Weir steadied his ship beside the Jackhammer and carefully extended the umbilical to meet with theirs. Several decks down, Shannon had already showered and put on a proper blue Flight Suit from the Yutomaky and was waiting for the arrival of Captain Jun Takara and his crew. When they appeared across the walkway between both ships, it was apparent that they were armed with sidearms but not rifles; ready for a fight, but not preparing for a war by any means.
Behind him were several members of his crew. There was a short, rail-thin Latino behind him with her hand already on her guns composite-black handle but she wasn’t leaned forward, nor was her actual demeanor threatening. She was just trying to look tough. Jun Takara didn’t know it, but Shannon could see his eyes roll from twenty feet away.
“Captain Takara, I’m Chief Engineer Shannon of the OFSYutomaky. Welcome aboard. Our captain shall be joining us sometime before our planned dinners. On behalf of both temporary crew of the Barrow, as well as the crew of the Yutomaky, I’d like to personally thank you for the tremendous job you’ve done.”
“Thank you.” Takara stated. “We don’t do anything for free, I’m afraid. However, we were curious as to the condition of a certain ally that found his way onto your ship due to a minor accident during the battle.”
The skinny little Latino with shoulder length straight black hair pointed accusingly at Shannon.
“And I want a face-to-face with the leader of that flight team. She wilfully disobeyed my -,”
Jun Takara grunted and the girl shut up without another word being said. That’s when Takara emulated his best smile and bowed to Shannon.
“It is — great to be here…”
“I’m glad you think so,” Shannon stated. “It will be about an hour for Cookie to be here and then afterward, he will give us an ETA on an actual meal; in the meantime, please come aboard and follow me to the conference room where we can all — get to know one-another.”
Shannon was able to make everything seem pleasant even though the battle didn’t go as well as anyone would have wanted.
“Did you lose anyone during the battle?”
“Surprisingly,” Shannon stated, “We have all crew accounted for and we didn’t lose anyone during the battle.”
“Why is it going to take an hour for Cookies to get here?” Eulalia asked.
“Commodore,” Captain Takara started. “We are honored to be hosted. The specifics about their cookies do not matter –,” He shifted his focus directly from Eulalia to Shannon in an instant as if finishing the statement toward her, “… and regardless of where the Cookies are, we are delighted to simply be here.” He bowed slightly.
Shannon actually grinned at Takara as she shook her head.
“Captain, the term Cookie is actually a nickname for our chef.”
With that, Takara’s polite smile rose to a genuine ear to ear arc as he started to giggle at the expense of the situational error enacted by his brash pilot. The only person that wasn’t laughing was Eulalia.
Shannon misled them down a few hallways before running into Andrea who knew everything about the ship due to her playful days before her pirate boarding. Shannon had never once been to the conference room but she intended on finding a map so that she wouldn’t get lost again. Once she knew the way, her Android brain would never forget the paths within the ship. The little girl skipped her way into the conference room and flopped into a chair.
“What function do you have on this ship? And why did you regenerate your DNA to that of a child?” Eulalia asked in a spiteful tone. In response, Andrea stuck a was of gum in her mouth and smacked on it a little.
“I don’t know,” the little girl smacked some and shrugged her slender shoulders in the most exaggerated shrug she could muster and added, “… maybe the same reason you did? To get away with being a little pest?”
“Excuse me?” The slender young pilot leaned forward in her chair. “I’ll have you know that I am as young as I look and my rank is a result of my unparalleled ability to command.”
“How can someone be unparalleled yet not stop to think that I’m actually as young as I look and managed to run an engine room all by myself for a month. I can probably take your job because I’m like, three years younger than you and just flossed my ass with your learning curve.” Andrea blew a big bubble in front of her face.
“Andrea, wash your hands and get rid of the gum,” Sean said as he stepped into the room. He noticed that the young fighter pilot in some sort of a flight suit that was way too shiny to denote a lower level officer, seemed just a tad bit red in the face. Andrea’s calm, content, and overly smug gaze as she chewed said it all. Sean didn’t hear what she said but it was obvious that Andrea was one straw short of breaking the camel’s back. He just didn’t know what the straw was made of but he had to get it off of the angry pilot. Andrea stepped away while chewing and she didn’t even give the pilot a second glance.
