Mecha Academy Episode 1 - Roommates
Chapter 3 - Welcome to the Colonel KL Terin Military Academy
"She and I, we've met before."
"What did you do, kill her best friend?"
"I am aware of the problem, Cadet."
"I've lost my appetite."
Rhiannon held herself tight as she sat perched on the couch in her dorm room. She tried to will herself to stop shaking. The gunfire still deafened her ears. Images from the afternoon her brother died assaulted her, the Republic spies firing without care about who they hit, her family's guards bustling her parents away, the splash of red when her brother was shot. Ethan was on leave from the Star Guard before shipping out to his new assignment. Rhiannon had been looking forward to spending time with him before his nine month patrol cruise. Instead, bodyguards dragged her off as he laid in the street, bleeding. The last image, though, had burned into Rhiannon's psyche, the defectors being bustled into a van and that girl looking over her shoulder and right at her. Rhiannon memorized that face, one of the reasons her brother was dead. And now? That face returned, a little older, but still out of her darkest nightmares.
A chime intruded on the memories. Rhiannon grasped the noise, using it to pull herself back to the present. Her tablet, sitting on a table beside the couch, beeped with a reminder. Rhiannon shut off the alarm. With effort, she stood up. Time to go to the auditorium. She stopped in the dorm's bathroom, a tiny one with toilet, sink, and shower, and enough room for one person, to freshen up and hide traces of her momentary break in poise. Her parents drilled into her, as much as she was tearing up inside, she had to present a calm façade to the public. Any less, and the press would jump on her, as they had after her brother's funeral. With her makeup fixed, Rhiannon left her dorm.
She reached the auditorium with plenty of time to spare. Rhiannon found one of the roommates she wanted to see; with his height and shock of white blond hair, Lars easy to spot in the crowd. As she approached, she saw first Ric then Miyami standing beside him. She put on a pleasant persona, more of the training for public she received from her parents. "Hey, all."
Ric beamed when he saw her. "There you are. I was wondering if you'd be on time or fashionably late."
Miyami slapped him on the arm. "I told you she'd be here." She rolled her eyes. "Feeling any better, Rhiannon?"
"Much, thanks. I needed the air. And I found the base exchange. There's drinks in the fridge and cream for coffee if you need it."
"You are an angel, Rhiannon," Ric said. "I'll promote you to goddess if you remembered sugar."
"Services are on the weekend. I accept ale, mead, and wine as sacrifices." Rhiannon smiled. "We better find our seats."
Taking point, Rhiannon led her roommates into the auditorium. While the number of empty seats dwindled, there were still plenty available, even for a small group. Rhiannon found four seats and ushered her roommates to them. The din of the growing crowd became louder, forcing her and her roommates to raise their voices to hear each other. Rhiannon felt the urge to look around, to see if Tyler arrived. She squashed the urge, forcing it back down into the dark area it bubbled up from. No, Tyler's hours were numbered once Commander Haag finished with her.
The lights dimmed, a cue for the crowd to hush. Rhiannon turned her attention to the stage. Two men walked on. She recognized Commander Haag in his tan beret, orange tunic, and black trousers. The other, also wearing a tan beret but wearing a green tunic and pair of pants, she couldn't place, but the Commander deferred to him. The Commander stepped up to the lone microphone on the stage. "Your attention, please." The crowd's din died completely.
"Thank you," Commander Haag said. "I am Commander Wilhelm Haag, but you can call me 'Commander'." A smattering of laughter rippled through the audience. Beside her, Rhiannon saw Miyami cover her face with her hand. "I am the head of Student Affairs and the Second-in-Command here at the Colonel KL Terin Military Academy. Over the next four weeks, we will all be getting to know each other better. If you haven't already, you should get to know everyone in your squad. You will be spending a lot of time with them, and it will be easier for everyone if you got along." The Commander paused to let his words sink into the audience. "However, you are here to become leaders. It helps to have a good role model. With that awkward segue, here is the academy's Commandant, Colonel Francisco Orman."
