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Rated: 18+ · Other · Action/Adventure · #1634283
Steampunk-- WIP
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Captain Severance Constantine Archer was just drifting off to sleep when the transmitter began beeping. He thought briefly about ignoring it, but as a captain, he knew he couldn't. It could be important... It had better be an SOS or death dispatch, he thought.

With a sigh, he got up and grabbed his jacket, tossing it on over his bare chest. He zipped it up, took a seat at his desk and flipped a switch to receive the transmission. Vacuum tubes hummed for a moment while they warmed up, and after a few seconds the screen flickered on. Admiral Harver McCoy's face appeared on the screen, the windows behind him showing mid-morning sunshine of Britain's territory in Hong Kong.

"Good evening, Admiral," Archer began, putting a quiet emphasis on the time, though he doubted the other man actually cared that here in the Atlantic it was still the middle of the night. He and McCoy had never gotten along well. Archer suspected that the older man would have long ago dumped him at a desk job and forgotten about him. But to do that he'd have to promote him to a two-star major and that went against the grain for the older man. So they remained at an impasse. Archer was denied any form of career advancement, and McCoy was stuck having to let Archer continue to fly.

"Good day to you, Captain," the Admiral said brightly, his whiskey and tobacco voice rough and grating. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" He cocked his head slightly, as if trying to peer past Archer's shoulder. Checking, no doubt, for unauthorized passengers.

Apparently it hadn't been important at all. If he'd known it was McCoy checking up on him, he wouldn't have bothered answering, "Not at all, Admiral, What can I do for you?"

The Admiral grinned. "Heard about your lieutenant retiring last month. Good man, Wilson was..."

"Still is, regardless of whether or not he's leaving me a man short."

While Archer couldn't argue that the man needed to finish the pilot business, it did leave the Cerberus at a disadvantage. A recon ship that maintained a constant path around the boarder of Imperial airspace, they could only maintain a small crew of fighter pilots—pilots that were essential to a ship that only saw port every six months but saw pirates, raiders, and foreign air cruisers on a day-to-day basis. Six versus seven planes might not seem like a huge disadvantage, but when that team worked as a single cohesive entity, one man lost was like losing an arm. The Cerberus prided itself on its fighting squad. They were rated best in the Kingdom and could out-fly any squad who took them on. Finding a replacement for Wilson was essential and it needed to be soon.

"Was there a purpose to this call, Admiral, or are you just missing my ugly face?"

The Admiral sneered. "Your request for a replacement pilot has been granted. You're to report to Port Calendris on March second to collect them."

Archer raised his eyebrows in surprise. He'd fully expected McCoy to put his request on the back burner for at least another two months. The Commanding Chief probably had something to do with this. He refused to have any of his ships have any sort of handicap—especially the boarder recons.

"I'm assuming I'll have a dossier before we put into port."

"Of course, of course. Should be arriving soon enough. Just wanted to be the first to congratulate you." The smile he gave Archer wasn't pleasant. "I'm sure Lieutenant Fairchild will be the perfect addition to your squad."

Archer narrowed his eyes at the Admiral. "What are you getting at here, McCoy?"

If he knew anything about the Admiral—and Archer knew a lot—Harver likely had found him some bottom of the barrel, near-do-well who couldn't shoot the broad side of a barn. And then, when the kid got himself killed, the Admiral would use it as an excuse to say that Archer obviously couldn't handle his men.

"You wouldn't be sending me a leaf-green ninny would you?"

"Wouldn't dream of it, Archer," McCoy grinned. His voice was way too innocent for a man who'd smoked since he was sixteen.

Archer sat back in his chair and smiled. "Well that's fine. Send anyone you want. Long as he's passed flight school, I can straighten his head on right."

He wasn't worried. He was a good captain. A damn good captain. And he could turn any man into a good pilot, he was sure of it.

"You wanna place a wager on that, Captain?" the Admiral prodded.

The captain shrugged, "Seems a shame to have to humiliate a commanding officers again. Though that powdered wig looked mighty fetching with those bloomers."

Haver's mouth tightened. "Any pilot I send for a three year contract you kick out, or they leave, and you tender your resignation," he issued with clenched teeth and the devil's smile.

Archer returned the grin. The Admiral really thought he was such a bad captain?

"Fine. And if he stays the full contract, the Azriel is mine."

McCoy frowned. The Azriel was their newest airship. Battle class, updated with the newest steam technology, the damn thing hadn't even been finished being built yet. It was a sure bet McCoy planned to hold the Captain position over the heads of the aircorps underlings in exchange for favors.

After a long considering moment, McCoy smiled. "Alright Archer, you've got yourself a deal."

Two weeks later, Archer and his first mate, Bartleby Scott, descended the gangplank onto the sky dock of Port Calendris. The spiraling tower rose high into the clouds, allowing the massive airships to dock comfortably without landing. Liftoff could be tricky for some of the larger ships, so such docks allowed for swift stops where crews could refuel, restock, and be on their way.

"This be a lovely port, don’t’cha think Captain? Great weather they seem to be havin' here," Bartleby noted, fists on his hips, eyeing the open air dock.

They were on the fifth floor, about the middle of the tower. All around thick pillars rose near four stories high, holding up the next layer of docks. The space in between each was open, save for delicate iron railings to keep people and cargo from falling off.

"No." Archer looked up from the file that had arrived the day before on his new lieutenant and glanced at Bartleby. The two had been friends since grade school and there was no one else on Earth that Archer would want as his second in command. In fact, he'd insisted on it.

Despite being polar opposites—Archer being more reserved versus Bartleby's outgoing attitude—the two made a great team, especially when it came to running a Battle Class Reconnoissance Air Cruiser.

"I know what you're aiming for and the answer is no. We don't have time to put into port for a full day. We're due in Port Royal in six weeks."

"Captain, be reasonable. The men need a little breather. A day in port won't cost us all that much time. And we could make it up easily."

It was hardly an unreasonable request, but Archer wasn't in the mood to stick around port. Something strange was going on here. The dossier he'd received was for one Robin Fairchild who was by all accounts a spectacular pilot. Graduated second in his class with high honors, top marks all around, no disciplinary record, served out of Port Juniper for the last year. A great candidate for his squad. Archer closed the metal folder with a snap, the gears instantly locking it.

It was too good to be true. McCoy would never grant him a top pilot.

"We were just in port four months ago, we don't need to restock anything yet,” Archer said. “The men can wait six more bloody weeks to stretch their legs.”

"Says you. Just because you're content to live like a monk for months on end doesn't mean the rest of us wouldn't like to see a warm bed and willing woman more than twice a year."

“Bartleby...” Archer warned.

“I'm just saying is all..."

It was an old argument, one they'd been having for years. Both men just past thirty, Bart was happily married and couldn't understand Archer not wanting the same. He'd been after his friend for years to find himself a respectable lady. What Bart simply wasn't seeing was how incredibly lucky he was. Women willing to make a home on an airship were as rare as hen's teeth. Only officers could travel with their brides, so most smart pilots simply didn't marry. Too much chance of returning from their long deployments to find their women had vanished with some other man. Archer knew himself well enough to know that event would not go over well with him. Better to simply remain a bachelor for his career. Maybe one day if he got promoted and was forced to stay in one place long enough to put down some roots... Until then...

"If you let us put into port more than once every six months, Archer, let the men sow some seeds—”

“And wind up with half the crew consumptive or with the clap?" Forcing his mind back to the situation at hand, Archer began scanning the crowd while he continued with his mate. "No. You're all just going to have to learn to exercise some self control. Now if we're done discussing the men’s habit of thinking with their—”

“Excuse me, are you Captain Severance Archer?”

Archer broke off mid lecture, turning towards the new voice that had approached from behind. A young woman stood before him, dressed in military blue and clutching two large leather suitcases. Archer blinked, a little surprised. The passenger levels were below. There was no reason for a woman to be on one of the service levels.

She couldn't have been more than nineteen or twenty and looked remarkably delicate standing amidst the steam-driven machines that were loading and servicing airships. She was beautiful, but not the classic kind of beautiful most men fancied. Her face wasn't quite symmetrical enough for that, and there was a fey-like, elfin quality to her features. Cat-like emerald eyes gazed up at him, set just above a button nose and full sultry lips. Her porcelain pale skin was dappled with a light smattering of freckles and her hair... The fiery orange mass had been pulled back in a bun at the nape of her neck, but several long tendrils had escaped confinement to frame her face.

