Is Duty a Value, or an Escape?

She was fighting to keep up with her pilot.  It was so insane.  This girl was so driven!  Their partnership was one of practicality.  They had to depend on one-another, after all.  It was up to her to keep the armor running, and everything working just so.  Especially the most important part – the shield.  This armor was designed with something none in its class had ever had – a sector shield.  By being able to focus particle energy on ejector panels, they could move the shielding around to any part of the machine.  This kept the power draw only to what they needed.  Instead of a kinetic barrier on all sections that could be worn down fast with enough fire, they could focus it specifically on where it was needed, which meant keeping the shield active for hours longer than any barrier before it.
Their time in battle could be upped to 200% more than any other armor before them.  But keeping this system running was brutal.  It required someone who could keep track of an endless amount of information about the enemy and attacks coming in at once by a system that was incredibly demanding on her mind.  Funneling the data directly to her.  It was so much, most days.  But that’s why they were a team.  They could process the load together, so her pilot would be able to use the data on where to go and who to target, while she could use the data on where to defend and other systems in the armor.  The first two-person armor.  A design like none other.
This battle was madness.  Over a giant natural resource satellite in orbit around the planet.  If this place fell, they would have no problem taking the rest of the planet.  Local military was no match for Directorate might.  All they’d have to do is move in and crush any local resistance and leave occupational forces to keep watch while the Fleet moved.
Explosions everywhere.  So much carnage and death.  An allied armor ripped open from a massive particle beam.  The pilot would have been vaporized.  Worse ways to go.  The beam was from an assault cruiser coming around some wreckage.  Bad move.  They were moving too far out from their defensive position.  An attempt to make a break?  Couldn’t be that.  The Fleet had them surrounded in all sides.  This battle was about attrition.  Either they would wipe out Protectorate forces, or they would hold out until reinforcements.  So much rode on this.
But that was besides the point.  She focused her attention on the cruiser.
“Move out of the firing range of that thing!”
“No shit, genius!”  Ever the angry one.
“I’m not talking about the guns.  I’m talking about getting away!  Bombers are coming in from point 52 tac 87.”
“Aye-aye!”
Weird to be treated like a superior officer from the one at the controls, but it was true.  She was her superior, not that she’d ever lord that against her.  With all they had gone through together, that would be cruel.  It wasn’t something she wanted anyway.
Coming about, they decided to watch the show.  Several bombers had used the wreckage to mask their approach the same way the cruiser had done.  It worked both ways.  By the time the guns of the ship could come to bear, they had already launched their payload.  Blue lasers jetted out among their bombs, taking out several, but they were too close.  The stars lit up red and yellow as they hit home right on the engines.  Plumes of blue fire went bursting out.  An overload!  Such a beautiful color, for something so awful.  The flame spread further and further, until it was pouring out all over the ship.  The crew was likely being cooked beneath the hull.
“Bad way to go,” the pilot whispered.
She had nothing to say back.  It was so captivating.  Then the core ignited, and the whole thing blew open like a soda can in below zero weather.  The fire burst out, then exhausted the oxygen it had, and extinguished.  The crew never had a chance.
Seeing the fire, it brought back memories.  Had it only been two years??  Maybe a little more?  Felt like an eternity.  In another life.

The sound of the waves crashing against the shore greeted her.  Sunlight was just starting to come through the window.  Was it really that early?  Too early for any decent person to be up, but she really had to pee.  Stumbling down the hall to the bathroom, it was a sad state of affairs for how dead she looked.  Didn’t help that saying she was indecent was putting it mildly.  Too early to care about that too.
After finishing, she stumbled back to her room.  There was a sound from the hallway.
“I am totally scarred.  Could she at least put on a robe or something?!”  Kid brother!  That registered enough for her to feel more than a little ashamed.  Whatever.  She had to see him getting dressed for blitzball.  That scarred her for life too.  So the little creep could take it!
Mornings like these were the best.  Still another hour to get some sleep, she was going to make the most of it.  Once dawn broke, she knew where she was going to be.

The smell of the waves was so inviting.  From the bow, at the controls, she brought the boat out of the harbor.  Another catering gig.  The catch was likely to be pretty substantial.  This year had seen a real boon to the fish numbers.  Some real monsters coming in.  Calm waves today.  No headwind, just little whitecaps.  Almost made it boring, but best not to complain.  This many patrons today, it meant good money, regardless of what the catch was.
Poor kid down below had to actually deal with these people.  He was a nice guy.  Had some very cool tats of all the places he had been.  Never been off-planet, but had been to everywhere on it.  No longer a colony world, they were part of the Directorate proper now.  Over 2,000,000 people lived here.  From ports to the farming communities, this garden world had developed into a popular tourist attraction for those seeking to escape the bustle of the big cities on their own worlds.  Or those who wanted freedom from the endless regulation of the Directorate.
Now out of the port, she accelerated to a nice pace.  Couldn’t rush too much with these off-world types.  They got jittery.  But you also had those who would bitch at you to go faster.  No pleasing everyone, right?  Best to hedge your best on something gentle.  Would mean the vast amount wouldn’t bitch as much.  She looked down at the company jacket she wore.  Hated it.  Such an ugly color.  Another day.  Straightening her company hat, she opened the window and let the sound of the seabirds and the salty breeze greet her.
Taking a look at the scanner, she saw that reports were coming in of a good haul coming in 70 kilometers to the south.  Nice!  A close one.  Maybe they could catch their limit before midday and she could go home early!

Nice dreams always crash and burn the hardest.  For the first hour, they were catching like crazy, but then it died.  Their patrons were annoyed.  She keyed into the scanner, but nothing was coming in for good hits.  Just a lot of dry runs.  Hitting up a couple contacts she had at the port and ship captains, she got a tip for a good hit 120 kilometers to the east.  Worth a shot, right?  After having the patrons get their lines in, she gunned it.  A little fast, but they were getting antsy.  It sucks when things are going great for a while, only for them to suck.
The next place was also another pretty good haul, for about an hour or so.  Then it all dried up.  But she did get to see something pretty cool.  There was a school of fish moving, with scutter sharks coming in and nabbing them up.  All the thrashing and churning.  Had some patrons wondering if they could try and hook a shark, but their attendant pointed out what a horribly bad idea that was.  Scutter sharks were no joke,  They could easily bite through the lines they had, and even if they hooked one, the chances of getting it in was minuscule.  You’d need a harpoon and some rope for that kind of haul.  One guy actually asked if they had that.  She smiled.  This guy has vision.
Well past midday, she got one last tip for a decent haul further south.  Once the patrons got some lunch in them, it was a better afternoon.  Their last stop was not too bad.  Slow at first, but things picked up.  An hour to evening, she pulled the boat back into port and docked it.  Now her and the attendant had to unload all the coolers filled with fish.  Some of the guys were talking about what they would be cooking.  One dude said he wanted to weigh his fish.  Her role in this ended at tying off the boat and unloading stuff.  After that, the boss gave her her pay and she went home.

Getting back, the family was already talking to her brother about his next game.  Being related to a celebrity sucked.  Barely an acknowledgement of her existence as she came in the door.  Heading over to the fridge, she pulled out some local fruit and took it to her room.  Now to another monotonous night of reading Net articles and watching meaningless vids to kill time.  This was her life.  What her life would likely always be.  But there was a story in the news.  Another brushfire conflict with the Protectorate.  More and more of this was in the news.  Not that she cared.  Or at least, she thought she didn’t.  The reality of the fact that their world was close enough to the Protectorate for the war to come here pretty fast if peace talks failed did strike her.  Did her parents know?  Did anyone?  Who here knew what danger they were in?  But she put it out of her mind.  No one would look for a fight here.  This world offered no strategic value to anyone.  The military forces were a garrison at most.  No big natural resource satellites to acquire, no big factories or shipyards to take over.  All this world had was farmland and fishing boats.  They wouldn’t have even joined the Directorate if it hadn’t been impressed upon them by the representatives who came to visit.  They didn’t want to risk this world going to the Protectorate.  They’d gotten visits.
She shook her head and keyed out of the system.  This wasn’t her problem.  It was never her problem.  Not like she wanted to be part of any of that anyway.  Being the helmsman on a fishing boat paid the bills just fine.  Or at least it would, once she got out of the house.  One step at a time.  For now it was just getting something saved up, and building a resume as a future boat captain.  Once she had her own boat, then she could make her own money.  No more getting wages and commission based off of the haul.  One can dream, right?

Another day, another trip out to sea.  Today was looking to be no more interesting.  Three hours into a good spot, there is a call that comes in.
“Come in Blue Angelray.”
She grabbed the controls.  “I read you, Yellow Jacket.  How are things with you?  Good haul?”
“Fuck that!  There’s a fight going on in space!  Right above the planet!”
The world suddenly dropped away.  “What?!  How?!”
“Got word that a Directorate ship is under attack.”
The thought made her heart stop.  The Protectorate was here?!  Was this the start of a war?  She didn’t want to focus on it.  It was too ugly to even consider.  Keep to what is happening now.  The rest can come later.
Half an hour goes by, and reality comes crashing down.  Or at least several hundred tons of it.  There is a huge blaze of blue in the sky above.  Everyone looks up, and so does she.  A massive blaze of blue light, shimmering everywhere.  First one, then another.  Finally, a trail of smoke that is heading down.  Drifting forward, toward where they are!  The crew is getting nervous.  So are the patrons.  Blue fire and black smoke, plummeting from the sky.  Kind of beautiful, in a twisted way.  It is coming forward, and getting lower and lower.  The navy blue metal is shimmering in the sunlight as it comes down.  At first it was wondering where it was going, now she realized, it was coming down towards them!
“Everybody, lines in!  We’re out of here!”
Nobody had to be told twice.  The patrons were too scared not to listen.  The crew and ran to secure everything, while she brought the engine online.
“Now get your asses inside and strap in!”  The crew ushered them inside and she didn’t wait to hear if they were seated.  There was no time.  She hit the accelerator.  A couple of fishing poles went flying off the back, along with one of the patrons gear.  The smoke was now so close!  They could make out the size and shape of the vessel that was crashing towards them.  A smaller ship.  A cruiser.  A vessel for recon.  So many holes blasted in it.  Billowing smoke and fire was everywhere.
She powered the vessel towards the shore.  It wasn’t close, but that ship was going to hit the water soon.  And when it did, it would create a massive wave that they had no chance of outrunning.  Not in a fishing boat.  That’s when the wind from the crashing ship hit them.  Everyone was thrown around as the boat was pushed over so far that it nearly capsized.  Once she got it sitting right again, she powered the accelerator as fast as it would go.  They’d have a matter of seconds to beat the worst of it.
The shore was a magical place that had never looked more distant in her life.  In the distance, there was an explosion.  The ship had finally impacted.  Daring to look toward the horizon to her backside, to the left, she saw a massive plume of blue fire rising towards the sky.  Fear gripped her.  Heart pounding.  If they didn’t get there in time, get to high ground, everyone in this ship would be dead.
That’s when they smashed into the sandy shore.  Without a second thought, she jumped off of the helm and opened up the compartment inside.
“Ditch your shit and run!  Head for high ground!  Now!”
It was up to them if they listened or not.  Some of them looked hurt.  She wasn’t about to wait and find out.  Like a demon possessed, she took off running.  The crewman from yesterday caught up and outpaced her.  The sound of everyone behind yelling after them.  The dunes down the way got pretty high.
Chancing a look back, the crewman’s eyes got wide.
“The water’s receding!”
“Shut the fuck up!” she snarled.  There was some agreement behind her.  Just keep running, she told herself.  No matter what, keep running.  Even if you have to go until you die, don’t stop running!  All the endurance working on a boat was finally paying off.  Up and down the sandy dunes.  A sound from the distance.  A crunching, twisting sound.  The wave impacting their boat?  It propelled her faster.  Got everyone else behind them moving too.
Minutes passed,  Up and down dunes and she didn’t even know how far she’d come.  Finally, she could go no further.  Crashing to the grassy dune, her legs gave out.  Everything did.  Breathing harder than she ever had before, she just laid there.  Finally, she willed herself up to look back at the ocean.
It was beyond description.  The water was so close, but it had stopped.  It was heading back out to sea.  The boat was smashed to shit on one side.  No way was it going to be salvaged.  But the radio may work to signal where they are.  She knew this part of the shore.  Too far from anywhere to walk, but close enough to get rescue.
The real show-stealer was out at sea.  In the distance, the blue flames were still pluming, then, in an instant, withered away.  She’d heard about reactor explosions, but this was something else.  Those who had kept pace with them stared with her, in awe and horror.  Most of the crew and patrons made it, but they were talking about people they didn’t see.  Bad way to go.  Now to begin the long, slow walk back to the boat, to see if they could get a rescue.

