Chapter 5 - Internal Conflicts
"I hate to cut your time off short, but the Commandant will be issuing a recall order later this morning."
"As such, all leave has been cancelled for the duration of the alert."
"If the lasers came from the Grand Republic, who would your first suspect be?"
"Are you doing this to get inside my pants?"
Morning, once again, arrived early. Lars roused his squad mates to get them out in time for physical training. Sergeant Chang worked the assembled students hard. She started with mere calisthenics, increasing the pace over the work out. After that, she graduated them to a five kilometre jog around the campus. Sergeant Chang kept pace with the cadets, shouting various forms of encouragement, positive and negative, to any who fell behind. In the last five hundred metres, Sergeant Chang picked up the pace, turning the job into a run. She kept the cadets in formation until all of them arrived, then dismissed them for breakfast.
As the squads broke up, Ric waved to his roommates. "Hey, guys, hold up."
Miyami stopped mid-trudge. "Can this wait? I want to shower and get something to eat before the next thing they spring on us today."
"Not really. Guys, I've been thinking."
Lars shook his head in dismay. "That never ends well."
"Ha, ha. No, really, guys. We're the only squad to remain together after the obstacle course. That should give us an edge, at least early. We don't have to relearn how to work with each other. Or, we shouldn't."
Rhiannon put a hand on her hip. "Where are you going with this?"
Ric smiled. "We need to spend more time together."
"That's the result of your thinking?" Rhiannon turned on her heel to leave.
"Wait, hear me out." Ric ran to put himself in Rhiannon's way. "We've got the basics. Everyone else is still getting used to the new formations. It's a good time to get some quick marks. But we aren't a team."
Dusty ran her fingers through her hair. "Ric, it's not that simple."
Rhiannon shot the woman a quick glare. "We've done well enough so far."
"Well enough isn't good enough." Ric looked from Rhiannon to Dusty and back. "We need to spend time together working as a team. Look at last night and our assignment. We split up to work on it."
"The academy doesn't like plagiarism, Ric," Miyami said. "I'm not risking being expelled for cheating."
Ric turned to Miyami. "That's it, though. We can still do our own work. There were times last night when I wanted to get your perspective and Rhiannon's. You two went after the getaway driver. And Dusty wasn't even with us at the time. She may have wanted to know what went down."
"Not really." Dusty shook her head. "I found everything I needed in the library."
"Ric, we're all in different majors," Rhiannon said. "We're all going to have our own homework that the rest of us won't even have. Lars will never have to deal with n-dimensional calculus and I'm not going to have to worry about the historical relevance of Billingsworth Vance's 'Reclining Nude Under a Triple Sun'."
"I'm not saying we have to spend all our time together," Ric said. "All I want is for us to at least have a meal together, either in the dorm or at the mess. If we get a group project, I want us to be able to work together long enough to get it done without anyone trying to maim someone."
"It'd be nice." Lars sighed. "Rhiannon, Dusty, I know you have reasons, but you're both here at the academy. That has to count for something, right?"
Rhiannon eyed Dusty. "Maybe."
"So let's try eating together today," Ric said. "We'll go get cleaned up and then meet at the mess hall."
"Ric, I'm not hungry," Dusty said.
Ric turned his attention to Dusty. "We have to start somewhere. Dusty, you're part of the squad."
"I'm just not hungry, Ric. I can't eat a big breakfast." Dusty sighed. "Would you accept lunch?"
"Yes, I would." Ric smiled. "We'll all meet at the mess hall for lunch today. We don't have to talk to each other, just show up and sit and eat. Agreed?"
"Agreed," Lars said.
Miyami looked over to Rhiannon, who nodded. "I'll be there," Miyami said.
"Good. Noon today. I will hunt down anyone missing." Ric held his arms open. "Anyone up for a group hug?"
When Dusty returned to the dorm, she grabbed her clothes and shoved them and a towel into her duffle bag. She walked over to the gym, taking advantage of the cool autumn air. After a quick shower and towelling off, made faster and easier with her shorter hair, Dusty strode over to the administrative building and up to the Office of Student Affairs. She waited until the clerk called her to the counter. "Is Commander Haag available?" she asked.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"No," Dusty checked the clerk's rank insignia, "Corporal."
The clerk checked the office's schedule on his tablet. "He's not in a meeting right now. I'll ask if you can see him. Can I get your name, cadet?"
"Dusty Tyler. Fifth Squad. I just have some questions about my schedule."
The corporal typed a quick message and sent it. "You should be getting the name of your counsellor tomorrow." His tablet vibrated as the reply arrived. "Commander Haag will see you." The clerk opened the gate for Dusty. "He's at the end of the hall over there." He pointed.
"Thank you." Dusty followed the clerk's directions to the Commander's office. She knocked on the door. Hearing Commander Haag's invitation, she stepped inside, closing the door behind her. "Sir." Dusty came to attention.
"At ease, Dusty." Commander Haag set aside his tablet. "Is this an official visit?"
