NationStates Jolt Archive

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

11-05-2004, 18:24
It started with a simple, laughably miniscule bid in a humorously trite auction made in protest. A simple statement, a reminder to do what's right.

And somehow, Timofeyev thinks to himself as he tries to relax back into the seat of the passenger shuttle, it exploded from there.

Mysterious donors tossing about more money than he expected to make in the sum total of his life led to success, which led to what was intended by others as a 'vacation' in the Dominion. Of course, timing for that just had to be perfect. My usual luck held out and--guess what--it's time for a coup in a 'stable' dictatorship. He stifles a quiet sigh. Well, at least I got something out of it. People don't go about saving world leaders every day, and so his exploits were considered enough to qualify him for a Banner of Honorable Merit... an extremely high honor conferred in a public ceremony with reporters and cameras and such. Hurrah for being a national hero.

One week and ten dead men later, combined with the assistance of who truly had to be his best friend in all of life, he delivered two leaders of the Triumvirate back into safety thanks to the survival training he picked up in Sakkra. Eyebrows were raised, thoughts exchanged, and decisions made concerning his destiny because, as he'd proven, he was simply too skilled and useful to make them for himself.

I did sign the enlistment papers for being a cadet, after all. Needs of the Sass'd and the Segments. According to Foot-to-Ass Advisor Hawke and PseudoEmperor Razak, those needs demanded, for some unearthly reason, his service in the Scolopendran Mobile Infantry Special Operators. This of course explained why he was on a smallish passenger shuttle heading to Camp Hartmann on the Ring, chosen due to it's extremely varied collection of environments. The fact it was also the size of a moderately large Terrestrial country didn't hurt, either.

* - * - *

"Welcome to Camp Hartmann, trainees," growls a three-bar chief master sergeant carrying the labels MOBILE INFANTRY and MATHERS. "I am Chief Master Sergeant Mathers and you will address me as such. If you impress me, I may let you address me as Chief Mathers, or, if you really shine, as simply Chief." He glares at the formed-up squadron, continuing to speak in a coldly level tone. "I have very high standards."

He begins to pace back and forth in front of the squadron, looking over each trainee's face in turn. "I know what you're expecting; you're expecting this to look like something from some dated war movie where I, as your training instructor, will shovel abuse upon you while you take it quietly and pretend to enjoy it." Beat. "That is not how we do things in SMISO. You have all proven yourself as professionals, obviously with enough merit to be considered for the Special Operators. I will treat you with the respect you deserve, but I will not tolerate disrespect, disobedience, or mediocrity. Prove to me that you have what it takes and we will get along swimmingly."

A longer pause as he turns in the middle of his pacing pattern, looking over the formation. "Prove to me that SMISO is too much for you and I will have you drummed out before you can harm my Special Operators corps. Fall out and get into PT's and meet me on the trail in five, it's time for your daily mountainside run."

The squadron turns on its bootheels--"Not you, Lieutenant,"--and runs off save one who ignores the sinking feeling in his stomach. Chief Mathers struts over, folding his hands behind his back. "That is some impressive work you did in the Dominion, sir. Do you understand why all SMISO training instructors are chiefs?"

Bondayehr continues to stand at attention, eyes caged straight ahead as he replies in an appropriately assertive voice. "I can hazard a guess, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers."
"And that would be?"

"As chiefs, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers, they would automatically outrank any Mobile Infantry enlisted tagged for SMISO training."

"And we do not bother with having training officers because...?"

"All Mobile Infantry officers are selected from the enlisted corps, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers. By the time a trooper has sufficient experience to go to officer candidates' school, he has already established a professional niche that is counterproductive to Special Operators training. In short, no officers go through SMISO."

"And you are...?"

"An officer of the Aerospace Directorate, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers."

The chief chuckles darkly. "Not even Mobile Infantry... you've had all the answers so far, Lieutenant. Can you guess why I brought this up?"

"You are the authority here, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers. My rank is a meaningless title in the training environment. I will follow all lawful orders in order to complete my training."

"Good, good," the chief smiles thinly, "and I will respect your title although I have always questioned the wisdom of the Aerospace Directorate's practice of giving commissions to those lacking combat experience."

Bondayehr wisely keeps his mouth shut.

"You, however, do have combat experience and so I can grant you the benefit of the doubt. I don't do that often."

"Thank you, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers."

"Fall out, sir. You have three minutes... and... Lieutenant..."

"Yes, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers?" Timofeyev stops in his tracks and turns around at attention.

"Others may not give you the benefit of the doubt. Please try to resolve any... differences before coming to me. Hooah?"

"Hooah, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers."

"On the bounce, then, sir."

Bondayehr nods curtly and sprints to the barracks to make up for lost time.
Holy Vatican See
12-05-2004, 00:28
Dread Lady Nathicana
12-05-2004, 04:10
Nathicana sat quietly going over several missives, keeping up on the news of the day as was her wont. Of the many clips and bits of information she perused while slowly sipping her ice water, one concern in particular seemed to be missing.

I wonder if they've decided where that boy is headed ...

The fact that she had a personal interest in keeping tabs on the man could hardly be looked at terribly askance, not considering recent events.

She smiled softly as she tapped out a brief message, then hit send. Curling up in her chair, she sat in silence for a while, looking out her window to watch the sun sink past the horizon, warm colors dancing across the open sea.

Hope this brief note finds you in good health and good spirits, boy. No worries, there are no auctions and no impending backwoods trips, nor any other calamity that's spawned this - simply a greeting, one friend to another. Thought I'd ask where life has taken you since last we met, and apologize again for all the additional complications. Crazy how things turn out sometimes, neh?

Take care of yourself, Tim. And even though my last efforts at 'help' have done anything but, offer still stands should you need it. Given the law of averages, even I couldn't possibly screw it up all the time.



ooc: Yes, elaborate tag. Go me!
12-05-2004, 05:16
a non-elaborate tag
12-05-2004, 07:09
Running five miles with no preparation demands respect.

Running five miles with no preparation over mountainous terrain at high altitude is quite another level of difficulty altogether.

Reaching a comfortable pace and selecting an appropriate Sakkran concentration chant to match the cadence, Timofeyev doesn't find it too troublesome. Running is a matter of concentration, and--

About the the third mile in, a corporal who's been gasping for the last few minutes keels over. Immediately breaking formation without a thought, Bondayehr falls out with him, kneeling beside to check pulse and set up. "Chief Master Sergeant Mathers! We have a case of heat exhaustion!"

"Keep up, Lieutenant, is the only respose from the retreating back of the chief, "we aren't stopping!"

Bondayehr sighs and looks down at the unconscious trooper. Thank goodness he's not one of the beefier ones. Working out his neck, he slips his arms under the protrate form and carefully settles him over his shoulders. With a grunt, he stands up and runs steadily to catch up with the formation.

"Hey, some help here?" Looking around, he certainly hopes he doesn't have to pull any rank... the chief certainly isn't being very helpful. "C'mon, this guy weighs more than I do. If I go down carrying him, then that means there's two people to lug back 'cause we don't leave troopers behind."

Reminded of their ethos, two of the better-built troopers nod to each other and slow down, falling back beside Timofeyev. "What I'm thinking is a two person carry... if we get one more person, then we can switch off every few minutes." Settling the load on the makeshift seat of arms the two M.I. provide, Bondayehr calls out. "If there's no complaints, we can rotate him through the squadron. If we share the load, we won't lose much time at all."

Only a mild amount of grumbling presents itself; over the last two miles back to the camp the unconscious trooper is passed around, carried by rotating teams of two. Back at camp, the squadron changes back into fatigues and forms up again.

"MEDIC!" Chief Mathers yells in a bored voice, eliciting the response of two light-armored troopers with white red-crescent armbands. "Lieutenant Bondayehr, fall out and make sure Corporal Friedlitz gets taken care of."

"Yes, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers!" Bondayehr turns in place and steps out of formation, jogging along side the exo-wearing medics. Some signatures on paperwork and a statement to the field surgeon later, Bondayehr runs back to where he left his squadron. When he returns, the first thing he notices is that his squadmates don't look very happy at all.

Before he can report in to the chief, the older grizzled man just waves him along. "No need for formalities, sir, just fall into formation." Nodding with a rote "Yes, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers," Bondayehr does so.

"Now it's about time that this squadron got some leadership," Chief Mathers growls, beginning into his apparently habitual pacing. "That episode on the run was sad, and I'm glad we had a little talk about it. Because Lieutenant Bondayehr of the Aerospace Directorate"--the service comes out as almost a sneer--"was the only one to show any vestiges of leadership, he is now squadron commander. Staff Sergeant Prasanth will serve as adjutant and... Technical Sergeant Rosskopf..." The chief pauses, turning to the senior noncom in the trainee squadron. "Corporal Friedlitz was from your unit, no?"

"Yes, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers!" The tech sergeant's face goes a sort of shade of red in shame.

"Why did you fail to fall out to help him?"

"No excuse, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers!" The man turns redder.

"Damn right there's no excuse. We are going to have a little talk, Rosskopf, and then you will be assigned to guidon bearer. If I see you fishbowl it even once, I swear I will have you on your face doing pushups until I get tired. Do we have an understanding, Sergeant?"

"Yes, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers!"

"Fall out and stick with me. Lieutenant Bondayehr, take control of your squadron and march them to chow."

"Yes," Timofeyev replies, "Chief Master Sergeant Mathers!" Falling out and running to the front of the formation, he first accepts a yellow squad-leader's armband from the chief then looks over his first command for a bare instant. "At my command, REST!" The squadron breaks from attention, standing around more comfortably, the third-element troopers in the rear talking quietly and chortling.

"Three volunteers for element leaders!" The troopers talking amongst themselves in the back look at each other, grin impishly, then three stand at attention, right arm raised. The other troopers, noting that three volunteers have presented themselves, remain still.

"Beckman, Questi, and Shia-Agil, fall out and trade positions with the current leaders." The squadron shuffles. "Squadron, tench-HUT!" The squadron snaps to attention.

"Right HACE! Cover!" The squadron pivots on their right feet, then shifts into proper alignment and spacing. "Forward, HARCH!" The squadron marches forward, standard pace. "Element leaders guide onto the sidewalk." The three troopers in the front of the formation gently guide those following onto the broad sidewalk as Bondayehr marches to the left and a little to the rear of the formation, keeping an eye out.

They approach a branch in the sidewalk, a sign announcing the way to the mess hall. Counting off the paces, Timofeyev times his commands. "Column left, HARCH!" Each successive row of troopers marches properly around the corner, falling into half-steps after the maneuver. "Forward, HARCH!" Normal strides once again, and Bondayehr's squadron is occluded from Chief Mather's sight by a drab concrete building painted an off-yellow-eggshell color.

"Column right, HARCH!" With a snicker from the element leaders, the squadron continues on its way forward, the rows behind the leaders unable to turn because the leaders are in the way. Snapping his head in a glance and seeing the Chief nowhere in sight, Bondayehr frowns. "Oh, geez."

Well, we might as well figure out who the mutineers are. "Right flank, HARCH!" About half the squadron immediately turns to the right, bumping into others but getting through, until the squadron is in two distinct pieces. "Squadron," Timofeyev says in a very level voice through clenched teeth, "HALT!" The executory command comes out in an unexpected roar.

At this point, the mutineers have the presence of mind to follow the order.

"Very, very funny. Quite amusing. We'll talk about it later." The lieutenant storms over to the portion of the squadron that followed the flanking movement command. "Richards, ibn-Danari, and Siagyo, you've just been promoted. Squadron, FALL OUT and fall back in on my position with the new element leaders I just appointed."

The squadron quickly does so, the old element leaders snickering amongst themselves at the success of their prank on the little boy. Their levity does not appear to be shared. "Beckman, Questi, and Shia-Agil, fall out and stick around. I need to talk to you. Sergeant Prasanth, FRONT AND CENTER!"

The adjutant, of moderate height and definite subcontinental Indian extraction, falls out of his position and runs up to Bondayehr, staring into his eyes as he salutes. "Sir, Sergeant Prasanth reports as ordered."
Bondayehr returns the salute. "Take control of the squadron and get them to chow on the bounce. Inform Chief Mathers that I will be on kitchen patrol with our troublemakers and he can find me there. Hooah?"

"Hooah, sir." The form of address lacks any sign of harshness.

"Thank you, Sergeant. On the bounce."

"On the bounce, sir." As the sergeant turns towards the squadron, Bondayehr stalks over to the three mutineer trainees, frowning mightily.

"What exactly was that?" The lieutenant folds his arms, not bothering to hide his irritation at the twenty-five and thirty year olds who faced him.

"Whatchya gonna do, sir, pull rank?" sneers Questi, the eldest. She holds up two hands, fingers splayed. "I've been M.I. for ten years. Combat drops in the One Ring, Slavrov, Shi Shi Shooku, and the Outsets. Why should I be taking orders from you?"

"No, I'm not going to pull rank," Bondayehr half-smiles coldy, "and you should be taking orders because the Chief said so. If you have a problem with his decision, I respectfully suggest you take it up with him. Right now, we are all going to march down to the kitchen and assist the cooks with whatever duties they deem fit until everyone else has eaten. Then we will subsist off leftovers and return to the squadron for whatever additional training the Chief has in store for us. Fall in."

Hesitation. "I suggest you follow my order this time before I make damn sure the Chief gets involved," Timofeyev says with a cooly grim voice. "Consider this unofficial administrative punishment... I know you don't want Form Sixteens with insubordination stamps and Mathers' signature on them for your permanent records. Do not make me repeat myself."

The three fall into a single line, standing at attention. "And Sergeant Questi... how many confirmed kills?"

Questi stands at exaggerated attention. "Three, sir!"

Bondayehr simply stands in front of her and calmly holds up two hands, fingers splayed. "Ten. Three with a Treznorian UV rifle, six with a Mongolian compound bow I made, and one with a similarly self-made knife. No armor suits, no powerguns. I felt a man's blood flow between these fingers." If his voice was cold earlier, it turns absolutely dark now. "Those are ten people with families, emotions, goals and ambitions, ten avarage mooks, the only reason I had to kill them being that they were on the wrong side. Do not dare measure your self-worth in blood spilt."

Bondayehr steps back. "Forward, march."
The Most Glorious Hack
12-05-2004, 12:23
13-05-2004, 04:24
Kitchen patrol really isn't difficult, all things considered. Lugging around pots and pans, washing dishes, and generally assisting the cooking staff is simple, not-overly-hard work, and yet it is universally despised. It all depends, essentially, on context.

KP is always assigned when the people doing it have something better or more important to do. It is never assigned during training time, as that would be counterproductive. It always falls during either chow or personal time. The first is generally considered to be worse, because while camp gruel is never delectible by any means, the soapy thinned-out leftovers that the poor troopers on KP manage to scrounge after the chow period has lapsed barely border on edible.

Bondayehr wipes a plastic plate a few more times for that finishing touch, then adds it to the stack next to him. Looking over his shoulder, he sees Corporal Shia-Agil wasting time, leaning against a walk-in freezer while trying to hide behind a large rack of industrial spices.

Leaning over, the lieutenant tags a PFC stuck with cook duty. "You see the corporal over there, Private?" Timofeyev discreetly nods in Shia-Agil's general direction.

The private follows the nod, covering the look in a slight cough. "Yes, sir."

"Find the shirker something to do. I'm sure some fifty-five gallon drum needs lifting somewhere."

"Got it."
Bondayehr sighs, grabs a bite from a hunk of bread that tastes of dish soap, and picks up another dish from the massive tub of discolored foamy water in front of him. The things I do 'cause it's right...

* - * - *

The rest of the first day is just more busiwork--physical training, run, PT, eating, PT, drill, and some more PT just for good measure. Dusk quickly gives way to twilight as the artificial Ring-sun, one of many, loses its influence on this portion of the Ring, finding 'B' Squadron standing at parade rest on the drill pad in front of the barracks, Lieutenant Bondayehr at the fore.

Mathers paces up and down the squadron, growling fiercely. "I heard we had a little trouble with proper military decorum earlier today. Having talked to the other training instructors, it seems that Bravo Squadron has caused the most trouble on the first day. The first day." He never raises his voice, his style tending towards putting additional weight on singular words. "I am not impressed and, in my mind, you are all playing catchup. Get these troopers out of my sight, sir."

Bondayehr snaps to attention. "Yes, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers!" A quick about-face on his bootheels. "Squadron, tench-HUT!" The snapping sound of boots coming together, eyes staring into the distance. "Fall out and get in the barracks on the bounce."

"ON THE BOUNCE, SIR!" the squadron cries collectively, turning around and running into the drab concrete barracks. Sighing, Bondayehr works the kinks out of his neck and starts to follow.

"A word, Lieutenant."

Timofeyev instantly returns to attention and spins around.

"Drop the attention and follow me." The chief sighs as he starts to walk off.

Bondayehr nods and immediately falls in behind and to the left of the chief. Chuckling, the chief slips around to invert the position, putting the lieutenant in his appropriate position. "You are the officer, after all. Tell me about this morning."

Timofeyev frowns. "As I marched the flight to chow as per your directives, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers, I encountered resistance from the flight. The ringleaders were seperated and punished as appropriately as I could think of at the time."

"Kitchen patrol," the chief answers with a quiet chuckle, "and you were there with them."

"Their actions were my responsibility, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers. I couldn't punish someone else to make sure the troublemakers got their due and so I assigned my adjutant to take control of the squadron, as you know."

"Why are you protecting them?"

"I do not understand, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers."

The chief sighs with a wry little smile. "I know it was Questi, Shia-Agil, and Beckman. They weren't in formation after chow because they were with you. Still, Prasanth did what you asked him to and just said that they were on kitchen patrol. No mention of why. I had to speak with him to the side to get the story."

The two enter the barracks from a different door, entering directly into the training instructor's quarters. Easing himself down behind his desk, the chief motions to a chair in front of it. "Take a seat, sir." As Bondayehr sits down, the senior noncom pulls out a battered old recording device and sets it on the desk. "Now all I need is your side."

Bondayehr frowns. "This wasn't the idea, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers."

The chief chuckles humorlessly, folding his hands as he leans slightly over his desk. "Oh, I understand. I've seen it before, of course. One has to cover for the squad, 'specially when one is in charge. You gave them administrative punishment to maintain control while trying to ensure they didn't screw up their one chance to become Special Operators." The chief smiles slightly. "I respect that. Shows your mind's in the right place, at least. You were given a difficult situation and you carried yourself well."

"May I make a statement, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers?"

"Go ahead, and please do not precede, close, nor put anywhere in the middle my full title."

"Okay..." Bondayehr scratches the back of his head. "I'll admit this was unexpected. I'm waiting to get dressed down."

"That's why you're going to frown mightily when you leave through that door"--the chief nods towards the door leading into the barracks--"and pretend like you were. I told you all, this is an outfit of professionals. Punishment for mediocrity, sure, but rewards for doing it right. We're here to train you, not to break you."

Timofeyev nods.
"Still, your squadron is unacceptably soft. They hardly classify as troopers, and yet they are somehow the best of the best. The Mobile Infantry doesn't allow insubordination, Lieutenant. Initiative is good. Complete disrespect for the chain of command and lawful orders is not." The noncom clicks on the recorder. "Now, if such a situation occured, we need to know about it."

Bondayehr sighs, nods, and recounts the events of earlier in the day including his thoughts at the time, actions he took to counter and correct it, and thoughts on how to prevent such an occurence in the future. "Basically, there's no way I can force them to respect me, so the best I can do is come up with some sort of compromise where they take me just seriously enough to respect my job but still don't feel threatened or offended."

Chief Mathers clicks off the recorder. "Now, that wasn't so hard, was it?"

"Just about as hard as I expected, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers," Bondayehr sighs. "Still didn't want to do it."

Mathers nods. "'Chief Mathers' will be sufficient from now on, Lieutenant. Now get out there and make me look like an ogre."

"Yes, Chief Mas..." Timofeyev shakes his head. "Chief Mathers."

"I can make you go back to the full title if you'd like." Mischievous grin from the old chief.

"No, this will be fine, Chief Mathers," Timofeyev grins, "see, there, fixed. Now to put on the game face." The lieutenant frowns mightily, willing blood to pool in his face until it turns a bright embarrassed red.

"Now that's the ticket, sir," the chief chuckles, "now get out there and remember it's all an act in public."

"But of course, Chief Mathers," Bondayehr replies, "it always was. Full title on the outside?"

"No, shortened form will do. Let's see who picks up on me not raking you over the coals for it, and then see who's dumb enough to follow without meriting permission first."

Bondayehr frowns a little deeper. "You play dirty, Chief Mathers."

"I'm a Special Operator. It's my job." The noncom shrugs. "Now GET OUT THERE BEFORE I--" he roars with a wink.

Timofeyev is out the door in the blink of an eye, closing it afterwards and shuffling quickly to his bunk. Mathers throws open the door, sound of sheet metal banging against concrete reverberating in the bay, and roars some more with a voice made of granite. "I NEED TRAINEES BECKMAN, FRIEDLITZ, QUESTI, AND SHIA-AGIL IN MY OFFICE YESTERDAY. PACK YOUR KITS, WE'RE GOING TO SEE IF YOU GET TO UNPACK THEM HERE OR BACK HOME."

The four mentioned immediately spring into action, the three mutineers acting with panicked haste while Friedlitz moves with a sort of resignation. Frowning to himself, Bondayehr goes over to Friedlitz and helps him with his bag.

"Hey, Lt.," the corporal says with a wry little smile. "Thanks for picking me up back there."

Bondayehr half-smiles. "It's our job, no?"

The corporal sighs. "This just sucks. First day and I blow it."

Timofeyev frowns, then puts a hand on the corporal's shoulder. "Listen to me. Eyes." He points to his eyes with his free hand, waiting for the corporal to look up. "You walk in there like that, and the chief is going to see someone who's admitted defeat. You wanna be in this?"

"Yeah." The corporal sighs. "'Been a goal throughout my career, such that it is."

"Then don't pretend you're screwed when you aren't. You see them?" He points at the three others packing furiously. "They're screwed. They're going to get nasty Form Sixteen counselings and are going to be lucky if they stay M.I.. Hell, what they did could bag them a dishonorable discharge and there goes their federal enfranchisement no matter how many years they served previous. You pushed yourself to your limit without asking for help, which is stupid... but it's our kind of stupidity. You can be fixed."

"But I wasn't ready..."

"So? Now you know what's expected. Now you can work your ass off to meet that standard and exceed it 'cause that's what you do. You can't tell me that running until you bloody fall over isn't a good indication of your character. You're tenacious. Just shift that from beating yourself into the dirt to improving yourself and you'll be set."

The corporal nods, tying up his kit as he stands up slowly. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Keep it in mind, hell," Bondayehr replies as he stands up, about two inches shorter than the corporal, "you are not going to make my effort dragging your ass back here to be in vain, got it? You're gonna march in there," he grins, "and keep your chin up if I have to order you to do it. Now, that'd be a bad precedent to set in camp, so I'd like to see you do it of your own initiative."

The corporal chuckles in spite of himself. "I'll do what I can, sir." He salutes in a jokingly sloppy way.

"That's the spirit. Now keep your morale up and show the chief you're SMISO material, or else I'll make sure to make your life interesting if we ever meet on the field."

"'S never good to have officers annoyed at one," the corporal grins.

"Yeah, it's almost as bad as having noncoms annoyed at you. Get in that office on the bounce."

"On the bounce, sir."

* - * - *

Friedlitz returns through the door later that night, so exhuberant he almost forgets to frown and pretend that the chief made him miserable.

The other three never show up in the barracks again.
13-05-2004, 05:09
((This is awesome writing. I love behind the scenes training stories. Keep it up, I can't wait for the next installment. :D ))
13-05-2004, 05:18
[Starship Troopers tag]

Good to see someone else with good taste in books. :mrgreen:
Reploid Productions
13-05-2004, 05:21
((OOC: *tag!*))
13-05-2004, 05:24
((Jumped up Judas Priest! This is a tag, Private! Do you hear me? You make me wanna vomit! [/hartman]))
13-05-2004, 05:30
*NARC Beaconed!*
14-05-2004, 06:30
Timofeyev looks over his shoulder, looking at the massive bag of nondescript items, then over at the raven-haired woman adding more and more to it. "Tell me, are you trying to break me out of being nice and doing good?"

The woman shrugs and puts a trumpet in the sack. "No, not really. These things just tend to happen and I'm your abstract visualization of it. It's not my fault so much that God hates the living."

The young man sighs. "And why can't I have dreams like normal people for once? I mean, usually dream-activities concerning beautiful women aren't this bloody chaste."

"You'll have to talk to your libido about that. Can't help you there."

"Man, the Sakkrans teach me to dream lucidly but my own sense of reality prevents me from participating in orgi--"

* - * - *


Good morning, Chief Mathers. Timofeyev rolls out of bed and immediately makes his bunk as the chief continues his (by now obviously) rote monologue. "We in the Special Operators are self-motivators! I shouldn't have to be coming in here to get you up so you can be on time for your morning run! On the bounce!"

"On the bounce, Chief Mathers!" Bondayehr replies, once again glad that the sleep and physical training uniform are the same thing. After slipping his feet into his trainers, he jogs over to Friedlitz. "Okay, Corporal, how are we going to work this out?"

The corporal frowns. "Good question. I don't want to slow down the squadron."

"I'm willing to add a minute or two to our time so you pace yourself," Bondayehr responds. "It's either that or carry you again, which is unacceptable from your end. Got away with it once, but I don't want to bet on the Chief's good graces."

Friedlitz nods. "Makes sense."

"Now, if it's just getting too rough, you signal, got it? If you start gasping like a fish, I'm gonna slow the cadence anyway, so don't think you're doing anyone any favors by playing the hero when there's no saving to be done."

"Got it," Friedlitz sighs with a slight chuckle, "sir."

"Now on the bounce."

* - * - *

The mountainside would actually be quite a beautiful place, if one had the time to actually look at it. The running 'track' is a worn down dirt trail crushed to a fine powder under thousands of feet over the years, making running uphill just that more difficult. It is kept free of encroaching flora the natural way, judging by how the trail slowly transitions from dirt to hardy grasses to underbrush along the edges. One particular stretch of trail at the half-way mark, opposite from the camp, looks over the ocean. For some reason, the chief, amused by the slower pace of the squadron, chuckles to himself as they pass this point again. "Time in the Dominion make you soft, Lieutenant Bondayehr?"