Commandant Orman took Commander Haag's place at the microphone. "Thank you, Commander," he said. "Welcome to the Colonel KL Terin Military Academy. As Commander Haag said, I am the Commandant of the school. One of my more pleasurable duties is welcoming new students here. So many young faces. You all worked hard to get accepted here. Unfortunately, the hard work isn't over, but you knew that when you applied. The Royal Guard needs the best and brightest as leaders. I am positive you are up to the challenge.
"Before you begin your classes, you will go through basic training and learn how to be soldiers. Only by becoming a soldier can you learn how to lead them. You will be going through the same training as if you enlisted. Once you're done your basic training, you will attend class and maintain your training. This sounds like hard work, but if you weren't willing to work hard, you would have never applied here. Rest assured, though, that your hard work will earn you respect. Your hard work will earn you a place in the Royal Guard's officer corps. You will rise to any challenge and you will be victorious." The Commandant paused to let his audience cheer. "Commander Haag will now give you the details of what to expect. Commander?"
Commander Haag stepped up to the microphone, taking Commandant Orman's place. "Thank you, Commandant." The Commander cleared his throat. "Tomorrow morning, you will begin a physical regimen meant to improve your strength and endurance. In the afternoon, you will attend lectures on military procedures and protocol. Your schedules will be sent to your tablets. Lights out is at twenty-three hundred hours. I recommended that you spend the rest of tonight getting to know your squad mates, the people you are sharing your dorms with. Your success here isn't going to depend on you. You will have to learn to work together as a team. You are soldiers, not warriors. Soldiers work together towards a common objective. Here at the Colonel Terin Academy, your objective is to graduate as officers in the Foot Guard, to become leaders." Commander Haag paused to let what he said sink in. "When I dismiss you, go back to your dorms and rest. Meet your squad mates if you haven't already. Get a good night's sleep. You will need it. You are dismissed."
Rhiannon stood up, stretching her legs. "You heard the Commander, guys. We should talk. Let's learn all sorts of details about each other that we'll wish we had never known, like having three appendices or something."
"I don't think that's possible," Lars said. He extricated himself from his seat.
Ric planted his palm over his face. "Dude, she's joking."
"That is something we need to learn about each other," Rhiannon said. She led the way out of the row of seats to the aisle. "Our senses of humour. Lars, I'm sure you have a great one."
Lars stumbled out of the row into the aisle. "Maybe. Do you think the desks in the classrooms will be bigger?"
"Not too big," Miyami said. "Do you know how long it took before I grew tall enough for my legs to reach the ground when I sat in a normal chair?"
"I just want some leg space."
Ric clapped Lars on the back. "Come on, big fella. Our dorm has space even for you."
Rhiannon let Ric lead the group out of the auditorium. She slowed her pace, hanging back. Some of the Commander's words echoed in her head. "You will have to learn to work together as a team. Meet your squad mates." Did he mean to include Tyler? Or was that the speech he gave to all students starting at the academy? Rhiannon closed her eyes. She gave her head a shake, trying to clear it. When she opened her eyes again, she spotted Tyler sitting in the shadows along the wall, no one around her. The girl's body language showed that she was trying to hide, holding herself close and almost curled up in her seat. Rhiannon kept her face passive, not showing the small amount of joy she got from seeing Tyler looking miserable. Satisfied, Rhiannon quickened her pace to catch up to the rest of her roommates.
Dusty remained seated in the auditorium, despite the dismissal, waiting for the crowd to leave. She had seen the others from her assigned dorm room when she first entered. Joining them, though, had "bad idea" writ large. Dusty couldn't blame Tudor for her reaction. Random chance. It had to be random chance. Why should Dusty's life ever get easier? She sighed, a long exhale. One problem at a time. The current problem, living quarters. There's no way she could spend a night in the same dorm as Tudor. Her back was still sore from being thrown against the wall. She'd be a mass of bruises after a night.
Steeling herself, Dusty got to her feet. She was the last student in the auditorium. On the stage, a pair of soldiers gathered the microphone, its stand, and its cable. Dusty began her trek out of the building. Night had fallen during the welcome speeches, with long shadows cast on the ground by lights on lamp posts and at building entrances. She saw a few of her fellow students walking around in pairs and small groups. A Centurion mecha rumbled by, each of its ponderous steps lit by the yellow running lights in its legs. Dusty watched the mecha as it marched past, looking up at its sensor dome above the pilot's cockpit. At this moment, she envied the pilot, being shut away from the rest of the world but still able to interact if he or she wanted.