"I'm not sure, sir." Dusty relaxed a little.
"What's wrong, Dusty?"
"Sir, it's-- Sir, am I allowed to transfer to another squad?"
The Commander leaned forward in his chair. "Are you having trouble with Cadet Tudor again?"
"I wouldn't say 'again', sir." Dusty grimaced. "More like 'still'. Sir, keeping us together makes no sense at all."
"I know, Dusty. You weren't expecting a spectre from your past here. Neither was I." Commander Haag pulled up a file on his tablet to show Dusty. "This must be a record. I now have four transfer requests related to your squad. Three for transfers out and one to transfer in."
Dusty blinked. "In? That must be Cadet Schroeter, sir. She's trying to become an item with Cadet Thorensen."
"Ah, young love."
"I'm sure she'd be happy to switch places with me, sir."
Commander Haag smiled. "I'm sure she would. However, the order still stands. No transfers."
Dusty clenched her fists. "I see, sir."
"Look, do what you can. The alert should end in a few days. After that, cadets will be allowed off campus at night, now that class is starting. Take time to go into Shelter Cove."
"Is there really a Republican spy here?"
"Tamar's a border world, Dusty. There's probably one at the spaceport counting every ship in and out. The Grand Republic probably knows how much grain is being sent off-world better than the local farm union. The guns are a wild goose chase." The Commander picked up his tablet. "However, Naval Intelligence is trying to figure out if there's a connection between the robbers in Vaughan's Landing and the two inured muggers in Shelter Cove. Is there anything I should pass along?"
Dusty shrugged. "I was warned about them by a waitress at Rorik's. They had knives, not guns, and they didn't seem that bright. Sir."
The Commander tapped in his notes. "Thank you, Dusty. You should get ready for this afternoon. Since everyone's back early, some extra training's being set up. Be ready."
"Thank you for the warning, sir."
The mess hall started to fill as noon approached. Ric was the first of his squad to arrive. He went through the line to get his lunch, then found a spot where he could both see the doors and be seen from them. Miyami and Lars walked in together. She waved to Ric, then guided Lars to the line up. Rhiannon followed not long after. More and more students arrived, the mess hall filling. Ric scowled.
Miyami joined Ric at the table. "How was your morning?"
"Oh, great. I stopped at the café."
"We are staging an intervention, Ric."
Lars set down his tray when he arrived. "Who are we interventioning?"
"Ric. He's responsible for half the coffee sales here."
"I do not drink that much coffee." Ric picked up his mug.
"Right." Lars sat down. "I saw Rhiannon in line."
"We're just missing one."
Miyami rolled her eyes. "Figures."
"It's not like Dusty's been made to feel welcome."
"We've had this discussion before, Ric. You know how I feel." Miyami stabbed at her salad with her fork.
"I'm just saying that Dusty should be given a break." Ric sipped his coffee. "At least let her screw up first."
Rhiannon walked over to the table. "I should have guessed."
Ric looked up at the newcomer. "Don't start, Rhiannon."
"Anyone could have seen this coming, Ric." Rhiannon sat down beside Miyami. "Tyler isn't Guard material."
"Are you forgetting that she helped you on the climbing wall on the obstacle course?" Rhiannon glared at Ric before attacking her lunch. Ric glanced over at the entrance. "She's here."
"Good for her."
Ric sighed. "I hear that civility helps with digestion."
"I am perfectly civil, thank you very much." Rhiannon's tone dropped the temperature several degrees.
"As long as she is civil, too," Miyami said.
Lars shook his head. "Ric, you're asking a lot here."
Miyami turned on Lars. "What does that mean?"
"Hey, whoa, Miyami. It just means that pretending to be a team isn't going to fix the problem."
"Lars is right," Rhiannon said. "I'm not about to forgive her for what happened."
"Maybe." Ric set down his mug. "Have any of you wondered why Dusty is here? It's like there's something going on that we're getting pulled into."
"I feel so much better having her here now."
"Maybe Dusty doesn't agree with her parents?" Lars said. "Not everyone can talk to their folks."
"Believe what you want." Rhiannon set down her knife and fork. "Can we change the subject?"
Ric shrugged. "Okay. Can I see your assignments? I just want to compare them with mine."
Miyami paused in her eating. "You've submitted yours, right?"
"This morning. Why?"
"I'm not getting expelled because you copied off mine."
"I am well aware of the consequences, Miyami." Ric got out his tablet. "I'll even share mine with you."
Miyami got out her tablet. "Sure." She looked over at Rhiannon. "I didn't include the fight."
"Oh, good," Rhiannon said. "I don't want the Commandant to be worried about you."
Ric looked from Rhiannon to Miyami. "What happened?"
"You know how Miyami isn't allowed to spar with either of you two guys?" Rhiannon waited for Ric's nod to continue. "One punch and down. If the getaway driver sings, he's now a soprano."
Both Ric and Lars eyed Miyami, who waved to them with her fingers. "I got the guy. It's not my fault he didn't wear a cup."