"No, Chief Mathers," Timofeyev replies.

"Then why the slow pace?"

Timofeyev stifles a laugh. They're still pushing a ten-minute mile at this rate. "Good of the many, Chief Mathers."

"Just make sure that Dominion lethargy doesn't seep into our troopers, sir."

"Yes, Chief Mathers."

* - * - *

The squadron completes the run without incident, gets back into fatigues, and forms up once again on the drill pad under the watchful eyes of Mathers. "Right, now that's enough of this Basic Training foolishness. Time to start what you came here for. Lieutenant, get this squadron to Block Twenty on the bounce. Marching again. Double-timing priviledges have been revoked until I can see that the squadron can actually march."

"Yes, Chief Mathers." Bondayehr spins on his heels, calls commands, and allows himself an invisible smile as they are responded to with the utmost professionalism this time. Several minutes later, the squadron finishes traversing the half-mile to Block Twenty, simply an open field with softer grass than usual and a few storage sheds. Reporting into the chief on site, he stands back as his squadron falls out.

"Gather 'round, people," the chief says without introduction, "welcome to Advanced Unarmed Melee Training. Guess what you're doing today."

The Mobile Infantry smile hungrily, predatory instincts aroused. Bondayehr, lacking Basic Unarmed Melee Training, sighs quietly to himself as the chief continues. "All of your meals will be field meals. From now 'till lunch, you will be practicing Basic moves on each other. After lunch, we'll move to Advanced 'till dinner."

"AFTER dinner," Chief Mathers announces loudly, "depending on how hard you fight, you will either have personal development time or, because fighting is too much fun, drill until retreat."

"Fight hard," someone calls out.

"Damn straight you fight hard," Chief Mathers replies with something too jovial to be a growl, "now split into twos and have at it!"

Timofeyev immediately finds himself looking at the lower chest of an extremely brawny PFC cracking his knuckles. Looking up with a frown to note the private's rather impishly predatory look, he doesn't see Corporal Friedlitz yank him out of there by the arm. "Rank has its priviledges, Private," Friedlitz explains, dragging Bondayer to safety.

"Thanks, Friedlitz," Timofeyev says quietly, rubbing the back of his neck. "I suppose you know my problem."

"Eh," the corporal shrugs, "Call me Fred. Everyone else does... and I was the refresh-instructor back in the Fifty-Seventh MIED."

"Tim... and MIED?"

"Can't do that, sir," the corporal grins sheepishly, "and that'd be Mobile Infantry Expeditionary Divison."

"Then 'boss,' then, if we're going to be informal but respectful. Thanks."

"No problem, boss," Fred smiles. "I suppose you need caught up?"


"Well," Fred steps back, "first thing is to see where you are now--" throws a punch dead for the Lieutenant's nose.

Were this before the Dominion, he would've been caught by surprise. Combat changes one. He immediately ducks, grabs Friedlitz's chest with his left hand, and slings out his right leg for a leg sweep. The force moment and the corporal's imbalance throws him off and he goes down, but he wraps his swinging right arm under the lieutenant's right shoulder then continuing with his rolling moment to the left. Friedlitz lands on his back, throwing Timofeyev over his chest to the left. Bondayehr immediately rolls into a three-point stance, looking up. "Dirty, Fred."

"Only way to fight, boss." Fred chuckles. "Standard response to a punch is a shoulder throw, which is harder to counter. What the hell they teach you in Sass'd OTC?"


"Figures. So what the hell did you do? Learn Krav Maga?"

"Make something up."

"Works." Fred snaps up from prone and grins. "Your reaction is good, at least, and it's a decent move against an untrained advesary. Won't do, though."

"Well then," Bondayehr replies as he stands, "you'd better get to teaching me, eh? We've only got six hours."

* - * - *

Sighing, Bondayehr sits down heavily, gladly ripping open the MRE. "Thank goodness they didn't palm off Y-rations on us."

"Naw," the corporal says, sitting down, "they only do us for us poor smucks who go through Basic. Your arm okay?"

Timofeyev rotates his left arm once through, grimacing slightly as it tweaks. "Eh, slight pull, but nothing that won't go away in a day."

"Well, I did have to cram a week's worth of Basic Training into six hours," Fred chuckles.

"And you did an excellent job, Corporal," Bondayehr says in a jokingly haughty air before ruining it with a massive bite of Made Ready to Eat CHON, "and you will do it again during personal improvement time, if you're willing."

"Sure, boss," Fred replies, taking a bite out of his own MRE, "I guess I should take advantage of an officer asking me to throw him a few times."

"Heh," Bondayehr chuckles, "yes, yes you should. At all opportunities. Remind the bastard exactly who does the work in the service."

"ALL RIGHT," the still-unnamed melee training chief yells, "enough warm-up. Who's ready for some real fighting?"

"HOOAH," the Mobile Infantry cheer. "Um.. yaaaaay," says the lieutenant.

The corporal nudges Timofeyev with one elbow. "'Keep your chin up,' sir..."

"No fair, Fred."

"Right, keep in your groups for now," the chief continues, "we'll be taking you out in groups for individual training. Keep warming up."

"I suppose that's our cue." Friedlitz finishes off his MRE and stands up, backing off. "Have at me, boss."

Bondayehr gulps the rest of his CHON down. "On my ass? Care to tell me how first?"

"Not the way I'm teaching, sir. Let's see what you can do."

"Very well then..."

* - * - *

"Wow, an Lt. You passed Basic, right?"

"I... had a refresher course this morning." Bondayehr smiles weakly.

Staff Sergeant Gutierrez grins. "'Refresher' as in 'first time,' sir?"

"Exactly, Sergeant. Unfortunately for the Sass'd OTC, they don't physically abuse cadets until after I was summarily commissioned."

"Oh yeah!" Gutierrez snaps his fingers at sudden recognition. "You're that guy who was on the cover of S.I.N.week!"

"Yeeeeesssss..." Timofeyev doesn't blush, but he does break eye contact and rub the back of his neck. This was getting tiresome.

"Wow, never met a real-live Hero of the Segments before." Gutierrez presses his advantage in a most irritatingly jovial way.

"And I'm sure you've never beaten the shit out of one before, but there's a first time for everything. Can we get on with it already?" Bondayehr grins perhaps a little too broadly.

"That's the spirit I'm lookin' for," the sergeant chuckles, pointing. "Now... ah... seeing how you probably don't have Basic down yet, we'll start simple. Okay, attack."

Bondayehr makes a face.

"Oh, c'mon man, it's jus--"

Timofeyev lances out with his left fist low towards Gutierrez's stomach, stepping forward and stopping on his right foot, using it as a pivot to swing his right elbow around to the sergeant's head. The sergeant slaps away the low jab but doesn't see the elbow coming; it stops right in front of his face.

Bondayehr sails over the Sergeant's shoulder and lands with a dull thud.

"That's what you get for pulling your blow, sir." Gutierrez offers a hand with a smile. "Still, you must've been trained with somethi--" Bondayehr sends the sergeant sailing over his head with a pull-kick throw.

"No, I made that bit up, Sergeant. I've always had trouble with hitting nice people."

"Well then," Gutierrez chuckles, standing up and brushing himself off, "I wouldn't worry about it; everyone gets a bloody nose or two in M.I. melee training. Still, we got a medication for that."

"What?" Bondayehr gets up, leaning over to brush off the legs of his fatigues.

"Hey, Ztkaksh, on the bounce! We got a puller over 'ere."

"No." Bondayehr stands, straightening up only to look up... up... and up some more at a rather battered-looking orange and white felinid face with black markings. Very much kzin, and very much larger than Private Pugilist earlier. "You have got to be kidding me."

"Nope, all above board, have fun sir!" Gutierrez cackles as he walks off.

Bondayehr bows his head, sighs, and looks back up. "Hello... uh... sorry, can't see a rank."

The kzintosh chuckles, breath huffing slightly. "It's repeated on the belt."

Timofeyev looks down. "Corporal." Looks up with a sheepish smile, lips firmly shut.

"Do not worry... if we have trainees that pull their punches because they are afraid to cause harm, then we give them someone they will probably not harm. Hit me."

"As hard as I can, right?" Bondayehr steps back and ponders. "What flavor would you like? As hard as is feasible, as hard as I can, or as hard as would be useful."

The kzin's ears twitch. "Pick one. Just don't hold back."

Timofeyev, not wanting to crack any bones or such, decides to leave off on the more extreme strength-multiplying lessons of the Sakkran's 'Your Body and You' class and instead braces himself, draws back, and throws his fist with as much conventional strength as he can, getting his whole body into the motion. It lands on the massive creature's stomach with a dull thud and luckily bounces off to the side, preventing any broken bones on Timofeyev's part. Shaking his hand out, he steps back. "That was feasible."

"Let's see effective."

"Right-o." Timofeyev bows his head, slowly concentrating, building up chi or whatever it is he was taught to focus until his shin and right arm seem to be the only things of any use in him, practicing the intended move in his head. Snapping out, he flings his cover off into the kzin's face, drops, and swings his lower right leg straight through the kzin's feet, not stopping. The kzin falls back, and Bondayehr digs his right foot in as he pushes off with his left, turning his right foot into a pivot and bringing his right elbow down--hard--on the kzin's chest.

"That was supposed to be your neck. Damn your height."

The kzin looks up and blinks.

Six meters later, Timofeyev lands gracelessly with a surprised yelp, having enough presence of mind to tuck and roll to a stop. Coughing slightly, he gets to his hands and knees, noticing that Corporal Ztkaksh's boots were in desperate need of some sort of shine.

"Sorry, sir," the kzin gasps, kneeling down, "you surprised me."

"No, I asked for it," Bondayehr replies as he gingerly pokes the four slowly pooling drops of blood along his chin, "at least you didn't rip my face off when you just slung me like that. Next time, just go for the shoulder and not my head."

"Are you alright?"

Timofeyev offers a coughing laugh. "Am I all right? Corporal, you just threw me... how far?" He looks up. "Five meters?"

"Six, sir."

"Hell, that was fun. Let's do it again, but this time, you teach me what I should be doing instead of me breaking out the random junk, 'k?"

* - * - *

Dinner rolls around six hours later, and a rather battered lieutenant grins weakly at the kzintosh over hot chow. The kzintosh flinches.

"Shit," Bondayehr says, eyes going wide, hands slapping over his mouth. Corporal Ztkaksh laughs, a bellowing sound of lungs being coughed up with a dry roar. "You have done excellently well for your first day, sir. I will not kill such a good student for such a minor error."

"At least," Timofeyev manages, "not the first time."

"You have kzin friends, I see." The kzintosh chuckles some more. "It is a common line among us."

"MAIL!" yells Chief Mathers, walking through the small groups of troopers. Pausing momentarily by the lieutenant and the kzin, he chuckles. "Been having fun with our pet officer, Ztkaksh?"

"He plays well, Chief," the corporal replies.

"Good, good. Mail for ya, Lieutenant. Electronic correspondance." Chief Mathers hands Timofeyev an armored portcomp of the model nearly ubiquitous in all of Scolopendra. "Looks like it's from someone important." Mathers chuckles.

"Thank you, Chief Mathers," Timofeyev replies, then gets to reading.

Hope this brief note finds you in good health
Bondayehr coughs and tastes blood, which he promptly spits out onto the grass next to him. Bloody gums. Heh. Literally. I made a pun.
and good spirits, boy.
Timofeyev smiles stupidly. At least morale is up.
No worries, there are no auctions and no impending backwoods trips, nor any other calamity that's spawned this - simply a greeting, one friend to another.
Thank Allah, Krishna and the Buddha for small mercies.
Thought I'd ask where life has taken you since last we met, and apologize again for all the additional complications. Crazy how things turn out sometimes, neh?
Bondayehr smiles stupidly at the kzin. I'm fighting humanoid tigers on a ringworld around Saturn. The only way things could be crazier is if I were fighting giant bugs on Pluto.
Take care of yourself, Tim.
Timofeyev looks up. "I normally wouldn't ask, but apparenly I'm supposed to 'take care of myself.' This'll all go away, right?"

Chief Mathers frowns and kneels down. "Well, you did beat yourself up rather hard." He holds up a single finger and moves it around, watching the lieutenant's eyes track it. "Naw, your fine."

"Thank you, Chief Mathers."
And even though my last efforts at 'help' have done anything but, offer still stands should you need it.
I don't think I can survive any more help.
Given the law of averages, even I couldn't possibly screw it up all the time.

Bondayehr starts to return the portcomp before Mathers stops him. "What, not going to have the decency to reply, sir? Whatever happened to 'an officer and a gentleman?'"

"Oh... right... yes, Chief Mathers." Timofeyev smiles tiredly. "No excuse, Chief Mathers." Looking down, he sets to typing.

Things are fine. I've just spent six hours getting the everloving daylights beaten out of my by a kzin, including a six-meter unpowered unaugmented ballistic flight.

I suppose I should preface that statement.

Thanks to all of the experiences that life have provided me, the ever-wise Advisor Hawke and PseudoEmperor Razak decided that the Scolopendran Mobile Infantry Special Operator corps is the place for me. Right now I'm sitting on a training field after twelve hours of relatively intense unarmed combat training. It's the second day and I've already had to deal with one case of insubordination in the extreme due to my age, but that went off well enough, I think.

Thanks for the offer to help, but I think I'll pass on it until some point where it may actually make my life easier.

It doesn't do well in text, but imagine that last said in my wry half-grin and do try to not be offended.

And please... stay out of trouble.


Bondayehr hands the portcomp back to the chief--"Thank you, Chief Mathers,"--then falls back onto the soft grass. "Oh, hello Corporal Friedlitz."

Fred looks down with a slight frown at the lieutenant, noting how one eye was going to shine quite nicely. "Er... ready for that remedial training you wanted?"

Timofeyev slings his hand over to block his lips from the kzin's view, then grins broadly. "Suuuuuuuuuuure."
14-05-2004, 06:34

For no real reason, this just looks interesting.
imported_Sentient Peoples
14-05-2004, 06:39
Anonymous Lepers
15-05-2004, 04:25
The drone pod had been traveling in space for hundreds of hours by the time it reached the Ring. Its sensor units had been equipped with the most precise coordinates available—not too precise, as the location of Camp Hartmann could have been anywhere in a largish area interdicted by the Scolopendran military from unauthorized commercial and/or industrial traffic.

However, the drone’s sensor units had been programmed with a “profile” that would help it identify likely configurations of life forms, structures, and energy use signatures within that area, from a relatively safe distance. The drone’s nature was so clearly non-military that as long as it stayed a certain number of diametrical units from the atmosphere envelope, it was unlikely to be summarily destroyed.

In any case, before any detection/enquiry/destruction units would have had time to fully engage, the drone’s sensor units had registered a match, and it promptly destroyed itself.

Among the debris flung out in its destruction was a semi-translucent sphere, about 3 cm in diameter.

17-05-2004, 02:34
17-05-2004, 02:35
"So this is what they go on about in old kung-fu movies," Timofeyev says as he practices an unfamiliar stance, feet a little less than shoulder width apart and knees together. "This Kou bu stance doesn't seem very good for offense."

"Very good," replies the kzintosh, "it is mostly a test of discipline, although it has uses as a basic stance for grappling and short-range fighting."

"I still don't quite believe they're going to make Shaolin warrior monks out of us," Bondayehr says, holding the uncomfortable position.

"Of course not," Corporal Ztkaksh says with a flicker of the ears, "that comes with practice and use. Duli Bu now, sir."

The young lieutenant thinks for a moment and then goes back on one leg, other out with the knee bent ninety degrees. "Sheesh. Maybe I'll get to see what Krav Maga looks like, at this rate..."


* - * - *

The days are filled with hand-to-hand of both East and West, emphasizing on two disparate but vital styles and how to switch from one to the other smoothly. The immediate, violent, percussive Israeli Krav Maga, perfect for stealing initiative from an attacker then instantly acting on it, and the slower, graceful, yet easily-accelerated Shaolin Quan, excellent for moments when greater finesse are required against an opponent ready for melee. Each, considered the apex of their respective families, are extremely feared by themselves. Combined with seamless transition as the situation dictates, they are absolutely brutal.

Bondayehr weathers the inevitable abuse well, his light frame and quick speed actually giving him an advantage... once a few hearty blows from the kzin and the more gentle methods of Friedlitz teach him the basics of keeping contact. Even in the first few days of intensive training, the numbers in the training platoons dwindle, squadrons coalesced and organization charts slimmed to match the evolving trainee structure.

* - * - *

"Your regular daily PT sessions will now be replaced with unarmed melee combat training," Chief Mathers announces as he paces back and forth in the classroom, "except for the daily run. That is a constant which will never go away excluding field training exercises. Now that you all have at least basic combat skills," he says, grinning at Lieutenant Bondayehr, "be aware that we may have surprises in store for you. There is a reason we declare this a combat environment and leave saluting behind. Other than the fact that we are usually not graced by the officer corps in day-to-day workings." Another grin at Bondayehr.

"Today," he continues, "you will be learning how to successfully defeat opponents using the wholly unfair advantage of biorganic augmentation. This training is generally suitable against most known forms of organic posthumans and is especially effective on after-market builds." He frowns. "It is also applicable against those extreme cases of musclebound nature that one may find themselves against, which is why it is simply an extension of what you have learned previously.

"LIEUTENANT BONDAYEHR! What would be a bio-aug's primary weakness?"

Timofeyev doesn't know the answer to that. Need specifics. "Chief Mathers, I do not understand. What form of augments?"

The chief nearly laughs. "On your face, sir, and push-ups while we work this out."

Fascinating way to kill questions, Bondayehr thinks, frowning internally as he leaps out of his chair sideways and starts pumping his arms.

"Lieutenant Bondayehr, how are you to know what augments a particular bio-aug has?"

Up down up down. "Chief Mathers, one can only gauge by reactions or obvious indicators such as extreme muscle tone or size. Weight, if incongrous with size."

"Particular augments?"

"Only by conjecture, Chief Mathers." Up down up down up down up down.

"Does that answer your question, sir?"

"Yes, Chief Mathers. Given that information, the weaknesses of a bio-aug are variable." Up down up down up down. "Still, there are constants to be exploited. Eyes are the weakest sensory organ. While they may have stronger bones and muscles, their joints are still exposed. The weaknesses inherent in any body still remain."

"Off your face, Lieutenant, and back in your seat. Good." The noncom nods as Bondayehr returns to his chair. "Yes, some the standard weaknesses of a normal body exist... but only the extreme ones. The Lieutenant mentioned eyes and joints. Eyes can be covered with nicitating membranes, albeit not always instantaneously if you're throwing sand into them. Joints are an extreme liability for bioaugs as there is very little way to improve them. Improve them for strength and you reduce their mobility as bone and tendon gets in your way; improve them for mobility and you reduce their strength as musculature-based joints lead to dislocations. Joints should be a primary target for any opponent, but if there is a chance that the opposition is augmented, a general rule is to go for the joints, using other blows as feints."

He chuckles slightly. "Likewise, the standard joint-concentration can be reversed. If the opponent expects a joint hit, use one to feint and then goes for the eyes or any nerve centers they leave exposed. Whatever they percieve as weakness and defend, take advantage of whatever they forget. The most dangerous augs are ones in here"--the chief taps his head--"neural augs can allow for faster reaction times and better memories when it comes to be defensive. Doctrine's only suggestion for this--feint early, feint often, and most of all feint chaotically. Do not get predictable. Getting predictable gets you killed."

Bondayehr frowns, then raises his right fist. "Permission to ask a question, Chief Mathers?"

"Go ahead, sir."

He sighs. He who does not know and asks is a fool for five minutes... "Chief Mathers, where are the exploitable nerve centers and pressure points?" Snickers from the Mobile Infantry behind him.

The chief grins in a most predatory manner. "Sounds like a homework assignment, Lieutenant. See me in my office at the beginning of personal development time. I've got more than one assignment for you... still, by this time tomorrow you will be able to point out every exploitable nerve center and pressure point on not only myself but Corporal Ztkaksh. Hooah?"

"Hooah, Chief Mathers."

* - * - *

Then practice on dummies... well, not 'dummies,' perse. They are probably better described as training automatons, robot skeletons covered in padding and, while not exactly looking human past the foam rubber, certainly gave like vastly improved versions of them. Programmed in a variety of martial arts and flailing maneuvers, their standard Three Laws of Robotics made them stop just before causing permanent harm from someone... which, after the first hard slap by one, Timofeyev learned meant sumo wrestling rules. Adapting quickly to treat the machine as a real menace, he begins perfecting strategies, finding openings, exploiting with throws and sudden strikes at open joints, using the advesary's center of gravity against it. Block with left arm, right elbow to the head, right knee striking the back of the target's left, then the right arm snapping back on the rebound to push it over.

* - * - *

Bondayehr closes the door to Chief Mather's office. "You said about homework, Chief Mathers?"

The chief hands over two diagrams with little lines and dots indicating major weaknesses, one for humans and the other for kzinti. "You are going to be one dangerous mother once you memorize these, Lieutenant, just between you and me. Then again, you are surrounded by dangerous mothers, so you'll at least be on par in knowledge. I've seen you fight--very dirty. Keep it up."

"Thank you, Chief Mathers."

"And on the subject of homework... you left university two years early."

Timofeyev sighs. "I wasn't exactly consulted. I attended classes up to the point I showed up here, so, yes, I need two more years to graduate. It will make progression... difficult."

"Actually, now Advisor Hertzfeldt has an interest in you, and Advisor Razak apparently wants to brush up on his aerospace degree."

"I know I should be glad," the lieutenant says, "but..."

Mathers grins. "Out with it, sir."

"Ohhhhh no. They aren't going to stuff two years of aerospace engineering into six months while I'm also learning how to be the most ultimate badass to ever don an armor suit, are they?"

"'Fraid so. Of course, they've worked something out with the engineering accrediation board and figured out everything you really need to know. Concentration on math and the directly applicable sciences. The curriculum is almost skeletal in nature, but it should give you everything you need. When you go for higher-level degrees, you'll have a basis to fall back on... which everyone does anyway, so you're really not losing anything."

Bondayehr just nods quietly.

"Got your first assignment here. Can't make heads or tails of it... they're going to make it a weekly thing, with quizzes and the like but it's all pass-fail. Your GPA really isn't a concern anymore."

"Well, that's good, Chief Mathers," the lieutenant nods as he accepts the binder and notebook Mathers hands him. "It'll be interesting to... ah... have this running through my head at the same time Jin Li Du Li is. No teacher?"

"Nope, we figure you're a self-motivator. There are notes attached to the summaries; apparently the PseudoEmperor is taking advantage of the Supreme Emperor's return and the free time that comes with to hit his books again."

"Oi..." Bondayehr almost blushes. "I can hardly impose..."

Mathers shrugs. "Hey, the boss has a liking for you for some strange reason, and he's using you as an excuse to get himself to do things he wanted, I guess. Still... want penance for imposing?" The chief grins.

"Chief Mathers," Timofeyev takes an officer-like tone with a half-smile, "I know that grin--it means I hardly have a choice."

"Just trying to make life easier on a trainee for once," Chief Mathers chuckles. "Every week, when you turn in your homework, you'll teach me what you learned. Doesn't have to be in depth or perfect, but I am not going to pass up the chance to either improve myself..." He trails off.

"Or make benign trouble for an officer," Bondayehr supplies with a half-smirk. "No worries, Chief Mathers, I gave that advice to Corporal Friedlitz several days ago and I meant it. Honestly, it's good to find some trouble that's actually benign for once."

The chief nods. "Excellent. Now get out of my office, sir."

Bondayehr leaves the office quickly, pausing in the door as Chief Mathers raises his voice. "AND MAKE SURE ALL PAPERS ARE DOUBLE-SPACED."

Timofeyev makes a mistake, he flashes the chief a look. "I don't have a comp or a printer handy, Chief Mathers."

"On your face, sir, and count out fifty. Skip every other line on your notebook paper if you have to. If I'm going to be proofreading your work, there'd better be room for it!"

The lieutenant immediately hits the concrete floor and pounds out fifty repetitions, which is quickly becoming more and more of a joke as time progresses. Finishing off, he closes the door, manages to feign looking suitably sheepish, and wanders back to his bunk. Thanks to some mutual agreements, he now has top bunk over Corporal Friedlitz.

"The chief likes you, boss," Friedlitz says with a droll grin as he looks up from pressing uniforms to a respectable active-duty neatness.

"Perhaps too much, Fred," Timofeyev replies wryly as he hops on top of his bunk, pops open the folder and starts studying the diagrams.
The Territory
17-05-2004, 14:55
<impressed tag. Go Bondayehr!>
Five Civilized Nations
17-05-2004, 14:58
19-05-2004, 02:07
19-05-2004, 02:14
"Hrrr, that tickles," the kzinti corporal says with a chuckle, eliciting snickers from the rest of the class.

Bondayehr looks up, grins sweetly, then twists his two fingers just about three millimeters deeper.

The kzintosh grins and squints his eyes. "That does not."

Chief Mathers simply raises an eyebrow. "Well, that was the last one, Lieutenant. Sit down."

* - * - *

"The cyber-aug is a completely different animal altogether. Given the technology available today, it can be extremely difficult to distinguish without actual example the difference between a baseline and someone with more chrome than the front bumper and grille of a 1950's Thunderbird. Hand-to-hand combat can be iffy because if they have dermal plating, bone lacing, and myomer musculature then hitting them will most likely do more damage to you than them."

At the word 'myomer' something clicks inside Bondayehr's head. It makes sense now... and if that's true, then the Chief is certainly most correct.

"Don't fight one unarmed. The additional momentum from anything solid like a lead pipe or a wood branch is helpful, and it can let you keep them out of hand-to-hand engagement range. Maybe. It's against advesaries like these which usually require creative use of the environment around you. Masking your heat signature with mud, overwhelming light-amplification with bright lights, loud noises to distract from your own movements... individuals with cyber-augs, as well as their relatives the combat robots, can be very difficult opponents.

"You'll want to find some place with as much electromagnetic interference as possible. It may not do much, but it may give you the edge you need. You do not want to play nice. Find environmental hazards and use them to your best advantage; remember that the cyber-aug has to have at least some flesh left or else he'd be a HANS or an android. Take advantage of that. If there are topical poisons or gaseous agents in the area, use them with the knowledge they're probably more harmful to you.

