Proper Path to Glory

Amsterdam on Five Dollars a Day Part 1


---- September 17th , 1943
---- U.S.S. Manchester (location: North Sea)

The commander of the Liberian carrier U.S.S. Manchester had greeted the team on boarding. A greeting that was necessarily brief. Captain Lawrence was being polite and observing protocol but he honestly had a dozen things to do before the ship left port. After welcoming the troupe onboard, he excused himself and passed them off to his Executive Officer.

Manchester’s XO was an easygoing fellow by the name of Lieutenant Kellogg. He proved to be a gracious host and gave the team an extensive tour of the ships facilities – the locations of the mess hall and sickbay and finally brought them to their billets. Pulling out his clipboard, he addressed each squad member one-at-a-time.

“Captain Yeager you’re in the A-3 Officer’s Suite. That’s at the end of this corridor, make a left and its three doors up on the starboard.” Charlotte nodded an affirmative.

“Lieutenant Hughes you’re in the A-4 Officer’s Suite directly across the hall from Captain Yeager.” He gestured with his free hand.

“Corporal Fiske and Ensign Mallory you are in B-10, one deck below, aft port. Sargent Miyafuji, Sargent Bishop and Ensign Lucchini you are in C-3, two decks below, fore starboard.” He looked around at his audience. “Got all that?”

Lynne gave Yoshika a troubled look, to which Yoshika answered her unspoken question. “Two floors down, towards the front of the boat on the right.” she whispered to her companion.

“Ship not boat.” Lieutenant Kellogg whispered teasingly, loudly enough for all to hear. Yoshika blushed bright red in embarrassment and soon they were all laughing.

“Pretty easy really. It’s like a big 3-D grid.” He assured them. “You’ll get the hang of it quick enough.” He tucked his clipboard under his arm and clapped his hands together. “Listen, why don’t you guys stow your gear and meet me in the Officers Mess in, say, thirty minutes. We’ll go over the itinerary.”

After Lieutenant Kellogg left everyone picked up their gear and started heading towards their assigned cabins. Francisca was about to follow the other two girls when she heard Shirley calling her over. “Tell them to go on ahead. I want you to come to my cabin first. I want to check out a hunch.”

As Charlotte suspected, the Officer’s Suite was huge. Two bunks, a writing desk, an actual chair and was that a mini-fridge? She pulled a bottle of beer from the chest and sat down at the table happily. “I hadda feeling VIP would be like this. Plenty of room.” She looked at Francisca conspiratorially. “So whadda ya say you bunk here with me tonight and we give those two lovebirds some much needed privacy?”

Francisca’s fang gleamed as she grinned. “That’s a roger!”

----

They all met back at the Officer’s Mess for coffee and/or tea. The Lieutenant actually had hot chocolate, which he happily provided for Yoshika and Francesca. They sat down around a large common table, the XO handing Charlotte a thick packet of papers. “Here are your timetables and official documents. Everything should be in order. I checked it thoroughly.”

Charlotte accepted them gratefully. “Thanks for the help Lieutenant. It is much appreciated.”

“Not at all ma’am.” Kellogg answered happily. “My pleasure.”

He turned to the rest of the group. “We’ve stowed your Striker units and those suits of armor down in Hanger 2, aft deck. You are welcome and encouraged to go below and make sure everything is battened down properly. If you need any help, ask any of the deck hands down there.”

He drew an imaginary line on the table with his finger. “The trip generally takes from 12 to 14 hours, depending on the currents and the weather. That being said, we expect to be hitting some rough seas around midnight. There’s a cold front coming down from the Nordic regions and we’re going to catch the tail end of it. Nothing to worry about.” He assured the group. “Although, if you’re not used to that sort of thing, you may want to eat a light supper.”

Lynette already felt queasy. She wasn’t looking forward to tonight.

As it turned out, Manchester was a little early for the tail-end of the storm and ended up giving a slightly rougher ride than advertised. Along with the massive swells, there was lightning and torrential rain. The squad members handled the situation in various ways:

---- Charlotte’s cabin - 0130 hours

Lightning flashed and the ship rolled with the swelling sea.

