Mecha Academy - Episode 2 - By Your Leave
Chapter 1 - Going Off Campus
Five students, strangers to each other, were tossed together. Rhiannon and Dusty, though, share a common history involving the death of the former's older brother. All five, including Miyami, Ric, and Lars, have passed the first major test, the obstacle course, and are now full-fledged cadets at the Colonel KL Terin Military Academy on Tamar, Lars' homeworld."I can't believe you talked me into this." Abby looked around at the platform at the train station. "I barely know you, Ric."
"This will be fun!" Ric spread his arms wide. "Imagine it. A weekend out of town to a harvest fair with a bunch of off-worlders."
Lars coughed into his sleeve. "Off-worlders?"
"With a local guide!" Ric wrapped an arm around Abby's shoulders. "A whirlwind adventure!"
"By train." Abby remained dubious.
"Lars, how long does it take to get to your home from here again?"
"Five hours if you stay at the speed limit."
"And the maglev train takes two hours."
Miyami rolled her eyes. "It'd take less if we flew."
Lars sighed. "If there were regular flights. Vaughan's Landing isn't that big. The train at least passes through."
"It'll be fun, Miyami," Rhiannon said. "And we need this break away from school and all the problems there."
"That's the spirit!" Ric took Abby's hand into his. "We'll find a place to sleep have fun at the fair."
"Lars!" A tall blonde woman ran up on the platform. "There you are!" Susanna launched herself at Lars. He staggered a few steps before regaining his footing.
"Susanna? What are you--?" Lars began to blush.
"You said we're going to your fair. Sorry I'm late."
"Sure, no problem." Lars looked around at his friends, a puzzled expression on his face.
Miyami shrugged. "The more the merrier?"
Susanna looked over at Abby. "I don't think we've met."
Ric made the introductions. "Abby, this is Susanna, a classmate of ours. Susanna, this is Abby, a good friend of mine." Abby offered a hand which Susanna shook. "Now we all know each other."
"Um, where's your other squad mate? Ex-squad mate?" Susanna looked around "What's her name?"
Rhiannon stepped in closer to Susanna. "She couldn't make it."
"Oh." Susanna shrugged. "So, Lars, is there room in your squad for an extra person?"
"We have some issues with our room. We're down a bedroom right now." Rhiannon gave Susanna a well rehearsed reassuring smile. "It's being looked into."
Susanna pouted. "Maybe when it's fixed."
"Have you been to Vaughan's Landing?" Miyami asked.
"Not really. It's a little out of the way, really." Susanna gave Lars a squeeze. "But I should've gone there sooner than today."
The boarding announcement came from the public address system. The group grabbed their bags and trekked over to the train, a long blue and gold bullet resting half a metre above the rail. The conductor helped them find their car. Inside, Ric found a group of seats that included two facing backwards. Within twenty minutes of getting seated, the doors closed and the train began to move.
The acceleration was smooth. The only sign that the train was moving was the blur of scenery outside the window. Miyami stared as the edge of Shelter Cove City gave way to fields then to light forest. Ric and Abby made light conversation while Susanna snuggled into Lars. Rhiannon kept an eye out, half wary, but the slight sway of the train relaxed her enough to fall into a light sleep.
The arrival at the station in Vaughan's Landing was only off schedule by a minute and a half. Ric helped Abby disembark while the rest gathered baggage. A few other passengers got off at the station. Soon, the train left for its next stop. Lars led the group out to the road. "Let me make a call," he said. "I think I can get us a ride into town."
"Calling your parents?" Miyami asked.
"Lars, you don't have to disturb them," Rhiannon said.
"Guys, if I don't call, it'll be much worse." Lars tapped at his tablet. After a moment, his call was picked up. "Hi, Ma! Guess where I am?" The call ended as quick as it began. Lars to to his friends. "She'll be here soon."
Ric stared at Lars. "You barely said anything."
Lars smiled. "Ma knew I was coming."
Rhiannon stepped closer to the road outside the station. "Lars, I'll be fine in town. I'll find a hotel or something."
"There's not much here. I think two bed and breakfasts, and they're usually full thanks to the fair."
"I don't want to put your parents out."
Lars laughed. "You haven't met Ma. She'll already have dinner ready for us."
"Dinner? Dude, I though we were going to eat at the fair." Ric rubbed his stomach. "I mean, I skipped dessert at lunch for this."
"The good stuff comes out tomorrow. I'll ask Ma and Pa if they know if the Landers and the Heiburgs are going this year."
Susanna wrapped her arms around Lars'. "This should be fun." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek.
Miyami smirked. "They know who all is coming?"