"Just keep in mind that there's not exactly a perfect hand-to-hand method to defeat the cybernetically augmented. If they're sloppy, you may be able to exploit joints or limbs that aren't augmented. Care is the order of the day."

* - * - *

Bondayehr tests the weight of the diamond-bladed broadsword in his hands. "I swear, it's like learning another language."

"It is all in Chinese," Gutierrez replies, "now hold the dao like this." He demonstrates, and Bondayehr follows.

"Why isn't the Corporal teaching me this?" Timofeyev asks.

"We don't let him teach armed melee," the sergeant explains, "for the simple reason that the weapons, when scaled appropriately, simply become ludicrous. Kzinti are bad enough as is. You do not to fight one when he has a staff twice your height, much less a Chinese broadsword."

"Good point."

* - * - *

Days pass, filled with Krav Maga and Shaolin Quan of two flavors, armed and unarmed. Rocks, sharp sticks, knives, swords, staves, clubs, chains, flails, axes, polearms... at least twelve hours a day, every day, for a month. Three hours off on "Universal Holy Day" (decided to be Tuesday just to equally annoy everyone) for religious services, which Bondayehr skips in order to catch up on aerospace engineering, basic hand-to-hand (which came quickly by necessity), and whatever else needs to be done.

Personal development time is dedicated wholly to pursuing a degree, all math and science and books. Gas dynamics, linear vibrations, powerplants, airframes... Still, with the assistance of Razak's notes, the lieutenant keeps passing, balancing efforts for best total effect. The fact that Friedlitz is willing to take some delegated work is a positive boon, them sometimes switching duties when they just simply need something different. The corporal would summarize these pages of notes while the lieutenant presses and shines. It seems small on the outside, but it does wonders for maintaining balance.

* - * - *

"Y'know, this dream is really getting tiresome."

The raven-haired woman shrugs and adds puts a large carboard box labeled 'Noodles In A Cup' into the bag. "Then dream a different one. You could, you know."

"But this has to mean something," Bondayehr says with a frown, "else it wouldn't come up every single night."

"Wanting to be a Freudian psychoanalyst now? Perhaps you blame me more than you'd care to admit."

"Well, I will admit the thought of being able to beat someone like you up is oddly consoling."

"But you wouldn't because you're not aggressive enough to without a good reason."

"True," Bondayehr nods, "which is why I refuse to feel guilty for the consolation. 'Sides, you're probably right. I do probably think it's your fault but don't care to admit it to myself."

"Well, it would make sense." The woman lifts up a sack of concrete.

"You can stop now," Timofeyev mentions quickly.'

"Right." The sack returns to the aether from whence it came and the black-haired woman sits down while Bondayehr wills the bag out of existence. "How's it make sense?"

"Simple. You do something nice... maybe a little silly, but nice, and every attempt I've made at repaying you or making your life easier just makes things harder. There's a slight disconnect between our understandings of each other so whenever I get what I think is a good idea, I don't realize it either isn't anything you're interested in. My tendancy to use orders and 'training' to bull past your reticence to do these things also helps."

"But it is that very same self-imposed reticence," Bondayehr replies, "that makes it so difficult. Added to the fact that I really don't know how she could help in the way she wishes prevents me from asking."

"Which you would if you could?"

Slight pause. "Maybe."

"You really do need to work on that."

"That I do... but I knew that already. Now, how could we make this rather tiresome dream more interesting?"

"I've an idea..."

Timofeyev grins. "Then, by all means, share."

"Well... first we--"

* - * - *

Alarms. In the middle of the night.

The lieutenant opens his eyes, rolls them (Figures...), then rolls himself out of his bunk, immediately dropping into that odd sort of combat alertness he hasn't known since the Dominion. Quickly grabbing his sharp obsidian knife, he slinks around to the door whilst the rest of the squadron gets up with groans, rubbing their faces.

Chief Mathers door slams open. Spinning on one heel, Timofeyev drops and flicks the knife so he's holding it with his thumb, middle and forefinger, gauging the distance to target with his other arm out for balance...

The chief frowns.

"Err... good whatevertimeitis Chief Mathers." Bondayehr stands up, coughs, and sheepishly walks back to his bunk to sheathe his knife.

"Right," Chief Mathers coughs, then stands, arms akimbo. "WHAT IS GOING OFF AT THE MOMENT?"

"The alarms, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers" is the weak response from the rest of the squadron.

"WHY are you not ready to kill whatever moves?"

Muttered groans.

"Right. I actually warned you that there would be surprises. This is one of them. On your faces, recruits, until you get tired. NOT YOU, LIEUTENANT. You're talking to me."

Bondayehr gets back up as everyone else starts into a rousing witching-hour set of pushups. Running up to the senior noncom, he can't help but blush. "About the knife, Chief Mathers..."

"No, no," the chief responds, "you took it seriously. That's good. I'm sure that if I were an orc I would have at least had a knife thrown at me. Showing the ability to distinguish targets is good."

Timofeyev lets out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding in.

"Now... just how good are you with that knife, sir?"

"Umm..." Timofeyev suppresses a shudder as he gets the instant mental image of Chief Mathers falling backwards with a crude leather hilt sticking out of his forehead. "I can hit what I aim at, Chief Mathers."

Mathers looks down slightly at the lieutenant with a measuring look. "Right. When we get to thrown weapons we'll just have to see how good you are." He turns back to the squadron. "ALL RIGHT, I'M BORED. OFF THE FLOOR."

The squadron hops back up onto its collective feet.

"Well, it seems like your antics on Training Day Zero made some enemies higher up. Your weekend pass for this month has been revoked, which gives you a chance to get ahead. Field trip time." The chief smiles. "We're going to take everything you've learned so far and learn it over again... in null gravity. Now pack your kits, get into fatigues, and get over to the shuttle field on the bounce. Time to visit an orbital platform."

* - * - *

Bondayehr allows himself to nod off on the shuttle, because he knows he can wake back up whenever he needs to. 'Sides, it really isn't a problem, not having any weekends. It isn't like he has anything better to do on the outside.
Dread Lady Nathicana
19-05-2004, 16:48
Nathi lay stretched out on her bed, propped up on one elbow, her chin in her hand. She pecked away at the keyboard one-handed, scanning through files, reports, and messages. One in particular caught her eye, and she smiled warmly. Aw hell, this is a couple days old! Goddammit, I’m slipping!

Reading over it, her brow furrows. Then she bites her lower lip. Then she mutters darkly under her breath. Of course, she finishes up with a chuckle and wry grin all the same.

Stay out of trouble? Me? I think the world would stop spinning on it’s axis were that to happen. Now what in hell are those men thinking? Christ almighty, you’d think they … I could just put in a call, then …Dammit.

The comment on ‘help’ did much to moderate her response, however grudgingly.


I have to say, you’ve quite a way with your intro’s there. Admit my first thought was one of … well, mild panic? “Life is hell. Situation normal.” Imagine that delivered in a very dry done with wry grin. All the same, you doing ok, boy?

I’ve seen how those folks operate. Tight as hell, that. All the same, can’t say as an initial response to the news was one of ‘oh hey great’ so much as ‘time to make some calls and kick some asses’. You’ll be happy to know I refrained, as per requests.

Still, I am sorry, for whatever that’s worth, for my part in all this, despite the fact that you seem to be handling it rather well according to your letter. I wish you the best of luck in this, Tim. You know I’ve faith in you. And truth, after seeing you in action first hand, I can’t say as this is the ‘wrong’ choice all in all. I remember well enough the discussion we had on it back at that party, and I realize it isn’t quite what you wanted. I think you’ve a well of untapped potential there that perhaps takes these sorts of situations to bring out. Yes, I am rambling again. Big surprise there. All the same, one can’t see the future, only make do with knowledge gained from the past, and as much present info as one has. Who knows what it holds for you after this?

And before you go on with your usual ‘same shit, different day’ cynicism, that was meant to be an encouraging thought. I’m no seer. If I were, my current situation would be much easier to manage as well. However, I can’t help but think you’ve great things ahead of you. Make the most of the experience, boy.

All that being said, don’t you be taking any shit from folks. Maybe you can show me some of those moves you’re learning when next we meet, eh? I could use some new tricks – not that I was ever much more than a general brawler. It’s Dev who’s taken the time to study the arts, aside from sword which I’ve taken up again. I find the forms good for both mind and body.

As for trouble, don’t worry yourself. The worst is past, and I’ve little trouble to get into really. Days are spent for the most part taking care of dry administrative duties, and occasionally shuttling between Devras and Rhea and Devonton. Things have been pretty quiet, for a change, and I’m working to keep them that way.

Take care of yourself, Tim. Make the most of this. And hey, while I’m thinking on it – do those slavedrivers ever give you some time off? I realize I can’t help much, but in writing this had the odd thought of perhaps at least offering you shuttle service. I’ll even let you drive.


Scanning back over, she nodded. No reason to worry the boy with details here. It’s all true enough, regardless ‘the usual’ here tends to run a bit more deeply than all that. Then again, he’s seen what passes for ‘everyday activities’ here … ah well. Damn. Maybe he’ll buy it anyway. She hit send, moving quickly onto her next letter – one previously not on her list of ‘things to do’, and via more secure protocols.

My dear Razak:

It’s come to my attention that you boys have taken an interest in another good friend of mine, and I hoped that perhaps you could help me out a bit that way.

Allow me to clarify. Lieutenant Timofeyev Bondayehr, his current training and status. I’d really appreciate any updates on his status and progress that you feel you can release. I’ll get a clearer idea of what’s actually going on with him that way than I ever would asking him straight out, though I’ve been maintaining the occasional correspondence.

What can I say – I owe the boy, and I’ve an interest in his well-being and future. Not about to interfere or meddle – for a change – and would just like to know how it’s all going, since you folks decided to put him on this track.

Hope life is treating you well – it’s been ages, I swear. Too long, in fact. One of these days I’m going to manage heading out that way, so help me. Perhaps once things settle down just a bit more here. Thank you again for all the support and assistance in our recent batch of ‘difficulties’ here. Couldn’t have done it without you folks.


Nodding in satisfaction, she sent that one off too, then turned her attention to the matters at hand.

Now, for the rest of this ... lets see. Estate tax for the recent reinstatement of family titles of nobility ... ugh, that bill on social reform ... What? Elections for lower local government positions? Over my dead body, you sons of ...
20-05-2004, 18:58
Orbital Platform Seventeen is just like almost anything else of Scolopendran design: utilitarian bordering on Spartan, all burnished metal and plastic and clearly-labeled access panels inbetween nondescript pipes bent into rails and exposed conduits along the walls. There is certainly decoration here and there, depending on the mood at the time and the appropriateness of the local, but it is all after-market modification, as the occasional murals on wallspace and wall-side bonsai gardens certainly weren't in the original specifications.

Upon arrival, the trainees are immediately shown to an almost depressingly stark sleeping bay to unpack their kits, then rushed to another classroom practically identical to any other.

Normally, this wouldn't be such a problem, but apparently strings had been pulled and the artificial gravity deactivated. Again, very simple for Mobile Infantry, who are trained in zero-gee movement for boarding actions and such. Bondayehr, on the other hand, isn't M.I. and finds it quite interesting to adapt to "moving with a purpose" in null-gravity seeing how his only experience is the occasional null-gee 'swim.'

Defffffinitely "interesting", he thinks as he--quite literally--bounces off the walls.

"Lieutenant, you're lucky I can't make you do pushups in no-grav. Didn't they teach you anything in the Sass'd?"

Timofeyev grins wryly. "Too much drill and not 'nuff thrill, Chief Mathers. I'll get the hang of it."

Somewhere between the sleeping bay and the classroom he does, partly by watching others and partly by remembering how he used to climb trees as a kid. While he never really tried brachiation, the concept is similar.

"This is the first of six field trips," Chief Mathers explains as he 'paces' at the front of the room, simply leaping gently off of one wall, turning in midair, landing on the opposite, and repeating, "one per month, and this will probably be the easiest too. There is no such thing as survival in vacuum, so instead this will be learning how to fight in melee combat in zero-gravity, which is ludicrously difficult. Every punch you throw, every blow you land, every move suffers the results of inertia and Newton's Third without that pesky gravity to make things predictable. In Soviet Russia, punch throws you."

Timofeyev repeats the last in an obnoxious Western Russian accent in his head and allows himself to chuckle very softly under his breath.

"Again, to a lot of you, this seems like review. However, we are also going to expand past Basic's tenet of 'if you have to fight hand-to-hand in zero-gee, shoot them instead.' There are situations when even frangibles, needlers, flamers, or any weapon with no armor-piercing capability is still too much, or there are other times that you need to pierce the armor of your target but not of, say, the outer hull. This is where this week comes in.

"Split into twos and get down to training bay on the bounce. The spacers will take care of you there."

* - * - *

Razak chuckles as he reads his correspondence. "Well well well. Looks like our little project has a sponsor," he says with a wry smile to Hawke, who stands looking over his shoulder at the screen.

"Indeed," Lance replies, rubbing his chin. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt to forward particular progress reports. It's no more than MIHQ gets, and it's dry as hell to read."

"While I hate passing that kind of stuff to the good Dread Lady," Julius responds with an almost-frown, "she did ask for it and I'm not about to authorize any sort of special treatment or attention."

"Honestly, I doubt the second lieutenant could handle much more special treatment," Hawke quips dryly.

"I dunno 'bout that. His reports hold him in high regard. Handle, I think he could. Enjoy, on the other hand... hell, I doubt he's enjoying himself now. I sure as hell wouldn't. There's a reason I opted out."

"You passed up on SMISO?"

Razak shrugs. "SpecOps isn't my thing. I preferred being a regular mudfoot. Anyway... shoo. I only showed you this because it has to do with our project. No need for you to pry on private correspondence."

"Heh, taken a shine to the troublemaker, eh?" Lance grins slightly.

Razak looks up and frowns. "I had the opportunity to detect similar character flaws. I live to serve."

"Sorry... will leave now."


I've gotten Advisor Hawke to consider forwarding the standard training reports that Mobile Infantry Headquarters gets concerning its SMISO trainees. It's rather dry and nothing special, but even if the White Knight is a common project of ours I'm not going to pull any strings that will give him any more special consideration than I have already. By observing a situation in a particular way one changes it, so we'll just maintain the same form of observation but share it a little further. There won't be anything classified in there, but it will require 2Lt Bondayehr's permission for privacy purposes.

I figured I might get something concerning his assigment... but hey, after what he did down in the Dominion, it seemed to fit. Between you and me, I'm planning on getting that kid as much experience in as many different things as possible. One thing that any organization tends to lack are jacks-of-all-trades who can bring outside insight to whatever they do; that's why we make sure Sky Marshals have a tour as M.I. and Field Marshals have a tour as aerospace. Looking at the metrics, I think Bondayehr would be good for a nexialist lifestyle.

Yeah, it has been too long since the safari. Things have been busy everywhere, and we're honestly pretty damn lucky things have come off so well in spite of everything. If you do show up around here, you're welcome to crash at my place. Standard Arabesque hospitality and all, of course. I know Speeks is looking forward to it, and perchance it may be an excuse to cull a few more of God's creatures, eh?

As for assisting in difficulties... that's what we do. Surely you've figured that one out by now, no?

Take care of and keep yourself out of trouble.


* - * - *

Timofeyev looks almost relieved as he reads the nametape on the instructor assigned to him and Corporal Friedlitz: AS DIRECTORATE. The instructor, his other label reading as IBN-DAKHARI, regards the lieutenant with a raised eyebrow, possibly because of the unfortunate location of the information he found so relieving.

"I'm up here, Lieutenant," she says in an irritable tone.

Smeg. Bondayehr looks up. "My apologies, Sergeant, but I've been surrounded by M.I. for a month and it's good to be around Sass'd troopers once again." He stops his mouth as his mind continues. 'Sides, if that was all I was interested in, I'd just stare at Trainee Sally over there. Hers are much nicer. While that kind of recovery would get a laugh from a Mobile Infantrywoman, an Aerospace Directorate Security Forces trooper would probably just slap him and call it 'training.' I've been hanging around M.I. too long.

ibn-Dakhari looks unconvinced, eyes flicking over to Corporal Friedlitz, who nods helpfully. "It's the truth, Sarge, we're wearing off on him. He's not the kind who'd blatantly look at a pair... hell, I haven't seen him even bother to leer from a distance."

Shut up, Fred... Timofeyev frowns. "Anyway, Corporal, shall we--"

"'Sides, if I were him, I'd be gawking at Corporal Sal Qu'lin over there. Hers are much nicer."

Timofeyev winces as the resulting slap sends Friedlitz into a two-axis spin. Corporal ibn-Dakhari spins around once, then throws her shoulders to kill her moment of rotation. "Rule number one," she says in a near growl, "pay attention."

"Rule number two," Bondayehr adds, "this is my culture so if I give you a not-so-subtle hint to shut it you shut it, Fred."

"Got it, boss," Fred says from behind the hand rubbing his cheek.

* - * - *

Twelve hours later, during professional development time, Bondayehr starts on research for an aerospace project concerning airfoil design that's due at the end of the week. It never even crosses his mind to check his mail. Meanwhile, the rest of the squadron grumbles as they find their weekend filled with more training.

One of the basic concepts of any basic enlisted training program is that fitting in is generally a good thing. While this dampens initiative, enlisted Basic isn't looking for initiative so much as the ability to fit into a mold, and if one blends in then that objective is accomplished. Even though advanced training is different, there are some things people are expected to agree on, and the loss of free time is one of them. Timofeyev's apparent nonchalance on the matter over chow and idle conversation frays some nerves, and even the Chief takes notice.

"Whaddya working on, Lieutenant?"

Bondayehr looks up momentarily. "Research for a project, Chief Mathers. Same ol' same ol'."

The chief nods. "Odd work for the weekend, eh?"

"Not really, Chief Mathers. No reason why any given day shouldn't be like any other."

"Not concerned about missing out on your weekend pass?"

"No, Chief Mathers. I probably would've just stayed at camp practicing and working and such."

Mathers quirks an eyebrow. "Feeling well, Lieutenant? No trooper in his right mind passes up on leave."

Timofeyev shrugs. "It's not like I have anything to do on the outside, Chief Mathers. I'd just piddle around sleeping and kicking around on my lonesome for two days before coming back. Might as well not leave."

"Well, sir, you'd best be finding something to do because if I catch you at the firing range, the sparring areas, or the drill pad four weeks from now I will make sure those two days are the most miserable of your entire life. Savvy?"
"Yes, Chief Mathers. I will adapt." Bondayehr returns to working on his project, while the noncom just rolls his eyes and floats off with a frown to make life 'interesting' for someone else.
22-05-2004, 05:12
Only the first night on OrbPlat17 gets spent in strap-down sleeping bags; while the possiblity for marrow loss and muscular atrophy is slight at best there's no need to let calcium just leech out of good troopers' bones. Bondayehr takes quickly to the training, discovering that the situational awareness drilled into him in the past two years combined with his three-dimensional spacial sense from the occasional interRing flight does him well. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the training room, and it is most obvious to Corporal Friedlitz, who is by now Timofeyev's standard sparring partner.

At the signal to begin, Timofeyev immediately ducks down in a small-au, keeping his eyes on Fred as the fast-paced Hindu beat pounds in his head. "It helps if there's music," ibn-Dakhari had said, "but because there won't be any when you're kicking ass we won't play any." Timofeyev just provides his own as he sees Fred keep still, not wanting to lose his grip on the only means of propulsion he has--the wall. Timofeyev lands on one hand, letting it buckle to make up for the lack of gravity, quickly transferring to the next as Friedlitz starts into a cabecada, bullrushing with his head. Bondayehr lets his other hand buckle too, legs twisting into a spin and tucking in as he brings his body down low using his hand as a pivot in a modified relogio, back sliding against the wall as Friedlitz sails overhead with a pained expression.

The expression only becomes more pained as Bondayehr, his knees up against his chest, kicks out into Fred's solar plexus, knocking the air out of him. Rolling backwards to a three-point, he casts off to the wall where Fred is about to make a hard landing on, rolling on contact and getting into position to cushion the corporal's landing with his arms.

"Bloody flyboy martial art," Friedlitz gasps.

"That it is, Fred. Don't worry, you still have a week to pick it up."

* - * - *

Given the rules of momentum and leverage, most fighting styles don't work in null gravity. All throws, grapples, punches, and most kicks are matters of leverage, with the force necessary coming from pushing off of the ground of some nicely gravitating body. Other than the old "grab the guy in midair and beat him senseless without letting go" method, very few martial arts originating in Terrestrial gravity fit the bill. After a little searching, the Scolopendran Military Services decided on capoeira as the best school to use as a basis. It relied far more on pivots than leverage, took advantage of learning how to control spins and motion, heightened the sense of balance necessary for any sort of complex movement in null gravity, and most of all required and built up excellent three-dimensional spatial skills. Of course, modifications needed to be made--it was difficult to perform the 'standard' dance-like ginga when the floor wouldn't drag you back down, and so surfaces that could be used as launch platforms always had to be in the combatant's mind. Still, given the ability to shift from one move to another quickly and the inherent concentration on unpredictability and even dirty tricks made capoeira a natural start-off point.

* - * - *

Coming back from null-grav to gravity always felt, to Timofeyev, like a more severe version of the sensation of stepping off a trampoline after an extended bout of jumping. Jump, and one just feels extremely heavy. Still, as his personal development times weren't filled with the physical activities of others, he didn't necessarly suffer as badly as they did. Jacking up his portcomp, he starts in on another bout of research and work before the new mail notification finally catches his attention.

Instilled mild panic, eh? He chuckles to himself, reading Nathi's message. And at least she knows what I've gotten into. Good thing she didn't try to 'help' again. He decides that turbine powerplants can wait a few minutes and types up a response:


It's good to see that a boy can still astound and amaze. Now I'm not Hamlet and you're not my mom but it still gets the point across. Oh, I'm fine, wasting away in zero-gravity learning how to spin on my head in the Brazilian style. Could not possibly be better. This is the part where you insert a grin. Yourself?

Thanks for not getting involved, actually. Now that I'm here, they probably wouldn't pull me out, and as I described earlier I severely doubt that they'd listen to you in the first place. Like you said, it seems to be the right thing for me in a national-security sort of sense. As for what it holds... oh, I don't know. I do know I won't be able to talk about it, though.

"Days are spent for the most part taking care of dry administrative duties" ... mmmmhmmm, yeah. Make sure to bring along shark repellant and watch for all the sneaks behind you with the knives. I know how that goes. As for "pretty quiet," oh, they're always quiet when there's stuff brewing underneath the surface. I'm a billion and a half klicks away and I don't think my faithful steed runs that fast, so this White Knight is out when it comes to listing your reinforcements.

Time off? Hrm... yes, we do get a weekend a month. We technically should be out now, but I got the moron squadron (said morons having already been weeded out) so we get additional training, which is no problem to me as I've nothing doing on the outside anyway. Still, Chief Mathers has threatened to make my life miserable if I don't at least leave camp grounds next month so maybe that'd be a good time to visit or something. Shuttle service... right. Don't put yourself out any more than absolutely necessary on my account.

And I reiterate, stay out of trouble.


* - * - *

Capoeira was never originally "intended" to be a method of armed melee combat. Then again, similarly, duct tape was never originally "intended" to be used to repair spacecraft nor was cyanoacrylate glue originally "intended" to be used as emergency sutures. Necessity begets invention, so the saying goes in a few more words, and so the SMS somehow figured out a way to make the intricate dancelike moves of capoeira work with bludgeons. And knives. And sharp sticks and swords and nunchaku (which worked surprisingly well) and staves (likewise) and commas and other such instruments of such natures.

Oyie, thinks Timofeyev as Corporal ibn-Dakhari demonstrates capoeira with a gladius, they'll be teaching us gun-kata next.

That turns out to be somewhat of an exaggeration, as ranged weapons are slated for after the return from Orbital Platform 17.
25-05-2004, 19:16
25-05-2004, 20:54
Capoeira training comes and goes, and at the end of the week the trainees return to Camp Hartmann. Morning PT continues to be melee combat practice--albeit now in three styles, armed and unarmed--and the traditional mountain run, which is noticably harder after a week's vacation from it. Switching to fatigues and forming up after the run, Bondayehr stands in front of his squadron, arms folded behind his back at parade rest.

Stalking back and forth in front of the formation, Chief Mathers allows himself a little grin, adjusting the odd, long satchel he carries over one shoulder. "Over the past month, Bravo Squadron has made up for its... lapses in judgement early on. The fact that all undesirable elements that caused said lapses, with the attendant influx from other squadrons, has something to do with that. I had intended for my appointment of the Lieutenant to be a sort of punishment, a goad to your ego in order to get you to excel in the hopes that I would replace him."

He stops at one end of his circuit. "That being said, I think this squadron has performed excellently and can be trusted to be led by someone of the Mobile Infantry. Besides," he says with a smile to Bondayehr, "rotating leadership positions is an important aspect of your training. One never knows when one may need to take the initiative and be a leader. Your job, as soldiers, much less special operators, is to know when and how to lead as well as to know when and how to follow. Individual initiative and the ability to act in organized concert are our strengths. It allows us to maintain a lean yet effective fighting force with a minimum number of officer-administrators because it is not necessary to draft orders down to the last trooper in the smallest unit. Lieutenant, pick a replacement at your discretion, training or ability or otherwise. Just do it on the bounce."

Timofeyev snaps to attention. "On the bounce, Chief Mathers." Turning around in a quick about-face, he looks over the squadron. Most of the faces look less than enthusiastic about the idea of leading the squadron, no one looking overly desirous... but Corporal Friedlitz looks positively frightened about the idea. Despite the rest of his face remaining in stony military bearing, Bondayehr's eyes flash mischieviously. "Corporal Friedlitz, front and center!"

The corporal grimaces as he steps out of formation, jogging to a foot in front of Bondayehr's face, saluting. "Sir, Corporal Friedlitz reports as ordered."

The lieutenant returns the salute snappily. "Take control of the flight." He takes one step back.

Friedlitz takes one step forward, muttering in sotto voce. "I hate you, boss."

"It's an order, Fred," Timofeyev replies in the same, then more loudly as he salutes. "Corporal, Second Lieutenant Bondayehr requests permission to fall into squadron."

"Fall in, sir," Fred replies with a half wink. "I still hate you."


