Chapter 2
New Blood

Location: ESS Ticonderoga, Smythe ONB, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Fri 28 Jun 121
Time: UST 1420

Lydia sat in her cramped office, idly bouncing a racquetball off the bulkhead instead of tending to her paperwork. She would have to be back in the simulator at 1600 and she didn't feel like doing anything productive until then.
Her door opened and in stepped in a big ol' Blaxican built like a brick shithouse. (Was she allowed to think that?) He stopped in front of her desk and stood there with his arms crossed.
"Lieutenant Han," he said.
Was that supposed to be a hello? If it was, it wasn't a very good one.
Still bouncing the ball off the bulkhead, not really paying attention to him, Lydia replied, "Yeah?"
"I'm Commander Figueroa," the big guy said, "your new squadron leader."
Lydia kept on bouncing the ball off the bulkhead.
"Is that all you have to say?"
Still bouncing.
"At the moment."
"Captain Nagashima told me you were a hard case."
Throw, bounce, catch. Throw, bounce, catch.
"Oh, he did, did he?"
"So you used to be squadron leader, I hear. Then there was that clerical error."
Lydia caught the ball and held it for a moment, squeezing it as a brief flush of anger came over her. She sighed, releasing the anger, and went back to bouncing the ball off the bulkhead.
"Funny how that works," she said in a detached voice.
Commander Figueroa didn't seem too convinced.
"What's the real story?" he asked.
"They said it was a clerical error. They wouldn't lie, now would they?"
Apparently fed up with Lydia giving him less than her full attention, Commander Figueroa stepped in and snatched the ball out of the air as it was bouncing back to her.
"You're not one for first impressions, are you, Lieutenant?"
Lydia tilted her head toward the Commander, not caring enough to be annoyed by him taking her ball.
"Show me your killboard stats," she said, "an' maybe I'll warm up ta ya."
"Is that all that matters to you?"
"Pretty much."
"I've dusted enough Shellies in my day," Commander Figueroa said. He then got right in her face. "Now listen here. If you're going to be leading five of my pilots, I want to be sure you're on the level."
"Which level?"
"You've got a replacement that came in on the same bird as me, a nugget fresh from the Academy."
Lydia looked down at the deck.
"Excuse me?"
Lydia looked back at the Commander.
"I said 'goddammit'," she said bluntly. "It's short for 'Goddammit, I can't believe I'm gonna hafta babysit a fuckin' nugget. I hate my life an' wanna die.'"
Commander Figueroa stepped back and crossed his arms again.
"I can see we're going to have problems."
Even though she didn't have a ball to bounce off the bulkhead, she went back to facing it.
"Most people do," she said.
"You'd best square yourself away, Lieutenant," the Commander growled, "or I'll find new and exciting ways to make your life far more miserable than you already seem to think it is."
He walked out of Lydia's office, throwing the ball over his shoulder as he left. Lydia reached out to catch the ball and went back to bouncing it off the bulkhead.
"Great," she mumbled.

* * *

Date: Fri 28 Jun 121
Time: UST 1545

Lydia bounced her racquetball off the bulkhead for over an hour after Commander Figueroa left her office. Then Trifkovic came in to drag her off to the simulator.
As they were walking down the passageway, Trifkovic looked at Lydia and said, "I hear you were making friends with the new CO."
Lydia rolled her eyes. "Oh yeah, great guy."
"Excuse me, ma'ams," a voice said behind them. "I'm looking for Lieutenant Han."
The two of them turned around to see a young, skinny Japanese ensign in his dress blues standing there. With only a UDSM on his chest, it was pretty clear he was the nugget Commander Figueroa was talking about. Lydia didn't feel like dealing with him.
"Try Deck 13," she told him.
If Trifkovic hadn't been there, there was a good chance the nugget would've tried to take the personnel lift four decks past the keel. Unfortunately, Trifkovic was there and she wasn't letting Lydia get away with it.
"Seriously, Nyx," Trifkovic said in exasperation. She pointed to Lydia. "Lieutenant Han is this smartass right here."
"Don't believe her, kid," Lydia replied. "Curly's a regular wiseacre. She's always pullin' shit on people."
Trifkovic put her hands on her hips and shot Lydia an accusing glare.
"Excuse me?"
"You're excused."
Lydia couldn't quite suppress a grin, which blew her little ruse right out of the water, if the nugget was gullible enough to fall for it in the first place. Speaking of the nugget, his stance had gotten a little slack during Lydia and Trifkovic's back-and-forth, but he straightened up, indicating that he realized he was talking to his new flight leader after all.
"Lieutenant Han," he said formally, "Ensign Shoutarou Iwata reporting."
Lydia sighed. "Nuggets... Why'd it hafta be nuggets?"
"Come on," Trifkovic said. "Don't be too hard on him."
Lydia sighed again. "Well, you can't be any worse than that dumbass Alabed. Alright, kid, I'll play. What's your handle?"
"Tenchuu," Ensign Iwata replied.
Lydia made a face. "What the hell's it mean?"
"It means 'divine retribution'."
"Yeah, we'll see about that."
A slight grin crossed Ensign Iwata's lips as he said, "I hope so, ma'am."