“C’mon Shirley. One more hand.” Francisca pleaded, bouncing nervously on her crossed legs. “Pleeease?” She held the deck of Pinochle cards up towards Charlotte as a holy offering.

“No, I said. Let’s go to bed for chrissake.” Charlotte rubbed her forehead in irritation. She didn’t mean to be short with Francisca but she had some pressing matters taking up her attention. Matters that weren’t on the table when she planned this ‘sleepover’.

“What’s up with you anyway?” she asked the diminutive Romagnan. “It’s one thirty in the morning. Did you find where I hid those damned M&M’s or something?”

When she saw Francisca turn away with a guilty look she groaned inwardly.

"My own fault. I shouldn’t have hidden them. I should have flushed them down the head.”

---- Vince Mallory and Bill Fiske’s cabin - 0130 hours

A loud peal of thunder accompanied the sudden back-lurch of the ship and Vince cried out in agony.

“Aw, damn Bill. Please tell me I’m gonna die at least?” Vince groaned out. “Anything’s better than havin’ my damn stomach fixin’ ta crawl outta my throat.”

Bill gave him a sympathetic look. “Sorry kid. Wish I could help. Although,” he couldn’t help but add, “you should have gone a little easy on those desserts. The Exec did warn you.”

Vince turned over in his bunk. “Yeah, well, I couldn’t let Lucchini win could I?”

Bill rolled his eyes skyward. “It was a losing proposition ya dope. I would imagine that girl has the metabolism of a Tasmanian Devil.” He grinned. “Face it. You were finished before you started.”

When he failed to hear a comeback or retort, Bill knew his young friend was seriously not feeling well. Sighing, he got up and walked over to his rucksack. He pulled out his kit and took two pills from a brown prescription bottle. Moving to the sink, he drew a cup of water and went over to Vince’s bunk.

“Here.” He said, handing Vince the pills and motioning to him with the cup. “Take these.”

Vince accepted them with a puzzled look. “What’re these?”

“Dramamine.” Bill answered. “I copped a few from sickbay earlier. Y’know, just in case.”

Vince swallowed the pills. Bill tossed the cup in the trash, put away his kit and got into his bunk. After he was settled and ready to go to sleep he looked over his shoulder at the younger pilot. “Feeling any better?”

“A little bit, yeah.” Vince answered gratefully. “Thanks.”

Bill grunted his acknowledgment. The cabin was silent for a few minutes but the silence was broken when Vince spoke up again.

“Say, Bill…” Vince began, with a serious voice.

“Yeah?” Bill questioned sleepily.

“Well… you and the Lieutenant… you’re always looking out for me, keeping me from messing up, making sure I’ve got my shit together.” He sighed lightly. “I just… I just want you to know how much I appreciate it. It really, really means a lot to me, y’know?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Bill answered gruffly. “What are we supposed ta do?” With his back turned to Vince the young southerner couldn’t see the gratified smile on Bill’s face. “So go to sleep already, huh? And if you do puke, try to aim for the trash can.”

“Do m’ best.” Vince answered happily.

---- Lieutenant Hughes cabin - 0130 hours

“ZZZZZzzzzzzzzZZZZZZzzzzzzzz ‘hulmp’ zzz zzzz ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

---- Lynette and Yoshika’s cabin - 0130 hours

“I feel so ill.” Lynette moaned. Almost as soon as she said the words the cabin lit up with another lightning stroke and the driving of the rain intensified. The ship listed again in the choppy seas.

“Ulp.” She covered her mouth with her hands in an effort to keep from heaving. She looked at Yoshika with misery etched on her features. “You said it took you ten days to sail from Fuso to Britannia. How could you possibly stand it?”

Yoshika scooted closer to Lynette on the bunk they shared (she thanked Charlotte again in her mind for shuffling the sleeping arrangements) and took the distressed girl in her arms, stroking her hair gently, trying to comfort her.

“The waters don’t get this rough on the open seas. The North Sea is landlocked on three sides, so it can generate some very powerful storms.” The little Fuso scholar answered her seriously.

