Forged in Fire, Chapter 46: Hero Worship

PPI R&D Offices

Sacramento, CA

August 21, 2025

0923 PDT

The door chime went off as Jazmine led yet another new hire into the offices. "Sorry you're not at the main office downtown, but we're still setting stuff up. I know you're not a big fan of concurrency, but needs must, y'know?"

The newcomer smiled. "Hey, at least I don't have to worry about incoming fire here. After that, anything's perfectly fine." She followed Jazmine down the hall to an empty office. "This it?"

"Yep. We splurged a bit on the hardware, as you can see. Full holographic interface, gesture and remote input, the works."

"Hmmm. Any chance I can get a flat screen monitor until I can get the hang of the holographic interface?"

Jazmine blinked at the surprising request. "Uhhh, yeah. I'll go get one today."

The newcomer arched an eyebrow in response. "You weren't planning on having folks not used to the holo interfaces?"

"No, I just never thought about needing to help folks through the conversion."

"No worries." She smiled and dropped into her chair. "I'm excited to see what I can do with this... I never had the opportunity in the Air Force to use cutting edge office equipment."

"Huh. Well, I'm going to go get you that monitor. Anything else I may have overlooked?"

"What CAD software you use? I have some stuff I need to port over from Pro-E and Creo."

"Uhm... Lemme go get our expert real quick." Jazmine ducked out the door and knocked on Mako's doorframe. "Hey, Mako?"

Mako pulled her earbuds out and looked up at Jazmine. "What's up?"

"I need someone to translate some geekspeak for me. You busy?"

"Not exceptionally so, no." Mako stood up and trailed Jazmine down the hall. "What's the subject?"

Jazmine waved Mako into the freshly occupied office. "Walk her through the technical stuff?"

Mako started in the doorway before stopping in shock at the sight of the occupant. "No... Way..." She whirled around to Jazmine. "You hired Boomer Carson and didn't tell me?"

"Should I have?"


Raleigh, having heard the commotion, came out of his office. "Breathe, Mako. She's not going to vanish."

"But... that's Olivia Carson, one of the heroes of K-Day! I had a poster of her on my bedroom wall!"

"Relax." Raleigh put his hands on Mako's shoulders. "You only get one first meeting of a childhood hero. Don't make an ass of yourself."

Boomer chuckled at the display. "Miss Becket, is every day this crazy?"

"Yep. Welcome to the nut house."

Boomer grinned, leaned back in her chair, and tucked her hands behind her head. "I think I'm going to like it here."


R&D shops


Stephanie rolled her wheelchair over to the workbench in the converted hangar and levered herself onto it, then began to put on the MAX suit. "Any major alterations to the code, Doc?"

Caitlin shook her head. "Nope. No changes at all, actually. Just repeat the same routine as last time."

"Got it. Mako, you have the powerpack?"

"Oh, right!" Mako reached under the workbench and pulled a large battery pack off of a charger, then handed it to Stephanie. "Here we are, all charged up and ready to go."

"Thanks." Stephanie finished strapping in, accepted the powerpack, and seated it on the receiver at the small of her back. "Okay, starting with left leg movements." She began to slowly raise and lower her left leg. "Mako, if you don't mind me asking... Why were you so excited over Boomer coming on?"

Mako blushed. "She... is a bit of a childhood hero."

"Oh, really? I would have pegged Doc here as one, but her?"

"It's... a bit of an involved story."

Caitlin swiveled her chair to look at Mako. "So? We've got time. And it'll keep Steph from getting bored."

"True. Want me to switch legs yet?"

"Uhmm... yeah, got a good data set there. Whenever you're ready."

"Switching now. So, Mako, you willing to share that story?"

"I guess." Mako sat down on a chair and leaned back. "It all started back in, goodness, 2011? My father took me down to the viewing stands for the Tanegashima spaceport to watch the launch of Kounotori 2, the second Japanese resupply mission to the International Space Station. It was the first one that was in daytime, and I was finally old enough to somewhat understand what I was watching."

Stephanie stopped moving her right leg for a moment. "2011? That would have made you, what, 8?"

