---- September 12, 1943
---- Capel-le-Ferne Airbase
---- Commander Wilcke's Office: 09:30 hours
Mio ushered the four girls into Minna's office. They were puzzled to see that the three MAGUS pilots were in attendance as well, each engrossed in a thick packet of mission briefings. On the back wall was a roll-down map of Europa. On the four empty chairs were briefing packets similar to the ones the men were currently reviewing.
Minna looked at them over her coffee mug "Ah, right on time. Have a seat girls."
Charlotte nodded her head towards the break table in the back of the room. "Commander, mind if I…?"
Minna smiled at her. "Of course Shirley."
Charlotte walked to the table and poured herself a large mug of black coffee. She didn't bother to offer to get the others any. She already knew that Lynette didn't like coffee and that Yoshika preferred tea. And the last thing Francesca needed was caffeine. She downed half the mug in a couple of gulps, then topped it off and took her seat.
"I'll get straight to the point." Minna began. "You four are going to escort these gentlemen to their permanent posting in Karlsland. Along the way, you will be making four scheduled stops. At these locations you will be attending press conferences and photo ops scheduled by Central Command. You will also be performing mock combats, similar to what took place here five days ago, for the press corps."
Minna paused for a second, gauging the girls reaction to this. As she expected, Charlotte immediately raised her hand for attention. "Yes, Shirley?"
"Why the press conferences?" Charlotte asked. "And why us specifically?"
"As you all know very well, we are not making much headway in winning this war. Civilian morale is at an all-time low. These press conferences are designed to give that a little boost. They will showcase not only our new weapons capabilities, represented by the MAGUS units, but as a reminder of the power and skills of the Witches now fighting on the front lines."
"And you four specifically, for a number of reasons." Minna continued. "Shirley, you have name recognition. Between being the first person to break the sound barrier and the accomplishments you achieved before you joined the service, everyone in the world who reads a newspaper knows who you are."
Mio broke into the conversation to address the other three girls. "And while I have complete confidence in the capabilities of everyone in this unit, you three were chosen specifically because you are all as cute as buttons… and that never hurts during a photo op." she finished with her booming drill sergeant laugh.
"It's as the Major says." Minna confirmed with a wry grin. "We have multiple goals to achieve, but primary among them is to rally the general public. I can't help but to agree with C and C's choices and reasoning."
As she rifled through the stack of papers in front of her, she continued. "The participants in the mock combats with the MAGUS units will be you Shirley, along with Yoshika and Francesca. Lynne, my not choosing you for this part of the assignment is not meant as a slight. Your performance, especially of late, has been exemplary. It's just that your skills are primarily sharp shooting and long distance cover fire, and are not really suited for this type of demonstration."
"I understand ma'am. Thank you for saying so." Lynette answered politely.
As the girls were digesting this information, Minna turned her attention to the male pilots. "Until you arrive at your new posting, this is your squadron. You will be under the command of Lieutenant Yeager who, for the duration of this assignment, is being advanced in rank to Captain." She got up from her chair and walked out from behind her desk to where Charlotte was sitting. Charlotte stood up and accepted the three gold pips for her collar.
"Congratulations Captain Yeager." Minna threw her a salute, which Charlotte returned with a poorly concealed grin. "Thank you Commander. I'll do you proud."
"I know you will." Minna answered her confidently.
Walking towards the map on the back wall, she continued. "This assignment will take six weeks, during which you will have a lot of downtime in-between conferences."
She turned to address the girls, specifically Francesca, Yoshika and Lynette. "So you can all consider this to be a working vacation. Do some sightseeing. Learn about the world a bit beyond your own borders." She gave them a wink and a motherly smile. She then turned so she was facing the entire room once more and gestured to the map.
"Now, as to the specifics of this mission and your itinerary…"
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The two and a half hour briefing was finished. The seven members of the newly formed "Propaganda Squad", as Charlotte had informally named them, walked into the Mess Hall animatedly discussing the upcoming mission.
Spying Gertrude sitting at her customary table, Charlotte couldn't help but to go over and tease her friendly rival. She walked past the table, thumbing the edge of her collar to show off her newly acquired Captain's pips. "I outrank you." she said with a sly grin as she walked past to get into the serving queue.
