tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 080

Three Square Meals Ch. 080

byTefler©

"I thought you weren't mad at me?!" Dana protested, but she shifted nervously on her feet, knowing she was on very shaky ground.

"Just look at it!" John exclaimed waving his hand at the Valkyrie. "You couldn't have been hit by more laser fire if you ran around diving into shots!"

Her eyes darted up at the dense patchwork of laser burns across every single piece of armour plating and Dana couldn't help wincing. "I was trying to shoot down dropships! I didn't want the Ashanath to get eaten," she said defensively.

"I told you, no heroics!" he said, his voice angry now. "It looks like you were so focused on killing dropships, you didn't even bother dodging incoming laser fire. Am I right?"

Dana started to deny it, but she stopped herself and mumbled, "Yeah, you're right."

His eyes narrowed as he pointed towards the savage rents in the Valkyrie's head and said furiously, "And I bet you were so fixated on your shooting, you lost situational awareness... let that dropship ram you?"

"Yes," Dana squeaked, her eyes welling up with tears.

John paused in his diatribe as he saw her starting to cry, then took a deep breath to calm himself. He pulled her into his arms and said, "Honey, I'm upset because you were that close to being killed." His voice softened as he continued, "I wanted to help the Ashanath, but never at the cost of your life. You can't even imagine how broken I'd be if I lost you."

"I'm sorry," she said, her voice muffled against his chest.

He held her tight, stroking her back as he said quietly, "Keep this to yourself, but I was really close to just calling off our intervention to save the Ashanath. I knew how dangerous it was going to be and I wasn't planning to throw away any of your lives because of their lack of defensive preparations." He grimaced as he added, "If saving them had meant sacrificing you, I'd have just walked away."

"Really?" she asked, looking up at him with tear-rimmed eyes.

"You're one in a billion. I'd be a fool to risk losing something so precious," he said, squeezing her tight.

Dana brushed away her tears then grabbed him and planted a fierce kiss on his lips. John returned her kiss, but she appeared to have no plans of letting him go anytime soon, so he embraced her and enjoyed the passionate liplock with the overwhelmed young woman.

When they finally separated to take a breath, she looked at him shyly and murmured, "No one's ever said anything like that to me before."

"That's because everybody else is stupid," he said with a playful smile. John hesitated and corrected himself, "Not the girls obviously, but you know what I mean."

Her eyes filled with love and she said, "I know what you mean."

He gave her a brief kiss on the nose, making her giggle, then glanced up at the battered mech. "Alright, let's do this. I've reviewed the battle footage with Calara, so I saw how you tore up those Drakkar cruisers. The Valkyrie did seem effective, but I'm sure we can make it better." Returning his focus to the girl in his arms, he added, "What kind of upgrades can we make to this thing?"

She looked surprised and replied hesitantly, "Am I still going to be able to-"

John cut her off, knowing what she was about to ask and said firmly, "We can discuss that later. Let's talk about ways we can improve the mech first - this was just a prototype after all."

Dana nodded and said with an eager grin, "Actually, I came up with a list of ideas during the battle."

"Great! What did you have in mind?" John asked, releasing her from his embrace.

Dana slipped away from him and walked around the Valkyrie's massive foot, pointing up at the orbital insertion pack. "The first thing to do is sort out the engines," she explained, frowning at the damage to the right thruster. "I originally designed the mech to be a super-powered ground support platform, so the engines were only really there to slow its descent from orbit. I think it'll be a lot more useful if we design it primarily for space combat, because then it'll still be capable of ground support anyway."

"So just make it faster?" John asked, nodding as he looked up at the pack.

"Yes, exactly!" she agreed enthusiastically. "At least the same speed as the Raptor, which shouldn't be that hard as the gunship is bigger and has more mass. We'll just remove that drop pack and I'll design something with a bit more poke."

"Sounds like a good start. That way the Valkyrie and Raptor can support each other more effectively," John said, rubbing his chin as he tried envisioning them in combat.

Dana placed her hand on the mech's armoured foot, giving him a shifty look as she repositioned her hand away from the blast crater left by a laser cannon bolt. "The second thing is more hull reshaping."

"To make it immune to laser fire?" John asked wryly. "Yeah, I can't imagine how you came up with that idea."

