Firsts: Meeting
by CC and Lara
April 2005

Yukikaze belongs to Chohei Kambayashi, Studio Gonzo, and Bandai Entertainment. No copyright infringement is intended. We are not making any profit, we're just playing.

A big thank you goes to Manon for taking the time to beta this story.




Rei stood before the day's schedule chart, hands in his jacket's pockets, not caring at all about the looks the other pilots were giving him. Curiosity, disdain, plain hostility... He had gotten plenty of those since he had been assigned to his first post in the FAF. Rei shrugged. Surely he would get the same treatment now that he had been transferred to the SAF. He couldn't care less. It wasn't as if he liked being in this base in the first place.

When offered this opportunity to avoid prison, he had taken it. Anything was preferable to be locked in a cell, even being stuck on this strange planet where the sky was green and the two suns added to the eeriness of the place. Fairy. What a ridiculous name for a place of war! Rei wondered who had come up with it and shrugged once again. It did not matter. He had no choice but to bear with his current situation. It was just another kind of jail.

If we had not been betrayed by the old man... If I had not trusted him...

Rei fiercely shoved these thoughts away. He should have known that the old man didn't really care about the gang... or about him. He should have realized that all the old man had done was use him, the same way that the FAF was using him now. He was just a tool that would again be discarded when he was no longer of use.

I wonder if that is what happened with my brother and I, if father had no use for either of us anymore...

Rei closed his eyes and shook his head lightly. There was no use in thinking about the past. He was alone... had been alone for a long time.

If only he were free and not under the command of perfect idiots who thought of him as cannon fodder. Rei was certain that the commanding officers despised most of their men because of their criminal past. They expected them to obey orders without thought, and to be mere weapons in the war against JAM. Rei was not going to allow them to treat him like this. He was not going to die for people who did not care about what happened to him. They could go on transferring him from one squad to another. They could threaten him with jail as they had done this last time. Rei knew that they were not going to send him back to Earth for now. They needed him to fly those new planes.

Rei had overheard a conversation between his former commander and one of the engineers. They were going to develop new AI planes and they wanted the best pilots for them. Rei was aware that his flying abilities might be the only reason why the FAF had not sent him back to Earth already. He had not been the only pilot transferred to the SAF-5, but Rei was certain that his transfer was not only due to his refusal to obey orders.

Flying was the only thing that made Rei's stay in Fairy bearable. Only when he was alone in the sky could Rei pretend that he still had some control of his own life. Only then would Rei feel free. The illusion would shatter as soon as he returned to base, though. Once back on the ground Rei would remember that he had nothing left, and that the only thing he lived for were those brief moments alone in the sky.

It did not matter that his commanding officer threatened to ground him just because he questioned silly commands, or that he was constantly being reminded of how costly his training had been. It didn't matter if they thought that it had been a waste for the FAF to invest money in someone like him. The truth was that they had no choice but to rely on him.

Voices suddenly filled the corridor and shook Rei out of his musings. He did not turn around, neither did he pay mind to the sounds his stomach was making. Rei did not particularly enjoy having lunch with the other pilots so he avoided going to the base cafeteria wherever possible. No luck today he realized, as he looked at the chart again and finished reading his orders. He had to report to Major James Bukhar, the commander of the SAF-5, at 1500 hours.

He must be another arrogant bastard who thinks we are all trash...

Eventually the sounds of steps and voices died, and when Rei looked around he found himself alone in the corridor. It would be better not to tempt luck and risk his former commander passing by. They had not parted in good terms. Surely the old guy had already sent a file with his record to Major Bukhar. Rei sighed when his stomach grumbled once again. He turned around and slowly headed to the cafeteria.

When he arrived there the place was crowded. Rei frowned. He did not like to share a table with the other pilots. They asked annoying questions and seemed to expect him to be interested in talking to them. Rei did not really have anything to tell anyone. They all had people waiting for them on Earth, and a life they were planning to return to once the war ended. Rei had none.

He picked up a tray and stood in the long queue, waiting for his turn. One or two pilots passed by with their trays and said hello. Rei grunted a greeting and turned his attention back to his empty tray. The queue started moving and Rei placed his tray on the counter. He looked at the food, his stomach grumbling even more.

Peas... I don't like peas, but I like pasta even less...

There was no rice left. Rei sighed inwardly as he slid his tray from one food spot to the other. Rice would have made the peas edible... He shrugged and moved along, placing the dish with peas in his tray. Still he could not see any free table. He was about to pick his tray up and look for one when he spotted fresh sliced peaches. Rei did not particularly care for them but anything would be better than the tasteless food he had in his dish. He slid the tray to the fruits spot and served himself a generous portion, spreading the slices all over his plate.