The Centurion continued its march on the academy's main road, heading to the hangars away from the public highways. Dusty kept watching for a few minutes before resuming her own aimless journey. An idea came to her, but she rejected it. She wanted to prove to herself that she could live her own life, that she could solver her own problems. With every metre she walked, though, the only solution she had was to talk to Commander Haag. Dusty clenched her fists. It wasn't fair to him to get him involved, not again. He had already done so much for her, just getting her back to the Poulos Nova Empire from the Republic. One bureaucratic slip, that's all it was. No one could have known that Duke's daughter would be on a border world. Hells, if Dusty had known, she would have applied elsewhere.
The streetlights grew further and further apart as Dusty walked away from the main concentration of buildings. The occasional vehicle passed by, the turbofans whining. Dusty paid the traffic no mind. The walk may not have been helping her with her problem, but the exercise gave her a way to work off the nervous energy she was building. She didn't care where she was at the moment. If she could walk all night, she could avoid having to see Tudor again.
A set of headlights cast her shadow ahead of her. Dusty stepped to the side to let the vehicle pass. Instead, the whine of the turbofans lowered in pitch as the vehicle lowered to a stop beside her. The passenger window lowered. "You look lost," Commander Haag said. The door beside Dusty opened. "Get in."
"I'll take you to your dorm."
Dusty's heart sank. "Yes, sir." She slipped into the fancar and buckled up.
"Shouldn't you have gone to your dorm?" the Commander asked. He put the fancar into gear. The turbofans lifted the vehicle off the ground.
"That's the problem, sir." Dusty stared out the window.
Commander Haag pulled the fancar into a U-turn. "I see."
"No, sir, I don't think you do." Dusty sighed. "One of my roomates, sir, she's, well . . ." She shook her head. "Her brother died when my parents defected. Sir, I need to move somewhere else."
"I was wondering when I'd hear from you about that." The Commander turned on to the main road, turning away from the collection of residence buildings. "What happened, Dusty?"
"She recognized me, sir." Dusty looked down at her feet. "She recognized me from that day. And I recognized her. Sir, I need to move to a different dorm."
"There's no other space available, Dusty."
Dusty's head snapped up as she looked at the Commander. "Sir, it's not fair to her to have me as her roommate. Not after what happened."
"There is no other space available. Dusty, you're the third person from your dorm to ask about transferring to a new room. The official word is that there is no other space available."
"Then I need to transfer to a different academy, on a different world." Dusty stared out the front. "Or maybe I should drop out."
The Commander slowed the fancar to a stop, leaving it hovering in place. "And throw away everything you've done? Everything you've worked for?"
"What am I supposed to do?" Dusty cut herself off, hearing her voice growing louder. "Sir."
"No one said returning was going to be easy."
"No one said that I'd run into someone whose life was destroyed thanks to me."
Commander Haag stared down the young woman. "You did not kill her brother, Dusty."
"He's dead thanks to my family."
"He's dead because of a Republic agent shooting without care of who was hit."
"An agent that wouldn't have been there if my family wasn't defecting."
"And if you hadn't been there?"
"I--" Dusty shrugged. "I don't know, sir."
The Commander got the fancar moving again. "I think I need to talk to everyone in your dorm."
"It's . . . it's not needed, sir."
"Dusty, two of your roommates talked to me earlier today. I need to talk to all of your squad."
"If you say so, sir." Dusty slumped in her seat.
The rest of the ride back to the residence was silent except for the noise from the turbofans. Commander Haag led the way back to the dorm Dusty shared, she remaining five paces behind him every step of the way. The Commander knocked on the door, then had Dusty unlock the door with her passkey. Ric stopped in front of the door in time avoid running into Commander Haag. The Commander ushered Dusty inside, closed the door behind him, and looked around.
"Sir, is there something wrong?" Ric asked.
"Several things, yes," the Commander answered. "Is everyone else here?"
Miyami emerged from her bedroom. "Commander Haag?"
