Crow.  We’re almost done here.
I turned back to the Colonel.  “Alright, sit tight.  The cavalry is almost here.”
“Sounds good.  Thanks.”
I put his gag back in, then had to navigate the shadows again.  Suddenly, a voice came on the intercom.  It was shouting something in African.  I stopped dead.  Where I was had excellent darkness.  If the enemy was going to be moving, I had to see where they were gonna go.  Looking around with night-vision, the enemy looked nervous.  Really, really nervous.  Had we been discovered?!  This was bad.  If they knew someone was onboard, then they’d turn the lights on.  If the lights come on, I’m fucked!  We’re all fucked.  I have no doubt between Crow and I we could easily kill most of these guys, but the chances it wouldn’t involve hostages was nil.
Hands shaking.  Had to get moving.  To get away from being so damn exposed.  Just then, I felt something.  We were moving!  The ship was moving, and picking up speed.  Oh shit!  Now I really had to get moving.  The enemy all seemed to be looking outside, as if into the distance.  Were they trying to see if a ship was out there?  What was going on?
A buzz on my OPSAT.  Well, no one was looking.  Rally at the RV!  We’ve got trouble.  It was Beacham.  She didn’t have to tell me twice.  Slipped through the dark spots, getting back with Crow.  I slipped my camera out the same window we came in.  The enemy was toward the front of the ship.  What were they looking at?  The vessel was turning.  Trying to get away from something?  Hard to say.  My night-vision didn’t show me much.  Paranoia?  That would make some sense.  They’ve been sitting here for a bit, and clearly are wondering why the ransom negotiations are not happening.  I’d feel skittish too.  Oh well.  No time to ponder.  We had an RV to get to.  Slipping out the window, we had to move faster than we really should have in order to avoid detection, but then got back to the fan-tail and got behind the cargo container.
Bethke and Rodriguez were waiting.
<Where’s Beacham?> I signed.
<No idea.  We were told to wait here.>
So now we sit back and find out what the hell we’re gonna do next.

