Mecha Academy Episode 1 - Roommates
Chapter 4 - Teamwork
"You will rise to any challenge and you will be victorious."
"Meet your squad mates if you haven't already."
"You did not kill her brother, Dusty."
"I don't want to see you again tonight. Got that, Tyler?"
Reveille blared over the loudspeakers outside and on the public address system inside the residence. Ric rolled over in his bed, stopping when he realized that the ground was much further away than he expected. The realization woke him up fully. Below him, Lars rolled out of bed, his blonde hair a mess from sleeping. "Hey, dude, what time is it?"
Lars picked up his tablet. "Six in the morning." His voice was rough from lack of use.
"There's a six in the morning? Since when?"
"Since forever. I haven't slept this late in a while."
Ric climbed down from his upper bunk. "You are a weird dude."
"I'm from a farm. Livestock don't care about time, just that they want to be fed."
Ric clapped Lars on the arm. "I'll go check on the girls, make sure none of them died overnight."
"I wasn't trying to be."
Ric left his shared bedroom and entered the dorm's small common area. Dusty was up and folding up the blankets she used overnight. "Morning," Ric called. Dusty flashed a forced smile, then returned to her folding. "How are you doing?" Ric continued.
"Right. I think this is going to be a coffee dorm." Ric started rummaging in drawers. "We do have coffee here, right?"
Dusty shrugged. "No idea. Tea is in the cupboard over the fridge."
From the bedroom, Rhiannon called, "Coffee's beside the microwave."
"Thanks!" Ric found the can. He scooped out two heaping tablespoons as he set up the coffee maker. "Take the bathroom now if you need it."
Miyami burst out of the bedroom she shared with Rhiannon, carrying her gym clothes. her nightgown trailing behind her. "Thanks, Ric." She shot a quick glare at Dusty as she passed before entering the bathroom.
Ric turned on the coffee maker. "I really hope you have a friend somewhere."
Dusty put blankets away in the closet. "I'm fine."
"Look me in the eye and tell me that."
Dusty met Ric's gaze. "I am fine."
"Oh, you're good."
The shower came on, forcing Ric to speak louder. "Dusty, you're not fine. I can see it in your body language."
"What do you want me to tell you? That I'm a miserable wreck?"
Rhiannon emerged from her bedroom. "That's a start." She adjusted her robe.
"Coffee is not going to fix this." Ric shook his head in despair. "Would it be too much to ask for civility at this uncivil hour?"
"As long as she's here, yes." Rhiannon glanced over at the coffee maker. "I think that has a timer on it."
Dusty went over to the small kitchenette and found the electric kettle. She examined the coffee maker as she filled the kettle. "It does."
"Great! I'll make sure it's ready the night before so that we can all have a nice cup in the morning so we don't kill each other." Ric sat down on the couch.
Rhiannon turned on her heel and returned to her bedroom. "Call me when the coffee's ready."
"Whatever you want, Your Highness." Dusty turned on the kettle.
"What was that?" Rhiannon rushed back into the small common area. "What did you call me?"
Ric leapt to his feet. "Whoa, let's not go off half-cocked here."
"I am not taking any attitude from that traitor!"
Dusty put a teabag into a mug. "Whatever."
Rhiannon grabbed Dusty by the shoulder and spun her around to face her. "Whatever you have to say, you say it to my face."
"Anything you wish, Your Queenship."
The sound of Rhiannon slapping Dusty echoed in the common area. Rhiannon held her hand up to strike a second time. Ric grabbed her upraised arm. "Hey! Remember what the Commander said last night."
Rhiannon jerked her arm away from Ric. "I'll find out what you're up to, Tyler. Count on it." She returned to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
Ric turned to Dusty, a red welt growing on her cheek. "Let me look."
Dusty turned away. "I'm fine."
Lars came out of his bedroom, dressed. "What happened? I heard a door bang."
"I'm not sure, dude."
All the new students were called out to the courtyard for morning exercises, followed by the first lessons in parade drill. Instructors walked among the cadets, pointing out problems as they came to attention, then falling at easy and standing easy. By the end of hour of drill, the cadets were tired and hungry and happy to be dismissed.