The Commander raised his voice without yelling. "I want everyone in this dorm in this room now."
Rhiannon and Lars rushed into the dorm's small lounge. "Is there a problem, sir?" Lars asked. Rhiannon only shot a quick glare at Dusty before turning her full attention to the Commander.
Commander Haag returned to a normal volume. "First, when a superior officer enters a room, he is announced and everyone in the room comes to attention. Granted, this was going to be covered in tomorrow's lessons, so no foul this time." He paused, waiting. "Well?"
Ric blinked. "Um, Commander in the room?" He stood up straight. Rhiannon came to attention immediately, rigid in posture. Lars and Miyami took a few moments longer to follow suit.
"Not bad. You'll get there." The Commander smiled. "Not the exact phrase to use, Cadet, but good thinking on your feet there."
"Thank you, sir." Ric allowed himself a smile.
"Second, I have had three requests for new room assignments come from this dorm. Three, and a full day hasn't even passed." The Commander began walking between the young cadets. "That's not a record I ever wanted to see set."
"Sir," Rhiannon began.
"I haven't asked for comments yet, Cadet." Commander Haag stopped in front of Rhiannon. "When I want to hear your side, I will ask for it." He resumed pacing. "I understand that there is history between Cadet Tudor and Cadet Tyler. That is of no concern to anyone else is this squad. I am understood so far?" Seeing only nods from Lars and Miyami, he asked again, "I am understood so far?"
"Yes, sir," the cadets said, not quite in unison.
"Getting there." The Commander stopped in the middle of the small lounge. "Cadet Tudor, you will have to take it on my word as an officer of the Royal Guard that Cadet Tyler has earned a place here at the Colonel Terin Academy. Cadet Tyler is as much a part of this squad as anyone else in this room. Am I understood, Cadet?"
Rhiannon's complexion paled, but her expression didn't change. "Sir, I--"
"Your protest has been noted, Cadet. That wasn't my question, Am I understood, Cadet, that Cadet Tyler is a part of this squad?"
"Yes, sir." Rhiannon's tone was filled with resignation.
Commander Haag slowly turned around to look the other cadets in the room in the eyes. "Do the rest of you understand?"
"Yes, sir," Ric said. He was followed by Lars saying the same thing, then Miyami.
The Commander stopped at Dusty. "And you, Cadet Tyler?"
"I understand, yes, sir," Dusty said after a moment.
"Good." The Commander walked to the door. "As you were and good evening." He left, closing the door quietly behind him.
Dusty remained at the edge of the room, relaxing her stance without herself relaxing at all. She kept an eye on Rhiannon, who only stormed back to their shared bedroom. Miyami stared at her. Ric, though, approached her. "Hey, how are you feeling?" he asked.
"Fine, I guess." Dusty shrugged.
Ric wrapped an arm around her shoulder, ushering her further into the room with a gentle pull. "Good. Can I ask you just one question?"
Dusty shrugged, eyeing Ric. "Maybe. What is it?"
"What's going on?"
"I can't tell you." Dusty slipped away from Ric's arm. "Cadet Tudor can tell you more."
"Oh, come on!" Miyami closed in on Dusty. "How did you get back? How did you even get accepted here?"
Dusty couldn't meet Miyami's glare. "I can't tell you. I'm sorry."
"Where are you going to sleep?"
Dusty glanced at the bedroom. "I was going to take the cot. I'll sleep on the couch instead." She broke away from Ric and Miyami and walked to the bedroom she now wasn't sharing with Rhiannon. Dusty rapped on the door just loud enough to be heard. "I just need my clothes." Hearing no answer, she entered the bedroom.
Rhiannon sat on the bottom bunk, glaring at the intruder. "Just get your things."
Without meeting Rhiannon's gaze, Dusty grabbed her duffle bag from the cot. She turned to face Rhiannon. "Look--"
"I don't want to hear it. I don't want to see you again tonight. Got that, Tyler?"
Dusty nodded, then slunk out of the room.
"What do you want me to tell you? That I'm a miserable wreck?"
"Ric, if you are up to something, I want in."
Don't promise the impossible."
"We have to get there before someone is killed."