Dusty joined the group, wearing a jacket over her white and black base dress uniform. She sat down as far from Rhiannon she could while still remaining with the squad. "Hi."
"Hi!" Ric picked up his coffee mug. "Want to share your assignment with me?"
"My assignment? Why?"
"I'm being nosy."
Dusty shrugged her shoulders. "Sure, I guess."
"Are you cold?" Lars asked. "The jacket."
"I heard that we're getting extra training this afternoon."
Ric leaned forward. "Doing what?"
"That's all I know." Dusty added dressing to her salad.
"That's--" Rhiannon stopped. "Never mind." She resumed eating her lunch.
Miyami set down her tablet. "I hope it's not more drill. I'd like to do something other than come to attention all afternoon."
Lars nodded in agreement. "It'd be nice to get back out to the range."
"Want to help Susanna more?" Ric asked. He nudged Lars in the ribs.
"I just want more time." Lars craned her neck, looking around for Susanna. "I don't mind helping her, but I need the practice, too."
"Same here," Rhiannon said.
Miyami gave Rhiannon a stare. "How many stuffed animals did you win at the shooting galleries at the fair again?"
"Five. Three of them from are huge and take up the dresser."
Rhiannon blushed. "That was different."
"Wait, you could get bigger prizes?" Ric asked.
"I'm sure Abby is enjoying the small menagerie you won for her." Rhiannon winked at Ric.
Everyone's tablets vibrated almost in unison. Miyami checked the new message. "That's from Major Novak. We're supposed to form up in the parade square in twenty minutes."
"Did he say why?" Ric asked.
Miyami re-read the message. "Nope."
"He's a superior officer," Lars said. "He doesn't have to tell us why. We just do what he says."
"Within reason," Dusty said, not looking away from her lunch.
"She speaks!" Rhiannon feigned swooning, placing the back of her hand on her forehead in a dramatic gesture.
Dusty glanced at her roommate. "I thought you'd prefer me to not talk."
"Girls--" Ric cut himself off when both Rhiannon and Dusty glared at him. "Dudes, we were doing so well." He smiled, trying to ease the tension. "How's lunch?"
"I'm making my own lunch tomorrow," Rhiannon said.
"Really? It doesn't taste that bad."
"Could use some spices," Dusty said. "It's a little bland."
Lars finished his lunch. "Twenty minutes isn't much time."
"They want to keep us on our toes," Miyami said. "Bet you it's another test."
"We've got this," Ric said. "Really. We're just that good." He began his own meal.
"We better." Miyami put away her tablet. "I've sent you my essay, Ric."
Ric swallowed the large bite in his mouth. "Thanks." He drained the rest of his coffee. "I'll read it later tonight."
The squad finished their lunches with time to spare. They left the mess hall along with the rest of the exodus of students and went straight to the parade ground. Ric ushered the squad into a proper formation, then took his position at the front with Rhiannon. One by one, the other squads formed up, standing and talking amongst each other. The general buzz of conversation was of curiosity, wondering why they were called outside. Major Novak and Sergeant Chang arrived, taking their position in front of the assembled students. "Company, attention!" the Sergeant called. The students obeyed the order, all conversations ending.
Major Novak examined the squads. "Two things. First, because we have this extra day, it has been decided that you will be introduced to the key aspect of armoured infantry, piloting the Centurion trainer. As such, you will be taken to the simulators. There, you will find the room that matches your squad number. Congratulations, cadets. You get to learn how to walk again.
"Second, each squad will get a designated leader. This designation will rotate among the squad members, but only when we, your instructors, decide. You need to experience what it's like to lead as an officer." Major Novak brought out his tablet. "The squad leaders are as follows. First Squad, Cadet Chandra Amritraj. Second Squad, Cadet Bram Sigar. Third Squad, Cadet Cyrah Tate. Fourth Squad, Cadet Maera Reuter. Fifth Squad, Cadet Rhiannon Tudor."
Ric tuned out the rest of the squad leaders. He winked at Rhiannon. For her part, Rhiannon appeared shocked at the announcement. Behind her, Miyami smiled. Lars gave her an approving nod. Only Dusty kept her expression neutral at the news. They all returned to the now when Major Novak gave the order to move out. The entire first year marched to a building near the firing range, then were allowed to split up to find their assigned rooms.
Rhiannon sidled close to Ric. "I'm sorry," she said.
"For becoming squad leader. Ric, you've done a lot more work trying to keep us together and motivated. I would've chosen you."
Ric smiled. "Don't worry about it, Rhiannon. I'm sure you'll do a great job."
"Ric, I was chosen because of my title, not my ability. Look at the others who became squad leaders. Chandra's done a lot of work herding Lambda before it was split up."
"So consider it a learning moment. Rhiannon, you'll do fine."
Dusty coughed to get their attention. "We've reached our room, O Great Mistress."
Rhiannon bit back a groan. "Tyler, don't start with me."
"By your command, Imperious Leader."
Ric wrapped an arm around Rhiannon's shoulder. "I'll help."