The wait went on for what felt like an eternity.  The vessel was moving as fast as it could toward the horizon.  Given the position of the north star, we were headed west.  Toward land?  If we got to shore, with their reinforcements, we were in a world of trouble.
Finally, Beacham appeared from the other side of the container, with Pennyfeather.  They had the case!  What did this mean for us?
<Alright, we have the package.  Now how do we get the hell out of here?!>  Rodriguez signed.
Beacham leaned back, thinking.  <This is a sticky spot.  The tanks are gone.  That’s a guarantee.>
I leaned over.  <What about the SDV?>
She cued up her OPSAT, looking down at it.  <It reads as still attached, but there’s NO way we could hold our breath that long.>
This was bad.  An attempt to turn us into poster children to avoid the rumors with the Navy was blowing up right in our faces.  Could only imagine what the Lt was thinking right now.  How much did he know?  Integrated suit tech only picks up audio.  Glad he wasn’t hearing anything right now.
<Why not finish the mission?> Bethke asked, finally.
We all gave her a luck.
<We just talked about this, kiddo.  We can’t get back to the sub without our air tanks.> I said.
Crow had been looking up, face to the wind.  Now she looked at us.  <She means finish the rest of the job.>
Beacham was confused.  <You mean…?>
It clicked.  <She means save the hostages and kill the enemy.>
Bethke nodded.  <Hell yeah!>
Everyone got serious.  We had been told no Fifth Freedom.  But we were also told if things went south, we had secondary orders allowing us to kill the enemy.  So what do we do?
<We have no way off the ship, and they’re heading west.  Land is that way.  If we get back to shore, we’re in real trouble.  Then it’s not a mission to jack a ship with the SEALs.  It’s an assault with the Air Force and Marines.  This hits all the points he told us about when Fifth Freedom was granted.>  I thought I made a good argument.
Beacham nodded.  <You’re not wrong.  Alright, here’s what we’re gonna do.  Audio in Blackfoot.  No OPSAT communication.  I know it breaks protocol, but I don’t want Lt knowing what we’re about to do before we do it, once we break from here.  Hooyah?>
<Hooyah!> we all signed.  Still cool that we had worked out a sign for that.
<We’ll split up in threes.  First, we have to take out the patrol teams.  Pierce, you’ll take Crow and Bethke and clear the starboard side.  The rest will come with me and we’ll clear port.  We meet at the front.  Challenge is ‘Lynx,’ countersign is ‘Eagle.’  Understood?>
I nodded.
<Okay.  We have to move fast!  The enemy cannot know what’s happening!  Lure the enemies guarding the outside of the ballroom away from the door, then take them out.  Only shoot when you know you can make a kill.  Otherwise use your knives.  Once we clear out the guards, we’ll go inside and take care of the ones looking after the hostages.  Once that’s done, we’ll leave two there, then head up top and take out the captain and bridge crew.>  She took a deep breath, looking right at me.  <You ready?>
<Hooyah.>
In night-vision, I could still tell she was smiling.
<Then let’s move out!>
Into the darkness, six women disappeared again, where even the Reaper couldn’t find us.
Coming to the ladder at the rear, I held up my hand for them to stop.
Turning to Crow.  <You the upper deck.  Remember, only go after what you can kill.  Feel free to use shockers against them, just make sure to take them out if you do.>
She nodded, going without a word.  I motioned for Bethke to stay on my six.  We moved silently, still being careful around light.  I made a point that I wasn’t going to use my guns.  This was gonna be silent.  Heard a pop up top, hard to distinguish in the waves.  Nice.  She was already bagging them.  We got to where the door was, seeing the same two guys we had left out their previously now back at their posts.  I pulled a circular small disc and slid it across the deck just out of sight of the door.  Was a little worried I would slide it too far, but was right on point!  Hit the trigger on my OPSAT.  It made this repeated low noise.  The two looked over.  I pulled out my knife, looking over to Bethke, who did the same.  This close to the entrance, we couldn’t have them wondering if there was gunfire.
First one enemy came over, leaving the other by the door.  Shit!  Was hoping to get them both.  Right as he was reaching out into the dark to see what it was, I grabbed that arm and pulled him in.  Before he could make any noise, I plunged my blade into his neck.  A gurgling sound, then nothing.  He went limp.  Was glad this dude was part of a malnourished part of the world.  Otherwise this would suck having to hold him up.  He was heavy enough as-is.  Exhausting.
Bethke did some fast thinking, tapping on the railing.  I looked over at her, furious.
She looked back, shaking her head.  The dude looked over, heading over quickly.  So, he wanted to make sure his friend was okay.  Guess that’s his own weakness.  Bethke grabbed him, plunging her blade in and slitting his throat.  Holding him over the edge, letting gravity do the work.  I decided to unload my cargo over there myself, as gently as I could.  With the boat going as fast as it could, noise wasn’t the biggest issue to do water dumps.  At least not on the first deck.
We knew there was no way to avoid the lights at the front, so we activated the magnetic gloves and hopped the side and shimmied across the side until we got past the exterior lights outside the ballroom.  There were three enemies up here.  Saw two shadows at the far port-side.
“Natayo” I heard in my ear.
“Ksikkihkini,” I replied.
{Weapons free.  On three}
Pulled my five-seven, slipping over the deck.  Flashes was a risk, but the enemy coming out to investigate worked to our advantage.  Land was in the distance, getting closer.  We were running out of time.
{One.  Two.}
Grip tightened, ready.  {Three!}
We opened fire.  A suppressed pop dropping one.  I was about to drop the other when a flash from above.  Looked up in a flash to see Crow with her SK-20C.  Show-off!  Pennyfeather dropped the last.
They came over.
Beacham smiled.  {Well done.  Alright, we’re gonna head up top.  Let us know as soon as you secure the hostages.  We will take out the Captain.  Rodriguez is waiting outside the window into the upper level of the ballroom.}
I nodded, cuing up her and Crow.  {Make your way inside.  When we are inside, we will signal.}
Noise of acknowledgement from Rodriguez, nothing from Crow.  With no one outside, we hopped back over the railing and made our way across to where it was safe from enemy view.  Had to leave the bodies there, but we would deal with them in time.
Finally, at the window we had used last time, Bethke and I got inside.  The enemy was looking around.  I could tell that some of them were confused.  They were looking outside, as if wondering where their comrades were.  We had to strike now!
{In position!} I said, voice barely a whisper.
{In position,} Crow replied.
{In position!} Rodriguez said.
{Smoke them.}
Flashes up top, pops.  Bethke and I marked and took out the four down here so fast that it was like it hadn’t happened.  The hostages saw their captors dead and all of them were fidgeting, eager to be free.
{Hostages secure!} I sent to Beacham.
{Copy.  Breaching the bridge.}  Over the line I could hear a door opening, confused voices, pops, then nothing.  {Bridge secured!  Let’s clean out the rest of the ship.}  I could hear the engines stop.
I told Crow to meet me at the RV point, while telling Bethke and Rodriguez to stay here and keep this location secure.  Do not free the hostages.
We got there together, then headed toward the door marked for authorized personnel only.  Opening it, we saw one man standing there, smoking a cigarette.  No time to be subtle.  I dropped him.  The noise made another man poke his head out of a doorway.  Crow smoked him.  The two of us cleared the rooms with dishes, food, supplies.  It was such a skeleton crew among this lot.  Even moreso after we dispatched man after man.  Finally, we got to where the engine room was.  All the noise in there, they hadn’t heard a damn thing from us.
We slipped inside, seeing three men mulling around.  Guess they were content to just chill here.  One person could do this job.  Two at most.  On a civilian ship, this was such a joke.  Oh well.  From an elevated position, it was child’s play.  The last three of the pirates died within a hair’s-breath of one-another.  Not one of them had time to really think about what or why.  Their lives just ended.
It was surreal how easy killing came to us.  Before this, we’d have a guard or two, maybe a high-value target that we had a perfect sight on, but now we could see that killing really did come easy to us.  It was genuinely freaky.  You just keep doing it, and eventually you realize that your ability to make people dead just gets better as time goes on.  Should I be afraid of this?  I unnerved me.  There was this moment, looking down at the dead men on the floor, and I felt some strange new emotion.  Shook my head.  Just nerves.  Nothing more.  I was overthinking it.  Not a habit I want to fall into.  Saw that break a TON of people in boot.  Time to get up top.

