breathing in a vacuum
part five

      "The flight deck of the Damocles is a little unorthodox," the Captain informed the assembled pilots evenly. "The design team wanted to find a way to increase launch speed while maintaining safety and structural integrity. To do this they came up with what you see now:" He gestured back towards the numerous platforms that were lifting off the floor on long metal arms that had been hidden below the deck paneling.
      "From there the plane is loaded into one of the launcher modules, allowing three launches at once. The whole compliment of fighters can be space borne in less than a minute from Combat Alert. The down side is this: Once we start launching fighters we can't stop until all of them are out and the capture equipment is prepared."
      Jonah turned around to motion for one of the technicians to bring him something. Naomi ran over and handed him a stack of papers, pausing to wave to Dan before she left. It earned Dan a couple of slaps on the back.
      "These are your flight assignments. Today is going to be FUCT day. As in Familiarize Yourselves Concerning the Technology. Until Lt. Fisher here gets his section in order you gentlemen are going to be hitting some simulator time. Dan will watch your runs to get an idea of how to put you guys into some semblance of a fighting unit." He laughed, unused to having to address his pilots so closely. It's what happens when I get a green Fighter Section chief, he reflected.
      As Dan started splitting the group up into smaller flight elements, Jonah took a moment to relax against the bulkhead. He'd never been a fighter jock, but he'd always been aboard ships that had plenty to spare. He was just an Ensign when he pulled a lucky assignment onboard the SDF-1. He remembered a hotshot young pilot by the name of Rick Hunter, who had turned out quite all right. Dan had something akin to Hunter, though nowhere as flamboyant or naïve as Rick had been. Dan wasn't quite as instinctual a leader as Rick had been, and was going to need some encouraging before he accepted the role of command. Jonah watched him from his resting place, Dan flitting around the bay as fast as he could, getting pilots into groups, talking to technicians and command staff. Out of the corner of Jonah's eye he saw his first shift Tactical Communication officer.
      "Lt. Fisher, I'd like to introduce you to someone," he called after greeting his officer.
      "Sure," Fisher said as soon as he had disentangled himself his last task. A thin layer of sweat covered his face, mostly from nervousness. Dan had already convinced himself it was impossible to get out of command during this tour, there simply weren't enough qualified staff in his section for him to pawn it off on someone else. But after this tour, it was back to 'my plane, my wingmate.' And since Sakura would be around then, he had a partner for his next tour of duty.
      "Lt. Fisher, this is Lt. Wesley C. Winters. He's the Tac Com first shift officer."
      Wesley Winters stuck a hand out to greet Dan, dressed in a cleaned and pressed uniform that screamed out "Cleaned exactly to Specifications, Sir!" Dan felt slightly underdressed in his green t-shirt and cargo pants, but the rest of his uniform had left him just as it got hot. He reached out and took the Tac Com officer's hand.
      "Pleasure," Wesley said crisply. "How is Shrike Flight coming along?" he asked, tone warming.
      "Excellent bunch of pilots and planes," Dan reported, realizing that in seniority at least, this man outranked him. "I hope I'll be able to handle them."
      "Don't worry," Jonah chimed in. "Wesley is one of the best Tac Com officers in the fleet. He'll be giving you a hand. If you'll excuse me, I have a meeting with the rest of the command staff."
      The two lieutenants saluted and relaxed a bit as the Captain left the bay. The rest of the crew followed suit, except for Chief Engineer Zhi Gang who worked like a maniac no matter what the conditions were.
      "First command?" Winters asked after taking a moment to look at the Shrikes.
      "Yes. Hopefully my last, too. I'm not really cut out for it."
      "Neither was I. I'm going to talk to the other pilots for a bit. I'll let you know if I have any suggestions."
      "Um, sure. Thanks, sir." Winters turned and began walking towards the mess of pilots, a distinct limp marring his mil-spec walk. "Strange guy," he muttered, finally noticing the bronze wings on Winters' lapel.
      He used to be a pilot? Dan asked himself.

      Sakura looked at Makoto Mizuhara for the thousandth time that day.. As always he noticed the glance and blushed slightly, managing to convey his embarrassment over the situation. On the first day the two had sat down and discussed exactly how silly their parents were for arranging this whole thing. In the end, they decided to go on a date to satisfy both their parents before calling this whole thing off.
      So here they were, eating fine sashimi at a traditional restaurant in a suburb of the rebuilt city of Tokyo. Sakura was picking through her food, not really hungry. Instead she found herself strangely interested in the conversation.
      "So you run an import/export business? That sounds so clichéd," she giggled a little, surprised at how much being home changed a person. A few weeks ago she would have brushed this man off and talked about gee loads or weapons loadouts.
      "I actually run a translation house for manga and anime. My dad started the business a long time ago, and met your father. I guess that's where this whole arranged marriage thing came up."
      "Probably something my mother thought up. She's still rather traditional at heart."
      "That's how my dad is, too."
      Sakura laughed again, relaxing for the first time since Dan departed for the Damocles. There was still no answer to her email and it had been sent almost three days before. Dan was usually better at keeping up his end of the correspondence. Why am I thinking about him? She thought, irritated that Dan could still managed to complicate a dinner when he was close to a light minute away.
      "So what's next for this date?" Sakura asked as she finished her sashimi.