Hours later, the ship that picked them up docked in the harbor.  Her parents came running to meet her.  Even her brother embraced her in a big hug.  Her boss came down as well.  A portly, balding man, but with a kind heart.  He gave her a hug, and talked with everyone who got back.  Nothing but nice things said about her.  How she had done everything she could to save their lives.  That was nice, if not a little untrue.  Her own life had most definitely come first.  Being able to save everyone else was an afterthought.
That’s when she noticed all the emergency ships and shuttles coming in.  Drop vessels came into dock at the spaceport.  From where they were, they saw men and women being dropped off.  They looked terrible.  Coated in grim, burned to a crisp, or ripped to pieces.  It was horrifying to watch.  She didn’t want to think about it.

Triage was set up in the park outside of the government building.  Prefab buildings were immediately set up and wounded people were taken inside.  The wave had hurt a ton of people.  It had demolished a seaport on the other side of the bay.  Their cove thankfully was spared the worst of it.  Dozens of people killed, hundreds injured.  Whole ships and their crews were swallowed whole.  It was blind, stupid luck that they didn’t get caught up in the wave.  But the worst of it was the Directorate military servicemen and women who were brought there.  So many horribly maimed, burned, mutilated, or the blind few who got off lucky with a few scratches.
She walked through it all, having to give a statement and identify the bodies of a couple of people found at the wreckage of her boat.  One was a patron, the other was a crew member who was trying to help her.  It seems she had a broken leg and couldn’t run.  The crew member did everything they could to help, and died with her.  So awful.  Broke her heart to think about.  As she stepped through that place, listening to the screaming and crying, there was a cold, numb feeling inside.
That night, she had a dream.  Of being on that ship, in uniform, seeing the ocean coming up and being trapped.  In it, she died in a hundred ways.  She drowned in a cabin that filled with water.  In another, she was burned to death in blue flame.  Then her body was slowly crushed by the hull.  People all around, begging her to help.  What could she do?!  The only thing open was to wait and die.  Waking up in cold sweat, it occurred to her what she had to do.  There was only one option.

It had been a long argument between her and her family about this.  It was a journey she made alone.  Even her brother seemed unusually angry at her.  He was a sports star.  What did he care?  But she knew the truth – she couldn’t let this happen!  To anyone!  All of those hurting and crying people before.  How many of them wouldn’t be here if she had been there?!  How many mothers and fathers wouldn’t be checking to see if their families were on the casualty list if her skills to helm a ship were put to better use being able to fly a fighter, or a starship?
If they wouldn’t stand with her, then she’d walk this path alone.  They hadn’t seen what she had.  Her skills on that boat saved the lives of almost everyone.  Now she would save the lives of her fellow men and women in service to the Directorate.
Stepping into the Directorate Naval Enlistment Office, an older woman looked up from the desk.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah.  I’d like to enlist.”

Until next time, a quote,

“A man who neglects his duty as a citizen is not entitled to his rights as a citizen.” – Tiorio

Peace out,

Maverick

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For Love of Tiger, and Family

Taking aim was easy.  The red hull of her target was easy to spot in the darkness.  The enemy was close enough to see.  Her copilot was taking care of their defense.  Now it was up to her to win the fight.  It was a challenge she was up to.  Precise aim.  A maneuverable enemy.  The flashing lights all around.  Such a fierce battle.  The Protectorate was putting up a good fight.  But the Directorate was pushing hard, and cracks were starting to appear in the armor of the enemy.  A defense line of countless battleships, fighters, bombers, armors, and even the asteroid that they were fighting at being turned into a fortress.  The sole base of a planet that was central the Protectorate’s ability to continue their war machine.  If they lost here, it was all over.
Focusing on her target, the red armor danced around with everything it had.  This pilot had skill.  But whoever it was, they knew that their time was running short.  She was right on them, and there was nowhere to run.  Sending out lances of particle beams, a smile grew on her face.
“Stop running and fight, you coward!”
One last particle beam, right into the leg of the enemy.  It blasted it open, sending the armor spiraling out of control.  Now she had it!  Aiming her cannon at the machine desperately trying to right itself, she changed firing mode.  Switching over to the physical ammunition, she send rounds right at the body.  Ripping open the synthetic muscle and machinery, it was a twisted mesh of red and black metal, with red circulator fluid flowing out like blood.  Then it struck the cockpit, and the enemy stopped moving.  A round straight through the cockpit, whoever the pilot was had to have been blown to bits.  Nothing but red chunks inside.
“Too bad he didn’t fight,” her copilot said.  “Maybe he would have lasted longer.”
She shook her head.  “He was dead before this started.  Just didn’t know it.”
On to find a new target.  That red color, with the black metal, it brought memories back.  Of speed, and who she used to be.  The memories were a harsh feeling.

The danger was unbelievable.  The track was suspended 200 stories up.  It was built on the most elaborate skyscraper of all time.  A palace for the opulent, who came to bet on the most dangerous race that has ever been.  If you fell from this place, you died.  It wasn’t a question of if.  It was a mathematical certainty.  There was no way to survive an impact from this height.  Fear was in the air with all the people with any sense.
To her, it made her feel alive.  When the light went green, and she slammed on the accelerator, this was everything she had dreamed of for so long.  The racers all blasted forward at speed that made you barely able to comprehend what you were saying.  A beautiful, sunny evening.  So much ambiance.  It was amazing.  Setting sunlight shimmered on the red paint on top of her racer.  Tiger was its name.  A racer that had passed down through her family for three generations.  Listening to her father talk about it with her and her brother, it was her legacy.  A legacy which stood with her now, as the machine blasted forward.
There was no guard rail.  Just gravity plating that kept them suspended and on the track.  Blasting forward, it was tight.  Every racer knew the score.  Whoever took this race took home the Platinum Cup.  The last race in the season.
Flying forward, she banked through turns.  This course was tight, and with no guard system, any onboard navigation assistance was good as useless.  She never turned that on anyway.  It was her racing skills that were going to carry this!  A voice in her ear, telling her about the track and the position of other racers.  Her crew.  Every racer had one.
A purple racer came up beside her.  It smashed into her side.  So that’s how this is!  She snarled and took the hit.  A turn was coming up.  It was trying to edge her out to get close to the edge and keep it tight on the inside.  Or push her off and kill her.
It made another move to edge her out, when she did the unthinkable.  Suddenly hitting the brakes, it aimed over, flying right off the edge.  That’s one piece of competition out.  Whoever that pilot was, he had a good 30 seconds to really think about how dumb that was.  Smashing the accelerator again, the g-forces hit her like a load of bricks.  A couple racers had pulled ahead, but no matter.  These guys were amateurs.  Hence why she had gotten ahead of them before.
Second lap, and now it was tighter.  The lead racer was a black and green machine.  It got into a bad battle with a very robust blue machine.  A muscle racer.  Not at all like hers.  Made for handling and speed, it wasn’t made to fight it out.  This could be trouble.  The green machine was made exclusively for handling, and had some muscle.  Enough that the two of them were fighting it out at the front.  Coming up behind them, she looked for an opening to make a pass.  Don’t play your hand yet.  Let them fight.  Let them damage one-another.  Her time would come.
That’s when it happened.  A yellow racer was taking the same approach as her.  It had an opening!  Right as she was going to pull ahead, the racer swung on the inside.  Not even made for handling, this tiny thing was built for speed alone.  A glass vehicle.  Taking a clear lead, she swore.  Now her chances were down.  Second place?  The second place purse was no slouch.
No!  This wasn’t how the legacy of the Tiger and her family was going to go down!  Third lap.  One more after this.  Green racer couldn’t handle the pressure anymore and decided to drop back and let the blue racer pull ahead.  Smart move.  The blue vehicle was a monster.  This track had so many turns, though.  Muscle vehicle had to sacrifice speed during the dangerous curves.  Got her closer.  But too close and it would turn its eyes on her.
Meanwhile, the yellow racer was losing some lead.  It didn’t have the handling to take these insane corners and risk falling off the edge.  This pilot was good, but not brave enough to go the distance.  Blue racer was much moreso.  These two were a risk.  At the top of the track again, now a winding way down for the final lap.  She knew this had to be it.  Either she would do something daring, or fail.
Seeing a curve ahead, with a path right below.  She knew what she had to do.  In a flash, she disengaged the gravity controls.  Her pit crew was screaming at her, but that didn’t matter.  This was it!  She steered right at the edge!  Able to hear the crew screaming, she began a swift descent almost straight down.  Seeing the endless abyss below, if she hadn’t timed this right, it was a fact that she’d be dead in 50 seconds.
“Fuck it!” she swore.  Hitting the accelerator, her boosters kicked on.  Just a little further!  Down further and further, then hit the gravity controls.  The machine damn-near smashed into the track, but she made it!  Dropping a Naseel Crystal into the engine, the machine roared back to life and took off with a mind of its own.  This was it!  No one even close to behind.  But that wasn’t enough.  Not just to win, but to fly through that finish line and have the entire Directorate seeing what a master she was at this race.
This level of g-force was crushing her chest.  It was blazing through her entire body.  If it wasn’t for the g-suit, this would surely be killing her.  Keeping the blood flowing.  The Tiger was barely able to be controlled.  It had a mind of its own!  The speed was beyond the ability of the cameras recording and broadcasting the race to keep up with.  Her pit crew was pissed at her.  Who gives a fuck?!  In that moment, she didn’t just feel alive.  She knew she was.
Last leg.  Blue fire coming out the back as the Crystal made its way through the engine liquid.  The final segment was the blaze down the last wall of the skyscraper.  A straight shot down.  So freaky to see the ground coming up at her so fast, but the gravity plating guided her up at the last second.  Through the finish line, blazing through in a way that blasted over all of the spectators and announcers there.  It was chaos!  Sliding in to the winner’s circle, her racer came to a stop.  Smoke and steam was pouring out of every single linking compartment.  The Crystal had done so much damage.  Pushed the machine well past what it was capable of handling.  She didn’t care.
Breathing so hard, the yellow and blue racer tied for second.  It was a perfect tie.  The judges couldn’t call it for either, so both had to be given the second place purse.  But the trophy and Champion’s purse went to her.  Opening the cockpit, she stumbled out and hit the plating, unable to stand.  Her pit crew ran to her side, helping her up.  Taking off the helmet, her ears were greeted to the thunderous applause of the crowd.  Everyone was in awe of what they had just seen.  Announcers could be heard saying this would go down in race history for both the most dramatic finish, and the most insane stunt ever pulled.  The name of the racer was being shouted into screens everywhere – Tiger.
In that moment, her father and brother could be put to rest.  It made her smile.

