Melani grunted, curled around the leg of Isaiah's SIREN with a wrench in her teeth and a screwdriver in hand as she tried to tweak the mechanism of the ankle joint. She was dressed in her coveralls, the top peeled off with the long sleeves tied about her waist, and a once-white camisole shirt that was a failed attempt at a womanly touch, but which had been stained with oil and other lubricants over the few months since she'd purchased it.
Her hair was pulled back from her face with a tie, then twisted into a messy bun and secured with a handful of pins. The usual flyaways were clipped down with colorful and sparkly barrettes, but more seemed to have worked themselves free of the petty excuse for a style, one lock hanging in front of her right eye.
She was so focused on her task that she didn't hear him approach, working away and blowing ineffectually at the lock of hair that hung in her face.
Isaiah had had quite a long past few months. To be more accurate his life had become something akin to a bad TV drama. Between Ren and ZZ, Isaiah wondered how much more trouble the women in his squad were going to cause him. After awhile of relaxing in his bunk (a pleasure he rarely got to enjoy these days) Isaiah found himself growing restless. A few minutes later, Isaiah found himself slipping his pilot suit on. Maybe Draven would let him get a little extra practice in today?
The young sergeant opened the door to his room, checking to make sure no one else from his squad was around. No matter how many times he wore it, the suit still made him feel ridiculous when he was the only one in it. Once he was satisfied that the others were busy with other matters, Isaiah made his way towards the training grounds. Upon arrival, he noticed Draven off to the side punching some data into one of the terminals. "Evening, Doc."
Draven jumped slightly before turning around to answer. "Sergeant Cole? What brings you here? Your training for the day finished hours ago."
"I was feeling a bit restless. Was wondering if you'd mind letting me take the Avalon out for a spin for a little while."
"...Well. Normally I'd say yes but at the moment Corporal Engleton is doing some maintenance on it."
"Mel? What's she doing working on the Avalon?"
"Dr. Fortenschwal and I thought it would be a good idea to let her fiddle with the units from time to time. So we started inviting her down to the holding bay a few months ago while the rest of you were busy with other training. We figured it was only prudent. Afterall she'll be your team's mechanic if you're ever actually deployed on a mission."
Isaiah nodded. It was sound logic. The SIRENs were the most advanced piece of weaponry known to man and Mel only had a few months to figure out how they worked. In truth he admired her skill with machinery for that very reason. "Well, I'm going to go check in on her then. She might need a guinea pig." Isaiah waved goodbye to Draven as he departed across the training grounds to the holding bay. It was only then that he realized the potential hazard he'd just signed himself up for.
"Crud, I forgot about the incident in the medical ward.....Still haven't given her an answer about that." Isaiah cringed as thoughts of Ren began to swim around his head. He felt so very low for that even still. Was it because Mel had shown legitimate feelings for him or was it just a military thing? Isaiah himself didn't even know. Either way, the holding bay wasn't getting any farther away so he needed to get his act together soon.
When Isaiah finally did enter, he immediately spotted Mel crouched around his SIREN. His head tilted slightly as he made a mental note of the girl's unique attire. "Huh....Thought she looked good in this ridiculous suit but.....huh...." Isaiah shook the thoughts from his head as he approached. Mel hadn't noticed him yet - strange, given the girls usually uncanny ability to locate him. For whatever reason, a rather childish idea entered Isaiah's mind as he quietly knelt down behind Mel. In the next instant he jammed his index fingers into her side in an unusually playful manner. "Bzzz."
Having grown up as the only girl amidst a house full of boys, her reaction was reflexively violent--as she shrieked in surprise, she twisted, elbow aimed in the vague vicinity of Isaiah's head. The contact was only grazing, but it was still far better in the close-combat area than Melani ever professed her skills to be.
She blinked, half-twisted as she stared at Isaiah long enough for her brain to register who she'd just hit (even if it was only a glancing blow!), and she flushed, scrambling to twist around and gain her knees before him, a rushed apology falling from her lips in a jumble of breathless speech, "Ohymygod! Isaiah! I'msosorry! Areyoualright?!"