* - * - *

A short march later--longer than it had to be due to Friedlitz inexperience and the inevitable chewing-outs that ensued from him "trying" to march the squadron through bushes, failing to render verbal greetings, and generally lacking experience--Bravo Squadron falls out in the ready area of Firing Range Three, just a simple set of firing stations looking out at an empty field, targets of both the pop-up and static variety scattered about at various distances ranging from ten to three hundred meters at what appear to be ten-meter intervals. On the tables next to each firing station is a selection of bows--one shortbow, one longbow, one crossbow--each made of military-grade composites with a properly Scolopendran durable design aesthetic. Chief Mathers grins and pushes a button on a large control board, causing a score of badly-mutilated targets to pop up, probably originally humanoid in shape but now quite disfigured from abuse, thirty meters away.

"Stringed ranged weapons are the traditional favorite for the near-silent takedown," he begins, "much quieter than gunpowder or powerguns, less visible than lasers or powerguns, less emissions than practically anything. Range is limited, but we're going to train you to be sneaky bastards and so that shouldn't be a major issue. LIEUTENANT BONDAYEHR."

Timofeyev looks up from his examination of the bows. Eh... not particularly my favorite styles but ergonomically sound. "Yes, Chief Mathers?"

"I heard you're pretty good with a bow."

Timofeyev nods a little. "Pretty good, Chief Mathers."

"Care to demonstrate?"

Timofeyev almost picks up one of the longbows before the chief steps up, unslings the satchel he carries, and produces the Mongolian compound bow Bondayehr made in the Dominion. "Here. Use this."

Bondayehr blinks, accepting the bow with one hand and the makeshift rough-leather bag of stone-tipped arrows with the other. "I... uh... left that at home. Chief Mathers."

The noncom chuckles. "She said to say that 'a sister of a friend' dropped it off. Most interesting care package I've ever seen come in."

Nodding, the lieutenant shakes out the little bone ring from the leather pouch and slips it over his thumb. Taking out an arrow, he draws it and looks out onto the firing range, picking an appropriate target. Well... Shodey wouldn't be too happy if she knew I was doing this, but just once isn't going to rip me up too badly. Gripping the arrow and string firmly, he quickly concentrates on his upper body, drawing back the bow with a slight creak of bone and wood from the curiously-shaped bow, drawing it back into a kinked horseshoe shape. He keeps his eyes on the target, mind carefully gauging, then becoming silent... and release.

His fingers uncurl from the string, thumb turning to unhook the ring from the bowstring before it rips his hand off. The bow snaps forward into a backwards horseshoe, catapulting the simple missile up and away. Way up and away.

"Great job, sir," someone snickers behind him, "a clear miss at thirty meters. Impressive show of strength for someone as wiry as you, though."

"No..." Chief Mathers says slowly, shielding his eyes from the light as he peers over the nearer target dummies, I think he hit exactly what he aimed for. At three hundred meters."

"If Ghengis Khan could do it, Chief Mathers," Bondayehr says with a little smile and an unassuming shrug as he lowers his bow, "anyone can with enough practice."

"'Chief' will be sufficient, Lieutenant. Consider yourself promoted to trainee instructor and teach these people how to use these weapons."

"Yes, Chief."

* - * - *

"Your arms sore yet?" Chief Mathers looks over to the Lieutenant six hours later, helping someone with their form. "How you holding up, sir?"

"I've unfair advantages, Chief." He replies with a smile. "I'm good."

This elicits a groan from the rest of the squadron. "Fair enough," Chief Mathers says with a nod, "now we'll start throwing knives. You all remember throwing knives, yes?" The M.I. grin and make noises of general approval. "The lieutenant will demonstrate."

Finding himself on the spot again, Timofeyev walks nonchalantly over to the target board and pushes the ten-meter target button. Removing his obsidian knife from his boot, he flips it over to hold it between thumb and two fingers, steps back with one hand acting as both sight and counterbalance... and releases with a step forward.

The knife sails through the air quickly, firmly burying itself to the hilt in the foam-core and sponge forehead of the target dummy. Chief Mathers whistles low as he pats the lieutenant on the shoulder, an excuse to lean closer. "Damn good thing you didn't throw, eh, sir?" He says quietly.

"For us both," Bondayehr replies in the same. "You want me to teach this as well? The Sakkrans have some damn good methods that way."

"Have fun."

* - * - *

This portion of their time at Camp comes to be known as the Lieutenant Bondayehr Variety Hour as he helps Chief Mathers teach the manufacture, balancing, and lethal use of bows, arrows, knives, hatchets, and spears. The shuriken and other various throwing stars are somewhat out of his domain, but he learns quickly with the others, applying lessons from experience and doing his best to help the squadron... and help Friedlitz lead the squadron.

* - * - *

"Oy, this is all chickenshit," Friedlitz mutters to his makeshift detail of six troopers, Bondayehr standing next to him.

"Yes, yes it is, Fred," Timofeyev says in a wry voice, "but I'm taking time out of my homework to help you get it down. Now," he calls out to the detail, "remember the new rules?"

The first element leader grins. "No stopping."

"Right. Now, Fred, I need you to get this detail from here to, oh, the chow hall in under ten minutes. I'll pop out at times, and if I don't get my salute, you'll be doing flutter kicks."

"Jesus, boss, not flutter kicks," the corporal groans.

"Then you'd best be paying attention. Go for it."

"One moment, boss."

"Yeah, Fred?"

The corporal sighs. "Why me?"

The lieutenant shrugs. "No offense, Fred, but obviously you need it."

"Point. 'Cruel to be kind,' is that it?"

"'Cruel in an environment that won't degrade you for errors, just make you feel uncomfortable, to be kind,' yes. It's either me or the Chief."

"Point. I'll do my best."

"I know you will. See you on the way." Timofeyev runs off ahead, almost guilty at how he looks forward to this curious game of cat-and-mouse.
Dread Lady Nathicana
26-05-2004, 01:17
Ah well, it isn’t as if I thought such things wouldn’t attract more attention than that … of course he’d have to ask.

Curled up on a soft red velvet fainting couch in a room that couldn’t possibly exist outside the c-space environment she’d created it in, Nathicana tries to relax, taking her mind off some of the less pleasant aspects of her current situation while pouring over documents and tasklists and correspondance.

Vines bearing generous bunches of lucious red grapes, their perfect globes dusted with a hint of cool dew grow on worn wooden lattice, and hang over curved white stucco walls. A panoramic view of Devras paused at a perpetual sunrise shows through the open space at the front of the round room, and overhead, the center of the gazebo-like structure cuts away to the blackness of space and softly twinkling stars.

Shifting position, she lays down on her stomach, one arm under her chin, idly tracing a finger over the smooth stone floor, composing a reply.


Understood and accepted. For once, if you can believe, I’ve no hidden agendas here. No special dispensation sought or required on il mio Cavaliere Blanco’s behalf. It is, as I said, a simple wish to know what I can of how he’s progressing. I admit though, I hadn’t realized til now just how serious you are about his future as well.

The boy’s got some serious potential. Glad I’m not the only one to see it. And though I won’t ask for favors, I will say this; Wherever you folks intend on steering him, I think his heart is in the stars. Hope you’re able to keep that in mind somewhere along the way.

As for your kind offer of hospitality – I’d love to. Perhaps sometime this next month? Things should be sufficiently settled by then, and I can’t help but think that a change of scenery, the company of good friends, and the opportunity to be hunter rather than hunted would do me a world of good. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown” and all that. It’s odd, you know. I could have walked away, lived out my days quietly enough I suppose … but when it the time came, I seem to have forgotten such silly thoughts.

Bah. At any rate, yes. Tell the fuzzy one hullo for me – looking forward to this.


She spent a while going over the next, chuckling softly and shaking her head now and then. Aye, no fooling you I see. As if I could after all you’ve seen, boy. I can still keep most of it quiet, all the same.


Well, gods willing, I shan’t be needing rescuing any time soon, Lieutenant. I make a poor damsel in distress at any rate. Truth, things are progressing nicely, with much less hassle than you might imagine. The nation seems ready for change, and the people are responding more favorably to many of those things I’m attempting to institute than I had hoped. I have more people watching my back than perhaps I’d care to. It would seem that in regaining control, I have also lost a good measure of my former freedom. Balance of power, that. One never gets something for nothing. Should set your mind at ease, at any rate – I have little choice but to stay out of trouble.

I find myself looking more to the future these days, which is I suppose, no surprise all things considered. Where it all will end is anyone’s guess, but I am trying as usual to engineer the situation for the most optimal outcome that I can. No fate but what we make ourselves.

As for where you’re heading, no worries. I do want to tell you I’ve asked Razak for updates on your progress in the program, and he has agreed that with your permission, he’ll send on what information is allowed. That ought to absolve you of the chore of having to watch what to say, and what not in any gray areas, and leave you free to let me know what you will of how you yourself are doing with it all here. Yes, you can deny permission, no I will not hold it against you, nor will I continue to pursue it if you do. Regardless, I want to thank you for taking the time from your already busy schedule to write and humor an old meddler. Means a lot.

I’m impressed as hell with what you’ve told me so far that you’ve been up to. I’d be lying if I said a part of me isn’t envious in a way of the training you must be getting, though I doubt very much I’d survive the discipline. Too long playing top dog on this end. Gah, rambling. Again. Right. Offer still stands on the ride. In fact, I’ll be heading Titan-side sometime next month anyway, so you’d not be ‘putting me out’ in the least. Can’t have your Chief giving you hell, after all, right?

As Confucius said: Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart. I imagine that translates well into your ‘Excellence in all we do’ belief. You take care of yourself, Tim.


Leaving the rest of her tasks for now, she shifts position again, quietly looking up at the expanse of stars glittering silently above her, pondering the thoughts and questions the letters had unexpectedly brought forward.
28-05-2004, 05:45
Timofeyev looks at the flat, curved piece of wood in his hand. "A boomerang?"

"Worked for the Australian Aborigines," replies Sergeant Gutierrez, "now repeat after me."

* - * - *

Razak leans over from his desk to peek into the door of Speaker's office. "Nathi says hi!"

The kzintosh nods. "Appreciated. The greeting is returned."

The silver-haired man chuckles and settles back in at his desk, typing up a response.


Fuzzybutt says hi. You never experienced me using that term.

Then next month it is. I'll make sure to clear the schedules and give Alshai something to do.

Don't worry about Bondayehr. He'll do fine.


* - * - *

"Well, this is certainly interesting," the lieutenant mutters as he twirls the weapon, two iron balls on the end of a thin rope.

"Great for those times when you just need to catch someone and not kill or hurt them overmuch," the sergeant says with a chuckle. "Here's how you use it."

* - * - *

This portion of Archaic Weapons Training is generally known as "the fun stuff," consisting of the esoteric weaponry generally not even considered by other militaries. Boomerangs, Polynesian yo-yos, bolos, slings... while not much time is spent on them, there's enough to get each trooper familiarized. A lot of improvement comes with on-duty practice.

It is also this week of training that the tempo changes. The four hour personal development time shrinks to two hours, the time freed up dedicated to classes concerning other cultures and how to deal with natives. SMISO is, after all, primarily a counter-insurgency and foreign-insurgency training force, working on the force-multiplication concept. Again, these classes will be rehashed again and again in active service when not on an operation, but the primary function of the six-month SMISO camp is to build at least a familiarity to build on in further development training and practice. The fact that "familiarity" equates to "just over foreign military standard" is irrelevant.

Bondayehr, however, finds this somewhat disturbing. "Hrm... I'm finding it a challenge keeping up with homework as is, Chief, and I've already delegated off all the nonessential tasks I can think of. How am I supposed to deal with this?"

Chief Mathers frowns. "I'm not entirely sure, sir. What's really fun is that in another week those other two hours will evaporate because we need to cram in more survival-training time. The squadron seems to be lacking."

Timofeyev winces. "Normally I'd volunteer to help teach, Chief, but..."

"But what?"

"Right now I'm leaning more towards requesting a waiver from those classes so I can keep up with the engineering."

Chief Mathers nods slightly with a measuring expression. "Are you asking?"

Slight pause... longer pause... and a sigh. "Yes, Chief, I'm asking."

"Good!" Mathers grins. "It's about time we got you off that kick of inexorably pushing yourself to your limit, sir. Now, about the homework... I'm sure I can send a request up to tone it down."

Bondayehr frowns. "Hrm... no, I can dream lucidly. Little bit of biofeedback to increase REM time should make up for it."

The chief blinks. "You're going to do your homework in your sleep?"

"Sure, Chief. Put the request up that the notes and stuff be put on audio so I can use an ear-bead and just listen in during my REM phases. I'll be conscious enough to absorb the information and it may actually aid retention. In fact, I'd like the other SMISO course notes as well so I can fit them in if I've got time."

"Why do I think this is a bad idea?"

"I'll have to work out a new sleep-rhythm, but the human sleep cycle is so inefficient anyway that I can easily tune it up a bit. I may just be a bit less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a week or so."

"That won't do, sir." Mathers frowns. "We're going into slugthrowers now and I'll be damned if I let a tired trainee play with an autocannon. That's how people get hurt."

Timofeyev finds himself thinking that equating an implied accident with a medium-caliber autocannon with the word "hurt" is something of an understatement. "Understood, Chief. If I could, I'd like to take the rest of the day to plan in out, then. I know my basic limitations from Sakkra and the Dominion and I can plot out how much I can shave off."

Mathers frowns. "Go ahead, sir. But if I catch you nodding off I will have absolutely no problem with bringing it up with the commandant as needless endangerment of fellow comrades in arms."

Timofeyev winces. NEFCA (pronounced "neff-kah") was essentially the cardinal sin of the Scolopendran Military Services. In training, it gets someone drummed out with a dishonorable discharge faster than it takes to drop the gavel to pass sentence. In the field, it can get someone shot.

"Actually," the chief continues after a short pause, frowning further, "I'd have a great problem with it, sir." The title for once indicates some sort of respect. "Don't make me."

"Understood, Chief," Lieutenant Bondayehr nods, "I won't let you down."

Returning to his bunk, Bondayehr gets out an onion-thin sheet of paper and, using his binder as a sort of writing board, starts scribbling notes and pie charts. Let's see... eight hours sleep, maximum allowable REM is usually a third, which makes 160 minutes... alpha needed... delta needed...

When he finishes, he has enough time to send off the permissions necessary for Nathi to get her information but not enough to write up a response in full. Shrugging, he decides to type quickly just before lights out:


Any damsel that helps defend herself is good. Sorry to hear freedoms reduced. Good luck with future. Will do best here. Permissions sent. Thank you for compliments. Look forward to visit. Take care. Am very busy. Consider to be out of contact until further notice.


* - * - *

The last night that he would sleep (relatively) normally was cut off my another exercise alarm. Running outside, the squadron picked up random blunt padded instruments and had to defend the barracks from assailants armed similarly. After an hour of pitched battle, the assailants limped away and the bruised trainees stumbled back into bed.

* - * - *

"Last night," Mathers says in a tone in time with his pacing, "Bravo Squadron fended off two entire platoons of Mobile Infantry Basic Trainees!"

A ragged cheer rings out... weakly, then cuts off with a snap at a single glare from the chief. "The fact that those wetnoses actually landed some blows on you," he pauses in the face of one especially multicolored individual, "is a disgrace to your training! Morning remedial training will be doubled from now on, and you can expect more exercises until you bloody do it RIGHT!"

This was, of course, going to happen. All they needed, Bondayehr guesses, was an "excuse."
31-05-2004, 13:29
Day begins melting into night begins melting into day after that, as what parts Timofeyev can remember of his dreams are just the soft droning of someone teaching aerodynamics via audio recording, him scribbling dream-notes on dream-paper that etch ideas more or less in his mind. Each new day he awakens not tired, but disoriented, long-term temporal sense disrupted. He fights keenly and works hard, but cannot for the life of him remember what day it is or how long exactly he's been at Camp Hartmann. Each day is a singular entity that fades into the next in the continuum of time and there's no telling where one stops and the other begins, how many there were previously and how many more are left. This initially disquiets the rest of the squadron, but they quickly learn that their pet lieutenant is perfectly fine as long as you don't ask him what day it is... which leads them to come up with more interesting questions to spit off every time someone gets knocked down to make sure they're still viable.

Scolopendra is a rather well-armed society and most people learn how to handle weapons of some sort. Bondayehr grew up learning with sporting rifles, mostly, and qualified with the standard Scolopendran pistol arsenal immediately after being commissioned. While not as skilled as the hardened troopers around him, he at least qualifies with most weapons, which is far better than being dropped completely unready back into the firing range. Instead of bows, arrows, crossbows, and bolts, this time the side tables are covered with a relatively impressive array of slugthrowing pistols in an assortment of caliber and firing mode. Revolvers and semi-automatics in both cased and caseless varieties, calibers from needlers to super-magnum hand artillery that requires massive gas recoil compensators to prevent breaking someone's hand. Bondayehr hefts one of these experimentally (of course checking the open breach and barrel to make sure nothing is chambered), pondering why anyone would want or need a 25.4 millimeter pistol with a Bolo Mauser-style magazine. In fact, it feels like some sort of snubnosed carbine more than anything else, and looks like the grip's been replaced... Still, the lines are familiar somehow.

"Kzin close-engagement pistol," Chief Mathers explains in passing, "you'll probably never have to use one but, just in case, here it is."

"Thanks, Chief." Ah. Law-Student took to wearing one on important occasions. In a nudist culture, weapons and their display had become a sort of fashion statement. "Thing is, Chief, I've never seen one of these modded for a human before." Bondayehr toys with the fold-out stock. "If I ever do need to use one in a hurry, it'll probably be kzin-modded."

Chief Mathers stops, turns, and grins. "Then you'll just have to work it out. We can't afford to go breaking every trainee's wrist, now can we? You'll understand the ballistics of the weapon, which is remarkably similar to a twelve-gauge solid-slug with rifled rounds. And I like it."

"Explanation enough, Chief." He balances the weapon in two hands, taking advantage of the stock. "Hefty mother. I hate to say it, but I almost want one."

* - * - *

There is no recap on firearms safety; that would simply be insulting. Chief Mathers simply announces a weapon, holds it up, describes it and its capabilties, things to note, then proceeds to make firing it look ludicrously simple to use by putting a few more holes through a target dummy, a small cloud of dust announcing the round's landing on the field. Then the order for everyone to take up their copy of the weapon of the moment as Chief Mathers moves to the control board, everyone having their own weapon but working in groups of two: One shooting, one spotting.

Chief Mathers stands in front of the range control console, scanning the area with his own eyes. "Range?"

Each station, in turn, scans the area and announces safety. "One, clear, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers!" "Two, clear, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers!" "Three, clear, Chief!" "Four, clear, Chief Master Ser..." and so forth.

Mathers nods and presses the ten-meter button. "Thirty shots, open fire!" The range explodes in a cacophony of noise as gunpowder and its heirs detonate repeatedly, some in bursts, some methodically, all at the will of their users, with gaps for discharging and reloading with new magazines. Bondayehr starts slowly with each weapon, firing at a slow, methodical pace until he gets the hang of it, then slowly increases his fire rate. The first reload is slow, methodical, analyzing; the next one faster, the next yet faster, until he comes up with a quick system for reloading.

As each trooper depletes his ammunition, he switches off with his partner, announcing hits, misses, and offering suggestions... as well as refilling magazines from large boxes of rounds. As each group finishes, they announce their station. "Seven complete!" "Ten complete!" Once all report completion, Mathers presses a button and the riddled targets drop back down.

The process is repeated in ten-meter intervals to the weapon's maximum effective range. Check for a clear range, fire, reload, fire, reload.

They start with 5.59 millimeter hold-outs that practically disappear in the hand. They move up to standard 5.59 pistols, then 9.65 millimeter snubnosed revolvers--practically unchanged for hundreds of years, and of which Timofeyev has the hardest time learning to use--and 9 millimeter semiautomatic pistols with burst fire, similar yet larger 11.4 millimeter pistols, 12.7 millimeter heavy pistols, and 19 millimeter hand artillery--guaranteed to provide sore wrists, especially after a hundred or so firings. The artificial Ring-sun slowly moves to the center of the sky, bringing with it field meals from the camp chow hall, then continues on in its cocentric orbit, the air becoming thick with the sulfrous smell of burnt gunpowder charges and the ozone tang of octanitrouscubane caps.

With a mild headache--inevitably shared--Bondayehr takes up the 25 millimeter carbine and clicks the drum-shaped magazine in, holding the weapon at high-safe.

Again, a check for range safety... but no one even comes near this part of camp during Firearms Month. All clear, permission given to proceed. Timofeyev pulls back the rifle-like bolt of the "pistol" with a satisfying clik-CHAK, brings the fold-out stock to his shoulder, and aims carefully. Like a twelve-gauge solid slug, the Chief said, he thinks as he makes the world around him fade away. In that world, there are twenty-five troopers wailing away with the massive weapons, sending up small explosions of dirt and tearing limbs off the foam dummies, learning through massed firepower. He raises the barrel a little higher--muzzle velocity is lower and thus there will be more drop--and concentrates on right between the target's shoulders. Exhale, hold out, and pull--

It's much louder than he expects, even after a full day of shooting. It kicks into his shoulder despite the gas recoil compensation--still, it doesn't seem like too much--and the dummy's head simply vaporizes into a million little feathery blobs of biodegradable styrofoam.

Corporal Friedlitz twitches. "Do I even need to tell you, boss?"

"Naw, Fred. I like this weapon. I compensated a little high, though." Quiet concentration, and the left elbow disappears, what remains of the forearm dropping to the ground.

"I can see you like it."

Left shoulder. "Yup. 'S nice. And that's as much drop as I want." Right elbow. Right shoulder. Just below the stump that classifies as a neck.

"Jeebus H Hyskos, boss, just put the bastard out of his misery."

"Right." Careful aiming and... a solid slug of soft metal twenty-five millimeters across rams into the foam dummy's crotch, violently displacing the material there with both its physical presence and the shock wave it creates passing through the air. The foam poorly resists these forces, and is compressed and blasted out in a sort of annulus from the entry point, ripping itself apart in a clean circle as the round passes through. What remains of the humaniform body tears apart into three pieces, torso and each leg, and--not exactly knowing why--Bondayehr pulls the trigger again, firing the magazine's sixth and final round.

The torso, now parallel to the ground, takes the round in the neck, exploding in a cylinder of air and displaced insides, tearing itself into more streamers that waft on the breeze before settling to the ground, leaving only two legs standing shoulder-width apart, holding up nothing and with crazy tilts to them.

Bondayehr laughs. "That's it, I am getting me one of these."

Friedlitz sighs. "Lord save us."
02-06-2004, 17:04
Another so far down the continuum, and the process is repeated. Needlers, coilguns, gyrojets, all variations on the basic idea of imparting sufficient force to some sort of slug or payload and heaving it down the way. The coilgun variants are a bit heavier, but quieter and with less recoil; gyrojets are as heavy and noisy but with much reduced recoil; needlers are just short-range shredders good for spraying fire against unarmored targets. The freestanding foam dummies do a good job of displaying damage, and the heaviest weapons are always saved for last so the simple mass-produced mannequins can be annihilated in one final orgy of destructive firepower.

"I wonder where they get these things," Timofeyev muses.

"I dunno, boss, but they're fun to blow up." The one Friedlitz aims at does so, right on cue.

* - * - *

And again, with rifles. Days of shooting, nights of math, days of weapon after weapon in all the forms that humanity has conceived of violently tearing life from body, all categorized and documented with advantages and disadvantages. Once the trainees are proficient with the various pistols, rifles and longarms are next, ranging from sawed off shotguns to assault and sniper rifles. Once again, the reductio ad absurdum of this crop is a kzinti weapon, nothing more than a 12.7 millimeter heavy machine gun common since time immemorial modified to a lower fire rate and into something vaguely rifle shaped. Like its ancestors, the only real ways to fire it standing is either from the hip, with a harness, or both. Shotguns and standard assault rifles are given preference due to their ubiquitous nature; each day seems to introduce several new types and each is gone over in exquisite detail, drills and quizzes.

Of course, time is quickly losing all sense of meaning for Bondayehr. Looking down at the rifle in his hands, the Dominion-made weapon always has been and always will be there in his mind, and he always has been and always will be sitting on standby on the firing range checking the action of the bolt, pulling it back and watching it snap back forward with a tendency to catch on a flange on the shell ejection port. That's what the forward assist is for, he thinks, unconcerned about the atemporality in his mind. Still alert, still functional... to worry would simply be to make a problem where there really isn't one.

* - * - *

"Y'know, Fred," Bondayehr muses while typing up another paper for Razak and Hertzfeldt, "I'm seeing a distinct gap in our training."

The corporal looks up from folding clothes fresh from the laundry. "Hmmm?"

"Well, we're trained day in and day out on all these weapons, and we never use them."

"What?" Friedlitz frowns. "You sure your sleeping-mind-tricks aren't getting to you? We just spent twelve hours today on Beretta assault rifles, and that's on top of--"

"No, not like that." The lieutenants fingers go click-click-click over the plastic keys. "Use in context. Shooting but no tactics."

"Ah." Fred grins. "That's what the next six months are for."

Timofeyev pauses in his typing, frowns, and looks up. "What?"

"This is just the introductory Special Operators training. After these six months, you're technically a Special Operator but you're not field-worthy yet 'cause you have to sign up either for Antrodiaetidae or Macrothele. Then you get six months more training based on whichever one of those you sign up for."

Bondayehr blinks. "Trapdoor or Wolf Spiders, eh? Yeah, that makes sense. Establish a core then work on that." Six more months... it'd been... what... a month and a half? Two months? Three years? Eh, he could take it, and so he returns to typing. "What do you plan going for?"

"Definitely 'undecided' at this rate, boss," Friedlitz replies. "Both sound like challenges, but in different ways."

"Well... knowing my tastes, I'd like to go Antrodiaetidae," the lieutenant says, fingers flying over the keys. "It's one way to get to see other cultures, albeit in the backwoods-guerilla-training sort of way."

"I think you'd do well in counterinsurgency," the corporal replies with a shrug, "you've got the mind for it, at least, and you're generally personable."

"Also, the longer I can spend in the brush away from known society is a good thing in my mind at the moment. It'll stem the flow of fan mail... which I probably have a horrid backlog back home to get to." He sighs slightly. "Fred, if you ever gotta be a hero, make sure it's in a nice quiet way. Avoid ceremonies at all costs."


"Yeah. People take the time to write, so I take the time to reply."

"Boss, it's a country of damn-nigh three billion out there and you're its hero-of-the-day."