At the awards ceremony, the pilot of the yellow racer went over, eager to meet who had won.  This girl was so cute.  Naturally blonde hair, a product of genetic engineering.  Hadn’t been a natural blonde in three generations.  The girl gave her her number and told her to call.  Sounded like a good idea.  Why not celebrate with a gracious loser?  No point letting that perfect body go to waste.
At the end of the day, the pit crew was taking Tiger back to their base to begin repairs.  Everyone was talking about how after this they’d enjoy some time off.  No other races for months.  Heading up to the apartment above the garage, a voice called after her.
“Can we talk?” her chief mechanic said.
Looking over, she let out a sigh.  “Sure.”
Heading into the office, he poured her a cup of coffee.
“What the fuck was that today?”  It was clear there was barely-contained rage.
“What was what?”
“You know what I mean!  That stunt you pulled on the track!  What the fuck was that?!  Were you trying to get yourself killed?!”
She shrugged.  “It was the best way to get ahead.”
“Bullshit!  You could easily have waited and then used the Crystal to get a last boost on the final leg.  At that speed, you easily would have passed the two from where you were.”
“Maybe.  And maybe that muscle racer would have smashed me to bits as I tried it.”
“No way!  Nobody is that crazy.  Not at the speed you’d be going.  It would have fucked up both of your vehicles beyond repair.”
Another shrug.  “I guess we’ll never know, will we?”
“Spirits, woman!  If you’re looking for a way to die, there are much easier ones than this!”
Looking him right in the eye.  “I was looking for a way to win.  I just didn’t care that I was risking my life.”
“Yeah, and that scares the hell out of me!  There are a lot easier ways to kill yourself than this.  What if you had died?  What would happen to the Tiger?  It’s legacy would be the last racer in your family destroying it in a foolhardy stunt!”
A cold look.  “But it wasn’t!  Its legacy is to go down as the racer the won the Platinum Cup from a pilot who has no sponsors.  Tiger will go down in history!  So will I!  I should have died doing that.  Now, dozens of pilots are going to get themselves killed trying to outdo me.”
He walked away, shaking his head.  “And what will it be next time?  When the next race comes up, what insane stunt will you try?!”
Looking out the window.  “There won’t be another race.”
Genuine shock.  “What?!”
“I’m done.  Me and the Tiger are retiring.  I just did something that should have gotten me killed.  There’s nowhere else to go from this.  I can retire easy on the Champion’s purse, even after paying for repairs for Tiger.”  A little smile on her face.  “You gotta know when to bow out.  I’m gonna go out on top.  Forever have the respect my dad always wanted.  That’s fine by me.”
The mechanic thought for a moment.  “So it was go out on top or die?”
She nodded.  “Yeah, pretty much.”
“You’re insane, you know that?”
A little chuckle.  “I’d rather be known as insane than weak.”

Breaking the news to her crew wasn’t easy, but they took it better than she expected.  A lot of them liked the idea she had.  They would be known as the pit crew for the greatest racer who had ever been, on the best racer ever built.  That was a phenomenal thing to put on a resume.  They’d have no trouble finding jobs after this.
There was a fairly epic party planned to go out on.  Retirement for the now-legendary Tiger.  A call to the cute blonde who had given her her number.  Time for some fun?  Heading over, she took that woman and did things to her that she’d remember forever.  All fun and games.  Getting back home was hard.  Would she see her again?  Why not.  An offer was made for next time she was on this planet to come have some fun.
Saying goodnight to Tiger, it was a slog up the stairs.  The tiredness hit all at once.  Her head hit her pillow at what she assumed was mach five.

What woke her was the blast that sent her and her bed careening toward the wall.  The impact brought her to her senses in a millisecond.  What had happened?!  Getting to her feet on wobbly legs, she looked out the window to see impacts happening everywhere.  An attack?!  Who would attack the Directorate on a core world?!  It was madness!  Then the thought came to her – the Tiger!
Not even putting on pants, she went running toward the garage.  Slamming the sensor to open the door, she was greeted with flame pouring in.  Inside was a twisted mess of burning metal and destroyed parts.  No!  Peering through the burning metal, she saw Tiger.  Or at least what was left of it.  The last legacy of her father and brother.  All that remained of them now.  Tiger was torn up and burning.  It hurt her.  Charging into the fire to reach the last remnant of her family, using her jacket to try and wipe the flames away, she desperately ran to her machine.
The torn parts, broken glass, and hot oil on the floor was murder on her feet, but the pain didn’t register.  It was all about getting to the machine.  There had to be a way to save it!  Coming out of the fire, it was a clear path to it!  Like a demon possessed, she charged toward the cockpit.  The damaged was all on one side.  The one facing the exit that was blasted open.  Could it be saved?!  A dream.  The only dream that mattered.
Hitting the sensor, she brought her regular vehicle online.  All she had to do was hitch Tiger to it and get the hell out of here!  The seconds that the car came over were the longest in her life.  It came in, stopping right in front of her.  Grabbing the gravity tether from the back, she attached it to Tiger’s cockpit block.  Once it was secured to the back of the car, it was time to go!  Running for the entrance, time suddenly stopped.
She registered the rocket right as it impacted at the entrance.  The force hit her like bricks.  Lifting her off her feet, it was blind, stupid luck that she just happened to be right in front of the office door, which opened as soon as it detected her coming.  Sliding along the floor and smashing into the desk, her crumpled, broken body went unconscious.

Her eyes opened in a white room.  She looked over to see flowers on the table by the bed.  Were these real?  That sure was nice of whoever it was who bought them.  There was a screen playing the news.  It talked about something, but she couldn’t focus.  Mobilizing?  A call to action?  That was all so distant.  Black again.
When she woke up this time, there was a voice.  “The whole crew got this.  We had to dig through the rubble of the garage, but we got it.  Figured you’d want it here.”
Her eyes saw metal.  It was the Tiger’s insignia!  Why was that here?!  Where was Tiger?!  That’s when she realized, they had to dig through the rubble to get it.  Tiger was destroyed.  The legacy of her family, destroyed.  Pain gripped her heart, agonizing.  Then she was out.  In her mind, there was a little voice – the people who did this are going to pay!  Oh yes, they would pay.

Three weeks later, she stood at the entrance to the Directorate Naval Enlistment Office.  Still with a limp from the work they had done to fix her legs, she walked inside.
A young man in uniform sat there.
“May I help you?”
“I’d like to know who I talk to about signing up.”
“That would be me.”  His eyes went wide.  “I know you!  You’re-”
“So it’s you I need to talk to.  Good.  I’d like to enlist.  Figure you need pilots.”  The anger was a dull, burning rage.  On her arm, there was a tattoo.  It was the Tiger’s insignia, with a line underneath.

Kill Everyone Now

Until next time, a quote,

“Kill everyone now!  Condone first degree murder!” – Divine, Pink Flamingos

Peace out,

Maverick

Feeling Her Mind

(A spin on an idea I’ve been playing around with on here.  There’s no cohesive narrative, so just fucking around because there’s nothing else I want to write about)

What made their bird so special wasn’t just the Eternal Shield.  As much of a leap in technological mastery as that was, it wasn’t the only innovation that truly made the Killer Bee a marvel of engineering.  There was also the interface on the bird.  It wasn’t something that the average person would notice.  Outside of the crew who piloted and maintained the vehicle, it was classified.
See, most birds have some kind of operating interface.  A typical Variable Armor has so many working components that have to be kept track of that an interface with the machine is required.  But this isn’t that.  Typical interface is a kind of virtual intelligence system that assists with smaller tasks or keeps track of things like various munitions, particle fuel, or battle data that was relevant to what they were doing.  The interface would link into their suit and feed them data as needed.  This system wasn’t like that.
Killer Bee had a system that linked directly with the mind of the pilot.  Using special nodes inside of their helmets, they were able to feed information directly into the mind of the pilot.  This was especially useful for Kate.  As it was her job to keep the Eternal Shield going, she had to keep constant track of the battlefield.  Her job truly was something no ordinary person could do.
The thing is, all of the data that would go into her mind could easily overwhelm her.  That’s where Quinn comes into play.  The second mind is able to take some of the mental load off.  Handle some of the mental stresses.  Only between the two of them is the system able to function properly.  This machine couldn’t be used by any one person.  Unless they truly did find a superhuman.
This was why they had to be so in sync.  Not just for doing their essential functions, but if their minds are in conflict, they can’t handle their respective duties.  It was what had fueled their anger so much in the first weeks of their efforts.  However, once the two put their differences aside, it was like they were two completely different women.  Positive and negative, the system was having a very real effect on them.
As such, they were having a hard time staying away from each other.  They did almost everything together.  They went to chow together, studied together, simed together, and there were rumors about how at night the two would try and find reasons to not be apart.  One night their CO had to order them to their respective racks.  The rumor mill was buzzing about what the nature was of their relationship.
There were other differences as well.  When they first met, Quinn had no interest in studying and only wanted to be in the sim.  But Command was noticing how she was now almost eager to study.  The opposite was true.  Kate would be racing her into the simulator.  The ship’s psychologist had opened a file to track the personality changes in them.  The code name for it was based off of the name of the interface – the Neural Shift Effect.