Ric kept an eye on his squad mates. Dusty kept her distance from everyone else in the squad. Miyami placed herself between Dusty and Rhiannon, who made a point of not looking in anyone's direction. Lars brought up the rear, sweating but looking like he'd just finished ten minutes light exercise instead of a grueling training session. Ric fell back to join Lars. "Dude, can you do me a favour?"
"Not so loud." Ric motioned with his hand for Lars to keep his volume down. "Don't tell anyone, either."
Dubious, Lars still said, "Okay."
"Keep an eye on Dusty."
"What?" Lars glowered at Ric.
"Make sure she's okay, you know, dude? Make sure people don't start in on her."
"Oh. Um, sure."
"Thanks, dude. I'll owe you."
"What's going on?"
"You got me, dude. I'm kinda worried about her, you know?"
Lars shook his head. "Dusty looks like she can take care of herself."
"I know, dude. That's why I'm worried."
Leaving Lars puzzled, Ric returned to the head of the pack. "Anyone know how long we'll have to clean up and rest?"
"I think we have until ten," Miyami answered.
"That's not giving us much time," Rhiannon said.
"No lingering in the shower, then." Ric broke into a job. "I think they wanted us to run again."
Ric kept the pace light, a job instead of a full on sprint. They reached their dorm, using the stairs instead of the service elevator. Rhiannon was the first to grab her change of clothes. Dusty waited until the bathroom door closed before entering the women's bedroom. She came back out with her clothes, then strode to the door to the hallway.
"Leaving already?" Ric asked.
"I'll shower at the gym."
"We'll see you in class then."
Dusty left without saying another word. Lars started to follow, only to be held back by Ric. "Later."
Miyami eyed the two young men. "Are you two up to something?"
Ric put on an innocent expression. "Us? Never. It's far too soon to try anything. We don't know what we can get away with yet."
Lars rolled his eyes. "Let me know when the bathroom's free." He disappeared into the men's bedroom.
"Ric, if you are up to something, I want in," Miyami said.
"When I am up to something, you'll be the first to be invited to join in the fun."
The sheer size of the new class of students meant that the lectures on professional basics of the Guard were broken down into many smaller rooms holding about four or five squads each. Theta Squad, the designation for the one with Ric, Rhiannon, Lars, Miyami, and Dusty, joined Iota, Sigma, and Lambda in a classroom just big enough to fit the group. Half the students in the class still hadn't changed out of their gym clothes. The lecture was as exhausting mentally as the morning calisthenics were physically, though that didn't stop Susanna of Iota Squad from taking long looks of Lars when she could.
Lunch time came as a welcome reprieve. The students filed out into the hallway, heading their own ways, either to go to the mess or to get cleaned up from the morning. Ric walked down the hall with Rhiannon and Miyami. Lars lingered, waiting for Dusty to come out from the classroom. He kept out of the way of the other squads. Susanna passed him, giving him a quick wave. Dusty was the last to leave the room. She stopped, surprised, on seeing Lars.
"You didn't have to wait," she said.
"I know." Lars smiled, hoping that his squad mate found it reassuring. "What do you have planned for lunch?"
"I'm getting something from the base exchange and eating it in the dorm." Dusty raised a suspicious eyebrow. "Why?"
"I was thinking you might want company."
Dusty's half-hearted snort of laughter held no humour. "No. Thanks."
"Are you sure? We're on the same squad. We should get to know each other."
"You and everyone else in the squad already know everything you need to know about me." Dusty stepped out of the door to let a running Susanna rush back into the classroom. "Lars, I saw you and Ric whispering after morning exercises. I know it was about me."
"I'm just worried about you. For you."
Susanna returned, holding her tablet up. "I'd forget my own head if it wasn't attached." She stepped closer to Lars. "My squad's probably already in line for lunch and won't save me anything, even a seat. Want to join me?"
Lars felt a blush rising from under his shirt. "Well, I--"
"I won't keep you, Lars." Dusty walked away at a brisk pace.
Susanna hooked her arm around Lars'. "I'm Susanna. Susanna Schroeter." She gazed into his eyes.
