"In the technology day and age, when unmanned aircrafts are becoming the norm, there is a thin line standing in the way, preventing the United States military from being dominated by robotics. You are that line."
The surround sound faded out as the informational video cut to black. The lights flicked on. Jester stepped aside and Viper began striding up the aisle.
"You are the best in your field," she said. "Nowadays, girls, that's not saying much."
Maverick cleared her throat. She could feel someone staring at her.
"But we will train you. Over the course of these eight weeks, you will become -"
"Killing machines," Goose muttered. Maverick snorted.
"- better than the best," Viper continued. "You'll be tougher, faster, but you'll know how to work with each other. That is the purpose of this program. That is something a computer can never do - work alongside its fellow pilot, feel their instincts. A computer would not go against the odds to save you."
Maverick wondered briefly if that was a subtle reference to her, then thought, no, you're being stupid, she probably didn't even hear about that -
"However, only two of you will walk away with the TOPGUN title. One pilot, one RIO."
Maverick shot a grin at Goose, who looked like she was about to barf.
Viper began to drone about the "rigors and challenges" of TOPGUN, and Maverick zoned out almost immediately. She felt eyes on her neck again and turned.
Icegirl was looking at her steadily, twirling a pen in her fingers. Maverick's heart skipped a couple of beats as they locked eyes, and she turned back around with an uncomfortably warm feeling in her stomach.
"Mav," Goose said as softly as possible.
"What?" Maverick replied, feigning innocence.
"Stop it. What are you doing? Stop."
"I'm just wondering who here's going to have balls enough to really go head to head with me."
"Oh, God, what? We're not ice road truckers, Paige -"
"'Scuse me, ladies," Viper said quietly. She had suddenly appeared before them and had her hand on Maverick's shoulder. "Unless either of you happen to outrank me, I'd recommend staying quiet when I'm talking. No one here is TOPGUN quite yet, excluding myself. Meanwhile, you've got a lot to prove. I appreciate cockiness, but I don't tolerate complacency."
Maverick shot a look at Icegirl, who was smirking broadly.
"Yes, ma'am," she muttered.
"And find some hair ties. What happened to the regulation bun? I swear to God," Viper said, flicking her hand in Maverick's general direction. She turned and addressed the group. "Your first instructional period is tomorrow, oh nine hundred hours, out in the hangar. It will be followed by a hop. Dismissed," she said, and strolled out.
Jester followed after her obediently.
"I can't believe we fucked up already," said Goose.
"Who the hell is Icegirl?"
Goose gave her the side-eye. "Uh..."
"Never mind, tell me later," Maverick said, realizing that half of the girls in the room were staring at the pair of them.
Goose took Maverick by the shoulders, turned her around, and steered her out of the room.
"Do I look shoulder-y?"
The two of them were loitering outside of the officer's club, waiting for a lull in the music so they could make an "entrance".
"Shoulder-y?" said Goose. "No, you're fine."
"This is why I don't like the dress whites."
"Well, maybe a little, but it's more Beyonce than Working Girl."
"But Beyonce has hips to balance it out," Maverick said, tipping back on her heels and giving herself the once-over. "Oh well. Okay, let's go."
The officer's club was like any other officer's club: loud, dark, and full of people in uniforms trying to have sex with people who were not in uniforms. Maverick turned to Goose and beamed widely at her.
Goose returned the smile nervously. She knew Maverick too well. "I think I should sue Snapple," she said out of the blue.
"My Snapple fact this morning was 'the average human swallows seven spiders in their sleep in one year'. I've never swallowed a spider in my life."
"How would you know, if it's in your sleep?"
"My mouth's closed when I sleep."
"My mouth isn't..."
"But you'd feel a spider crawl into your mouth. And why would a spider crawl into a mouth? That's not an M.O. that a spider would have, Mav, to get into someone's mouth. And if they got in there they're not going to continue into the esophagus and then walk their dumb ass right into a boiling pit of acid, right?"
"What boiling pit of acid?"
"Oh... it doesn't really boil, though, does it?"
"It's hot down there."
Maverick made a face. "Ew..."
Across the bar, Icegirl was watching them with a lazy, satisfied expression on her face, like a cobra that had just swallowed a small pig whole.
There was a guy next to her, chatting her up, and as much as she wanted to say "I'm not interested in your dick," put her hand on his face and shove him into next week, it looked better to have him standing there.
