Mecha Academy Episode 1 - Roommates
Chapter 5 - The Rifle Range
"I'll go check on the girls, make sure none of them died overnight."
"We are so going to the Harvest Fair there."
"Because I am not letting anyone fail."
"Don't promise the impossible."
Ric ducked under Lars' outstretched arm. He danced around the larger man, trying to find an opening, but Lars had the advantage on reach. He was vaguely aware of the trainer, Sergeant Chang, shouting at both him and Lars. Ric swept out with his leg, trying to catch Lars by surprise. Lars leapt over the leg without a problem. Ric rolled, getting inside the bigger man's reach again. A quick jab caught Lars in the stomach, the oversized boxing glove landing with a thump. Lars stumbled back, then lunged again. Ric fell to the ground, ducking under the attempt to grab him.
"Time!" Sergeant Change called. "Cadet Ortiz, Cadet Thorensen, enough! Take five minutes."
"Thank you, Sergeant." Ric accepted help from Lars to get back to his feet. "Dude, you're faster than you look."
"Cadet Tudor, Cadet Tyler, in the ring!"
Dusty's head snapped up. "Sergeant, is that a good idea?"
"I am not letting anyone fight Cadet Watanabe," Sergeant Chang said, fixing her stare on Miyami. "I've seen you in the holo-rings. I won't take responsibility if any of your sparring partners are incapable of having children after fighting you."
Miyami blushed. "Sergeant, shouldn't we be fighting to win?"
"In the field, Cadet. Not in training. Cadet Tudor, Cadet Tyler, in the ring!"
Rhiannon stepped into the ring, tossing her towel to the side. Dusty followed after a moment of hesitation. They kept to opposite sides of the ring as they circled. A feral smile appeared just long enough to be seen on Rhiannon. Sergeant Chang picked up her tablet. She tapped the screen. The tablet chimed.
Before the chime ended, Rhiannon struck, launching herself at Dusty. She threw a flurry of punches, Dusty blocking each one. Each blow Rhiannon jabbed, swung, and swept Dusty parried, dodged, and blocked. However, Dusty only defended herself, not even throwing a glare in Rhiannon's direction. Rhiannon redoubled her efforts, increasing the ferocity of her attempts. The sound of her training gloves hitting Dusty's grew louder. Both women broke into a heavy sweat. Around them, Ric, Lars, and Miyami stared.
"Time!" Sergeant Chang called. "Break it up!"
Rhiannon backed away from Dusty, keeping an eye on the woman. Dusty turned away from her sparring partner and picked up her own towel. "What was that, Tyler?"
"Stow it, Cadet." Sergeant Chang stepped into the ring. "What in the hells was that, Cadet Tyler?"
Rhiannon opened her mouth to say something, then thought the better of it. Cadets might outrank a sergeant on paper, but sergeants got listened to.
"Sergeant?" Dusty said.
"Sparring practice means you spar with your opponent. That includes trying to hit her."
Sergeant Chang shook her head. "Take five laps around the gym, Cadet. Outside."
"Yes, Sergeant." Dusty draped her towel over the back of her neck and jogged off.
"As for you, Cadet Tudor, this is sparring practice. You're not trying to kill you opponent."
Rhiannon stiffened. "Yes, Sergeant."
"Okay, back in the ring. Cadet Watanabe, in with her."
Miyami stepped into the ring.
"And keep it clean, Cadet Watanabe."
Several hours later, Ric knocked at Commander Haag's office door. Hearing the Commander call, "Enter," he slipped into the office and came to attention.
The Commander looked up from his datawork. "At ease, Cadet."
"Thank you, sir."
"I understand you have a question."
"Not exactly, sir," Ric said. "I'm looking for advice."
Commander Haag looked up from his work. "Advice, Cadet Ortiz? Are you having a problem?"
"No, sir. It's, well, you know who is in my squad."
"Sir, I'm sure this will get covered in a leadership class coming up, but how do you manage personality conflicts in a unit?"
"I see." The Commander opened a desk drawer and pulled out a bottle half full with a clear liquid and two glasses. "Have a seat, Cadet. I take it that Cadet Tudor and Cadet Tyler are still angry with each other?"
"Thank you, sir." Ric sat in a chair across the desk from the Commander. "They can act like they're on a team in public. It's when we're in private that it gets, well, awkward."
The Commander poured the clear liquid in to both glasses, half-filling both. He passed one to Ric. "I am so sorry, Cadet. This is far beyond what anyone should expect in training."
"Sir, it's been a week and a half, and the tension is getting worse. I think Lars, er, Cadet Thorensen, is getting a severe stress disorder from it."
"Do you want me to talk to the squad, Cadet?"
Ric shook his head. "I don't think it will help. Not for long, at least, sir."
"Then what do you want, Cadet?"