"A little less than that, but close." Mako closed her eyes. "I still remember sitting on my father's shoulders, watching the rocket lift off the pad on a pillar of smoke and fire, wondering why it was so quiet for several seconds... then the noise arrived." She smiled. "I was so scared for a moment, thinking that maybe it had blown up, until my father explained that it was normal for that to happen. That was the first time I really appreciated how different the speed of sound is from the speed of light, even if I didn't realize it at the time."

Caitlin nodded to Stephanie, who slid off the bench and into her wheelchair. "Sorry to interrupt, Mako, but you ready to try walking on the treadmill again, Steph?"

"Absolutely. There's almost zero lag now, so I feel pretty confident about walking safely."

Mako opened her eyes and sat up in the chair. "Well, then, how about walking over to the treadmill?"

Caitlin rolled her eyes. "Mako, she's not-"

"Sure." Stephanie took a deep breath, then grabbed hold of the workbench. "Relax, Doc, I've got this... I think."

Mako and Caitlin both left their chairs and hurried over to stand near Stephanie. "Be careful." "No need to rush things..."

"Nah, I got this." Stephanie leaned against the workbench as she started to stand up. "See, everything's juuuuhhhuhhh!" Stephanie began to frantically wave her free arm as she wobbled.

Mako reached out and caught the free arm to steady Stephanie. "Easy, Steph! Caitlin, you sure the positional feedback is working?"

"Yes, it is. Steph, any ideas as to why you're so wobbly when standing freely?"

Stephanie furrowed her brows, thinking. "Y'know... I might. It's hard to explain, though."

Vanessa Gottlieb hurried over to the group. "What are you doing? If she falls..."

"Hey, Vanessa. Great timing. We were just talking about some balance issues."


Stephanie lifted a foot experimentally and took a step forward... and only her firm grip on Mako's forearm kept her from faceplanting. "Okay, definitely have an issue there. And I'm pretty confident on what the issue is."

"That fast?"

"Yep. I can feel where my feet are... but I can't feel with them to save my life. Like, I can't feel when my feet make contact with the ground, or how hard they're pressing."

There was a few moments of silence as the news sunk in, followed by a scramble as Vanessa and Caitlin both dove onto computer terminals and launched into a deeply involved discussion. Mako, however, helped Stephanie back into her wheelchair. "Well, you've gotten their full attention focused on the computers for the next several hours. I think we can knock off the MAX for the day now."

"Agreed. Need any help with your stuff?"

"Mmmm, not at the... wait. Yes, actually. Meet you back at my office?"

"Nah, gotta get used to this thing anyways, so I'll wear it for now. And you left me hanging on that story." Stephanie released the brakes on her wheelchair and started rolling towards the door.

Mako followed Stephanie out the door and across the street toward the main offices. "Right. So, I was utterly fascinated by the rocket, and my father explained how it was going up to a house in space with six scientists and engineers living in it. Predictably, I became fascinated with the ISS, too. The next year, my father and I went down to watch the third Kounotori launch. By then, I had told my parents that I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up." Mako opened the door to the offices, and Stephanie rolled through, followed by Mako. "I had a whole plan... get into the Japanese Self Defense Force academy, get an engineering degree, become a fighter pilot, and then apply to be an astronaut. Seemingly simple, right?"

"I sense a 'but' there, Mako."

"Kinda. K-Day happened." Mako opened her office and stepped inside, with Stephanie close behind her.

"So? The space program continued strong for several years, and they're still keeping the ISS manned today, if only with a skeleton crew." Stephanie rolled one of the chairs in front of Mako's desk out of the way, then parked her wheelchair in the opening. "I mean, K-Day was bad, but we thought it was a one-time event."

"True. But that's not what I meant. Who was one of the greatest public figures born from the events of those horrible seven days?" Mako raised her eyebrows and leaned back in her chair, waiting for Stephanie's response.

There was a few moments pause as Stephanie racked her memory before a look of realization crossed her face. "Of course! Captain Olivia Carson."

"Exactly." Mako rocked forward in her chair. "She was everything I was aspiring to be at the time... A fighter pilot, an engineer, absolutely brilliant both academically and tactically, cool under pressure, and took no bullshit from anyone, no matter how much they outranked her. The fact that she wasn't a stereotypical American woman didn't hurt, either." Seeing Stephanie's curious look, Mako continued. "You know, not a white woman with blonde hair, blue eyes, legs for days..." Mako tailed off as she realized she was describing her friend. "No offense."