"I know." Bondayehr grins wryly. "I just can't tolerate the idea of just ignoring it, or shirking to someone else, or even just having a rote response. Just doesn't seem... right."

Friedlitz chuckles. "You're hopeless, sir, you know that? Still, nice of ya... and for that you'd want Macrothele. Lots of time to write letters inbetween constant training there."

"Naw. I'll just learn to write letters in my sleep. Hrm..." Timofeyev's fingers pause for a moment, then he traces over the touchpad to open a new program. "That could be doable, ya. Not to mention the chrome required would come in handy in general anyway."

The corporal shakes his head as he folds another pair of trousers. "Jeebus... I just hope you know a good doc."


It's the infatigable white knight. Heh. Anyway, I was wondering if I couldn't ask some advice on augments appropriate for two-way data transfer and such, operational awake or asleep. Something like skillwires but without the nasty taking-over-of-the-voluntary-nervous-system. It just has to get the data in my head in a way faster than standard REM-'cordings; I can take care of it from there.

Say hi to the technicolor slug for me. I'd invite you to tea, but I'm a bit out of town for the next... year. Or so. We'll see what happens.


"Oh, I do." Bondayehr chuckles, mostly to himself, as he taps a key with a final flair. "Family of a friend."
Anonymous Lepers
03-06-2004, 00:45
The biobot swarm was indetectable to ordinary senses, and as such the swarm and its various sub-elements were able to stay in excellent observation range of chosen groups and subjects.

Its first and second microburst reports had been very general; it had followed the parameters engineered into it and done a general-scale survey of all activity within the defined areas. However, when it surfaced far above the atmospheric envelope of Camp Hartmann for the second time, its first report had already been analyzed, and a new set of instructions awaited it by bounceback transmission: Continue regular observational sweeps, but focus close attention on a few individuals.

The third microburst could easily have been called “The Bondayehr & Mathers Show.”


Upon completion of the burst, the swarm reconfigured itself and sank again, slowly, through the atmosphere, dispersing to take advantage of airflow and then coalescing once again, in the barracks of Bravo Squadron.
04-06-2004, 16:09
The Gestalt chuckles. She always gets them, in the end. This one has an unusual reaction to medical nanites... an interesting thought project to toy with.

All that remains now is to convince him that I am the best-suited for the procedure... and knowing his personality...

<Communications to Bondayehr>
<< I must admit, this is an unexpected yet pleasant surprise. You've come to the right intelligence for advice... and, perhaps, more than advice. You did rescue my sister-in-mind and I've yet to adequately repay you. I would be glad to offer my services in this regard as a gift.

<< And not even a "gift" in the sense that is appropriate for me and my history. [sly grin analog] I doubt you would agree to such a present.

<< I've also been thinking about your curious reaction to treatment. If you agree, I can arrange to perform your next medical evaluation and run some tests to further investigate possible causes. I have several theories and am designing appropriate measures to address them.

<< Unhcegila chirrups as usual in response. I look forward to your next visit.
Dread Lady Nathicana
04-06-2004, 19:54
Nathicana had frowned when she read the response, her initial reaction to get hold of Hawke and Razak and give them a shaking. Knowing full well she’d promised, and knowing too how her ‘help’ had gone over before, she made herself wait a day. Then another. And another. She had limitless distractions, busying herself with the running of her nation, the quick, quiet trips, the meetings and negotiations, and re-ordering of her government.

He’s fine, she would tell herself in those quiet moments between the hustle and bustle. The reports she received more than confirmed that. The boy was doing well. More than. And if they were long on dry figures and short on some of the information that she’d like to have had, it at least gave her an idea on what was going on. Which of course, led to more worry. Lethality … I don’t expect to see the same young man I last saw getting bodily hauled out of a party by Speaker.

She chose to leave well enough alone – for once. And though she would occasionally fret, and argue with herself over it, and question why it mattered whether or not she kept her word, the answer came simply enough. Somewhere along the line, it had become important that she do so – at least where those she had grown to respect and love as friends were concerned.

Napoleon was attributed with having said “The best way to keep one's word is not to give it.” As she again refrained from sending off a brief note, she muttered under her breath about keeping that more in mind in the future.

“What was that?” the man sitting across the desk from her murmured, one brow arched curiously.

Nathicana shook her head, dismissing it with a slight wave of her hand. “Nothing, Cesare. Now, about this diplomatic envoy trip you’re proposing--"

When the time comes and he's able, he'll send notice. Until then ... mind your own damn business, she told herself - not for the last time.
05-06-2004, 15:24
"So, what are you going to do over the weekend, boss?" Friedlitz asks nonchalantly.

Bondayehr pauses in blowing holes in dummies with a G-11 caseless assault rifle and looks up from his prone position. "What?"

Fred suddenly remembers that time and Timofeyev don't get along too well nowadays. "It's the seventh. We've been shooting things for almost a month. Next week is wilderness survival and then we get a weekend."

"Really?" The lieutenant blinks and stops trying to reconcile that, yes, it is true with his utter inability to distinguish days and weeks. "I'll take your word for it." He goes back to shooting things.

"Didn't answer my question," Fred says with a frown.

"Visit friends," Bondayehr says nonchalantly.

* - * - *

Bondayehr watches the Scarab utility shuttle lift off and fly away, chuckling a little at the inevitable flashbacks it calls forth. Looking around the clearing, he sees that he's in a rather comfortably wild deciduous forest, the temperatures just a little cooler than they were in the Dominion. Taking his portcomp and its newly-purchased satlink--the only things other than his knife he was allowed to bring, and that was only with special dispensation from Advisor Hawke--he tucks it under his arm and starts creeping into the brush.

Within half an hour, he has a nice little campsite picked out next to a little stream with a stone-lined firepit and some saplings freshly cut.

Within two hours, he has a fire with a field-stripped deyr roasting over it.

Within three hours, he has some wild berries and field greens to accompany the meat.

The next four hours go into the construction of a simple lean-to and making a long cloak-like thing from the deyr's hide. After making some ropes out of twined ivy and hardy thick grasses, he affixes two circles of rope to opposite ends of the hide and supports it from two appropriately spaced trees. Munching on venyzon, he relaxes in the field-expedient hammock as he starts back in on his homework.

When he gets bored with that, he starts making another bow... this time, just a simple longbow from a youngish tree and the stripped hide from one of the deyr's legs. No need to be too fancy. Then he makes some arrows for it. By this time it starts getting dark and luminous eyes start appearing around the campfire so he shoots one and scores himself a wulph, which gets field-stripped and the pelt hung to dry out while the meat is smoked and saved for bait.

After one full, productive day, he works on his homework under the lean-to until he drifts off under the deyr hammock-blanket, letting the fire keep going to keep away critters that didn't get the idea when the wulph yelped its last.

A night of equations and figures blends into a new day, which starts of with some simple PT and the construction of traps around the campsite. More water collected, he starts collecting river mud to fill in holes in the deyr's skull and the wulph's ribcage to form a bowl and a pot that he then cooks over the fire into hardness; some hollowed out and properly cut bones make a fair set of cutlery. Then some foraging to collect additional greens and berries and edible roots, some cutting, and they get thrown into the pot with some water and meat for stew.

Drinking stew from his skull-bowl, he types a few missives with one hand.


Heh. No fair, you've convinced me with your combination of economics, humor, and appeal to history. I mean, it has to be a honor of sorts to brag that the great and illustrious S.H.O.D.A.N. has practiced her arts on one, no? Especially if the one gets to keep their individuality. I swear, people would have forgotten by now if you didn't keep bringing it up.

Oh well... nothing good comes without sacrifice. Just knock me out for the procedure, okay?



Sorry for how terse my last missive was. Timing was just... hm... difficult at that moment. Still, right now I'm drinking soup from a skull and generally having fun being a survivalist. I kinda like how this stew came out... and I'm probably one of the few people who think these monthly survival weeks are vacations.

Now, I can see you wondering--why is he replying from a forest Ringside a hundred kilometers from anywhere? Simple. I bring this damned portcomp everywhere... you know that.

Actually, Hawke said I had to bring it for homework.
Bondayehr hears a crackling noise and looks up to see a smallish pantheyr--only about as big as he is--looking back at him.
One moment. Pantheyr on the prowl.
Closing the lid on his portcomp, he takes it in both hands--like an idiot, his knife and bow are out of arm's reach. Newbie mistake. Oh well. There are always weapons to be found...

The dark big cat steps forward, crouching down a little. Bondayehr gets to his feet, crouching medium-low, brandishing the dull steel of the armored computer in both hands. "That's right, kitty. You want some? Come get some." He grins perhaps a bit too broadly, exposing every tooth he can as he hisses.

Apparently the cat doesn't like it's territory being challenged as it rears up and growls meanicingly instead of backing off like they usually do. Timofeyev simply repeats the gesture. It tenses. He loosens, ready for action, moving in a tiny ginga. It leaps, teeth going for his neck.

Bondayehr just rolls forward and thrusts the heels of his combat boots into its face as it sails overhead, balling up from the unexpected impact and spinning off. Timofeyev uses the momentum to roll back onto his feet and swing up his portcomp in an arc, catching the cat in the ribs with the thin end as it tumbles, eliciting a loud crack. The pantheyr lands heavily, rolling a little, and Bondayehr takes the portcomp over his head with a slight spin to kill the return momentum and rams the thin end down on the pantheyr's neck with a crunch. The creature spasms once, twice, then lays still.

After grabbing more suitable weapons and brushing off the unharmed armored computer, Bondayehr stretches out and uses the pantheyr's still warm carcass as a pillow.
Sorry about that... as if you'd notice, just reading this. Kitty wanted some and so he got some. I, like an idiot, left my weapons out of reach and so had to bludgeon him with the computer. Hey, you like black, neh? This thing's got pretty soft fur. Got his protein and lipids. *nestles* Would make a decent cape or neck thing or something. I dunno. Predator meat tends to be rather tasteless anyway so I'll use it for bait like the wulph that got too curious and prep the pelt for whatever use I can find for it.

Hell, after a Hhoular, none of this shit's scary.

Anyhoo, when I get back from this little vacation the Chief is gonna make hella sure that I get my ass off base if he has to throw me off the Ring himself. You could either pick me up here at camp or I can arrange to meet you on Rhea or anywhere. Your call--you're the one making the billion-klick trip.

Looking forward to it, really.

Sending the message, he gets up and starts field-stripping the pantheyr, being careful with it as he was with the wulph--these pelts are quite nice and he wouldn't mind a conversation piece. The meat gets cooked and stored as bait again and the bones and organs go into their respective growing piles--the organ pile being further out to act as a sort of bait for scavengers. No need to bother the human when there's free food lying about, after all.

Homework, and then bed. A good day.
Dread Lady Nathicana
24-06-2004, 05:54
“Gianni, if you would please, draw me a bath – it’s been a long day, and I’m not through with it yet.”

The younger man looks up from where he’s been sitting and going over the household accounts, one brow quirked questioningly. Seeing the tiredness in her face, he nods and smiles reassuringly. “Lavender it is then,” he says, making his way up the stairs, calling out briefly for Dominic to prep a small tray of something for the lady.

“Grazie,” Nathicana murmurs as he goes, resisting the urge to slump down on the comfortable leather recliner, and forcing herself to the stairs as well, making her way to her office.

She barely has time to get settled before Dom brings in a fresh pitcher of ice water and a plate full of assorted fruits, all nicely cut and prepared, a small dish of cream, another of sugar, and yet a third of simple water next to a neatly folded towel for cleaning her fingers.

“You boys have been spoiling me, you know.” Reaching for a slice of nectarine, she smiles up at the robust chef.

He makes a short bow, a playfully mocking grin turning up the corners of his lips. “It is both my job, and my pleasure, m’lady. Ever since your return, you’ve been tense. While it’s not my place to question, it is mine to at least try and see you comfortable as possible here.” He blinks rapidly, straightening the crisp white coat he always insists on wearing while carrying out his kitchen duties, and clears his throat, making his way back towards the door.

“It’s good to have you back,” he says, turning briefly at the doorway and giving her a quick nod and a smile before heading back downstairs, whistling quietly.

Nathi watches him go, the hint of a smile tugging at her own lips. “It’s good to be back.”

If only there weren’t so damn many loose ends … and other concerns.

Flipping open her laptop, she starts going over the list of ‘to do’ things in her head, blinking when she finally notices the mail notification icon flashing. She reads … then pauses, re-reads … reads again. Pantheyr? What the … bloody hell!

Before long, her fingers are typing, fast and furious … with several backtrackings and editings along the way. With several more before she’s through.

Well boy, at least you’re enjoying yourself with these little outings – at least more than your last couple. I don’t suppose I’ll ever get you to come back and sample the wilds of the Dominion sans choppers and soldati, even after this is all over, neh?

Yes, I know. Bad joke. Mi dispiace.

At any rate, I need to stop at Rhea as well. From your mention, I take it you’ve business there as well? Even if it’s just for a visit, ‘tis no problem in the least to pick you up there at camp, and make the stop. Like I said – it’s on my agenda anyway.

I’m looking forward to the trip as well, for several reasons. And no worries on the previous missive – believe me, I do know how things can get. All too well. I’ll not ramble on more than I already have. Let me know a time, and I’ll be there. Happy to be of some use for a change – service rather than being the one served if that makes any sense whatsoever.

Look forward as well to seeing your trophies – first time I think I’ve ever heard of a big cat being taken down by portcomp … Please, be safe. Will see you soon.


He’s a big boy. Obviously can take care of himself. And I promised. Dammit.

“Your bath is ready,” Gianni says from the doorway, causing her to look up in surprise.

“I ah … of course. Grazie, Gianni. I won’t be taking any calls concerning anything short of the apocalypse for the next few, so if you would …” Nathi gets to her feet, hitting the send button, then closing up the computer before heading towards the bedroom.

The man nods and chuckles knowingly. “Consider it taken care of.”
Drakonian Imperium
24-06-2004, 06:38
{Tag; For Reading Purposes}
24-06-2004, 16:54
The next day is a little overcast, so Bondayehr starts working on waterproofing the tanned deyr hide just in case. Inbetween that, collecting a few berries and tubers, and taking care of the pantheyr hide he takes up a few hours of the day before spending the rest on homework and such.

Munching on a few berries and remaining cognizant of the cloudy sky, he taps out a response.

No business on Rhea as of yet, although the potential is near-definite in the future. I just figured you might want to see the fam is all and it would save you a stop. Still, since you offered, the location is Camp Hartmann on Ring Sector Twenty-Four. I'll send something up the line so Advisor Hawke can send something officialish back down and you don't catch anyone by surprise (I'm almost surprised I didn't stumble on a SASM site out here... I probably just haven't yet) but I'm sure if you just flash whatever ID cards delegates to the Council of Yut get I'm sure you'll be fine to land.

Got the pantheyr's pelt taken care of... it is rather nice, and the smooth bludgeoning made sure it wasn't damaged. I have no idea what I'm going to do with it, but I think I'm going to make the wulph pelt into some sort of cloak... forelegs to go around my neck and fit the cleaned-and-cured skull back in to make a most interesting hood. I'll have to read up on taxidermy, maybe pick up some glass eyes for it. Jeebus, this is sorta morbid... but oddly fun. I like making things, no denying that.

Well, see you on the weekend.

-- Tim
15-07-2004, 18:55
Camp Hartmann's primary airfield is just that--a flat grassy field, well trimmed and very neat despite the random patch of dust. To be sure, there are a few prepared concrete pads, but most of the vessels that come to the installation are designed to land on unprepared ground. As such, prepared sites are kept to a minimum to reduce overhead and maintenance. The local air traffic control, consisting of a control nest in a high concrete tower extending from a group of armored bunkers serving as comm shacks, dominates the side of the field nearest the main facilities of the camp. Outside the comm shack is the 'reception area,' no more than a few long benches under an awning of corrigated metal. Standing just in front of the benches towards the field are two lone figures; Camp Hartmann empties out quickly for weekend passes. One of them, in well-pressed Scolopedran grey pixellated smoke-cloud camouflage fatigues, glowers quietly at the sky. Despite reaching that age where his hair is about half grey and beginning to thin, he still looks carved out of granite. The other, also familiar, wears his fatigues with a wulph trying to eat his skull. The forelegs of the pelt are draped over the shoulders and neck, claws acting as clasps of a sort, while the top half of the wulph's skull gives form to the cloak's hood. A large duffel sits by this one's boots as he also scans the sky, waiting patiently.

A nod from his companion. "I know, Chief. She'll be here shortly."

"That's what you said half an hour ago. If she keeps this up, I think we can fit in another mountain run today."

"Shortfalls of civilian planning, Chief. My ride can be exceptionally busy at times... I wouldn't be surprised if this is one of them."

"Nevertheless," the senior noncom grumbled, "this is wearing delicately on my patience, sir. I wanted you out after the crack of dawn and--"

"And I can't flap my arms that hard, Chief." A squint, and a finger raised. "There."

From over the horizon comes a sleek red-and-black craft, spade-like wings sweeping out gracefully from its blended fuselage as it swoops down to scud along the nape of the field, growing ever larger.

"Fancy pilot," Mathers quips.

"She has a knack for it, I hear," Bondayehr replies without a shrug.

The shuttle flares up as it yaws right, rolling slightly to bleed off speed until it settles into a gentle hover not ten meters away from the two men and settles softly into the grass.

"Definitely a knack," the chief nods.

Nathicana runs through her system checks, muttering a stream of colorful phrases under her breath the entire time. Jacking out, she straightens her cap, and makes her way to the exit hatch. Wearing loose khakis, a form-fitting black t-shirt, her well-worn hiking boots, a pair of dark sunglasses hiding her eyes, she stalks towards the two men with a purpose, one brow arching up at the Lieutenant's new ensemble.

Bondayehr waves with a smile. "Hi, Nathi!" Out of the side of his mouth, not turning a degree, to the chief: "Told you."

"Maledizione, what a day. Gods I am sorry, Tim. Things have not gone according to plan." She pauses, then nods to the other gentleman in recognition.

The Chief Master Sergeant nods in return, face mildly registering what is certainly a voluminous disconnect between expectation and reality. He almost forgets to add "ma'am" to the nod. Timofeyev smiles. "Nathi, this is Chief Master Sergeant Mathers, SMISO training instructor. Chief, this is Nathicana d'Aquisto, Dread Lady of the Dominion."

"Been taking care of the boy, Chief Master Sergeant?" she asks, carfully stifling any hint of the grin she's starting to feel as she extends her hand in greeting. "Oh, and Tim ... nice pelt, there. That the one you mentioned?"

Bondayehr smiles broadly, in complete control of the situation as the chief looks at the hand as some unidentifiable mass, then shakes it firmly to cover. "One of the two; the pantheyr is in the bag. This is the wulph I bagged first."

The chief manages a smile; it's not something his face is accustomed to. "Yes, ma'am, after a fashion."

"Excellent!" she says with a smile. "On both counts. I still can't believe you bagged the other using your portcomp," she continues, grinning at Bondayehr, then looking him over more closely, nodding thoughtfully. Not quite the same boy at all, are you? "I ah ... hrm. Permission to take yon charge off base then, sir?" she asks Mathers politely.

Mathers actually chuckles. "Chief, ma'am."

"He's big about customs and courtesies, Nathi," Bondayehr cuts in.

"Anyway, permission granted, as if you needed it. Get the lieutenant out of my sight before I'm forced to start practicing drill."

Timofeyev shudders appropriately. "Marching by oneself is so dull..."

"Ah, mi dispiace," she says. "Was meant as--" she starts to say, then arches a brow at the both of them, her chin tilting up ever so slightly. "Am I right in understanding the boy has been held accountable for my tardiness, Chief Master Sergeant?" she asks archly.

Mathers gets a secret smile and stands his ground. "No, ma'am. He has been held accountable for an unfortunate inability to meet a perfectly reasonable training-related request."

"As he should be. For if it were otherwise, I would request the same task be applied to myself. Accountability is not something that ought to be reserved for only some, after all," she says with a curt nod, then turns her attention to the Lieutenant. "Well, Tim? Anything I can give you a hand with, or are you set?"

Bondayehr leans down and shoulders the large duffel bag. "Nope, this is it. Have a good weekend, Chief." As he starts towards the shuttle, the Chief brings him up short with a quick bark in command voice. "You did say I was one for customs and courtesies, sir."

Barely suppressing a smile, the lieutenant pivots on his heels and stands as close to attention as he can with the duffel as the Chief salutes with a sly smile. "Good afternoon, sir."

Bondayehr returns the salute--"Good afternoon, Chief"--and drops it, soon followed by the chief. Turning to Nathi, he smiles. "Yup, all set."

Nathi casts a quick look between the two, hiding it behind her glasses. The corners of her lips turn up in a little smile, and she nods again to Mathers.

"Grazie, Chief," she says, a brief pause between the two. "I'll bring him back in no worse wear than he's leaving in, I promise you that. Despite past performance." A wry grin at Timofeyev, and she sets off back to the shuttle, one hand raised in a gesture of farewell.

Mathers nods. "Either way, I'll just write it off as supplimentary training. Good afternoon, ma'am."

"And you, Chief," she says over her shoulder. "Getting along well, are we?" she asks Bondayehr quietly once they reach the shuttle, nodding towards the back for a place to stow his gear.

"Not in front of the other trainees, of course," Timofeyev replies as he carefully slips the duffel into the receptacle and battens it down with bungee cords. "But yes, in an odd way, we are."

"Somehow, I didn't doubt. I've been hearing good things in the reports - as much as they let on, of course. Dry reading for the most part, but I appreciate your allowing me to keep up on your progress." She makes her way to her seat, settles herself in properly, and jacks in to start her preflight checks as she always does.

Bondayehr nods, taking the jumpseat in the aft-starboard of the forward cabin, just behind the copilot's seat. "Eh. Can't hurt."

Seeing everything in order, she waits for clearance, and takes off as quickly as possible without causing an incident. "Sorry again about the lateness," she says, reveling as she always does in the flight. "So. First on the agenda? And don't tell me 'you're driving'. I've got some time cleared here, after all."

The lieutenant blinks. "What? Agenda?"

Nathicana laughs at that, and pats the seat next to her. "Good enough, then. And why so far back, boy? Can't very well drive from there, you know. Which reminds me - how much working knowledge do you have on these things?"

Shrugging, he slips from the jump seat to the copilot seat, looking over the controls and familiarizing himself with its layout. "Well, I am the child of spacers in a spacer colony. Got your standard HOTAS configuration, comm systems, relative horizons... nav equip..." He reaches out his hands, then pauses, looking over with a raised eyebrow partially obscured by the wulph's fangs. "Permission to fiddle?"

"Of course. You'll have to pardon my ignorance ... in the grand scheme of things, we're still relatively new to the idea of space travel, overall. Not something we've grown up with so ..." She shrugs and smiles, gesturing for him to go right ahead.

The lieutenant nods, shifting the seat forward enough that he can reach the navigation and communication settings on the forward console without leaning forward, then begins snapping switches and setting buttons to configure the navigation systems for Saturnian standard. "I can see it's been a while since you've set these manually... then again, 's not like you have to. Navigation system to Saturn-center relative, Solar meridian, Saturnian equatorial plane... check. Communications system to standard Triumvirate civilian-band... check; sensorfeed connecting with TRAFCOM system... check." He goes about it like a person adjusting mirrors in a car.

Nodding, Timofeyev settles back into the copilot seat. "Systems set to local standards. I don't know how often you bring this out here, but I could establish presets if you'd like. All civilian aerospace interfaces... at least this side of the Trium... are basically similar."

Nathicana watches with interest, smiling and taking note of the differences, and any similarities to her methods while linked directly to the system. "Truth, it's always just been to Rhea," she says in response. Please, feel free."

"Call me old-fashioned, but I've never considered using a jack connection. Better in the long run, but I always figure it's a good idea to have a firm grasp on the manuals." He dials a quick but seemingly long code into a keypad under the navigation controls and taps a confirm key. "There, it's a preset. I've configured it to activate automatically upon entry into Saturnian space..." He shrugs a little. "Again, not exactly something you need with a chromed connection." Leans back again into the seat.

"Grazie, Tim. You know, Xeruyu never did really go over that part of it, and my formal training was never focused much on flight. I found I adapted to the interface fairly well, though, so I've stuck with it. You're right, though. If that were to go down, I'd find myself in a helluva spot." Her brow furrows, disliking that she'd missed that painfully obvious fact in the face of such confidence previously.

Bondayehr blinks. "Well, if you learned from vonKarma, then you learned from the best. Still, ol' oil-and-chrome vonKarma has a tendency towards the new and shiny. I could give you the basics of manual flight; get you better acclimated to it if you decide to go further." Not exactly how I was planning to spend my weekend, but... hell, service before self.

"Another time when you've more of it to spend, perhaps," she says, stretching comfortably. "I doubt very much my baby here is going to kick out on me any time soon. I take good care of her, after all. Lets get headed wherever we're headed - I'll wager you know the way better than I."

The lieutenant shrugs lightly. "I have no idea where we're headed. Not like I've any plans... but you did say that you had to meet with Shodey, right?"

"At some point on this trip, yes. While I can see her in Devras ..." she trails off, shrugging, not getting into the details. "Either way is good for me. You mentioned you wanted to see her as well?"

"Eh, it's not time-critical and getting chromed while in training is probably not a good idea. I don't technically have to be anywhere... which is not necessarily a welcome change."

"Doesn't have to be all business, boy," Nathi says with a soft chuckle. "Whatever would make you smile, and help you relax. You look like you could use it."

"Doesn't, eh?" He rubs his eyes a little. "Nathi, I do homework in my sleep so I can train hard and study hard in the same twenty-four hour period. Coming off month-long work binges like that for single weekends is almost counterproductive... still, Chief wants me out, I get out. So, what would you like to do?"

"Well, if you don't mind then," she says, almost keeping her brow from furrowing in concern. She knows damn well it won't do a bit of good to vocalize it. "I needn't take long. Nearly everywhere I go, mia sorella has an avatar I can get in touch with. My other purpose shouldn't take too terribly long, and it will give the two of you time to visit as well."

Bondayehr nods, easily taking the throttle and force-feedback control 'stick,' actually a sphere suspended in a squat truncated conical base. "Rhea it is, then." Tapping communications to traffic control indicating a free-flight to Rhea, he shifts the throttle forward conservatively and starts the craft moving at an expedient yet unrushed pace.