"Not just to protect it against laser cannons, but to be able to shrug off Beam Lasers too," Dana elaborated with a self-conscious smile. "They seem much more common in the big fights we've been involved in, what with all the heavier ship classifications on both sides of these massive battles."

"I agree in principle, but it's a big machine," John said, sizing it up warily. "Alyssa really struggled with octo-shaping the swords for me and Sakura. I don't think she's anywhere near strong enough yet to replate the entire Valkyrie in fully reflective armour."

"Is it really that hard?" Dana asked him curiously. "Alyssa normally makes it look so easy."

"The Invictus is only plated in quad-shaped armour, and this mech has penta-shaped Alyssium. Believe me, it gets a LOT harder as you go up each classification," John explained, grimacing at the memory. "I can't even imagine how hard it would be to octo-plate anything; I'm amazed she can even try it."

"Which shows how much of a badass Athena is," Dana said thoughtfully. She smiled at him and added, "Maybe you should find a way to start porking her? You're fantastic in the sack and we really want to stay on her good side."

John laughed and rolled his eyes, but his laughter died out and he said emphatically, "Now that things have calmed down a bit, we have to try and come up with some ideas on how to save her. She's been there for us countless times, never asking for anything in return. I've got to help her from being absorbed and destroyed."

Dana nodded and said, "It's way outside my area of expertise but I'll wrack my brain for ideas. I might be able to come up with something useful."

"Good girl, thank you," John said, smiling at her appreciatively. He glanced up at the mech and added, "Anything else you had planned for the Valkyrie?"

"Yeah, a couple of other things," Dana replied with a nod. "One of them is only minor, but the arm vibrates when firing the Punisher Gatling."

"Is that because it's using a hand-held weapon rather than having the gun built directly into its arm?" he asked, stepping back a few paces to look at the gigantic weapon.

She walked over to join him, then followed his curious gaze towards the mech's weapon. "I suspect so. I could either remove the forearm and incorporate the cannon as a replacement, or I could improve the vibration dampening, check the mountings and balancers that kind of thing."

"Do you gain anything by having a second hand?" he pondered, staring at the enormous metallic fists.

"It gives us more utility. We could use the Valkyrie to help with refits," she replied thoughtfully. "Also, if it ever has to grapple anything big, having the second fist would be more useful than a gun arm if the target is too close to shoot at, or if it runs out of ammo. Actually, that reminds me, I was thinking I could incorporate some kind of energy blades into its arms, or maybe give it a big crystal Alyssium sword. What do you reckon?"

"For chopping your way free from docking claws? Yeah I can see how that could be useful," John said, giving her a knowing look.

"That would be one way of using them, yes," Dana said with a guilty grin.

"Anything else?" John asked, studying the enormous metal titan.

She pointed to its shoulders, saying, "Just one other minor item. The pauldrons on the Valkyrie are big enough to fit a couple of Pulse Cannon turrets."

"Ah right, to shoot down incoming missiles?" John asked, recalling their earlier conversation by the Raptor.

"Yes, exactly! They'd be a huge help against strike craft too, like fighters that kind of thing," Dana clarified.

"Sounds like a quick and really useful upgrade," John agreed as he started walking towards the steps leading up to the maintenance gantry. He turned and beckoned her to follow. "Come on, I want to take a closer look at the damage to the cockpit."

Dana followed after him, dragging her feet reluctantly as she knew exactly how he was going to react when he saw inside the Valkyrie's head. When they reached the top of the maintenance gantry, he didn't disappoint.

"Fuck me!" John swore, going pale as he peered inside the gaping hole in the mech's cockpit.

The Pilot's chair had been ripped from its base and tipped over on its side, barely anchored to the floor by the cabling that was now exposed. There was a deep gouge through the side of the chair and that trough in the metal was covered in dark-red blood. He turned around and just pulled Dana into a hug, not saying anything for a couple of minutes as he held her.

As much as Dana knew she should be feeling remorseful, John's strong arms wrapped around her felt lovely and she rested her chin on his shoulder, a happy smile on her face. When he started to pull away, she quickly did her best to look chagrined as she turned to look at him.

"Alright, you big faker," he said, smiling at her in amusement. "You can drop the act, I can tell you're too happy at the moment to pretend to be contrite."

"That's your fault, not mine," she said with an impish grin.

