A/N: Yes, it lives. Four, nearly five months? Well, I'm back, and I hope you enjoy what follows.

Going In For Guns: A Memoir of the Reaper Wars

Book 1: Intercept Course

Maj. Christopher "Nice Boots" Z. Valentine

Systems Alliance Marines Tactical Aerospace Command (ret.)

Systems Alliance Naval Intelligence (aux./ret.)

Citadel Office of Special Tactics and Reconnaissance (aux.)

I'd say his Illuminated Primacy got ripped off. But different strokes for different folks, especially when one's an ape offshoot and the other's a sapient jelly. In all honesty, I actually enjoy a good prejak teriyaki. It's no salmon teriyaki, but good, nonetheless. Unless it's the B-rat version served in field kitchens and frigates across the Alliance. That stuff is nasty. I could tell that even through the haze of hunger dulling my taste buds.

I still wolfed it down.

What? I was hungry. We've gone over this.

It also helped me try to ignore the thoroughly odd sensations I was getting from my arm as Dewey attached the sensor rig, an involved process that consisted of far too many arm movements for my liking.

Getting cybernetics can be a real godsend, but no matter what the vids say, they are not plug-and-play replacements. There's all sorts of things that can go wrong, no matter how good your doc, and Dewey was one of the very best, but there's no getting around the fact that the limb just isn't the original. Hence the need for adjustments, and skinjobs after you're conscious.

Of course, this leaves you with a very disconcerting period where the only sense you get from your arm, leg, whatever, is kinesthetic. You know the arm's there, you know what position it's in, but you're getting nothing else from it. No temperature, pain, or brush of air. No sensation at all. If you've never experienced it, you probably don't get it. You don't think about most of the sensation you feel on a day to day basis, but trust me, you notice it when it's missing.

So I had the majority of the sensation in my arm cut, lacked any control over it, and could feel Dewey moving it around, occasionally in motions that were subtly, and sometimes not-so-subtly outside of my old range of movement. Disconcerting, to say the least, especially given my martial arts training. I had spent far too much time in one joint lock or another over the years, and my nerves were jangling with wrongness. Still, martial arts teach discipline, and I was able to bear the discomfort in stoic silence.

"Dewey, are you damn well done yet?"

Okay, so that's a lie.

"Almost." He yanked my arm straight and rotated it.

"You said that ten minutes ago."

"Oh, just keep eating the teriyaki," he huffed, connecting a sensor lead.

"I ran out of it five minutes ago." I pointed with my fleshy hand. "See?"

"Now what are we going to shove in your mouth to shut you up? I'm not a pediatrician, I don't have lollypops."

"Yeah, I think we're both going to be happier if I don't indulge myself with that opening." He gave me an odd look. "Oh come on. That was wide open for a joke."

He shook his head. "I'm sure I can find a tongue depressor somewhere…"


"Or maybe a rectal thermometer."

"I'll be good."

"I doubt that, but I really am almost done." He connected another lead and nodded with a pleased look. "Right. Give me a second to calibrate." He adjusted a few things on his omni-tool. "Okay, now let's put this sling on…" He suited action to words. "…right."

"All done?"

"All done."

"You're not fucking with me?"

"Nope. Now, you've got a choice to make. There's two ways we can run this. Either I pulse the rig to map every sensation you're capable of feeling at once, and you scream and pass out, or I do the subconscious route, and it takes longer."

"I like the second choice."

"There's hope for you yet. Do you still want to join the military?"


His omni flickered back to life and he brought it to his mouth. "Patient's recovery proceeds apace. Cognitive function is advanced, but plagued by a persistent flash of utter stupidity in a field of otherwise rational, logical decisions. I have high hopes for the efficacy of surgical intervention."

"And here I thought you weren't fucking with me."

He grinned, shutting off the omni. "You believed me?"

"Yeah, that was stupid. So how long till you have a baseline?"