Sean stepped into the room and sat down next to Shannon. He hoped that none of the Marines would be joining the party because that would mean Jenn Hanks would see them sitting together and come up with all sorts of insinuations, rumors, and gossip about the two of them despite the fact that they haven’t even done anything.
“As I was saying,” Eulalia said. “I was enrolled in the very best schools in the outer rim by my family and they made sure that I had the highest level of education possible despite being so far away from home.”
“Why a fighter pilot?” Shannon said. “That’s a high rank to be just a fighter pilot.”
“Isn’t the acting captain of this ship a fighter pilot?” Captain Takara asked.
A crewman walked around the table with glasses of water on a tray and tried to stay out of the way while laying a glass in front of everyone at the table. Shannon even took one since she could drink water and use it for replenishment to a degree.
“Yes, he is… He used to be a test pilot.” Sean said.
“… and the news spread even all the way out here.” Takara smirked. Even Eulalia smiled. Sean looked away and pretended to be overly interested in the glass of water; spinning it in circles along the table as he let the man speak.
“Good pilots make it to be test pilots, but the best know when to stop pushing the outside of the envelope.” Takara finished.
“Yeah,” Eulalia said. “It’s like gambling. You have to know when to quit when you’re ahead.”
“I suppose that’s why you quit so early today.” Sean picked the glass off the table and eyed her over the rim of it. His sinister smile magnified by the lens of the water. “You had enough fighting for the day, which consisted of not firing a shot, getting one of our pilots almost killed… “
Shannon shifted in her seat and tried to clear her throat but she didn’t have to clear it because she was incapable of swallowing anything incorrectly. The Pirates didn’t know she was an Android, however, so, it worked to her advantage.
“We’re supposed to be making friends here. Sean,” Shannon turned to him. “Did you wash your hands?”
“Right…” Sean said. “I’ll be over there with Andrea.”
Captain Takara should have been upset but he caught himself grinning, still.
Sean found Andrea waiting in the hallway with her hands in her flight suit pockets. Her head was angled low as she peered at him through the straight black dangling hair that swung just above her nose which was in a tight, wrinkled expression.
“What?” Sean asked. “Are you mad at me for making you leave before we started a shooting war?”
Andrea held up a plastic computer sheet with a live feed of the pre-dinner festivities piped in, complete with audio. She held it out straight and kept her downward slept expression and slant-eyed gaze.
“No!” She stomped her foot. “I’m mad because you pissed her off more than I did!”
Sean’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped as a belly laugh shot through the corridors of the Barrow. The screen showed Captain Takara, Commodore Eulalia Candelaria, Shannon, and the crewmember all looking at the closed door in reaction to the laugh; all of it was displayed on the little girl’s hand as she held the display up while growling through her teeth. Sean laughed some more right before the little girl started chasing him down the hallway.
They ran toward the docking bay, which was where Sean was aiming to sprint anyway, and they jumped into the bay together right as a Marine SAR craft landed. Captain McArthur, Marine Lieutenant Carlisle Olsen, Lieutenant Commander Jaime Whitmore, and Lieutenant Commander Jessica Riley all watched silently as Andrea chased after Sean with a rolled up moving viewscreen in her hand.
Sean came around and to a stop in front of the group and saluted in a botched attempt to return to seriousness and save face. Everyone just glared at him rather than salute back. Andrea came over, looked the captain up and down, and asked, “Want some gum?”
McArthur stared back at her for a moment, then held out his left arm – his right was in a sling by order of Riley. She slapped a brick of gum in his hand, quite forcefully.
“Time to kick ass and chew bubble gum,” he said while unwrapping it and putting it in his mouth. “And I’m all out of ass.” He pointed to Sean. “Alright Moe, where’s this shit going down? Don’t have all night.”
“This way, sir.” Sean guided the troupe out of the hangar. “And umm… it’s Sean.”
“I know, doesn’t anyone watch the classics anymore?” McArthur made a sigh.
They filed into the conference room, which was starting to feel packed with the gathering officers. McArthur was the one to interrupt the silence. “Good news everyone! Olympia declared war twenty minutes ago.”
“Uh… how is that good news?” Jaime asked.
McArthur shrugged. “Trying to lighten the mood.”
“War is good for business!” Eulalia nodded at Captain Jun Takara. Andrea blinked in her general direction. It was a thoughtless gaze because obviously, she didn’t know what to think about this girls state of mind.