She started pulling him down the hall the other direction from Dusty. "So where are you from?"
"Vaughan's, er, Vaughan's Landing." Lars shot one last look at Dusty, who ducked into the stairwell. "It's about five hours from here."
"No way! I'm from Shelter Cove, but my cousin's husband has family in Vaughan's Landing."
Resigned, Lars let Susanna lead him through the building. "My folks have a farm out there."
"We are so going to the Harvest Fair there. My cousin's husband, Viggo, told me about all the fun he had there. Do you know who's supposed to perform there this year?"
"Um, not really?"
Susanna moued. "I can look it up."
Lars breathed a sigh of relief when Iota Squad was called to pick up their uniforms. He let his head sink down on to the table in the mess. The relief was brief when he heard Ric's, "Dude."
"Hey, Ric." Lars sat back up.
Ric pulled out a chair, sitting on it backwards. "I don't know if I should be disappointed in you or congratulate you, dude."
"I'm good with neither of those."
"Isn't she's the one who was lost last night?"
"Yeah. She was in our class this morning."
Ric held up a hand. "Hey, dude, high five!"
"I think Susanna deserves that, not me." Lars sighed. "I lost Dusty."
"Couldn't be helped, dude. Did you see where she was going?"
"Who, Susanna or Dusty?"
Lars shrugged. "She said she was eating in the dorm."
"Crap!" Ric got to his feet. "Rhiannon and Miyami are going to wait there until we're called for our uniforms." He grabbed Lars' arm. "We have to get there before someone is killed."
Lars stood up. "I don't think Dusty is going to kill Rhiannon."
"Dude, Rhiannon smacked Dusty hard this morning. She probably wouldn't have stopped if I hadn't stepped in. That's when you heard the door slam this morning. Rhiannon, dude, she was pissed."
"We need to get the Commander."
"No." Ric walked towards the exit, his pace quick. Lars hustled to keep up. "Remember what he said yesterday?"
"That Dusty is part of the squad?"
"No, at the assembly." Ric burst through the mess hall's main doors. "We have to work as a team. Some team if one of us is trying to another. And, dude, you didn't hear this from me, but I think Dusty deliberately provoked Rhiannon this morning. Like she knew Rhiannon was pissed off and want to push her beyond."
Lars stared at Ric. "Dusty wanted to be hit? That doesn't make any sense."
"You're telling me." Now that he was outside, Ric broke into a full sprint, heading straight for his residence building.
Ric and Lars arrived at their dorm room breathless. They darted through the door into the dorm's small common area. Rhiannon looked over in their direction, then returned her attention to her tablet. Miyami never bothered to look and only waved. Lars waved back. Ric collapsed against the counter in the room's kitchenette. "Hi, ladies."
"Hi, Ric," Miyami said. "Hey, Lars."
"Is this everyone?"
"Everyone who matters."
"I take it Dusty's not here?"
Rhiannon huffed. "What does it matter?"
Ric pushed off the counter, keeping his eyes focused on the industrial grey carpet. "I don't see any blood."
"Funny, Ric." Rhiannon extended a rude gesture in his direction. "The bitch isn't here and I haven't seen her."
"Good, good, keep practising that story."
Rhiannon got off the couch. "What does that mean?"
Ric squared his shoulders. "I saw what you did this morning, Rhiannon."
Miyami set down her tablet. "Whatever you did, Rhiannon, the bitch deserved it."
Lars edged away from the group, going as far as possible into the kitchenette. "Anyone want coffee?"
"Rhiannon, I just don't want to trip over Dusty's dead body tonight," Ric said. "I know you have your reasons, but Commander Haag did order us to treat her as part of the squad."
"So now you're on her side?" Rhiannon glared at Ric.
"No. I just want us to survive being here at the academy, you know? And to survive, we have to work as a squad. Until such time as Dusty leaves for good for whatever reason, we're going to put on a show to the brass and teachers that we can work together. Because I am not letting anyone fail. We all worked hard to get in here."
"And I'm supposed to be happy that that traitor is here?"