He shrugged. "Baseline isn't hard. But we're going to need a more complete scan, and that will probably take the whole trip to Arcturus. Which is probably for the best. With access to my lab, I can do a much better job."

I sighed. "I'll probably thank you for it in the long run, but it is a pain to have an arm and not be able to use it."

"Think of it as a cast."

"Most casts don't have quite so many wires. I look like I dipped my arm in squid ink noodles."

"Everyone's a critic." He shook his head. "Why don't you get some more extranet time in? I figure you won't have much time for it tomorrow."

I flicked the omnitool open, raising an eyebrow. "And why's that?"

"Well, I had figured on clearing you to get out of the bed tomorrow, assuming that everything proceeds well." He nodded at the omni. "Look up the mnemonics for the Heimdalls. You'll want to practice them soon. Better to get the reflexes ingrained early."

I chuckled. "Guess it'll give me something to do while I'm looking around." I brought up a list.

"Be careful of sensory overload. Your visual cortex is still accustomed to your old eyes. That's where the disorientation came from."

"Yeah, how long does that last?" You wouldn't think there would be anything to complain about with getting a sudden upgrade to your visual acuity, but then, you'd be wrong.

"Depends on brain plasticity. You're pretty young, so it shouldn't take more than a week or so to adjust to visilight. IR and UV is a big 'I don't know'. That's pretty much unique to every patient. Still, the younger, the better."

"Swell." I resigned myself to a week of headaches. It wasn't a new concept, but hardly a welcome one.

"Most people do find it easier to restrict themselves to one spectrum at a time," offered Dewey. "It helps the brain frame things in terms of what it's used to."

"I'll keep that in mind." I made a mental note to not mess about with UV and IR. Visible light was what I had seen for better than two decades. As cool as it would be to see all Predator-style, I figured that I didn't need a further headache to try a novelty. "I figured that I would start with the AR functions, actually."

He nodded. "That's not a bad place to start. It can be disorienting, but it normally isn't such a strain. More 'sit down to catch your bearings', less 'scream and pass out' on the sensory overload scale."

"Charming." I buried myself in the list of mnemonics, before keeping on with my studies on eezo physics.

I didn't get much sleep that night. God knows I was tired, but a perfect storm of circumstance was conspiring against me.

Point the first. I had very little time to educate myself on the ins and outs of the universe I had found myself in. Hence the eezo studies, as well as an extranet dive to pick up on history that hadn't been detailed in my home universe. Luckily for me, computer logic and interfaces hadn't changed in the century or so I had skipped. Sure, now it was a combination of holography and haptics, but that was form, not function. Given my tendency towards hyperfocus, that could have kept me up on its own.

Point the second. I was excited. Those who have spent any time in a hospital know that it's far too easy to find yourself bored out of your skull with the simple amount of time you spend waiting, lying in the confines of a bed. Sure, the extranet research I was doing helped, but getting up and moving? Whole different animal. Not to mention the fact that I was actually going to get the chance to walk around an Alliance frigate. Sure, most of the really interesting sections were going to be barred to me, but hey, I was a military geek.

Finally, just when I had convinced myself that the lack of sensation from my left arm was normal, I was starting to feel the oddest brushes of something from the cybernetic. Apparently, the 'subconscious' mapping routine wasn't quite. Either that or I was going stir-crazy. That was Dewey's theory when I told him he might have miscalibrated the mapping routine. I still think he didn't want to admit to screwing up. Though everything did end up feeling right when I finally got the skinjob, so who knows?

Breakfast claimed to be a pair some kind of sausage, egg, and cheese burritos with various additions. Both were devoured in under thirty seconds a pop. The regenviruses were still active, and I was running one hell of a hunger, all things considered.


I raised an eyebrow at Dewey. "What is?"

"Oh, nothing. I just don't remember installing a vacuum." He finished a sweep with his omnitool. "Looks like things are proceeding nicely."