Gertrude gave a puzzled look, and then grumped when she saw rank insignia Charlotte now wore. Erica, sitting next to her, laughed at her reaction. Francesca, trailing behind Charlotte turned and gave Gertrude an obnoxious grin. "She outranks you." Gertrude rolled her eyes, which caused Erica to laugh even harder.
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Lynette was heading back to her quarters to grab her purse and a light jacket. She planned to meet Yoshika in the main hall and from there the two were going into town to do some shopping for their trip. Rounding the corner of the hallway, she bumped smack into Pilot Fiske who looked delighted when he saw whom he had run into.
"Sargent Bishop. Just the person I was looking for."
"Y…you were looking for... me?" Lynette questioned nervously.
"Indeed I was.” Fiske flashed her his most charming smile. “I wanted to look around the town a bit before we leave tomorrow. I was hoping you would accompany me. You know? Show me the sights? Maybe get some dinner and a couple of drinks? What do you say?"
"Ummm… I'm underage to drink alcohol Mr. Fiske." Lynnette mumbled, trying to discourage continuing the conversation.
Unfortunately, Fiske misinterpreted her nervousness at the situation as her simply being shy and coquettish. Playing the game. Which he was always up for.
"Ahhh, don't worry about that." He waived his hand dismissively. "If you're old enough to die for your country you should be old enough to have a couple of drinks if you want to."
He quickly moved into her personal space and Lynette became almost paralyzed with fear. She tried to respond but her mouth wouldn't work. Fiske was so intent on making a conquest that he failed to read the atmosphere surrounding them. "It'll be fine. Come on."
Taking Lynette by the hand, he turned to lead her to the main hall. Before he could take a single step he felt a sudden blow to his arm and a sharp pain in the hand been holding Lynette's a mere second ago. Startled, he spun around only to find himself with a face full of extremely angry brunette.
"What are you doing to Lynne-chan?"
"Huh…?" he thought brilliantly.
Fiske took a beat to process what was happening. The little Fuso pilot was standing between himself and girl he had just tried to make some time with. Standing with her arms outstretched to block any attempt he might make to grab her friend again. For her own part, said friend was now hiding behind the newcomer, trembling with fright. Her left hand was gripping the smaller girl's sleeve tightly and she had buried her head between the girl's shoulder blades.
Yoshika Miyafuji very rarely got angry, but when she did it was truly a sight to behold.
“What. Are you doing. To Lynne-chan?” she repeated.
She didn't raise her voice this time. She didn't need to. Her tone was like ice and her gaze a smoldering fire. Fiske could tell by the look in the eyes of the diminutive girl. If she didn't receive a satisfactory answer she was going to beat the living tar out of him.
The Liberion pilots mind raced. He was finally putting two and two together and realized he had made a terrible mistake. She wasn't just being shy. She had been genuinely afraid of him. In his single-minded attempt to make a conquest, he had completely ignored the atmosphere and the now-obvious body language. Suddenly, he felt like a first-class shitheel.
In this case, he decided, honesty was the best policy. He simply hoped it didn't end in a world of hurt.
He lowered his head to the two. "Sargent Miyafuji, please let me humbly and sincerely apologize. Both to Sargeant Bishop and yourself. I was trying to ask her out on a date and I thought she was just a little nervous. I didn't realize…" he paused. "Sargeant Bishop… I came on too strong and I didn't pay attention to your feelings. It was wrong of me."
"Well, that was a bit lame wasn't it?" The words sounded inadequate, even to himself. "Miss Bishop, please accept my humblest apologies."
Lynette was still unable to look up, but she nodded her head slightly. Yoshika could see genuine regret in the man's eyes. Her rage subsided but her anger did not. "Just… just go, okay? I believe you. And we have to work together. If you are truly sorry, we'll just put it behind us."
Fiske couldn't believe his good fortune. He had suddenly been afraid that he would be put on report or that there would be an inquiry. He had definitely dodged a bullet here. He turned away and began to walk back to the main hall, but stopped when Yoshika called out to him.
Yoshika approached him, making sure she was far enough away from Lynette that she couldn't overhear. Looking upward, she stared directly into the tall man's eyes. Her voice was cold and emotionless and eerily calm. "Fiske-san, if you ever approach her in that manner again… if you ever frighten her like that again… if you even look at her the wrong way…" her eyes narrowed menacingly "I won't hold back."