"None taken, Mako. Yeah, I can see how you'd see her as a better role model than, say, Samantha Carter from the Stargate franchise. What was her family background again? I remember it wasn't Japanese..."

A new voice chipped in. "Three quarters South Korean, one quarter Iowa corn farmer, by grandparentage."

Mako and Stephanie both looked at the doorway in surprise and embarrassment to see Boomer leaning against the doorframe. "Sorry, ma'am. Didn't mean to..."

"Nah, it's all cool. I've heard far worse conversations about me." Boomer grinned and stood up straight in the doorway. "And for the record, Mako... You could have done a hell of a lot worse picking teenage heroes." She winked at Mako, then ducked out of the doorway.

Stephanie turned back to Mako, smiling. "I think she likes you. Not in a romantic way or anything, but more like a mentor/big sister kinda way."

Mako gulped hard and pulled up a file on her computer. "Uhhh... yeah, here's what I needed your input on." She 'grabbed' the file on the holographic display above her desk and 'threw' it at Stephanie's tablet, which let out a 'ding!' a moment later as the file transferred.

Stephanie pulled up the file and quickly skimmed it. "First glance looks good, but mind if I take a few minutes to go over it in more detail?"

"By all means." Mako took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"You going to be okay?"

"Yeah... it's just... she is definitely not what I expected."

Stephanie laughed as she unlocked the brakes on her wheelchair and rolled out of the office.


Boomer's Office


Former Lieutenant Colonel Olivia "Boomer" Carson sat down in her chair with a sigh and looked around the office. Too bare. I guess I could bust out the office decorations now...

There was a soft knock on the doorframe, and Boomer looked up to see Miriam standing there, grinning widely.

"Miri!" Boomer bolted from her chair and wrapped her longtime friend in a crushing hug. "How are you?"

"Doing well, despite having been shoved into a spot well above my pay grade." Miriam returned the hug for a few seconds before letting out a squeak of annoyance. "Too tight, crazy woman."

Boomer released her friend and stepped back. "Sorry, just... excited." She looked Miriam over. "So, they roped you into a Shatterdome command?"

"Yep." Miriam eased into a chair, and Boomer returned to hers. "Got a lot of catching up to do at the moment, but Herc's a good teacher. He may not enjoy the fact that he's the boss right now, but he bears the weight of command better than most."

"That's good. He may lack the charisma of his predecessor, but if his time as a Ranger is any indication, humanity's in capable hands."

"True that, amiga." Miriam grinned, then gestured to the bare walls. "And what's with the drab office? You've had all morning..."

"Oh, please. I'm still trying to figure out the computer." Boomer gestured to the holographic interface, which promptly went crazy as it tried to make sense of her hand gestures. "See? I maybe good with tech, but this is some serious Tony Stark level shit, Miri."

"Wait 'til you see the shop across the street. You'll love it."

"Quit taunting me, Miri. Lemme tackle one thing at a time this week while I get my feet under me." Boomer chuckled and looked around the office. "Y'know... I do have my office decor box in the back seat of my truck. Wanna help?"

"God yes. I need a break from butting heads with bureaucratic types." Miriam stood up and followed Boomer out the door of her office and out to the parking lot towards a battered Toyota Tacoma pickup. "You're still driving that thing? How many miles on it now?"

"Almost back from the Moon now." Boomer unlocked the passenger door and folded the seat forward, then reached back and pulled a moving box out and passed it to Miriam.

"That's it?" Miriam eyed the truck's faded paint and dented bodywork. "Sure looks like it's been through more than that."

"Hey, it may not look like much, but it's got it where it counts." Boomer extracted another box, kneed the door shut, and locked it. "Namely, reliability and ruggedness."

Miriam gave the truck another look over. "You don't say."

"Hey, I know what it takes to kill one of these things. Namely, an antitank missile or a 500 pound bomb hitting it square on the nose. They're tough." Boomer led the way back into her office, then set down her box.

"Uh-huh. Sure." Miriam set her box down next to Boomer's. "And how many Tacomas did you scratch overseas that way?"