"Isn't that absolutely disgusting?" a voice said behind him.

Rommel.

Rei turned around and grabbed the other pilot by the collar, slamming him against the rail. Rommel's eyes widened. He grabbed Rei's forearms, but was unable to take them off his shirt.

"Who is disgusting?" Rei demanded. The few pilots remaining in the queue sided with Rommel, as always. Rei did not care. He was not going to be insulted!

"You really don't care about flying again, Fukai, do you?" Rommel managed to say. "I will write a report about this and..."

"I don't care about your reports!" Rei snapped, tightening his hold on Rommel's shirt and slamming the other man against the railing once more. He was about to loosen his hold and stamp his fist on the smirking face when two strong hands grabbed him by the shoulders.

"Fukai! Stop! You too, Rommel, or I will make sure neither of you disturb my lunch again."

It was Osaka. Rei stopped. Osaka was one of the first pilots who had come with the FAF to Fairy. He had been injured during the first raids against JAM and had lost half the vision of one eye. Osaka did not fly anymore but now he worked training pilots. Rei would have moved away, but the pressure on his shoulders was proof enough of the older man's strength. Rei let go of Rommel, who picked up his tray from the counter and did not even make a sound while he picked his cutlery. Rei did the same and under Osaka's warning stare he and Rommel headed for different tables.

Damned Osaka! If Rei had not tested the older man's fists before he would not have heeded his warnings. Even Rommel had felt the weight of Osaka's hand when he had refused to partner with Rei for a test flight. Osaka was a calm man who never raised his voice, but he did not hesitate to use his fists when he needed to put order among his trainees.

The murmurs in the cafeteria were slowly dying, but as Rei walked among the tables looking for a seat the silence that met him was as bad. The feeling of loneliness and isolation that had taken hold of him after his father and brother had died threatened to come back, but he forced the uneasiness away.

He met one or two pilots' eyes, and held their gazes in defiance. Most of them were just like him, men sent from Earth due to a criminal past. Others just wanted to get money, and finally there were those who just liked the military life, like Osaka. And those never talked to Rei....

Rei did not care. He would not trust any of them either. To trust someone was to show weakness and to expect loyalty was futile. Rei was not going to ever let anyone come close again.

He finally found a seat at a table occupied only by two female pilots. They looked at him, nervous smiles on their faces, but did not seem to object when he placed his tray on the table. Rei murmured a greeting and then sat down, ignoring their mild attempts at conversation. He was relieved when they left. It was easy to know what to do with annoying men, but with women...

Rei started to eat, not caring anymore about how the food tasted. He did not want to be in this place but his life was not his own anymore. He belonged to the FAF the same as if he were a property. Even if he fought against them every day of his life. He was not allowed to leave. He would have to stay in Fairy until the war ended.



That's not an expression you should wear while eating, Jack thought as he glanced at the man sitting at one table as he passed it. The frown and the narrowed eyes were enough to keep anyone else from claiming one of the table's remaining seats, even though the canteen was crowded. And the way he was eating - all attention focused on the food, far more than the canteen concoctions deserved - was more than a little irritating. For once Jack was glad that he now had an office to retreat to. He didn't feel like eating in the canteen right now, and so he left with one last look at the man, inwardly shivering when he saw the mixture on the plate.

Peas and peaches mixed together. As if the food here didn't taste strange enough already. Walking through the crowded hallway, Jack idly wondered whether it made the food taste better or worse. It probably would be hard to tell.

He couldn't recall seeing that man before, and he was certain that he would have remembered someone like that. Jack had a fairly good memory for faces, and this man was behaving strangely enough to stick out in a crowd. If he had been here before, he would have been hard not to notice. Well, with some luck he was only passing through; maybe someone who had some kind of work to do here at the base and who would leave afterwards. Jack didn't want to have to watch that kind of display while he was eating in the future.

His attempt at lunch was interrupted, as it always seemed to happen. A fight among some pilots, this time, and since Jack was squadron commander of two of the culprits, it meant that he spent thirty minutes in the hangar trying to sort out the situation while his coffee turned lukewarm and his food morphed into a rather solid mass. At least the orange was stillsalvageable when he returned to his office. And he had a few leftover crackers from yesterday's dinner, which had met a similar fate as today's lunch. The ones who had told him that ground work was easier and more relaxing than flying had never mentioned the dangers of starving while on duty. Jack was learning, and kept emergency rations in his desk by now.

