by Nijiiro Sumi (虹色墨)
Hiroko woke up feeling sick. It didn’t take her long to figure out that she felt sick because she was a) upside-down and b) still strapped into Thanatos and c) in a tree because d) they’d gotten shot down by the enemy. Again. With her luck, Veronica had landed Amaterasu in some glamorous way that didn’t involve hanging upside-down by her seat straps. Hiroko grimly made sure she was hanging onto something before deactivating the straps, then tested everything to make sure it still worked. Then she tested all her own limbs, to make sure they still worked. Then she carefully, gingerly, completely failed to maneuver Thanatos out of the tree, mainly because the branch supporting her snapped and sent her crashing to the ground.
“Shut up!” Hiroko hissed. “We’re only deep in enemy territory!”
“Oh, there aren’t any of them around here,” Veronica reassured her. “Amaterasu told me so.”
Hiroko bit her cheek, hard, and counted to ten. “We’ve lost a lot of time, and our machines are going to need repair. We should probably make camp for tonight.”
“Aye-aye, O Experienced Veteran!” Veronica’s ridiculously red mecha–appropriately or inappropriately named Amaterasu–saluted sharply. “I think there’s a good campsite two kliks to the northwest. It’s where I landed.”
“Of course you did,” Hiroko muttered.
Thanatos’ damage was not so extensive that the repairbots couldn’t patch it until they reached their destination, and so Hiroko left them to do their work. She clambered and skidded her way down the leg until she reached the ground, whereupon she turned and gave the enormous metal side an affectionate pat. “Get well soon, buddy,” she said. “See you in the morning. We still have a long way to go.” She activated the invisibility shield–not that the green-and-black Thanatos needed it, very much–and crossed the small clearing to where Amaterasu and Veronica waited. Amaterasu was already under cloak, only the vague soap-bubble shimmer if you turned your head just right belying its presence. “How’s Ammy?”
“Oh, she’s fine,” Veronica responded. “I just landed her ’cause I saw you get shot down.”
Hiroko ground her teeth and counted to ten. By the time she got to seven, Veronica had draped her arms aorund Hiroko’s shoulders and was nuzzling her neck. “Ronnie,” she said between her teeth, “now is not a good time.”
“But you got shot down! I almost thought you were dead!” Ronnie licked one long, wet stripe across Hiroko’s collarbone. It chilled quickly in the night air, and Hiroko suppressed a shiver. “C’mon, we’ve only got a few days left. We ought to make the best of it.”
“Nnnnnoooooo,” Hiroko managed, but it was too late. It’d been too late ever since she’d found Veronica and her mysterious mecha in the Congo, missing her memory but without a scratch on her. She was flat on her back who knew how many minutes later, Veronica already unsnapping the buttons of her flight suit, then drawing the zipper down on her pants with her teeth. Sometimes Hiroko wondered just who Veronica had been in her past life, but when Veronica nuzzled her pubes and breathed deeply, she always concluded that she didn’t really want to know.
The first touch of Veronica’s tongue was always electric. It always made Hiroko whimper, always made her gasp, always made her eyes water. Veronica lapped at a slow, regular pace, watching Hiroko carefully. When Hiroko’s fingers curled into the grass, she switched, going lower, deeper, probing inside. When Hiroko drew her legs up around Veronica’s shoulders, Veronica stopped. Hiroko whimpered. Veronica introduced one finger, then two, curling them up and stroking. Hiroko squeaked; Veronica laughed, and Hiroko flushed with embarrassment. Then Veronica bent her head again, tongue flicking out to stroke Hiroko’s clit in time with her fingers stroking Hiroko from inside. Hiroko closed her eyes, no longer able to breathe, and that was always the beginning of the downhill tumble toward orgasm.
When Hiroko was finally able to open her eyes again, she found Veronica lying half-curled against her legs, her head pillowed on Hiroko’s hip. “Wan’ me to?” Hiroko murmured.
“No, dear.” Veronica patted Hiroko’s thigh. “You go to sleep.”
“Camp,” Hiroko said in the middle of a yawn.
“It’s all right. I’ll take care of it.” Veronica rubbed Hiroko’s leg reassuringly.
Veronica did, in fact, take care of it. When Hiroko opened her eyes the next morning, she found that she’d somehow been folded into her sleeping bag. Veronica hadn’t been stupid enough to risk a fire, but she’d set up a shriller to ward off any indigenous wildlife that might have come poking around in the middle of the night. Not that there had been much chance of that; the Argaiv had most likely driven off or eaten everything in a 100 mile radius. Even if the humans managed to push them off, the damaged ecosystem might never recover.
Well, that was no excuse for not trying. Hiroko lay there for a few moments, trying to see if anything had come to her in the middle of the night. Nope. They were still on a suicide mission. She sat up.
“Coffee?” Veronica handed her a pouch. Hiroko tore off the top, sucked it down in three gulps, and threw the packet into the grass to biodegrade. She shucked off the sleeping bag, which curled itself up like a pillbug, and presented its strings for tying.
“Thanks,” Hiroko said, once the sleeping bag was tied and stowed back in Thanatos’ cockpit. She paused just before pulling her helmet down over her face. “I mean. . . thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Veronica said. Amaterasu’s hatch closed behind her.
The Argaiv base loomed on the horizon like some giant crabby beetle. Patrols were frequent this close to their headquarters, and they dared not even make a real camp; they sat their mechs so close together that their invisibility cloaks overlapped and slept curled in their cockpits. This didn’t stop Veronica from somehow turning up in Hiroko’s cockpit in the middle of the night. Hiroko woke up only when Veronica unfastened the catches on her flightsuit.
“Ronnie?” Hiroko mumbled, still thick with sleep. She came awake just a second later; they trained that into you, in the military. “The hell you doing?” Hiroko tried to push Veronica’s wrists away, but there was nowhere for Ronnie’s hands to go in the small, cramped cockpit.
