Even if they are clumsy at this, individual warriors should strengthen their own martial arts as much as is practical in their circumstances. – Miyamoto Musashi
The front of the simulator opened and Klevetati Yoshino stepped out, gently shaking her hands. She watched Margaret Morgan, who was standing to one side, writing up the evaluation on a data tablet. Morgan glanced up for a moment, then looked back down to finish writing.
Yoshino wiped the sweat from the back of her neck, nibbled just a little at her lower lip, and waited quietly for Morgan to finish. The simulation had been very thorough, and one that Morgan must have programmed herself — some of it, Yoshino guessed, on the fly. Which made sense, really, since a genuine enemy wouldn’t stick to pre-planned moves.
“So, you learned that just while we were on Earth?” Yoshino thought she could hear faint approval in Morgan’s voice as she handed over the form for her to see.
“Not all of it,” Yoshino admitted. “We all had basic flight instruction while we were still in training.” She skimmed down the form as she spoke, pausing for a long moment at the bottom line: good, but not quite good enough to be certified for flying with Storm Squadron. “That close, mmh?” she said at last, trying to look at it optimistically.
“Very. That’s good, if you’ve been balancing learning with the repairs,” Morgan said with a broad wave at the ship around them.
“I had to do something in my off time, or go crazy.” She shrugged, more to herself than to Morgan. “What did I miss?”
“You concentrate a little too much,” Morgan said with a wry grin. “I’d be afraid you’d miss someone coming up on your tail, if you were trailing a bogey.”
Yoshino mirrored the grin, with less struggle than she’d anticipated. Darquin’s advice the night before had been spot on, so it didn’t seem like a difficult obstacle. “I need to divide my attention a bit more, then.”
“Just a little. Won’t take much work, I don’t think. Some might pass you, but…” she shrugged. “I don’t want to risk anyone.”
“No, this is right. The only bad thing … we’ll be at Abbai tomorrow, probably not enough time to try this again until after we’re done there.”
“Maybe not.” Morgan was silent for a moment, thinking. “But if you’ve a little time now, we can take a ‘Fury out, and you can show me what you’ve learned.”
Yoshino’s cheeks colored faintly. “Really? I admit … it’d be rather exciting, flying in hyperspace.”
This drew a chuckle from Morgan. “Most would find it stomach-turning. But I want to feel how you handle it, ie?”
“That seems very sensible to me.”
Morgan grinned. She found that she rather liked the Operations officer. “You’re unique, then,” she said, dropping the data tablet and gesturing to the door. “Anytime.”
“Now’s the best time, I think.” Yoshino moved out of the sim-room door and out to the corridor, leading the short distance to the hangar bay.
“You oversaw much of the reconstruction?” Morgan asked, making conversation to fill the silence of the trip.
“The whole thing. I was here, start to finish.”
“I see good work here.”
It was mild and understated, but Yoshino could hear the compliment. She smiled, letting go of the last shreds of ire from the day before. “Thank you … my job was mostly overseeing everything, not much hands-on. I would have liked that even more, I think.”
“Getting your hands dirty in it,” Morgan said, understanding. As they entered the hangar, she pointed across the vaulted space. “My ‘Fury’s there, on the end.”
“Right. Flight suits and helmets are …” Yoshino thought for a moment, calling up deckplans in her head. “Just over there, if I recall.” She pointed to an open doorway nearby.
“You tell me. I’ve gotten lost since I’ve been back.”
“Over here, then,” Yoshino said, leading the way toward the locker room. “We honestly tried not to change too much.”
The inside of the locker room was the same as before, Morgan’s own locker almost as she had left it. She took off her cape, folding it neatly and placing it on a shelf, then started pulling the flight suit on.
It took Yoshino only a moment to find the rack of spares, and a minute or two longer to find a suit in the right size among them. She quickly pulled it on, saying as she did, “If it helps, I am planning on getting some additional live instruction.”
“It does. I’d be willing, if you can’t find anyone else to.”
“Thank you,” Yoshino said. It was almost frightening, how willing everyone was to help. All she’d had to do was step up and ask. “I’ve made some arrangements with Anla’shok Darquin already, but if that doesn’t work out, then I would be very grateful.”
“Of course. We need all the trained pilots we can get, but ones with the knack are even better.”
Yoshino nearly dropped the gauntlet she was pulling on. “I … you think I have?”
“To progress so much in so short a time? It’s not only hard work.”