Archer had a love/hate relationship with red heads. In his experience, no matter how nice they seemed, they were always bad luck.

A little top hat was perched at a rakish angle on her head, and the blue, expensively fitted dress she wore set off her coloring perfectly. The luggage she was carrying in both hands was well tanned leather with sturdy locking gears made from bronze. Expensive. On the outside she looked like a proper young lady, but the mischievous look of her features hinted otherwise. His immediate reaction was to file this little elf under the title of Trouble with a capital 'T.'

His mate eyed the girl and gave Archer a comradely elbow to the ribs. "I'm gonna check the fuel cells," he said with a wink and half ran in the opposite direction.

Archer rolled his eyes and turned back to the girl before him. "I'm Captain Archer."

A cautious hope lit her eyes. "You are? Really?"

He frowned. Why would he have any reason to lie about his own name? "Yes."

“You're Captain Archer of the A.S. Pegasus?” She asked cautiously, skepticism lacing her voice.

Archer tucked the file under his arm and eyed her with speculation. “No. You're mistaken, Dear Lady, my ship is the Cerberus."

“Oh thank god!” She sighed in exaggerated relief. "Only the real Captain Archer would correct the name of his own ship. You're the man I'm looking for, then. You wouldn't believe the number of near-do-wells around here who will call themselves Archer to get me to board their crafts. If I had to listen to one more lecherous pig tell me he was the man I was looking for and would be happy to 'Capt'n my ship any day,' I swear I was going to pull fire and start taking hostages." Setting down her bags, she rose her left hand in salute. “Lieutenant Robin Fairchild reporting for duty, Sir.”

He stared at her, stunned immobile. "The hell you are..." There was no way. Even McCoy wouldn’t do something this dirty.

She stood a little straighter and reached into her pocket, withdrawing a piece of paper that she held out to him. "Truly sir. By orders of Admiral McCoy, I'm to be assigned the A.S. Cerberus to pilot a skydart for a period of three years."

Archer snatched the paper from her gloved fingers, scanning through. It was all there. Complete transfer of one Robin Maribelle Fairchild to the A.S. Cerberus under one Severance Archer for a three year contract. Signed and sealed by one Admiral Harver McCoy.

That snake-bellied son of a whore! That's why he wanted to be the first to tell Archer about his new pilot. Why he'd pressed for the wager... The bastard was probably laughing himself sick! A woman on a recon ship?! It was insane! Female pilots got passenger ships or short route messenger crafts. Ships that saw port every day, or at least every couple of days! You didn't stick them on recon ships that sailed around the entire British Empire, stopping at port once every few months and only saw home port every two years! And you sure as hell didn't put a single, proper, attractive, unmarried—Archer glanced at her left hand—yes, unmarried young lady amidst a crew of coarse, unpolished geardogs without a chaperone!

No. He wouldn't do it. He would not allow this girl on his ship. They were just going to have to put into port here until he could contact McCoy and demand a replacement.

But he couldn't do that, Archer realized suddenly. The enormity of his rash wager with the Admiral sunk home. If he sent her home—if she quit! His career was over.

Bartleby choose just that second to return. "Well, fuel cells are all charged," he announced. "Your pilot show up yet?"

Gritting his teeth, Archer made a violent gesture towards the girl's luggage. "Apparently so, Bart. Be so good as to grab Lieutenant Fairchild's bags, would you?"

"What?!" Bartleby looked back and forth from Archer to Robin. "LIEUTENANT?!"

Swiftly, she snatched up her luggage. "Oh, don't worry, Sir, I can carry them myself."

Turning on his heal, Archer marched back up the gang plank, not waiting for them to follow. When he reached the deck he shouted to his ensign, "Haul the rigs and spike the boilers. And have someone show the lieutenant to the barracks. We launch in five!"

"Aye aye, sir!" Ension Fletcher confirmed, a gangly young man fresh from flight school as of two years ago, and promptly began directing orders through the maze of voice tubes to the engineers below decks.

The man broke off abruptly when Robin set foot on the deck, and so did every other crewman there. For a stunned moment they all stared at her, jaws agape.

Christ on a cross! Not even five bloody seconds! Archer bit back a violent oath.


Instantly, the deck snapped back to life as every man jumped to do his duties. Gritting his teeth, Archer stormed up the stairs. The familiar climb from the axle deck, centered within the zeppelin’s massive air canopy, took almost no time, depositing him at his quarters three decks up. He needed a drink. Now.

Bartleby followed him, swiftly closing and locking the door behind him. "Are you insane?!" his friend demanded. "You can't bring her on this ship! Send her back!"

"I don't have any choice, Bart."

Pouring himself a glass of whiskey, Archer eyed the full tumbler for a moment, then the bottle. Decision made, he went vertical with the bottle.

"The hell you don't! Sweet Jesus, Sev, you remember how many problems we had when it was Molly on board that time. Woman had to go and lock herself in your quarters for the trip!"

"She was escaping you, Bart, not the rest of the crew." Archer gave his head a quick shake, scattering the aggravating memories involved with Bart's courtship of his now wife, Molly. He loved his mate's wife, she was a bold no-nonsense woman with a kind heart. But she was also built along the same lines as her husband. Large and sturdy. The Scott's reminded him of a pair of oxen. Archer had no doubts the woman could have handled herself if one of the other crewmen had made a pass. Fairchild on the other hand...

"They'll rip her apart, Archer!" Bart inadvertently answered his thoughts. "Especially if she's livin' below decks with them! Pretty little thing like that?! Christ man, we don't need a pilot that bad! I told you we should've stayed in Calendris and took shore leave a couple days!"

"I don't have a choice, Bartleby."

"The hell you don't! She can't stay! There has to be some regulation or some—"

Archer spun around, startling Bart into stepping back. "She has to stay! If she leaves this ship for any reason, our careers are over!"

Bart paled. "What?!"

"McCoy ever-so-happily called me two weeks ago to chirp about a new pilot he was sending us. I figured he was sending some greenhorn and told him his attempts to sabotage our squad were in vain. He asked if I'd wager on that." Archer held out the glass he'd poured to his friend. Bart accepted it numbly while Archer took another swig from the bottle.

"You took the wager," the commander whispered, horrified. "You arrogant thick-skulled son of a--"

"I thought we agreed to leave my mother out of your opinions on my character." Archer growled dryly, setting the bottle aside and dropping into his desk chair. "And yes. I took the wager. Bloody hell, Harver always bets on the loosing side. Man can't gamble for shit and hasn't won a bet since the Queen Mum reigned! Of course I took it. My resignation against command of the Azriel?"

Bart choked on the whiskey he'd just taken a gulp of. "Command of the Azriel?! Are you serious?!"

Archer sighed and rubbed his temples. The whiskey did not seem to be helping the low burn headache that was starting to make it's presence known behind his eyes. Obviously he wasn't drinking enough. "But if she walks, either by my command or her own, I'm sunk and you'll be lucky to be flying passenger routes for the rest of your life. You know once I can no longer request you as my commanding officer, you'll be McCoy's bitch faster than you can say 'Uncle Fanny's your aunt.'" Picking up the bottle, Archer took another swig.

Bartleby groaned. "McCoy would put me on the Aberdine to Selfoss route just for fun, too... That sick son of a society slut!" Grabbing a chair from the small writing desk behind him, Bart plopped down backwards and dropped his head to the frame. "Shit, Sev! Shit, shit, SHIT! Thanks to you, that pestilent boil toad is going to have our careers nailed to his wall! We're screwed!"

Archer raised his bottle in mocking salute to his mate's grasp of the obvious. "Indeed. So if we're going to sail these skies, we need damage control and we need it fast."

"Can you let her borrow your cabin? Like Molly did?"

"Molly hi-jacked my cabin, if you will recall, and no, I'm not about to give up my bed for the next three years. Besides, that falls under section forty-three of the women's rights movement. No woman serving in an official capacity shall be harassed, persecuted, or otherwise made uncomfortable during her duties because of her age or gender. Conversely, she may not be permitted to receive special attention, favors, or treatment also due to her gender."

Bart frowned. "How on earth do you remember that all that scrap?"