"None. The Tacoma's the American import version. Everywhere else, it's a Hilux." She opened the box and pulled out the picture on top. It showed a grinning, younger Boomer in her flight gear, standing next to a soot and grime coated A-10C Warthog parked on the ramp of an airfield. The smile on Boomer's face vanished as she looked at the picture, and she wiped a little dust off the glass of the picture frame before setting it flat on the desk, gaze distant. "And I killed 23 of them in my deployment back in '17 and '18."

Miriam heard the sudden and familiar change of tone in her friend's voice and decided to drop the subject. "So, what's in this box?" She popped the top off the box and was greeted by a small digital picture frame. "Desk stuff?"

Boomer's face brightened as she saw the digital picture frame. "Yep! As well as some nails and thumb tacks for the stuff in this box." She held out a hand, and Miriam passed the unit to her. "Say, is the power supply in there?"

"Uhhhh... Yeah, here we are." Miriam handed Boomer the wall wart and cord, then switched over to the other box while her friend set up the picture frame. "So, what can I do?"

"What's the next item in the box of wall stuff?" Boomer ducked under her desk and plugged in the wall wart, then fed the cord up onto the desk and plugged it into the digital picture frame, which lit up and began to boot up.

Miriam pulled a framed picture out of the box. "A picture of... Say, isn't that the eclipse you went to watch?"

Boomer leaned around to check. "Yes! That absolutely goes up on the wall."

"I still don't see why you went to all that trouble to go see that eclipse. I mean, eastern Oregon? Really?"

"You had to be there, Miri. The pictures and videos simply don't do a total eclipse justice."

"I'll take your word for it. Where do you want it?"

"Opposite the door. Here." Boomer handed Miriam a small nail. "Hang it on that, if you would?"

"Got a hammer, genius?"

"Of course. Should be one in the same box... though it may have shifted during the move. Some of the freeways weren't exactly smooth."

Miriam quickly felt along the edges of the box, finally locating the hammer. "Got it. Any place in particular?"

"Meh. Somewhere that it'll be visible."

Miriam rolled her eyes. "Real helpful, Boomer."

There was a knock on the doorframe, and both women turned to see Mako standing there, hammer in hand. "Oh. Looks like you came prepared."

"That I did. You're welcome to help, though." Boomer smiled.

"Here, Mako, does this look like a good spot?" Miriam held the picture of the eclipse on the wall.

"Uhm... I guess?"

"Engineers." Miriam shook her head in dismay. "No sense of style."

"Hey!" "That's not true!"

Miriam winked and handed Mako the picture. "Hold this, please."

Mako took the picture, and Miriam began to drive the nail into the wall. "Say... isn't this the 2017 eclipse?"

Boomer grinned. "Yeah. That was a fun trip. Picture was taken by a member of the group I wound up with. He was kind enough to forward it to me through a friend."

"Wow... I've been meaning to go see an eclipse."

"Totally worth doing it if you can swing it. There's something truly awe inspiring about it."

Miriam put out her hand, and Mako returned the picture to her. "Yeah. I got a pretty good shot of it while at the office that day. Ducked outside just in time for maximum coverage." At Mako's curious look, she elaborated. "I was based at PDX at the time. We had something like 97% coverage. Boomer wound up a few hundred feet off the center of the path of totality. What did you get, 2 minutes?"

"And twentyish seconds, yeah. Deep in a national forest, about a mile above sea level, and far from any light pollution. The view the night before was absolutely stellar, pun intended." She pulled out another framed picture, this one of an A-10 as seen from a tanker aircraft. "Here, find a spot for this one."

Mako giggled at the joke as she accepted the picture. "Sounds like fun."

"Oh, it was a hoot. Hung with a bunch of engineers from Seattle, talking shop after dinner the night before. Good times." Boomer's face shifted, and she fell quiet. "Y'know, I'm gonna leave this one in the box this time, Miri. At least for now."

Mako caught a quick glimpse of the picture of Boomer in front of her plane, noted the sudden change in attitude, and decided not to press the matter. "How's this?"

"Yeah... That works I guess."

"You okay?"

Boomer sat down heavily in her chair. "I'll be fine in a few minutes. Just... Bad memories is all."

Mako looked quickly between the two older women, realizing there was something going on, but not quite sure what.

Miriam nodded. "Okay, I think I can take care of this. Mako, show her the shop across the street. Boomer, you'll love it."