"Advice, sir. Wisdom from a teacher. Bafflegab from an officer, even."
The Commander chuckled. "Bafflegab. I like that."
"Thank you, sir."
"Have you talked with Cadets Tyler and Tudor?"
"I've tried, sir. Many times over the past week and a half. Cadet Tudor goes into noble mode and Cadet Tyler says she can't talk about the problem. We're supposed to go to the firing range this afternoon and I really don't want to see a tragic weapon malfunction." Ric took a sip of his drink. The liquid burned as it went down his throat, leaving a pleasant tingle in its wake. "Thank you, sir."
"You are in a tough position, Cadet, and I have to apologize for that. How bad is it?"
"Tudor and Tyler sparred this morning. I've seen professional fights where the participants were slower."
Commander Haag leaned forward over his desk. "Was anyone hurt?"
"That's it, sir. It was one-sided. Rhiannon was the aggressor but couldn't land a blow. But Dusty never tried to hit her. You can ask Sergeant Chang. She was our trainer this morning."
"Thank you, Cadet." The Commander tapped a note into his tablet. "Normally, a personality conflict is handled by transferring one or both cadets. That's not possible right now, and this is beyond a personality conflict. I will ask you to get in touch with me if things get worse between Tudor and Tyler."
"That's it, sir, it's not. They're not speaking to each other, they're spending the least possible time in the same room. But you can feel the tension, sir."
The Commander took a long draught of his drink as he thought. "Take the evening off from being the referee. Take Cadets Thorensen and Watanabe to the base café so they get a break, too. Ask Tyler to come see me tonight after dinner."
"And Rhiannon, sir?"
"I'm sure she'll appreciate the time alone. There's a reason why Psychology of Leadership is a mandatory class next year. You're doing a great job, Cadet, without having the training or preparation. Sometimes, though, you need to know when it's time to escalate an issue to a superior officer. There's a reason why I get paid commander's wages and you're only getting a cadet's stipend."
Ric laughed. "Yes, sir."
"Unless you have anymore questions or concerns, Cadet Ortiz, you are dismissed. And your parade drill has improved since that first night."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Rhiannon made note of Ric's return to the dorm after lunch. He had disappeared just after the hand to hand training. However, her face remained impassive. She flashed him a quick smile as a welcome back gesture. "Have you eaten, Ric?"
"I have, yes. What's on the schedule now?"
"Rifle drill at the range in fifteen minutes. We're to be in fatigues for this."
Miyami emerged from the bedroom wearing her fatigues. her too long sleeves rolled up so she could use her hands. "We assemble in ten minutes. I think we're marching there."
"Makes sense. Why ride when we can walk?"
"Where's everyone else?"
"Lars is making a run to the base exchange for coffee and cream," Miyami said. "Dusty went to the gym."
Ric eyed Rhiannon. "You weren't--"
"No, we weren't," Rhiannon said. The temperature in the dorm dropped from the iciness in her tone.
"Just asking." Ric dashed into the bedroom he shared with Lars. As he changed, he calculated the available space in the room. He came back out just as Lars returned. "Dude, get changed. I'll put the stuff away."
Lars smiled as he handed the groceries to Ric. "Thanks."
"Dude?" Miyami said. "Really?"
"What? Hey, if I call most people 'dude' right now, I can change it to 'sir' easy enough."
"I guess." Miyami checked her tablet. "Five minutes before assembly."
Ric put away the coffee and cream. "Dusty knows about this?"
"Yes, Ric." Rhiannon leaned against the counter in the kitchenette. "I'm not getting penalized because Tyler wasn't told anything important."
"Thanks!" Ric smiled.
Lars returned, now in his own fatigues. "Still a little tight."
"Let me see?" Miyami said. She motioned for Lars to turn around.
Lars did a slow spin in place. "Not that tight."
Ric laughed, joined for a moment by Rhiannon. "Okay, we needed that. We need a weekend off soon."
"The obstacle course is in two weeks," Rhiannon said. "If we pass that, we're golden."
"Two weeks? Hey, Lars, when is your hometown's fair?"
"In about two weeks. What is with everyone wanting to see the fair Vaughan's Landing?"
"It's local colour, dude." Ric laughed.
Miyami narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean, 'everyone'?"
Feeling his cheeks redden, Lars said, "Susanna Schroeter, from Iota Squad."
"Working fast, Lars." Rhiannon's laugh was a trill. "Do we know her?"
"Oh, her!" Miyami relaxed. "I ran into her our first night here. She's in our lectures." She shrugged. "She seems nice, I guess. If you like tall Amazons."
Rhiannon thought for a moment. "Right, her. I would've called her a Valkyrie."
The blush on Lars' cheeks grew deeper. "Shouldn't we be forming up to go to the firing range?"