Archer shrugged and downed another swallow of liquor, "Mind like a steel trap. Regardless, she can't stay here. True or not the rumor that she's the captain's pet would be on the Commander's desk in a fortnight. You know how touchy the feminist movement in the military is... She has to stay in the barracks. And while her record says she's not the type to look for trouble, I can't be sure the rest of the crew will be so discerning."

"Discerning? Bloody hell, Sev, we've got just under a hundred men between the day and night shifts, none of which have seen a woman in four months! They're probably already drawing straws to see who gets to plow her first!"

Archer winced at his friend’s vulgar insight, but he knew it was no less than the truth. "I'm going to have to really put some strict repercussions in place if we have any hope of keeping the crew in line..." He took another swig of whiskey before adding, "Though I doubt that will stop all of them..."

"Well, if they're gonna break the rules then we may just have to bend a few ourselves..." Bart intoned. "Better than—" A resounding crash from below decks brought both men up short and had them running full tilt for the door.

Archer reached the stairs to the lower decks faster than Bart and with a practiced positioning of hands on railings, and boots braced on the sides of the stair ramp, he slid to the bottom and took off down the steel catwalk that hung over the boiler room. Another flight of steps and he skidded to a stop outside the barracks.

Robin had changed into her uniform. A pair of bloomers that tucked into her boot covers, an underbust corset, blouse and light jacket. It was disconcerting to see a woman not in a skirt, but more disconcerting was the way she stood, slightly crouched, the top half of a parasol in one hand and a long, deadly rapier in the other.

On the floor before her, Ensign Heath Shepherd huddled, cradling a wounded arm. Blood dripped from between his fingers. Shepherd was a good man, but Archer knew him to be a womanizer. This wasn't the first time he'd sported a wound from an insulted lady, but usually such marks were in the shape of a pink handprint across his cheek. He was going to remember this infraction for a while.

"I've got five more blades on my person, gentlemen. Anyone else want to try that little trick?" Robin demanded of the other crewmen, her voice cold as steal.

"Well... Maybe we don't need to be so worried after all?" Bartleby remarked from behind him.

Perched on the wing of her new skydart, bathed in the green glow of the magnesium lamps within the dock, Robin stared out over the vast expanse of open sky visible from the launch port and breathed a contented sigh. Her breath clouded in the cold evening air.

She was here. She had arrived.

The telegraph had been waiting for her at breakfast. The housekeeper said it had arrived very early that morning. Robin hadn't even excused herself from the table to read it in the study, as was proper. Upon seeing the Aircorps seal, she'd been glued to her seat, legs too wobbly to lift her. Using her butter knife to break the wax, eyes wide in excitement, she read:


For a long moment, she could only stare in disbelief at the terse message.

"Well, don't keep us in suspense, Robbi, dear," her mother had chided. "What does it say?"

Robin's head snapped up, darting between her parents where they sat. "I've been assigned a ship," she said, her voice barely above a whisper as amazement still held her in thrall. As if the words could make it more real, she said louder, "I've been assigned a ship!" Elation washed through her as her parents began applauding enthusiastically. "I'll be stationed on the A.S. Cerberus with Captain Severance!"

"The Cerberus? A recon ship?" her mother asked, her eyes a little dazed at the prospect.

"Good show, Robbi!" Her father, a geologist who was completely oblivious to the who’s and what's of the Aircorps, said warmly as he reached to give her a gentle slap on the back. Her mother was frowning delicately, one gloved finger pressed to her pursed lips.

"I don't know about this Robbi... I know you wanted to fly the skydarts, but a military recon ship? I'm just not sure this is a good fit for you dear."

Robin had shrugged, too enraptured with her new assignment to heed her mother's fears. "What could possibly go wrong? I've been trained how to handle any and all airship issues that may arise. It'll be fine. Better than fine! This is going to be fantastic!" She stood, pushing her chair away from the table. "Excuse me, please, I have to go pack!"

Clutching the telegraph to her heart, she practically ran upstairs to her room.

Once safely in her inner sanctum, Robin had reread the letter five times. Finally, after a whole year, she was being assigned a real post! On a real ship! Not some halfway passenger barge or ninny delivery ship but a true military recon ship! Flying the superfast and maneuverable fighter planes called Skydarts.

Falling backwards onto her bed, Robin again hugged the paper to her chest. Most women treasured love letters or photographs of their admirers, but Robin would hold this paper in her breast pocket for the rest of her life.

A year... A whole bloody year that she'd worked out of Port Juniper, spending most of her days answering telephones and seeing little if any airtime. It had been ridiculously frustrating. She'd graduated flight school with honors, and yet pilots who couldn't get a feather in the air by blowing on it had gotten assignments while she was left behind. She'd sent out dozens of letters, pleading her case to any contact she could get her hands on, but they'd all ignored her. Because she was a woman.

In the thirty-five years since the women’s rights movement had passed, very little had changed. With the new equality laws, ladies could now enter the universities—but that didn't mean anyone had to give them a job afterwards. The vast majority of women out there could barely hope for little more than a career as a nurse, secretary, or school teacher. Women who wanted less traditional careers—pilots, managers, doctors, or engineers—had almost no hope of being prosperous in a trade.

Robin had watched nearly all of her male classmates receive assignments in the first month after graduation, and yet she and the two other female pilots in her class had been left behind to tend the endless paperwork in the offices. It had been heart wrenching to be refused over and over for positions she was clearly qualified for, just because of her gender.

But all that was about to change. She, Robin Maribelle Fairchild, was getting her chance to be a pilot. Not some assistant or backup in a local passenger cruiser. A real pilot!

The next two weeks had been torture as she took care of all the tediums of preparing for her transfer. She was assigned new uniforms that were adapted for the rigors of ship life, new flight gear, goggles, and the like. The final addition was one Cobalt TTX blast pistol. The supply sergeant had warned her in a heavy tone to never let it out of reach. He hadn't been the only one with such advice either. In fact, nearly everyone she'd told her good news to seemed to be full of dire warnings.

For the life of her, Robin hadn't been able to figure out why everyone was so worried. Yes, she'd be living on the ship. She wouldn't be able to go home at the end of a long day. She knew she'd have little or no privacy and be living with a bunch of men. But she'd be fine. What was the worst that could happen?

She'd chosen her best blue dress, wanting to make a good impression on her new commander, and arrived promptly at 8:30 a.m. to find where she was supposed to be. But unlike the passenger ships, military craft weren't listed on the arrival boards outside the dock. The best information she'd managed to get from the ticket seller was that the Aircorps ships docked between levels five and seven.

For over an hour she'd approached each ship that was possibly the Cerberus, only to be disappointed by snarky crewmen who thought nothing of propositioning her right out in public. It had been incredibly aggravating and a complete waste of time.

At ten of ten, Robin had really started to fret. Military captains were strict and from everything Robin had garnered from post gossip, Captain Archer, while fair, was a hard man. She dared not anger him on her first day by being late.

Finally, having hit all the docked ships on all three levels, she'd gone back to the beginning to see if any new craft had arrived. Luck was with her this time and a large black cruiser had just pulled into port six. Waiting patiently back, she watched as the gangplank was lowered.

Only two men emerged from the ship. The rest of the crew seemed to be preparing for a swift launch as soon as possible. Logically, it made sense. If this ship were just picking up a passenger, who should already be there waiting, they'd have no reason to stick around. Taking a deep steadying breath, Robin had hoisted her bags and approached the two men.

On closer inspection she could clearly see Aircorps officer insignia on their sleeves. Hope blossoming anew in her, she'd stepped right up to the two men.

“Excuse me, are you Captain Severance Archer?” she'd asked, hesitantly.

The taller of the two men had turned instantly, and Robin's heart had done some kind of odd stuttering, as if she'd suffered a major fright. Yet, it wasn't a bad stuttering...

The first thing one noticed about Constantine Severance was the calculating intelligence in his cold green-gray eyes. They studied her dispassionately like an analogue computer and filed away his observations for later use. He looked to be in his early thirties with dark chocolate hair and sun-weathered skin. He was easily six feet tall if he was an inch and had the lean muscular build of a man who wasn't afraid to do some heavy lifting when the situation called for it.

He hadn't appeared the least bit happy when she'd informed him of her orders, an appearance that had been solidified by the hash commands he'd spat at his crew when she'd boarded.