"Sure." Mako handed Miriam the picture and gestured out the door. "After you, ma'am."

Boomer walked over and exited the office, with Mako close behind. "Sorry about that Mako, it's just..."

Mako put a hand on Boomer's shoulder. "I understand. Really, I do. I still get shaken up whenever I see that picture of me in Tokyo. So if you ever need someone to talk to, Raleigh and I are always ready to listen."

Boomer nodded slowly. "Thanks, Mako. I appreciate the offer, but... Not right now, y'know?"

Mako nodded. "Come on, let's show you the shop."


1545 PDT

Boomer had returned to her office in a better mood to find it fully decorated by her friend. She took a look around to see what Miriam had put up. All happy memories... Sometimes it's good to have friends who know you that well. There was knock from the doorway, and she turned around to find Mako standing there. "What's up, Mako?"

"I, uh... I was wondering if you might have a few minutes? I'd like a second, outsider opinion on some work I've been doing."

"Yeah, absolutely. Can you access it here? And while we're at it, maybe you can teach me how to fully use the holographic interface. I've gotten the basics from the tutorials, but... some of the nuances are lost on me, and you seem to be a natural at it."

"Oh. Yes, I can, on both questions." Mako sat down at the desk and quickly pulled up her partition of the local server and opened a file. The office was promptly filled with the latest Conn Pod configuration.

Boomer whistled in respect. "Okay, that's nifty. I didn't know I could use the whole office for this."

"Yeah, it makes it easier to work with stuff when you have more room to work with. Marshall Ramirez called it, and I do quote, 'some real Tony Stark stuff'."

Boomer laughed. "Yeah, that sounds like her. She's not wrong though. This is amazing."

Mako grinned and walked 'into' the Conn Pod. "We're doing a drastically different design on the Pod this time around, to better protect the Rangers. Thicker pressure hull with simpler geometry. But, it does pose some serious problems for construction."

Boomer walked over to stand with Mako. "Why? What are you making it out of?"


"Oof. Okay, yeah, fabbing something this big out of titanium's going be a pain. What'd you guys do last time for titanium parts this big?"

"Custom castings. The whole process took weeks if done right the first time." Mako pinched the bridge of her nose. "We had more than a few Jaegers get delayed by months by failed castings. We don't have the luxury of doing that this time."

"True. So... how can I pull the whole pressure hull out by itself?"

"Like this." Mako made an odd gesture, and an interface panel appeared. "Hide everything except that layer."

"Nice. Kinda like AutoCAD." Boomer quickly hid all the parts aside from the pressure hull.

"We took inspiration from just about every different CAD program in regular use. Each has their own little quirks that can be useful."

"Yep. Okay, so..." Boomer noted some of the dimensions on the pressure hull and winced. "Jesus. That's a lot bigger than I expected. There's no way you'll be able to reliably cast that in a single piece, and forging it into the final shape will be an absolute nightmare. You're going to have to segment it for initial fabrication, and then weld it together for your final hull form."

Mako groaned. "I was afraid you'd say that. I know exactly how hard it is to weld large pieces of titanium, let alone something this thick..."

"I do too. But, there's welding, and then there's welding." At Mako's curious expression, Boomer continued. "These walls are, what, nearly two feet thick? You're not TIG welding them, that's for sure... but there's other methods of welding that are better suited for factory assembly than for repairs, and I assume that's where you got most of your experience from, right?" At Mako's nod, she continued. "That's probably why you haven't gotten much experience with those techniques."

"Such as?"

"Well, this particular part, regardless of materials used, screams electron beam or high power laser welding. I'd personally lean towards e-beam myself, as it's somewhat more common, has better penetration into a gap like what we'd be working with, and it's pretty much perfect for this kind of job when working with titanium. The real question becomes, how to part out the hull."

"Uhm... I'll bow to your superior knowledge here."

"Nonsense. Use that brain of yours for more than driving a Jaeger, Miss Mori. Think it through. What are your choices, and what are the costs and benefits of each? Think out loud, too... sometimes, by describing what you're thinking, you'll realize something you missed before."

Mako sat on the edge of Boomer's desk and scaled down the pressure hull to a size more suitable for moving around in her hands. "Well, we've got several sets of points that have to be worked around, most importantly the access hatch and the utility penetrations, here and here. Otherwise, the outer surface of the hull is pretty smooth."