In spite of her discomfort Lynette couldn’t help but laugh. “Is there anything you don’t know?” Yoshika’s face flushed in embarrassment. “Umm… I mean… yeah! There’s… there’s lots of stuff I don’t know. I…I…I’m just really good at remembering things I read or hear.”

Her obvious discomfort of the subject made Lynette’s heart swell with a rush of pride and love.

“You’re always telling me how wonderful I am Yoshika, but you’re pretty darned wonderful yourself you know?” Yoshika’s face grew even redder hearing her love compliment her so. Lynette was about to embrace her girlfriend in a warm hug, but the ship chose that moment to make another incredible lurch.

“Oh god.” Lynette gasped miserably. She felt her girlfriend draw her closer and allowed her head to be guided down into Yoshika’s lap.

“I may be able to help you a bit, if you’ll allow me to.” Yoshika said softly. Lynette nodded.

“Now, I’ve never done this exactly, but I have done something very similar many times before.” Yoshika laid a hand on Lynne’s forehead and held her other hand. She caught Lynne’s gaze with a serious look. “If anything starts to feel weird or bad you let me know immediately okay?”

“Okay.” Lynette answered weakly.

Furrowing her brow in concentration, Yoshika invoked her magic. The ears and tail of her Mame-Shiba spirit familiar manifested and the cabin filled with a soft, bluish-white light. As she allowed herself to fall into a light semi-trance, she used her powers to look within the body of the girl resting in her lap. Satisfied that she had an accurate internal map, she gently began the process of altering Lynne’s body chemistry on the cellular level.

Tweaking endorphin production, regulating the fluid reaction to motion in the middle ear, and releasing peptides to calm her loves’ roiling stomach.

Lynette felt a soothing warmth spreading throughout her body. The violent feeling of illness suddenly disappeared. The bashful Britannian had been expecting a gradual lessening of her discomfort but instead there was an abrupt cessation.

“Oh my.” Lynne sighed. “It’s gone. It’s just gone. I can’t believe it.” She gazed up at the younger girl with gratitude. “Thank you so much Yoshika.”

The tiny brunette gave a relieved smile. “I’m really glad I could help.”

They remained together like that for some few minutes, cuddling together, savoring the warmth inside as a counterpoint to the raging storm outside. Then, suddenly, Lynne sat up, climbed out of bed and turned to face Yoshika with a mischievous look on her face.

“I believe,” The Britannian girl began in a sultry voice. “I was in the process of telling you just how wonderful you are my darling Yosh - ka - chan.” As she spoke, she slid the straps of her nightgown off of her arms and allowed it to flow down her body and pool at her feet.

Yoshika gaped open-mouthed as she took in the view of Lynne ’s now naked body standing before her.

“Lynette.” She whispered.

Lynne shook her honey-brown hair out of its signature braid and allowed it to cascade down her shoulders. She was a vision of beauty and Yoshika was unable to tear her gaze away. Wordlessly, the younger girl slid the sheer ‘teddy’ she was wearing up over her head and tossed it carelessly aside. She then scooted underneath the blanket and raised the side for Lynne to join her.

Their bodies intertwined and Yoshika whimpered in need as her small, firm breasts rubbed against Lynette’s larger, softer ones. The rocking of the ship enhanced the movement of their bodies against one another. Lynne’s knee came up between Yoshika’s legs and gently but firmly pressed into her core. Lynne caught Yoshika’s lips in her own as the little Fuso girl moaned her desire.

“I want to give all of myself to you Yoshika. Everything that I am.” Lynne breathed in a husky voice. “I want you to make me yours. I want to belong to only you.”

No further words were spoken or were necessary. With nothing left to hold them back the two young lovers pledged their bodies and souls to one another in the most deeply intimate and meaningful manner possible.

In the tiny cabin of a ship being thrown roughly about in storm-tossed seas, Lynette and Yoshika made love for the very first time. Their sex was passionate and fierce and gentle and tender and went on and on for quite some time.

After untold hours, both girls fell into an exhausted and deeply satisfied sleep.