Aware of her awkward status aboard the Cerberus, Robin had swiftly changed into her uniform and prepared to start her duties. She'd just finished locking her things away in the tiny crew trunk when she'd turned and found half the crew piled into the room, staring at her.

"Don't you all have duties to be attending?" she asked, her voice crisp with authority. Never show fear of any kind, her teachers had told her, not even nervousness. The barest hint of weakness and they'd walk over her like a door mat.

"Blimey," one of the men muttered. "It's true. A woman here on the Dog?"

Robin rolled her eyes, acting out cynical boredom. "Oh for god sakes... Yes, my name is Lieutenant Robin Fairchild and I'll be you new squad leader for the fighter darts." She added special emphasis on her rank, hoping the small reminder that she was above most of them would be intimidation enough to prevent any unfortunate scenes. Aircorps had learned that by graduating woman at a higher rank, the men were more reserved about causing trouble. You really didn't want to upset someone higher up than you or you'd be facing desk work at the least. Discharge at the worst.

None of them was apparently listening because just then, one man strolled up to her casual as could be. He was rather charming to look upon, with sandy brown hair and a roguish grin. Robin was just thinking that his only unfortunate feature was an overly long nose when he opened his mouth.

"See that lads? What I tell you? The Capt'n went and got us a lady bird to warm our bunks. Awfully nice of him, huh?"

He moved to put his arm around her shoulders and Robin ducked easily to the side. "I think not," she replied coldly. "And if you ever make such assumptions about me like that again, airman, I'm going to beat you like your mother never did!"

The men froze, staring at her in stunned silence. Delicate young ladies didn't make threats, and they certainly didn't use that kind of language. Figuring she'd made her point, Robin had turned back to grab her parasol from her bunk. She shouldn't have been surprised that the airman who'd made the comment would pinch her bottom when she turned her back to him, and she wasn't really. Just outraged that he thought her threat was empty.

The parasol had been a gift from her friend, Delilah, with the lesson that a woman should never be defenseless even when acting the part of a refined lady. The slim blade hidden inside the stock had slid easily from its sheath and with a trained twist of her arm and wrist, she sliced the airman's arm open to the bone. He'd fallen back with a shout and a clamor, knocking one of the other crew trunks from its moorings and sending it bashing against a wall. She'd crouched, positioning her back to the wall like she'd learned and faced down the stunned crew, prepared for another assault from some misguided belief that she needed to be taught a lesson for her un-ladylike behavior. She was the only one teaching lessons today and if she had to drive that lesson home with Spanish steel, she was more than prepared to do it.

It was a good minute before anyone realized the Captain had arrived, and only then because his velvet and steel voice exploded through the silence with all the force of a mag pistol blast.

"WHAT THE BLOODY HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!" He didn't wait for an answer as he stormed into the barracks, "Bart, get Ensign Sheppard over to sick bay and see to it Mr. Henson gets the arm bandaged quickly." He then glared at Robin. "I don't need to ask McCoy for another pilot. God knows what we'll get the next time." Turning his back to her, he faced down the rest of the crew. "As for the rest of you lowlife dogs. If you can't behave better than animals, I'll have each of you cage like one! Make note, Mr. Scott!"

"Uh… Yes, Sir?" Bart asked from the floor where he was helping Sheppard to his feet.

"Until further notice, anyone caught inciting incident on this ship will receive fifteen lashes and be left to tend their own wounds in the brig!" A final glare at all of them and he stormed out.

Robin stared after him, slack jawed. Fifteen lashes? Talk about harsh! A quick glance showed the rest of the crew eyeing her with a mixture of anger and consideration. Like it was her fault!

"Back to work, you gear dogs!" Bartleby barked hauling Sheppard through the door. "No slacking! Fairchild, get up to the launch and tune your dart."

Left alone in the barracks once more, Robin had sheathed her sword with a sigh.She locked up the parasol with the rest of her things and made for the aft port where the planes launched.

The old mechanic who met her on the launch peered at her through multi-lens goggles and made a garbled 'harumph.'

"So you're the reason for all the commotion around here?" he asked, his voice wheezing.

Robin raised her eyebrows. "You missed my little introduction downstairs?"

The mechanic snorted. "I don't fret myself none with the hullabaloo those ninnies do. I figure if it's news worth knowing, the Capt'n will say sumthin’." He held out his hand to her. "Engineer Hubert Wilson."

She took his professed hand to shake once, but he still nodded his head over hers. "Lieutenant Robin Fairchild. Wasn't Wilson the name of the man I'm replacing?"

"Aye. Me brother, Will. Would be flying still, but old legs just can't move as fast as the young ones and eyes cloud after enough decades..." He shrugged. "Now he's gone back to that wife o’ his to teach his grandkids how to fly. Missed out on his own bairne so he's looking to train up the next generation."

"I'm glad to hear it,” Robin smiled. “So which dart am I taking, then?"

Wilson pointed towards the third plane out. "Number three there. New outfit we got in a year back. Hopin' for another two next layover." He pulled an analyzer off the wall and handed it to her along with a slim leather-bound notebook. "Will always kept good notes on the maintenance, so you should have all the info you'll need."

Robin eyed him, amused and a little suspicious. "I must say, Wilson, you're probably the most democratic man I've met in this entire Corp. Most of them are either just looking to get under my skirts or are nothing but disdainful."

Wilson shrugged. "A young thing like you isn't looking for an old bugger like me. But if you would be... a man catches more flies with honey," he said philosophically.

Now a good six hours into her analysis, Robin was feeling incredibly grateful to both Wilsons. Hubert had left her alone for the most part, but always seemed to be around if she was looking for a specific tool. And the retired Will's notes categorized everything from damages and repairs down to tire pressure. The man was as meticulous as herself when it came to maintenance.

"So here's where you disappeared to, lass."

Robin looked up from her notes, one hand flipping her pen into a more useful position and holding it out of sight. The move was purely instinctual by this point. First mate Scott, tinted green from her goggles, smiled up at her from the deck as he came forward. The ghost screens in her goggles displayed that he had a cup of tea in one hand and a small plate of biscuits in the other. It also pointed out in red the blast pistol on his hip, a second in his coat and a blade strapped to each ankle. All standard military issue. Good, that meant her goggles were finally calibrated to where she liked them. Most pilots only cared about the analyzer being able to scan weapons on incoming aircraft. Robin preferred a more thorough approach.

"Good afternoon, Commander," she smiled, but still didn't set down her pen. "What can I do for you?" Scott didn't strike her as a threat, but this early, it was better to be wary.

"Well when you didn't make your way to dinner, the captain and me started worrying you'd went and hopped off the gangplank." He set the plate of biscuits on the aircraft's wing next to her. He made no further more to advance so Robin set her pen down.

"Not at all, Commander, just trying to get my craft situated. I don't want to be caught unawares in case of emergency." She accepted the tea with a murmured thanks and took a sip. It was a little on the sweet side but strong enough. "Are you also of the impression people catch more flies with honey, Commander?" She asked, smiling slightly at her private joke.

He raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Just call me Bart, lass. Everyone else does. And I suppose so. Though I doubt Molly would agree."


"The sugar in m' tea, lass. The irreplaceable Misses Molly Scott." He said it with such an air of romantic pride that Robin had to bite back a snort of laughter.

"Molly, eh?" She asked. "So where is the irreplaceable Molly?"

Bart's face instantly shifted to a sulking sneer. "The blasted wench insists on spending the winter with her family! Too cold in the air, she says! Bah!" His outrage was so comical Robin couldn't help but giggle. Bartleby noticed and smiled, "There ye are lass. Good to see a lady smiling round here. I've always said if a man sees just one lady smile a day, he'll live a long and happy life. And in a few days when my Molly gets her sweet little can back here where she belongs, we'll be doubly blessed!"


"Aye. It's a funny thing. Havin' a lady around does a lot to gentle a ship. Well, a lady that's off the market..." Bart tempered, his face falling for a moment. He shook it off just as quickly and continued, "Like having your mum or sister around, I guess. Good for moral. Even Archer smiles when Molly's having her way about the ship."

Robin frowned, the worry that had been eating at her slowly all day finally too much to hold in. "The Captain hates me, huh?"