Lars felt his cheeks grow warm. "I wasn't going to surprise my folks with a small army."
Abby looked around. "I could use a drink. I was hoping there'd be something on the train."
"There's a diner just around the corner." Lars pointed in the diner's direction. "We can all go. It'll take fifteen minutes for Ma to get here. I'll let her know where we've gone."
The walk to the diner didn't take long. Lars ushered everyone to the counter. The waitress took the order and disappeared into the kitchen. "Well?"
Rhiannon examined the decor. "This . . . is what I expected, really."
"You expected this?" Miyami said. "I didn't. I was hoping it'd be a bit darker."
"It's a diner, Miyami, not a bar. Which we have. Two of them." Lars sat on a stool. Susanna fell into his arms. "Maybe later tonight if we're not tired."
"It's not that late," Abby said.
"We ran the obstacle course earlier today," Rhiannon explained. "I really could use a long soak before bed."
The waitress returned with the drinks, a juice made from local fruits for Lars and Susanna, coffee for Rick, a tea for Abby, and soft drinks for Miyami and Rhiannon. As she turned to leave, the waitress got a closer look at Lars. "Hey! Lars! Haven't seen you for a while."
"Lucy? I didn't know you worked here."
"I'm picking up some shifts while I'm home. What are you up to?"
"I'm on leave from the academy." Lars sipped his juice. "What about you?"
Lucy leaned against the counter. "Just on break. Semesters are odd on Ondaatje, what with the thirty hour day."
Susanna leaned up against Lars. "Hi!"
"Lucy, this is Susanna. She's in my class." Lars put his arm around Susanna's waist. "Susanna, this is Lucy. She was a year ahead of me in school."
Lucy looked over at the rest of the group. "All of them in your class, too?"
"Not all. Abby's a friend of of Ric." Lars point the pair out for Lucy. "Rhiannon and Miyami are in my squad."
"I tried to transfer in," Susanna said, "but they don't have space yet."
"Enjoy the stay, then." Lucy pushed herself off the counter. "Maybe I'll see you at the fair?"
"We'll be there tomorrow, definitely."
Lucy returned to the kitchen to pick up a new order. Susanna put her full attention on Lars. "Do you know everyone here?"
Lars shrugged. "Vaughan's Landing is a small town. If I don't know someone, I know someone who does." He spotted a familiar purple van settling down in a parking spot. "Ma's here. I'll let her know we'll be right out."
Dusty sprawled out on the dorm's sofa, a steaming cup of herbal tea on the table beside her. The room was quiet for a change with just her in it. She picked up her tablet and returned to her novel. Tension she had gotten used to since the first day of training eased out from her. The pang of envy she felt for the rest of her squad going off-campus together plucked at her; Dusty drowned it with a soothing drink of her tea. The novel, a collection of novellas about young woman at a boarding school for girls who are trouble, didn't tax Dusty's mind. She wanted the brief escape the story offered, another world, another universe.
A sharp knock came from the door intruding on Dusty's reading. She set her tablet down and rolled off the sofa. When she opened the door, she saw Commander Haag waiting on the other side. Dusty instantly came to attention. "Sir, I wasn't expecting you."
"As you were, Cadet," the Commander said. "May I come in?"
Dusty stepped aside. "Of course, sir." Commander Haag entered the dorm. Dusty closed the door behind him. "Would you like something to drink, sir? I still have hot water for tea."
"I'm good, thanks." The Commander turned to face Dusty. "I was going through the remaining four-day leave passes and wanted to follow up with them. Two are still moving. My last one, though, is yours."
"Dusty, I know you weren't moving to a new room. I was just wondering why you hadn't picked your pass up."
"I didn't think I'd have one, sir."
"All the students received a pass." Commander Haag sat down on. "Dusty, this is me right now, not the 2IC of the academy. What's going on? All of your squad mates have left."
Dusty kicked at the floor with a toe. "Sir, I'm good. I don't need leave."
"You're going to see a lot of this campus before you graduate." Commander Haag nodded at the sofa. "Sit, please. This isn't an official visit."
"I know, sir." Dusty returned to the sofa. She smoothed out her black skirt. "I just-- Sir, I just needed time alone."
"Are you having problems with your squad mates?"
Dusty sighed. "No. Not exactly." On seeing the Commander's expression, she continued, "Cadet Tudor. It's not that she's doing anything on purpose and I don't blame her."
Commander Haag nodded. "I could talk to her."
"No, sir, please, don't. Is there a chance to transfer me to another squad? Every other squad was broken up except mine."