Fiske swallowed hard as Yoshika turned her back to him and returned to the side of her still distraught friend. Placing a comforting arm around Lynne's shoulder, Yoshika gently led her back towards their quarters.
"Whoa… that was scary!"
After his recent brush with death, Pilot William Fiske had lost his taste for sightseeing and womanizing. Instead, he wandered the base aimlessly thinking about how badly he had mishandled the whole situation earlier. Lost in thought, he didn't notice Vince Mallory until the younger man tapped him on the shoulder.
"Hey Bill. Ah been lookin' all over fer ya. The Louie wants ta talk ta ya." He gave his older friend a slightly worried look. "Ummm… he looks kinda pissed off. Wha'd ya do this time?"
"Wonderful." Fiske sighed. "So much for putting it behind us."
Mallory gave him a puzzled look. "Huh?"
"Nothing." He looked up, squaring his shoulders, ready to take whatever punishment was coming. "I may be in the soup again Vince. But it's my own damn fault." He clapped his buddy on the arm. "If I end up in the brig, come visit me ok?"
Fiske stood outside the door of Lieutenant Hughes' temporary office for a good five minutes, steeling himself for the inevitable. Finally he knocked. "Come." He heard from within. He opened the door to see Lieutenant Hughes sitting behind his desk doing paperwork. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
Hughes looked up from his work and gestured to the chair in front of his desk.
"Take a seat Bill." He said in a neutral voice.
"Sir, if this is about earlier today…"
"Shut up an' sit down Bill."
Hughes folded his hands on the desk and gave Fiske a serious look. "D'ya nae realize how lucky ya are lad? If they had reported yer actions t' their CO ya'd be sitting in the stockade right now. At the vurry least. Commander Wilcke is extremely protective a'her officers."
Fiske looked up in surprise. "They didn't report me?"
"Nae, they dinn'a." Hughes answered. "Miss Miyafuji is as good as her word. After yer pathetic little performance, they left the base on a day pass."
"Then, how did you know about…?"
"I was at the end of th' adjacent hallway. I saw th' entire embarrassin' episode." Hughes gave a heavy sigh. "Goddammit Bill, this isn't the first time yer skirt chasing has gotten ya in dutch. Ya do realize, don't ya, that li'l girl could'a mopped th' floor with ya if she chose to? Quite frankly, I was half hoping she would. Ya certainly need somethin' to knock some sense into that thick skull a yers."
Fiske was already ashamed of himself. This dressing down by his commanding officer and good friend only made him feel ten times worse.
"Look," Hughes continued. "ya're a decent fella Bill. An' I'm happy to have ya fightin' at m' side. But ya have to stop thinkin' with yer dick. It's unbecomin' and it's unprofessional." He paused for emphasis. "D' I make m'self clear?"
"This mission's supposed ta be a cake walk. But if somethin' unexpected happens… if we end up in a firefight… Christ above lad, how th' hell are those girls supposed to trust ya to watch their backs if they're too worried about ya watchin' their asses?"
"Yes sir. I know sir. I'll find a way to make it up to them. I promise." Fiske stated passionately.
"Hmmp." Hughes grunted. "Dinna make promises ya canna keep laddie."
"Sir, I felt bad about this as soon as it happened. I knew I screwed up royally. I really do want to make it up to them." Fiske said sincerely.
"See that ya do. Otherwise, I'll hold ya down meself and let th' wee lass make good on her threat." Hughes said seriously.
Fiske's face flared red in embarrassment. "You heard that too, huh?" He relaxed a bit as Hughes finally cracked a smile.
"Th' acoustics in these hallways are surprisin'ly good." He stated simply. "That's all. Yer dismissed."
After Fiske finally left the Lieutenant's office he heaved a great sigh of relief. Two bullets dodged today. He had already come to the realization that his luck couldn't hold out forever. And if his aunt ever caught wind of this he shuddered to think about what could happen.
"You know," he thought to himself seriously. "I really do need to change my ways. Otherwise I'm going to wind up friendless or dead... or both."
---- September 13, 1943
---- Capel-le-Ferne Airbase
---- Lieutenant Yeager's Quarters: 01:14 hours
Charlotte was half-asleep when she heard the outer door to her quarters squeak slightly and tiny bare feet padding towards her bedroom. She turned on her side to see the silhouette of Francesca outlined in her bedroom doorway.
