Major Jeff Yamagata, USMC, inhaled deeply as he stared out the cockpit window of his MF-3 Excalibur. Blue skies and white clouds stretched before him. A beautiful day to fly.

Though after ten months on the ground, it wouldn't have mattered if it was gray and rainy, it'd still be a beautiful day to fly.

He reached out and patted the console. Yamagata had lost count at how many times he'd done that since taking off from Edwards Air Force Base in California. He'd probably do it a dozen more times before he landed in Kansas. He didn't care. It just felt good to fly again.

"Uh, you two wanna be alone?" The dark-haired, narrow-faced man sitting next to him nodded at Yamagata's hand on the console.

"Ha ha, funny," he said to Lieutenant Mike "Gov" McGovern, his co-pilot and weapons systems officer. "Don't tell me you're not thrilled to be back in the cockpit."

"I am. I just don't have a desire to shag our plane." McGovern looked over his shoulder to the man with short black hair and a small but firm build seated behind another console. "What about you, Caputo? Any romantic desires on our Excalibur?"

Staff Sergeant Andy Caputo, the plane's sensor specialist, cranked an eyebrow. "Um, well, you know, everyone has different ways of expressing their happiness."

"Good answer, Caputo," said Yamagata.

"Thank you, sir."

McGovern gave a snorting chuckle, then turned back to Yamagata. "Hell, Ninja, I don't blame you for getting all touchy-feely with the plane. I don't know how much debris I picked up these last few months. Tons, probably. I couldn't wait to get back in the sky."

"At least you did something important. I got turned into a recruiting poster with legs."

"Well, we do have to build up our forces after what happened."

Yamagata nodded. Much as he hated his PR tour, it did result in a lot of men and women joining the Marine Corps. They, and the rest of the Armed Forces, suffered heavy losses when President Zamora unleashed Gigan on the country. Dozens of cities had been destroyed, giving Zamora the excuse to implement martial law and set himself up as a dictator. His rule ended in a brief, but bloody, Second Civil War, in which Yamagata played a key role. Instead of taking part in relief and rebuilding efforts like many military members, The Corps used his celebrity to bring in new recruits.

When he reached the eastern part of Colorado, Yamagata began his descent. He crossed the length of Kansas, heading for Kansas City, Missouri. The long, gray lines of the runways of Joint Base Richards-Gebaur soon came into view.

The landing went smoothly. Yamagata taxied the jet onto the tarmac. The whine of the engine decreased, then fell silent. He removed his straps, as did McGovern and Caputo. They exited the Excalibur just as another black, oblong aircraft with swept wings and a V-shaped tail approached the runway.

Yamagata watched it, tightness forming in his throat. He wanted it to be "Burner" Ashby, "Sockman" Pena and Sergeant Dillard in that jet. All three, however, died when Gigan took out their Excalibur over Miami.

"Oh look," a baritone voice came from behind him. "It's the big time celebrity. I figured you'd have your own reality show by now."

Yamagata swung around. A lean black man stood a few feet away, a smirk on his round face.

"I sure as hell couldn't leave this squadron in your hands," said Yamagata. "It'd go to hell."

Lieutenant Ty "Blade" Sharpe glared at him, then burst out laughing. The two came together, clasping hands and slapping one another on the shoulder.

"Welcome back, Ninja."

"Good to be home again." Yamagata smiled wide.

"I just hope all those interviews and talk show appearances didn't make you soft." Blade needled him.

"Hey, you didn't see me pancake into the runway, did you?" Yamagata pointed to his jet.

The other Excalibur touched down and rolled toward the tarmac.

"Well, here are the newest members of our merry band," said Yamagata.

Blade just grunted.

Yamagata looked at him, keeping a frown off his face. Blade hadn't even met the trio and already he seemed determined not to like them.

The Excalibur halted next to Yamagata's plane. An access ladder lowered from the side of the aircraft. Out stepped a tall, athletic woman with short black hair, followed a skinny red-headed man and a brown-haired man with the compact physique of a wrestler.

The woman got within a few feet of Yamagata and the others and stopped. She looked left, then right. Her face scrunched into a mask of disapproval. "Ugh. The Midwest. No ocean for a thousand miles. So much for surfing and waterskiing."

"I'm sure you'll survive. Now, Blade," Yamagata turned to the Navy pilot. "Let me introduce you to our new Excalibur crew, Captain Erika "Winter" Snow, Lieutenant Tom "Sunburn" Kemp, and Staff Sergeant Ken Robinson. Gentlemen and lady, Lieutenant Ty 'Blade' Sharpe."

"Heard a lot about you, Navy." Winter gave him a half-grin. "You're a pretty decent pilot." She stuck out her hand.

Blade hesitated, glanced at Yamagata, then gave Winter's hand a short, perfunctory shake. "I'm a damn good pilot. You should've seen what I did during the Battle of Miami."

"Uh-huh." She cast her eyes to the ground.

Blade also gave Kemp and Robinson brief handshakes. Awkward silence fell over the group.

"Caputo." Yamagata turned to his sensor specialist. "Show Captain Snow and her crew to their quarters."

"Yes, sir. This way."

Caputo led the newest members of the 1st Joint Special Combat Squadron away from the tarmac. Yamagata noticed Blade watching them go, eyes narrowed in a glare.

"At least try to give them a chance," urged Yamagata.

"Is that an order?" Blade faced him.

"I can make it one."