We got back to the deck and joined up with Beacham and the rest inside of the ballroom.  They had turned up the lights and were now undoing the zip-ties on people’s wrists and ankles.  Needless to say, we were so fucking boss right now.  The gentleman of the old couple was talking about how we reminded him of soldiers back when he served.  That made me all warm and fuzzy inside.
Mama walked over.  {Want to call it in?}
I gave her a look.  {You sure?}
She had a cruel grin.  {Well, if someone’s about to get yelled at by Osprey, it might as well be you.}
Bitch.  I cued up Lt on the comm.
“Sir, all hostages secured.  All hostiles terminated.”
There was a pause.  “What?  What the hell’s going on, Pierce?  The ship has been moving.  You’re damn-near at their port!  What happened out there?”
Leaning up against the wall, I sighed.  “The enemy started moving in to the shore.  Our air tanks were gone.  Our only option to finish the mission without the enemy getting back to shore was to take quick action on the secondary orders we were given.”
Could almost hear that smile of his where he’s annoyed, but proud at the same time.  I think the annoyed bit came from his part of the post-action report.
“Well shit.  Guess the SEALs are gonna be unhappy.”
“Hooyah, sir.”
Heard him chuckle.  “Fair point, Pierce.”
“Sir, you’d best get a ship over here.  We can get it back out to sea, but we got a whole mess of people, all of whom are looking to get home.”
A pause.  “Copy your last, Pierce.  I’ll get the Zumwalt.  She was coming in to pick us up once the job was done anyway.  I think the sub crew is eager to leave behind the FDU, anyway.”
That hit home.  “I take it that the mission was a failure, sir?”
“That’s a big negative.  Got a whole bunch of crew here impressed.  But one sub does not a Navy make.  Baby steps.”
“Aye-aye.  Provide the RV coordinates.  We’ll see if we can get this bucket moving.”
Ending the comm, the Colonel came over.
I snapped to.  “Sir!”
He shook his head, giving a halfhearted salute.  “As you were, sailor.  Technically I’m not on duty.”
“You still outrank me, sir.”
Man gave me a nod.  “What happened to the SEALs mopping up?”
“Change of plans.”
“Did you secure the briefcase?”
Beacham walked over.  “Aye, sir.  It’s on the fantail, by a cargo container.  I lashed it to the railing.”
“Can you go get it?  The contents of that case are a matter of national security?”
This confused me.  “Then what the hell was it and you doing on the (Redacted), sir?”
“I can’t tell you that, sailor.  I’m sure you know how this goes.”
“Aye-aye.  Need to know basis.”
“That’s right.  But I do owe you one.  You ladies are pretty damn cool.”
“Thanks, sir.”
To say that we were the most popular people on that ship was a gross understatement.  We were the shit!  The most badass women ever to sail the international waters.  It helped that we looked the part in our TOS’s, weapons in hand.  So we had one sub and one crew of a French cruise ship on our side.  I’d take that.

John nodded.  “I remember reading about that.  A crew of a ship taken hostage, rescued by the all-female unit of the Navy.  I’d say I can’t believe it was you, but given what you told me, I can now.”
“It was a PR coup for the STARS.  The first time when the Navy and the military at large looked at us as more than just a bunch of chicks in uniform.  Now we were a unit, with accomplishments that could be respected.  All the cable news coverage of us from the people we saved.  It was pretty great.  Bethke was wishing that we could go on TV.  Not me.  The idea of being in front of an audience is my personal nightmare.”
Ashley nodded.  “Oh yeah!  Right there with you!”
“Well, you made a believer out of me, Quinn.  Em was right.  You are one hell of a soldier too.”
Another thing that made me warm and fuzzy.
Emily pouted a bit.  “Kinda makes me wish she had come with us to Uncle Richard’s for Christmas.  Bet they wouldn’t have been trash-talking a gay girl when they found out you’re a super awesome ninja soldier!”
I smiled.  “Well, in a perfect world, kiddo.  But I got my fur-babies home.  That’s what matters.  They probably are missing their mama.”  There was that feeling again.  The thought that I was close to figure out what I was missing.  Christmas?  Yeah, that was part of it.  I wanted to spend Christmas with her.  What else was it?
John got up.  “Yeah, we’d best be getting to bed ourselves.  Work and school tomorrow.”
Kiddo pouted more.  “Ugh.  Fine.”  Came over and gave me a hug.  “See you later?”
“Maybe tomorrow.  I have some work stuff myself.”
“Okay.”

Ashley walked me to the door.  I could tell she was eager to talk to me, privately.  We stepped outside into the chilly night air.
“Listen, Quinn,” she started.  “I’m feeling like I don’t want the night to be over.  How about you?”
Backed off just a bit.  “What do you mean?”
She sighed, hanging her shoulders.  “Do you need landing lights or something?”  A little pause.  Choosing her words.  “Look, you’re super awesome.  You’re fucking hot.  I’ve never met anyone like you.  And I know you’ve been looking.  So, are you interested or not?”
Ball was in my court.  “I…I don’t know.  I think so.  But, I don’t know if I can do something serious.  Not now.  Maybe not ever.”
Stepping closer, a devilish grin on her face.  “Then let’s not be serious.  I got out of a pretty shitty relationship myself.  Wouldn’t mind having some fun, since I’m here.  How about you?”
That look in her eyes.  It was a needy look.  A lusty look.  The itch was out of fucking control.  It was right on my back, screaming at me.  Take this late-20’s girl home and stick nine meters of tongue in her to drill for uranium!  Fuck.  If I didn’t do something about this itch, it was gonna drive me insane.
“Nothing serious.  Just fun?”
Now right in front of me.  “Just fun.”
Looked right into her eyes.  “Alright.”
“Then let’s get going.”