"So I can get out of bed?" I tried to not beg.

From the look on his face, I probably failed. "It is my considered medical opinion that you are fit to hobble about the ship. Slowly."

"Joy and wonderment." I swung my legs out of the bed. "Do I get pants?"

As a matter of fact, I did get pants. Even better, I got a shirt too. Given the rather sweatpants and t-shirt feel, I pegged them as spare PT gear. Hardly fashionable, but comfortable enough. I would get very familiar with them within the upcoming year.

I wasn't thinking about that, though. I was too busy looking around as Marie helped me hobble down the hallway. She had met me at the door to the medbay with a shrug and a smile. "Skipper said you could use an escort. Looks to me like you could use a shoulder to lean on." I took her up on the offer. Dewey hadn't been kidding. My mobility was crap, with shaky legs and far less energy than I was used to.

"So where do you want to go first?"

I gave her an awkward shrug. "Anywhere. Even this hall is bliss, compared to being cooped up in that bed."

"Mess hall?"

I started to shake my head before realizing that I was still bloody hungry. "Yeah, that works."

"I figured." She chuckled. "Regenviruses might be better than the alternative, but they're no fun at all."

I perked up a bit. "Speaking from experience?"

"Me and every other Marine on this ship." She pointed at her short ribs. "Took a sniper round that came in right between the plates last year. Blew half my liver away." That got a wince, but she continued as if she hadn't noticed. "Got my leg tore up pretty good too, about six months before that. Hardsuits'll keep you alive, but it's not fun when they get smashed up on your body."

I'd call that the understatement of the century, but I would hear far worse in the years to come. "So…" I paused, not sure whether I was about to be unspeakably rude. "Do you have cybernetics?"

Marie snorted. "No, dummy. I'm all meat. Clone parts, you know?"

I gave a sage nod, berating myself mentally. Dewey had practically stated outright that cloned replacements were standard treatment, and I just asked if she had cybernetics. Stupid. "Right. Sorry."

She waved it off. "Don't worry. You're probably so hungry you're not thinking straight."

"Yeah. Is that normal?" The mess hall door hissed open in front of us. "Because I ate two of those breakfast burrito things and I'm still feeling empty."

"You poor man. The burritos?" Kaidan looked up from a heaping scramble of some sort. "Dewey must be trying to poison you."

Marie laughed. "Maybe he's trying to test a new artificial liver."

"I could use one of those!" piped up a Marine with a bleach-blonde mohawk tipped in blue.

Kaidan shook his head with a tolerant sigh. "Cybernetics are good Friedman, but Dewey would need a miracle to let you drink the way you want to. Besides, that part's all meat."

"A woman can dream."

"Of what?" asked a naval rating sitting next to Friedman. "A beer waterfall?"

She slugged the smaller man in the shoulder. "Try whiskey."

Marie nudged me towards a seat with a roll of her eyes, heading off to grab a pair of trays. Kaidan slid a can in front of me.

"What's this?"

"Paragade Biotic Spark." He gave a soft chuckle at the name. "It's the energy drink the Alliance gives to biotic soldiers."

I picked up the can, looking it over. "Oh?"

"Yeah. Cybernetic patients are often low on energy, and this can help."

I cracked the top and raised the can in salute. "Thanks. Cheers!"

So would begin my life-long addiction.

I felt much better after the Paragade hit my system. The stuff was, and still is, singularly nasty. I maintain that this is an essential quality of a really good energy drink. For me at least, that tongue twisting taste gets me focused even before the megadose of caffeine, taurine, and various other assorted ingredients starts filling my tank.

But even if you like your wake-up juice to taste good, you can't deny that Paragade gives you energy in spades. I'd probably think it overkill for anyone who didn't have eezo in their nervous system or a chunk of metal and polymer replacing a limb. For those of us who are so blessed, however, it's just about perfect.