Bartleby blinked in surprise, "Not at all, lass. We're just worried about you, is all. Men are animals, and I'll not be the first to admit it. Around here, we're lucky to see a six-hour layover every six weeks during refuel. Usually the crew doesn't get shore leave but twice a year. Some may think they be seeing a sign that's not there and be a little fashed when they're wrong..." He paused as if replaying his words in his head. "Not that we don't want you to stay!" he added hurriedly. "We're just a little worried you've bitten off more than you can chew is all. No one wants to see a little lass like you get hurt..."

"You seem worried, the Captain just seems angry," she replied around a mouthful of biscuit.

"He ain’t angry so much," Bart said frankly. "We just… wasn’t expecting you is all. Changes everything around here now ‘cause now there’s a better chance of something going wrong.”

“Wrong?” Robin probed.

“Archer’s still pretty young by a captain’s standards. Means all the higher-ups are watchin’ him a lot closer than they would a man ten years his senior. It’s important nothing goes array on this ship, if you take my meaning."

Robin nodded. She understood. It meant she was a problem for Archer and the Captain wasn’t thanking her for messing up how the ship ran. Even if he didn’t hate her, he was still resenting her. And the likelihood of him treating her as anything more than a nuisance while she was here was unlikely. If the Captain didn’t respect her, no one here would. It was a dismal thought.

"Thank you for the tea and biscuits."

He waved it off. "My pleasure, lass."

The two stood in silence for a moment. Robin was sure there was something more the First Mate wanted to say, so she waited patiently until it came.

"So you think you'll be okay down in the barracks tonight?" Bart asked, worry creasing his face. "I know you're not allowed special treatment, but If you wanna sleep in the mess or something..."

Robin smiled. "Thank you, Commander, but I'll be fine." Sighing, she eyed the purple sky as it deepened into black. "The attack never comes the first night," she recited quietly.

Shaking his head, Bart made a noise of disgust, throwing up his hands. "No bloody damn place for a woman!" he snarled and stormed off, leaving her to her work.

"Good morning, Lieutenant. How are you today?"

Robin winced at the overly sweet tone. And so it began... The captain's orders would deter most of the men who had no problem attacking a lady alone- those it didn't would present themselves soon enough... In the meantime there were other ways to skin a cat that weren't nearly as likely to find them in the brig facing assault charges...

Leaning over the edge of her dart's cockpit, Robin recognized one of the engineers lounging on her wing from breakfast in the mess hall this morning. He was a young man, only a few years older that herself, but nearly three times her size. Broad shouldered and barrel chested with a physic honed from daily lifting. The man was easily the size of a bear. "Good afternoon... Calvin, isn't it?"

He grinned when she guessed his name right, displaying a missing tooth, "Yes Ma'am. Jake Calvin. I just wanted to stop by and introduce meself- I mean myself properly. Make sure there's nothin' you'll be needing or anything."

Robin smiled at his earnest attempt to use proper english and be charming. She was glad to see this man in the list of Wilson's "Catching flies with honey" group. She didn't relish trying to take him down if things turned nasty. Careful to keep her voice polite and even she replied, "Thank you Calvin, but I'm fine. I appreciate your thoughtfulness."

You'd have thought she just offered him a million quid. Grinning happily, he stammered "N-no problem Ma'am. And remember, if you need anything- anything at all, you just let me know, okay? I'll not be the type asking favors for a favor or anything." He abruptly froze, realizing what he'd said, "I mean... That is... Seriously! I wouldn't! I'm not that- Uh..."

Robin chuckled, "It's fine, Calvin, don't worry about it. I know what you meant. And thank you. If I need anything, I'll let you know."

Relaxing slightly, Calvin gave an awkward half bow and hurried away. An amused roll of her eyes, and Robin sunk back into her seat, plugging the auxiliary cables from her goggles into the aircraft console. There was a moment while the gears shifted, and the analyzer warmed up, before the console information began appearing on her ghost screens.

"Good Day, Lieutenant."

Robin blinked and peered over the side of the cockpit. This time it was Arthur Kingsly, the galley cook's mate. The boy as far as she could tell was barely thirteen, with a lot of freckles and ears he could practically fly with.

Smiling shyly he held up a steaming cup, "Thought maybe you'd like some tea while you're working."

She took the cup from his fingers before he spilled it and returned his smile, "Thank you Arthur, that's very sweet of you." swiftly she sought a way to keep the situation balanced. No favorites. "Did you bring anything for Mr. Gelderoy or Mr. Humphrey? They're working extra hard to get all the planes prepped for drills today." She gestured toward the two mechanics on the other side of the launch who was running oil checks on two other planes.

Arthur blinked, but took the suggestion as another opportunity to gain her favor, "Sure, Miss! We've got some more in the galley. I'll bring them each a cup." And he hurried off to do just that.

Robin sighed, shaking her head and returned to her work. And so it went for the next hour as nearly every man on the day shift- and even a few from the night- found their way to the launch to see if she needed anything. When she'd finally had enough, she'd told her present admirer to deliver a note to Captain Archer. She’d hated to do it, but he was the captain... The note had asked him to please find work for his crew so she could get her own done. Robin had been mildly afraid he’d begin issuing more punishments for people found talking to her, but to her surprised pleasure there was no such announcement from the voice tubes.

For a full forty minutes she'd had peace and quiet to to finish syncing her dart. She'd just been thinking the parade was finally finished she was interrupted yet again.

"Top of the mornin' to ye Lieutenant!"

Gritting her teeth, and plastering her smile on, Robin peered over her cockpit to see Cian MacKelter. The highlander pilot smiled at her expectantly, "No, thank you, Mr. MacKelter, but I don't need any help syncing my analyzer, or prepping my craft. Nor do I require any tea, motor oil or distilled water. You may return to your duties."

Cian gave her a disgruntled look, "What the hell ye haverin' 'bout? I'm not yer bloody manservant! Pack needs to know if we be launching t'day or not?!"

"Oh! Yes!" Robin glanced at her analyzer. Everything was ready to go, "Tell the pack we launch in ten." MacKelter saluted and strode off towards the other end of the launch while Robin smiled to herself about the private jargon. Airship crews were often referred to as 'gear dogs' though why, she'd never been sure. Apparently this nickname, coupled with the ship's dog inspired name had lead the crewmen to consider themselves a pack, versus a team. That was fine. A pack was more closely knit. Responded better to each other. She was counting on that closeness to lend itself to formation patterns and strategies.

Unfortunately- a pack also was isolated from outsiders. It was going to be a tough act to get them to trust her as their wing leader...

Waiting until they were all in their cockpits, goggles on and plugged in, she flicked on the radio transmitter. "Alright, Gentlemen, canopies up or down today, we’re just going to be doing so light drills. I'd like to see what you all are capable of. So when we launch I want you all to form up in elements on me." She brought up Wilson's flight logs on her console. "I want a Fingertip flight pattern followed by a Delta on my mark."

"We already know both of those..." Pilot three whined. Instantly her analyzer recognized his name on the roster. Karl Houseman.

"Lovely. Then this should be an easy warm up exercise for you, Houseman." Setting the throttle, released the brake locks. Instantly the dart began to roll forward. Airship launches were tricky. The launch port was positioned at the top front of the zepplin’s air canopy. You basically had to gun the engine to full power, and roll down the sloped launch and off the nose of the canopy. Once airborne the trick was the regain altitude quickly- a feat given how sluggish the darts were, even at full power- but not too quickly, else you’d stall the aircraft and loose control. At low altitudes, launches could be dangerous, indeed.

The deck dropped out from under her wheels and Robin immediately compensated for her drop, pulling up quickly. Her analyzer announced she only dropped about eighty five feet. She smiled to herself. It had been a good while since she'd launched from an airship, and while it wasn’t her best launch, it was pretty damn close. The other darts filed out behind her, number four-- Collin Reed-- dropping a good hundred and twenty feet, but recovering. She timed their takeoff and was impressed by the the 2.8 minute launch. She hadn't told them she wanted an immediate takeoff so she suspected when she did they'd cut that number in half easily. In less than five minutes the entire wing was in the air and flying a polaris formation pattern alongside the Cerberus. For a moment Robin could only marvel at the sheer size of the recon ship.

The massive zepplin was over a quarter mile long. from canopy nose to the bottom most tip of the lower vertical stabilizer. Two huge propeller engines stuck out on either side of the tail, perpendicular to the two vertical stabilizers, and a second pair of smaller engines were tucked under the canopy, attached to the ‘ship’ portion of the airship, called the ‘boiler basket’. Here was were the boiler rooms were located to keep them away from the explosive gasses found in the air canopy itself. The enormous stabilizer wings fanned out downward from the basket’s sides, their fin like sails undulating in the wind.