Until next time, a quote,

“Decades of denial, is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed
Respected, saluted,
And seen for the wonder I am!” – Scar, The Lion King

Peace out,

Maverick

The Submarine Mission (Part 1)

It was game night at John’s place.  Had several chums from his office there, and it was pretty fun.  Even Betty showed up.  Most recently we were playing One Night Ultimate Werewolf.  I kicked so much ass at this game!  My poker face is impeccable.  Not a single person could play me.  Managed to convince Emily that I was a villager.  Bad move!  Felt like such a boss.
A few rounds of this, some pizza, and everyone getting in on it.  Some Apples to Apples after that, a nice way to level off the night.  Once his chums were leaving, things got quieter.  Ashley was also there.  I couldn’t help but notice the looks she was giving me.  She really is cute.  Curvy in all the right places, with a little bit of fluffy.  The more I got my feelings back, the more I realize how much I have been wanting the little things in life.  Good company, fun games, and if this itch wasn’t gonna get off my back, to deep-six between her legs with a torpedo.  Never before had I noticed it this hard until now.  Every once and a while it would be on me, but right now it was in overdrive.  Magazines tell me that women hit the peak in their 30’s.  I’m starting to think they’re on to something.
We all ended up in the living room on the couches, telling stories.  Ashley told one of a client who was all pissed off that child support wasn’t going after her ex-husband, because she saw him on the street corner begging for money.  Wow.  There’s petty, and then there’s that.  Emily told a story about her and her dad being on a hike in the mountains, with her falling and breaking her arm.  Her dad carried her down the entire mountain, not setting her down once.  That was super sweet.  Could see John having more than a little pride on his face.  Betty told a story of one of her children getting kicked out of school for the day and her beating their ass.  You don’t fuck with a southern black woman.  Poor kiddo should have known better.
Getting toward the end of the night, Betty and her husband went home.  Now it was just the four of us.  Had a nice buzz going from this rather splendid spiked hot chocolate that I was given.  Had pumpkin spice Baileys in it.  Very good stuff.  This drink needs a name.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.
“What about you, Quinn?” John asked.  “I bet you have a thousand stories from your time in the Navy.  Em can’t stop talking about how cool you sound when you tell her stuff.  Never goes into detail, but says you are so cool.  Got a story for us?”
Ashley sat forward.  “Oh yeah!  You gotta give us one!”
Well shit.  They had me there.  And John had trusted me enough to open up his family and his life to me.  I couldn’t get as deep as I had with kiddo, but they deserved something.  He wasn’t wrong.  There were a thousand stories I could tell on a bad day and still have thousands more.
“Alright, I got one.  Lemme tell you a story about a mission where our insertion point was a submarine…”

Let me tell you something about life in the STARS – you never really know where exactly your next job is gonna take you.  Nowhere was this more apparent than below decks on the USS Iowa.  It had just come from its shake-down cruise, and now was pressed into service.  Not a second too soon, because there was a mission that the STARS were commissioned for.  Why did they have us doing this?  Because this is how it work.  It’s a test, you see.  The Navy had this long-running gag about us.  Called us the FDU, or Frigid Dykes Unit.  Why?  Because we are seen as cold-blooded and gay.
I’m not here to call men in the service all horny dudebros.  Not even remotely.  Granted, sex crimes in the military is a huge problem that all female recruits are given education in boot.  But when you are part of a combat team, and training with other combat teams, and you are a woman who doesn’t put out, you get a reputation as gay.  You’d think this sort of shit would stay in the Army.  I expect them to be the types who ate paint chips as kids.  God knows, they do enough to prove me right on that front.
The brass needed us to earn some respect.  Do something big in a typically bro-tastic environment.  I say typically because there was more changing than just us being in this submarine.  The USS Iowa was the first of its kind in an entirely different way, which was part of why the lot of us were able to be in here.  This sub was the first one crewed entirely by women.
Something to know – up to this point, there had NEVER been a submarine with a full-time female crew, because there are some things about subs to know.  In a submarine, you have absolutely ZERO privacy.  None whatsoever.  And since you have to maximize space usage in one of these things, you can’t just have cordoned off space for women.  There had been attempts to have women on a sub, but the results were disastrous.  Sex crimes were insane, often the chick was used by the crew.  It was horrible, and the Navy goes out of their way not to talk about that.
This ship was different.  All of the talk about equality, and the brass wanted something they could show off.  So, they put out a billet asking for volunteers for a brand new program.  Instead of trying to integrate men and women onto a sub, why not have one exclusively for women?  The concept was ambitious, and could have ended disastrously.  However, female recruits jumped at the opportunity.  It was a chance to do something really cool, and show the boys what we could do.  The obligation was massive, and the expectations were not reduced, but those who volunteered proved that they were ready for the responsibility.  The shake-down run of the USS Iowa was a proving ground for new tech, as well as a new idea in practice.  Made the Navy look REALLY good.
But this was still a proving ground for the STARS in a place where people could see what we were capable of.  Just meant that we were among all those of the same gender.  It meant some changes to how our operation worked.  Instead of our typical Lt, we had Lt. Sarah Joliffe.  A very calculating woman, but not outright cold, she was a rad type.  We had worked with her before.  It also meant that only our female techs were with us.  Not that the rest hadn’t seen us naked before, but there were rules to protect all involved.  Only made sense.  Rodriguez joked that I must be in my zone here, and I’d be lying if it wasn’t pretty rad.  Being around fit women, who were totally cool with being naked around one-another.  Candyland, for sure.  A pity there is ZERO chance of privacy in this joint.  Otherwise I would be all about it.
As it happened, one of the techs came over.  They had learned how to be quiet.  Making noise on a sub was a good way to get your ass kicked.  Especially people who slammed doors.  Being quiet was second-nature to us, but they had learned.
“Alpha Team, you’re up!” they said.
Getting up quick, we rushed out.  I couldn’t help but notice some of the looks I got.  Oh, if only this joint didn’t have some privacy.  The things I would do.  No!  Bad Quinn!  Dirty thoughts can do more than sink ships.  They can sink careers too.  Besides, I didn’t need CWO Beryl up my ass.  I really didn’t.