Her pulse thrummed quickly in the side of her neck, but only partially from the adrenaline and surprise...Her CO always made her heart beat faster when he was around her, especially when he was so close.
Maybe it was the fact that Isaiah wasn't expecting Mel to respond beyond the traditional girly scream that he'd expected which had delayed his reaction or maybe he was just surprised that Mel had actually physically assaulted something. Either way he couldn't even hope to respond in time. Mel's elbow caught him just across the nose, visibly stunning him somewhat. The meager blow caused Isaiah to lose his balance and fall backwards, hitting his head against the wall as he did.
"Oooowww...." he groaned, massaging the back of his head. He twitched his nose in a vane attempt to 'snort' the pain away. "Geeze Mel have you been training with Petrov when I wasn't looking?" The CO chuckled a bit at how flustered the girl was. "Oi, oi, calm down it's alright. So, how's the Avalon? Am I gonna be able to take it out for a spin soon?"
"N-no," she stammered, still flushed as she moved to crawl between his knees, cupping his face in her hands with her thumbs set on either side of his nose as she tilted his face this way and that, then gently probed at the bridge of his nose with her thumbs to assure herself that she hadn't broken anything. "I, um...I grew up with a lot of brothers," she admitted, then realized that she was still cradling his face. She let go of him as though they'd traded static electricity with a painful jolt, and shuffled backward on her oil-stained knees.
"Ah, y-yeah, she'll be ready in just...Lemme..." she turned clumsily, almost tripping herself, and moved to start putting pieces back. "I...I was just tweaking the bearings...for, uh, you know...faster response..." She realized that she was rambling and stopped, taking a deep breath that made her shoulders visibly rise and fall, then continued at a much less faltering pace, "Draven said it was okay, since I'll have to do the field maintenance. You...you don't mind, do you?"
She glanced back at him, lips pressed together and brows raised with wide eyes, afraid that he might forbid her working on his suit...which was the closest she was going to get to any intimacy with him.
"Ow-ow-ow, hey cut that out!" Isaiah flinched, hitting his head against the wall for the second time now. "Smooth move, sarge" he grumbled to himself before listening to Mel's explanation. "Lot of brothers huh? Afraid I can't relate to that." Isaiah massaged the bridge of his nose before blasting a quick huff of air from his nostrils. Mel was getting flustered again; big surprise that was. Isaiah simply smiled and rolled his eyes. He still wasn’t sure how to act around Mel. Part of him still felt guilty for his night with Ren, though why he couldn’t understand. It wasn’t like they were seeing each other – though he couldn’t imagine Mel complaining about that scenario.
"Bearings, huh? Don't worry I'll just nod and pretend to know what that means." The young sergeant chuckled as Mel went on. "No, no, absolutely. I agree. To be honest I'm impressed. You must've been studying these things religiously to have them figured out this well in such a short time. I might have to get you to show me a few things. Never know when a little knowledge will come in handy." Isaiah finally stood up and looked the Avalon over. He fumbled over himself for a bit as he tried to figure out what he should say next. “Tell you what. Why don't you finish whatever it is you were doing with the bearings, throw your suit on and we'll go for a test run? Sound good?" Isaiah felt an unnatural flush in his cheeks. “Why the hell am I blushing?” The weapons specialist turned his head away to hide the mild embarrassment, casually waiting for the feeling to go away before turning back towards Mel.
”Dad always said I took a shine to machines,” she murmured, picking parts up from a paper schematic she’d drawn to keep them all in line and placing them back whee they went in the ankle of the suit, twisting and ratcheting where needed. When he talked of having her show him a few things--teach him, essentially--she colored slightly, smiling at her work. ”Yeah, sure...Anytime...” she murmured in response.
Her hands stilled at his invitation, along with her breathing. Only when her lungs began to ache did she suck in a new breath, too afraid to look up at him to see the expression on his face. Don’t. Don’t let your imagination run away with you. It’s not a date. It’s just...It’s friendly time between squad members. It’s not like he’s...I dunno, secretly in love with you, or anything... Her heart flopped in her chest and she bit the inside of her cheek against the unbidden grin that wanted to curve her lips.