☆ ☆ ☆

---- September 17st , 1943
---- RAF Watnall 0300 hours (area undisclosed)

“This outcome wasn’t entirely unexpected General Maloney.” One of the shadowed figures on the dais above him proclaimed. “You are singularly unsuited for Public Relations of any sort seeing as how you lack anything vaguely resembling tact or subtlety.”

Trevor Maloney bristled at the harsh criticism being leveled at him. “This was all part of the program. The seeds of doubt have to be planted somewhere.” He argued to the faceless men sitting above him. “Where better to do that than during their first PR engagement?”

“In Britannia?” A second unidentified voice asked incredulously. “In a community largely comprised of relocated Cardiff citizenry? In the backyard of one of the most decorated Witch units in Europa?”

The speakers voice fairly dripped with contempt. “Are you truly imbecilic enough to believe that you could have swayed public opinion in any fashion under those circumstances?”

“If those men had followed my orders and decisively beaten down the Witches in all four matches…” Maloney began to retort angrily.

“Then the outcome would have been even worse.” Concluded a third voice from the dais.

“As it is, you’ve attracted the attention of Briggs and Bader. If either of them can round up enough evidence of Silent Op activity around this program they will be able to convince the command staff at OOC to investigate further.”

“Briggs is a doddering old fool.” Maloney scoffed. “His support is weak. His time is past.”

“We’re not yet ready to mount a coupe against the Allied military command structure.” Voice Two added. “We’re close, but not quite there yet.”

“Look, all I’m saying…” Maloney began.

“Enough!” Voice One snarled. “This was initially your project General Maloney. Your Black Fund operation. You came seeking us. So we were inclined to allow you to take the lead in its implementation. However, now that plans proceed accordingly you have proven yourself inadequate to the task.”

The General became desperate. “Look, I can fix whatever’s wrong. Just let me get my team together…”

“Control of the M.A.G.U.S. Program has already been assigned to someone better suited to bring the program results into line with our own goals.”

Maloney’s face went pale. “You can’t mean that.”

“It’s already done.” The voice concluded.

“Thank you for your hard work General Maloney.” Voice Two intoned solemnly. “Your services are no longer required.”

“But… but you can’t!” Maloney stammered. “You can’t just do that.” He glared upward. “Who? Who’s taking over my project?”

“That is no longer your concern.” Voice One answered coldly. “You forget your place General Maloney. And our indulgence of your ego is at an end.”

“General Maloney.” Voice Three stated imperiously. “If you hope to have any voice or standing at all in the New Order, you would do well to shut your mouth and do as you’re told. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” Maloney slowly answered in defeat.

“Yes. I understand.”

---- September 17th , 1943 - 0400 hours
---- U.S.S. Manchester (location: North Sea)

The alarm on Charlotte’s watch woke her up at 4am sharp. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and checked to make sure Francisca was still sleeping soundly. Grabbing a small satchel she had placed next to her bed earlier she quickly and silently slipped out of her cabin and made her way towards the starboard aft deck.

She had a date to keep.

Turning up the collar on her flight jacket Charlotte made her way topside. It wasn’t quite pitch black out, taking into consideration the dim illumination from the deck lighting and the ships running lights. The air was crisp and cold but at least the storm had abated. Shards of wet ice adhered to the metal railings.

Catching her bearings she headed aft wards. Soon she spotted the waiting figure standing below one of the gun turrets. She made a low whistle.

“Yo, Bill. Over here.” Charlotte called out in a shouted whisper. Bill stepped out of the shadows to meet her. “You been waiting long?” she asked.

“Nah.” Bill answered her. “My teeth aren’t even chattering yet.” He closed his coat tighter. “Did you bring your stuff?”

In answer, Charlotte thumbed the thick leather strap draped over her shoulder. “Now, before we start this, I want you to answer me honestly… Did you clear this with Lieutenant Hughes?”

“Well… yes…” Bill answered uneasily. “Kind of. Obliquely. Might have mentioned something in passing.” Charlotte gave him a wry look. “I just didn’t want to involve him if I’m wrong. And I defiantly don’t want to involve him if I’m right”

“Okay.” Charlotte nodded. “I get it. But right about what?” Bill gave her a helpless look. “Right.” she sighed. “I guess we’ll know when we find it.”