"Shirley?" Francesca said quietly.
"Nervous about tomorrow?" Charlotte asked.
"... yeah, kinda." Francesca answered, hoping Charlotte wouldn't be angry with her for waking her up.
In the darkness Francesca couldn't see Charlotte's warm smile, but the warmth carried through in her voice and set the younger girl at ease. "C'mon then." She lifted the side of her blanket so Francesca could climb in with her.
Francesca dove into the bed and snuggled up to Charlotte with a sigh of contentment. "Thanks Shirley." she said happily and closed her eyes. Charlotte smiled tenderly as she stroked Francesca's hair. "Jeez, kiddo, we might as well move all your crap down here. You practically live here anyway."
"Mmmmmhmmm." Francesca murmured sleepily. Charlotte chuckled softly and settled in to sleep herself.
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---- September 13, 1943
---- Capel-le-Ferne Airbase
---- Enlisted Personnel Quarters: 02:20 hours
Yoshika was plodding back to bed. The cold stone floor under her bare feet made her shiver a bit. Living in an old castle wasn't nearly as awesome as she thought it would be. The whole place was chill and damp inside… even during the summer months. And the hallways went on forever.
"Gosh, you'd think they'd have built the bathrooms closer to the sleeping quarters wouldn't you?" she thought to herself.
As she turned the corner to head into her room, she saw a shaft of light from under the door adjacent to her own. "Lynn-chan's still up?" She tapped lightly on the door. "Lynne-chan. It's me. Are you awake?"
There was only silence and Yoshika was about to walk away when she heard Lynette's voice answer her softly. "Yes. I'm awake Yoshika-chan. Please, come in."
Yoshika opened the door to find Lynette sitting cross-legged on her bed, hugging the large brown Teddy Bear her brothers had sent to her for her birthday. "You couldn't sleep either?" Lynne asked.
"No," Yoshika answered. "I was sleeping fine. I just had to use the bathroom." She entered the room fully and shut the door behind her. "You can't get to sleep?" she asked, her concern clear in her voice. "What's wrong? Is everything OK?"
"Yes." Lynne answered quietly. "Everything's fine."
In spite of her words, it was obvious to Yoshika that she was not fine. Sitting down on the bed next to Lynne she took the older girls hand in her own. "Is it about what happened today?" Lynn nodded.
Yoshika sighed. "I'm sure Fiske-san didn't mean any harm. He seems like a decent enough person actually, even though I was kinda mean to him."
"I know." Lynne answered in a quiet, dejected voice. "I know it's me. I'm so stupid. I'm such a coward." She began to tear up. "I should have been able to..."
Yoshika cut her off. "Hey, hey... where's all this coming from?" She tucked Lynne under the chin and drew her gaze up to her own. "You're certainly not stupid Lynn-chan. And you are in no way a coward. How could you even think that?"
She felt Lynne grip her hand tighter. "I can't even deal with people like a grown-up. I shouldn't need you to come to my rescue over every little thing. Especially something silly like turning down an offer of a date. I know most men are decent people. I shouldn't be afraid of them, but I can only seem to act normally around my brothers and my f...f...father."
Yoshika noticed her slight stutter as she mentioned her father. She had noticed it in the past as well, whenever Lynne would talk about her family. It only served to make the suspicions Yoshika harbored even stronger. She hoped beyond hope that her suspicions were wrong.
But... it definitely wasn't the time to bring it up so she filed it in the back of her mind. For now.
"People are people Lynne-chan. Some people just aren't good in social situations. It doesn't make you stupid or a coward or anything like that." She took Lynne's head gently in her hands and brushed the tears away with her thumbs. "So don't think like that, ok?"
With a sniffle and a weak smile Lynne nodded a yes. "Good." Yoshika smiled back. "Would you like me to stay here with you tonight?" Lynne nodded yes once more.
"Ok then. Be right back." she hopped off the bed and scampered to her room to get her pillow.
Lynette's emotions were a jumble. She felt so sad and so happy at the same. "She may not love me the same way I love her, but I know she cares about me. She's my dearest friend. That's enough... right?"
~ ...to be continued ~