Chapter Six - Preflight Checks
Bridge, SSV Normandy SR-1, Arcturus Station
April 6, 2183
There were times that Flight Lieutenant Jeff “Joker” Moreau truly hated being a part of the Alliance military. Long shifts in the lowest bidder produced chair did nothing for his back and he could already feel an ache that would last for days building at the base of his spine.
“Adams!” He hit the comm button on his far most left holo-display, glaring at the blinking red lights that kept flashing at him. A second passed, and Joker impatiently waited for a response., drumming his fingers on his leg. The indicators for the Internal Emission Sink were still reading that they were down. “Come on Adams, answer me!”
The Normandy was the first of her kind, a space ship built for stealth. The Internal Emission Sink was what made that possible. Heat was the single biggest problem that any ship had to deal with, simply from normal flight operations. It made them stick out like a sore thumb against the background temperature of space. The Normandy got around that problem by storing the heat in large lithium heat sinks between the ship’s hull and the decks.
Despite the rather ingenious design, the IES of the Normandy was hampered by the amount of heat that it could store, only three hours at maximum of silent running. If they didn’t vent the heat before those three hours were up, the heat sinks would cook the interior of the ship. The answer to the problem came in the form of Equestria’s cooling crystals. Theoretically, the crystals would store the heat from the sinks in the form of usable energy and expand the limit from three hours to a near unlimited amount of time.
Theoretically. In practice, it was a completely different matter.
He glanced over at Captain Spitfire in the copilot seat to his right. She was busy looking over her own screens, which were of a vastly different layout than his own. Hers were designed for use by a hoofed being, and he couldn’t make heads or tails of what she was doing. At least she had managed to get a seat specially designed for her. It looked far more comfortable than his own.
“How did you manage to get the yard to get you the seat?” Joker glared at Spitfire, flexing his fingers. “I couldn’t even get them to install a coffee maker on the bridge. What strings did you have to pull?”
“I’m cuter than you.” Spitfire flashed a grin at him. “I just have to ‘look cute’ and I can get you humans to do anything I want.”
“You have to teach me how to do that.” Joker had known Spitfire since he had been sent to Equestria to cross-train with the Wonderbolts ten years ago. They had become fast friends from the first day of training and had proved time and time again that they simply were better together.
“I couldn’t even if I wanted to. You’re just too ugly, it’s a sad fact of biology.” Spitfire giggled and stuck out her tongue at her.
“Real funny.” Joker rolled his eyes and turned back to his displays. “Adams, stop ignoring me!”
“Any change?” Lieutenant Gregory Adams voice came through the ships internal communications system.
“No.” Joker leaned forward and glared at his screen. “Are you even doing anything, ‘cause I gotta tell ya’, it doesn’t really seem like it. What are we even keeping you around for? I could do your job. I’d just have Spits kick things and we’d run just as well.”
“Yes, Joker, I'm just sitting on my ass in Engineering on the Alliance's most expensive warship,” Adams drawled.
Joker sighed, glancing over at Spitfire. Meeting his gaze, Spitfire shrugged. She activated her comms.
“Adams, stop harassing Joker and fix the ship!” She grinned at Joker. “It’s my job to drive him up the wall.”
“I'm trying! It's the crystals. They don’t play nice with the rest of the tech.” Adams protested, his frustration evident through his voice.
“What about it?” Joker asked.
“They’re on the fritz again. I thought this was supposed to make everything run smoother.”
“They are. What are you doing to it?” Joker hadn’t been happy when Octavio Tatum had decided that the ship needed to incorporate more from the Equestrian side of technology. The turian had at best jammed things together in the semblance of order, confident in his own superiority that they would work with a minimum of work.
“I'm reading the manual, I just don't know what's wrong. I don't like this magitech crap.” In reality, it took more than connecting a few wires to get magitech and human technology working together. Adams had been working to fix it since the turian engineer had left the project, and he had yet to make any actual progress.
“I don't care if you like it or not, Adams,” Spitfire chimed in. If she let Joker and Adams really go at it, they would bicker at each other for hours. “Just make it work.”
“It's not working!”
“Try harder, Adams.” Joker leaned back in his seat and immediately regretted it. There was absolutely no cushioning. Maybe he should get a pillow or something. “I'd rather not fly around in a stealth ship that doesn't have any stealth. It leads to a lot of holes in the hull, followed by, you know, explosive decompression.”