"Multiple hardpoints for the life support, rigs, computers, displays, stuff like that. But, it's pretty straight forward. And those can realistically be welded onto the hull by hand if needed at a later date. That's easy enough to TIG weld, despite the heat sink factor from the hull."

Boomer grabbed the projection, enlarged it to nearly a meter across, and moved it to the center of the room, where she began to walk around it, hand on her chin and index finger tapping on her lips. "Well, we have to segment it somehow. What options do you have for that?"

"Well, the easiest would be to just do it in two hemispheres, but that's still a lot of mass to work with." Mako slid off the desk and started walking around the projection opposite Boomer. "We could do orange peel slices, too... but that'd be a lot of welds coming together in the same spot, which is just begging for problems, right?"


Mako furrowed her brows and started spinning the projection around its vertical axis. "I'd almost say do a soccer ball, but that's a lot of pieces..."

Boomer stopped pacing and snapped her fingers. "C-Dec!"

"What?" Mako eyed the pilot in confusion.

Boomer grinned. "Sorry, bit of an obscure reference from a military sci-fi series a friend introduced me to a couple years back. Use a dodecahedron."

Mako's eyes widened. "Of course!" She grabbed the control stylus off the desk and quickly laid in a framework of 12 pentagons linked into a ball, moved it over to the pressure hull, and began to shift it around. Finally, she stepped back and inspected her work. "Okay, we'd need... three? Three different types of segments. Hatch, interface, and everything else. We'd even be able to just mass produce the 10 main segments. Hatch segment could be a cut down main, but interface would have to be custom from the start..."

"Don't forget beam stops and runouts."

"Beam stops?"

"The difference between an e-beam welding unit and a charged particle beam weapon is extremely small. If you're not careful, the beam can punch through the weld area and burn a hole in anything beyond it. So, beam stops are used. They're just overhanging bits of metal to serve as an extra bit of containment. When you're done welding, you can just grind them off if you need them gone. And runouts are areas to let the beam move past the weld zone to create a clean finish. Might be tricky on the final assembly, but I think if you contract that work out, they'll find a way to do it." Boomer clapped her hands together and turned to Mako. "So, fabrication is decided on. Now, is there anything inside the Conn Pod that can't fit through that hatch opening? Because you'll need to install that before final welding."

"Yes, but as you said, if we simply specify how we want the finished Conn Pod to be rigged and get out of the way of the contractors, they'll make it happen."

"Yep. Now, kind of off topic, but... what happens when you move the head of the Jaeger? I've always been curious. Do you feel the motion of the head, or is that somehow overridden or dampened?"

Mako opened her mouth to reply, then stopped, an odd expression on her face that quickly turned into a huge grin. "Boomer, you're a genius." She darted out of the office and down the hall to her own office.

"What the heck?" Boomer looked down the hall to see Raleigh poke his head out of his own office. "Does she do that often?"

"Yeah, she does that a lot when she gets a good idea. She'll probably be out in a few hours."

"Huh." She shrugged and ducked back into her office. Smart kid, with a lot of potential. I'm certainly going to keep an eye on her...


Boomer's hotel room

1907 PDT

Boomer flopped onto the bed, tablet in hands. "Come on, please don't be busy..." She opened up Skype and started a call. Several seconds later, it went through. Her face lit up as the screen shifted to show the recipient. "Hey, you!"

"Damn, beat me to it."

Boomer laughed and propped the tablet up on the nightstand. "Wanted to call and share my first day at the new job... figured you'd enjoy it. Hope you're not too busy."

"Nah, lunch break, so you called at a good time. And of course I would enjoy hearing about your day. This is the happiest I've seen you ever since you left the 354th... Speaking of which, want me to pass any message along to Mike?"

"Nah, not for now." She grinned. "I'm not entirely sure how much I can tell you about exactly who I'm working alongside, but... It's some pretty prestigious folks. You'd probably get a kick out of a few of them... Especially this young engineer I worked with today. Reminds me of what I imagine you'd have been like at her age, actually. Smart kid, good groundwork, but not much manufacturing experience."

"Ah. So, you're mentoring her?"

"Kinda? Not officially, but... Let's just say that there's some hero worship from her end, so that's making things easier."