"So. I've read the reports, I've read your emails. Up to talking about how things are going overall, or shall I continue to try and mind my own business as best I can?" she asks, focusing her view outside.

Hm. Despite not liking these disconnects, I have the damndest ability to get into them. "Life's pretty much a patterned routine. Wake up, run, beat things up... eat... shoot things, eat again, shoot some more, eat, then while everyone else alternates between beating stuff up and shooting things I study for about four hours and type out the essays and whatnot I composed the night previous. Go to bed and use extended-REM cycles for both information absorption and essay composition, wake up the next day." He smiles. "I'm pretty good at it."

"You'd have to be. Christ, man. I'd like to think I keep myself busy, but ..." She shakes her head slightly, glancing over at him with an unreadable expression. "I admit, even having a little understanding of what you were in for with all this, I had no idea just how intensive this training would be. It's good to see you doing so well with it. I very much doubt I could do the same."

He nods at the compliment. "Thanks. I just do my best and hope it works out. Can't let everybody down, after all."

Nathicana looks at him thoughtfully for a moment, and nods. "I don't forsee that being a problem," she says simply. "Your best has been impressive. As for working out - I hope that as well."

"So, how are things going on your end?"

Taking note of distance and ETA via her link, she shrugs, grinning wryly. "Business as usual," she murmurs. "The changes are coming slowly, as expected. And already rivalries and old vendettas are rising to the surface. There's no doubt I've created more work for myself. Still, I hope it will be worth it in the end."

"Honestly--at least in my eyes--reorganizing societies and bureaucracies is a helluvalot harder than learning how to hurt people and break things. Not exactly something I could do very well... best of luck on it."

"Thanks," she says, the wry smile not fading. "I'll need it. I blame you people for some of this, I'll have you know." Her lips twitch more towards a smile, showing the tease. "Damn idealists."

Bondayehr smiles unapologetically. "Damn straight."

Nathicana gives him a sidelong glance, muttering a choice phrase under her breath, but smiling a bit all the same. "Don't think for a moment we're going democracy, boy. The only reason I'm doing this is for," she pauses briefly, then continues in a more sober tone. "For the bambinos. If not for that, I think I could have lived out my days quite content sans royal titles. It was the only way."

"Eh, the heat death of the universe is still a good few billion years today. If not today, tomorrow." The idealist smiles even more broadly.

"Not if I can help it," she says, smiling sweetly, foregoing the first phrase that had come to mind. Joking about death somehow just doesn't seem as funny anymore.

Timofeyev gets the curious sensation that he should change subjects but has no idea what to change them to. He pushes forward on the throttle to cut down transit time by a few minutes, gently changing course by applying some lateral acceleration to avoid what looks to be a small tourist convoy heading towards Mimas. "True, true."

"You've changed," she notes quietly. "Don't know if you've noticed. And no, it isn't a bad thing." Something he'd said before tickles her memory, and looks over curiously as she continues. "This chroming you mentioned. Care to share?"

Arching a brow slightly at the first comment, he replies without hesitation. "Probably a datajack for simplified input-output and an encephalon for enhanced brain activity. That way I could do the work of twelve hours in the three hours of REM I manage to get out of my overclocked brain every night. Anything more would... impede on my current naturally-gained advantages."

Nathi nods at that, pondering for a moment. "I've always wondered if I should have gone farther. I suppose there's still opportunity, but ... eh, call it arrogance, call it what you will. As much as I love mia sorella, I fear to lose my humanity in going too far. What I've accepted already has had unexpected consequences. Well, not unexpected so much as my foresight failed me. And ... impede, you say? Then I'm not alone in my summations?"

"Lots of people think that way. I for one know that getting my fleshy body completely chromed over would somewhat negate all of the biofeedback and chi-focusing tricks that have become my ace in the hole. On the whole, it's more useful to stick with what I have now. This whole brain-overclocking thing is simply expedient."

"Makes sense, that. Not something I'd want to trade off were I in your place. You know," she says with a chuckle, "The first time you showed us that biofeedback bit of yours at the villa? You about gave me a heart attack there."

Bondayehr chuckles. "Good thing I prefaced it, then."

"Damn good thing," she replies. "Handy talent, but rather disconcerting for the observers." Damn handy talent. And another item on a long list of 'things to look into'.

"It's a novel party trick, I'll admit, but faking death is not an everyday-useful sort of thing. Right, we're entering the Rhean STC zone. I think you should take care of clearances and whatnot."

"Righto," she says, keeping her thoughts to herself on that last. "Dominion vessel Tempest, on route to Rhea, requesting clearance." She settles back into her seat, shivering lightly as she reaches out through her link to monitor the systems, as is her habit.

Leaning back, Bondayehr listens to the Zero-One space traffic controller granting clearance and announcing approach vectors as he folds his hands and holds them lightly in his lap.

"Want to take us in, or shall I?" she asks, tilting her head. "After all, I get to do this all the time."

Timofeyev shakes his head, having already thrown away his chance at cavorting in what is essentially a civilian fightercraft. "Like you say, you do this all the time. You know the procedures by heart and are the most qualified... besides, only two forms of paranoia. If Tempest seems to not be moving with Dread Ladylike grace..." He winks with a small smile. "No, I don't want trouble with the QACF."

athicana chuckles and nods. "Tell you what - since you have a point, we'll just let you take over this baby in between these little entries and exits. Sound like a plan?" she asks, transitioning smoothly and heading in as per her usual route.

"As you wish," he says with a smile.

"You know," she starts, giving him another sidelong glance, then seems to think better of it, settling for a close-lipped grin as she works out a landing. "I'm glad to have you on this little trip. Thanks for taking me up on the ride."

"Was either that or spend a weekend with the Chief," he replies, thinking about making a mild "lesser of two evils" joke but pausing and changing course before he does--he gets the feeling it would not be taken well. "This was by far the superior option."

"Well hell, boy. Glad I rate higher than that at least," she says teasingly, methodically shutting the systems down and jacking out. "It's the least I can do, especially after screwing up so much else," she says more quietly as she stands, making her way back towards the exit hatch.

Bondayehr shrugs as he disengages the harness. "Bah. All that's in the past; no point in worrying about it now." He smiles gently, but there's a sort of iron in his voice. "It's always this didn't work or that didn't work. Emphasis on the didn't. Past tense. Truly, doesn't bother me any." A bit gentler. "Please, it's not worth getting concerned over."

"I'll be concerned over whatever I please, boy. If I can't be of help, or can't meddle, at least allow me that." She smiles all the same, nodding towards the door. "On the bounce, neh?"

Timofeyev cycles through the airlock faster than is arguably safe at the trigger phrase. "On the bounce!"

"Sweet Jesu, boy!" she blurts out, wincing. "On th-- I didn't mean 'breakneck speed'. Remind me to dispense with continued lame attempts at levity." She looks a trifle more concerned than usual, catching up and looking him over.
"Heh," he replies sheepishly, "I'm constantly surrounded by M.I. three weeks out of four. It's what we do." Not exactly sure how to respond to the threat of dispensing with levity--can't tell her what to do no matter what--he covers his loss with just that much more self-control.

"Relax, boy. A little won't hurt you, at least," she says, slowly, lightly laying a hand along his shoulder. "Let's go see Shodey, and stop worrying about all this other. We are who we are, and where we are, and that as they say, is that."

The lieutenant nods. "A little relaxation won't hurt, nor levity. Lead the way."
Dread Lady Nathicana
19-07-2004, 04:54
The visit as promised, did not take long. Nathicana was in the habit of keeping in close contact with her sister-in-mind, after all, though there were two little lives in Shodey’s keeping the Dread Lady had needed to see for herself, despite assurances all was well.

Once back aboard the shuttle, just outside of Rheal’s local control area, Nathicana turns to Bondayehr, and smiles. "Grazie, Tim. I appreciate your patience. I don't get up here nearly as often as I'd like, as is, and ... thank you." Clearing her throat lightly, she nods to the controls. "Care for another go?"

Bondayehr simply shrugs and smiles. "Not a problem--you're welcome. Sure, I can fly us over, if you want."

"Open her up a bit, boy. Enjoy it. Now, granted, my flight experiences are limited to flying this, vK's Loki, and a brief but delicious taste of what a Longship is all about, but ... I've found it to be a helluva lot of fun. And you just can't beat the feeling of sweet liberation this baby can give. I trust you - know more of what you're doing than I do no doubt," she says with a slightly mischievous smile.

"Okay... you're asking an Aerospace Directorate lieutenant to 'enjoy' what is essentially a civilian fightercraft. Do you know what this means?"

She grins more broadly. "I'm hoping you'll show me ..."

"Right. Just needed to confirm." Timofeyev grins as he toggles the communications control on the HOTAS setup. "Saturnspace ATC, do we have any freespace for extemporaneous fighter combat maneuver practice? Practice around neutral and friendly terrain preferred."

"Checking... we do have some willing in radial 33 declination 20 distance one million, Saturn relative, radius fifty thousand. Authorization?"

"Bondayehr, Timofeyev M. J., Second Lieutenant, SASD, One-Eight-Alpha-Charlie-Five-Eight-Nine-Five-Nine-Six. Currently flying Dominion Vessel Tempest; if you need higher authorization, just look in the owner registry."

"Nathicana D'Aquisto, Dread Lady of the Dominion," she says in her 'business' voice, re-checking her harness. "I was looking forward to a personal demonstration by the Lieutenant here. I hope I shan't be ... disappointed?"

The voice over the radio pauses for a moment. "Authorized both ways, ma'am... and Lieutenant. Vessels in area have been warned of inbound."

The lieutenant nods. "Thank you, Control." Looking at Nathi, he grins perhaps a little too broadly. "Okay... spin down the dampening just a bit..."--turns a dial on the throttle with his thumb--"aim us in the right direction..."--gentle motions of the force-feedback sphere, aligning the nose of the vessel towards the indicated location on the updated nav map--"and let 'er rip." Pushing the throttle full forward, Nathi and Bondayehr are pushed back into their seats at about four gravities... a miniscule fraction of what they are actually doing.

"You see," he says easily under the added weight, "we do have some traders who like to get buzzed by fighters and so authorize themselves to be 'trained' around. Crazy people, they are, but fun..."

Nathicana laughs - one of those unrestrained, relaxed, and of late, rare sort of laughs. "Dear God ... and they never told me?" She ponders that for a moment, then laughs again. "Nevermind. I think I just answered my own question there."

Bondayehr just chuckles and eases up just barely on the throttle as he rolls and pitches the craft gently towards a blipping icon on the nav display as he toggles the comm controls again. "CS Portsmouth, Tempest. Don't change heading quickly."

The acknowledgement is barely received by the time Bondayehr kicks out the drive, ship coasting and an ungainly cargo hauler flashes past the cockpit a few meters away, perhaps a few shades bluer than it ought to be. Bringing the craft around, he sideslips the drive starboard--three gravities to foreward-port--as he trains the nose on the vessel and keeps it centered as he flashes past again, yawing independently from direction of motion.

Nathi keeps a grip on the edge of her seat, letting out a ululating yell. She keeps her eyes forward, not wanting to miss anything as they streak past the hauler. She gets a feel for what the Lieutenant is doing through lightly monitoring her link, not wanting to interfere in the least. "HELL yeah!" she exclaims with another laugh.

Bondayehr chuckles, concentrating, finding a familiar notch with his index finger as he loops around a smaller vessel, some sort of family yacht by the looks of it. "Hmmm... armed, are we?"

"You think I'd be out here like this if we weren't?" she asks dryly.

The lieutenant grins. "Would you mind setting those to targeting only, Gunnery Officer?" He winks as he toggles the comm system again. "Portsmouth, Tempest. What is your current alert status?"

One brow goes up as she accesses the weapons system, making the necessary adjustments. "Done, Captain," Nathi says with a grin of her own, then, under her breath, "I think I've just found a new stress-reliever."

"Target priority point defense," Bondayehr says in sotto voce as the radio responds: -Well, Tempest, we're at standard for training-area, Alert Condition-- Timofeyev nods to Nathi with a grin as he sideslips the shuttle on an oblique vector that will pass close just over the dorsal side of the cargo hauler's aft.

"You're good, boy ..." Nathi says, still grinning. And I think I've found as well a way to both repay and make sure he gets those monthly weekends off base.

Timofeyev shakes his head with a chuckle. Just take the shot, woman... oh well. "Not high enough. Nyarr. Tempest out. Nathi, I fly, you shoot. Concentrate on PD, secondary targets are hangars and any fighters they launch after it."

Nathicana looks sheepish. "Sorry, had my mind on something else. Will do," she says, settling in, then pausing. "Um ... PD? I get the hangars and fighters, but ..."

The lieutenant grimaces as he rolls the craft hard starboard, avoiding the projected fire arcs from the civilian laser turrets whether they be firing or not. "Point defense. The turrets with the guns on them. Shoot them."

"Hey, I've never done the mock-up shooty bit, boy," she says, giving him a sidelong glance, and grinning all the same as she brings up the controls via her jack. In the more familiar mindscape of overlays and the 'feel' of the ship, she acquires likely targets, and lets loose in a series of short, controlled bursts.

"First time for everything. I'm not a trained fighter pilot, so I'm going to swing so you can get their hangar doors... try to go for hinges if you can. Breaking port." With that bare warning, he sideslips the craft again past the hauler's bulky hull, passing within five meters of it as he rolls to keep the chin turret oriented towards the target.

Nathicana swears softly under her breath, gritting her teeth as she focuses on the desired targets. Hinges, eh? Here goes nothing. She fires as they come up on the doors, trying not to let their speed and close proximity to the hauler intimidate her.

Passing clear, Timofeyev swings the craft around for another pass, keeping Tempest moving to change aspect of attack constantly in relation to the hauler. "Hrm... still have a minute maybe 'till they can get fighters off--" A red light starts blinking on the nav-display. "Shit," and Bondayehr jinks the craft hard aft, pitching the nose up and yawing port to clear the vessel's targeting laser. "Bleah. Clean hit but not enough to pass armor integrity." He then swings the craft backwards back over the ship, this time giving Nathi some more room to work with.

"Aw bloody hell," she grumbles, continuing a string of invectives in her native tongue. She moves quickly to lock in a target and fires again, laying it in hard and fast as the system allows.

"Sorry, not the best pilot myself," the lieutenant grimaces as he orbits quickly around the ship's circumference, Nathi's firepower used to full effect against the fighter bays. -No fair, Tempest-, the radio crackles. "Priority turrets," Bondayehr says with a grin. "Nice shooting."

"Bah. No need to cover up for my mistakes," she says, flashing him a wry grin. "Your flying is just fine. Acknowledged," she finishes, her confidence building as she targets the gun turrets, firing away as they come in range.

Bondayehr winces as the red light comes back on--"Breaking starboard"--and jinks the craft back in that direction, pulling about again. "Actually, my flying could be much better if their targeting is any indication. We can't take that again." He sets his jaw in concentration, sideslipping to near the aft of the craft, using the smaller arcs there to his advantage.

Nathicana keeps her focus on targeting and firing at the turrets, scanning for any other appropriate opportunities that arise. Her own jaw is clenched, scowling darkly as she avoids a reply for now, obviously playing to win.

The next salvo from Tempest clears out a blind area to the hauler's aft-port, Timofeyev working hard to keep the shuttle inside it as the dropship begins emergency maneuvers, those point-defense weapons clear to fire missing by mere centimeters in some cases. "Just clear out a few more turrets and we can hang in the shadows long enough to disable the drive," he says, still concentrating.

She nods firmly, making some quick calculations and focusing her fire on the areas best suited to giving them the break they need. She keeps her cursing to herself for now, he face tight with concentration as she keeps up the barrage.

Centimeters in each direction, the shadow slowly increases as Nathi removes turret after turret from the game and Bondayehr keeps the shuttle inside of the small void area where the guns can't reach it. The ship itself shifts back and forth, pitching, yawing, and rolling to shake the shuttle. As the window expands, Timofeyev moves to buy himself more room and time. Nathi sights on the last turret on this broadside of the vessel just as it jinks away, getting in one last shot before Bondayehr is able to follow the ship.

"Well..." Bondayehr grins. "Portsmouth, Tempest. Checkmate. Nathi, target engine subsystems."

"Understood," she says curtly, scanning the hauler and making her mark. "And ... firing." Her eyes narrowed, she turns her fire on the desired target and lays in a heavy strike, not wanting to take chances.

-Conceeded, Tempest,- the captain of the hauler adds with an honest chuckle, -and sorry about your port wing.-

Bondayehr looks at the blinking display and shrugs. "Eh, didn't need it anyway. Happy trails, Portsmouth."

"Damn," Nathi says, letting out a slow breath. "That was hell and gone different from the target practice I've had before. Nice flying, boy," she says, turning to Timofeyev with a growing smile, relaxing a bit now that the exercise is over. "Think I learned rather a lot just watching you."

Bondayehr grins sheepishly. "Eh, my reaction times and skills are way sub-par. Not any elite fighter pilot yet... how's about we accept our sorta-win and head on out?"

"You're driving," she says with a wink. "I'm quite content to go along with whatever."

"Righto. We can probably put down at Al Mahdi airbase and... yeah. That'll work, actually." He shakes his head as he changes Tempest's course. "I get stopped enough as is. You and I walking about... oi, we'd never get past anyone. You need camouflage."

"I need what?" she asks, surprised, clearly having not thought it out.
24-07-2004, 20:52
Landing at the aerospace directorate base outside of Stonozka, the Lt. stashes the wulph pelt in favor of a more conventional uniform and leads Nath to their destination. Stepping into the base exchange with its bright, cheerful lighting and white linoleum mercantile flooring, Bondayehr removes his cover and stows it in the left cargo pocket of his fatigue trousers with a smooth, practiced motion. Looking up momentarily to get his bearing, he turns and walks towards the clothing section.

Nathicana by comparison, keeps her hat firmly on, as well as her shades. She follows along with a casual gait, one brow arching up curiously as she notes their destination. "I appreciate shopping as much as the next gal, but is there a point to this?" she murmurs.

"Camouflage," Bondayehr says simply, looking around a bit as two female non-coms walk by.

Nathicana glances down at her current ensemble, quite casual and well-worn. "And this won't suffice?" she asks, her curiosity piqued.

"In the Dominion, perhaps," Timofeyev replies, looking over a collection of scarves, "but I'm afraid Italian camouflage doesn't quite fit the culture. 'Sides... dark glasses, floppy hat... you scream 'please don't recognize me.'"

Taking a red scarf from the shelf, he removes Nathi's hat and wraps the scarf around in a quick hijab with a smooth motion before stepping back. "No, you need Arabic camouflage."

"Well ... this is certainly new," she says, fidgeting a bit, brushing the scarf back from her cheeks as she often does her hair. "Nice taste in color, though." Brief chuckle, one brow still arched questioningly.

"It's surprising how easily you can hide someone if you just cover up the hair and have 'em wear something they're not ever seen in. I once heard that a queen of England managed to escape a meeting in Moscow by dressing like a peasant."

"Well, that is one of the reasons I don't tend to go overboard with it when I go out back home. I'm never officially seen in public in anything casual, so ..." She shrugs and smiles in agreement. "I know several who would faint dead away at the idea of the Dread Lady sitting in her office in cutoffs and a tank top."

"Prudes with no imagination. I figure if we get you in a dress, shawl, and do that hijab up right no one can tell you from Nathifah." He folds the scarf over and around as he's seen countless times before, finally draping the ends over Nathi's shoulders.

Stepping back again with a smile, he nods to a nearby mirror. "So, whatchya think?"

Nathicana tilts her head, examining her reflection with a smile, turning this way and that before nodding slowly. "I always did like the Arabic sectors of Devras," she murmurs. "I'd just never thought to try such styles. Nice," she finishes, turning back to Bondayehr, still smiling.

Timofeyev nods with a smile. "Excellent. I'm not about to impose my own lack of fashion sense on you, but that's pretty much what this section of the exchange is for.

"No, no ... I could use your more experienced opinion. Please, if you would ..." she asks, gesturing to the unfamiliar styles.

"Hrm..." Bondayehr smirks, bringing a hand to his chin, looking over the clothing. "Well, can't go wrong with being mildly conservative. Loose-fitting charcoal-colored dress, like those over there... then it's essentially an over-the-shoulders shawl like those over there. Could keep up the red-and-black motif. You'd look very patriotic."

"Smartass," she says wryly. Still, she nods, looking at the noted selections more closely. "I think that should work well. Unless you think a different color would better help with that 'camouflage'." He can't resist. "The last thing I can think of the Dread Lady appearing as is a democratic patriot."

"Oh gods." She grins at him, shaking her head. "Do your worst."

"Well, lesseeeeee..." Taking a loose-fitting but not exactly baggy--'modest' would describe it perfectly--black cotton dress with a slight grey sheen from a rack, he does a quick size comparison. It has long sleeves and is designed only to show the hands and just enough of the lower legs to allow for mobility. Moving over to the selection of shawls, he takes out one of a slightly iridescent red material, then looks back at the rack of them. "Depends. You can go for mildly patriotic by color scheme or... extremely patriotic, because this one has centipedes on it."

Nathicana chuckles, looking them over with an appreciative eye, reaching out to touch the fabrics and appreciate their feel. "What do you think?" she asks, casting him a sidelong grin.

"I figure it's dependent on just how cloaked you want your image to be. The PR if it gets found out, though, could be interesting..." He holds one hand up to the lights, looking past thumb and fingers as if framing something. "I can see the headlines now--'Dread Lady Defects to Democracy.'"

Rolling her eyes, she gently jabs him in the side in a tickling manner. "As if. My sense of the irreverent says go all the way, so lets do it. If nothing else, we can have a good chuckle over it." She makes a half-hearted attempt at staying mildly serious for a moment, but soon breaks back out in a grin.

He chuckles and nods. "Shiny centipedes it is, then." He puts the shawl in his hands back neatly and takes out a similar one except with glossy black centipedes seemingly crawling all over it. "Yup, this is definitely you."

"Dark and deadly ... you say the nicest things, boy."

"That's how we like looking at it," he replies with a wink. "Hum. My 'fridge is probably rather bare, I'd best get some groceries before we check out."

"Let me help out with that a bit?" she asks, carefully hanging the selected clothing over her arm.

"Hm? Well, I do suppose your tastes in food would be quite different to mine. I'm open to suggestion."

"No, was suggesting I assist in defraying the costs. It is only fair, after all, considering these days I tend to eat more than my fair share. Whatever you choose is fine with me," she assures him. "Lead on."

Bondayehr shrugs, doing so. "If I remember correctly, I do have two solid forms of income, only one of which is the Oh-One's salary that I've got two months backpay on. I think you're already paying for it after a fashion."

"That is entirely different and completely separate from impromptu visits and the like," she says archly, failing to hide a secretive smile.

The lieutenant smiles sweetly. "No, I think it does quite well as it is only appropriate for the host to defray the costs of the guest. Such is Scolopendran hospitality... and you wouldn't reject my hospitality... would you?" He manages to make the last two words sound slightly hurt, looking away to avoid any face-reading on Nathi's part.

Nathicana bites her lower lip slightly, biting back one of her more colorful phrases, then sighs softly. "When one is the guest, it is only right to make the offer of assistance. Such is my way. Our cultures are not so dissimilar; we have already established this. However much I may dislike, I concede that it is the part of the guest to try and abide her host's wishes while partaking of his hospitality." She puts her view forward with a vexed noise, the hints of her previous smile still tugging at the corners of her lips. "As you wish."

"Well, score for me," he says chirpily, looking back with a wink and deciding to press on at this rate after having won a concession, offense or no. "'Sides, capital is the means to an end. Isn't any good to me just rotting around in an account unless I'm saving for something."

"True enough. Life is too short to spend it miserable, after all. Go for what you want, enjoy it as best you can, try to live with no regrets." She grins wryly. "It's a good concept, at least."

Bondayehr keeps himself from scoffing, deciding just to nod quietly, willing his face into a smile after a flash of something else.

"Not in keeping with your idealistic bent, I know," she says with a chuckle, checking out the contents of the store as they pass, one brow arching curiously now and then.

Not in keeping with life in general, he finds himself thinking before snapping himself back to the task at hand, going through and picking out whatever may be needed, primarily by necessity but also allowing for suggestion.

Nathicana watches with interest, simply nodding and smiling at the goods procured, not hinting one way or the other if she can avoid it, and quite frankly, not having enough culinary skills to be much of a judge past certain raw goods in the first place.

"You know, I don't often get out to the market anymore," she observes thoughtfully. "Dom and Gianni tend to take care of the household supplies. This sort of takes me back."

Bondayehr nods, then pauses for a moment. "Hm. That's an alien idea."

"It took me a while to get used to it, to tell you the truth," she agrees, casually perusing the shelf in front of them. "This position has made me stronger in some areas, and weaker in others. Knowing this at least gives me alternate courses to set for the little ones later on. No repeating the same mistakes if we can avoid that."

Timofeyev shakes off the personally detestable idea of paid servants and nods. "That should be about it."

"Right then." Nathi nods, following his lead, still mulling over a few things as she walks.

The lieutenant quickly makes it to and through the checkout line, paying for the whole lot with a small tubular device encoded to his biometrics. The resulting bag of groceries gets folded and tucked safely into the massive duffel bag left just outside the exchange.

Nathicana starts to object, then pauses, then walks along quietly for a moment. As they near the shuttle, she murmurs softly, "Now that wasn't in the game plan, boy. Hospitality is one thing, but the clothes I can quite easily pay for on my own."

"Last time I checked there wasn't a game plan," Bondayehr replies with a smile, shifting the large duffel bag a little.

Nathicana offers a short bow, that secretive smile from earlier returning without explanation. "True enough," she says simply.

"So, where to now?"

"Wherever you'd like," she says, smiling. "I am, after all, the guest here, yes?"

"Well, I think first stop is to put away the groceries and dump this bag."

"Feel free to take her out then, Captain. I've no complaints."

"Naw, the shuttle is best left here. You get in disguise and then I can give the Stonozka nickel tour.

"Just let me slip in there and I'll be right back then," she says, taking the clothing and doing just that. The unfamiliar garb seems simple enough, but she can't seem to get the proper hang of the hajib. She finally exits the shuttle, her brow furrowed slightly. "Um, assistance, per favore?" she asks sheepishly.