The third helping of rations didn't hurt either. For the first time that day, I felt vaguely full, and was able to maintain something like table manners while I ate. I almost even considered leaving some of the food behind. Almost.

I still cleaned the tray, but I was distracted by Friedman. I had made the mistake of asking her why she had the blue dye in her hair. I still couldn't believe the Alliance let its troops get away with that.

Kaidan groaned and covered his eyes. Marie just shook her head as Friedman favored me with one of the biggest shit-eating grins I had seen. "It's azure juice."

I arched an eyebrow as the naval rating chuckled. "Come again?"

Friedman's eyes lit up at my choice of words, and Kaidan started thumping the heel of his palm into his forehead. "I guess if she did, that'd get rid of my roots."

"Asari don't have blue…" protested Kaidan in a pained tone.

Friedman didn't so much as let him finish. Apparently this was not the first time they had gone over this story. "Come? Hey, it was my hair in that muff, bumpy. And the hanar hadn't been in there yet." She chuckled and the navy rating started hammering the table with a balled fist, tears leaking from screwed-shut eyes.

I put my fork down. "Okay, you've got a very lost civvy."

Marie smiled. "I didn't take you for a hothouse flower like Alenko here." Kaidan groaned.

I shook my head. "No, no, I get that there was a wild incident with an asari and a hanar on some shore leave, if I'm not off base." A grin and nod from Friedman confirmed that I was on the money. "I just don't get why you'd be scalp-deep in azure."

Friedman enlightened me with a story that remains in my top five dirtiest of all time. Kaidan was scandalized.

"So," I asked Marie as we made our way from the mess. "Exactly how much of that was true?"

Marie let out a very un-marine-like giggle. "As near as we can tell, all of it." She nodded at the hallway ahead of us. "Want to try walking on your own for a bit?"

I gave another one shoulder shrug. "I can give it a shot." To my surprise, my legs did a decent job of supporting my weight, even if I wasn't going to be dancing anytime soon. The wonders of Paragade. "Also, you're fucking with me."

She shook her head. "Nope. The part where she's buck-ass nude, done up all shibari-style by hanar tentacles, asari riding her hawk, and running down the street?"


"Yeah. I saw that." At the dumbfounded look on my face, she laughed. "So while we can't confirm what happened behind closed doors, just about two-thirds of what didn't had an eyewitness on crew somewhere."

"Oh, come on. The fountain thing has to be bullshit."

"Five witnesses that agree on the salient points."


"Hey, hanar like water."


"I'm telling the truth, I swear."

I retrieved another bottle of Paragade from the waistband of my sweats, cracked it and took a long drink, wanting to keep my energy up. Recapping the bottle, I looked back at Marie. "No."

"Fine, don't believe me." There was no malice in her tone. "Do you need to rest?"

I shook my head. "I think I should be good for a bit," I said as I tucked the bottle back in my waistband. "Where are we going now?"

She shrugged. "Anywhere you like, so long as it's not restricted."

"So nowhere particularly interesting." As cool as being on an Alliance Special Forces frigate was, an endless array of navy-blue walls and industrial architecture wore thin awfully fast. Vids tend to gloss over the fact that space travel involves a lot of dead time in utilitarian surroundings.

"Isn't that what I just said?" she joked.

"I was afraid of that." I cocked my head to the side. "What about useful?"

"I don't follow."

"Well…" I began, wondering if I was falling into a trap with regards to my lie of being from the universe, "I should probably get acquainted with emergency procedure, shouldn't I? God forbid that something goes wrong and I don't know the quickest route to the lifepods or the storm cellar because military notation is different from what I'm used to. It's not like I'm going to moving that fast, even in freefall."

She gave me an appraising look. I swear, my heart nearly stopped as worst-case scenarios swirled through my mind. "Never met a religious spacer before."

Relief washed through my body, nearly making my legs collapse. My mind went on overdrive as I tried to fit the implications of what she had said into my cover story. My mouth was already spinning the tale. "I'm not that devout. But it's cultural, you know?"