Ric walked to the bedroom he shared with Lars. "Give me a minute to change and we'll go."
"Miyami, aren't we training with Iota Squad?" Rhiannon asked. "Maybe Susanna will need help with her shooting."
Lars let his head droop. "I hate you all."
In the courtyard, Iota and Lambda Squads were already in formation when Theta Squad came running out of their residence. Dusty joined her dorm mates as they formed up, taking her place behind Lars and beside Ric. Sergeant Chang called the squads to attention, then got the students marching first, then jogging at a brisk pace. It took the squads fifteen minutes to get to the firing range, leaving the students breathing heavily as they caught their breath. Sergeant Chang gave them five minutes to recover.
"Alright, form up!" Chang waited for the squads to get into formation, timing the efforts. "Attention!" The students stood ramrod stiff. "We'll have to work on this. That took too long, cadets. However, this afternoon, you are going to get intimately familiar with your new best friend. When I dismiss you, you will enter the building and head to briefing room five. You will sit down with your squad and wait for me. Is that understood?"
In unison, the squads answered, "Yes, Sergeant!"
"Good. Squads, dismissed and report to the briefing room."
Under Sergeant Chang's watchful eye, the squads broke formation. The students followed their instructions to the letter, going to the briefing room and finding seats. Iota Squad took the middle of the room, allowing Susanna to sit near Lars, much to the amusement of Rhiannon and Ric. Miyami placed herself between Rhiannon and Dusty, who remained impassive as she stared at the front of the room. After a few minutes, Sergeant Chang entered the room carrying two cases, one the size of a briefcase, the other larger and heavier. She set both down on the table beside the lecture podium. "Cadets."
With that one word, all attention turned to Sergeant Chang. "Today, you will learn to shoot and maintain your main weapons." She opened the smaller case and held up a matte black pistol. "This is your sidearm, the Horvath and Lung Model Fourteen Army gauss pistol. It fires two millimetre needles, accelerated using magnetic coils in the barrel to speeds high enough to penetrate three centimetres of wood. It comes with a forty round clip and can fire both single shot and in three round bursts."
Chang set down the gauss pistol to open her second case. After a moment of assembly, she held with both hands a rifle with a frame for a stock, all the metal matte black like the gauss pistol. "This is your rifle. It's a standard issue Imperial Military Arms Model Seven Mark Three gauss rifle, capable of single shot, five round burst, and full automatic, and comes with a two hundred round clip. It can take a top mounted scope and has a bayonet lug." Sergeant Chang set the rifle down on the table. "You will become familiar with both. Yes, I do know you're here to become officers in the armoured infantry, but you are still infantry. You will not be in your mecha all the time. The brass considers it a good idea that Foot Guard officers still know which end of a rifle to point at the enemy."
A ripple of laughter crossed the room. "Your tablets will have the specs for both the Model Fourteen and the Mark Three. Study them. The Model Fourteen," Sergeant Chang held the gauss pistol up again, "is an officer's weapon, for when you only have one hand free. The Mark Three," Chang set down the pistol and held up the barrel of the rifle, "is for all soldiers. I don't care what branch of the Royal Guard you are in, Foot, Coast, or Star. Everyone in the Guard becomes intimately familiar with the Mark Three." Sergeant Chang lowered the rifle.
"This afternoon, you will learn how assemble and disassemble the Mark Three until you can do it in the dark, blindfolded, while under attack. Once I'm satisfied that you can maintain the rifle, you will go down to the range to learn to shoot. I will go over the rules of the range before we enter. Cadets, follow me."
Rhiannon chided herself for being surprised that Sergeant Chang wasn't joking about assembling the gauss rifle in the dark. The first few times she built and took apart the Mark Three, she was able to take her time, getting time to learn how the pieces fit together. As the afternoon wore on, though, the sergeant began yelling, trying to break the students' concentration. Rhiannon managed the best she could, but when Sergeant Chang started flicking the lights on and off, it was all she could do to stop herself from throwing a part of the gauss rifle at the non-commissioned member of the Guard. As the frustration started to get to her, Rhiannon paused, setting down the parts in her hand.
The lights stopped flickering, remaining on. Sergeant Chang stalked over to Rhiannon's workbench. "Is there a problem, Cadet Tudor?"
"Then why did you stop putting your rifle back together, Cadet?"
"I didn't want to make a mistake, Sergeant."
"What would happen if you put your rifle together wrong, Cadet?" Sergeant Chang didn't wait for Rhiannon to draw breath to answer. "Too slow." She turned to face Dusty. "Cadet Tyler?"
"Sergeant, a misfire or a jam." Dusty answered. "Or falling apart when shooting, Sergeant." Rhiannon caught herself shooting a glare at Dusty and hoped no one noticed.
"And what does happen when you rifle misfires?"
"I don't know, Sergeant."