“Let me get this straight,” the Rear Admiral said, looking up from the report, “the system is rewriting their minds?”  In his voice was not just incredulity, but also a hint of nervousness.  They had, potentially, created an interface that could change a person’s mind.  If the general public ever got word of this, first thing all over the Net would be talk of mind control.
Shaking her head.  “No.  It’s more than that.  I’ve done brain scans of these two for two months.  Now that they are in sync, it’s so much more.”  Leaning over.  “Sir, my scanners are starting to have a problem differentiating the two’s neural patterns.”
It couldn’t be.  “What?!”
“If I didn’t have their biometrics in the system, and only went off of the brain scans, sir, I couldn’t tell one from the other.  Their minds have been rewritten to the point that it is effectively scanning the same person.”
A look of disbelief on his face.  “How is that possible?  There are so many things that make a person who they are.  It can’t just be changed like hitting a light sensor, right?”
“The human mind is a labyrinth.  Even now, with all the neural scanning technology we have, it’s still a mystery.  How the mind is mapped to neurons is not fully understood.  This system seems to have tapped into something in the human mind.”
“What did it tap into?”
“Empathy.”
This confused the Rear Admiral.  It was written all over his face
“I can explain.  Psychologists have found that when a large group of women are in the same place, their menstrual cycles synchronize.  Many have theorized that this is because women tend towards empathy.  We are cooperative by nature.  It’s how we survive.  Makes women very good commanding officers.  Women who have accents tend to lose them in an environment with a completely different one.  Our minds are wired to mesh with a community.”
Hard science.  This made more sense.  “Okay.  How does that explain what the Neural Shift System is doing to them?”
“Well, these two have to depend on each other in battle.  They’ve had drilled into their heads how their cooperation and coordination is paramount in battle.  Otherwise they will die.  Given those parameters, and the fact that both of them are women, their minds sought perfect synchronicity.  As they saw it, it isn’t just a good thing.  It’s a requirement.  Otherwise they have failed.  Honestly, sir, I think only two women could pull this off.  Male minds are much more solitary.  They favor individuality over group cohesion.  It’s blind luck that these two are the pilots of Killer Bee.”
Leaning back, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, the Rear Admiral looked back at their pictures on the report.
“Is it dangerous to them?  What are the long term consequences of it?”
“That’s what we don’t know.  This is entirely uncharted territory, sir.  We’re going to be keeping steady watch on them, but what happens next in anyone’s guess.  We’ve observed that they are starting to finish each other’s sentences.  It was just a couple times before, but now it’s getting more common.  They also will do anything to avoid being apart.  Lead to some interesting rumors below deck about the nature of their relationship.”
The Admiral chuckled.  “Think there’s anything to them?”
A long pause.  “Lt. Jelineau’s profile shows she is straight.  Lt. McKenna’s shows otherwise.  All scientific knowledge indicates sexual orientation is hard-wired into the brain.  Likely genetic.  At face value it sounds untrue.”
“But?”
“This system is rewriting their minds so that the two are as one.  Who knows what that means for their sex drive.  It doesn’t appear as if they are fraternizing, but on the inside?  I genuinely can’t say.  Anything that happens is all new territory.  As a psychologist this all fascinates me.  As a sailor…it scares the hell out of me.  We have a lot riding on these two, and now it’s too late to change course.”
Still looking at their pictures.  “Yeah…”

There was light everywhere.  Stars, shimmering all around.  They were at a cloud of space dust.  Beautiful.  From her panel, Kate looked up.  Every time they were out, she spent the entire time looking at her console, to synchronize the shield.  Only now, staring out at the lights did it hit her.
“It’s beautiful,” Quinn said.
“Yeah.”
Yellow and purple clouds in front of them.  The nursery where stars are born.  A remnant of where they died.  Bright lights inside showing the birth happening.  A process of billions of years.  The longest infancy of anything in the universe.
Then they changed.  The clouds started moving around them.  Dancing, swirling, and the stars all around were playing in the light.  Was this real?  Was it not?
“Does it need to be real?” Quinn asked.
How does she know what I’m thinking?!
“Can’t you feel me, Kay?”
Taking in a breath.  “What do you mean?”
“Can’t you feel me inside you?”
“Inside me?”
“Don’t you finish my sentences?  Like I finish yours?”
“It’s training?”
“Is that all?”
Uncertainty.  Nagging at her.
“Don’t you feel me there?”
“Feel you where, Quinn…?”
Looking up, she was right in front of her face.  Then, her eyes started glowing.
A twisted voice.  “INSIDE YOUR MIND!”

Sitting up suddenly, breathing hard.  Her face was covered in sweat.  Every night these days, vivid dreams.  So real that she was having a hard time discerning reality from what she saw there.  At least when she was alone.  But then she’d be with Quinn, and she knew in that moment what was real and what wasn’t.
Their time apart was getting harder and harder.  For whatever reason, she felt her heart stop beating so hard and her mind focus better when the two were together.  When they weren’t, it was like her brain wasn’t fully turned on.  Briefings that she would have to listen to, or duty assignments their CO gave them, she couldn’t concentrate on anything.  It didn’t feel right.
Then they were in their bird, fighting, and it felt right.  When they were working in tandem, fighting, training in the sims.  Anytime they were in Killer Bee, she felt normal again.  She theorized that it was their interface system.  At first it was unfathomably difficult to deal with all the input.  Didn’t help that at first Quinn’s mind was fighting hers.  The headaches were unbelievable.  Made her queasy each day.  But once they bonded, and the interface did its job, she had never felt a closer connection.  Her brother, her sister, her parents, none of them could match it.  It was like knowing a person, but deeper than that.
She could feel her.  That’s the best descriptive term she had.  Whenever she was around, her mind could sense it.  And when she was away, her mind knew that too.  It didn’t like it.  They had to be interfaced!  It was what they trained to do!  What they were supposed to do.  This need, this dependency, on some level it registered as wrong.  But what other option did they have?  This is war.  Their crew and their friends were depending on them.  A sailor’s first duty is to their comrades.  Besides, if they didn’t do it, someone else would have to.  Not something she could do.

“Kay!  Focus!”
The battle was heated.  Particle beams everywhere.  They had engaged a carrier and two escort frigates in orbit around a moon in Directorate space.  They had taken a terrible risk coming here, and now they were going to pay for it with their lives.  Armors everywhere, along with regular fighters.  Their ship was with two others.  Long-range artillery and a frigate “wolf pack” was moving to attack the enemy.
Killer Bee was moving with purpose.  Quinn snarled as she closed the distance on a foe and cut it in two.  They shouldn’t be here if they don’t want to die!  Her belief was always that the only people who should fight are those who aren’t scared of dying.  She never had been.  And since she had Kate with her, she knew that she never would.  Ever.  Their Shield was perfect.  So long as they didn’t over-exert in battle, they could keep this up for hours.  TD Blankets on the particle generators kept them from overusing particles.
“Two armors, from Point 525!” Kate announced.
“Roger!”
Moving fast to engage, she blasted the first down, moving to pursue with the second.
“Loathsome coward!” Kate snarled.
That caught her off guard.  When she ever been so blood-hungry?  Odd.  No time to focus on that now.
The battle carried on.  Enemy forces were petering out.  Their defenders were running out of steam.  It was over before it began.  A white flare.  Over already?
“All units, pursue!  We have our orders.  No ships escape!”
“Aye-aye!”
Quinn and Kate smiled.  Now the fun got started!  Changing over to fighter mode, she hit the accelerator and headed toward the enemy.  Their ships moved to engage as well.  It was a fucking slaughterhouse.  Even if they could have rallied some kind of defense, it was too late now.  Fire on all sides.  The cruiser with so many holes in it.  Pouring out oxygen, like blood from a wound.  It was grotesque in the worst way.
Taking it in, Quinn heard something.  A little voice in her head.
This battle is almost over!
Shaking her head, she shifted form and moved to engage one of the few Armors who was still fighting.  They must know it was a losing battle by now.  Trying to take as many with them as they could?  Not the worst way to die.  This enemy was skilled.
“He’s mine!” she said.  They danced among the increasingly-destroy wreckage of the enemy ships.  Her mind was focused on destroying the enemy in front of her.  The enemy armor, yellow with black on it.
Why stay and fight?  Run, you idiot!
What was that?!  It was fucking with her mind.
Just then, from the disemboweled starship, there came the remaining teeth of the enemy.  Seems that they weren’t just going to lay down and die.  A ton of Armors came rushing out, all headed at Killer Bee.  So few of their own fighters were in range, as they were staying out of range to avoid friendly fire.  The enemy surrounded them.  Quinn did all she could to dodge.  It was taking all her skill to stay out of the line of fire.  But this enemy was determined.  They knew the score.  All of them were likely going to die anyway.  Why not take out the enemy’s powerful new model?
“Dammit, dammit, dammit!” Quinn snarled.  Her hands and arms were growing tired at the controls in a big hurry.  There was no way she could keep this up for long.  The interface was feeding her so much data.  It was endless.  Too much.  Her mind was operating on some kind of instinct now.  It was hard to comprehend.  Like she knew in that moment that if she was able to push out the individual, embrace the system, her ability in battle would grow exponentially.  It was working.
This feeling was so surreal.  Like she didn’t even exist right now.  There was just the interface.  Just the Killer Bee.  That’s when she felt it.  Another consciousness touching at her own.  A strange feeling.  What was this strange mind?  It had to be Kate.  How did she get here?
Behind her, Kate was doing nothing but working at her console.  Entering calculations on the system to keep the shield in position with speed you’ve never seen before.  Typing to the point that her pressing keys were a beeping kaleidoscope.  As she worked, she found herself letting go more and more.  Then she heard something.
If I don’t do something, we’re going to die here!  I’m going to lose her!
Who was that?  Such a strange sound.  Something in the interface told her to accept it.  The data pointed to her accepting this mind into her own.  If she did that, their chances of victory went up exponentially.  There was so much tension in the mind she felt.  Could she quell it?  Could this mind be tamed by feeling the calmness of her own?
Quinn was getting exhausted.  Fear was nibbling away at her.  What could they do?  Was there a way out?  Dodging, but the fire was everywhere.  The Shield was holding.  The enemy was moving out to a range where they could hold position and fire.  It was like a giant sphere around them.  That’s when Quinn knew, they were surrounded, and there was nowhere to run.  Nowhere to dodge.  They could only stay there and die.
A sudden feeling, calm and soothing.  What was this?  It was talking to her.
It will be okay, Quinn.
What?!  The voice was inside her.  Not just in her head.  It was in her body.
I can handle this.  Trust me.  But I need your help.
Something inside of her told her to reach out.
What do I have to do?
I feel you!  Good.  Let me into you.  Join with my mind!  Together, we can do this!
The feeling was so strange, as Quinn did as bidden.  Opening all of her thoughts and senses to this other women.  Giving her complete access to every part of her mind.
I can do anything when I’m with you!  You give me strength, Quinn.  I want to be as strong as you.  You aren’t afraid of anything.
I’m afraid of one thing.
What’s that?
If she was going to give her strength, she’d have to open up her thoughts to it.
Of losing you.
That’s when the thoughts flooded into Kate’s mind.  Images of her in Quinn’s eyes.  Them laughing together.  How her pilot would study not because she enjoyed the task, but to be with her.  Memories, emotions.  Feelings of uncertainty.  Was it just bonding over their military obligation, or something else?  So much confusion.  Then other thoughts.  Passionate ones.  Images, flashes.  Thoughts?  Dreams?  Speckles of thoughts through her companion’s eyes.  Was that her?  What was she doing?  Closed eyes, only to open and see her face.  So close.  What are they doing?  That’s when she realized – they are kissing.
What was this?  She explored the passion.  It was beyond kissing.  Images of her looking over at her while they changed, feeling the desire deep inside.  Shame too.  The conversation they had when she was talking about her boyfriend.  Sadness.  Thinking that this person could never feel the same way.  Intimate thoughts, juxtaposed with the sadness of what she could never have.
Quinn felt naked, exposed in every way that matters.  Her heart was laid bare before this person who had to depend on her in battle.  Since she couldn’t dodge anymore, her hands hung from the controls as tears ran down her face.
Why did you never tell me you felt this way?
Because if I did then you’d hate me.  We couldn’t work together.  It would get too awkward.
Don’t you trust me, Quinn?  I’m a big girl.  I can handle this.
That’s when she realized, it was working.  They were soothing each other, and her fingers were flying over the controls.  Their Armor was shimmering with little octagons as the shield deflected particle beams.  A sphere of attacks all around, impacting and deflecting.  To the outside perspective, it was a marvel to behold.  Red beams lancing inward from all sides, going out.  One of the enemy Armors was destroyed by their own attack.
Feel me, Quinn.  Reach into my mind.
As bidden, she reached inside.  Seeing the anger at first, because Quinn wasn’t who she wanted.  It hurt.
No!  Keep going!  Past this!
Now she saw more thoughts.  Admiration.  She wanted to be just like her.  This pilot who seemed to have no fear.  Who would charge into the enemy’s attacking forces without a second thought.  Who charged into Hell to protect a pilot whose bird was damaged.  She would protect this warrior woman!  This strong, daring, fearless woman.
Then deeper.  Now she could feel the sensation of their minds linking before.  In the simulator.  But was it just there?  There was a memory, of them being in the shower together, and Kate asking her about her tattoos.  It would normally violate uniform regs, but the code changes so often that it’s hard to know what is right and wrong.  At least she had gotten away with it.  The one on her back, of the midnight wolf with the glowing blue eyes.  It captivated it.  A thought – I want to trace my fingers over that.
Uncertainty thoughts now.  Her wondering what she felt.  Years of loving men, being intimate with them.  Having a man who she loved with all her heart.  Was it just her thoughts?  It was like something was pressing on her.  A need that wasn’t her own.  Quinn realized that it may be the interface.  How they could help ease each other’s burden by taking in battle data.  Was it just data?  Was there more to it?  All of this was way too smart for her.
Do you feel it now?
Yes.  What happens now?
We survive this battle.  Then, I don’t know.
Yes ma’am!