She knew it boasted a relatively small crew- only about a hundred men as opposed to the nearly 200 on the cruiser classes- but it could transport over twice that in a wartime operation.

A coin sized portal opened on her console and the vocalization meter began it's zigzag motion at the same instant a chill like electricity shot up her spine. "Leutenient Fairchild, do you copy?" Archer's whiskey voice warbled over the transmitter.

"Y-Yes sir."

"Keep the pack aft of the port propellers. Devonshire is working on the tracking system for the cannons. I don’t need any misfires."

"Noted sir," she replied and the portal closed. Instantly she flipped her own transmitter on, "Gentleman I want us to stay aft of the port propellers so lets fall back a few hundred yards and form up with the Delta. When I give the command I want a full dispersion and a regroup."

They obeyed grudgingly to her every command for about an hour, but after the twelfth regroup, she could tell she was pushing it. They still didn't trust her fully and it wasn't easy for them to take orders from a woman. Things only got worse when she began playing with variations in the patterns. There had been more than one pilot on the transmitted demanding to know why he was being switched out. Robin had patiently explained each of her variations, but she was sure none of them were entirely satisfied. More than once she'd caught two of the pack switching to their original positions mid-maneuver. They were going to have to work on that...

"Alright gentlemen, practice well done. Lets pack it in. It's almost lunch." Robin said over the transmitter, "Bring them in via starboard aft. Six through two."

"We're port side!" Sheppard complained over the radio.

"It's far quicker just to circle fore and come around port from the prow than orbit the entire damn ship!" Houseman kicked in.

"I told you earlier to stay aft port. Don't question my orders!" She shut down the transmitter and began a lazy circle to tail up behind the others. It had been a good first run. She had hopes for them as a pack if they could get used to obeying a woman.

It was then that dart three dropped out of line and began circling fore. Robin blinked in shock, a little stunned Houseman was being so overtly insubordinate. She switched on the radio and pulled out to follow, "Houseman! What are you doing?! Get back in formation!"

He ignored her transmission and she pulled alongside to try and get a visual. "HOUSEMAN!" she shouted into the radio, but that exact instant Robin heard the port cannon fire. She acted on instinct, throwing her dart into a aileron roll. Her wing clipped his spinning them both out of control. Then she was plummeting, nose first and spinning like a corkscrew. Red warning lights and beeps exploded on her ghosts screens. She’d clipped a good six inches off her wing. "BLOODY HELL!" Robin snarled, and threw her weight into her yoke. She cut the throttle, willed her nose to level out and tried not to look at the patchwork of farmland that was becoming less hazy and a good deal larger with each passing second. Final she pulled the nose high enough to pull out of the dive and regain altitude, but with a chunk of her wing gone, maintaining stability was proving difficult.

Frantically her head whipped back and forth, trying to get visual of Houseman. He was in far better shape, having gotten control of his dart quickly he was coming at her along with the rest of the pack that hadn't docked yet when she'd gone into the spin. Attention no longer focused on saving her own ass, Robin could now hear the frantic shouts of the other pilots over her radio. She flipped on her transmitter, silencing the static. "Houseman." she ground out between clenched teeth. "Dock. Now."

She punched the button, to lock ing radio silence on her transmitter, and eyed the Cerberus’s propellers. Darts didn’t enter the same way they’d left. Instead of coming in from the bow, they had to enter via the aft, coming in at a steep angle over top of the vertical stabilizer between the ship’s engines. The backdrafts produced by the huge propellers caused enough difficulty for an experienced pilot with a fully functional craft. Robin hadn’t made an airship landing in almost two years and now she had a gimp wing! Setting her teeth she lined up her approach, and started in over the propellers.

Immediately the draft caught her good wing, rolling her hard to the right. Robin savagely wrenched her yoke back to the left but the damaged wing elevator jammed and she over compensated. She had to ease up and the precious seconds lost didn’t give her the time needed to slow down with only one good elevator. She hit the deck hard and fast, the brake sling catching her wheel strut and slamming her back in her seat.

Heart hammering, and adrenaline steaming through her veins, Robin jumped from her cockpit the second her craft slowed to a safe speed. She ducked the concerned gestures of the other pilots, and cracked Houseman across the face before he could even open his mouth to speak.

"WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING?!" she demanded. "How dare you blatantly defy my orders! I'll have you grounded for the next three weeks!"

"Hey! How was I supposed to know, Huh?!" Houseman replied defensively, "You never said they were testing the damn cannons!"

"I shouldn't need to!" she all but screamed, "As my subordinate, you follow my orders! To. The. T!! I don't care if it's a formation pattern or if I'm telling you to bark like a dog! You do what I say, when I say it, regardless of if you're given a reason!"

"Well maybe if your commands were a bit more enjoyable, we'd listen," Sheppard added slyly.

"Sheppard, we've already proven you're not man enough to take me, so unless you have something useful to add, keep your damn mouth shut!" The second the words left her mouth, Robin realized her mistake. Rule #1, never show fear. Rule #2, never challenge their masculinity.

MacKelter began laughing, "Oi there, Sheep! looks like she called you out, eh?!"

"You little bitch!" Sheppard snarled, "I could take your skinny ass any day of the week!"

"You tell 'er, Sheep!" George Darwin chimed in.

"You've got no right telling us what to do!" Houseman added.

In for a penny, in for a pound, Robin raised herself to her full height, "I'm you're Luitenient-"

"Yeah, and likely you got there because you boffed a Major," Jasper Bloom remarked, his arms crossed haughtily across his chest.

"Uh... Guys maybe this isn't really a good idea-" Reed began, but Sheppard cut him off.

"Seriously! How else would a damn woman get a squad leader rank if not by sleeping her way there?! You sure as shit didn’t get it during combat!"

"I'll be happy to show you how I got my rank, ensign," Robin snarled, drawing the collapsible sword from her belt as well as her blast pistol, "Though I'm sure any two-bit ninny could kick your ass just as thoroughly!"

"You got lucky last time!" he snarled, advancing towards her. "This time I'll make sure you can't sit properly for a week!"

"You try it and you be stitching more than your arm back together!" Robin raised her rapier, ready to strike the second Sheppard drew his sword, but two arms grabs her from behind, locking her elbows behind her back.

"How's this then?" Houseman asked, "Think you could take her now, Sheep?" There was a round of laughter through the pilots as Robin squirmed, testing Houseman's hold. Damn he was strong... She was going to have to head butt his face from this angle and try to get enough arch in her spine to flip backwards over him and break the hold. That was dangerous. A good chance she could seriously injure her captor.

Bracing her legs for her move she snarled at them. "Sheep is right! You can't even fight your own battles? Need your buddy to back you up Sheppard? Can't take a little thing like me on your own?"

"Alright, that's it!" Sheppard growled and drew his extendable blade.


Houseman released her like she was made of molten metal. Captain Archer's voice was louder than the cannons, even outside on the launch. "Did I not issue severe punishment to anyone caught inciting incident?! You fuckheads looking for assault charges too?!" He raked all of them with a glare could freeze water in the dessert, "I want a name. I want to know who's ass I'm nailing to the hull first!" Those chilling sage eyes landed on her.

Damn! What now? It wasn't anyone's fault but her own. She shouldn't have been so brash with them. If she let one of them take the blame for things, she'd never gain their trust. Suppressing a shudder of fear Robin swiftly sheathed her weapons, and stood a little straighter, "It was my fault sir."

Archer stared at her as if she had just turned purple and sprouted horns, "Your fault, Ms. Fairchild?"

"Mr. Houseman disobeyed my orders in the air, sir. I'm afraid I lost my temper." She swallowed, "I incited the incident. I'm to blame."

He frowned for a long moment be for spinning on his heel, "Fine! We'll figure out a punishment for you later-"

"Fifteen lashes, sir."

Ever man on the launch stared at her. Archer turned back slowly, "What?"