"No. Do you want to throw away all the work you've done over Dusty?" Ric turned away from Rhiannon to find a chair. "I'm not asking you to forgive her. I read the news report Miyami found. I probably would be as angry as you. I'm just asking you to not kill her and pretend to get along when we're in front of staff here." He sat down.
"You're not asking for much, are you."
"You want us to work with the bitch?" Miyami asked.
"Do you want to graduate?" Ric countered. "Do you want to pass your first year?"
"Coffee's on," Lars called. "Should be done in a minute."
"Fine. Whatever." Rhiannon flounced back to the couch, falling on it. "I'll be civil, but Tyler better behave herself."
"I'll talk to her," Ric said.
The public address system crackled. "Beta Squad, Epsilon Squad, Theta Squad, report to Stores. Beta Squad, Epsilon Squad, Theta Squad, report to Stores."
Ric got up again. "That's us. Rhiannon, Miyami, remember, please?"
"Yeah, yeah," Miyami said.
Rhiannon stood up. Her expression became neutral, betraying no emotion. "Stiff upper lip, yes? I am not going to start anything."
Even with all the personnel assigned to Stores, finding the range of uniforms needed by Beta, Epsilon, and Theta Squads took an hour. Between Miyami and Lars, Stores had to search to find anything that fit. Once the basics were found and signed for, each member of the squads had their measurements taken for their formal mess uniform, then additional fittings with the ceremonial uniforms in purple and black. During all this, Rhiannon maintained an air of disinterest, observing what was going on around her without reacting. Dusty, for her part, remained within herself, watching without emotion. Miyami stayed closed to Rhiannon when she wasn't being pulled aside to try on yet another oversized tunic or pair of pants. Lars did the same with Dusty, remaining a few paces away from her, again, when he wasn't trying to put on clothes two sizes too small. Ric kept an eye on everyone.
The sizing done, the clothes found, Theta Squad made their way back to their dorm. Ric lagged back, keeping pace with Dusty even has the young woman slowed down. She shot a nasty glare at him. Ric ignored it. Instead, he waited until the others were far enough ahead to not overhear. "Dusty, can we talk?"
"If we must."
"We must." Ric stopped in front of the young woman. "Dusty, I don't understand what's going on between you and Rhiannon, but at this point, there's more going on than that."
"Ric, I told you--"
"That you can't tell me anything. Fine. Then listen to me, Dusty. We're all here because we worked hard. You, me, Lars, everyone. And part of our success will be us being able to work together as a team."
Dusty rolled her eyes. "Have you told the others this?"
"I read them the riot act before we got called for our fittings." Ric met Dusty's eyes with his own. "Right now, I'm reading it to you. Commander Haag's speech at the assembly yesterday point out that squads had to work as a team. It's hard to do that when two of the squad can't stand to be in the same room with each other. All I'm asking, Dusty, is that you work with the rest of us in public. Present a united front. We work together. We sit together. We eat together every other day, even if you just have a coffee or tea for breakfast. Outside class time, outside physical training, go do your own thing. But we need to act as a team, or we'll never graduate."
"I don't know, Ric."
"If Rhiannon wasn't here, would you be able to work with the squad?"
"That's the issue, though. She is here."
Ric took Dusty's free hand with his own, giving it a squeeze. "That's not what I asked."
"If she wasn't here? Maybe. Probably."
"Good. So, can you act like Rhiannon is just another cadet?"
Dusty shook her head. "I don't know, Ric. I wish I could say yes."
"Then say yes, Dusty. Say yes, and work on being part of the squad until Commander Haag gets everything sorted out."
"Do you know how much you're asking for?" Dusty sighed. "Sure. Yes. I'll try. I can't promise that I can keep up a facade, but I will try."
"That's all I ask for. We'll all figure out something once we get back to the dorm. I don't want to see us collapse, not this early in the year. We have a long way to go, and classes haven't even started. Once we don;t have to spend so much time together, things will improve."
Dusty snorted. "Don't, Ric. Don't promise the impossible."
"Sir, I'm sure this will get covered in a leadership class coming up, but how do you manage personality conflicts in a unit?"
"As for you, Cadet Tudor, this is sparring practice. You're not trying to kill you opponent."
"Pretend you're shooting me, Your Highness."
"I hate you all."