From the bridge, the Rear Admiral saw the display and was in awe.  This was the true power of the Eternal Shield!  So what if their minds are basically meshing together.  For results like this, it was worth it.
Meanwhile at her console, the ship’s psychologist was reading the scans.  It was impossible!  They weren’t registering as separate people anymore.  Their minds had completely meshed.  These two women, for that time, had become one.  Two bodies, one mind.  What did this mean?!  The implications were both fascinating, and terrifying.

Reinforcements made short work of the attackers.  Their efforts had failed.  When the beams stopped and the last of them tried to flee, only to be destroyed, the Killer Bee was still standing.
Inside the cockpit, the two women let go of the bond.  It was hard to do.  In that instance, there was a feeling of completeness that was impossible to describe.  Both of them were breathing incredibly hard.  To those on the outside looking it, the way they breathed and felt, it would be more like afterglow than anything.
“Kate?” Quinn said.
“Yeah?”
“Oh good, just making sure you are still with me.  Are you okay?”
“You know the answer.”
Indeed, she could feel it inside.  She was.  Her body and mind were okay.
“I couldn’t have done this without you,” she whispered.
A warm smile came to her face.  “I’m glad.”
The comm buzzed.  “That was incredible, Killer Bee.  If there isn’t a commendation already made for that, there should be.  Head back to the ship.”
Quinn grabbed the controls.  “Aye-aye, Command!”  Entering the trajectory into the system, she turned on auto-pilot.
Things got very, very quiet as they headed back.  Neither woman said a word.  Just heavy breathing.  Exhaustion hit both of them hard.  Right as her mind was drifting into unconsciousness, she felt something in her lap.  Opening her eyes, she saw Kate moving on top of her.  She rested her body onto her lap, with her very rounded hips and bulky ass settling on top of her.  She took her helmet off and pulled Quinn’s off as well.
Laying her head on her pilot’s lap, she whispered, “can I stay like this?  Can we go to sleep like this?”
An awkward few seconds, then her arms went around this tired body.  No words in response.  None were needed.  Both of them knew each other’s mind now.  Closing her eyes, and wrapping her fingers into her partner’s, the two drifted off to sleep.

Until next time, a quote,

“Trust is for old married’s Buffy.  Great love is wild, and passion, and dangerous.  It burns and consumes.” – Spike

Peace out,

Maverick

Bonds Deeper Than Blood

“Kay, I can’t dodge all of it!  Eyes on the battle!”
“Bite me!” she snarled back.
Her screen was absolutely lit up.  The process of this was so unbelievably taxing.  Every battle left her so mentally and physically drained.  She didn’t like to complain, looking back up and seeing her companion in the seat in front of her, desperately moving to dodge and attack.  For whatever reason, command always saw fit to have them right in the thick of whatever fight.  The assertion was that since this unit had a shield that was nigh-impenetrable with the right crew, why not have them dealing with the worst of every battle.  Enemy armors were everywhere.  Just everywhere.  Bogeys on her screen and energy lances in all directions.  Made sense why her head was killing her.
Quinn was doing everything she could to move and return fire.  A unit decided to try its luck and come in close.  Bad move.  Energy blade sawed it right in half.  An enemy cruiser was coming up.  This was bad.  They could handle enemy fire from units, but beam weapons on these monsters was unstoppable.  They hadn’t gotten the order to retreat yet, so all they could do was avoid fire.
“Command, Protectorate cruiser incoming!  Request permission to withdraw!”
“Negative, Killer Bee.  Keep at it.”
Switching the comms to the ship off.  “These fuckers wanna kill us!”
Hard for Kate to argue, but she couldn’t respond.  Now things just got worse.  Their units were doing the best they could, but already they had lost five.  This was supposed to be an elite squadron, yet so many of their best had already been killed.  It hurt to see all the racks having to get reassigned.
The cruiser was lining up their guns.  It was clear that the Killer Bee was the target.  This unit was giving the Protectorate hell, now they wanted it dead.  Quinn decided on a desperate gambit.  She hit the boosters and flew hard at the cruiser.
“Are you nuts?!” Kate yelled.
“The closer we get the less guns there are shooting as us!  I can’t dodge particle cannons and defense lasers!  The shield can’t take the cannons, and you can’t deflect all the lasers.  I can hear you cracking.”
It was hard to admit, but it was true,  She was getting sloppy.  They hadn’t taken damage yet, but they would be soon.  Her endurance was failing.
“Sorry.”
“We’re not dead yet.  No apologizing.”
“Right.”
Killer Bee swooped in over the gray hull of the enemy ship.  Blue beams came like shafts in the black void.  Meanwhile, yellow particle beams from massive guns were also coming out.  Quinn trained the cannons on the nearest laser emitters and opened up, blowing holes in the hull.  They flew right at the nearest cannon and let loose on that as well.  The gun was blasted full of holes and stopped firing.  This weapon was too big to blow up.  At least not without missiles.  They used those up during the ambush.
A voice suddenly came onto the comm.  “Relax, everybody!  The cavalry has arrived!”
Massive explosions suddenly coated the back of the ship, right at the engines.  Quinn pulled up and started moving away.  The lasers had trained on new targets.  A series of bombers had come from a ship that was hiding behind one of the larger asteroids.  More explosions.  They ignited the drive core!  This ship was as good as dead.
“All fighters and armors, return to the fleet!”
“About fucking time!” Quinn snarled.  They quickly shifted back and she hit the accelerator as fast as it would go.  Just below the speed where their particle field couldn’t keep up.  Kate was breathing heavy as she leaned back in the seat, turning off her console.  The exhaustion was catching up fast.
“Take a look at this,” her pilot said, pulling up an image on the display.  It showed the cruiser they had been fighting.  Shimmering particles were flowing out.  The drive core was leaking.  It was going to blow!  Kate leaned across Quinn’s seat.  In a brilliant shimmer of yellow and green light, the drive went up.  The explosion was massive, sending particles everywhere.
“Beautiful…” she marveled.
“Yeah.  Amazing.”  There was a string of explosions afterwards.  Part of the risk of the Nova Engine is that once the particles are caught up in an explosion, it doesn’t just blow up and then go away.  The particles ignite for a time afterwards.  Hence why the drive is in the center of any ship with extensive shielding over it.  Once a drive goes up, any ship nearby has to flee, fast.
The armors, fighters, and the bombers that joined them headed back towards their ships.  Enemy fighters and armors were headed away, now in a pretty pickle.  If there were no ships within range, they couldn’t make a jump to sub-space on their own.  All they could do is sit and wait.  If your ship was blown up and you had no support craft within distress beacon range, it was typically better to just surrender.  The alternative was either your power running out and you freezing to death, your oxygen running out and you suffocating, or any emergency water supplies being depleted and you dying of thirst.  None of which were good ways to go.  The enemy wasn’t surrendering, so they must have known reinforcements were close enough.  A good sign to vacate the area, with haste.

Back on the ship, the Killer Bee was docked in its hangar, where the repair technicians looked it over.  Aside from heating of the guns and some minor repairs, they were being kept very bored.  Kate was a master at what she did.
In the dressing room, the two women were stripping down.  Both were utterly exhausted.  After they got out of their g-suits, now they were only wearing flight jumpers.  Once those were off, Kate sat on the floor.  Freezing cold, but she would take it.  Eased the tension on her skin.
Looking over, Quinn cocked an eyebrow.  She was struggling to put on her underwear.
“You okay?”
Shaking her head.  “No, I’m not.  So fucking exhausted.  But my body is so damn tense.  My head is killing me, and my body feels like a spring being pressed on.  It almost hurts how tense I am.  But I don’t even have the energy to get up.  So done with today.”
Walking over, Quinn held out her arm to her compatriot.  “I can help with that.  But first, let’s get that naked butt off the floor.  You’ll catch cold doing that.  Not gonna have you in our bird sneezing.
Taking her hand, Kate smiled.  “Okay, Harley, what do you have in mind?”
“First that you put some clothes on.  I can’t take you where I want to go naked.”
Both of them cracked up.