John glanced back at the cockpit and jerked a thumb in its direction. "Is there any way we can stop this happening again? Maybe stick the cockpit in the chest, something like that?"

Dana wrinkled her nose with distaste and replied, "In its chest? That'd look really weird and would fuck up the emergency ejection system. Besides, the Power Core and ammunition hopper for the Punisher Gatling are built into the chest, there's no room for the cockpit in there."

"Alright, it was just a suggestion," John said with a smile.

"I actually do have something else in mind for the cockpit!" Dana said enthusiastically. "One of the problems I found, was that the controls just weren't responsive enough. I thought we could remove the chair and replace it with some kind of anti-grav field that responds to the Pilot's actions. It would make fighting in the mech much more natural, as the Valkyrie would essentially just mimic the movements of the person controlling it."

"That sounds like an excellent idea," John agreed, looking thoughtful. "Exactly how responsive could you make it?"

She smiled at him and replied, "With a few upgrades to the joints, very quick indeed. You could make it do cartwheels if you wanted."

He laughed at the thought of the thirty-metre-tall mech performing acrobatics.

"Hey, guys!" Sakura called up to them from the deck of the Launch Bay. "I've brought breakfast!"

John leaned over the safety railing and exclaimed, "You're a life saver! We'll be right down."

John and Dana were both feeling famished and they raced down the steps from the gantry taking them two at a time. Sakura watched them both in amusement, then handed over a couple of breakfast baps, fully loaded with sausage, fried eggs, and rashers of bacon. She also had bottles of water, quickly handing them over too.

"Oh God, this is heaven," John said after swallowing the first bite. "It's still hot from the oven!"

"I didn't want it getting cold, so I ran all the way here," Sakura explained, before taking a bite from her own. Once she'd swallowed she added, "Jade's a great cook!"

"Thanks for the express delivery," John said with a grin. "I take it when you said you ran, you enhanced your speed too? Are you fully recharged this morning?"

She nodded to both questions before replying, "I feel fine today, in fact I'm full of energy and raring to go. I'm planning to work off some off that energy in the Training Dojo later, so you're welcome to join me if you'd like to have a duel?"

"I'd love that, thanks," John said with a smile.

The three of them ate together, sitting on the Valkyrie's foot and making light chit-chat as they finished their breakfast. As soon as they were done, Sakura rose to her feet and gave them both a wave goodbye. Before she could leave, Dana suddenly wrapped her in a huge hug, taking the Asian girl by surprise.

"Rachel told me how you saved her life," Dana murmured in her ear. "I really liked you before that and now I think you're fucking awesome! Thank you so much."

Sakura smiled at John over the redhead's shoulder, gratefully returning the hug. She turned her head to kiss Dana's cheek and said, "You guys saved my life, so it felt wonderful to be able to protect Rachel in return. You stay safe though, okay? I'll feel even happier if you never end up needing my help like that!"

Dana nodded and smiled at her in gratitude. With that, Sakura waved them goodbye again and accelerated away, sprinting with her enhanced speed to rush from the Launch Bay in a blur.

"She's really growing on me," Dana said, smiling at John once Sakura had left. "I must admit it felt a bit weird having her join the crew to start with, especially after how much Shinatobe fucked us over, but that's way in the past now."

"Yeah, I'm very fond of her too," John said, a little half-smile forming on his face. "I know I wanted her to go her own way and have a fresh start, but I'm really glad she talked me round. I must admit, it's great having someone that shares my interest in swordsmanship, but more than that, she's very bright and great company too. Relaxing to be around - you know what I mean?"

Dana gave him a sly grin and said, "It sounds like you're falling for her."

He laughed self-consciously and admitted, "Yeah, I guess I am." He smiled at her and added, "That makes eight women now though, that's not too unreasonable, is it?"

She grinned at him and replied, "For someone with your stamina, we need all the help we can get!"

John returned her grin then slipped his arm around her, stroking her back. "I think we're pretty much done with the review of the Valkyrie. Do you fancy relaxing with me in the Observatory for a while? There's a few of things I wanted to chat to you about."

"If that's another way of saying, 'fancy a fuck, baby?' then sure!" Dana replied, nodding eagerly.

