Chapter 1

Engineers walked around the large hanger bay, some carrying clip boards, others looking at handheld computers. All of them avoided walking into the feet of the new robot which stood in the center of the bay, its shoulders and waist held by retractable clamps. Echoes of voices reverberated throughout the cavernous room, punctuated by beeps and groans of guide booms and equipment vehicles.

The young pilot sat in the cockpit of the robot, the front hatch swung up and open, giving him a somewhat narrow view of the interior of the hanger, and also a nice view through the main hanger doors, out onto the surrounding landscape. But he was not interested in the view. He was interested in getting underway. He had been sitting here for twenty five minutes and was beginning to get impatient.

He looked down at the control sticks in front of him, then around at the other control surfaces. Most were touch screens, but some still had physical interfaces which could be used if needed. He was slightly annoyed at the number of visual displays which wrapped around the inside of the cockpit at eye level. "A pilot was supposed to be good enough not to need so much…help". At least that's what his mother said when she and his father came to visit a month ago. For some reason his father then elbowed her and coughed once, mumbling something about her "needing help when she was out there". He meant to ask her what that meant.

His concentration was suddenly broken by the high pitched whine of an access boom slowly swinging over to the cockpit. On the boom he could see a young woman waving to him, smiling. As the boom reached the cockpit, the woman slowed it down and gave it a few more short changes in direction, in order to align it with her target.

She was a young officer of no more than twenty-five. Her straight strawberry blonde hair fell over her shoulders like a waterfall, and her bright blue-green eyes sparkled beneath long lashes. Her well fitted Federation uniform didn't try to hide her attractive, feminine figure, and she had a graceful way of moving which calmed him every time he was around her.

"Hi there, Ensign!" she greeted happily as she stepped from the boom platform to the cockpit ramp.

"Hey." He replied, "How's it going?" She immediately leaned over him and began hooking his uniform up to cabled wires which were hanging from control panels on either side of his seat. The flight suit itself was there not only to help the pilot to better interface with the robot, but also to monitor the pilot's vital signs as he or she performed tests in the unit. He wasn't too fond of the suit, but knew that the data they receive will help make a better robot.

"Fine." she said, still busying herself with the cables, "Just coming by to hook you up and make sure everything's ready to go." She snapped the each of the matching connectors together, making sure to keep everything untangled. As she hooked him up to the robot, he couldn't help but to catch a pleasant whiff of her hair. He loved that smell.

"Just make sure they actually launch this time." he said, "I don't want to be sitting here waiting two hours only to find that they have to cancel due to a faulty coolant valve."

"Don't worry." she said, "That was just a one time thing."

He gave a noncommittal grunt of acknowledgement as she continued wiring his flight suit and checking the readings. Then he remembered something he wanted to ask her.

"Hey," he said, "What was up with you being gone last week?" She looked up and brushed her hair out of her face.

"Last week? Yeah, it was my mom's birthday and I decided to go back home and visit for a few days."

"Did your family do anything fun while you were back there?"

"Oh, I don't have a 'family' in that way." she corrected, still checking gauges, "Just her and my grandparents." A curious look came over his face.

"What happened to your dad?" he asked, "Are they divorced?" She gave a light chuckle and shook her head.

"No", she said, "He died before I was born. Actually, he knew my mom for just a few days before he was killed."

"I'm sorry, I didn't know."

"That's okay." she said, giving him a quick smile. "He's seen as a hero on my colony, though not as big a hero as your father."

The pilot frowned. Would everyone stop bringing up his father? He knows he was a hero. He knows everyone idolizes him. He just wished everyone would stop trying to make such a big deal out of it.

She saw the scowl on his face and gave him a light punch in the arm.

"Cheer up" she said playfully, "You're dad's the hero of the Federation, and your mom's a famous doctor. You have nothing to frown about."

"Whatever." he grumbled.

Down below, a Lieutenant walked up to the robot and called up to the two. He couldn't be more than twenty years old.

"Hey, Mackenzie!" he shouted, "Stop flirting with the Ensign and hurry up. We want to test the robot today, ya know." Mackenzie turned her head to face the Lieutenant and stuck out her tongue.

"Oh, go blow it out your ass, Uraki." she yelled back, obviously enjoying the informal banter. The pilot gave her a worried look.

"You shouldn't tell Kiyoshi off like that, Rachel." he whispered, concerned for her breach in protocol.

"Relax, Tem." she soothed, "I'm a civilian. What's he gonna do, court-martial me? Besides, he thinks he's such the big shot 'cause he grew up here. But he's just a blow hard." With that she kissed him on the tip of his nose and went back to prepping him for the flight.

Shrugging off the insult, Uraki turned his attention to the pilot.

"And Ensign Ray," Uraki said up to him.

"Yes, sir!" he called back, slightly irritated.

"I want to test the Gundam's maneuverability while avoiding enemy suits, so be prepared for some G-forces, okay?"

"Understood, sir." came his reply.

"And no puking."

"Yes sir!" Ray acknowledged, remembering the time where the g-forces caused him to unexpectedly lose his lunch. That was embarrassing. Uraki walked off, leaving Rachel and Tem alone again. She gave him a quick glance over, straightened the collar of his flight suit, then kissed him on the cheek.

"Good luck" she encouraged. He smiled weakly.

"Thanks." he replied, "I'll see you for dinner when we're done with this?"

"You bet." she said, as she stepped back on to the boom and lowered the front canopy into place, locking him inside. The whole cockpit suddenly lit up like an electronic billboard, and he could hear the Gundam's engines powering up behind him.

He was ready for launch.