The enormity of what they were about to do suddenly hit Bill square on. He was about to disobey standing orders by allowing someone from outside the project to get a good look at the M.A.G.U.S.s’ inner workings. Forget what would happen to him… this could potentially result in a court-martial offense for Charlotte if they were caught.

“Captain Yeager I’m beginning to have second thoughts about this.” He said seriously “I shouldn’t have asked you to get involved. It’s our problem after all.” He took a deep breath. “We should have plenty of time to suss things out once we’ve reached Karlsland.”

Charlotte stopped and gave him a questioning look. The pilot gave an exasperated sigh. “I don’t want you to screw up your career because you listened to one of my stupid hunches.”

She gave him a wicked grin. “Not a chance in hell Corporal. I’ve been dying to dismantle one of those puppies since the day you guys showed up at Capel-le-Ferne.”

She started walking towards the opening to the aft flight deck gangway, motioning for Bill to follow.

“Besides, I’m your CO. At least for the next two and a half weeks.” She gave him a sly wink. “I gotta watch out for my people, right?”

(**)

A gated chain link fence blocked entrance to Hanger 2 from the aft gangway. Bill was running through ways to defeat the locks in his head. But Charlotte strolled unconcerned to the side gate and it swung open at her touch.

“Magic?” Bill asked his partner in crime.

“Nope.” Charlotte answered, turning to smile at him. “I guess I kinda broke the lock when I was down here earlier checking on my Striker.” She bowed and motioned him inside. “Whoops.”

The Hanger was empty and there were no guards posted. Both Bill and Charlotte relaxed noticeably. Really, why would there be? The MAGUS were no longer classified. They were just another aircraft being hauled along.

Bill kept lookout as Charlotte opened the electrostatic seal to his MAGUS and climbed up inside. She draped her left leg and arm in the flight harness and laid out her tool kit.

Reaching back into the bag once more she pulled out a portable spectrometer and a little metallic gadget of her own invention - which was essentially a home made hand-held electron microscope. Topping off her stealth-engineering ensemble was a tiny sketch pad and mechanical pencil so she could diagram the thing and study it at her leisure.

She went at it non-stop for over forty-five minutes. Bill could hear her mumbling and sometimes cursing all the while. He almost jumped out of his skin when the spectrometer gave a loud squeal, shattering the silence of the Hanger deck. He heard Charlotte give him a muffled “Sorry.”

Amazingly, no one seemed to hear it. No one approached. “Almost done.” Charlotte told him. The blackness of the sky was just beginning to turn grey with the approaching dawn.

“I hope so.” Bill answered back. “We’re gonna get caught in the middle of the flight crews’ morning calisthenics if we don’t beat feet real soon.”

Charlotte finally emerged from the armor, covered in sweat, oil and lubricant. “Grab these for me, will’ya?” She asked Bill as she handed the tool kit and the spectrometer down for him to collect. She hopped out of the unit, closed the seal and quickly put her jacket back on.

“Well?” he pressed. “What did you find out?”

“Later Bill, later.” The redhead answered as she packed up her tools. “We need to get topside pronto or else we are going to have to answer some questions we really don’t want to answer right now.”

----

It was exactly 0530 hours when they reached the quarter-decks. A handful of bleary crewmen were milling about, getting an early star on morning muster. Charlotte and Bill parted company there and went back to their respective cabins.

Bill was relatively safe regardless. Even if Vincent had noticed him gone he wasn’t likely to question Bill as to his whereabouts. Francisca, on the other hand, would never stop grilling Charlotte if she noticed the buxom bombshell had left their cabin for an extended period of time.

Luckily for Charlotte, when she slipped back into their room Francisca was still sprawled out on her back snoring up a storm. She shimmied out of her clothes and slid into bed. She would wait for morning reveille and pretend to wake up normally with the rest of them.

While she was lying in bed waiting for 0600 to come along her thoughts were racing a mile a minute -piecing together all that she had seen in the past hour.