She was undeniably curious about Maverick. She knew Mother Goose a little bit from flight school, but Maverick was an unknown variable. Icegirl let her eyes rove over Maverick's body for a moment and didn't even notice when what's-his-face turned to her, realized she hadn't heard a word he just said, and left in a huff.
Slider appeared at her shoulder, beers in tow. "Checking out the competition?"
Icegirl grabbed one and took a swig. "That's the second time today you've asked me that."
"That's the second time today I've caught you staring at her."
Icegirl snorted. "Please."
"I wouldn't blame you. She's cute." She looked sidelong at Icegirl to gauge her reaction. When she didn't respond, Slider threw out, "Well, what do you wager?"
"Bisexual or at least bi-curious with more than three but no more than six gay experiences under her belt," Icegirl said. "But she thinks she's straight and she exclusively dates men."
"Um," replied Slider.
"I think I'll go say hey to Loosey Goosey," Slider said, nudging Icegirl with her elbow and departing. Icegirl sighed through her nose.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the bar, Maverick had become distinctly aware of Icegirl's presence and was taking the opportunity to get a good look at her for the first time.
She was gorgeous - of course she would be - in a sharp, clean way, like a show dog. Her pin-straight blonde ponytail was so high on her head it practically defied gravity. She was tall and straight-backed, with such good posture it almost looked uncomfortable and body language that said quite plainly, "I'm the rooster in this henhouse, so sit the fuck down". Maverick let her eyes linger for a little too long on how Icegirl's dress whites had tented slightly in the chest, revealing ample cleavage when she turned to the left, then jerked her attention back to Goose. "So, tell me about this, um -"
"Well, she's a great pilot, but I always thought there was nothing really... special? About her flying? I don't know, but she never really takes any risks, it's all by the book. I mean she's incredibly effective that way but sometimes you think it might as well be a robot in the cockpit."
"Huh," said Maverick. "And she's our main competition."
"Yeah." Goose glanced at her warily. "Don't get cocky, though, Mav. She's what they want, remember. They're trying to prove that we're just as good as any robot but we have the human reasoning to avoid technical errors... that's her flying in a nutshell."
"Don't they also want to prove that we have the guts and creativity to take chances or see opportunities that UAV's don't? 'Cause... "
"I guess we'll have to wait and see."
"Oh, hi, Slider," Goose said weakly. Maverick turned to see Icegirl's RIO, an alarmingly tall brunette girl with an angry jaw. Maverick shrank slightly in fear the way a pug would shrink away from a Great Dane, then experienced a Napoleonic surge of rage and puffed up like a cat that had been stepped on while simultaneously rocking forward onto the tips of her toes.
"I see you still have the same shitty taste in beer," Slider said, glancing at the Budweiser Goose was clutching.
"I see you're still experimenting with human growth hormone," Goose shot back.
Slider laughed mockingly.
"So you're flying with Icegirl now, huh? How sexually frustrating must that be? What are you, her fifth RIO in three years?"
"For your information, we've been flying together for eight months now," Slider snapped, "and we're perfectly happy. And we're going to be Top Gun."
"We'll see about that," said Maverick.
Before Slider could respond, Icegirl appeared next to her. "Goose," she said, smirking appreciatively and putting her hand out. Goose shook it.
"Um, Ice, this Paige Mitchell. Paige, this is Tammy Kazansky... or Icegirl..."
"Maverick," said Icegirl, giving her yet another once-over.
"Yep," Maverick said firmly.
"So," Icegirl said, leaning forward and placing a hand on the bar beside Maverick, trapping her momentarily. "Have you found her yet?"
"Who?" Maverick said, locking eyes with her.
"The pilot who's gonna go head to head with you," Icegirl murmured. "Who has enough balls."
Maverick was quiet for a moment. Icegirl was staring her down, waiting for her to break eye contact. Icegirl's knee brushed her thigh and her skin flushed at the touch. She drew in a breath.
"Not yet," Maverick replied.
Icegirl's smirk widened. "Right."
So it begins.
She drew back and turned her attention to Goose.
"We heard about that little stunt with the MiG-31," Slider said. "Not very professional."
"No, but pretty badass, I would say," Maverick tossed back at her.
"Mav," Goose said, seeming to be on the verge of a massive stroke.
"See you around," Icegirl said, and departed with Slider in tow.
"Yeah, I'll see you," Maverick called after them, "we'll see each other -"
"Mav, Mav -"
"Oh shush, Goose."
"Look, they're idiots. They don't know what they're talking about."
There was a pause.
