Where Angels fear to Tread

Chapter One: The New Pilot

It was a typical day at Area 88; sorties were being flown, attacks were being made, and new pilots were arriving. Shin sighed as he watched the new pilots land, and wondered how many would live to see tomorrow.

"What's the matter, Shin? You seem gloomier than usual." Mick commented.

"It's nothing. I guess I'm a little more homesick than usual." Shin admitted, quietly. Mick nodded in understanding. The end of Shin's second year of his three year mercenary contract was fast approaching and Mick knew that the younger man's mind was on the woman he loved.

"Don't worry. You'll get back to her." Mick said, then added," Just remember to invite me to the wedding, all right?"

Shin smiled, a rare thing for him.

"Sure thing." Shin said, then watched as the last jet landed. This one caught Shin's eye. It was a brand new, top of the line KFIR jet fighter! On the tail-fin, Shin could see that a starburst was emblazoned there.

"Impressive plane." Saki was heard to say, then noticed that the pilot was trying to get Shin's attention.

"Shin, it appears that the pilot wishes to speak to you." Saki said, as he turned and looked at Shin. With a nod, Shin walked up to the jet. He got there just as the cockpit opened.

"What?" Shin asked. He got no reply, but he was motioned to climb up the ladder. By now, everyone was puzzled by the pilot's strange behavior (including Saki). Doing what he was told, Shin climbed up the ladder. He wasn't expecting what happened next. The pilot suddenly grabbed the lapels of his flightsuit, pulled him down, and kissed him right on the lips! Time froze as Shin backpedaled down the ladder, and watched in stunned silence as the pilot came down from the jet and removed his helmet to reveal……………..a woman's face?!

"What the……………..?! That's pilot's a woman!" one man said, about as shocked as everyone else. The female pilot ignored the shocked crowd and kept her attention on Shin.

"Shin?" the woman asked.

"Ryoko?! What're you doing here?!" Shin yelped.

"Following you, of course." Ryoko replied.

"B-but this place…………it's no place for…………….." Shin stammered, his mind too overwhelmed to get a straight sentence out.

"No place for what? No place for a woman? That's what Kanzaki thought, but I managed to get here, after so much trouble from him." Ryoko said, spitting the name 'Kanzaki' from her mouth as though it had a bad taste to it.

"Miss, how did you manage to get under contract? I gave strict orders to those men to not let any women sign up." Saki said, sternly. Ryoko looked at him and gave him an unreadable look.

"It took me a while, but I found your agents and convinced them that I could fly and that I could handle aerial combat." Ryoko said, casually.

"Ryoko, I don't want you to stain your hands with blood." Shin said, quietly.

"It's too late to turn back now, Shin. I've made my choice, and now I have to live with it. I'm going to be man enough to live with my decision and woman enough to stay by your side, no matter what." Ryoko said, gently. Shin couldn't believe it; his beloved Ryoko was going to stay with him, even though his hands were stained with blood.

"Fine, then. Since you are under contract, you follow my orders to the letter. Starting tomorrow, we'll see how good a pilot you are." Saki said, before turning and walking back into the base.

"Well, welcome to Area 88, Ryoko. You're a mercenary now." Mick said, as he and Shin stood before the beautiful daughter of Yamato Airlines' president.

"I'll do my best to make it out of here. By the time Shin's term is up, I'll use the money in my private account to buy back my freedom. I will also donate a sizable amount to this base so pilots can get what they need. But we're leaving together, right Shin?" Ryoko asked. It took Shin a moment to respond.

"Yes. We'll leave together. Just don't die out there before you can fulfill your promises." Shin said.

"Don't worry. You'll find that I'm full of surprises." Ryoko said, with a gleam in her eyes.

"As we've already seen." Mick said, with a laugh.

"You may laugh now, flyboy, but tomorrow I'll have you eating my exhaust!" Ryoko challenged, teasingly.

"We'll just see about that, ladybird!" Mick said, already taking a liking to Shin's feisty girlfriend.

"And once again I have to rethink how well I think I know you, Ryoko." Shin murmured, as playful banter passed between Mick and Ryoko, and he joined in just as the sun set and evenings shadows took over.