“If you don’t mind,” Captain Takara started. “… before dinner commences, I’d like to have a private moment with the CO’s…”
Takara, McArthur, and Weir remained while the rest of the crews filed out the doors.
Once everyone was out of the room, Captain Takara breathed a deep sigh of relief. He grinned at the other two commanding officers and relaxed in his seat.
“Forgive Eulalia, she’s from a rich family and they did indeed pay a lot to move her forward. She is a capable pilot but she expects nothing but perfection with everyone. She also is very demanding and expects to be in charge of everything. She is currently embarrassed by her second in command of her wing for foolishly causing an unfortunate accident.”
“I wasn’t in the wing at the time of the incident but I was listening to the whole ordeal.” Weir sat in his chair across from Takara and raised an eyebrow. “This wasn’t a mistake of your wings second in command. It’s forced leadership and she’s trying too hard to prove something to everyone. I’ve seen it in young, inexperienced pilots before. The problem you have is that you put her into a high ranking position. She’s not learning command, she’s learning how to use her rank to form excuses.”
“Whatever the case,” Takara stated sharply. He leaned over the desk. “She is my CAG. I’ll have to ask politely that you treat her with respect. She is also the daughter of a high ranking government official of Olympia, therefore, it makes things very delicate when it comes to — teaching discipline.”
“Your group is more heavily affiliated with Opsfleet than Olympia, am I correct?” McArthur asked.
“Yes, but we would still employ good pilots regardless of where they originate from just as long as they have an allegiance to our group.”
“Who is the official?” Weir asked.
“The house speaker of Olympia” Takara stated.
“You have the third in command’s daughter onboard your tug?!” Weir’s jaw dropped. “What did she do to get sent so far away from the colony and end up on the outer rim with your crew?!
Takara shook his head, “I believe I can get through to her and help her change her ways. She is young, and with great potential. She’s a good pilot. The problem is, she knows it.”
“I would like to try and get through to her before we make payment. I think I have exactly what she needs to steer her future in the right direction.” McArthur offered. Even Weir looked shocked. He never knew his CO to be charitable before.
“I would be most appreciative,” Takara stated. “Anything to help her become a more valued member of my crew. The experience of a good commanding officer is a great thing to share with the young. Thank you, sir.” Takara bowed once again.
“I’ll give it my best shot after supper,” McArthur stated and nodded in return.
“About the other pilot?” Takara stated.
“We’ll have him brought up after dinner as well. No problem.” Weir said.
“Did you even discipline her?” Weston asked on point.
“For?” Takara’s confusion seemed genuine.
“Usurping operational command and mutiny on AM radio. Did you discipline her?”
“No.” Takara looked at McArthur and Weir.
McArthur slouched back in his chair. “Command might take that as a conflict of interest. Don’t you think?”
“In what way?” Takara asked.
“I don’t know which side Advanced Tactical Freight is going to prefer to work with, but I can assure you that allowing a mutiny during a contract and taking no disciplinary action is going to severely impact the quality of contracts that are offered to your bosses. And they certainly aren’t going to allow a ship with the daughter of a high ranking enemy official anywhere near operations.”
Takara smiled. It was a reluctant smile of acceptance. “I suppose it can’t be helped, can it?”
Weston got up and went to the liquor collection brought over from the Yutomaky and poured himself a glass of whiskey.
“I don’t like it,” Takara continued with a stern face. “She is part of my crew, and does her job well. This is the first time she has let her ego get the best of her. You attacked a civilian mining station for the sake of your crew. I would do the same.” Takara looked at Weir. “Wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah, I would,” Weir said. “But it was your pilot that almost killed my friend. So didn’t your crew start it? Wasn’t it your CAG that assumed operational command with permission from no one?”
Weir looked at the both of them with a what-the-hell grin. “Don’t get me wrong, you really saved my butt, but it seems like that whole fight would have gone a lot better if you gave your flight wing bottles of vodka instead of fighters. I’m a really nice guy, I hate bossing people around, but if one of my pilots pulled shit like that I’d have at least slapped their faces off. But I see your CAG here still being a heinous bitch. Did you even yell at her? Even just a little bit?”
Takara sat silently.
“She looks an awful lot like an Olympian saboteur,” Weston said. “If I can make that conclusion, the counterintelligence boys on Earth will see it as fact.
“Then it is up to the company,” Takara said with a frustrated sigh. “Let’s change the subject.”