At least the fight hadn't been serious enough to warrant any official steps, Jack thought, quite grateful about that. He wanted to be able to trust his pilots to behave themselves reasonably, so that in turn they could trust him not to cause problems where it was not necessary. It had worked well while all the pilots in the squadron had come from a military background - whoever made it into SAF usually had elite training and tended to know which behaviour was acceptable and which was not.

But some of the other squadrons had lately received replacement pilots who came from a different environment altogether. Criminals, past deserters, men who had not been considered suitable in the past. But the FAF was losing too many pilots to still be able to choose, and so those who only one or two years ago would never have seen the inside of a base were now used to replace losses. And those men tended to get into trouble more easily, both on the ground and in the air. So far Jack had been lucky; Boomerang Squadron had not lost a single pilot since the squadron had been formed, and so there had never been a need for replacements. Even the ground staff had a very low turnover rate compared to that of other squadrons - after working together for quite a long time, those who were not comfortable with the environment had found ways to leave. And those who were comfortable found ways to stay even when they should have been transferred elsewhere. It was something Jack encouraged, since it meant that he had a squadron who routinely worked together as a team and who were not prone to some of the trouble other squadrons faced.

Of course replacements could not be avoided completely. Mechanics and technicians left when equipment they specialized on was replaced, and only a week ago Janson, one of the pilots, had submitted his request to be transferred to a ground position. When the debriefing after the last JAM encounter had been over, he had quietly told Jack that he could no longer face the fighting, that he had feared each new mission assignment for the last months. Feared having to watch others die. Feared to die. Jack had listened, recognizing the signs of burn-out only too easily, and had afterwards seen to it that Janson stayed with Boomerang as part of the ground staff. Experience was valuable, and he knew the squadron, so nobody from command had objected.

The new pilot would come for a first meeting this afternoon, something Jack had mixed feelings about. On the one hand he was glad that someone new who was good enough had been found so quickly. On the other hand it meant a new member in the squadron, someone who had not ended up on Fairy voluntarily. Jack had received the new pilot's file this morning and had almost called Cooley to ask to give him a different one. But he knew that he was not going to get anyone else, so he tried to get used to the thought that Boomerang Squadron probably had their new troublemaker.

Rei Fukai. A convicted criminal, transferred to Fairy to serve in the FAF instead of going to jail. Jack did not think of himself as easily prejudiced, but he had heard too many accounts of troublesome pilots with that kind of background to be entirely comfortable with this. And Fukai's truly impressive record of insubordination and disobedience was not helping either.

But he was going to have to make do with the new one, and expecting Fukai to automatically cause problems would only lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Jack kept telling himself that as he went through the file, occasionally making notes of the names of Fukai's former superior officers. He did not know all of them, but the ones he recognized were men who had bad reputations among the pilots. Men who considered strict obedience as most important, who discouraged any attempts at individual thinking. Jack did not question the need for pilots to obey orders in general, but he knew that sometimes their objections to a command were valid and needed to be considered.

So maybe the insubordination could be explained... Jack sincerely hoped that it was the case. He would have to ask Fukai about it, and get more information from the archives. The FAF hadn't escaped the evil that was bureaucracy; there were bound to be detailed reports on each case of disobedience somewhere in the countless file cabinets. And probably also more detailed information about Fukai's background. All the main file contained was basic data and a copy of his crime record. Jack studied that for a moment, then laid it aside.

Rei Fukai... the name clearly was Asian. Jack looked at the information in the main file and found that his new pilot was Japanese. Or had at least been convicted there.

Suddenly he remembered the man in the canteen. That one had looked Asian...

Oh no. Please, no. Not him.

Jack closed his eyes. If that man was his new pilot, then the first impression he'd gotten was a disastrous one. But surely someone who had just transferred to the SAF wouldn't be here yet...

Or maybe he would be, considering that he was to meet his new commander soon after lunch.

Jack attempted to force the irritation away. So what if his new pilot glared at his food and mixed things that had no business being on a plate together? He would not be the first member of the SAF to show certain eccentricities. And as long as he only glared at food, it would not affect his performance when it came to flying. Who knew, maybe eating like that helped him to focus. Those peas had certainly received his full attention. And from the information included in the file, Fukai knew how to concentrate. His flight record was impressive, and enough reason to excuse certain... oddities. Jack hoped he could convince himself of this before their meeting.