It was dark inside of the Constellation Chamber.  One of the most underutilized rooms in the entire ship, this was a place where one could have darkness and see the stars.  They could also turn off the gravity inside and just rest.  A projection of the stars would appear overhead, along with all sorts of stellar phenomenon.  You could see the gaseous clouds of a supernova.  It was something they had recorded.  What was on the viewer tonight was a brilliant particle clouds from that night.  Someone one the ship was nice enough to record it and now it was displayed, making the whole room shimmer.
Kate was on her stomach, with Quinn on her lower back, her hands working up and down.  There was soft music playing, with the two just enjoying the silence.  For Kate’s part, she was loving it.  The tension was easing up.  This woman’s hands were magic.  The lights reflecting on the floor from the bench they were on was so soothing.  Part of her was thinking she was going to fall asleep.
“It’s okay, you know,” Quinn said.  “If you start snoring.”
Raising her head up.  “Hey!  It is not cool to be in my head!”  Like she could complain.  After all the time they had spent together in training, the two women might as well have the same mind.  They were so synchronized that you would catch them finishing each other’s sentences.  The two were always together.  Always.  They were virtually never seen apart.  Led a lot of the crew to wonder what their deal was, but no one would say it publicly.  After their victories in battle, both had earned a huge amount of respect.
“Just count yourself lucky.  My first piece of advice was that we should hit the showers and I would have given you a rub there.”
Kate groaned.  “As if we need more rumors about us.”
A chuckle, and she went back to her work.  The quiet classical music continued.  The mood lingered on, with the quiet suddenly becoming more pronounced.
“Hey Quinn?”
“Yeah?”
Another pause.  “Why have you never made a move on me?  I mean, everyone already assumes we’re together.  Why did you never make a move?”
The girl stopped for a moment, resuming.
“Because for the longest time I hated your guts.  The two of us damn-near tried to kill each other for our entire time at boot and then for weeks when we met up here.  There was just so much negativity.  Then things turn around, and we got to know each other.  You were always talking about your boyfriends and how close you were to them, so I just figured that you were straight.  Why do you ask?”
Kate shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Just thinking out loud.”
“Oh.”
The quiet came back, and now both women were awkward, yet the rubbing continued.
“Have you been thinking about it?” Quinn asked, finally.
Looking down for a moment.  “Maybe, a little.  I mean, we’re always together.  You even came to my rack when you had the nightmare.  It was always on my mind why you never expressed any interest.”
She smiled.  “It’s not like I haven’t thought about it.  But you know all the rules about fraternization.”
“Oh please!  As if the rules have ever stopped you from doing something.”
“Fine, you caught me.  Maybe it was me wondering if what we had going was something real or just a battle thing.  You know?  Like we were just bonding over the war and being afraid of dying?”
Wiggling to let her know she wanted up, she looked over at her pilot.  “Do you still think that way now?”
Head down, then back up.  “I don’t know.  Like, it’s always in the back of my mind, but then I think of how we laugh at each other’s jokes and how every time I am away from you I don’t wanna be.  Then I think about what will happen when all this is over, if the two of us are alive, and I feel really scared because I don’t want to imagine you being far away and me not being with you anymore.”
Kate grabbed her hand.  “Hey now!  When we’re done here, I am so taking you back my colony world!  I wouldn’t let you go back to that tiny apartment now.  You’re too important to me to just leave behind once this is done.  And to be honest, I kinda think the same thing.  Like, about how I don’t know what I would do if you weren’t with me.  And yeah, I guess I have been thinking about it.  Before we really started to mesh, after all the negative stuff got out of the way, I never thought about that sort of thing before.  I mean, there’s always that one insanely hot girl that everyone is staring at, but it never really occurred to me before now with myself.  You’re just so…different.
The two women were so close now, looking right into one-another’s eyes.
“You promise?  That you’ll take me back to your home if we survive the war?”
Kate nodded.  “I wouldn’t lie about that!”
“I’m not saying you would.  But you have talked about how your family is very colonial.  Not sure they would dig how I am.”
Shaking her head.  “I don’t care about what they would think.  It’s what you think that matters.”
For a long time they just sat there, staring at each other.  Kate smiled at her companion.  Quinn took her hand and kissed it.  The two were now closer than ever.
Looking at her seriously, Quinn said, “don’t make the move, if you don’t mean it.”
Pulling her close, their lips touched.  After a few moments together, they pulled apart.
“I never knew how much I needed to do that before now,” Kate whispered.  And with that, the song ended.  Quinn hit a switch, and the image changed to a glowing red dust cloud.

Until next time, a quote,

“Every seaman is not only a navigator, but a merchant and also a soldier.” – William Petty

Peace out,

Maverick

Memories From Both Sides

Three weeks.  Three grueling weeks of trying and failing to get the pilot and her support to cooperate.  Every day bled into around the same thing.  They would get up, with one trying to very diligently to be an educated pilot who is informed about her machine and its capabilities.  Her studying was commendable.  Then there was the pilot herself.  Distant, unconcerned with anything other than getting into the simulator, the two would get into long, protracted arguments that would serve only to have them grow further and further apart.  To those on the outside watching their interactions, it was like seeing bitter enemies being stuck in a room together, secretly finding ways to kill each other.
When the two got where the pilot wanted to be, in the simulator, things were even worse.  Constant failure to communicate while the pilot was paying attention to the task at hand and saying virtually nothing to her comrade, if anything at all, then being baffled as to why she was so out of sync with her.  Failed battle after failed battle, where having the Eternal Shield was the least of their problems.  The constant bickering meant that they were not even paying attention to the simulated battle at hand.  At one point, the pilot completely stopped paying attention to the battle and turned around to argue.
The commanding officers reprimanded them harshly.  Both were stuck on every punishment duty they could think of.  This only made things worse, with one blaming the other.  Three weeks, and it was more than a little clear that there was to be no compromise between them.  The ship’s counselors couldn’t make a dent.  These two were tasked with leading the charge with the newest weapon in the Fleet, which was slated to go into battle in under a month, and it hadn’t even gone out into space for actual flight yet.

In the Rear Admiral’s ready-room, there was a harsh discussion between him, his attendant, the CO of the two, and the ship’s counselors.
“Sir, we gotta get rid of them.  There’s time to find a new crew and get them trained.  Barely enough.  If these two women want to cat-fight every day, then I say kick them out.  Send them to separate ships and be done with it,” the attendant said, looking grim.
“Or we could threaten them with dishonorable discharge.  Maybe that would make the bitches wanna play ball,” the CO chimed in.
Rear Admiral Williams was rubbing his temples.  This same conversation had been going on for three weeks.  Now it was filtering out to the rest of the ship.  The cat-fights of the two crew for the most advanced ship in the Fleet.  People were chuckling everywhere.  The situation was grim and the entire ship was now getting a reputation because of it.  Didn’t help that they would continue their bickering after leaving APO space.
Looking over to the counselors.  “What do you suggest?”
An older woman, blonde hair and lines on her face looked up.  She was calm, collected.  “Sir, if I may, there’s no reason to get rid of both of them.  Just get rid of one.  Lt. Mills has shown that she wants to put in the time and effort to learn all she can about this machine and be good at her job.  Based on the interviews we have done, it’s clear she is dedicated to this.  Meanwhile, Lt. Jelineau doesn’t seem to care less about the machine and only wants to fly.  That’s great.  Her flight experience would make her one hell of a pilot.  Send her to some other ship and get a new pilot who can work better with Mills.  It’s an easy solution.”
The Attendant shook his head.  “Yeah, and what squadron is going to give up a good pilot now?”  He looked at the Rear Admiral.  “Sir, let’s kick the pilot to the curb or transfer her off ship and get one of our own.  We got some damn good men and women in this outfit.  I’m sure one of them can be trained to take over.  We don’t have time to negotiate with other ships for a replacement.  We are headed to battle in just under a month!”
It was a good argument.  This close to their fleet being sent into battle, the odds of getting a pilot they wanted was slim.  All of the ships were busy getting themselves ready, and by now most of their pilots had learned their squadrons and machines.
The Rear Admiral shook his head.  “We can’t just get some new pilot and hope for them to learn to use this armor in under a month.”  Standing up, he walked to the simulated window, looking out at the stars.  Everyone was silent for a long time.
Finally, the CO looked up.  “We could always just scrap it.  Send the armor back to Fleet Command and say we couldn’t get a crew able to pilot it correctly.  Not even a lie.  Wouldn’t make us look good, but it’s a hell of a lot better than taking the new model out into battle for the first time only to watch it blow up.  This bird has a hell of a lot of potential.  I don’t want to see this project scrapped because of two incompetent crew.”  The room got even more sullen.
For a long time, the Rear Admiral looked at the stars.  “There’s something about those two.  I saw it when I looked at them.  They’re damn good at what they do.”  Looking over at the CO.  “Independently, they both aced their roles, correct?”
He looked defeated.  “Aye, sir.  When they’re not together, to two really do kick ass.  Jelineau can hit a bulls-eye at any range and move like you wouldn’t believe, while Mills has really gotten a handle on the Eternal Shield.  I’m not gonna deny they are amazing.”
“With all due respect, sir, that doesn’t count for shit if they can’t work together,” the Attendant remarked.
Looking back at them, Williams sat back at his desk.  “I can feel there is real potential here.  But I can’t deny the possibility that I’m wrong.  So here’s what we’re going to do.  I’m going to give them one more week to get their act together.”  Turning to the CO.  “In the meantime, I want you to start scouting potential candidates who can be potential replacements.  Understood?”
Everyone stood up, saluting.  “Aye-aye!”
“Okay.  Dismissed.”