”Sounds gr...Sounds good,” she answered, as nonchalantly as she could, which was not very nonchalantly at all, and affixed the last piece into place before fumbling with her tools clumsily as she put them up, trying to go about the task quickly and ending up taking more time than she would have otherwise. ”I’ll be right back!” she said before darting to the girl’s locker room.
In the privacy of the no-boys-allowed room, she allowed herself to hyperventilate a little as she stripped her gear off and scrubbed the oil from her hands and face. She and Isaiah. Alone. Together. Okay, in suits, but alone together! And doing stuff, not alone together in a ‘we just happened to be in the same room’ coincidental way. It was like a date! No, not a date. Don’t get your hopes up, Melly, her inner voice told her. But it was almost like a date!
She squirmed herself into the skintight excuse for a uniform the SIRENs required, and took one last look at herself in the mirror. Her enthusiasm deflated as she stared at her freckled face and unruly hair. Of course it wasn’t a date. Isaiah would never go for a scrawny, awkward girl like her. She was no Ren, no Sharline, no Zirra. They were women, with curves and beauty (even if some of them, okay one of them, was a complete bitch), and Melani, in comparison, was still girlish. She sighed, turning away from her reflection with some choice insults ringing in the back of her head, and slipped out of the locker room. It’d still be nice to spend time with him, even if she had a snowball’s chance in hell of him caring for her as more than a little sister type...
Isaiah watched as Melani fumbled to put her tools away, offering what help he could before she scurried off to the locker room. A deep sigh of relief escaped the man when she was out of ear shot. Was it hot in there? He could have sworn Draven had mentioned something about the holding bay being kept at low temperatures for the sake of the SIRENs. If that were the case though then why did he feel like he was burning up? Isaiah tugged at the neck of his suit. For a moment he could have sworn he saw a bit of steam escape from the ephemeral breach in the otherwise perfect air lock. It was then that a familiar voice spoke up behind him.
’Staff Sergeant Cole. Your body temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees. Are you feeling ill?’
“I’m fine. Keep quiet Avalon.”
’I’m also detecting irregular pulse patterns and overstimulated brain function. Are you certain you’re alright, sir?’
Isaiah blushed as the suit read him like an open book. “Shut the hell up, Avalon!!” The young sergeant kicked the knee of the suit, immediately regretting the decision to do so as it felt like kicking a brick wall. Isaiah’s toes throbbed in pain as he hopped around on one foot, attempting to massage away the sensation. “I know, I know, ‘Staff Sergeant Cole I’m detecting damage to your right foot,’ shutup.” Had the Avalon had the capacity to sulk, it might have done so at that time.
After a short while Isaiah found himself propped against a wall, his foot still pounding away. “Better not let Mel find out about this or she’ll be tearing my boots off in no time.” For a moment a vaguely inappropriate thought entered Isaiah’s mind. “That’s not the only thing she could tear o- Oh snap out of it you moron.” Isaiah visibly shook himself out of his brief dementia in time to see Melani returning. Another warm sensation crept up from Isaiah’s chest to his cheeks. “Who the hell is running the thermostat in here?” Isaiah tried in vain to massage the red from his cheeks though he was forced to cut the action short before any real effect could be had. Thus Isaiah was almost beat red when Mel finally approached. Isaiah started to whistle but stopped himself, deciding that there was no need to make a bigger fool of himself than he already had. “Looking good, Mel. Let’s get to work.” Looking good? Get to work? “Smooth, sarge. Reeeeal smooth.”
Looking...good? She stumbled at the compliment, a slow flush creeping up her freckled cheeks. She could almost swear that she could hear her heart thud in her chest. He thought she looked...good. Did that mean pretty? Naw, it couldn’t have. Maybe he thought she looked...healthy? That must be it.
She couldn’t help the smile that curved at her lips as she moved to Asclepius’s bay. She glanced back at her Sergeant, tilting her head as she watched him over her shoulder for the space of a breath. He was acting a little oddly. Was he coming down with something? Well...once suited up, she’d have a monitor of his vitals. She’d taken to having the basics like heart rate, blood pressure, and core temperature of each of the squad shown on her HUD. It was better to get used to the assault of information under training conditions, because she sure as hell wasn’t going into a combat scenario without knowing her tools and options inside and out when lives might depend on her.