He would wait and see, he decided. First he would meet Fukai, and then he would get any other references on him the archives could provide.

And until he had all this information, he would simply have to trust his instincts.



Rei swiftly finished his lunch, unwilling to stay in the cafeteria for longer than necessary. He was getting strange looks from the other pilots and even though this was not something new, it was starting to make him uncomfortable. It always did. Even if he tried to ignore them, their veiled looks and murmurs made him feel out of place.

It was not as if there was a place where Rei belonged, but still...

If only his father had not killed...

Don't. Go. There.

He closed his eyes, forcing the images away. What happened back then was past and it should not hurt him anymore. So was his involvement with the gang. He had been fool enough to trust the old man, and he was paying for this mistake. He had no choice but cope with the consequences and once the war was over... Once the war was over he would go back to Earth even if no one was waiting there for him...

Rei sighed and opened his eyes. He'd better leave now. Rommel and his comrades were still in the cafeteria, probably planning how to get back at him. There was no need to give them ammunition by showing weakness. Rei was not afraid of them, but it would not be good for his record to be involved in two fights on his first day in the SAF. Even though he had no illusions about this job being better than the previous one...

He stood and put his jacket on as he looked around for Osaka. The man was gone, surely to report the incident to Major Bukhar. It could not be helped, and it would make no difference in his new commander's opinion about him. All his commanding officers had treated him like trash. There was no reason for Major Bukhar to behave differently.

Rei shook his head and buried his hands in his trouser's pockets as he slowly walked out of the cafeteria. He still had time to go to his quarters and refresh himself. Rei did not care much about uniforms and such formalities, but he liked to be comfortable and clean.

The corridors were deserted. Few pilots slept at the base, and those who did were usually engaged in some mission. Rei had been granted permission to stay at the base until he found a new place in the underground city. He had lost his last lodging after a fight with one of the building tenants.

Rei shrugged. He would have stayed in the base if allowed but no one seemed to care about his wishes. He was nothing but an expendable pilot, and his rank only served to make him able to pilot one of those new AI planes. He would never have been considered fit for the SAF if he were not good at flying.

That was maybe his only pride, and the only thing that made his stay in Fairy bearable. It was also what made him valuable to the FAF. His flying abilities had been the only reason why his previous commanders had not sent him back to Earth. In a way, they had no choice either. They had to rely on him.

Rei reached his quarters without further encounters and soon he was out again and heading to Major Bukhar's office. Once there, he knocked at the door and waited. A deep voice came from inside, saying that he could come in. Rei opened the door and stepped into the office. At first sight, his new commander did not look like a jerk but appearances tended to be deceiving.

Major Bukhar gestured for him to come closer. Rei did that, and stood a few paces away from the desk, waiting for the man to put the file he was reading away and look at him again.

"Second Lieutenant Fukai Rei reporting, sir," he said when Major Bukhar turned his attention back to him. Rei's previous commanders had objected to him saying his name in the Japanese way. Rei wondered if James Bukhar would do the same.

He was surprised when his new commander just nodded.

"Stand at ease, Lieutenant," Major Bukhar said.

Rei did as he was told, waiting for the moment when his new commander would show his true face. So far James Bukhar seemed to be different from the others, but Rei knew better than to let himself be fooled by appearances.

"Please take a seat, Lieutenant," Major Bukhar said affably.

Rei blinked in surprise. He was even more wary now. Why was Major Bukhar being so nice?

"Thank you, sir."

"Welcome to Boomerang Squadron, Lieutenant Fukai. I have read your file. Do you have any questions about the reason why you were transferred to the SAF?"

Rei considered this for a moment. He was certain that he had been transferred to the SAF because of his flight skills, and that at the same time his last commander would have transferred him anywhere without a second thought.

"I think it is because of the AI planes," he said.

Major Bukhar nodded, and Rei could see that the man was surprised that he knew about the planes. Not all pilots knew, and certainly Rei had not been told about them. He had overheard his previous commander talking about it with one of the engineers.

"That is correct," Major Bukhar said. "Your skills are high enough to pilot an AI plane. In fact I have been wondering why Major Flint let you go."

"I guess it was as good a reason as any other to get rid of me," Rei blurted out, and froze as soon as the words had left his mouth. It was true that Flint was a bastard who would rather have sent him back to jail than assign him to another post, but there was no reason for Rei to speak about these things with his new commander.

Major Bukhar looked a bit surprised at his words, making Rei wonder if the man had not read his file. Surely his new commander already knew the many times Rei had been grounded because he dared to have an opinion or resisted being treated like trash. His previous commanders might have been right once or twice, but either way, Rei was not happy to be in Fairy and he was not going to make it easy for these people to use him.