We got to the Control Room, with Lt and the Sub Captain standing at the CON.  They were looking at a digital map of what appeared to be a ship.  We lined up and came to.
“At ease.  Alright, STARS,” Lt began.  “It’s time for us to get to work.”
“Yes sir,” Beacham replied.  “What’s the mission?”
“You’re going to be infiltrating an enemy vessel.”  He pointed to the map.  “This is the (Redacted).  It’s a French vessel that’s been commandeered by African pirates.  The passengers are being held at the center of the ship, and demands are being made to ransom them.  However, we have another problem.”
The screen changed to show a man in an Air Force officer’s uniform, holding a briefcase.
“This is Colonel (Redacted).  He was in possession of a briefcase containing high-value information.  There is a monitor on it in case there is an attempt to force it open.  It has not gone off.  We believe that the Colonel hid the case before he was captured.  That information CANNOT fall into the pirates’ hands.  They aren’t stupid.  They would know that a ton of nations would be chomping at the bits to pay top dollar for this.  Your mission is to go in, ascertain the location of the case, and liberate it from the vessel.”
“This a smash and grab, sir?” I asked.
“That’s a big negative,” Lt replied.  “The enemy cannot know that we are aboard.  Once you have secured the package and exfiltrated, a SEAL team will go in to mop up and rescue the hostages.  But they aren’t in position yet.  The USS Idaho is deploying them, and it hasn’t reached deployment radius.  We’re in position, and the longer we wait, the more chance there is of the enemy discovering the package.  So you’re up.”
“What’s our infil point, sir?” Pennyfeather asked.
“You’re going to be taking an SDV from here and coming in under the vessel.  You’ll attach a magnetic hook to the vehicle and then surfacing.  You will ascend the ship using magnetized gloves.  This is top of the line gear, and you get to be lucky enough to field test it.”
Everyone smiled.  I could see Bethke’s excitement at getting to test a new toy.
“You’ve done some training with this stuff, but this isn’t a simulated setting.  This is the real deal.  Once aboard, you will RV with the Colonel and get him to tell you where the package is, then grab it, and exfil the exact same way you came in.  Keep in mind, you’ll have to lash your tanks to the side of the vessel with another mag hook.  Turn off the pressure and keep them just below the waterline.
“Let me make one thing clear – you do NOT have Fifth Freedom for this operation.  We cannot risk any dead crew that would incite the pirates to attack the prisoners.”

John was confused.  “Fifth Freedom?”
“The freedom to break the law for the greater good.  In other words, the freedom to kill.”
He looked very serious.  “Damn.  But I guess that’s the military for you.”
“Aye.  Like you wouldn’t believe.”

TOS suits were made for all kinds of work.  More top of the line gear.  They might be so damn uncomfortable and skin-tight, but you work with the tools you have.  Comfort is not a huge thing in any branch of the military.  Why should the Navy be any different?
As we loaded up, Lt came up to where we stood.
“I know I’m sending you into the meat grinder on this one, ladies.  The expectations are sky-high.  So listen, consider this an auxiliary command – if there is a situation in which violence is the only option, in order to maintain secrecy or secure the lives of hostages, you do have Fifth Freedom.  That is not official, but it is something to know.”
Beacham stepped forward.  “We have our orders, sir.  We’re wasting time.  As you said, the longer we wait, the more risk the hostages are in.”
All of us nodded.
Lt smiled at her.  “Alright then.  Good hunting, Alpha Team.”
We all came to attention and saluted.  “Hooyah!”

A SEAL Deployment Vehicle was loaded up in a launch platform accessed through one of the exterior hatches.  We all went through, checking our gear.  Dive equipment, prepped and ready.  Pressure is good.  Seals are good.  SC-20K, with Five Seven sidearm.  Both loaded, but also come with airfoil and shocker rounds, for non-lethal take-downs.  There are also the cameras with the spikes in them that can be drilled into most any surface.  Great way to get a good view.  With their integrated mikes, you can also catch conversations.
The vehicle is piloted by two people.  In this case, Beacham and Bethke, who have had training.  The rest of us hang on to the hand-holds.  Once we have the air flowing in the tanks, the submariners seal the access hatch and we are on.  It’s pitch black when the lights go down, but the red emergency lights come on.
“Prep for submersion and depressurization.”  A voice said in our ear pieces.  We all got into position.  A loud echo sound, then water flooding in.  We trained for diving off the coast of Anchorage, I shit you not.  This south African water was a wonderful escape by comparison.  A bang, then the front of the launch tube opened with bubbles coming out.  Beacham looked back to each of us.  We held up the ok hand sign.  Then, the motor came on and we exited.
Normally, there would be some talk of course, speed, and destination, but the STARS are silent.  That’s just how we roll.  OPSAT was monitoring all of us, and I guarantee the CON was watching all this in real time.  The show had begun.