"Oh I know. I just figured that all you guys scoffed at 'primitive beliefs' as you zipped about the heavens with your phonetic alphabets and your adjustable gravity. Most of the others do."

"Call me weird." I made a mental note to look up the current phonetic alphabet. "Also, adjustable gravity is seriously overrated."

She laughed. "Oh, tell me about it. I thought it was the coolest thing, till I ran into a malfunctioning grav plate."

"Oooh." I winced. I could only imagine how that would be. Quite literally at that point. Later, I would get more hands-on experience than I cared for.

"Yeah, straight from .8G one step to 2.7 the next." She shook her head. "I went down hard."

"Yeah, that's maintenance you really don't want to skip," I said in what I hoped was a sage tone.

"Anyway," she thumped a bulkhead that was painted in various alphanumerics and what looked like OSHA pictures. "Alliance warships use pretty standard notation. This, as I'm sure you've gathered, is a lifepod." She pointed out a couple of grooves in the alloy. "Irene should activate the pods in an emergency, but if she's offline, it's a pretty simple mechanical trigger."

"Irene…ship's VI?" I made sure to commit the bulkhead and markings to memory.

"Yeah. It's a historical reference, before you ask."

I smiled as I recognized the go code for the battle the ship was named for. "Huh. Strange for a ship named Mogadishu."

She shrugged. "As for storm cellars, the entire ship is pretty well rad shielded, compared to a civilian boat, but in really bad cases, essential areas like CIC, medical, engineering, and the mess hall are built to spec for the nastiest stuff we've run into. There's a mark on the hatchframes. The lifepods also make for pretty decent storm cellars if you've got nowhere else to go."

We started moving down the hall again. "Anything else I should know?"

"Nothing a spacer wouldn't be familiar with…" I gave a mental curse at that. There were obviously things I could really use instruction in, but given the story I was using, I was assumed to already know. I prayed that I wouldn't have to put on a vac suit anytime soon. "Oh! If you hear a general quarters or clear for action call, you should make your way to medical."

"And tuck myself out of the way. Got it."

"Nice to see a civilian who understands."

I shrugged. "Yeah, well," I pointed to my cybernetics. "Object lessons were necessary."

Marie tried not to laugh. "Point. So did I hear right? Are you going to enlist?"

I nodded. "I don't see any other real choice. I've not got a credit to my name, and I need something to do."

"I suppose it beats washing dishes. I've got to warn you though, you might need to update your choice in weapons."

"Ha ha." I gave her a dirty look. "It's what I had to work with."

"Well, it did work…kinda." There was a twitch in her cheek as she suppressed laughter. "I suppose you could try and get in one of those ninja squads."

"Ninja?" I looked at her with incredulity plain on my face. "What in God's name would the Alliance be training ninja for?"

"Stealthy close combat and espionage would be my bet." She shook her head. "I'm yanking your chain, Valentine. There's some rumors of a cybernetic covert ops group. Story goes that they use these fancy monoedge blades. Ninja."

I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, I think I'll pass."

"Do you have any idea what you are going to buck for? No offense, but you don't really strike me as the infantry type."

I shrugged. I knew I didn't want to go non-combatant, but I hadn't been lying to Dewey when I said that general infantry wasn't for me. "I don't know. Armor, maybe? Drone warfare?"

Marie scoffed. "Waste a spacer on armor? Fat chance. And you're WAY too aggressive to be a drone weenie."

"How am I too aggressive?" I shot back, indignant. Even as I said it, I could hear her answer in my mind.

"Sword," she said with a laugh.

I hung my head. "Fair cop." Sighing, I looked over at her. "Do you have any ideas?"