“I …” Yoshino searched for words as she blushed brilliant crimson. Finally she turned and gave Morgan a deep, formal bow. “Domo arigato. You honor me very much.”
Morgan shook her head, a little embarrassed herself. “Something to be proud of.”
Yoshino quickly turned away, hoping to cover both Morgan’s and her own embarrassment by reaching up for a helmet. “I think I’m ready.”
Morgan took her own from its niche at the top of the locker. “Ie,” she said, leading the way back out to her Starfury. Yoshino followed quietly, trying to recover her equilibrium. Learning combat flying had only been something to pass the time at first, a stopgap funnel for her frustration. But now … perhaps a part of her true self really was coming out, despite all the years of being locked away. The thought brought a smile to her face.
Morgan unlocked the fighter and motioned for Yoshino to take the front seat as she climbed into the back. “Computer, unlock voice commands, code ArtosOne.”
Yoshino settled against the tall backrest, locking her feet in place and experimentally wrapping her hands around the twin joysticks. They were identical to those of Roland DeVries’ Storm One, and of the simulator. She wasn’t quite sure why she had imagined they would be any different.
Morgan’s voice came over the helmet’s comlink. “As you’re ready.”
“Affirmative.” After going through the usual routine of requesting exit clearance, Yoshino guided the fighter up and out of the open bay doors, into the swirling scarlet of hyperspace.
Morgan relaxed back as best she could, closing her eyes in order to better hear and feel the engines. The Phoenix’s crest rose into view off Yoshino’s left hand as she brought the Thunderbolt up and level with the upper fin of the ship, matching its velocity. “What would you like me to do?”
“As you like. I’m only here for the ride.”
For Yoshino, thinking of what to do was infinitely more difficult than how to do it. She remembered some moves from the simulators and the short flight from dock to Minbar and replicated them, resisting the temptation to buzz the flight deck. Captain Hale didn’t need any would-be hotshot pilots in her face, as much as Yoshino might want to play the part, now and then.
Morgan opened her eyes and watched the path back and forth, around the Phoenix that Yoshino was taking. Unlike many novice — and even a few experienced — pilots, she was not fighting the engines.
As she had so many times before, Yoshino imagined the joysticks in her hands like katana and wakizashi, extensions of the self, trying to do without thinking. She felt relaxed enough to try talking a little. “This is beautiful …. have you often flown in hyperspace?”
“Not often enough,” Morgan answered with a smile.
“I understand that, now.” Yoshino stopped and turned the fighter, flipping its x and y axis at once, then flew under the Phoenix, righting the orientation halfway along. She matched velocity again outside the docking bay door, and asked, “Shall I dock her manually, or let the autos do it?”
With a grin Yoshino couldn’t see, Morgan said, “Manually, for a challenge.”
“That’s what I thought you would say,” Yoshino said, drawing a deep breath. Carefully maintaining the matched velocity, she began guiding the fighter in. “At least there’s not a spin factor here,” she murmured. Morgan’s grin widened — she wouldn’t have asked if she hadn’t believed Yoshino could do it.
Fairly smoothly — at least by her own estimation — Yoshino set the Thunderbolt back in its docking cradle. She powered it down and cracked open the canopy.
“Well, there was a bit of a jar there.” Morgan kept her face hidden by pulling her helmet off as she spoke.
Yoshino had her helmet off already, wiping a few drops of sweat from her forehead. “Yes, I’ll have to work on that.”
Morgan burst into laughter. “I wasn’t serious,” she managed to say after a moment.
Yoshino’s breath caught in her throat for a moment, then she laughed also. After a moment, she lowered her hand from her mouth and said, “Thank you, Anla’shok Morgan. You have been very kind to me.”
The Tactical Officer waved it off as she climbed out. “No duty without effort.”
“I hope it was … some fun, at least,” Yoshino said as they walked back toward the locker room.
“At the very least.” Tucking her helmet under one arm, Morgan extended a hand. “See me after this mission is over.”
Yoshino took it, then bowed. “With pleasure.”
A few minutes later, Morgan was refastening her cape when an outburst from Yoshino startled her. The Operations Officer, flight suit put away, was staring at her wrist chrono. “I’m late for my shift on the bridge, I must go. Thank you again, Morgan-san.” She bowed again quickly and hurried away.
Morgan watched her go, then tapped her link. “Bridge, this is Morgan. Anla-shok Yoshino was with me. No penalty for tardiness.”
© 1999 Jamie Lawson and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.