Time seems slower, underwater.  That quiet sound of life in the dark sea.  That fear as you wonder what sort of monsters are deep below you.  Open ocean always did freak me out a little.  I blame that fucking British dinosaur miniseries that had the giant sea monster coming up from the gloom with open jaws.  Fuck sharks!  That’s the shit that gave me night terrors when I was doing dive training.  Looked over at the others.  Just nerves, I told myself.  Crow looked at me and nodded.  She was so quiet, but had a very nice part of her as well.  Part of me wanted to get underneath the quiet and see what she’s really like, but sometimes you just gotta accept people for who they are.
We came up under the target boat.  Just a little bit of build-up underneath of grime.  This was a new ship.  Beacham brought the SDV to a stall.  The ship was just floating.  Guess they were waiting for the negotiations for the hostages.  Once stopped, we disembarked.  Bethke opened up the cargo section and took out one of the magnetic hooks.  Such cool stuff.  Coming up underneath, she attached it with a little thud.  Nervous, but Beacham looked to us.
<Stay calm,> she signed.  <The enemy won’t even notice that inside.>
The line was attached to the SDV, and we ascended with another hook and line.  We made our way just up to where the water line was.  From there, we had to act fast.  We attached the hook and line.  Pennyfeather attached the other end to the SDV.  From there, we all took off the tanks, turned off the air pressure, and clipped them onto the line.  They were secure, for now.  So long as the ship didn’t go anywhere in a hurry, it would be alright.  Surfacing, we activated the magnetic palms and feet.
A question – have you ever wanted to be Spider-Man?  Because I shit you not, that is EXACTLY how we felt slowly making our way up the hull of this vessel.  There’s cool, there’s really cool, and then there’s this.  I took point, with Crow right behind me.  The rest waited at the waterline.  Avoid chance of detection.  The moon was coming in and out of the clouds.  A little worrying, but just a little.
This next bit was so damn tricky.  I cannot tell you how nervous this made me.  Crow came up and put her arm around my waist with the hand on the hull.  She looked up and nodded.  I disengaged my hands, pulling out a small wire from the wrist of my suit.  At the end of it was the tiniest camera you’ve ever seen.  I had it go up, looking over the top.  There was one guy on this part of the ship.  It was by the fan-tail.  He was smoking a cigarette, looking both nervous and bored at the same time.  Is that a thing?  If not, he made it one.  After a bit, he put it out and started moving away.  That was our cue!
I motioned for the others to come in behind.  Taking my goggles out of a sealed part of the TOS, I put them on and switched them to thermal vision.  The back of the ship had a big cargo container not far away.  That was perfect!  Not only did it shield us from moonlight, but it made a nice landmark as a rally point.  I motioned for Crow to indicate to the others to follow me.  Coming about, I pulled my primary weapon and readied it.  There was a gap of a few seconds.  Regularly made sure that our lone guard didn’t come walking over.  On the upper decks, there was a sense of order to this.  These guys weren’t fucking around.  The nervousness was real.  I think they knew that the longer there was no response, the worse their position got.  Which meant that their incentive to keep all the hostages alive got worse.  They might be looking to kill one or two to show they mean business.  We had to act fast.
Beacham came up last.  Making sure everyone was safely aboard.  Good commanding officer.  Since she had rank, and definitely the leadership disposition, we just put her in charge.  There was a title she had been given, but I could tell that it stuck in her craw.
<Alright, we gotta move quick!  The enemy is getting antsy.  Pierce!  I want you to take Crow and get to where the hostages are.  Lt gave us emergency Fifth Freedom, but we are NOT going to disobey the primary orders, understood?!>
<Hooyah,> we both signed.
<Okay.>  She looked across the fantail.  There was a large pole where the flag of the vessel was hanging.  <Bethke, I want you up there!  You’re on overwatch.>
<Hooyah!>
<Rodriguez, you watch her six!>
<Aye-aye, Mama.>
That got her a mean look.  Part of why she had that nickname in the first place.
<Pennyfeather, you are on duty when Pierce gets word about the case.  We’ll have to go intercept it.  Understood?>
<Yes ma’am.>
<Alright then.  Let’s move like we have a purpose.>
Crow and I disappeared into the night.  They were keeping the running lights on, but the lights inside the rooms were very, very dim.  Smart.  If you’ve ever turned on your kitchen light and tried to look outside, you can’t see shit.  They were leaving their visibility as large as they possibly could.
Long gangways on the deck, we made our way silently.  Anytime we had to go under a light, we would make sure there was no one in visual range.
A comm from Bethke.  We’ve got 12 enemies patrolling the hull.  Six on each side.  There are three decks, with ladders on each side.  The enemy is alternating between decks.  I can’t keep you updated regularly.  The bridge is at the top deck.  There is a big open area in the center on the first deck.  The bulk of the guard are at the entry-points for that.  I would guess that that’s where the hostages are being kept.  This far away, thermal ain’t gonna see shit.
So that’s the score.  Sounds like we knew what to do.  God only knows how many are inside.  Though, now that I thought about it, probably not many.  This wasn’t a huge cruise ship.  The smallest I had ever seen, now that I thought about it.  Oh well.  Made our mission that much harder.  Bigger ships meant more places to hide.  Here, it came down to being very, very careful.
Bethke provided locations as best she could.  I send a Comm to Osprey to forward us the ship schematics to our OPSAT.  Look at the screen on my arm, I went over.  There had to be a way into that room that didn’t involve the exterior.  Found it!  There was an interior entry, but we would have to go along the length of the passageway on the first level.  With virtually no room to maneuver in there, and us having to go past windows and the lighting in there being much better, I hated this.
We started toward the door, then Crow grabbed my shoulder and stopped me.  There were no lights, but out on this fantail, I cannot tell you how exposed I felt.  Looked back fast, but saw her taking her goggles off, eyes closed, as the breeze blew past.  I’d seen her do this before.  It was so strange.  Then, she motioned for us not to go there.
<Why?!>
The look in her eyes said one thing – trust me.
Well shit.  I wasn’t much for going in there anyway.  Let’s see where her idea took us.  We went over to the flush deck, but saw where the enemy was just down the way.  I looked at her, with an expression of – now what?
She turned on her mags on the hands.  I saw what the method was, but to what end?  I made to follow suit, but she stopped me.  Pointed right at this spot.  Again, sitting in an exposed position.  Fuck me.
In a flash she was over the side.  Brought my weapon to bear, looking down the sight.  The ladder going up to the second deck was at the far end of where they were standing.  At least I didn’t have to worry about someone coming up on my six.  Not that they could.  It takes a special kind of man to sneak up on me.
Got a buzz on my comm.  Cued up OPSAT.
Prepare to move.  Fast!  It was Crow.  I was already crouched.  Lowered my weapon, ready to move.  Thermal showed a small device go flying into the overhead, just down from their position.  It started making a low beeping sound.  The three guys there looked, and two started to move toward it.  The third guy decided that he was going to go inside.  That’s it!  My padded feet made no noise as I went across the deck as fast as I dared.  Crow pulled herself up right behind me. Using thermal, I had the camera look under the door.  Tons of signatures!  Perk was, the guy who went in was now talking to another dude inside.  Seemed very busy.  Worked for me!  Crow hit the sensor to turn off the distraction on the sticky camera.  One of the windows was open, and it wasn’t under a light!  I pulled myself up by the ledge below it, dropping myself inside.  Crow did the same.
Queued up the others.  We’re in.  Stand by for coordinates of the package.
Now to figure out where the Colonel was.  This room wasn’t as stocked as I expected.  There was access to the second deck via a ladder at the far end of the room.  A chandelier hung on the ceiling, but was off.  Only the room lights were on.  Again, not to reduce visibility and also not to give away where the hostages were.  Not that any reasonable person wouldn’t guess in here.  Still, can’t be too careful.
There were six men inside.  four on this level, around the perimeter of where the people inside were.  They were gagged with zip ties on their wrists and ankles.  Where we were was comfortably without lighting.  It was so quiet.  Eerily, ominously quiet.  I turned on night vision and started looking around at the hostages.  Scared families, scared couples, scared elderly people, and then someone who looked more scared than the others.  He was right in front of a darkened space.  They kept them all bunched up here.  Hair trimmed, no facial hair, and everything was pressed.  This was our guy!
I motioned for Crow to stay here.  It was my turn to get some impressive maneuvering done.  Making my way past them, I was a ghost’s shadow.  Not only did I have to make sure that I didn’t alert the guards, I had no desire for the other hostages to know I’m here either.  They could give me away in any number of ways.
Got past one couple and smelled piss.  They probably didn’t let these people use the bathroom.  Gross, but I could see why.  Couldn’t risk it.  Then, after getting by a kid cuddling to their parent, I reached our target.
From behind him, I put a hand over his mouth and pulled him into the dark.
“Sir, Chief Petty Officer Quinn Pierce.  I hear you got a package that needs retrieval.”