She allowed her mind and perceptions to slide into overdrive… … …

Bill Fiske had every right to feel uneasy Charlotte reflected. General Maloney and the R&D boffins had withheld vital information about the aircraft from the pilots. They had effectively strapped these unwitting soldiers into a potential time bomb that may go off at any time or may not ever go off at all.

She hadn’t told Bill the real reason she had taken a personal interest in helping him answer some nagging questions he had about the machine he was flying. It wasn’t just because she was curious about the tech nor because the MAGUS pilots were ‘her people’. No, it was because of a piece of paper she found on the Mildenhall fair grounds yesterday evening as they were packing up to return to the base.

For some reason the windblown notepaper caught her eye. Picking it up she soon found herself reading a final draft of the speech Maloney had given on-stage before the Combat Demo. He had obviously dropped it in his haste to chastise his ‘uncooperative’ pilots.

She had been about to toss it aside in disinterest when she had noticed a hand-written notation, crudely scrawled along the bottom of the page. What was written there both surprised and troubled her.

MAGUS core fragment salvage prioritized above all other considerations. Pilots are expendable. Acceptable collateral damage. Changes in core fragment wavelength forward to WARLOCK program.

“Pilots are ‘expendable’, huh?”Charlotte scoffed. It had to be a euphemism. He couldn’t possibly literally mean expendable as in dead… could he? But ‘acceptable collateral damage’?

“If he really meant it that way, why in god’s name would he actually write it down? Is he an idiot? Some pulp fiction villain?” She folded the paper and slid it into her pocket.

Considering the kind of man she thought the General to be, she couldn’t dismiss any possibility. Protocol required her to talk to Lieutenant Hughes first but she decided to approach Bill Fiske instead. She felt they had built up a rapport over the past few days and she knew that something had been eating at him during their last couple nights of bar chats. ‘Did you ever pilot a plane that you just didn’t trust mechanically?’ he had asked her. ′Like, the entire time you’re in flight you’re expecting something to go wrong?′

She had intended to talk to him about it after they got settled aboard the Manchester but he beat her to it, resulting in their just-completed clandestine mission to the hanger deck.

Bill hadn’t openly stated his misgivings about the MAGUS but Charlotte could make an educated guess – probably the same misgivings she herself would have – what guarantee did they have that the core fragment wouldn’t ‘wake-up’ somehow. That would be catastrophic… especially if it happened while the pilot was inside.

That was the biggest thing of immediate concern to Charlotte. The core fragment cage - as well as the control matrix it was mounted on. Apparently, the control matrix was used to manipulate the inert fragment using different hypersonic waveforms. Grey matter regeneration, power distribution, communications array… she needed to know how that worked.

If the guys were stuck with the MAGUS, she intended to make certain the MAGUS power source was foolproof. If it wasn’t then she would make it foolproof.

What had Maloney said in his speech? They were ready to begin mass production? Really? The prototypes hadn’t even tasted live enemy fire yet. And what was the rush? And why tell a crowd of people you were trying to rally to your cause that the people who had been protecting them so far were unreliable?

So many unrelated questions emanating from the same source.

She needed to find a secluded work space as soon as they got to Soesterberg. Luckily, she knew the Chief Warrant Officer there, so finding an empty workbench shouldn’t be a problem.

She needed to speak to someone familiar with R&D protocols and maybe some level of access. Someone she could trust… someone within a day’s travel… someone… “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Hartmann’s geeky little sister, with the lab coat and the explosives fetish.

Charlotte found herself a little bit frightened of the responsibility she had just taken on. Her instincts told her that there was more to all of this than appeared on the surface. The guys would only be safe if the lid were blown off this mess while they were still with ‘on-tour’ the Propaganda Squad.

“Pilots are expendable”

If she couldn’t figure this all out before they left their last stop in Riga then Bill, Vince and the Lieutenant would report to their permanent posting in Karlsland. She honestly didn’t know what would happen to them afterwards.

“Acceptable collateral damage.”

She only knew that they could potentially be in danger, not from the enemy, but from their own superiors.

-- to be continued...

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