A small part of her felt mildly betrayed. She had thought the captain a fair man. One who would at least give her the curtsey of treating her equal to his other pilots. Apparently she had been wrong. Robin took a deep, steadying breath, "You said it was fifteen lashes and a night in the brig for inciting incident. I'm fully prepared to accept those terms-"

"I said we'll discuss-"

"I WILL NOT ACCEPT SPECIAL TREATMENT FOR MY GENDER!" Robin bit her tongue, horrified at her own actions. Surely she did not just shout at her commanding officer... Had she? Well what did they expect?! She was an officer dammit! She was a member of this military and she'd entered so with the full expectation of being treated like and equal! Instead she'd been met with distain, contempt, and patronization. Enough was enough. It was time she earned a little respect and equality on this bloody ship! And if this is what she had to do for them to see she wasn't some weak and spoiled brat who was just playing at being a pilot- then dammit that's what she was going to do!

Around her, the rest of the pilots looked like they were going into apoplectic shock.

Slowly as if he wasn't quite sure how to approach her, Archer walked right up until he was a scant inch from her. Robin had to tilt her head all the way back to look him in the face. She felt like she was exposing her throat for a blade. A small thrill of fear shot through her.

"Are you questioning my orders, Lieutenant?" He was almost whispering, his voice as cold as steel.

"No sir. I'm holding you to them." Robin replied instead, fighting to keep her voice even.

Archer's eyes were like green glaciers. "Fine!" he snarled and grabbed her by the upper arm roughly hauling her from the launch. "You want to be treated like an equal, Miss Fairchild? That's fine!"

Robin saw the other pilots scramble after them as Archer dragged her the steps from the launch to the axle deck and flung her to the ground. Robin bit back a yelp when her ankle twisted painfully from the harsh landing. Looking up, Robin saw the main deck was teeming with officers and crewmen.

"Lieutenant Robin Fairchild!" the captain announced, gaining the immediate attention of everyone on deck, "For disobeying my orders not to incite incident aboard this craft, and showing insubordination to your commanding officer, you are to receive fifteen lashes to the back and will be confined to the brig for a period of three days. Commander Scott, if you would please retrieve the lash?"

From somewhere behind her, no doubt beside Archer, Bart made a strangled noise. Shocked gasps reverberated through the crowd.

"Anything to add Lieutenant?" the Captain demanded.

Oh sweet god in heaven what had she gotten herself into?! Robin had watched public discipline before. Those who had received the punishments had claimed it to be the most painful experience of their lives. She'd heard some say a broken bone was mild in comparison. There'd be scars. The corded leather short whip with it's electrically charged, steel tipped cat tail was known to bite so throughly into the skin that often times even stitches couldn't properly sew a tattered hide back together. She'd heard of men dying from severe lashings and other succumbing to infection from a mild one.

Heart hammering wildly, and fear turing to cotton in her mouth, Robin surveyed the gathered men, a single fear bringing itself to voice in her throat. "Permission to retain my shirt, sir?" If she was going to commit herself to this, Robin realized she could only hope to retain some tiny amount of dignity.

There was a startled silence from the entire deck before Archer replied, "Granted. Mr. Scott, bind the Lieutenant to the center stabilizer."

Forcing her shivers under control and gritting her teeth, Robin got to her feet, removed her jacket and began unfastening the underbust corset she wore over her blouse. With as much dignity as she could muster, Robin let Bart lead her over to the deck's center stabilizer.

There were already linked cuffs bolted to the sides for just such punishments. Swallowing hard Robin sank to her knees and held out her wrists. She saw that hands shook so she clenched them into fists.

Frantically looking back and forth from her to Archer, Bart's eyes pleaded for someone to say this was a joke. All around her, Robin could feel the crew's eyes burrowing into her. Bartelby secured the steel cuffs, the icy cold metal biting on her small arms. “Prisoner secure, Captain,” he announced, his voice still sounding a little strained.

In the heavy silence, Archer's footfalls as he approached were like thunder. Reaching down to her, he held out a large caliber cannon shot. A small hole had been drilled into one side to let the gunpowder out. There were a couple bite marks gouged into the soft metal casing. "So you don't bite your tongue," Archer explained quietly.

Robin turned her head to look at him, on her tongue to say she didn't need his charity, but stopped short. His face was emotionless as he stared down at her, but the tension in him was almost palpable. The cold anger she'd felt in him only minutes before had vanished completely leaving instead something undefinable. Robin read the complex thoughts in his eyes and silently accepted the casing. With a deep shuddering breath, closed her eyes and dropped her head.

"Commander Scott will count the appropriate amount," the Captain announced.

Robin wrapped the chains around her hands and held on, braced for the first blow.

It seemed as if time stopped completely. No one spoke. No one moved. Robin heard Archer unwind the lash, it's tips rattling on the wooden deck....

"WAIT!" Everyone spun towards the voice. Even Robin strained to see over her shoulder.

Sheppard stood, hand outstretched as if to catch the whip, "It was me Captain. I incited the incident. I provoked the Lieutenant."

"No, it was me!" Houseman said, stepping up, "I disobeyed her orders in the sky. I was insubordinate and provoked incident."

"Nay sir!" MacKelter said, knocking Sheppards hand out of the way, "Weren't them sir... I'm to blame. I was eggin' 'em on see-"

Bloom stepped ahead of all of them, "It was my fault sir, I shouldn't have accused the Lieutenant of using her charms to get her position. It was low of me, and I accept full responsibility."

Robin was incensed. Spitting out the casing she leveled them with a quality glare, "Would you ninnies shut the hell up! I'm perfectly capable of taking responsibilities for my own actions! I don't need a bloody prince charming!"

"Dammit lass!" MacKeltar snarled, "Hald yer weesht and stop bein' so bloody minded!"

"I'll be as bloody minded as I like!" Robin snapped, "You're not my husband!"

"We're trying to be gentlemen here, Fairchild, so shut up and be grateful!" Houseman shouted.

"Grateful?!" she all but shrieked in outrage.

"Seems to me," Bart chimed in, "This ain't so much an inciting incident as a squabble among the pack. Wouldn't you say so Capt'n?"

Robin strained her neck to look at Archer. His face was totally blank, but even seeing him from the corner of her eye, she could swear his shoulders shook on a deep steadying breath.

"So it would seem, Bart. Release Ms. Fairchild. You may all return to your duties." Throwing the lash to the deck he stormed off towards his cabin.

Slamming the door behind him, Archer eyed the remaining whiskey on his desk... After a moment he spun away, ducked his head into the loo and proceeded to vomit up that morning's breakfast.

He heard the door open just has he finished heaving.

"That bad?" Bart asked and Archer heard him pouring something into a glass. He hoped it wasn't whiskey- at least not yet- and was relieved when his friend handed him water. Archer rinsed his mouth and spit into the toilet.

"Bloody fucking hell!" he snarled, "I didn't think she was serious about taking the punishment!" Archer took a deep breath and stumbled over to the wide window bay that doubled as his bed, "I didn't think things would go that far..."

"Good thing it didn't. I don't relish the problems we'd have around here if the crew saw you back down." When Archer didn't respond after a long minute, Bart prodded again, "You would've backed down, right, Sev? You wouldn't have actually..."

"I didn't have a choice. I can hardly dismiss her without loosing my job, and like you said, if they saw me back down..."

"Jesus H. Christ, Sev!! I don't believe it! I refuse! My best friend wouldn't actually abuse a woman!" Bart snarled, throwing up his hands! "You're the captain! You could have just said no!"

"I would have thought less of you, if you had," Came a light timid voice from the doorway. Both men turned to see Robin standing in the doorway.

Archer studied her where she stood. She’d put her corset and jacket back on, and now appeared poised and calm. As if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. "Would you excuse us," He asked his mate.

Bart glanced at him, startled, then looked at Robin, "Of course..."

Robin stepped into the room and out of his path, closing the door behind him. For a long moment, neither spoke.

Robin sighed and walked up to him, handing over the bullet casing, “Permission to speak freely, Captain?”

Archer snorted, and accepted the casing, “Seems you’ll do so anyway. Permission granted.”

“I’m glad you didn’t back down.”

Archer raised an eyebrow, “You like that kind of pain? Kinky as that is, I assure you Miss Fairchild, that whip was designed to even keep little masochists like you in line.”

She blushed a furious red, “I’m not masochistic! I’m not that kind of-” Robin broke off, her mouth and eyes snapping shut, clearly trying to regain control of her temper. She took a deep breath and let it out in a huff, “I’m glad because it means you’re at least willing to make the attempt to treat me like an equal and not merely ‘tolerate’ my presence on this ship.” She opened her eyes and looked at him, sincerity smoothing her face until she looked like a child standing there. “I know it’s not in you to hit a woman. Thank you, Captain, for making the effort.”