In the hallway, some of the other crew members were actually picking up conversation after an awkward silence. Andrea began a conversation about food fights while Eulalia countered her comments to tell her how rude it was to start a food fight — which led to how rude it was for her to start a fight for who was in charge, which ultimately led to Sean asking the chef to freeze-dry a block of lasagna for him to throw into the face of whoever actually decides to start a damned food fight.
Eulalia was giggling by the time the doors opened. Andrea yanked the other girl into the room once the floodgates were opened. She made sure to get a seat next to the new girl.
“I hope there’s cake,” Eulalia said. “Or pizza.”
“Why so you can throw that stuff at us?” Sean asked.
“No,” Eulalia shook her head. “They come on metal trays. That way, when Sean throws a solid brick of lasagna at us, we will have shields.”
The two young girls giggled and continued talking while Takara raised an eyebrow at them. It was clear to McArthur that he had never seen this side of that girl before. As a man of discipline and appearance, it made him want to shoot her even more, but at the same time, he found it refreshing. He turned to McArthur…
“Speaking of shields… How did you manage to evade that barrage we saw on lidar? We had a systems malfunction and your position seemed to shift in and out so we were unable to see the entire fight visually, nor on solid contact.”
“They missed us,” McArthur didn’t lie, but it was the only stretch of the truth he was willing to give.
“Yeah, man… Four more missiles and out by the time I got there… Then they were on a bottomless rock, doomed…” Weir confirmed. “I didn’t think we were going to last seventeen seconds more in that fight but we lucked out and their computers just — glitched.”
“You weren’t even in that fight,” Takara stated flatly.
“Oh,” Weir said. “Well, I was just making conversation. I’m sure McArthur has a perfectly good explanation as to why those patrol ships fired all those missiles and missed.”
There was too much high pitched whispering behind Weir and he saw Andrea and Eulalia giggling while whispering to one-another in their seats. It was obvious that they were picking out targets. Weir saw the tip of Andrea’s finger a bit too often and he rolled his eyes.
“You went from Eulalia Cilantro Pablo Excalibur, leader of the universe to Food Fight Tactician from Kendragarden real fucking quick…” Weir said. “Maybe next time but not while we’re —,” Weir stopped. “Eulalia… You are a Commode! Act your rank, girl…”
“COMMODORE!” Eulalia quickly stood up from her chair and leaned forward. “And it’s not Cilantro Excalibur! It’s Eulalia Celino Tatiana Pablo Candelaria! I’m not a Commode!”
“Mmm,” Andrea mumbled while unwrapping a pack of gum. “… but with all that shit you spoutin, we were just confused.”
“Mistaken identity!” Sean said.
It was at that point her own Commanding Officer ended up spraying water all over the table and choking on his own chuckles.
“Don’t be joking about no Cilantro up in there…” Chef Cookie leaned in through the door and accusingly pointed a spatula over the whole room as if he were laying down covering fire. Weir had to pat Captain Takara on the back to help him with his water intake problem but they kept laughing in the middle of the effort.
“I don’t think…” Eulalia turned red and rolled her eyes, “ Yeah, I really don’t think anyone is acting their rank here.”
Weir leaned back and shook his head, “The rank is the problem guys… Take it all away and we’re just a bunch of people in a room.”
“Most of you,” Shannon said as she sat at the table with her head tilted to the side, just watching the group with a curious grin on her face.
It took about fifteen minutes for the food to arrive and by that time, the barriers of Ego had diminished thanks to Andrea, Weir, and even the CAG who started the whole problem in the first place, Eulalia. More crew members joined for the meal, including the Yutomaky’s CAG, who chose to take a seat next to McArthur. Jaime wasn’t around for the initial release of pomp and circumstance and thus still had a chip on her shoulder that couldn’t come off. Andrea locked eyes with Jaime and noticed the murderous stare in their general direction. The girl whispered to the slender string-bean of a girl next to her and that’s when Eulalia avoided eye contact with the woman across from the table.
They were half way through their meal when things finally started to get a little serious again.
“So,” Jaime asked in Eulalia’s direction. “The Scuttleass has it, your daddy’s the third in command of the entire Olympic colony… What are your plans?”
“I just wanted to finish up my tour here and serve the fleet. Then of course I’d go back to my dad and family!” She said. “But I’ll be loyal. As you saw out there, I stick solely to my Mercenary Fleet’s interests.”