"Tammy," Maverick said, "Tammy Kazansky," and they both cracked up.
"What about him? Three o' clock, the blondie."
Maverick turned to look. She'd been finding herself glancing Icegirl's way all night and welcomed a distraction. "Ew, he looks like a guy named Blake on a soap opera," she said. "Or a porn star. A porn star named Blake on a soap opera and also he moonlights as a hot gay butler on Masterpiece Theater."
"Lots of guys around here get highlights and stuff," said Goose. "It's California."
"He's so... metrosexual."
"I thought you liked that."
Maverick glared at her. Goose muttered something that sounded like Penny Benjamin.
"Oh my god, shut up!"
"I'm just saying..."
"I like manly men. Big... manly... lumberjacks. This guy looks like the original Brawny paper towel guy was gay and he had a baby with the dumb girl from Three's Company."
"I'm cutting you off on obscure pop culture references. Buy him a drink. Remember, if you go home alone, you pay my tab."
"What, two Budweisers? Okay, I'll buy him a drink. Wait, hold on, can I do my Sexy Bitch routine?"
"Please god no."
"Aww, Goose," Maverick said petulantly.
"No. Mav, please -"
"Lemme check," Maverick said, and she walked up to the manager - or at least a guy she assumed was the manager from the way he was yelling managerially at someone. "Hey, 'scuse me," she said, and he turned around. "Do you have a hot mic lying around that I could grab and maybe you could also pipe the instrumentals from Sexy Bitch over your speakers when I signal you to?"
He stared at her. "Ma'am?"
"Is that a no?"
"No. Just no." He hurried away.
"Okay, we'll do this oldschool then," Maverick muttered to herself.
She sidled up to Blake-the-hot-gay-waiter at the bar. "Buy you a drink?" she suggested.
"Uh, I have one," he replied, gesturing at his martini. "But thanks."
"Extra olives," Maverick noted. "You like olives?" Shut the fuck up and get to the point, she told herself. "Come here often?"
"Relatively so," he said. "I'm Charlie." He held out his hand.
"Oh," Maverick said, and shook it apprehensively. "Civilian?"
"Hmm," he said, without really answering. "And you?"
"I'm Maverick," she chirped.
He raised his eyebrows.
"I mean my name is Maverick, my real callsign is Paige," she said. "Wait, shit, the other way around."
"Name's Paige, callsign Maverick," said Charlie. "Got it. Well, have a nice night." He stood.
"Hey, hold up -"
"Sorry, Paige, but I'm kind of on a date," he said, and walked away.
"Damn," said Maverick.
Goose appeared by her side. "No luck?"
"Crash and burn," Maverick said, making her hand into an airplane and sinking it straight into the bar with an accompanying whoooooooomph noise.
"He's going into the bathroom, go poach him," Goose said, poking her in the back.
"Yeah, all right!" Maverick said excitedly, leaping to her feet and jogging in that general direction.
"Her name was Chrissy Snow, by the way," Goose called after her.
As soon as she walked into the bathroom, a man at one of the urinals let out a little shriek.
"Hey, what the fuck?" he demanded.
"Oh, sorry," said Maverick.
Charlie rounded the corner. "Oh, this is stalking," he said. "I'm officially alarmed by this."
"Hi, I just wanted to let you give me a second chance," Maverick said, "despite your date."
"I'm trying to pee, here!" yelled the shrieking man.
"I don't know about that, Lieutenant."
"You, woman over there!" shrieked the yelling man.
"How do you know I'm a Lieutenant?"
Charlie bit his lip. "Hmm," he said again, evasively. "Listen, I'll see you around, Paige Maverick."
"Wait, hold on," Maverick said, and she grabbed his ass. "Okay, I'm satisfied. See you around, Hmm-ing Charlie."
He raised his eyebrows at her and departed.
"CAN YOU GO NOW?" the shrieking yelling man desperately half-yelled, half-shrieked at her.
But Maverick was already out and on her way over to Goose.
"What's the story?"
"There was butt action."
"His or yours?"
"His, what do I look like, a hooker?"
Goose nodded slowly. "Okay. But he left, so you still have to pay for my beers."
"Fine," Maverick groaned.
She felt someone looking at her and she swiveled ever-so-slightly to the left. It was Icegirl, lurking in the shadows. She made eye contact and held it for a moment, then turned back to Goose.
"Mav," she said warningly.
"What?" Maverick replied, all innocence, and went to pay for their drinks.