Important, too, was that they were (not on a date!) spending time together...Any diagnosis could totally wait for an hour or two, right?
She shifted herself into the waiting Melani-shaped hole of Asclepius and closed her eyes as the clumsy-looking white suit closed itself over her with the now-comforting sound of hissing hydraulics. There was the usual brief sensory deprivation before the suit’s computers came online, but terror no longer welled in the pit of her stomach because of it, and when the display flickered to life, she cheerily greeted her automated best friend and initiated her own little list of checks, flexing all of her joints and booting up the little programs she and her engineer had discussed, including the bio-monitor for Isaiah once he was securely inside his Avalon.
”Open com-band: Avalon.” The syntax of the command flowed easily from her lips now, as she stepped from Asclepius’s resting point toward Avalon. Although the suit was much larger than she was, it didn’t seem quite as clumsy once she got it in motion. ”All dressed up and ready to go,” she informed Isaiah as the little window of his face popped up in its usual corner on her screen. She had a preference for video communications on a one-on-one basis, even if there was only audio on the other side of the discussion...Especially when it was Isaiah she was talking to. She hadn’t actually told anyone, per se, that she could see them, as it was just something that she and Asclepius had stumbled across fairly early in the training, but what they didn’t know...well, it couldn’t hurt, right?
Isaiah caught himself staring as Mel strutted off in her suit. His head tilted awkwardly as his eyes followed her hips until he was finally jolted awake by her turning around to enter her SIREN. Realizing how awkward it was for him to still be outside of his SIREN, Isaiah made his way over to the Avalon. Once the state of the art suit had closed around him, Isaiah waited for the HUD to flicker to life just in time for Melani’s transmission to come through. “Com-links working alright? Anything to report on your end, Avalon?”
’Nothing out of the ordinary Staff Sergeant Cole. You however seem to be experiencing irregular pulse patterns. Shall I administer I minor sedative?’
“Ixnay on the ulseratepay, Avalon.” Isaiah muttered with a nervous hitch in his voice.
’.....I don’t recognize that dialect Staff Sergeant Cole. Is it some obscure foreign tongue?’
“No it’s....Just nevermind I don’t need the drugs. And enough with the ‘Staff Sergeant Cole’ stuff. It takes too long to say. From now on you just call me ‘Sarge’ like everyone else. We clear?”
’Very well, Sarge.’
Isaiah sighed before stepping out of the holding bay. If he hadn’t already given himself away the Avalon would. “Alright Mel, anything you want to work on? To be honest I wasn’t expecting company so I didn’t really have a plan.” Isaiah pondered for a moment as to what exactly the two of them could do. “I can think of a few things I’d like to do outside of these sui-STOP THAT!” The Avalon’s hand shot up and smacked itself in the head, sending a deafening sound throughout the helmet. “Note to self....Don’t hit yourself while wearing a SIREN.” Ironically it was then and there that Isaiah thought up something for them to do. “How about we simulate a ‘man-down’ scenario, Mel? I’d like to see how well you’re able to analyze and fix any issues we may run across in the field. Avalon, go ahead and disconnect the com.” The Avalon soon obliged Isaiah’s request, disconnecting the audio link between itself and the Aesclepius. It did not however remove the private video feed that Mel had been secretly running. Once Isaiah was satisfied that Mel could no longer hear him, he gave the Avalon another order. “Avalon, simulate a stage 2 core overload in the primary thrusters. Let’s see what Mel can do.” Without a word of acknowledgement from the Avalon, the SIREN soon keeled over onto the floor, becoming completely immobile. Meanwhile the thruster on its back began to glow red hot. “Avalon, re-open the com-link with the Aesclepius......Let’s see what you can do, Mel.”
It took her a few blinks to react. For one, she sucked at reading lips, so she had no real clue what he’d ordered his suit to do. Secondly, she wasn’t really expecting anything like this. For Isaiah to come to her level, to test her, it was...well, it was downright heart-fluttering. She remembered to breathe, and then pushed her SIREN across the floor at as close to top speed as she could get in the small space until she was beside him, crouching to inspect the Avalon through Asclepius’s HUD.