"Nice. You pitch the special projects you've been working on yet?"

"No, I want to get established first, then starting trying to shake things up. But it's certainly on my agenda."

"Good. For what it's worth, I still think that-"

"No. We've talked about it. There's a reason they're using Jaegers."

"Come on. We both know exactly how much more effective-"

"And we both know exactly what the NIMBYs and the suits would think of it."


"No. End of discussion, because we've been over this multiple times, and it's always come back to the same points. Back on the topic of my new job, please?"

"Hmph. Fine. You had mentioned after the interview it was an R&D shop? How is said shop?"

"It's damned impressive, if I do say so myself. Couple printers, some CNC lathes and mills, and a bunch of more traditional manual machines. You'd be a kid in a candy store in there."

"I assume you managed to keep from drooling all over the place?"

Boomer laughed. "Mostly. But there is certainly some room for both improvements... and shenanigans. Black knobs everywhere. And yeah, they've got the right stuff for that prank you showed me."

"Oooh, make sure you record the results. That one's always hilarious."

"Count on it."

"So... Uhm, about, y'know... us."

Boomer's smile vanished. "Look, you've got a good thing going up there-"

"I know, but you sound like you're enjoying it there, so... I assume you're going to stay for a while, right?"

"Yeah... but I don't want you to give up your job. In case this doesn't pan out..."

"You forget I grew up in the area, Olivia. I know there's places I can ply my trades at with ease. There's the Citation shop at SMF, DynCorp over at MCC, CalSTAR too... I have options there."

"But you'd lose all your seniority."

"So did you, right? They offered you a squadron, Olivia. Now that's seniority."

"And we both know that I'd have been miserable in that slot. Too much desk time, not enough flight time. Not to mention that I'm not exactly the most tactful officer the Air Force has produced, and anything at or above that level is more about politics and ass-kissing than actual competence."

"Which we both know you hate with a passion only exceeded by your love of flying and blowing shit up. Preferably at the same time."

"Guilty as charged." She sighed. "I guess you're right. We've talked about this before, but... I dunno." She looked down at the bed. "I guess I'm just nervous. This would be a big change. For both of us." She looked back up at the camera on the tablet. "And we're both kinda bad with sudden, severe changes."

"I know. But, I think we'd manage just fine, especially together. Tell you what... I'll swing some vacation time in a few weeks, come down and visit. I'll see if I can quietly line up some interviews then as well. I have no doubt that Cessna would snap me up, and DynCorp would probably at least nibble."

"Don't quit your job just for me, please?"

"I won't. I'm just looking at options, yeah? Olivia..."

There was apparently some commotion in the background, as the face on the other end looked away. Boomer heard only a few snippets of the conversation, but it sounded serious, a hypothesis proven moments later. "Hey, gotta go. A 757 on approach just took a couple major birdstrikes on the right wing, engine included, and they want all hands on deck for damage assessment."

She winced, knowing how much damage that could cause... not to mention the mess that also ensued. "Go. I'll catch up with you tomorrow." She reached out and touched the screen of the tablet, a gesture matched on the other end.

"Count on it." The figure put on a ball cap, touched two fingers to the right corner of the brim in a quick salute, winked, and ended the call.

Boomer sighed and picked up the tablet, closing Skype and shutting off the screen. God, the idea of actually living together, finally, after knowing each other for a good portion of a decade, adventuring together, and all the other stuff in between... It's both exciting and mildly terrifying. But... Maybe it's time to take that step. She looked not at the window, but beyond it, deep in thought.


Author's notes

Aaand we're back, after more than a year! Sorry about the delay, folks, but school and work have eaten up a large amount of my free time for the last year and a half. Thankfully, it's been worth it, as I'm now 6 months or so from completing school. (Huzzah!) I've also had trouble getting my muse to cooperate with me on this story until a few weeks ago, and the chapter had been partially complete for a good chunk of the last year, but I've gotten it done to a point I'm happy with. Not going to lie, though, I'm not entirely sure when I'll be posting the next chapter. Hopefully somewhat sooner than the interval between this chapter and the previous one, but no promises. Also, I'll be hopping back into more of a Mako and Raleigh focus for a few chapters, as I've gotten the two new characters who are going to be quite important down the line introduced properly.

Anyhow, catch you in the Drift, folks!