"It's hard not to when everyone else is moving." Dusty took a sip of her now lukewarm tea. "It seems odd. Sir, you're the head of Student Affairs. Can't you move me?"
The Commander grimaced. "It's out of my hands."
"I see." Dusty slumped back on the sofa.
"Dusty, I'm looking into it."
"Thank you, sir."
"You also created an interesting situation with the obstacle course, crossing together. Whose idea was that?"
"Cadet Ortiz, sir. Thought it was Cadet Tudor's idea to link arms, sort of."
The Commander stifled a laugh. "Sort of?"
Dusty nodded. "She was being sarcastic. Cadet Ortiz ignored that part."
Commander Haag smiled. "Now, about your leave. Dusty, we haven't had much time to stop and catch our breath. Now is a good time. Go explore Shelter Cove. You haven't had the luxury of being a tourist since your parents' defection. You're safe here."
"Sir, I wouldn't know what to do."
The Commander brought out his tablet. "Yes, you do. You have reservations at the Ocean Reach Hotel, paid for through the weekend."
"Sir, I couldn't." Dusty's eyes widened.
"Yes, you could. Consider it an order if you have to, Cadet." Commander Haag smiled. "Take time for yourself. Go to a theatre, explore the city, enjoy a spa, whatever you need to do to relax." He stood up and walked over to Dusty. "It's time for you to have your own life again."
Dusty got to her feet. "Thank you, sir." She pulled the Commander into a hug. "For everything."
The ride to the Thorensen farmstead didn't take long, maybe half an hour at most. The family van was able to hold the entire group and their luggage with a bit of a squeeze. The young adults were happy to stretch again once they got out of the fan vehicle. Lars' mother went inside to make sure the rooms were ready for her guests. Rhiannon called over the other cadets, letting Abby go inside on her own.
"Guys, huge favour here," Rhiannon said. "I'm just Cadet Rhiannon Tudor this weekend."
Ric nodded. "Sure. Just part of Lars' squad."
Susanna cocked her head in puzzlement. Her blonde hair cascaded over her shoulder. "I don't understand."
Rhiannon put on a well-practised smile. "I'm one of you this weekend. No extra pomp and circumstance because of my family. It'll gets awkward otherwise. So no titles."
"Oh. Right." Susanna nodded. "Forgot about that."
"No titles," Miyami said. "You don't need to remind me."
"Thanks." Rhiannon looked towards the farmhouse. "We better go in before Abby wonders where we've gone."
"Ma should have things ready," Lars said. He took the lead on going inside. "Pa's probably still in the fields."
Once inside, Lars got tackled by a blonde blur. "You're home!" The blur, now resolving into the form of a teenaged girl, broke away. "About time." She smacked Lars on the arm.
Lars ruffled the girl's hair. "Guys, my sister, Lizzie."
"Lisbet." The girl rolled her eyes. "Hi! Ma has some snacks in the living room for you in case the trip took long. Better hurry before Bjorn finds them."
"My brother," Lars explained. "Lizzie, has Ma set up the rooms yet?"
"Your room is ready. Ma wasn't expecting so many girls with you." Lisbet winked. "My big bro is popular in the Guard."
Susanna wrapped her arms around Lars' waist. "Tell me about it."
Lars blushed. "We need to get our bags put away."
"You know where your room is," Lisbet said.
"You're welcome." Turning to the others, the young girl said, "Really, it's Lisbet."
Lars led his troupe upstairs to his room. They deposited their luggage just inside the door. Ric peeked inside. "Dude, you have to bring some of your posters back with you. They'd really spruce up the dorm."
"Remind me when we pack up to go back."
Miyami poked her head into the room. "This is a lot neater than I expected."
"It's not like he's been here the past few weeks," Ric said.
"Still. I've seen my brothers' rooms. Total mess."
"Ma's tidied, I think," Lars said. "We should get back downstairs. There's snacks waiting."
The group trooped back downstairs. The snacks, platters of cookies, cakes, and vegetables, were laid out on a coffee table, enough food to keep the entire first year class happy. Ric was the first to pick up some cookies, handing some to Abby. Miyami helped herself to a slice of cake. Rhiannon stared at the variety laid out.
"Ma might have gone overboard," Lars said. "And she's probably has dinner cooking. Don't feel like you have to have something."
"How did you keep fit?" Rhiannon asked.
"I helped Pa in the fields. And I never really ate lunch."
Susanna took a bite of the cake. "I'm going to need a bigger uniform by the time we get back."
Heidi entered the living room. "There you are. Please, eat. Dinner will be in an hour. Ladies, I can show you where you're sleeping."