“Yeah,” Jaime took another bite of her food. “I read your records about your flying. It’s a shame you had to tuck tail and run. You’re eighteen and you’re actually a better pilot than most anyone onboard.”
The young girl gazed across the table at Jaime, “Almost?! That’s 44 kills!” She said.
“Yeah! Across nine combat missions.” Jaime confirmed. “That’s my point. This is the only part of your record that probably is perfectly correct. Just imagine how good you’re going to be by the time you’re twenty-five years old.”
“Thank you!” Eulalia said with a grin.
Jaime didn’t grin back. “Yeah… And where are you going to be next year? Not with your fleet. Are you going to take that expertise to Olympia?”
McArthur looked to Takara.
“You said she had amazing potential…”
Takara took another sip of water and swallowed hard.
“What I do after I leave the fleet is none of your business. I can’t help that I’m skilled. What are you going to do? You can’t make me stay with the Merc’s. My family is back home.”
Shannon looked across the table and back again.
“Captains… I must point out that any actions based on country, or colony of origin must be within international laws. She may be one of the best prodigy fighter pilots you’ve ever seen but that doesn’t give you any rights to hold her captive for reasons of skill and intelligence.”
“I just blew the head off an elected law enforcement official and gassed an entire station,” McArthur said with another shot of whiskey, clearly getting a bit sauced. “Don’t assume I give a damn.”
“But she’s just another girl like me otherwise, right?” Andrea asked. “I mean, this is like — circumstantial and bad luck that her ambitions for being good at what all she likes conflicts with her dad’s housing options on some colony…” Andrea said.
Sean stepped over to Andrea while Eulalia broke out in a cold sweat.
“So you’re going to lock me up just because my dad is in the government and I’m a good pilot?!” Eulalia stood up and pointed in McArthur’s face from across the table. “That’s not fair!” She yelled. “I studied my ass off to get right here! And I didn’t do anything wrong!”
“You broke martial codes 9 and 27, which your contract stipulates you abide by spaceforce laws and regulations.” McArthur smacked down the shot glass. “Punishment for usurping command is trial by court martial and up to 20 years in prison. Mutiny is summary execution. You already did shit wrong. You’re not as fucking smart as you think you are. Now… what’s for fucking dessert?”
“So I made a mistake. I didn’t know that we were operating like that out there. I was following our basic procedures that were written for us on normal patrol. That’s forgivable I think. Nobody else on my team or in my command structure told me to do otherwise. If it’s all good with you, I’ll just resign and return to Olympia.” She sighed. “I’m sorry sir,” she stayed standing and looked down toward the table. “I was reading the wrong playbook at the time. But I promise you, I am a great pilot. I could probably take out anyone and I can still serve the Mercenary fleet well.”
“Yeah,” Jaime said to McArthur… “I’ve seen her flight logs. It’s true. We wouldn’t stand a chance against her in combat. She’s that good.”
“And I pledge my allegiance to the Mercenaries until either let go or at the end of my year. It’s all lawful, sir…” Eulalia stated. “And I will always do my best to better myself in my talents and my academics. It’s the way I’ve always been.” She hoped that this would put McArthur at ease; it was all true.
“Alright, special circumstance.” McArthur leaned forward and glared at the woman. “If you’re that fucking good you can take a duel with Iceman. You win, you go with Takara to wherever the fuck. You lose, we put you in detention and hand you over to 77. Best fucking offer. Take it or leave it.”
Eulalia fidgeted and squinted her eyes,
“But sir… I can’t kill anyone in Opsfleet on purpose. It goes against contract. I am on your side until discharged.” She explained.
McArthur leaned back with a mean smile. “I’m sorry, I thought you were a fucking pilot, or do you not drill with sim-munitions?”
“Not all flying is about the bullets. No matter what happens to him, I’m not held responsible for the consequences?” Eulalia was extremely sure of herself. She shook her head slightly just to make sure McArthur knew what he was getting into; not an ounce of fear left in her.
“It’s the only way to get out alive, isn’t it? I order cuffs on you for mutiny, you think execution is the worst they’ll do to you back on Earth? You’re a war prize to them.”
Jaime looked to McArthur and whispered in his ear.
“This is a bad idea sir… She really is that good.”
“DEAL!” Eulalia stated.