”Aye, Sarge. Asclepius, diagnostic on the Avalon, ASAP.” She pronounced it like a word: ay-sap. As she let her suit’s computer do as she’d commanded, she took a visual stock of Isaiah, both as the Avalon and as himself in her little video feed. His pulse rate was charted quietly under the little box that displayed his face, and she kept a portion of her attention on that. If the Avalon was truly immobile, the object of her dreamy affection might start to have some claustrophobic reactions, even if he was completely comfortable with his armor by now. It was one thing to be comfortable in a tin can...it was another entirely to suddenly be in a metal coffin that had you strapped down so tightly that you couldn’t scratch your nose.
”Don’t worry, Isaiah, we’ll fix you right up!” She leaned this way and that for a moment, then with a deft movement of mechanical wrists, flipped the Avalon over. ”Asclepius, narrow scan to thrusters.”
”Thruster mechanism temperature exceeds normal operating maximums, Corporal Engleton. Prognosis: Coolant line disruption,” the calm voice replied.
”Ah-hah! Well, we’ll just...” With a flare of the DART, her metal-clad hand suddenly had a propertool in it, and she deftly pried the correct panel open. ”Seems like we have a coolant flow problem to the thrusters! We’ll have this fixed in two shakes, sir!”
“She’s doing well so far.” Isaiah thought to himself as Melani began her diagnostic. Granted this was only a drill and it couldn’t hope to capture the sense of terror that would come along with a live combat scenario. Still, there was only so much one could do in the wake of preparation. Isaiah flinched a bit as Mel effortlessly flipped him over, wincing as his face mask collided with the floor. “Simple scan would have sufficed...”
It was then that Mel really grabbed Isaiah’s ‘attention.’ “What’s she opening the back panel fo-heeeeello.” Isaiah flinched once more as the Aesclepius’ cold metal hands pressed against the thin metal panel separating him from the outside world. “Hey, hey, I said let’s see what you can do, not cop a feel.” The young sergeant snickered to himself as Mel continued fiddling around.
Should he have went ahead and ended the simulation? It wasn’t like there was actually anything for Mel to fix. Still, something told Isaiah to let it run a bit longer. “See anything else I should know about back there?” Isaiah tried to remain calm in his little metal box whilst Mel continued poking around at his backside. Even with all his effort though it still felt like his pulse might pound clear out of his chest. “Maybe I should have taken the Avalon up on that sedative offer....”
”Huh?” Melani asked, missing half of what he said because she was so caught up in her work. She blinked big innocent eyes at the little box with Isaiah’s face, then flushed prettily when her full attention flicked back to the view on the rest of her screen. She hadn’t even noticed that she was...well, manhandling him. She coughed, cleared her throat, and one metal-covered hand reached up to scratch at what passed for Asclepius’s head. ”Ah, sorry...I think I may have gotten carried away...If, um...if this weren’t just pret....a simulation--” Because adults did not “play pretend.” ”--there’d be a blockage of the coolant here, causing an overheat in your thrusters...I can’t really give you protocol on what I’d do, ‘cause there are just too many variables. I’d have to be able to ascertain what kind of blockage it was before I knew whether it was fixable without, erm...invasive techniques...” Invasive, like her mech’s hand still on her C.O.’s backside. She flushed as she realized that she was still essentially feeling him up and jerked her hand away like he had spontaneously become a hot stove.
Isaiah gave a humble nod of approval as Melani went into her explanation. Granted from what little Isaiah understood about the inner workings of the SIRENs a simple overheat should have been an easy spot for someone with Mel’s experience. Still, he was nontheless impressed with her effectiveness. A smirk escaped him when Mel jerked her hand away, followed by an audible chuckle. “Relax Engleton, I don’t bite.” He stated before turning his attention back towards the SIREN’s hud. “Avalon, restore coolant flow and disengage lockdown.” Without a word of confirmation the Avalon’s coolant system flushed the over heated thrusters as the back panel sealed itself shut once more. Isaiah rose to his feat, doing his best to crack his back through the hull of the Avalon. Once that was taken care of, Isaiah raised his hand to his chin, an unspoken signal for the Avalon to disengage its helmet. As if on cue, the helmet sprung open, revealing the CO’s face to the world. “Good work. Wish I had something a bit more complicated for you to try but I doubt our good friends at Celsius would appreciate me trying to break these things any further,” he sighed, raising his hands up in an unknowing shrug. “I was going to take this thing through the obstacle course, but to be perfectly honest I’m not really feeling that idea as much as I was before. Anything you’d like to work on? Or would you rather grab some dinner?”