She looked taken aback. "Huh. I suppose you'd be a fit for the boarding teams if you take to z-gee like most spacers. Exosuit infantry's also supposed to be expanding, from what I hear. Good way to get it stuck in against pirate scum." Images of mobile infantry armor flashed through my head, jumppacks aglow as y-racks scattered bomblets and hand flamers scorched the battlefield. Starship Troopers had always been an important novel to me. The flash of a shoulder-fired baby nuke washed out the fantasy as Marie continued. "Of course, they normally pull from special forces and colony grunts like me for that. Got any schooling?"

I nodded. "Psychology. Not sure that I can track down my degree, though."

"Yeah, that happens with the Verge. Still…" She bit her lip. "I might have an idea. Care to see something interesting that's not off limits?"

What else could I say but yes?

It wasn't the first time I had been in the Mog's hangar bay, but I was significantly more conscious the second time around. It was also larger than I expected. Before hopping universes, I had seen the hangars of only two Alliance frigates, the SR-1 Normandy, and the so called SR-2. Both the initial Normandy-class and the Cerberus designed Chi Bi-class upscale incorporated a great deal of turian design philosophy. Turian weapons, turian command deck layout, turian spaceframes, and of course, turian hangar space.

To turian doctrine, the Normandy had plenty of space in its hangar bay. There was assembly room for a reinforced platoon, along with an APC or air-droppable tank for light armor support. The ramp was equipped with a mass-effect deployment system that let troops simply leap out of the ship without jump packs safely, in the event that a Hierarchy Normandy-class wasn't carrying troops from the 26th Armiger Legion. In a pinch, the class could tactically insert a full company of the 26th, though not with any kind of endurance. A slow elevator from the crew deck to the hangar made the loiter time prohibitive as well.

For the Alliance however, who tended towards airmobile forces, the hangar space was constricting. Both the Normandy and the Mogadishu were designed for reinforced platoons. The Mog had hangar space for four UT-47 Kodiaks and a wingpair of A-61 Mantises. Later upgrades would add a pair of F-61 Tridents in overhead racks.

This, not, as many an asari armchair admiral suggested, a lower level of technology, explained the tendency of Alliance ships to have a larger displacement than their equivalents in other races' navies. Humans like their aerospace groups.

The upshot of all this was that when Marie showed me into the hangar bay, I got my biggest shock since getting shot. Let's face it. When you wake up after getting shot, you expect some pretty extreme measures were necessary to save your life. The drugs helped too. Meeting a major character from a fictional series? I'd just killed the first alien I met, and the second one damn near returned the favor. But thinking you know exactly what something is supposed to look like, and being completely wrong? It can rattle you, hard.

Enough, in my case, to let my mask of 'this is all only slightly weird to me' crack into a full-blown "Wow!" A full-blown geeky grin spread across my face as I watched the techs pick over one of the Mantises' engines. A cluster of pilots sat nearby, playing cards, cursing and crowing in turns. It all barely registered as I hobbled towards the slate-gray Mantis the techs were working on.

The gunship, even with an engine dismounted and panels open to reveal critical flight systems, radiated a sense of lethal readiness. From the paired cannons below its chin, to the pair of four-tube flatpack omnirocket overwing pods, the front promised the instant death of a coiled cobra. The oversized control surfaces and nearly unrestricted gimbals on the engines spoke of hummingbird agility.

Let's face it. For me, it was love at first sight.

It wasn't until I ran my hand along the ladar-absorbent panels that coated the chin that I realized that Marie was laughing. Trailing my fingers along the gunship's flank, I turned to face her, only to start at seeing the entire card game standing with her with various expressions of amusement on their faces. "What?"

Marie shook her head. "Nothing. I figured you might have the pilot bug, but…"

One of the pilots, a red-haired woman with an impressive spray of freckles and suspiciously dull almond-shaped eyes cut in. "But we haven't seen someone drool over an Alpha Six One since Trick saw we got the Block 50 Delta Alpha Papa."