Veronica kissed her hard enough to bruise. “We might die tomorrow, baby,” she said, her breath hot against Hiroko’s face. “C’mon, we might die tomorrow, we should fu–”
“You’re crazy!” Hiroko hissed. Her voice sounded loud in the confined space of the cockpit. “Go back to your own mech! Get some sleep! There’s sort of an incredibly important mission tomorrow!”
“I will,” Veronica breathed, her teeth against Hiroko’s chin. “I will, as soon as we do it. C’mon, let’s do it. I want to do it.”
Hiroko couldn’t very well say no when Veronica’s hand was down her pants, her fingers already skillfully rubbing and teasing. She gave up and bowed her head. Veronica’s pants were already open, and it was easy for Hiroko to reach in there and press her fingers against the warmth and the wet. She felt awkward and childish whenever they did this, whenever it wasn’t just Hiroko lying back and letting herself be taken. But Veronica didn’t seem to mind; she wriggled her hips against Hiroko in a way that made her mouth go dry. She moaned; she threw her head back and rode against Hiroko’s fingers for far too many minutes, her own hand going slack. Hiroko made a thin, needy sound that seemed to remind her, but then Veronica came, shuddering, hips rolling. And a good thing, too, because Hiroko’s hand was starting to hurt. But then Veronica put her lips next to Hiroko’s ear and whispered, “Come for me, baby,” and that was it. Hiroko was done.
They slept curled around each other in Thanatos’ cockpit, and Hiroko didn’t get very much sleep. She woke bleary and still at a complete loss as to what they were supposed to do once they flew into the Argaiv base, besides try not to die too quickly. It probably didn’t matter whether they were well-rested or not. She tried to crack her back, and Veronica, half on top of her, groaned.
“Ronnie.” Hiroko’s voice creaked like a rusty hinge.
“Shhh.” Ronnie planted a kiss on Hiroko’s forehead. “I’ll handle it. You just follow my lead.”
“You just follow my lead” turned out to mean “go in there with all guns blazing.” The Argaiv drones surrounded them, but they burst like popcorn and peeled away in layers, still twitching, their filament legs thrashing wildly as they disappeared into the canopy below. Hiroko pelted forward, screaming until her throat gave out, not caring how many Argaiv they felled or how many they simply left hovering behind them, conscious of only Amaterasu, blazing in the corner of her windshield. She fired her gun until she ran out of bullets, then she launched all her missiles one after another until she ran out of those too, and she was reduced to using her proton scythe. The Argaiv drones fell one after another, but there were always more, and more, and more, rising up in an endless cloud, and their base still too far away.
“Ronnie,” Hiroko panted. “Ronnie, we’re not going to make it. We–”
“We will!” Ronnie yelled in a burst of static. Amaterasu had a crack in one shoulder, and she was out of bullets, too, whipping away at the drones with her proton sword, which glowed green in the sunlight. “We will! We have to combine, Hiroko!”
“Combine?” Hiroko stared in disbelief at her screen. Ronnie had lost it. What did she think this was, a Japanese cartoon? They couldn’t combine, their mechs weren’t built for that–
“Trust me!” Ronnie yelled, cleaving another half-dozen drones in half. “Just–just hold still!”
How many times had she heard that before? But they had nothing to lose, after all; Hiroko fired her foot-jets. Thanatos could hover, but not very well, and not for very long. Amaterasu came roaring up behind her, its powerful mechanical arms wrapping around Thanatos’ chest. “What the–” Hiroko was cut off by an alarming grinding, and then a sharp crack as her armor caved. “The fuck, Ronnie?!” she demanded of Ronnie’s grinning face, illuminated on her screen. Then everything got brighter and brighter, until Hiroko had to close her eyes.
White. Heat. Peace. Hiroko floated, suspended in a bright light. She felt dreamy and safe. Somewhere out there, she could hear the hue and cry of battle, feel the force of the feedback against the controls, but in here she was serene. Somewhere in the back of her mind she could hear her own yells, combined with Veronica’s cries, and somehow she could see Amaterasu’s arms shape a circle, a sun enclosed within the mechanical hands. Amaterasu wound up, like a pitcher, and sent the fiery sphere hurtling toward the Armaiv base, which resembled nothing so much as an enormous termite mound. The Armaiv buzzed frantically, but there was nothing they could–
“So if you could always do that, why didn’t you do it sooner?” Hiroko demanded. “Why wait until the last second?” She rubbed the small of her back.
Veronica took a long, thoughtful sip of her milkshake. “It was more dramatic that way,” she said, with great finality.
Hiroko sputtered. “Dramatic?! Holy shit, we almost died!”
“See? More dramatic.” Veronica smiled up at the sunshine. It had taken only six months for Tokyo to go back to the way it had always been, sans a few dozen skyscrapers. The ordeal with the Armaiv seemed like nothing but a long, bad dream, with only a crumbling mound in the Amazon to attest to their existence. Once Amaterasu had scorched their base to ruin, the Armaiv all around the world had simply shriveled and died.
Hiroko held her breath and counted to ten. Then she tried her best to tear her own hair out. “You drive me crazy!”
“I know,” Veronica said, and kissed her.
They stayed like that for a while, kissing in the late afternoon Tokyo sunlight. Hiroko was aware that this was a total faux pas, but she couldn’t bring herself to care with Veronica wrapped all around her, her breasts all soft and warm…
“Hey,” Hiroko said, when they pulled apart. “So what’s up with you, anyway? Your mysterious past? Your powers?”
“Oh, those.” Veronica cast her eyes upward, rolling her tongue around in her mouth. “We’ll explore that next season!”
Hiroko took a deep breath.