"Major Flint must have had his reasons," Major Bukhar said, "but whatever they were, you are in Boomerang Squadron now, and I hope that neither of us will regret it."

Rei nodded, his surge of rebelliousness dying away at his new commander's words. He had to admit that James Bukhar was not being a jerk like he had expected. Not even now when he had to be predictably annoyed because of Rei disrespect of one of his superior officers.

To his surprise, Major Bukhar only sighed. "Lieutenant, what do you expect will happen now?"

Rei blinked. What kind of question was that, coming from your new commander? He expected Major Bukhar to give orders and he would obey if he agreed with them. He might even obey even if he did not agree if the orders were given in the same tone his new commander was using now...

"I expect to fly the AI plane," he said bluntly, not knowing what else he could say.

Mayor Bukhar smiled a little. "Flying an AI plane is why you have been transferred here. So if that is all, then your expectations are easy to meet."

Rei nodded. There was much more that he could have said. He could have demanded to be treated like a human being and not like trash. He could have made it clear that he would rather be back on Earth than fighting a war for people who could not care less about what happened to him. He could have told James Bukhar that the only thing that made his stay in Fairy bearable was the moments when he was flying free in the sky...

He said nothing, though. Whatever he did, the final decision was not in his hands. All he could do was try to stay alive and keep his thoughts to himself. If James Bukhar knew how much he loved flying, he might use it against him.

Or maybe not. Major Bukhar seemed to be different...

Don't be a fool.

An awkward silence followed. Major Bukhar seemed to be waiting for something, but eventually he spoke again.

"I have read your file, Lieutenant. Is there anything you want to say about that?"

He has read my file and he still treats me so nicely?

"No, sir," Rei heard himself say.

There was something about Major Bukhar that made Rei think that his new commander would understand if he explained, but still he stayed silent. He had trusted people before, his father, the old man... and they had discarded him once they had no use for him. Major Bukhar would probably do the same. He would be nice and once Rei let his guard down, he would show his true face. Everyone did...

"Well, in that case there is nothing else, Lieutenant," Major Bukhar said. "Again welcome to Boomerang Squadron."

"Thank you, sir."

"You can leave now."

Rei nodded and stood, and for the first time since he had been forced to join the FAF, he saluted a superior officer of his own will before leaving the office.

As he walked back to his quarters Rei wondered why he had done it, and why he was feeling compelled to trust in James Bukhar. Was he willing to risk it once again? Was he such a fool to think that he could trust someone who had power over him? Rei buried his hands in his pockets and firmly shook his head.

He could not. He should not allow himself to be deceived by a few nice words. Surely Major Bukhar was just trying to make him feel comfortable enough for him to lower his guard. Yes, that was it, and Rei was not going to fall for it.

Still, as he reached his quarters, Rei could not help but admit that Major Bukhar seemed to be different from his previous commanders. The man had actually treated him well and even asked what he expected from his post at the SAF. As he opened the door to his room, Rei wondered if it would be alright to risk trusting someone once again.

Don't be a fool...

Rei sighed and slowly sat on his bed. If only this time things were different, it would be nice for a change.



Jack waited a few seconds after Fukai had left, then buried his face in his hands. Hopefully he wasn't going to need a new pilot again anytime soon. Now that he knew what it was like, he doubted that he was ever going to manage to get through that kind of talk again. Talking to a wall would have been easier. Walls did not look at him like that.

At least Fukai had not been difficult in the way Jack had expected him to be. He had thought that he'd have to deal with open disagreements, with anger. Something that was backed by the reports of insubordination and disobedience. But Fukai had not argued, and while his anger had been impossible to ignore, it hadn't been directed at Jack. So Fukai had either felt it necessary to try and make a good impression, or he hadn't seen a reason to behave in the way that had obviously driven his former superiors up the walls. Although if this had been his best behavior, Jack had no doubt that what counted for normal for Fukai was still infuriating for many others.

Sullen. That word seemed to fit Fukai rather well. Sullen and wary. Not really surprising with that kind of background, and it was nothing Jack could blame him for. There were no laws against not talking much, after all, and if Fukai wanted to look like he had never heard of a smile before, then that was his problem.

