The Strike on MCHA HQ
As the Carrier crested the low security wall that ringed the JDA-MCHA complex, everyone's worst fears were realized: the all-to-easy skirmish with the Red Skulls had in fact been a carefully orchestrated diversion. Smoke belched from the Launch Hall; the beautiful courtyard was littered with steel and aflame, liberally drenched with coolants and other toxic compounds; the mess hall they'd all left in such a hurry three hours ago was gone - nothing remained of the North Wing at all… it was as if it had never been there. Ayume suddenly broke the squadron's collective shock-induced silence:
"Oh my god! Where's Hina?"
They'd left the rookie behind after yet another of her playful squabbles with Ein at breakfast, and because of the Jump-09's poor performance in the last two battles. The blood drained from Ein's face; she new and inexperienced, but she was determined and improving rapidly: he dreaded her childish morning tangents, but deep down knew it was the only way she was able to cope with the stress of the job. It was all in good fun. He had overreacted terribly; he was truly the child when it came to the two of them - still unable to take a joke; overreacting to any criticism he felt unjustified. And now his childishness may have killed Ayume and had left the MCHA Wing vulnerable in the short term. He should have left a second Pilot at HQ. It was protocol to never leave a pilot alone, and HQ should always be at least lightly defended. There was no need to have pulled everyone for such a minor encounter …
Spike ran back to his console and started scanning the area; it took only a second for it to ping with a life sign. He transferred the scope to the main window and zoomed in on the entrance. Sitting on one of the shattered Comm pillars was the Jump-09: standing as a sentinel, defending the HQ. Ayume breathed a very audible sigh of relief upon seeing Hina sat on the Jump-09s leg, just as she always did during the briefings. She held her grandfather's umbrella over her head casually, but looking closer, her pose was revealed to be deliberately reassuring. Just based on the remnants of Skull Tall Boys everywhere within the walls, Hina and the Jump-09 had had a brutal morning and it showed. She had clearly held out against a devastating attack that probably would have killed any other member of the Squadron and managed keep the Tower Section - the heart of MCHA wing, and the key to the country's defense - safe.
Hina, though composed was starting to shiver in the rain, as shock started to set in. Her arm, broken during the first waves, was now bleeding through the fresh bandages. It no longer hurt, but she was losing feeling in it. The rain had washed away the carbon stains on her face, but bruises were forming from the multiple times she'd been slammed into the awkwardly placed CTRL terminal in the Jump-09.
She was glad of the rain, it covered the tears she didn't want to acknowledge. The pain of her utter defeat yet again was too much for her to bear: she couldn't stop the Tall Boys breaching the walls even for 30 minutes. Ein probably could have stopped them alone before they got to the walls. She was helpless to stem the tide as they rampaged the North Wing. She was swarmed, hopelessly outnumbered, but she couldn't help feeling only failure. She'd only managed to break the relentless assault by abandoning all but the Launch facilities and the Tower Section. Using the fuel from the Skull's Track Infiltrator, she'd set the courtyard on fire herself - better that it was gone than overrun by them…
By the time the final wave climbed the outer walls, the Jump-09 was getting hard to control; the left arm long since lost; the hydraulics critically damaged by the screaming Short-16s of the Tall Boys; the coolant leaks had been a blessing: the highly flammable liquid had helped her finally stop the assault at the cost of immobilizing her at the Hanger entrance, but they'd been all too accommodating in coming to her.
There would be no repairs this time though, no all-night rebuilds with the Professor: the Jump-09 was finished. She expected to be court marshaled for this. No, she wanted to be. She couldn't let everyone down like this again. Seeing the Carrier crossing the fields, she knew they would have found her on the Scope. Oh god! Spike had found her - he could see the mess she made. He was going to hate her after this. No more walks by the river, no... No, he wouldn't : he loves me, she reminded herself - she couldn't think clearly anymore with the shock taking hold, but she knew that, and he was probably happy to see her alive. She looked up at the Carrier and smiled - this really was her home and the Squadron was better than family. They would forgive her and rebuilt. The Jump-10 was going to be amazing...
Spike radiated relief at the sight of Hina; Ayume slapped him on the back "She's a tough one."
"She's the best" he replied "she probably thinks she's in trouble."
"Of course she does! " Ayume laughed "She only held off like 200 Tall Boys for 3 hours and nearly died while we barely stopped 30 all together."
They both laughed as they crossed the launch strip, almost home. Hina tried to jump down from the remains of the Jump-09 to greet them but fell hard, her left leg giving out - she'd forgotten about the splint on her leg, it had been so long. As she raised herself up, everyone poured out of the Carrier, running towards her. Maybe I'm not in trouble she thought as she blacked out, Spike just managing to catch her before she hit the pavement.