      First Lieutenant Daniel Fisher, Flight Group Commander, Shrike Flight, groaned and rested his head between his hands. A small trickle of blood dripped from his scalp, combining with the sweat, grease and undetermined goop to form some ungodly conglomerate that covered his face.
      Beside him, Yeoman Naomi Richards held a towel and a pair of moist towelettes out to the beleaguered young man. She seemed apologetic, and stood nervously waiting for the lieutenant.
      "I'm really sorry," she said, visibly nervous.
      "It was my fault," Dan said, wincing in pain as his jaw creaked once. A large foot sized imprint graced his right cheek. "I shouldn't have stuck my head in there without telling you. Why exactly did you scream and kick me, anyway?"
      "You reminded me of this guy I used to work with a long time ago. Just the look on your face like you wanted to see…I'm sorry, never mind."
      "I was just trying to get a look at the feedback assembly," Dan said defensively. First time I've been kicked in the head for being too possessive of my plane he thought.
      "I know. I just overreacted a little."
      Naomi ran off as her name was called by one of the other pilots, Zed Williams. Dan's day was going downhill at an amazing rate. Today was the first flight of Shrike flight's Able group. The six planes in the ventral bay were all being prepared for launch, with numerous onlookers: the captain, Lieutenant Winters, the six other pilots and some people that Dan hadn't met first. Probably the intel staff, he thought as he went back to Shrike 1.
      "Lt. Fisher!" Winters said as he marched over to Shrike 1. "First day jitters?" he said calmly.
      "We'll be fine. I just need to get a bit more practice with this bay."
      "So do the techs and Tac Com boys. That's why I'm down here and Emily and Descartes are running the show. We've got another day of travel before we hit the asteroid belt. Anything coming at us now will be seen so far off we'll have a good portion of the Fleet here to meet them."
      Dan wondered about that. No one knew how the majority of the battle pods appeared during the Orbital Ring Engagement. One moment there were no hostile targets on the screens and the next…
      "Thanks for the pep talk."
      "I'm just trying to tell you to get the bugs out now. Bravo group will need work too, so don't forget about them."
      Dan grinned. He wasn't planning on forgetting about anything.
      "Hey Dan!" Naomi called from across "Did you forget this?" she said, holding up one of Dan's checklists.

      "Do you think they'll be ready?" Joshua asked his captain quietly, gaze fixed on the apparent bedlam that was taking place around him.
      "Certainly. Wesley really is one of the best Tac Com Officers I've ever worked with."
      "He was a better pilot," Joshua said. "And he'll never fly again."
      "Of course. He's lucky to be walking. I have faith in both the young Lieutenants."
      Joshua took a moment to glance at his old friend. "This command suits you."
      "I like the challenge. Besides, I never was cut out to be a fleet captain. They try to teach you war by numbers."
      "You always did like to improvise. I remember when it got you into a great deal of trouble once, at a bar in Rock City."
      "That was a long time ago. You weren't really supposed to be inside as I recall." The two friends shared a smile. "Things were different back then."
      "The earth hadn't been bombed from orbit, for one. Our crazed rebuilding attempts hadn't scarred more and more land each year. Of course, we were in the middle of a global Civil War. And we were trying to get laid. You were, at least."
      "Those were the days," the captain said, eyes lost in the mist of memory.
      Joshua remained silent, memory of those days slightly different. While Jonah remembered the camaraderie of his men, Joshua remembered the destruction. "Always the doom and gloom with you. It wasn't all that bad," the captain said. In those travels he found his wife, and nothing could ruin that experience. "Joshua, we've traveled a long way since then."
      "We have put quite a few miles on our souls," Joshua said. "I doubt we'll lose them now."
      "I take it that this mission carries your official blessing?" Jonah asked with a grin.
      "Indeed. Eye for an Eye and all that nonsense," Joshua replied, matching his friend's expression.

Copyright reserved 1999 Jerico Mele []

Disclaimer: Robotech is Copyright 1985 Harmony Gold, U.S.A, Inc./Tatsunoko Prod. Cp., Ltd. All rights reserved. No infringement is intended.

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