"Certainly." Timofeyev takes up the headscarf and, taking the traditional "demonstrate how to tie a tie" position in front of the mirror, carefully shows how to wrap the hijab around the head and how it can either be tucked in or left to just settle loosely on the shoulders, the latter being preferred.

Nathicana watches closely, then smiles as it all comes together, turning around and impulsively offering the young man a hug. "Grazie, Tim. So ... look 'proper' enough to pass, do you think?" she asks, affecting a demure expression.

Timofeyev returns the hug then steps back, nodding. "I think so. Acceptable to you?"

"Very nice. Surprisingly comfortable. And I think with a bit of practice I could access my weapons quite easily even with the additional flowing material," she says speculatively. "Well if this doesn't just beat all."

"Hmmm... I've heard wrist holsters are popular for things like this. Limits the size of the heater involved, but works. Now, shall we catch a ride?"

"I'm new to all this, boy. And I'm feeling up for just about anything. Lead the way, I'll gladly follow," she says, taking up her own worn duffle and slinging it casually over her shoulder, mindful of her new headdress.

Taking up his large duffel bag, the lieutenant again leads the way through the airbase, again returning salutes to enlisted and giving them to superior officers, finally checking out at the gate and waiting at the rail station outside.

"Hope you don't mind taking the train."

"Not at all. You have no idea what it's like to be constantly watched and forbade to do th--" she starts, then blinks. "You know just how it goes. Even something as simple as a train ride unescorted by security, free to get on or off where I please ... it is a welcome switch."

Bondayehr nods. "We just find it a lot more convenient in the long run, believe it or not."

"Public transportation is something I've always approved of. We've much more extensive systems in parts of the Dominion, after all, though nothing quite like all this. Old Devras, by it's nature, simply does not lend itself well."

"Unfair advantage on our part, being able to plan for it at the start. It's just that having to deal with personal vehicles in an urbanized setting gets to be an ungodly hassle when the light rail, the bus, or the subways are almost certain to get one within walking distance. Adding that the cities are both above and under ground... sure, most people and families have vehicles for system travel, but inside a city it'd just be a mess. Flying cars are cool and all, but you don't want accidents in them."

"Too much regulation, drain on resources," she says thoughtfully, taking in the unfamiliar views and people with a quiet smile.

The train, your usual futuristically-streamlined-and-hovering deal, decelerates and settles onto the platform. "Eh?" Timofeyev asks intelligently.

"Thinking of it from and administrative viewpoint, boy. No worries," she replies with a smile, her eyes flickering across the smooth lines of the train.

People disembark from the train, then the others embark, Bondayehr and Nathi along with them. The inside of the train is absolutely no frills--enough room to sit and stow luggage but that's about it. "Well, admittedly, it takes a lot. Still, it's more cost-effective than having people flying about smashing into each other every day. Personal vehicles are generally only used for long distance travel between cities."

Nathicana laughs lightly and nods. "That was what I was referring to, silly. Additional air traffic controls etc. Granted, I've been letting more filter down into the civilian range on tech - can't very well keep much from them considering our involvement with our allies - but still, some controls have to be maintained."

"Flying cars... yeah. Cool idea, but a bad one." The wide steppes of topside Scolopendra zip past outside, a sort of light green blur with the large mountains of Xanadu to the east. "'Course, downside is the slight increase in travel time... but that's not too much an issue. If people need to be somewhere instantly, that's what telepresence is for."

"Quite. Otherwise I've found a bit of proper planning goes a long way." She turns her face towards him as she speaks, but her eyes are continually drawn to the alien landscape, the unfamiliar sky. "So different," she murmurs half to herself.

"I suppose it is," he says mildly. "'Specially seeing how most of it is... hrm... not artificial, not manmade... ah. Most of it is our fault."

This brings her up short. "Fault? Scuse? From all I've heard, this is a technological and engineering masterpiece, not something for which to assign 'blame' for. Explain."

Bondayehr chuckles. "Heh. It is a masterpiece. Just a turn of phrase, I suppose 'doing' may be better. We prefer 'fault' though as it keeps us from getting too egotistical. It's a matter of living with the terrain, not lording over it."

"That approach is a bit more ... understandable," she offers, still not entirely understanding the mindset, but willing to go along. "What your people have done here is worth being proud of. There is no shame in that, you know."

Bondayehr shrugs. "Remember, the natural state of this is pretty much barren rock. If it weren't for artificial solettes for energy and sufficient gravyplants buried to fix the local apparent gravity, it'd tend to revert back to its original state. We're proud of it, ya, but we have to keep the change of equilibrium--thus, in a naturalistic sense, fault--in mind else we get complacent and sloppy."

"Similar lines of thought, entirely different methods," she observes. "The complacency thing, that is. Never good. Best to keep folks on their toes ... keep them sharp."

"Yah... and when given a relatively enlightened pseudosocialist society like ours--at least from historical precedent--complacency is almost natural. Still, there are the little things. The state might be around, but we know it has means beyond the obvious; a lot of people don't get involved in service because they don't trust the state wholeheartedly. A lot of people don't get involved in service because they don't trust the state wholeheartedly. A lot of people do serve for the exact same reason--if I'm keeping an eye on it from the inside, it'll be harder for it to trick me. Idealism tempered by reality, after a fashion."

Nathicana nods thoughtfully, running parallels in her own familiar society as he speaks. Trust no one but yourself, and that, only with sufficient proof, she can't help but think, still more than a little concerned about the current situation. "One wonders sometimes how your ideal little democracy continues to survive, all the same. Your methods. They would not seem to work in my mind, yet they do. I hope you don't mind when I say the Segments have offered an interesting puzzle on account."

"Well, certainly paranoia isn't as rampant as in, say, the Dominion. There's just enough there to keep everyone on the level. The government practically always comes up clean, except for honest mistakes at times. There's just enough grey area along the fringes and history that keep people guessing. We're still idealistic, we keep working together for a better tomorrow. We just temper it by keeping our eyes open. Really not a bad way to live, happy and alert."

Nathicana nods again, tracing along the seal of the train's window with an idle finger, her brow slightly furrowed in thought. Well, the boy is being trained for it, after all. There's more than one reason this sounds familiar. Mustn't grow complacent her myself.

"The last thing we need is a complacent sheep-like populace, and so I think sometimes we actually do things to raise eyebrows and get people to rise to the challenge... then again, I believe in Ghostwriter, so what do I know?" He chuckles softly.

"One of several things I've heard mentioned that I need more information on," she notes, giving him a sidelong glance. "And agreed on the former. Constant vigilance - keeps us all on our toes. If I managed a nation of sheep, after all, I'd not have to work nearly so hard."

The train slows to a more dignified pace, passing through on bridges inbetween the Art Deco towers that make up topside Stonozka before finally coming to rest under cantilevered ceilings of what has to be a central station. "Well, here's our stop." Timofeyev leads Nathi out into the crowd, then starts walking towards an open balcony of sorts away from the train platform.

Nathicana can't help but look around, trying to take in as much as she can all at once. She keeps track of her guide, however, keeping herself reasonably close as they wend their way through the diverse group of 'natives'. "I liked the brief glimpse I had before. Different, yes. But different is a good thing."

The balcony is a good four stories off of street level, offering an excellent view of the train line that continues down in the canyon of Art Deco and 1930s German Modernist skyscrapers in the business section of downtown. Four stories down the scene resembles perhaps that in any modern city except that the sidewalks are the width of streets, pavilions for larger street vendors are common, and the four-lane streets are reserved for buses and other such civil-service traffic.

"So many people, and yet, so much space. By damn, the layering certainly does work for you, doesn't it?" And considering this gets her to thinking about being below ground. With all this above. And it gives her ... pause. "Just ah ... how far down do your cities go again?" she asks, more casually than is warranted.

Bondayehr pulls the brim of his cap low over his eyes in lieu of sunglasses as he adopts his best dark-suit voice. "Erm, that's classified." Then, with a half-smirk: "Actually, depends on the population density in the area, but it's at least a kilometer. You'll see when you see the Caves of Steel."

Nathicana chuckles. Nervously. "Right then. I ah ... yeah." She turns her focus back to the unfamiliar architecture, finding it rather fitting with what she already knew of her allies, and while nothing like the mix of styles she was used to, holding a unique beauty of its own.

"Well, lucky me, I managed to score an apartment near the train tracks." He points to a slightly more window-oriented building across the street, a skyway leading towards it after passing through a tower which accepts and dispenses pedestrians from and on street-level. Shouldering his bag, the lieutenant leads the way through the thick yet polite crowds of people, quite a few wearing little more than accessorized birthday suits. It's a warm day.

While nudity is not something that has ever bothered the woman, it isn't something she's accustomed to seeing in the streets. The only indication of her curiosity is an arched brow as she casually observes the eclectic mix of people they pass by. And no one would bat an eye, she thinks with mild amusement. How ... liberating. "Hey, a roof over one's head, a place of one's own ... At your age I'd have given a lot for such."

The implication goes over his head. "I know. Ain't it great?" Entering the fourth-floor lobby of the complex, he ponders momentarily on whether to take the elevator or the stairs before finally opening the stair-access door.

Nathicana follows, adjusting her bag, as usual, looking around both to acquaint herself with exits, direction, options, and to appreciate the newness of it all. She can't help but smile a bit. "Yes," she murmurs. "It is."

Five flights of stairs and a high-ceilinged, vaulted hallway later--everything seemed to be stretched quite a bit in the vertical, with usually near three meters between floor and ceiling, and doorways around a meter and a half wide--he slips a magnetic tube-key into the lock of a door, opening it and sneaking in just long enough to put away bags and stuff the foodstuffs into the refrigerator.

Nathicana gets a quick look around, as always, curious. She does however, wait politely near the door, not wanting to intrude all the same.

Chores done, he quickly returns to his guest. "Thanks for waiting. Well, now we can hit the Caves if you like; I've got some business I'd like to do down in firstdome. Game?"

Nathicana takes in a breath, and nods, smiling as she lets it out. "Not a problem, and ... as ready as I'll ever be."

"What, not comfortable with the thought of being under a hundred-plus meters of near-solid rock?"

"Well, when you put it like that," she says with a wry grin. "Truth, it hadn't bothered me 'til now. I'll be fine. Just something to adapt to."

"Oh, reminds me..." Bondayehr points abortively at his teeth. "You'll find open lips have gone out of style. One guess as to why... and I suppose I have the perfect introduction to the Caves, then. Do you have a fear of heights?"

"Not as such. And I think I've been around Speaker long enough to know how to handle myself that way. No worries."

"Oddly enough," Timofeyev replies as they go down the stairs--nine flights this time--"it seems like our humans are picking up kzin body language to some extent. Well, if we can tell a 'ret from a 'tosh from a distance at a glance with no effort, I guess it's no surprise that some of their habits rub off."

"A little hard to miss, don't you think?" she replies with amusement. "Not as though--oh." She pauses, understanding suddenly what he was getting at, and remembering that she had of yet, only met a bare handful of kzinti, and had had the benefits of introductions beforehand. "But ah, as you say, adaptation. A blending of cultures is not a bad thing, after all. Look at yourselves. It adds strength."

"Not calling it good or bad, it's just happening." He shrugs eloquently. "We don't grin with bared teeth anymore and we're not exactly as positively responsive to it when we see others do so. Might be good to keep in mind for advertising or something."

Nathicana simply nods as she maintains a sharp awareness of her surroundings. Wouldn't do to get lost, especially in such an unfamiliar place, however nice the locals seemed. She makes no mention of the studies already underway not only on Scolopendran society and history, but all their allies ... and several others. 'Know thy enemy' was an old phrase. Knowing your friends, in the Dominion, went hand in hand with that.

"Interesting to live with, nonetheless." Reaching street level, they step outside and then down into an ubiquitous subway station with yet more design elements evocative of the pre-World War II era "modern" and board an odd-looking subway train, a wide and slightly oblate cylinder oriented vertically.

She looks around with interest, stepping gingerly onto the vehicle. "I can't remember the last time I was on something even halfway similar to this," she murmurs to Bondayehr. "I have been away from things too long."

"Well, gonna get used to 'em..." Bondayehr secures some seats near the curved walls of thick plexiglas as announcements declaring the massive elevator's intent to move echoed gently throughout the cabin. "This is a bit slower, but I think it'll give you a better concept of scope here."

"The Caves of Steel are essentially a bunch of hollowed out domes arranged in a hexagonal pattern, with each layer staggered to form a self-supporting structure. A lot of people live and work in the domes, but there's also a lot of office and living spaces in the rock walls, too."

Nathicana settles herself into her seat, peering out inquisitively, unsure of quite what to make of the odd orientation, while understanding well enough the need for it. "When you described them to me that first time, I admit, I had high expectations, but given the scope of what exists above already, well ..." She looks over at him, the usual close-lipped smile she used around Speaker firmly in place, though she fidgets nervously. "This should prove enlightening."

Bondayehr chuckles as the elevator begins to move down, the windows only showing the concrete walls of the tunnel. "First there's a hundred meters of solid rock. Between subsurface Topside utilities and the beginning of the domes, we don't do anything. All the buildings on Topside are made with at least a facade of bunker-grade reinforced concrete--the idea is that everything has at least some level of protection from mishap. When we burned out a lot of the methane in the atmosphere, we needed that hundred meters to protect from concussive and thermal effects. Now it's just standard bunker-philosophy. Be protected without looking paranoid."

"Safety first," she replies with a soft chuckle. "Your solid designs are not only limited to your ships, I see." She does a fair job of keeping her nervousness under wraps, but the telltale flicker of her eyes, the occasional fidgets in her seat, and the way she grips the edges of it now and then tend to give it away. These people build to last, dammit. Nothing is going to collapse in on my head.

After a few moments the sensation of acceleration lessens and the elevator gently emerges into the middle of the sky. Engaging onto tracks firmly connected to the inside of the rock dome, it begins to move away and down from center, following along the curve of the dome. Standing up, Bondayehr leans into the curved wall and points down.

Aw hell. Somehow, there are solid differences between this, and flying. One of those, she realizes, is the fact that here she is not in control. Another is that when flying, the solid material tends not to be both above and below one. Setting her jaw, she stands as well, joining the Lieutenant at the wall and peering down.

Half a kilometer down, the city peers back, like very slowly flying over a city on approach to an airport. What may be surprising is how green it is; the top of practically every building is covered with some sort of garden or farm or such.

"Ahhh ... s'bella," she murmurs softly, lightly placing her hands against the thick plexiglass as she tries to take it all in. "Now that I can relate to," she says approvingly, then glances up to get a feel for the ceiling and lighting of the place, again, curious.

Most of the 'sky'--the dome--is simply painted somewhere between duck-egg's and sky blue, which works quite well when illuminated by a bright 'sun' made up of a large circular cluster of active white LED's along an east-west track of them that bisects the dome into north and south demispheres. White fractal 'clouds' are projected onto the walls by a system mounted atop a building in the middle of the city below, apparently also the tallest one. It's obviously artificial, but not so obviously that it would grate on one's attention.

"Not at all what I had expected," she admits, taking in the view with an towards the artistry of it all. "I am used to such works in grand halls and hung prominently in our museums, not enveloping large sections of a city. Your people have escaped the boundaries of canvas and frames beautifully, Tim."

Timofeyev chuckles. "Thank you. It's a matter of balancing need with desire--make it look similar enough that it serves the purpose of 'sky' but different enough that it doesn't become a replacement. One can tell time from the position of the fake sun, which also serves the usual purpose of heat and light, but it's different enough to make people want to go Topside or Ringside and get real outdoors."

"Complacency being a bad thing," she observes, nodding thoughtfully. "Enough for comfort, but not too much so. Excellent."

"Yup. We limit habitation space in the walls to those that can take advantage of the fake sky. If we were to be maximally efficient, it would be like living deep inside a ship. People would acclimate and become agoraphobic, so we avoid that by using this less-efficient dome concept."

"Balance," she says simply, studying the buildings, the layout of the place while she has the advantage of height still. "I'm curious. Weather? All the green here. Is that something each citizen takes care of themselves? Is there a government sector that cares for the common grounds, public systems for watering and all, lacking rain?"

"The domes certainly are large enough; they have their own weather patterns. They're too big to cost-effectively climate control, so we just go with it. There are parks taken care of by local government, and there are gardens taken care of whoever happens to have that bit of real-estate at the time. Still, it's a surprisingly effective self-sufficient ecosystem. We try to keep each dome making enough food for the people in it so the Topside crops are more of a buffer than a necessity."

"I have had my people doing initial surveys on the underlying structure of the Dominion since we first spoke of these Domes," she admits, nodding speculatively. "One problem I know we have run into is the obvious - techtonic effects and instability in some regions. I am reminded to check on some of that while here on account. Still, there is nothing to say such structures would not serve elsewhere, if not at home."

"Oooh, that could be a problem. We can get away with this because Titan is vulcanologically dead. Earth, on the other hand... the domes should be all right as they're actually in the stuff that's moving, if you do it right. The cities on the inside would suffer the same problem as Topside cities would."

Nathicana nods. "Exactly. While some things can of course be adjusted, we have yet to discover anything that is truly safe from the ravages of Mother Nature. A right capricious bitch, if I do say so myself. It would solve many of our growing population problems beautifully, but as yet, I haven't been convinced, nor have my engineers, that Earthside is the proper place for such exploits."

"We've much yet to research on our end, and I expect a team will be dispatched here sometime in the near future to gather more information. This all seems so much different when observed via dry reports," she says with a chuckle.

The elevator continues to trundle down the side of the dome, making good time as the actual 'skyline' of the city becomes apparent. "Well, we are talking kilometer-wide holes here. It's not something that dry numbers tend to do justice in the imagination."

"Not by half," she admits. "So tell me, Tim. Your preferences. Topside or underneath? A mix of the two? The platforms? Ring? I'm curious."

He shrugs eloquently. "'Wherever I go, there I am.'"

"Fair enough." She looks at him thoughtfully for a moment, then smiles softly, looking out at the buildings seeming to grow and stretch before her eyes as they continue down. Just need to make the call.

The elevator stops at ground level, which produces a mildly surreal sight. The entire city rests on a gently sloping hill, water naturally moving down to collect along the rim of the dome in a river--so the elevator opens up onto a large bridge over a river. The walls of the dome, too low to be sky, are glassy windowed masses like apartments or office buildings which wrap around until they are lost behind the buildings of the city, curving upwards until they abruptly end to be replaced with blue-painted sky. From this vantage point, the unreality of the artificial dome is most apparent.

Nathicana shakes her head slightly as she looks around, trying not to seem the total tourist type, but knowing it's likely all too obvious. "Definitely not at all what I had expected," she says simply.

The bridge also makes a natural place to put a bus stop--lots of people still on their way to get somewhere--which makes it closer to a Venetian causeway than a true bridge. Bondayehr heads for the outgoing station and checks up on the schedule. "And what were you expecting?"

"Not entirely certain," she says as she follows along closely, blinking at the hint of familiarity. "But whatever it was, it wasn't for some reason something quite so aesthetically ... pleasing. Which has more to do with my own limited ideas of functionality, not a lacking on the part of your people, mind," she adds hurriedly. "I've learned long ago there is always more than meets the eye in regard to Scolopendrans."

"I dunno... makes sense to me. We make ugly ships, so it stands to reason we make ugly cities." He grins, close-lipped, as he steps out of the way of others wanting to read the schedule and leans idly against a support.

Nathicana snorts softly, giving him a vexed look while trying to stifle a smile. "I don't buy ugly ships," she says archly, positioning herself so that less of her back is towards the crowd.

"No, you buy effective ships. If you wanted pretty things, you'd talk to the Menelmacari." Said perhaps with a slight note of disdain.

"I like the look and the effectiveness just fine, thank you," she replies, not missing the tone. "Add to that the details of the contract, and one could say I have been quite pleased with the deal overall. Out of idle curiousity, is there a model that particularly catches your eye?"

Timofeyev raises an eyebrow just a hair or two. "Eh?"

"Oh come on, now. Ships. You can't tell me that you don't have preferences there. Personal and military grade. I admit a fondness for my Selene," she says thoughtfully, "Though vK's Loki was rather fun as well. You get to the milspec bits, and dear god, those Grendels bring a smile, though I've never flown one."

"Capships and other such milspec are a bit out of my league. I've got an externally-battered blue civvie shuttle which suits me fine. Anything over that is unspecified gravy."

"Unspecified, eh? Gods, Tim, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you were half afraid of someone finding out too much about you." She chuckles again, shaking her head even as she shoots a quick glance at him from the corner of her eye. Or getting too close. Now why is that familiar?

"Not much to find out. I'm an idealist. I know how to hurt people and break things. Rawr." An electric-powered bus hums up behind him, again letting people off, then people boarding. Timofeyev jerks his thumb back towards it. "And that'd be the bus."

"Bah." She hikes her bag back up on her shoulder and starts off towards it, starting to acclimate herself a bit more to her surroundings. "Not bad skills to have, boy."

Bondayehr half-smirks wryly. "There are better." Boarding the bus reveals it to follow the same philosophy as the elevator and the train; simple almost to the point of austerity, but at least the seats are comfortable.

Nathicana follows his lead to their seats, tucking her bag out of the way. She sits down, casually examining her left forearm, watching the play of muscles underneath as she stretches and flexes her fingers slowly, her thoughts going back to one particular wet, dreary day. "Aye, and there are worse."

"Very few," the lieutenant says quietly. "Anyway, same transportation concept as Topside works down in the Caves as well. Public transportation to walking distance.

"Sounds good. The stations seem easy enough to make out, and I think I noticed access points for public directories?" she asks casually.

Bondayehr nods. "Of course. None of it's any useful if no one knows were anything is."

"So ... mind if I ask where we're headed?" she finally asks, unable to keep down her curiosity.

"Oh, to pick up some compensation first, then I'm open to suggestions or curiosities."

She arches a brow at the first, but nods, opting to wait and see just what he meant by that. "Any particular points of interest that time allows for would be fun," she observes. "Perhaps some of the more unique or historically significant or culturally important spots?"

"Well, most of those are back on Earth ninety degrees to reality. First landing site of Port Arthur is some ways from here and other than the usual museums and things..."

"Would you settle for a good place to eat? My treat," she says with a smile - mindful still to keep it closed.

Bondayehr chuckles with a half-grin. "Works for me."

"Excellent. Lead on, mio cavaliere bianco," she says with a wink and wry smile of her own. "We quest for compensation and food."

At one stop, Bondayehr leads Nathi off the bus. The street-level Caves are a lot like the mercantile row aboard the orbital platform except there is a lot more of it.

The mixture of modern business in the storefronts and more traditional forms of commerce in the broad streets mingle together, everything from foods to cloth to even manufactured wares being peddled. The young man walks resolutely towards a particular building, ignoring some of the more proactive forms of customer attraction used by the merchants, one labeled by a sign that hangs off the facade above it. Stopping and looking up at it for a moment, he shakes his head with a half-smirk and a chuckle.


Stepping inside with a jingle of a bell from the door, Bondayehr calls out. "Been reading Vogt recently?"

Nathicana's eyes light up at all of this, taking in the new sights with a quiet smile, her gaze lingering now and then on this item or that as they catch her attention. She smiles in her reserved manner, shaking her head quietly as her interest is noted by those doing the selling. She nearly runs into Bondayehr's back when he stops, cursing under her breath, then glancing up at the sign before following him in, one brow arched.

Abdul bin-Hassan, the proprietor, is an almost stereotypical Turkish merchant--rotund, cheap blue-grey shirt, red fez, broad smile under a broader mustache, and wearing a snake around his shoulders. "I see you've noticed the new sign, Tim. Brought a friend?"

She smiles, then drops her gaze demurely with a respectful bow of her head.

"Yup. Still have the selection I remember, Mr. Hassan?" Bondayehr says as he walks up to the counter. The inside of the weapons shop is... unabashedly a weapons shop, with various forms of sport rifles and pistols on display as well as melee weapons from around the world.

"Mr. Hassan, Nathifah, Nathifah, Abdul bin-Hassan. I'm looking for something in the heavy carbine range." Handing over his military identification, Timofeyev smirks. "It'll be a surprise if you've got one on hand."

Good man, she thinks, glancing around the room with quiet interest, her gaze lingering on the handgun section.

"You know me, Tim," Abdul replies with a sly smile, "I have quite a few surprising things."

"I bet. Still, if you happen to have a GJMK1A3H pistol-carbine, I'll still be quite surprised."

Abdul rubs his chin. "GJMK1s are rather common..."

"A3H variant. I'd like to keep my wrists... have been playing with one down at Hartmann for the last month and would like to add one to my personal arsenal."

The merchant nods and looks over at the sub-longarms cabinet behind him. "Hm... you mean like this one?" From it, he produces a 25.4 millimeter kzin hand artillery piece, resembling a Bolo Mauser on anabolic steroids with a drum magazine and complete with fold-out stock and human-scaled pistol grip.

"You never cease to amaze, Mr. Hassan." Accepting the proffered weapon, he tests its weight--less than could be expected, thanks to composites--at low-ready. "Excellent."

Looking over to Nathi, the lieutenant winks. "See? Compensation."

"Sweet Jesu!" she blurts out without thinking. "You trying to compensate for your whole unit? That thing is a monster!"

"Well, at least she's careful with her blasphemy," Abdul quips. "I like that."

Timofeyev nods assent. "This thing is fun. Tears an exit wound the size of Madagascar... and it's classified as a pistol to kzin. Hell, I've seen Law-Student carry one around."

Nathicana blushes, clearing her throat softly as she looks over the large weapon, shaking her head.

"Of course, you know it needs to be tested," Bondayehr says to Abdul, who simply nods with a smile and opens a door to the firing range in the back and proffers a gyrojet shell. Loading it as he walks, the lieutenant leads Nathi to the back and grins at the humaniform styrofoam target at the opposite end.

Folding out the stock, he shoulders the weapon, braces with his feet, aims and fires. The styrofoam dummy visibly curls and tears around the shock wave produced by the massive round, then flies apart from the concussive force. "And that, Nathi, is why I like this weapon."

"It lacks ... subtlety," she says under her breath, following the young man out to the range. Her eyes go wide as he makes short work of the target, and she stares for a moment before turning her gaze to him, both brows up.

"Subtlety? This thing is designed to knock down kzin in single shots."

"Not much left afterwards though," she notes, nodding back to the target. "Still ... I suppose there is something to be said for effectiveness."

"Sometimes subtlety is useful. Sometimes it isn't."