Until next time, a quote,

“Walking in the dark with a friend is better than walking alone in the light.” – Helen Keller

Peace out,

Maverick

Talking Until the Morning Light

I remember her and I had talked after the mission.

The next morning we stayed in bed.  I told her what had happened.  I know Crow said it would never leave us, but part of why I was able to keep going was that I never kept anything from my wife.  Even back when she was my girlfriend, that’s just how it was.  She had TS clearance, after all.  It wasn’t some big deal.  She also knew that what we talked about stayed between us.  I just had to be honest with her.  It’s what had kept me from those self-destructive tendencies that was outlined in that report I read.  The reason why we were together, us being able to talk.  It felt so good getting this all off my chest.  More than you can possibly understand.  Would play with her hair as I talked.  Just running my hands through it or making little braids in it or just flopping it around.  It’s ironic, because she played with her hair when we got nervous.  Sometimes that meant we would both be playing with it at the same time.  We made a super cute couple.
After I was done, she sat up and turned around to face me.  When I would play with her hair she would have her back to me.  Was less awkward that way.
I looked into her eyes.  “What do you think?”
There was a pensive look on my wife’s face for a while.  “I can see why that would be scary to see.  I’m so sorry that you had to see all that information about you.  There’s a reason the IS’s files are kept confidential.  It’s not good to know what the brass thinks about you.”
This confused me.  “You don’t seem too freaked out by that.  What am I missing?”
She cuddled up with me, giving me a soft kiss and then laying into me.  “I’m not surprised, because that sort of thing is not too weird, really.”
“What?!”  This was freaking me out even more.
“If your job is to run a military, and part of that military is a black ops group of all-women, and you expect them to do dangerous, scary things, you have to know where their heads are at.  You have to.  Otherwise, you risk a lot of shit.  It’s not that they are secretly plotting or there is some conspiracy.  It’s just them making sure that their assets’ heads are on straight.  Or not straight, in our case.”  She giggled, kissing me.
“But they knew what we were up to.  It was something they kept track of!  Why should they care if I’m gay and what I’m doing with my love life!”  I got more and more afraid the more I thought about it.
“Baby!”  She could feel my fear, cuddling closer.  “You’re scaring yourself.  Don’t do that.  It isn’t that complicated.  Your CO just happened to be gay.  So are you.  And your file talked about you having destructive habits with that.  We talked about that the night we first got together, remember?”
I thought back.  That was true.  It’s why she wanted to get to know me, because the me in real life was different than the one in the file.  What drew her to me.  She came to respect me.  Okay.  That made sense.
“Alright.  I get that.”
She resumed cuddle position.  “Okay.  You were scaring me too.”
Felt bad.  “I’m sorry, love.  I didn’t mean to.”
Kissing my neck.  “It’s okay.  I get why you’re scared.  But you know, there’s another way to look at this.”
I looked down at her.  “How’s that?”
“Lt didn’t talk.  They wondered if he was in on it too.  None of your sisters did.  You said they suspected a relationship before me transferring off the team and us coming out.  They didn’t know for sure.  So none of Alpha Team told them anything.”
“And neither did you,” I added, smiling at her.
She laid her head against me, then nodded.  “That’s right.  I would never do that.  Never do anything that would hurt you.”
Where did I get a woman this wonderful?