Archer looked away from her, distinctly uncomfortable for some reason he couldn’t explain. “Yeah, well, next time try finding a less provoking way to be a pain in my side would you?”

She plopped down next time him and Archer sat up straight, leaning just slightly away from her. This close, she smelled like magnolias and sunshine. It was a little nerve wracking being so near her. “You really don’t mind me being on board this ship?”

Archer sighed, “Miss Fairchild-”

“Robin,” she cut in, “Please, Just Robin.”

“Robin,” He began again, “I have a great deal of respect for female pilots. I admire what you’re trying to do. But that doesn’t mean I think this military is ready for you yet.”

She frowned and looked crestfallen, her head drooping, “So you don’t want me on your ship...”

“No I don’t,” he replied truthfully. Catching her chin on the edge of his hand he pulled her gaze to his, “But you’re here now. And we’ll make the best of it.”

Hope made her eyes sparkle more brilliantly than emeralds. “And you’ll treat me as an equal among your crew? A brother in arms as it were?”

Archer smiled, “Well I don’t know about a brother, but you will be treated fairly on this ship Robin. I’ll do my best to see to it.”

She giggled and Archer was relieved to note the tension between them has dissipated, “I can’t be your brother?” she teased.

Archer hesitated, considering his own words. Equal to the rest of his crew? With a small sigh he gave her a quick once over, “Not so long as you’ve got a rack like that and are sitting on my bed.”

She blinked completely shocked for a full three seconds, before she burst out laughing a slapped him on the shoulder. With no small amount of force either, Archer noted, mildly impressed. “CAD!” she shrieked in mock outrage.

Her laughter was contagious, and Archer found himself chuckling, “Now get out of my office,” he ordered, standing up. She did the same.

“Thank you again, for your understanding, Captain,” She said seriously and with a small salute, hurried out the door.

Archer stood staring at the closed door for a few minutes until Bart opened it, displaying a new bottle of whiskey.

“Care for a spot?” he friend asked.

“Yes.” Archer replied emphatically, and plopped back down on the bed, “We may need to stop off before Port Royal and restock. Something tells me you and I are going to be going through a lot of this stuff in the next three years.”

Down in the mess hall, Robin collapsed onto a table bench. The few engineers and crew men about at this hour were all watching her. No doubt the tale of her insubordination and near lashing had already spread the length and breadth of the ship...

Elbow in the table in a most unladylike fashion, she planted her forehead in her palm. The adrenaline from this afternoon was finally draining, leaving her limbs weak and shaky.


Robin looked up to see Arthur Kingsley standing next to her with a cup of tea with a lopsided smile on his face. She looked at the boy and then the tea... “Actually, Arthur I could really use some coffee right about now...”

“Vodka!” Sheppard ordered the boy and plunked down next to Robin, clapping an arm around her shoulders in a brief hug, “What our pack leader needs right now is a stiff spot of good Russian dart fuel, Art.”

“Make it a round!” Houseman said as he, Bloom and Darwin took the bench across the table while Mac Kelter and Reed joined her side of the table.

“Whiskey for me lad, “MacKelter ordered.

“Can’t have liquid on the job sirs!” Athur exclaimed.

“It’s medicinal,” Reed told him, “Miss Fairchild’s had a hard day.”

Robin stared at them, bewildered, as Arthur ran off. “If this is about earlier...”

“It sure is!” Darwin said with a grin, “How in the hell did you fly that beast in over the backdrafts? Second I saw your elevator jam I thought for sure-”

“My God, could you please stop discussing work when we’re off duty!” Bloom groaned, “Honestly, man. The Luietenient has far more pressing concerns to be worried about.”

“Yeah like keeping outta the brig!” Houseman snorted, “You know you’re damn fucking lucky The captain didn’t take that lash to your back-”

“Archer’d never do that!” Reed announced defensively, “The Captain’s a good man he is!”

“Yeah but he also ain’t no pussycat,” Sheppard put in, “Little miss britches about got her hide tanned for her.”

“Give the lass a rest already will ya?” MacKeltar ordered just as Athur arrived with a tray of tumblers and crackers.

Houseman shoved a glass into her hand, “Drink up, me hearties!”

“Yo Ho!” The rest of the men replied and tossed back their shots.

Robin stared at her drink, too bemused to do more. “I don’t understand... Half an hour ago you were ready have me tied and quartered...”

“Yeah...well.... As to that...” Houseman began.

“We got to thinking-” Reed chimed in.

“Maybe we was bein’ a little judgmental on account of yer skirts...” MacKeltar continued.

“I mean, anyone who can fly like you do-” Darwin began,

“And be directly insubordinate to the captain-” Reed broke in.

“And demand she be held accountable for her own actions-” Bloom said.

“Even if that means being beaten and publicly humiliated-” Sheppard intoned.

“Well maybe that means you got here because you deserve to be here.” Houseman finally finished.

Sheppard held up his empty glass for a salute, “No hard feelings?”

For a long moment, Robin looked at each man in turn before her lips slowly split into a smile. She clinked her glass to Sheppard’s. “No hard feelings.”

The pack cheered and clinked their glasses to hers. Robin tossed back her drink as MacKeltar called for another round.

"Cerberus this is the Bella Marie. Requesting passenger transport."

Archer waited for his analyzer engines to confirm the approaching ship's identity. When the ghost-lights in his monocle blinked green, he connected to the intercom. "Roger that, Bella Marie. You are cleared for dock anchors."

"So what's she like?"

Archer glanced to his right where Robin was leaning casually against the banister that edged the upper tier of the command deck's dual leveled arrangement, "What's who like?"

The lower tier was for navigation and steering and the array of devices used for such made it impossible to move casually around. The only people on the lower tier were those that needed to be there. The upper tier, only about four feet off the lower, and connected on either side with short ramps was for the commanders and gunners. As much as Archer might prefer otherwise, Robin counted as a commander and could lounge anywhere she pleased on this deck. Not that anyone would likely stop her even if she wasn't.

Her little act of insubordination had managed to earn her a god-like status among the crew. Archer might have been insulted if it weren't so damn convenient.

Having decided she was worth her weight in engine parts, the crew had immediately stopped slobbering over Robin's shoes and looking down on her. She was treated like a daughter or little sister by nearly every man aboard, and given the proper respect as was her due. And if there were any less savory sorts who might still harbor dishonorable intentions towards the young woman sleeping in their barracks, they were kept safely at bay by the fighter pack.

Awed by her determination to take the blame for their actions, and her instant forgiveness of their poor behavior, the rest of the pilots had, to a man, gathered around their new commander. They reminded Archer of the knights of the round table called to protect Guinevere. Archer had no doubt they'd die defending her should it come to that. For now, at least, Robin was safe.

"Mrs. Scott," Robin replied with a head nod towards the approaching airship. "Is she a pleasant sort?"

Archer frowned, "Why do you want to know?"

Robin sighed, for a moment she didn't even look her supposed nineteen years, "She's going to be the only other woman onboard with me... I don't want.... That is, I would hope..." She trailed off, biting her lower lip and her blushed.

It was on his tongue to ask her what she was talking about when the dock anchors clicked into place. Instantly his attention was redirected back to the delicate air transfer proceedings.

"Alright, steady as she goes, ensign..." he directed to the officer in charge of the x- axis helm. In air transfers like this, should either of the two ships move too far apart, the anchor cables could snap. It took a delicate touch to keep the proper positioning for the maneuver. Tensely he eyed the metal basket as it was cranked along the seemingly too thin anchor cable across the distance. Once the basket clicked safely into place in the port side hatch, Archer let loose the breath he'd been unconsciously holding. "Well Miss Fairchild, it appears you're about to find out." He said, picking up the strain of their previous conversation even as he strode from the bridge. She was instantly at his side again, a step behind in a show of respect. She always seemed to follow him around when she wasn't currently at her duties. It was a little unnerving even as it was strangely satisfying. Archer realized he liked having her around. She was intelligent, witty, and warm hearted. Like Molly, her very presence seemed to give an extra boost to the mens' morale.

© Copyright 2010 Alexa Black (tattercrow at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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