There was an honest-to-God miracle: she didn't faint.
"D-Dinner?" she asked, and her voice sounded light and airy, even to her ears, so she cleared her throat in a reminder to herself to actually breathe. ”I, uh...I’d....yeah...Dinner. Where?”
Her stomach’s growling in agreeance was less important than the fact that he was asking her out. On a dinner date! Sharline had been right! Now all she had to do was not have a heart attack on the way.
It was difficult for Isaiah to tell just what was going on inside the Aesclepius. Thus the fact that his little dinner question had almost caused his medic to have a heart attack escaped him. For a moment he thought there was something wrong with their com from how broken up Melani’s voice sounded. “This thing working?” he questioned to himself whilst tapping the Avalon’s earpiece. Figuring it would clear itself up eventually, Isaiah moved to continue. “To be honest I’ve always had a bit of a weakness for hashbrowns.....There’s a diner about two blocks down the road. How’s that sound?” Without waiting for Mel to respond, Isaiah began making his way towards the holding bay. “Eh, we’ll figure it out when we’re leaving. I’m gonna go change. I’ll meet you outside your room in 30.”
Isaiah discarded the Avalon in its proper storage unit and headed off to the barracks. Once there he discarded the suit onto his bed and glanced at the shower. Did he have time for a quick one? Probably a good idea. After scrubbing down, Isaiah made his way towards his closet. What was the temperature outside now anyway? “Better dress warm I guess.....Can always lose a layer if it’s hot out.” Even with their occasional ‘shore leaves’ Isaiah was finding it difficult to keep track of time. After pulling out the first pair of pants that caught his eye, Isaiah observed the rest of his closet. “Black tee shirt, white tee shirt, blue tee shirt, geeze did I bring anything a little nicer?” Isaiah’s eyes eventually settled on a black button down shirt in the far corner of his closet. “When did I?....” He paused for a moment, eventually reaching the most logical conclusion he could. “Celsius may have its quirks but they certainly take care of their employees....” After dawning the gifted shirt, Isaiah pulled a brown leather jacket from his closet before tossing it around his shoulders. His eyes then settled on a small bottle at the end of his bathroom counter. Cologne. He hadn’t had much use for it in his time there. “...Might as well I suppose....,” a quick splash of the smelly liquid and Isaiah had become a presentable member of society. Once he was fully dressed, Isaiah made his way to Mel’s room, knocking on the door only once before propping himself against the wall outside to wait.
Her door opened only moments after he knocked, like she’d been pacing nervously on the other side of it. She blinked, staring at him, and a soft blush suffused her cheeks at his dapper state of dress. She was suddenly very glad that the part of her mind that had argued for everyday wear had lost that fight. Instead, she’d donned a floral-print dress with a sweetheart neckline and a wide nipped-in waistband set over a mid-calf length skirt that belled out in a look that was suitably vintage enough to flatter Melani’s petite form. She had, of course, had help choosing the garment and the kitten heels that she wore with it, but the coordinating leggings and cardigan draped over her arm atop her coat were her own additions, and she was inordinately proud of her minor fashion success.
Even her hair was transformed. The normally unruly mess had been parted in the center and pulled away from her face in twists on either side of her head, in a sort of mock french braid (but much easier to execute by oneself) that ended in a ponytail flipped over on itself at the nape of her neck, giving a touch of elegance to her look.
She opened her mouth, nearly blurting out something idiotic like “wow,” or “gosh,” but caught herself before she could make a total fool of herself. Instead, she stepped out of her room, closing the door behind her, and donned her cardigan and coat before taking Isaiah’s arm in a move that was both bold and very old-fashioned, letting him lead the way to this restaurant he’d chosen for their date...because it was obviously a date now, until he said otherwise!
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