The women filed out, following Lars' mother, leaving the two young men alone. Ric grabbed another cookie. "Susanna is going to be miffed not getting to sleep with you."
Lars shushed Ric. "Not so loud. Ma doesn't know about her."
"Why not?" Ric elbowed his roommate. "Susanna's fine."
"I'm hearing a 'but', dude."
"Susanna's nice. That's all."
"Come on, dude. Do you know how many guys and even girls who would love to have the sort of attention you're getting from her? There's Vance and Tricia just off the top of my head."
Lars sighed. "You'll understand tomorrow at the fair, okay?"
"Speaking of the fair. Dude, what can we expect there?"
"You must have fairs back home."
Ric shook his head. "I'm from Venitarii Four. All they do there is mining. We don't even have a proper name for the planet, it's so small. Like, maybe a couple thousand of us. We import all our food."
Lars blinked. "Well, there's rides and gaming. Farmers show off their prize livestock. Bands play--"
"Now you're talking! Live music!"
"Mostly? You mean there's a DJ?"
Lars chuckled. "You'll see. I'm planning on a late night there tomorrow. We'll see everything. No concerts. Just dancing."
Ric finished his cookie. "Now you're talking. Can't wait."
Dusty paid the cab driver for the ride to the Ocean Reach Hotel. Her first impression was that the hotel lived up to its name; it was a reach to say it was near the ocean. She caught a glimpse of the deep blue through buildings. Still, it was a place to sleep. Dusty walked inside and checked in. The concierge gave her a passkey and directions to the room. The room itself was serviceable. A bed, an entertainment unit, bathroom with a decent sized tub. Dusty made a note to take a long soak later. For now, she set her duffle bag down at the foot of her bed. She sighed. Once again, alone.
The Commander's words echoed in her head. Dusty pulled herself out of self-pity and got out her tablet. There had to be something she could do this evening, even if it was going to a nearby pub and having dinner. As her tablet searched for potential events, Dusty changed out of her base dress - her white blouse and black skirt - and into something more relaxed, a simple sleeveless grey blouse and a pair of denim jeans. When she was done, her tablet had a list of venues sorted by distance. Dusty read through the options. A few items caught her attention; grav ball in an hour at the Sheltered Cove Memorial Arena, a band she didn't recognize at a bar a few blocks away, a play at a community theatre. What she decided on, though, was just dinner, and there was a restaurant not far from the hotel.
Dusty left her hotel room and began her trek to the restaurant. The evening air began to cool and she could smell the salt in the ocean. A few cars passed by, their turbofans whining softly. She reached the restaurant, Rorik's, and went inside. The lighting was dim, enough to see without intruding on anyone else's evening. The host showed her to a table and left a menu for her to peruse. A waitress stopped by soon after to get a drink order; Dusty asked for a draft ale, not caring about the brand. Once the waitress left, Dusty checked the special of the day. It didn't take long for the waitress to return with Dusty's draft ale. She set it down in front of the young cadet and got ready to take the order.
"The fish special, is it fresh?" Dusty asked.
"It's local. Probably caught this morning."
Dusty nodded. "Sure, thanks."
The waitress tapped the order into her tablet. "In town for long?" She smiled. "The accent."
"For the weekend."
"You should be careful around here. It's not that safe."
"Do you mind a few questions? You can tell me if I'm being nosy."
Dusty shrugged. "Sure."
"What brings you to Tamar?"
"I'm a student at the military academy. Just started a few weeks ago."
"Oh, cool. But it sounds like you're from far away. I can't place your accent."
"I've kinda moved around." Dusty shrugged. "I must have picked up a few accents."
"I wish I could afford to do that."
"Wasn't my choice. Parents, you know?" Dusty kept a neutral expression on her face. "I've been trying to figure out what to do in town, though."
The waitress shrugged. "Most places will be closing, unless you like drinking."
Dusty shook her head. "Not really. I mean," she held up her draft ale, "something with dinner but not as an activity."
"I hear you." The waitress thought for a moment. "You're at the military academy, right? Maybe a massage? I've heard how gruelling it can be, especially for first years."
"We just had the big obstacle course," Dusty said. "I was going to take a long soak tonight."
The waitress took out a card from her apron and gave it to Dusty. "Here. My cousin works at a spa. It's a way to relax."
Dusty read the card, then set it down beside her ale. "Thanks. It sounds like fun."
The waitress smiled. "Tell them Gina sent you, okay? That way my cousin knows who to thank. I'll go check on your order."
"I tell you, morning comes too early."
"You are so oblivious."
"You promised me a prize, remember?"
"And that's why you're acing marksmanship."