Blade let out a slow breath. His jaw stiffened for a moment. "They're part of this squadron. I'll treat them professionally, when we're up there fighting King Ghidorah or Megalon, I'll have their backs. But don't expect me to exchange Christmas cards with them."

"Even I can't order you to be friends with them."

Blade emitted a short grunt. "I have to say, you surprise me."

"How so?" asked Yamagata.

"I never took you for the social engineering type."

"You know what kind of rift there is in the Armed Forces, Blade. A lot of service members who stood up to Zamora's rule are still pissed at the ones who didn't. We can't be an effective fighting force if we're not on the same page."

"You think having a pilot and crew who fought for the other side is going to change that?"

"Probably not overnight," Yamagata admitted. "But you gotta start somewhere. Besides, they didn't technically fight for Zamora. Kemp and Robinson pretty much stayed on base during the Civil War. Snow did fly some combat air patrols, but never fired on American military units or civilian targets. She's also a hell of a pilot, survived six engagements with Gigan. That's gotta count for something."

Blade folded his arms, the corners of his mouth twisting. "I guess I will give her props for coming away with her ass in one piece. A lot of other pilots didn't . . . like Burner." His shoulders sagged.

An emptiness formed in Yamagata's stomach as he thought of the flaming wreckage of "Burner" Ashby's Excalibur tumbling out of the Florida sky.

He drew a breath. "I'm just asking you to be a good teammate, Blade."

"I always am. Let's just hope Captain Snow is, too."

Yamagata stared at his friend. Yeah, let's hope.


After changing out of his flightsuit, Yamagata ate a couple of lukewarm hamburgers at the mess hall, then checked in with the signals intelligence office to see if his girlfriend had arrived.

"Sorry, sir," an airman told him. "We're not expecting Captain Fox until tomorrow."

Yamagata nodded, keeping his face tight to hide his disappointment. He hadn't seen Nicole in the flesh in ten months. They'd Skyped each other several times, texted or called one another. It was a poor substitute for having her beside him, holding her, being in bed with her.

He went to his Bachelor Officers Quarters, stood in the middle of the living room and looked around. Like most BOQs, it wasn't very big and had bland, government-issue furniture. Still, it was his place.

Yamagata walked over to the cluster of framed photos on the wall. One showed him standing next to an MF-3 Excalibur, a flightsuit hugging lean 5'9 frame and aviator shades adorning his round face. Next to it was another photo, this one black and white, featuring a serious-looking Japanese man in an old Army dress uniform. Corporal Jiro Yamagata, who served with the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

He nodded at the image of his great-grandfather, then tapped the frame with his fist. After unpacking, Yamagata sat on the sofa with his iPad. He needed to set up tomorrow's training schedule, and make it as intense as possible. He and Blade hadn't flown together for nearly a year, and neither of them had flown with "Winter" Snow. Yamagata wanted them to become a cohesive fighting unit as quickly as possible.

Hopefully Blade's attitude won't make that difficult. He wasn't surprised by his friend's reaction to Captain Snow's presence. Along with losing Ashby and his crew, Blade's weapons officer Dennis "Menace" Anderson died when thugs from Zamora's Civilian Emergency Mobilization Corps assaulted the base. Add to it spending time in a CEMCOR detention camp and Blade had plenty of reasons to dislike anyone who didn't oppose the power-mad ex-president.

Am I doing the right thing? He lowered his iPad and stared at the wall. This wasn't the first time he'd doubted his decision to select Winter for the 1st JSCS. He should have picked her solely on her skills as a pilot, not to make some statement to help bring people together.

A dark chill went through him. What if his decision poisoned unit cohesion? What if it got people killed?

A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. He set the iPad on the sofa, walked across the living room and opened the door. His eyes widened when he saw the slender woman with pinned up dark hair and black horn-rimmed glasses standing in front of him.

"Miss me?" Captain Nicole Fox grinned at him.

Yamagata didn't answer with words. He just pulled her inside and kissed her long and deep.


"And here I thought I'd have to wait until tomorrow for a reunion like this." Yamagata slowly ran his fingers up and down Nicole's back as she laid on top of him, twisted, sweaty sheets wrapped around their naked bodies.

"What can I say? I wanted to surprise you."

"I tell you what really would have been a great surprise."


"If you'd shown up in a nighty and carrying a six pack." Yamagata grinned.

Nicole giggled. "Maybe next time." She kissed his chest, then his neck, then his mouth.

He rolled her on her back. They kissed, caressed and made love again. After a shared shower, Yamagata went to his closet and took out his khaki Service "B" uniform.

"Um, I don't think those are the appropriate clothes to wear to bed," said Nicole, who leaned against the doorway of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her torso. "Actually, we shouldn't be wearing any clothes to bed."

Yamagata smiled at her. "We're taking a break so I can take you to dinner."

"Well, if you're going to wear that I doubt you're taking me to Burger King."

"I was thinking more along the lines of Trepinino's." Yamagata referred to an Italian restaurant a couple of miles from the base.

"Ooh." Nicole's mouth formed a perfect "O". "How romantic. I better find something nice to wear and -"

A quick beep-beep-beep came from Yamagata's cell phone. He hurried over to the nightstand. That particular tone meant the message came from the 1st JSCS operations center.

He grabbed the phone and checked the screen. His entire body tensed.

"What is it?" asked Nicole.

Yamagata turned to her. "Looks like dinner plans are on hold. There's been a kaiju attack on Guam."


AUTHOR'S NOTE: The characters in this chapter previously appeared in my fanfic "Godzilla vs. Gigan: Dawn of the Tyrant."