As the meeting was going on, Kate walked into the hangar with their bird.  It hadn’t been given a name yet.  One of the many things that her and her compatriot couldn’t agree on.  There were only a couple lights on, which was fine.  When the door closed, she leaned against the wall beside it, slid down to the floor, and started to cry.
It was clear that they were going to be kicked off this soon.  The entire ship saw the two of them as a joke.  Endless arguments, each of them having every ugly duty that could be assigned as punishment.  If it wasn’t for the fact that they were supposed to be the crew for this bird, it was clear both of them would have been either kicked off the ship or kicked out of the Fleet.  This machine was the only thing saving their careers from dishonorable discharge.  And it hadn’t even gone into space yet.  The damn thing sat there, collecting dust, because that fucking bitch couldn’t listen to me!  She wrapped her arms around her knees and put her head against it, sobbing.
This was going to be how her career ended.  Her wings really were a joke now.  One that the entire ship was laughing at.  Looking down at them, a dark look came to her face.  Might as well get rid of them now!  Their CO or the Admiral was gonna do it eventually anyway.  No point prolonging the inevitable.  She tore them off her uniform, throwing them at the bird as hard as she possibly could.  They clanged off the cockpit, falling to the deck.
From inside the cockpit, Quinn’s eyes came open.  What the hell?!  Still half-asleep, she pulled up the sensors on the machine.  An impact had happened.  Something hit the bird?!  From where?!  That’s when she saw a shadow on the floor.  Guess this was something to be addressed.
Opening up the hatch, she pulled out her tablet and brought the lights up.  That’s when she saw Kate, on the floor, curled up, tear streaks on her face.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
Looking up, equally confused, Kate hit back, “What do you care?  Why are you here?”
“I was trying to get some sleep.  Then some stuck-up bitch decided to throw shit and not.”
“Go to your rack if you wanna sleep.”
Looking down.  “Can’t sleep there.  Too much noise.”
Kate rolled her eyes, resting her head again.  “Whatever.”
Seeing a glint of metal on the floor, Quinn reached down and picked it up.  The wings that go on one’s uniform, signifying that you’re a pilot.  Why’d she throw this at my bird?
“What, you don’t want the wings anymore?”
Looking up, rage coming into her eyes.  “Can you just leave me the fuck alone, Quinn?!  Is it possible for once for you to keep your fucking attitude away from me for one goddamn second?!  Maybe realize that no one wants you here and go be a bitter cunt somewhere else?!  Can you do that?!”
Oh, so that’s how it is.  “Why?  Wanna be alone while you wallow in self-pity?”
Standing up fast, balling her fists.  “That’s it!  I am fucking done with your fucking attitude!”  She ran right at her, tagging the girl hard in the face.  Being thrown back, Quinn balled her fists up and ran back at her.  Tackling Kate, she landed on top of her, punching her face over and over again.  Her support tech smashed her knee into Quinn’s back, using the opportunity to get up and take a swing at her again, this time tagging her shoulder and chin.  The two women grappled for several minutes, until Kate had Quinn by her uniform, looking to catch her in the face again.  In a bid of desperation, she wrestled the arm that was holding her away, tearing open the buttons on her NSU’s.  There was exposed two necklaces.  The first was her tags, but the second got Kate’s attention.
It was a necklace with several things hanging from it.  The first was a feather.  Next was a locket with a heart on it.  Then there was a ring that was stainless steel, with something that looked like chain links wrapping around a metal interior.  It was clearly far too big for her.  Lastly there was a cross.  A symbol of the Christian religion.  Seeing those was virtually unheard of.  That religion supposedly died out 200 years ago.
Quinn pulled back, desperately trying to close her uniform, trying to hide the necklace from her assailant.
Stepping back, Kate gave her a confused look.  “What’s up with the necklace?”
“None of your fucking business!”  Tears started welling up.
This was a first.  In all the fights and bitterness between them, Kate had never seen her about to cry.  It deflated things pretty quick.  In that moment, this person who she had had such issue with seemed very human.
“You can talk to me, Quinn.  We’re supposed to be a team.”
“Talk to you about what?!  I got nothing to talk about!”
The anger started coming back.  “God, what is it with you?!  You work so hard to be distant from me.  What the fuck did I do to deserve this?!”
“From the moment we met, you acted like you are such hot shit!  Your mommy and daddy in uniform when they see you.  Everyone treats you like you are meant to be here.  Me?  I had to bust my ass to get here!  Had to show everyone that I can do what no one else can!  What no one else would.  Sure, I took stupid risks, but it got the job done.  But there you were, with your little clique, looking at me like you are so much better.  I got news for you, Kay, you ever get a look at whose name was at the top of the score in the sims at the Academy?  It was me!  I was the top ace at that school.  But then that stupid accident happened and all of you were laughing your asses off as I was being shown the hatch.  So fucking smug, right up to the end!  Then I get here, to take on a job that no other pilot in the whole damn Fleet can do, and what do I see?!  Your smug face still fucking judging me!”
The words were venomous, rage-filled.  Tears were openly flowing down her face now.  All of the airs she put on, being so tough, melting away.  Kate looked down.  It hurt her, for reasons she didn’t think of.
“Growing up, there was a lot that was expected of me,” she said.  “I come from a Navy family.  My parents served, my brother and sister serve.  After I strike out due to health problems the first time, I finally get in.  Everyone had such astronomical expectations, I pushed myself so much farther than I had to, because I couldn’t let them down.  Because of who my parents are, everyone treated my differently.  Guess I didn’t really see that before now.”
The two weren’t breathing as heavy anymore.  They stood there, as if waiting for something to happen.
“I’m sorry, Quinn.  I…I didn’t know I was hurting you.  Can we start over?  I’m tired of fighting.  It’s making my fucking hair fall out the stress is so high.  Can we start all of this over again?  Please?”
Leaning against the armor, Quinn whispered, “okay.”
Slumping against the wall, she let out a breath.  “Thank you.”  Looking back at the necklace.  “So, if you don’t mind me asking, what’s the story with that necklace?  A lot of random things on there.”
The pilot looked down at it, running her fingers over the various trinkets.  “I didn’t have a family, growing up.  Was some duct rat orbital station kid.  There were a lot of us on our station.  We all had something with us to remember each other by, if we died.  Happened a lot.  Some kid would be cut up by the fans in the ducts, killed by thugs, sucked out into vacuum.  Lost a lot of friends.  Anytime one of them died, I took their memento and put it on a necklace.  Now they’ll be with me forever.”
A sudden feeling of unimaginable guilt washed over her.  All the self-pity she had been feeling about her family, and here this woman was, all alone in the world.
“You don’t have any family?” Kate asked.
“I’m sure there’s a father out there somewhere, in the genetic registry, but I don’t care enough to look.  As for my mother, she told me to wait at the port for her to come back.  In some ways, I’m still waiting.  I waited there for as long as I could, until I realized she wasn’t coming back.  Don’t know if she just ditched me there, died, or what.  Doesn’t matter.  I survived.”
In that moment, there was a sudden protective feeling that came over Kate.  She had to look after this woman.  So much darkness surrounded her.  No wonder she was so desperate to prove herself.  All her life she had to prove herself.  Standing up, she walked over to where Quinn leaned, moving to put her arms around her.
She backed off.  “I don’t need your sympathy!”
Looking right into her eyes.  “This isn’t sympathy, Quinn.”  Her arms wrapped around her.  For a second, it was one-sided, until at last the pilot hugged her back, resting her head on Kate’s shoulder.  At last, there was peace in the hangar.

From their display in the Rear Admiral’s office, Williams and his Attendant watched the event unfold.
“Well, they’re both out now, regardless, sir,” the Attendant sighed.  “A physical altercation?  No way we can cover that.”
Grabbing his tablet, Williams hit a couple sensors.  The image suddenly went away, replaced with an error message.
“We have finally gotten these two to get along.  It finally looks like the crew of our experimental armor has put their differences aside.  So, I didn’t see anything.  Did you?”  His tone of voice was dead serious.
Pale as a corpse, he shook his head.  “No sir.”
“Good.  Dismissed.”
“Aye-aye, sir.” A quick salute.
When he left, the Rear Admiral smiled.  So they were the team he wanted.  All it took was them getting to the breaking point.  His instincts were right.  Turning back to the video footage, he saw the two women chatting, they seemed to almost be smiling.  Instincts were spot on.

Until next time, a quote,

“I have you in my grasp.  I shall not bend.” – Rachel Amber, Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Peace out,

Maverick

The Eternal Shield

“This is bullshit!” Kate said, pounding her fist on the table.  “I trained for three years to be a pilot!  Now you’re telling me I get to be support staff?!  What the fuck?!”
“You’re speaking to a superior officer, Lieutenant!”
She turned away.  Face was beet red, and now she was being shut down.  No way was she going to let them see how hurt she was by this.  All the years of training, getting rank to fly, now this was how it ended.  Being relegated to a support role.  It was beyond insulting.  Her scores were at the top of her class.  In the simulator she was ranked in the top 10 percent of all the students at Fleet Academy.  When she put the wings on that uniform, it was the proudest she had ever been.  Seeing her father in uniform, shaking her hand was such an honor.  Would make family events interesting, since she now outranks him.  Not that she would ever pull rank.  He was retired anyway.  All that work, and this is how it ends.
The Rear Admiral looked over at her.  A very calm, stoic man.  Every part of him was the definition of a Navy officer.  Well-trimmed beard, lines on his face that showed history of making hard decisions, and a uniform that while being perfect pressed, was worn too.  The years showed on his face, on his collar, sleeve, and chest.  He was worthy of respect.
“Come with me, Lieutenant.  Perhaps when you see the machine you’ll be in support with, you’ll understand.”
“Yes sir…” was all she could manage.  Her mind was trapped in a dark place, thinking of what everyone would say when she got back home and said her wings were basically stripped away.

Once they got off the elevator to the hangar bay, it was then that she noticed how she was walking right behind a Rear Admiral.  For someone in her position to be given a tour of something by the commander of the entire ship, it was very strange.  Why would he be giving her the rundown?  What was this unit?
After a long walk, they reached a hangar bay that was marked “Authorized Personnel Only.”  An APO?  Here?  This was strange enough to get her attention.  Was this unit a new model?  That got her blood pumping again.  The self-pity feeling receded just enough for her to want to see what was waiting for her in the hangar.  Scanning his ID badge, the door opened.  Coming inside, the Admiral’s attendant hit the sensor to turn on the lights.  In front of them was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.  Shining in the light, the black metal of the variable fighting armor was sleek.  It was in flight mode while docked here, no surprise.  Part of her wanted to see what it would look like in combat mode, but she wasn’t brave enough to ask.
Looking the unit over, she saw the typical fighter design reminiscent of Earth.  In space, that design wasn’t practical, but the sleeker look made it a smaller target.  Plus, with the usage of Nova Particles, they could afford to be flamboyant.  No longer were they limited to designs that made the most of booster engines.  Now the laws of gravity would bend to their will.  It was exciting stuff.  Elegant, yet completely lacking in any offensive capability while in flight mode.  That was strange.  Typically, variable armors would have at least basic weapon capability while in flight mode.  Why did this unit not?  That’s when her eyes were drawn to the back of it.  The rear of the unit had the strangest-looking boosters she had ever seen.  There were two of them, but they looked like complete Nova Engines.  The conical section at the tip of each booster was different, but the section linking to it with the unit was identical to what she had studied with Nova Particle engines.  The urge to ask questions was overpowering, but since she was already in the doghouse, she didn’t want to push her luck.
“What do you think, Lieutenant?” the Rear Admiral asked.
Finally!
“Sir, I have to ask – are those Nova engines on the back?  Why would this unit have two reactors?”
“Good eye, Lieutenant.  They are.  This unit utilizes a new system that has never been tested in the field before.  Observe.”  Looking over to a technician who entered the room.  “Let’s see the combat mode.”
“Aye-aye, sir!”  The young woman pulled out a tablet and hit some sensors.  Gravity tethers came down and lifted the fighter up.  It began to shift, with the cockpit going into the chest piece and disappearing.  No surprise.  Protect the pilots.  The head piece came up and had just the single glowing red eye.  Black armor, with yellow segments throughout.
“Beautiful,” Kate whispered.  Then she saw something – the two engines were now on large panels on the back of the shoulders of the armor.
“I’m not following, sir,” Kate said.  “I mean, it looks cool, but what does it do?”
The Rear Admiral turned and winked at her.  “Come into the booth.  It seals so we’re protected from Particle exposure.  We’ll show you.”
They started walking to a door on the far side of the hangar.  Looking back at it, the unit seemed so regal.  On the arms were gun barrels.  They were only exposed to show off.  It was clear that they typically folded into the armor itself.  Very cool to look at.  The legs had no real feet.  Hence why it had to be lifted up to do this.  At the bottom were pointed boosters.  While fighters of the modern age didn’t depend on boosters for mobility or turning in space, they still had them for sudden bursts of speed.  Essential while in battle.  All the cold black and vibrant yellow in the armor.  It reminded her of wasps back on her planet.