Not his alone, Jack amended. Fukai was in his squadron, and this kind of behavior was going to cause trouble. Not with the pilots' performance in the air - Jack knew that they were professionals enough not to care about manners during that time - but in all the little situations that required interaction. His pilots had been in Boomerang Squadron ever since it had been called into existence, and it would take a lot of effort from a newcomer to be accepted as more than someone who now happened to fly with them. An effort he could not quite see Fukai make.

Taking a deep breath, Jack put his hands down again and considered his next steps. He would have to ensure that Fukai's first meeting with the rest of the pilots went well. Perhaps it would be best to introduce him only to two or three of them first and let them handle the rest. They weren't children, after all, even though the few years' difference in age sometimes made him feel different.

So, introductions first, and if those worked out without an argument or even a fight, then hopefully everything else would fall into place. Fukai had said that he expected to fly one of the new AI planes, and Jack thought that he had heard a hint of eagerness in his voice at that point. If that was the case, then it should be easy to keep his new pilot content. All he needed to do was keep him in the air and Fukai would probably be happy. Or less sullen, at least.

Jack thought back to their talk, trying to find other points he would have to remember about Fukai. The man obviously was not used to being asked for his opinion, or he would not have been startled at the question about his expectations. If the commanders of the regular FAF squadrons did not bother to ask such questions, then Jack could understand where the insubordination charges came from. Nobody liked being ignored completely, and when someone had as little trust in his superiors as Fukai, then it was not surprising that orders would be questioned and even challenged.

And it also led to a lack of respect for superiors. After all, who wanted to follow the orders of someone who could not be trusted? Jack occasionally disagreed with General Cooley, but he knew that she thought about what she demanded and did not risk pilots needlessly, so he followed her orders. He would have to work on gaining enough of Fukai's trust so this would be true for their working relationship as well.

With some surprise Jack realized that he had not once considered refusing to accept Fukai into the squadron. It would have been possible for him to do so and he had thought about it before, but after this meeting it had not crossed his mind again. Fukai was easily going to be the most eccentric pilot in the squadron, and compared to some of the others that was quite an achievement. But Fukai had seemed willing to give him a chance, and so Jack wanted to do the same in return.

Besides, squadron meetings were going to be much more interesting in the future.

He wondered how Fukai would react once he saw that Jack valued his pilots' opinion and included them in the planning of missions. It was a logical thing to do when the pilots were trained in more than just flying, like most SAF ones were. They were supposed to be able to act on their own and to assume command of others if the situation warranted it. Partly that was the reason why SAF pilots had a higher success rate and fewer losses. They knew what awaited them and what was expected of them, and they were able to assess situations and quickly react to changes without having to wait for base command to reevaluate mission parameters. But obviously there were commanders outside the SAF who did not think that this was a necessary ability for their pilots. To them, pilots apparently were no more than necessary parts to keep the planes in the air.

Well, if that had been the case for Fukai as well, then he'd have to get used to a rather different situation now. Jack needed him to obey orders under most circumstances, and he also needed him to know when it was acceptable to challenge them. If Fukai could learn that, then he would fit into the squadron. Otherwise he would have to be replaced, no matter how impressive his flight results were.

Perhaps he should point that out to Fukai? He obviously had not known why his previous squadron commander had thrown him out. So maybe knowing the criteria this time would make him try harder to stay with Boomerang Squadron.

Jack wondered when he had turned into such an optimist. It was far more likely that Fukai would simply continue to be as difficult as he had been before, and that sooner or later he would do something that made it impossible for him to keep flying for the SAF. At least he was a good enough pilot that he was probably going to ruin his career on the ground and not in the air.

But still... once again Jack thought back to the briefing. Fukai had not once contradicted him, had actually behaved rather well, aside from not being very talkative. With his record it would have been so much more likely that they wouldn't have gotten past this first talk. Jack had obviously received the benefit of doubt. Fukai had no reason to consider him a good superior, but he also seemed to have decided that so far Jack had not earned being labeled as bad. That actually seemed a fairly good start under these circumstances.

What really mattered was whether Fukai would keep behaving like this. As long as he only looked like he had an upset stomach - something that would not have surprised Jack in the least - and did not actively cause problems, he could stay in the squadron even if his attitude was not easy to deal with. And maybe, just maybe, being out of the regular FAF was going to help with that. The SAF was supposed to be a place for elite pilots, and those were allowed a certain amount of leeway in some places. If that was enough to make Fukai think that it was worth to make an effort to stay, then it would be enough at first.

So Fukai thought him neither good nor bad, and Jack thought that Fukai was either going to drive him up the wall or become an interesting little project. Not the best basis for working together, but it would have to do for now.


The End


La Casa