"The action isn't reset," Rhiannon said, "requiring a manual cocking of the action to ready the next shot. Sergeant."
Sergeant Chang returned her attention to Rhiannon. "And if that happens in the field, Cadet Tudor?"
"One could get shot, Sergeant, by an enemy that takes advantage of not being wounded or dead."
Sergeant Chang smiled as she returned to the head of the room. "I see people have been reading ahead. Anyone not ready to go to the firing range?"
Susanna raised her hand. "Sorry, Sergeant."
"And why not, Cadet Schroeter?"
"I'm fairly sure that I'm not supposed to have extra parts when I'm done. Am I, Sergeant?"
Sergeant Chang pointed at Lars. "You, Cadet Thorensen, yes?"
Lars nodded. "Yes, Sergeant."
"Help Cadet Schroeter put her weapon together properly, then join us at the range proper. The rest of you, if your rifle isn't in one piece, put it together, then get to the range."
Rhiannon watched as Ric and Dusty got up from the workbench to leave. Miyami joined them a few minutes later as Rhiannon finished reassembling her gauss rifle, taking time to make sure her work was done right. She shot Lars a sympathetic look as he helped Susanna take her gauss rifle completely apart to start from scratch, then joined the rest of the students outside at the range's entrance.
Sergeant Chang was joined by Corporal Winters, who was going through the safety rules and regulations in force at the firing range. Rhiannon made a mental note of them. Most were basic, she felt, things to do to make sure no one got shot. After the safety briefing, the squads split up, with Iota taking the centre while Theta and Lambda took the flanking ranges. Rhiannon stepped into her shooting stand. She made sure her safety goggles and ear protection were on as she settled into a stance. Corporal Winters stopped in her stand and helped adjust her posture, explaining why the changes were needed. The corporal then gave Rhiannon the go ahead to take single shots at the target three hundred metres down range before going to the stall beside hers.
Rhiannon sighted in on her target. She squeezed the trigger. The bottom right corner of the paper target disappeared, shredded. The supersonic needle cracked as it left the rifle's barrel. Rhiannon adjusted her grip on the gauss rifle, trying to bring it up. Her second shot did hit higher on the target, but on the extreme left edge. The next adjustment hit the target low but in the centre, much to Miyami's amusement and Ric's horror.
From the other side of the dividing wall, Tyler called, "Pretend you're shooting me, Your Highness."
Rhiannon's vision turned red for a brief second. She took a cleansing breath, forcing her anger to leave. After a second breath, she sighted in on the paper target again. For an instant, she saw Tyler's smug face on the target's head. Rhiannon aimed and fired, then shot two more times. She lowered her gauss rifle to get a better look at the target; all three shots hit, the first in the centre of the target's head, the last tearing off the top. "Like that, Tyler?"
"Whatever works for you, Your Exaltedness."
"Hey, girls?" Ric said. "Some of us are still trying to concentrate here."
Rhiannon ignored Tyler and Ric. She returned to the task at hand, learning to shoot with the Mark Three. It didn't matter how she hit or why, just that she did.
After an hour of practice, having gone through three magazines of ammunition, Rhiannon's hands, arms, and right shoulder were numb. When Sergeant Chang ordered weapons up, Rhiannon took the break to rotate her sore shoulder. She flexed her fingers, first on her right hand, then on her left, now no longer having to grip the rifle. Rhiannon looked forward to soaking before bed, giving her muscles a chance to recover.
Tyler walked out of the shooting stands first, holding her rifle pointed down at the ground. Miyami came out next, looking too small for the weapon she held in her arms. Rhiannon waited until Ric appeared before joining the squad; she didn't trust herself right now around Tyler, not with a weapon in her hand, and she didn't trust Tyler for the same reason. Lars was last to come out of the stalls.
Sergeant Chang called for the squads' attention. "We'll keep practising. Return the rifles to the workbenches, clean them, put them away, then take the next thirty minutes to recover. Squads, dismissed."
Theta Squad was the first back to the workbenches. Rhiannon claimed a bench as far as possible from the bulk of the work areas. Miyami and Ric claimed the benches nearest to her while Tyler kept her distance. As she went through cleaning her gauss rifle, Sergeant Chang came up beside her. "Sergeant?" Rhiannon asked without looking up from her task.
"Impressive shooting, Cadet, despite your first couple of shots."
"Thank you, Sergeant."
"I didn't expect you to improve that fast, Cadet."
"I found inspiration, Sergeant." Rhiannon kept her focus on cleaning the gauss rifle.
"I see. As you were, Cadet."
"Yes, Sergeant. Thank you, Sergeant."
"I'm going to give them time so that she hasn't 'forgotten' anything."
"I needed time away from crowds."
"What happened to putting up a united front?"
"I'm not the best person to ask."