Thinking back on it, there was a period of time that she had to be somewhere else and we had just come out as a couple.  Orders came in moving her to a mainland IS base in Colorado.  Those were the hardest days.  Long distance relationships almost never work out, but we did.  It didn’t help that I was mobile for the longest time for full deployment. We had an AOI that included multiple missions, so we were stuck out there.
Our ship had strict rules about when we could use platforms such as email and secure lines.  When we didn’t have clearance, it had to be physical mail.  That was such a long time.  Or it felt that way, at least.  Part of my journal writing came from that.  Before I had that as my zen activity, I would just talk to Jean.  Coming out was so great because it meant no more sneaking around, but for a long time, it made things so much harder.  But I remember our first reunion.

Driving in to Aurora, Colorado felt pretty alright.  The weather here was pretty great.  A nice, cozy 70 degrees, with it hanging around 60 no matter what.  A pale Irish girl could grow to like it.  Got to the gate and showed my ID.  There wasn’t much of anywhere that this little gem couldn’t get me into.  Pretty great stuff.  A perk of being part of a special branch of the military, I show up somewhere, they just assume I belong.  May not always get respect, but I could at least get recognition.
This place was so fly.  Could see an F-15 taking off, with a couple more on the tarmac waiting to go behind it.  There was also a C-130 coming out as well.  Were the fighters as escorts?  Precious cargo?  Probably thinking too much.  Can’t do that in the military.  Unless you had a ton of rank.  Then they care what you think.
I hadn’t told my girlfriend that I was coming today.  Given the amount of letters we had sent, I knew what housing unit she was in.  On-base housing.  It was posh as fuck.  Could see the spouses of men on base chatting on a lawn, along with, kids playing around.  Easy to think this place was somewhere out of Leave it to Beaver.  Felt out of place, the chick in a red sedan, driving up to one of the homes.
While Buckley was an Air Force Base, IS had a steady home here because of their need to work with imaging done by satellites.  This place was all about space stuff.  The orange monkey in office was talking about moving forward with a Space Force, so this might end up being where it is headquartered.  A neat thing to think about.
I pulled up at her unit, putting it in park.  Decided to show up in uniform, just to look my best for her.  It was my NWUs.  Had to enjoy this while I could.  They were talking about changing us over to these green uniforms that I thought were the most hideous things in the world.  Not that it would matter for me most of the time.  In mission I had my black NWUs.  The only unit that had them.  They had to distinguish STARS from the rank and file on a ship.  There were rules about it.  Singled us out a bit, but we did look cool as fuck in them.  Put my cover on, then walked to her front door.
Hit the doorbell, slinging my gear bag over my shoulder.  It opened with Jean on the phone.  She looked up and saw me and her mouth dropped.
“Mom, I gotta go.  Tell Dad I love him.  No, I really have to go.  My girlfriend’s here!”  With that she hung up.
“There room at this joint for two?” I asked, winking at her.
“Oh my god!”  She jumped into my arms.  Way too much woman for me to carry like that.  We fell backwards, with me laughing on the ground.
“Silly woman!”
She got up, helping me up as well.  “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?!  I would have ordered us pizza or something!”
“That would be nice.  But the look on your face!  Totally worth it.”
Shutting the door, she wrapped her arms around me.  Those lips.  Those perfect, perfect lips.  I never wanted it to end.
“You are so mean!”
“That’s a big affirmative.  I’m a horrible mean person.”  Couldn’t get the smile off my face.
“So, how long do you have?  Alpha Team’s still active, right?”
“Aye.  I could be called in at any time, but for now deployment is over.  If any missions come up, I’ll have to go.”
She smiled at me.  “Okay.  Well, put your stuff in my bedroom.  It’s upstairs.  I’ll get on the phone and order us something.”
A thought hit me.  “I know how to cook some stuff.  Got any fixin’s around here?  I could whip something up.”
An even bigger smile.  “My girlfriend can cook.  When did I get so lucky?”

Sitting across from Crow, I looked down at my hot chocolate.
“I’m surprised,” she said, “that you recommended the Navy to your young friend.  After everything that happened with us there, it would be hard for me to do.”
“Like Jean said, that’s just how it goes.  We knew that the brass had to see us as expendable.  Besides, kiddo wants to go to space.  How many teenage girls actually wanna do shit like that?  I mean really?  Can you think of ANY girls you grew up with who talk like that?”
She gave me that little look one gets when they admit you’re right but don’t want to say it.
“And if you’re gonna be part of the Space Force, you gotta be a pilot.  Only branches you can do that in are the Air Force or the Navy.  Didn’t want her to be one of the Chair Force, do we?”
A little chuckle.  “Definitely not.”
More silence between us.  With Crow, there was a subtle language to her silence.  It never felt awkward.  There was this nice bit of quiet where she communicated with her body language.  It’s hard to explain.  You ever have that friend who their body language speaks volumes to you?  That’s what we had.
“She’s been good for you,” she said, finally.
“Kiddo has given me a reason to live again.  I was always a little sister, growing up.  Followed Big Sis around like a stray puppy.  It’s kinda nice, being on the other side of that fence.”
“That’s how she sees you?”
“It’s not something we’ve ever talked about in so many words, but I think so.”
Nodding.  “I’m glad.  The wind doesn’t cry for you anymore.”
All this time later, years gone by since we were together, since we had been on a mission, since I had ever thought about her saying she heard messages in the breeze, and her saying that still made me warm and fuzzy inside.
“I hope not.”
More silence.
“Getting too old for this work,” she said, finally.  “Thinking about quitting.  The others are too.”  Then she looked right at me.  “What about you?”
I didn’t have a response for her.  I still don’t.

Until next time, a quote,

“I can remember, when I was a little boy, my grandmother and I could hold entire conversations without ever opening our mouths.” – Mr. Halloran, The Shining

Peace out,

Maverick