Jessie sighed, shaking his head as he stood up from the console. He'd been searching through the publications, looking for a schematic that would give him insight into a damaged Hornet he'd been working on. He walked to the counter at the far side of the shop and grabbed his cup. To his right was a coffee machine, on loan from the cooks. Every day they sent up an apprentice to fetch more sugar, cream and coffee beans from the cooks to bring back down to the maintenance level; colloquially referred to as the pits due to them being located at the lowest level that the large cargo elevators could carry any craft. An alarm sounded, red lights flashed and one of the massive lift shafts darkened as the platform descended from a level above. Jessie watched it, waiting to see what new work was coming down to them. He shook the sugar packets and ripped them open, pouring the white powder into the sludge in his cup, almost certainly accompanied by some of the grease and grime that colored his hands black.
On the descending lift, the dark silhouette of an M50 pulsed red when the lift warning lights shone on it periodically. Jessie squinted, having noticed another silhouette; it was a man. He smiled, peering up at the clock above him to solidify his assumption.
With a thud, the lift came to a stop at the bottom of the Scipio's belly, lights and alarms ringing for just a few moments longer before the clatter of mechanics at work once again became the height of the ambiance.
“You're late.” Jessie replied, smiling and extending his hand to none other than Mathew “Martyr” Dionne, although dressed in what limited civilian clothing he had on the Scipio.
“I am not.” Mathew said.
“Mathew, you're always late.”
“Late maybe, but I am not shaking that thing.” said Mathew, a grin playing on his lips as he pointed to Jessie's dirty palm.
“Fine, I guess I should get cleaned up.” Jessie said, “Right after this.” He walked over to a manual siren bolted to the counter via a makeshift frame. “Block your ears.”
Mathew cringed, stuffing his index fingers into his ears.
Jessie took the hand crank and began spinning it. With each stroke, the siren blared, louder and softer as he cranked it with irregular force.
To Mathew, it sounded like an old air raid alarm or storm warning. When Jessie stopped cranking, the sound whined down from a high pitch. Only then did Mathew unplug his ears, realizing then that doing so hadn't really protected his hearing much. Through the ringing, he heard isolated cheers from different areas of the maintenance floor; the siren having marked the beginning of the lunch hour.
Mathew walked with Jessie to a wash station. After his promotion, Mathew had made it a point to thank the young technician who had helped him out of his damaged cockpit. Over the course of the following weeks, they'd become fast friends; Mathew coming down to the maintenance level to eat lunch with him on a daily basis. The first time he had spoken to Jessie on the main flight deck, he'd suggested lunch, to which Jessie replied “Not if you're dressed like that.” Mathew inquired, discovering that pilots weren't welcome to the maintainers mess. This was not according to any Scipio regulation, but rather an unwritten rule.
This reality wasn't a surprise to Mathew, after all, human behavior had pointed out to cultural psychologists on a plethora of occasions that humans are creatures of order. The need to discern one group of individuals from another is born from this obsession for order; and almost without fail, when a person feels they belong to a group, they will go on to do two characteristic things. Firstly, they will introspectively view their group as superior to any other and secondly, they will protect their group's interests; often with unreasonable fervor.
The disparity between the pilots and mechanics didn't help. Here, there was a group on a pedestal; figuratively above all others; and also quite literally in terms of where they resided on the ship. Pilots are the hotshots, the vid stars of the military world. They gloat in their glory, and are often completely oblivious to the massive logistical echelon required for them to even exist. An echelon that is invisible to everyone.
Mathew wasn't the most humble of pilots, but he was humble enough to realize that these men and women were the unsung heroes; the gears that turned behind the flashy Ferris wheel lights. In the pits, they toiled without end to keep the “Vehicle Off-Roster” percentage at a minimum, while above them, they could hear the rumbling of Hornets rocketing off the flight deck, hurtling vain and self-important pilots to their glory.
After Jessie had washed his hands, they made their way down the maintenance deck to the aft of the Scipio where the level abruptly ended with a massive blast plate, part of a thick alloy sphere that protected the crew from the radiation produced by the Scipio's gargantuan power plant; her plasma pumping heart.
On their right, a door opened to a staircase that dropped to a split level. At the end of the staircase was another door, always open, that was identified as the entrance to The Rye Sty by a cockeyed sign hanging above it from weathered mariners ropes. Inside was dimly lit, low ceiling pub-styled mess.
Mathew took a seat with Jessie at the nearest table to the door. He'd never been here in uniform, but from time to time he'd seen the glimmer of recognition in the eyes of the Rye Sty's patrons; often followed by a narrow stare. He wondered if that stare was the physical manifestation of them trying to conjure up the guts to ask him who he was. Aside from Jessie, no one but the bar tender knew he was a pilot. They'd come to the Sty every day for the past few weeks, often twice a day.
The pilots had their own ranks mess, and it too served alcohol, but Mathew felt a distinct difference in the personalities of each location. When he was young, he obsessed over wind sail ships and remembered reading about the dichotomy of ancient ship crews. The officers had their posh meals above decks with musicians playing soft music from violins and cellos; meanwhile, below decks, the sailors ate dried meats, drank mead and danced to the wild twang of fiddles accompanied by every and any object that could make a noise when smacked by a drunken hand. He much preferred the latter, but also realized that in many ways, times hadn't changed much.