"Shut up, Cornstarch!" shot back "Trick", a short black man with a shaved head and brilliant green eyes. His flight suit proclaimed his name to be Lt. Marcus Card. "How long did you spend cooing over the avionic updates?"

Sgt. Harere Taguchi, "Cornstarch", sniffed, nose up in the air. "No longer than was necessary."

"I remember a very creeped out technician or two." Trick crossed his arms with a smug smile.

"How about you're both insane and the Block 50 is a damn fine bird?" asked a blond beanpole of a man with a tone proclaiming that his question was in fact a statement.

The last pilot grinned, white teeth the exact opposite of his thick wavy ebon hair. "Sounds about right to me, Major Munchkin." His more complex rank insignia put him above Cornstarch, though I didn't have the experience to read it yet.

Munchkin cleared it up for me right away. "Just so, Gunny." He fixed his gaze directly to mine, something which I realized only Captain Penkala and Dewey had done so far. "Good to see you a bit more complete, Mr. Valentine."

I blinked in confusion. Marie coughed. "The Major and Gunny flew medevac up to the Mog for you."

"Oh! Oh. Thank you, sir." I held out my hand for him to shake. Luckily, the gesture was still in common currency. "I hope I wasn't too much of a mess."

The pilots snickered. "If it wasn't for Alenko, you probably would have been," pointed out Munchkin, releasing my hand. "But we can hardly hold that against you."

Feeling a heat rise in my cheeks, I let a shy little grin spread onto my lips. "Very kind of you."

Cornstarch let out a belly laugh. "Yeah, Munchkin's a magnanimous soul, isn't he?"

The blonde pilot shook his head and gestured at the Mantis I had been taking in. "Now that you're not at risk of repainting the interior, would you like to take a look inside?"

"Crimson would be gauche," I mused, to the chuckles of the group. "I don't know what I was thinking." I looked back at the gunship and bit my lip. "There's nothing classified in there?"

"Nothing worse than your new arm," pointed out the black haired Gunny. "They've already showed the Block 50's interior off on the extranet. "

"Then, yes, yes I would."

That was how I got my chance to sit in the pilot's seat of an A-61 Mantis for the first time. My feet went directly to the yaw pedals as my hand wrapped around the side mounted stick, finger tips brushing across buttons and HAT switches. I mentally cursed my immobile left arm as my brain tried to get my hand onto the three-axis throttle. Holoprojectors dotted the console in front of me, flanking a large hardscreen that functioned as the prime MFD for the gunship. On instinct, I molded myself to the gel padding of the ejection seat, flicking my glowing eyes back and forth, regardless of the pain my face reported, checking the visibility before craning my neck around to a nasty surprise. The Mantis had piss-poor visibility for the pilot past the 3-9 line.

Trick grimaced from where he stood over my shoulder, looking over me as I sat in his seat. "Yeah, they optimized for ground attack and screwed us in a dogfight." He turned and spat. "But that's why the Alliance issued us LIO's right?"

Cornstarch scoffed from over my other shoulder. "Like we'll ever get a dogfight with the Tridents and Yaris on BARCAP."

Trick rolled his eyes. "And when we aren't deployed with them?" He looked at me with a long-suffering look.

"Yeah, when has that happened?" The woman shook her head. "I'll be eyes enough, and you know it." She gave Trick a reassuring smile.

"Yeah…" Trick returned the smile and looked at me. "How's it feel?"

"Feels…" I paused, looking over the inert controls and out the canopy to the closed hangar doors, as if I could peer through them to the blueshifted stars ahead. I closed my eyes, imagining alien skies and starfields pinwheeling across the canopy as displays fed me critical flight and targeting information. I imagined a LCOS pipper drifting across a geth fighter, which burst into flashes of blue hits on kinetic barriers as I pulled the trigger before an argent flash consumed the wasp-shaped bandit. I opened my eyes, realizing that my finger had tightened on the sidestick's trigger. A wolfish grin, full of teeth, split my face. "It feels right."