John laughed as he jumped off the mech's foot, then held out his arms for her and helped her down. She grinned at him and they walked out of the Launch Bay hand-in-hand. The fore grav-tube was just to the right of the doors, so they stepped into the glowing blue field and floated upwards past deck after deck until they reached Deck Three.

Dana jogged ahead to hit the button that opened the door at the end of the short corridor, revealing the oval-shaped observatory as the door slid aside. She kicked off her boots, then bounded onto the huge, pillow strewn bed in the centre of the room, tugging her top off as she did so. John was a little more restrained, removing his boots before walking over to join her. Dana had already pulled off her trousers, leaving her wearing a beautiful set of lacy white underwear as he reached her side.

"Very nice," he said appreciatively, admiring the way the bra cupped her full breasts as though offering them up for his enjoyment.

"I picked it up from Rachel's store on Gravitus," Dana explained, reaching behind herself to unclasp it. "We spend so much time naked in bed, I haven't really had a chance to wear it for you yet."

He laughed, then ran his fingers over her succulent cleavage, following the mouth-watering curves. "Leave it on. You look ravishing and I really do want to talk to you first. We both know we'll be too distracted once I'm inside you." He let his hand slide lower so that the back of his fingers gently brushed over her svelte lower belly and said, "We were rudely interrupted last time, because I got far too turned on at the thought of getting you pregnant. I promise I'll show more restraint this time, but I really want to finish what we started."

Dana let out a low moan and protested, "I was already really fucking horny! How am I supposed to concentrate on talking to you now?!"

John smiled at her and sat down on the oval bed, guiding her down with him. "You'll manage, I've got every confidence in you," he said, laying her back and resting his hand on her slender stomach.

She sucked in her breath, watching with a smouldering look in her sky-blue eyes as his gentle fingers traced a circle around her navel. Finally looking up at him, she said, "Alright, what do you want to talk about? The sooner we get this over with, then we can really have some fun!"

He studied her face for a moment, enjoying her eagerness, so he hesitated before he spoke, reluctant to bring down her happy mood.

Dana could see him pause and asked with concern, "What's up, John? You look like you swallowed a turd."

Deciding to just come straight out with it, he replied, "I'm sorry, honey, but I'm not sure you're the best choice of pilot for the Valkyrie."

Her face fell and she looked forlorn. "I'm really sorry I screwed up. If you let me try again, I promise I'll be more careful next time!"

Shaking his head, he replied, "Don't blame yourself. It's not your fault, it's mine."

"What?" Dana asked in confusion. "How could it be your fault?"

John sat up a little and placed his fingers on her temple, then traced them down her body, across her sternum, then lower over her ribs to rest on her abdomen again. "When I enhanced all of you girls, you each received the same amazing bodies, but you also gained specialised gifts beyond that." He smiled at her as he added, "It can't be news to you that you're incredibly smart and a truly amazing engineer."

She blushed at his praise and shrugged. "Yeah, I guess there's no point in being modest. I am awesome with tech."

"Exactly," he agreed. He stroked the side of her head again as though he were handling a precious jewel and continued, "That single-minded dedication to your work has literally transformed our lives. Every technical innovation we have has been down to you and I'm not exaggerating when I say that all our victories were only possible due to that hard work. You're like the unsung heroine behind everything: Saving Terra, the wins against Nexus, the Kintark, the Drakkar, I won't list them all, but you know what you've accomplished."

Dana was quiet for a moment as she digested that, remembering all the battles they'd been in. Then she beamed at him, saying breathlessly, "I hadn't really thought of it like that before. That's really fucking cool!"

"Too right, you are," he agreed with a smile. He looked into her eyes and said sombrely, "Unfortunately, that single-minded focus that makes you so amazing with tech, is making you vulnerable in battle. I've nearly lost you twice now for the same reason. The first time was against Kindralax and then yesterday against the Drakkar; both times due to target fixation. Once is a mistake, twice is a pattern, three times..."

"Is a habit," she finished quietly, eyes going wide.

He sighed as he continued, "We might be able to train you out of it, but I'm not sure I want to take that chance, especially with something as dangerous as the Valkyrie. At least when we're fighting on the ground, I can be there to protect you. I can't do anything to keep you safe out in space."

She let out a heavy sigh and said, "Alright, I see your point. Who were you thinking of instead?"

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