Humanity had mastered the air, the land and the sea; they had traveled beyond the beautiful blue sphere of Earth and speared into the darkness of the unending expanse. Yet, with all that advancement, all the knowledge and expertise, they still spent most of their time trying to kill each other. Mathew often pondered that perhaps this was because all that knowledge and expertise was gained by trying to find better ways to kill each other in the first place. He hated the fact that there was actual logic in that conclusion.
“What're you thinking about?” Asked Jessie, waving to the bar tender who brought them their usual; stew and stout.
Mathew laughed to himself. “Nothing much.” He'd never been a good liar, and Jessie could see right through him.
“Like hell, the hamster's going to blow a lung if you keep pushing him so hard. What's on your mind?”
“Well, I get these moments.” He said, taking a swig of the stout before continuing. “I get these moments where I think about where I fit in the big picture. The problem is, I start to step back, and the picture just keeps on growing and growing until, at some point along the way, I can't even see myself in it anymore. I'm just that small speck of paint on an endless mural. Insignificant.”
“Is that really what you're thinking about?” Jessie asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“Yeah.” Mathew said, smiling. “That's what I'm thinking about.”
“That's a little too deep for me Matt. I just turn wrenches.”
Mathew slapped him playfully. “Don't do that.”
“Don't sell yourself short. You're smart, funny and you should be proud of who you are. You don't just turn wrenches, you keep -” Mathew stopped, looking around to see if there were any prying ears. He leaned in. “You keep us flying.” He said under his breath, sitting back into his chair afterward. “And that's something.”
“Yeah well I could care less about the fly boys.”
Mathew shook his head. “Fuck the fly boys.” Something inside him cringed at the words, but another part of him was beginning to feel like he belonged in this dark pub, and that part loved what he said. “Fuck 'em. I'm not talking about the pilots Jessie. I'm talking about the Scipio.”
“I don't work on the Scipio's systems Mathew.”
“No, but without you, she wouldn't run.”
“How do you figure?”
Mathew couldn't reply without spitting beer, which he would never do, so a moment of silence ensued as he finished swallowing. “I figure that because you keep all the ships in the flying in the black, they can do their job, just like you're doing yours. This ship would run fine without the fighters and the bombers Jessie. She wouldn't get far without the support craft though. The shuttles that bring us our beer.-” he raised his glass. “Our food-” He raised a stew soaked piece of bread.
“Okay, you can stop sucking my dick now. I get it, I'm important.”
Mathew thought. “As important as I am.”
“But if we're all important.” Jessie thought. “Then really, none of us are important.”
Mathews eyes widened. “You just did it!”
“You just stepped back! You just realized your insignificance!”
“Jesus man, calm yourself.”
Mathew was nearly spitting chewed bread from his mouth. “No, it's proof. You tried making light of my thoughts earlier by putting yourself down; trying to say I was thinking of things outside your league, but you just did exactly what I was doing. You just did what you told me was too deep for you.”
Jessie thought. “Huh. I guess I did.”
The sound of stools creaking caught their attention. Everyone in the room was staring at them, or so they thought.
Mathew and Jessie turned to see an officer standing in the cramped stairwell.
“Are you Lieutenant Dionne?” asked the officer.
Mathew sighed and dropped his head. Behind him the pub murmured, punctuated by a loud man who yelled “I fucking knew it!”
Mathew nodded, his head still down. “That's me.” He looked up at the officer. “Thanks a lot, you just ruined my month.”
The young officer stood dumbfound in the stairwell, Glas in hand.
Mathew shook his head. “You don't even understand do you?”
“Sir, no I don't.”
Mathew turned around. “Nobody fucking knows. These people, they don't like pilots, and for nearly three weeks, I've been spending my lunches and evenings here, enjoying myself.”
The crowd was silent, listening.
“This is probably the only damn place on this entire ship that I feel at home in, and you just fucked that for me. Do you reali-” He stopped and slammed his fist on the table, spilling beer and stew. “What am I kidding. You've no fucking idea.”
“Sir, I need your help.”
“I don't want to give it to you.”
“I've been asked by the captain to assemble a team, and I think you can help us.”
The man looked around the room. “It's classified.”
Mathew grunted, throwing his head back and his hands up. “Lord of mercy, it's classified.”
Jessie was increasingly uncomfortable. “Don't you think you're making a bit of a scene?”
“This is exactly the elitist bullshit these people hate us for.” He stared at the officer, pointing an accusatory finger. “Tell me what it's about or there's no chance in hell I'm helping you.”
“It's about Subtext and Pistol. We're trying to find out what happened, and how we can get them back.”
Mathew's brow furrowed, a deep cleft growing just above his nose. His arm dropped to his side, his shoulders slumped. A war was waging in his heart. A feud between the two sub-cultures he'd embraced on this ship. On one side, the pilots; his family. On the other, Jessie, the Sty and the technicians in the pits of which he'd grown very fond. He took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay, how can I help?”