They went through the door and it led to a room with consoles in front of a large window.  At them sat technicians.  They had specs for the unit pulled up.
“Sir, everything’s ready here,” one of the techs announced.  Just then, the room started to go up!  This was pretty neat stuff.  Was this hangar designed for this?  Why had she never seen this place before.  So odd.  Now they could clearly see the armor hanging in suspension.
“Show the Lieutenant the shield,” the Rear Admiral commanded.
“Aye-aye!”  A few sensors were hit, then the engines on the shoulder started to shimmer.  Light particles were flowing out!  Made sense why they were in this sealed room now.  Direct exposure to Nova Particle was dangerous.  What were they going to show her.  A shield?  How was that possible?  After studying the particle, she had learned that while they could alter gravity around any contained space, there was no way to focus them in such a way that they could provide a constant shield.  Not without an insane power draw.  The Nova Particle engines worked by being able to create new particles while using them.  There was a restriction on the engines that kept them from drawing to the point that they couldn’t refill the standing supply.  Had they found a way around that?
Just then, she looked at the armor.  All over the body, tiny slots opened.  From there were coming lights.  The cold black metal, with dozens of tiny yellow lights.  It was pretty to look at.  Reminded her of a Solstice tree back home.  Were particles coming out of there?  No, they weren’t.  Then, a series of cannons dropped down.  They were going to shoot it?!  Risking damaging the equipment they were going to take into battle?  Seemed needless.  This was something they could have shown her in a simulation.
“Watch closely, Lieutenant,” the Rear Admiral commanded.
“Aye-aye, sir.”
One of the techs pulled up a display on her screen where it showed a system.  The name of it – Eternal Shield.  Eternal?  How had they found a way to get past the power draw?!  So many questions, but she was told to watch.  The guns came online.  One of them opened fire directly in front of the armor.  The tech furiously entered in information onto her panel.  Right as the beams were going to hit, little hexagons of light appeared!  They deflected the beams effortlessly.  The hexagons were created by the tiny lights on the armor!  What was the tech entering stuff about?  Then, a gun behind and to the side opened up.  Now the tech was really scrambling, but as before, the light shapes appeared and deflected all the shots.  It was amazing to look at.  All three guns opened up and the tech was sweating bullets, but she was able to keep up.  Not a single round hit the machine.  When it was done, the slots closed, and the particles stopped coming out of the engines.
“What do you think, Lieutenant?”
Kate was in awe.  “Sir, I have so many questions.”
“Speak freely.”
“Aye-aye.  First how are you able to solve the problem of power draw?  Something like this must take a colossal amount of particles to make work!”
A technician gave her a winsome smile.  “The twin engine drive.  Well, technically the shield is twin engine.  We also have a third engine inside the machine to power the rest of the systems, such as weapons and propulsion.  But the shield is controlled by dual-engines that work in tandem.  By working together, their individual power isn’t doubled, it’s squared.  We’ve been able to put the system through hours of testing without worrying about particle draw.  There is a protocol in place to remove the TD Blanket from the system, but we have yet to encounter such a situation in even the most stressful tests.”
This put her in even more awe.  “Incredible.  So, how do you make it work?  I saw the technician pounding away on the controls.  Is this something that has to be calibrated while in use?”
The girl at the controls nodded.  “That’s right.  Not only that, but you have to constantly adjust the system.  It’s part of how we keep the power draw at a minimum.  We can’t have the entire shield active at all times.  The particle drain would rise exponentially.  The job of the support technician in the fighter is to constantly adjust the shield to deal with income fire.  While the pilot is doing the moving and fighting, it is your job to keep the shield right where it needs to be.”
“What that means,” the other technician continued, “is that you have to constantly be keeping track of battle data and adjusting the system on the fly.  It’s like analyzing statistical probability in battle at all times and being able to adapt for it.”
The very idea sounded monumental.  To constantly be tracking things, and watching every section to know where and when attacks would come in during the heat of battle, no ordinary pilot could do it.  You’d have to be damn-near superhuman to do this.  That’s when she suddenly felt the pride coming back.  So this was what they were going to have her doing!  A task that was as important as it was difficult.  Let the people back home make fun of her.  They had no idea what she was tasked with.  The wings on her uniform looked a lot better again.
“I understand,” she said.  “So, if I’m gonna be the support tech, then who’s the pilot?”
The Rear Admiral smiled at her.  “I’m glad you asked.  I believe the two of you are acquainted.”
Someone from the Academy!  The idea put a huge smile on her face.  So many able pilots who she would love to be paired up with.  Put in countless hours to make sure they were perfectly in sync with one-another to be able to predict each other’s movements in battle.  This was suddenly unbelievably exciting.
“They should be heading down to meet us right now.  Let’s head out.  Excellent work, everyone.”
The techs all stood up and saluted.  Kate was having such a good day.

As they started back, Kate was already planning how things would go.  Wake up early, study specs.  Her and the pilot could spend hours in the simulator.  Early mornings, whatever duty shifts they had, then the rest of their spare time would be getting to the point where they could read the tone of each other’s voice and predict each other’s actions.  So many fantastic pilots she had graduated with, all of whom would be perfect for this.  It almost made the wait to see who the pilot was unbearable.
Starting back across the hangar bay, she noticed something by one of the regular armors.  The pilot was talking to someone.  This was someone she definitely recognized.  Fire red hair, freckles on her face, it was a woman who was the bane of her existence – Quinn.  Back at the Academy, this girl was every problem that the instructors had.  She was brash, cocky, and took horribly stupid risks.  It all culminated on her taking off with a training armor and pulling a stupid stunt that got the machine trashed, as well as two others.  Everyone just assumed that she was put on the short bus out of the Academy when she was packing up her bag and leaving.  Good riddance, she had thought at the time.  The Fleet didn’t need people like this infesting their corridors.  What was she doing here?  Maybe demoted and serving as a mechanic or something?  The thought pleased her.  Are they forcing her to fix the armors after she trashed one?  Or mopping the floors?  A fitting job.
“Ah, Lieutenant Jelineau!” the Rear Admiral called out.
Quinn looked up and ran over.  She saluted.
“Sir!  Lieutenant Ann Jelineau reporting for duty!”
“Glad to see you made it.  Settled in?”
“Aye sir!  So, when do I get to see this bird you’re gonna have me flying?”
She’s a pilot?  There really is no justice in the galaxy.  This is why people see the Directorate’s Fleet as a joke in some places.
“I just got done showing it to your support tech.  I’ll give you the full tour as well.  But, let me introduce you to your support.  I believe the two of you are familiar with one-another.”
The two looked at each other and while they tried to hide it, it was all over their faces’ that neither liked this.  Kate felt a pit in her stomach.
Oh no!  This can’t be!  Anyone but her!
Holding out her hand, Quinn looked right at her.
“Good to see you again.”
Taking it, both women squeezed tight.
“Likewise.”
And just like that, her good day was utterly destroyed.

Until next time, a quote,

“No man can be explained by his personal history, least of all a poet.” – Katherine Anne Porter

Peace out,

Maverick

Holding Hands

She asked us out for a drink
After work
Long day
Sounded like a great idea

Perfect evening
Restaurant is fun
We only have a couple
Gotta drive home

She gets white girl wasted
So much fun
No fucks to give
All the barriers are down

Decides to stop
Good girl
But what now?
Can’t go home this buzzed

Family there
Doubles as landlords
Asks me to drive around
We can shoot the shit until it wears off

As we drive, she has idea
Takes phone out and starts shooting video
So much fun
Narrating the drive and being ridiculous

Such a fun night
Don’t want it to end
She’s so much fun!
A crazy idea, I have

A dare – livestream this!
She does it!
This night is so insane!
Might be bad, but who cares?

Then, gets more serious
We start talking about other things
And that’s when it happens
She holds my hand

Her fingers lock with mine
It’s a lover’s grip
She leans against my arm
What’s going on here?

Asking more serious questions
Asks if I love her
What can I say?
What can I possibly say?

This is wrong
She’s involved
She’s loyal
What is happening here?

We hold hands, talk into the phone camera
Goes on for hours
Why don’t I want this to end?
Feels so good

It can’t go on
When the buzz wears off, the loyalty returns
She realizes the truth
What’s happening here is wrong

We get to her home
Ask her what it meant
Holds our clutched hand to her face
Says she doesn’t know

Doesn’t know?
We’ve been holding each other like lovers for hours!
Why doesn’t she have some idea?
So damn confused

Next day, tries to avoid it
Don’t want to tell the truth
What happened between us
Who is helped by the truth

Truth comes out
She tells us the truth
Was using us
Used our loneliness to get what she wanted

It hurts, but it doesn’t
In fact, it’s still just confusing
I still loved that night
Would do it all over again in a heartbeat

However, the damage is done
She is ashamed of herself
Become awkward and distant
What has happened to us?

She’s putting distance between us
No!
Not now!
Not after what has just been shared!

That night, and her gentle clutching hand
Will stay with me forever
But here’s the worrying part
Will I stay with her that long?

I held her hand
She held mine
She held it to her face
It was like a kiss

I don’t know what this means
Nor does she
Get the feeling everything hinges on us figuring the answer out
The question she wanted to ask

Was afraid to
Might not like the answer
Wanted to know anyway – do I love her
Answer is, maybe

She held my hand
I held hers
It was enough
For two hours, it was enough

Peace out,

Maverick