“I'm doing the best I can, but I never trained on Equestrian tech.” The man truly was working miracles, but even he could only do so much.
“Will the IES work without it until you figure it out?” Spitfire sighed, rubbing a hoof over her mane. They had spent so long trying everything else that they hadn’t bothered to ask the most obvious question.
There was a pause.
“Keep working on the crystals, Adams,” Spitfire said, “But I want the IES ready to go with or without the storage crystals.”
“Yeah, I'll get on that,” Adams grumbled. He ended the call, and the bridge fell silent.
“I blame you for all of this,” Spitfire said, glaring at Joker.
“Me?” Joker looked at her incredulously, scoffing. “What did I do?”
“Yes, you!” Spitfire pointed an accusing hoof at Joker. “You're the one who put my name forward for this.”
“Don't give me that.” Joker typed a series of commands directly into the ship’s operating system as he noticed a line of code that could lead to the Normandy deciding to vent its atmosphere in the case of a fire. Best to take care of that himself. “You would have volunteered anyway.”
“Yeah…” Spitfire frowned. He was right. “Still, I blame you.”
“Whatever. Blame Joker, it's always his felt.”
“I'm glad you're finally learning.” Spitfire giggled, shifting in her seat.
Joker rolled his eyes, keeping an eye on the numbers coming from Engineering. They kept fluctuating as Adam's tried to work things out.
Spitfire sat in her seat, chewing on her lip for a minute, listening to Joker’s mumbling. She glanced over at him. “I’m not crazy, right?”
Joker looked over at his friend. A grim smile of sympathy on his face, he reached over and gave her foreleg a sympathetic pat.
“Not about this, no,” he said.
“That is my name after all,” Joker said, giving her a wry grin. He sobered up, answering her question. “But, no, this isn't a normal shakedown run.”
“I didn't think so,” Spitfire murmured. She glanced over her shoulder, making sure that there weren't any turian Spectres lurking behind her. “You ever feel like he's just... watching, ya' know?”
“It’s probably not just a feeling.” Joker nodded, feeling the need to look over his shoulder to check for himself. “He's probably in the ducts, watching us now.”
Joker and Spitfire glanced up at the long and thin duct that hung over the entrance to the bridge. It was way to small for even a hanar to slip through.
“Okay, not the ducts,” Joker said with a shrug.
“You watch too many action movies.”
“Hey!” He pointed an accusing finger at her. “You watch them with me.”
That wasn’t actually the truth. Joker and Spitfire had taken every opportunity to spend time with each other whenever they could. They didn’t get a lot of time with each other, but what little they could get, they spent together.
“That's what they all say,” Joker murmured.
“They?” Spitfire asked, smirking.
“They.” Joker nodded, waving his hands in the air. “You know. They. The nebulous them that always confirm my arguments.”
“The more you say it doesn't make that argument any better.”
“You say that, but they just disagree with you.” Joker felt reasonably sure that he had won that argument, and clapped his hands together (carefully, so as not to break anything) before getting back to work.
“Shut up.” Spitfire rolled her eyes.
“It is weird.” Joker glanced over at Spitfire, to see her quietly fuming at him. He bit his lip. “There are too many people here that don't belong. Captain Anderson. The guy could melt down all the medals he's earned and make a life-sized statue of himself.”
“That would be impressive.” Spitfire wondered just what that statue would look like. It would be a sight to see, that was for sure.
“Yeah. You have to wonder who our Executive Officer is going to be.”
“They'd have to be someone impressive. It would fit with everyone else.”
“The Butcher, maybe.” Joker really hoped not. The Butcher of Torfan was a man with far too many rumors to his name, and he wasn’t someone that Joker ever wanted to serve with. A man who killed women and children indiscriminately and won a medal for it was not ideal command material.
“No.” Spitfire shook her head. “The Captain has too much honor to let someone like that onboard.”
“Yeah, maybe.” He shrugged, unconvinced. Glancing at his monitor, his eyes widened. “Speak of the devil.”
He glanced over at Spitfire and spoke along with the Normandy’s Virtual Intelligence. “Executive Officer is aboard.”
Both Joker and Spitfire turned to watch as the airlock opened with a familiar hiss. Their eyes went wide when they immediately recognized the two who stepped onboard.
“The Angels of Elysium,” Spitfire whispered under her breath.