Nathicana looks over the target thoughtfully, then back to the gun in Bondayehr's hand. "And ... just how much does one of these little toys run, if I might ask, and what sort of clearance does one need to ... acquire one?"

"Comparable to a smaller-caliber gyrojet rifle... generally, anything over light pistols and sporting rifles requires some sort of civil service qualification, but as eighty percent of the country is in the Civilian Defense Corps that's not a problem. You, on the other hand, as a foreign national... hrm. That's fall under export and customs and be an entirely different matter altogether."

That's falls under export and customs and be an entirely different matter altogether."

"Idle curiousity," she says, nodding. "Nice shop your friend as here. Quite the assortment. And good god almighty ... " she stifles her amusement, shaking her head again as she glances at the target.

"Sometimes a lack of subtlety can be fun." Leaving the range, Bondayehr hands his credstick to Abdul. "It performs sufficiently well. I'll take it."

"So it would seem." She follows him back inside, again turning her attention to the displays, this time focusing on more of the exotic weapons, her expression speculative.

Transaction complete and the resultant stowed over the shoulder by a lanyard, Bondayehr looks over Nathi's shoulder.

"Hmm?" she asks, eyeing one particularly lethal-looking piece. "All set?"


To the shop owner, a respectful nod and farewell. "A pleasure, Mr. Hassan. Turning to her companion, she smiles. "Whither now our path may lead," she says simply.
Dread Lady Nathicana
27-07-2004, 02:53
"Any preferences?"

"None at all. Whether it's familiar or not - I've always liked trying new things. Whatever takes your interest, boy," she says with a smile.

The lieutenant nods. "Hm. Well, there's a restaurant in a top-level park which has one of the better views of the dome. Second tallest building, just short of the Cloud Projector."

"Oooh ... sounds nice. Shall we?"

"Sure. Lessee... no need to grab a bus for this one. We can just go into that tower," he points, "take the community-use lifts to that skybridge," he traces a bridge curving out from the tower, held up both by suspension wires and sturdy metal supports forming an arch underneath it, "and it's just off of that."

"Meaning I get to see more of the city, and how you people get around," she replies with a nod, still smiling, albeit close-lipped. She pauses, then turns to him, head tilted in silent contemplation. "Thank you, Tim. I appreciate you showing me around like this."

He nods with a smile, starting for the pedestrian underpass to cross the street towards the large building. "Hey, no problem. In case you cared, part of the reason everything looks the same is because it's modular. Can't constantly rebuild and tear down buildings in a dome, so we set them up to be vertically expandable and built to last. The insides are modular to be quickly converted for whatever its owners need for it to do at any given time."

"I had thought it to be more an overall design preference," she admits, looking closer and nodding thoughtfully. "I keep forgetting how solidly you blend style and functionality in everything you do. Should have known better. I would imagine, giving your tendencies, they are not only as solid as they look, but cost effective as well?"

"I wouldn't know that, so much," Timofeyev replies as they walk under the sporadic civil service traffic in the well-lit underpass with tiled walls covered in some sort of mural, "but it's mostly reinforced concrete. Sand, glass, mortar, and a steel frame. Not overly expensive, I wouldn't think, but probably not ludicrously cheap either."

"Ludicrously cheap would likely mean a loss in structural integrity, which I just don't see happening." It's clear she's pondering a few things as they walk, examining the buildings in a new light as it were while maintaining a quiet situational awareness. "I would think that styles could be adapted," she murmurs half to herself.

"Well, I do know that the buildings are designed to retain full structural integrity for at least three hours and fifty percent for a day after that in case of dome breach to allow for evacuation via sublevel tunnels..." The entry to the tower retains the simple geometric design ethic with sedate details.

The foyer continues the pattern with low-contrast checkerboard flooring, greys shifting due to an embedded pattern of some sort, with white walls and ceiling offset by bits of vibrant color on various accents like the broad semicircular reception desk, managing to add interest without being painful. The public-use elevators--clearly labeled in both English and Arabic--are much larger than the private ones further in back, obviously designed to carry far more people.

Nathicana arches a brow idly at that, even as she continues to scan the unfamiliar architecture. "That's ... Christ," she murmurs, at a loss. If Devras were hit ... God I'd hate to think." As they enter, her smile returns, letting the unpleasant reminder of just how vulnerable things could be pass. "As different as it all is, I find I like it. It ... fits."

"I guess it does. We like durability and efficiency, and we try to design things that meet those two standards. As for whether the buildings follow form or function more... they're one in the same to us." He leans easily against the wall, waiting with the crowd for the elevator. "Ever wonder why there seem to be a lot of recessed alleys with windows in them--if you noticed, that is."

Nathicana chuckles softly. "War isn't all about knocking down buildings and flying missiles," she replies. "I'd hate to be a groundpounder for the opposition in here."

"Exactly. Y'see, we're mildly paranoid in our own right... we're just moderate about it. 'Be prepared,' as it were."

"Only two kinds," she says, putting her own back to the wall while keeping a casual eye on things. "Even if not, only a fool doesn't prepare in some way or other. While lacking the efficiency here, a good many of our own cities, as you saw in Devras, present their own challenges that way. Especially in the old sections. Of course, if an enemy exploited them, it works to our disadvantage as well, so ..."

She shrugs eloquently. "I hope we never have to face such a challenge, even against the odds."

"And we do?" The elevator doors open, and the standard flow of Scolopendran life proceeds--those on get off, then those off get on. "Just in case is all."

Nathicana nods, watching the crowd with interest, again appreciating the eclectic mix they had managed to somehow blend so well. "I'll never understand quite how you did it," she admits reluctantly, subtly changing the direction of convo. "Even with our own mixed heritage, it is nothing like what the Segments have here. We are still dealing with those elements who take issue with our involvement with non-humans and in some cases, outlanders. It's a pity those few lack scope."

Timofeyev shrugs. "We've got some time on you in that regard. Really, it's a matter of mindset--a lot of cultures try to enforce dialogue by denying centrism. We admit that it exists and work from there."

"Fair enough. All things considered, when looking at the big picture, my people have had to do some relatively quick adapting. Our comfortable view of 'how things are' changed dramatically. I know I shoulder a lot of the blame for that, but I think in the end, the benefits far outweigh any growing pains we've had to endure." Her eyes flicker a bit more rapidly at those sharing the lift with them, and she shifts slightly against the wall.

"Regardless, it is no small task what your nation has accomplished, especially given the hurdles they have had to overcome. It is an admirable example."

No one seems to notice--or at least care--even from those who see Nathi's motion. "Really, all we do is try to remain rational about the whole thing. Centrist tendencies exist, and one adapts to them. Everyone's ethnocentric, after all, and so you just keep in mind that both your and the other one's thoughts are biased in that regard and take them into account."

"Of course," she says in agreement, speaking more softly. "I was thinking a bit farther back in history, and encompassing more of the 'whole' in that statement, really. Frankly, given that, I'm surprised the turns your culture took. Could have gone much differently." Nathicana chuckles at the thought.

"It's bad enough to have such nice allies who understand the underlying mindset of me and mine. I'm not sure I could bear to have another 'Dominion' to deal with."

The elevator stops and opens up onto an open deck, probably around thirty stories up from the ground, with an iron railing going around the perimeter. The skybridge actually passes through a large tunnel in the building, which creates more storefront area. "No argument there," Timofeyev offers as he starts heading along the footbridge, just another reason why personal vehicles larger than bicycles are out of vogue in the Segments.

Nathicana arches a brow slightly, but lets it pass, her own wry smile speaking volumes. "Quite a nest of industry you have here," she observes. "It seems nearly everywhere someone has something to offer, while not seeming redundant. Parts remind me of some of the markets back home."

"Well, we do have a lot of small businesses. Think about it this way--a lot of the large corps make products, but they have to be made to last to find a market here and it all looks more or less the same because less models means less production cost. That opens it up for smaller businesses to make and sell all of the individualized stuff. Being smaller, they also have less regulation than the big fish because their opportunity of abuse is smaller."

"Mmmhmm," she murmurs, quietly pondering for a moment, before speaking again. "Much trouble with corruption in the system regardless that you're aware?"

"It was sorta bad a few years ago, under Hertzfeldt, but I understand it's mostly been cleaned up now." Half-smirk. "Even those few who are worthless political animals know that even a hint of corruption automatically makes them an Ardan puppet in the eyes of the populace... and that's suicide, in more ways than one, it seems." His smirk gets broader and more wry.

"Over-enthusiastic patriots not unknown, I take it." Dry tone, though she shiver. "This latest was ... unpleasant. I almost didn't come on account - though I promise I would have kept my word on the ride nonetheless."

"Well, they were unknown. Something worries me about this one. If it were just 'overenthusiastic patriotism' he'd be dead several months ago, not now."

"I'm curious. Care to share?"

Bondayehr shrugs, looking out over the edge of the skybridge as they walk. "There was a big Federal Police and probably SIS case against Al-Thynniyan of ScoloMart for being in the pocket of Xaosis, essentially acting as a funnel for Ardan money to buy out the Legislative Unit. He's now in a boot prison working that off for a good dozen years or so. There were rumors Advisor Spoilsport were connected, but nothing definite. Sentiment against him was quite high at one time."

Nathicana nods, continuing her casual observations. "I found that rather surprising when I first heard of it. I wouldn't have thought Ardan money would have been welcome here, all things considered."

Another shrug. "No society is perfect. There will always be members willing to buck the system for personal gain. It never was and still isn't welcome, which is why all those deals were on the down-low." The bridge passes another tower, and Timofeyev turns to enter it.

She follows closely, that itchy feel between her shoulder blades that she'd had off and on since arriving flaring up briefly. "Well, that's one thing I'm glad to not have to worry about so much. We've never made it a secret that in some things, we deal openly with many different nations, regardless. It all just takes a bit more caution is all. So far, the payoffs have been worth it. For the most part, at least." Despite her insistence, her brow furrows slightly.

"That's your perogative. As for us, we'll not have other nations owning a controlling interest in our affairs." He half-smirks.

"Nor will we," she says firmly, chin tilting up just a bit. "Taking advantage of a market does not equal 'them buying the government."

"Ya never know..." The smirk gets broader.

"Yes, actually, I do." Nathicana looks at him steadily, for once not paying mind to their surroundings.

Bondayehr's eyes meet hers, then flick up momentarily. "Behind you."

"Wha--" Nathi's eyes widen initially, then narrow as several quick thoughts run through her head. He'd act if it were a threat. Trigger response. Simultaneously, she steps to the side and turns, forcing herself not to flinch and keeping her hands away from her weapons, but free to act.

Bondayehr does so as well, and the two guys carrying a heavy cooler up the escalator nod their thanks.

Nathicana glances back down the way they came, then back to the pair, irritated at the way her pulse is racing. "Thanks," she says quietly, trying to shake it off with a weak smile.

Bondayehr nods as he steps off the escalator. "You're welcome. Ya never know when little things come up like that." Another elevator, and the doors open to the top of the building, a green park filled with trees and benches and small ponds.

"Constant vigilance," she murmurs wryly. Upon reaching the top, her smile becomes more natural. "The Hanging Gardens revisited. I could see such efforts easily becoming a trend back home, to those who have the resources. Still just amazed to see it all here at the top."

"Natural place for it, all things considered." The restaurant, labeled 'Matsuya's,' is a little building off on one side with a small patio area, tables complete with parasols. Nathicana follows his lead, looking around with interest.

Timofeyev pulls out a seat at one of the patio tables, letting Nathi settle in before he bows shortly to the waiter and accepts two menus, passing one to his guest before sitting down himself. "They have excellent sushi here," he recommends.

Nathicana quietly thanks him for the courtesy, looking around briefly in her usual custom of checking things out. "You know, I've never had the opportunity to try it before," she admits, opening the menu and looking it over with an air of curiosity.

"Unagi, hamachi, and kani are all good. I would avoid the uni... it's a bright orange color, bitter, and has the texture of gritty paste. Anything other than uni and you're set."

"I ah ... hmm ..." Nathi's brow furrows in thought as she looks over the items again, bearing that bit of advice in mind. "Want to start off with some appetizers and go from there, then?"

"Certainly. I've found sushi works well as appetizers."

"Tell you what. Why don't you choose the appetizer then, and I'll go with the ah ... hey, I remember that there. Yaki Soba. Had that with Shodey back when I--" She pauses, coughs and grins, then continues. "I'll have that sushi sashimi combo I think. Sample while I can, eh?"

He nods with a light chuckle. "Good to get a spread. We could go with yasai gyoza for something different--more a vegetable base."

"Sounds good ... I think," she says with a soft laugh of her own. "I trust your judgement here."

"Heh, thanks." Timofeyev relays the order to the waiter, who brings along a pot of steaming green tea. Bondayehr pours Nathi's cup, then his, before pouring quite a bit of sugar into it. "Any idea as to entree?"

I'd recommend the mukade." He smirks again, perhaps a little impishly.

"Oh?" she murmurs, adding a touch of sugar to her own and stirring thoughtfully, missing the look. "Lets try it, then."

"Right then." To the waiter: "For the meal, unagi don for me and mukade katsu don for the lady, please." Back to Nathi: "So, thoughts?"

"Go for the gusto, boy - it all sounds interesting. You choose, I'll cover it," she replies with a wink.

Bondayehr shrugs and turns back to the waiter. "We'll also have the pan-fried whole panda with California condor relish and a haunch of Siberian tiger while you're at it." He closes with a wink, and the waiter just walks off, shaking his head and smiling.

"Nope. Sorry Nath, 'fraid you're too rich for this joint."

Nathicana gives him a flat look, then rolls her eyes, unable to completely hide the smile. "Imp. Nope nothing. I said I'd treat, and you agreed back there a ways. Now let me try to do something at least moderately decent that won't backfire, hmm? How often do you think I get to go out like this and just be 'normal people' after all?"

"Probably all too rarely. As for the 'nope,' you're still quite free to cover. I just can't fleece you as I ought, apparently."

"As if you would," she says with a chuckle.

Timofeyev half-grins with closed lips. "Point. I still feel bad enough as is with all the recompense for just doing what I do."

"Then don't think of it as 'recompense'. Think of it as someone else wishing to do something nice for you, just because. It's like I was telling Konr-- someone else the other day. I enjoy seeing my friends taken care of." Nathi shrugs, smiles crookedly, then sips her tea. "It isn't as though I can ever properly repay you anyway, so it is how I choose to view it."

"Well, that 'properly repay' bit is silly anyway. Isn't the point." He deftly lets the Ardan reference slide with a sip of his tea. "The fact you're appreciative is sufficient, really." Second time she's slipped today. Something's up.

"Ok, chalk it up to humoring me then?" She stretches a bit, continuing with her tea. "I understand, Tim, I do. I don't feel obligated, so don't let it bother you. The fact that you put up with me is still enough to amaze. And it's ... well, nice to be able to drop the act for a bit here and relax. I don't think I could name another place I could do this, now that I think on it. Makes me appreciate you and this place that much more."

Timofeyev manages not to blush, though he is forced to cover with another sip of his tea. "Aww, thanks."

Despite your damn spooks. Wonder how many they have keeping an eye on things? Then again, for all intents and purposes, I'm lunching with one, in training at least, like it or no. Can't forget that, much as I'd like. She smiles, only a brief flicker betraying any internal musings as she watches him.

The sushi comes out, mostly fish and vegetables wrapped in seaweed and rice with sesame seeds but some, like the eel, are just laid over a bed of rice.

Nathicana sets down her tea, looking over the artful spread with an appreciative eye. "Presentation, quite pretty," she says with a smile.

"Oh yes. That's part of the point."

"Well, a proper meal ought to be a pleasure for all the senses, after all. Now um ... how does one go about eating this properly?" Nathi looks over questioningly, brows raised.

Bondayehr proffers a set of chopsticks. "Step one: Snag. Step two: Stuff in mouth. Step three: Chew."

She accepts the chopsticks and nods, fiddling with them and frowning when they don't seem to work quite right. She glances over at Bondayehr to see how he holds his, adjusting here and there as she tries to get it right.

Timofeyev looks up, then demonstrates. "Hold the first like you hold a pencil by the shaft. Tuck the second one in the notch between thumb and hand, bracing on your third fingertip. Use your index and middle fingers to move the first one, keeping the second still, and you've got grippers." He demonstrates a few times, his sticks clicking together.

"Right." She nods again, making some more adjustments til she has a passably working system going, smiling as she clicks hers as well, albeit a tad awkwardly.

Bondayehr smiles. "Remember, I have several years on you on this. Grip the sushi by the sides; it's usually better to try and get the rolls in one bite and the eel in two or three. Don't bother with being dainty."

"One of the reasons I like finger food," she says with a chuckle, gingerly reaching for one of the rolls. "My own digits alone I know I can control."

"Just be careful to keep the sticks in line with each other. If you don't, you get a force couple and start spinning things around."

Nathicana keeps a gentle grasp on the roll, holding her other hand out under it just in case as she brings it in and pops it in her mouth before it ends up pulling a spin maneuver. She savors the novel mix of flavors, looking quite pleased with herself as she chews. "S' good," she finally says after swallowing, reaching for something else to sample.

"Yup," Timofeyev replies before deftly snagging one of the salmon rolls and repeating Nathi's gesture with practiced grace.

She sets in with a relish, with the expected occasional mishaps, generally accompanied with a giggle and a carefully stifled flash of teeth behind her hand. "How a culture managed to keep such damnably tricky utensils for so long I'll never know," she jokes between bites.

Bondayehr chuckles. "Lots of practice."

"No doubt," she replies with a wink. "So, my Guide. I am certain you have other things you need to accomplish aside from babysitting me. I hope I'm not keeping you from them."

The entree comes out in covered velour boxes, red with goldish paintings on the front of scenes from the Orient liberally pinched from Hiroshige. "Oh, not really. Nothing important to do this week 'cept run some things past my tutors."

"Oooh ..." Nathi helps clear some space for the dishes, impishly snagging one of the remaining rolls with her fingers and chewing contentedly. "I probably ought to let Speaker and Razak know I got here sometime. I figured they probably have their hands full what with ..." Nathi trails off awkwardly then continues with a wry smile. "Then again, the way you folks run things, someone already knows. It is nice of them to at least allow me my illusions."

"Whatever makes you happy." Opening the boxes reveals some sort of filet covered in thick sauce over white rice in Timofeyev's box and, on top of rice mixed with egg and vegetables, a large coiled centipede in Nathi's.

Nathicana can't help the grin when she sees her lunch, and she laughs warmly, immediately covering with her hand as she continues to chuckle. "You know, the last (and only) person who got me to try 'pede was Shodey, and that was the first time I met her. I was too scared not to, to tell you the truth," she finally manages, quite amused and obviously enjoying the memories.

"Now, 'pede on a stick was fairly simple to figure out. How exactly does one eat this style?"

"What I usually do is spear one of the body sections with that sort of long fork they provide, then cut along the joints. Eat it one at a time--the exoskeleton gets softened up in the cooking so it's just crunchy." He grins impishly with closed lips.

"Your only option with chopsticks is to shovel it into your mouth segment by segment. Fun, but hardly dainty."

"You, my dear boy, are so damn lucky ..." Nathi laughs softly again, taking up the designated utensils and preparing to go with the first suggestion. "I admit. Not what I had expected." Popping it into her mouth, she chews experimentally, then grins, close-lipped. "I'll be damned. Tastes like ... chicken. With a crunch. Sort of. Maybe a little."

"Well, if you prefer eel, that's what I've got here. Am willing to trade."

"Silly boy," Nathi says, waving a hand dismissively as she takes another bite. "Eel I can get at home. I don't know how they cooked the damn thing, but it's surprisingly good. I'm not sure how well it would go over in the Dominion or not, but ... it would be fun to see if 'pedes caught on. If anything, I've learned my fellow citizens are full of surprises."

"Yeah, we like them... once you gengineer the poison out, of course." Timofeyev digs into his eel in thick eel sauce. "National delicacy, really."

"So I was lead to believe at SLAG-Aid. I'll bet my expression was priceless when they first brought those out. Shodey really knows how to make folks squirm." This of course brings an extra grin. "One of the reasons I just adore her, I think. You know, it was odd seeing them race the critters whilst munching on 'em." She shakes her head, and continues eating, still quite amused.

"From what I know, Shodey's got quite a bit of experience in that regard." Bondayehr half-smirks. "And being on the receiving end can be less than fun, especially if she's not joking."

Nathicana nods, her smile warming further at that. "I know. I wouldn't have mia sorella any other way."

Timofeyev mutters something about a fat lot of sympathy he gets with a wry smile as he eats more rice.

She tries to stifle her amusement as she continues to eat her own meal with limited success. "I thought sympathy wasn't your bag?" she has to tease finally.

He looks up with a smirk. "Yeah, and you've never had to deal with The Gee-of-Cee being righteously indignant at you. Still, gives me something to talk about, at least."

"Righteously ... well I admit she was a little ah, testy when ... I mean ... hrm. More went on than meets the eye, or was I just ah ... distracted?" she asks curiously.

"I dunno. I'm the one who fainted, as I recall."

"You seem to have survived the encounter not too much worse for wear, all the same," Nathi says with a wry smile, then continues in a gentler tone. "'What does not kill us' ... Still, I understand. I've read the histories. Several times in fact. She is ... quite simply, amazing." Another thoughtful bite. "And while I would do anything in my power to somehow make it so that the horrors she had to endure never happened, I would not change a thing about who she is today. It is unfortunate we cannot have things both ways."

"Agreed... but what's past is past and exists only as a lesson for the now and on. Actually, I consider myself very lucky to be acquainted with her. Just don't want to ever find myself on her bad side ever again."

"Nor would I." Nathicana is quiet for a moment, then smiles. "I doubt you have anything to worry about, regardless. You're a good man, Tim. Even if you are a damn idealistic patriot firmly entangled in the webs of an annoyingly effective democracy." Pause, then an amused wink.

"And loving it." The wink is returned with a close-lipped grin.

"Last bite," she says, offering a segment over on the end of the long forked utensil with a smile. "Sharing is good, after all."

"That it is." Timofeyev accepts the fork with a wink. "They know how to cook 'pede here, that's for sure."

"I've only had it twice now, but even at that, I'd have to agree. I wonder ... investment opportunity if this sort of thing caught on ..." She blinks after a moment, and smiles sheepishly. "A girl has to have something to fall back on, after all. One never knows."

"No argument there. One never does." Remembering the debate earlier, he smiles a little to himself. "So, shall we head back topside?"

"I'm all yours," she says with a little smile of her own.

See here ( for the jump.
Dread Lady Nathicana
31-07-2004, 05:16
Continued from here (

Nathi wakes sometime the next morning, feeling more relaxed than she had in days. There were still things that troubled her, and there were yet things she needed to accomplish, but at least that particular episode was finished. For now, at least. She looks over at Bondayehr, sleeping soundly, looking as innocent and carefree as you please.

Irresistable, that boy. And if he has any clue, he certainly never lets on, she thinks, smiling softly. He shows no sign of waking as she stirs, carefully stretching, then sliding back away from the comfortable cuddle she'd finally dozed of in. Taking care not to disturb him any more than neccessary, she quietly gets to her feet, padding off for a quick shower, readying herself for the day.

She comes out some time later, brushing out towel-dried hair and looking at him in surprise, still sleeping peacefully. Damn, he really is tired. Pondering for a moment, she decides to let him sleep some more. Especially as it gives her time to make a phone call.

Slipping into a set of her new clothes, she walks back to the kitchen, taking out her cell phone to dial in a number from memory, her voice quiet but clear as she glances in the fridge, half pondering what sort of disaster would result were she to try her hand at cooking again.

"Ciao, Zin! Mmmhmm. Been too long. I need to put in an order for a little custom job. Mmmhmm. Just like, juiced up however much you can manage it. Oh no no no ... more than fine. Not for me. Si. Si, that would work well, I think. Blue, silver. Si, bella. When ... eh? So soon? Jesu Christo, man. Done. I'll make the arrangements. Grazie, Zin. I'll be in touch."

Nathicana peeks around the corner into the other room, one brow going up as she sees the Lieutenant still sleeping soundly.

"What the ..."

This gives her pause. While not about to leave without him, or at the very least, without thanking him again, she isn't quite sure what to do with him. Glancing back into the kitchen, she ponders again the probability for Utter Chaos to erupt should she try her hand at cooking. The last time she had thought to experiment, Dom had nearly chased her out of the kitchen with a ladle, moaning for days how the smell of burnt cheese and charred ham was never going to leave his workspace. So much fuss over a simple grilled sandwich, I swear ... But it is enough to deter further thoughts of messing with the young man's kitchen space.

It occurs to her that she had seen a place not too far away that might, at this time of morning, have something to suffice, and fresh to boot. A short time later after a brief jaunt to the bakery in question, she returns, triumphantly carrying a box.

"Tim," she says with a smile, kneeling down and setting her purchase down near him where he could easily catch the warm scent of hot-out-of-the-oven blueberry muffins wafting up from the box. She reaches out to stroke a fingertip slowly along his cheek. "It isn't much, but perhaps it'll get you off to a good start."
31-07-2004, 05:37
"Here, have a teddy bear."

He takes the shaggy brown plush toy, squeezing it softly. "Aww, thanks. 'S cute."

The toy bear wiggles a little bit. "I'm Talky Teddy, and I don't think I like you very much."

He frowns.

"I'm Talky Teddy, and I'm going to kill you."

He looks sternly at the raven-haired woman, who just shrugs with a slightly pained expression. "Fuck. I'm in a Twilight Zone episode."

"Submitted for your approval," says the close-kept man in the sports coat, his distinctive features curled into a wry smile as he punctuates his words with the cigarette he holds between the first and second fingers of his right hand, "a reimagining, or perhaps a retread... hey!" He ducks, arms going over his head protectively as the plushie animal bounces off his head.

"That's it, I'm off."
The lieutenant makes a slight mrrff noise, slowly sitting up as he brings his knees up in front of him, laced-up boots flat against the floor, curled up into a sort of ball. He firsts adjusts the BDU cover on his head, then curls up one sleeve to look over the wrinkled imprint on his skin, lightly tracing over it with his fingers before letting the sleeve back down. Finally, he shrugs lightly, popping the kinks out of his neck and shifting his shoulder holster back into position, moving the grip of the bulky powergun out from where it was digging in under his armpit.

Next order of business is situational awareness; he identifies the contents of the box as potential food as he nods slowly, half-smiling to Nathi. "Thank you," he says quietly. "I suppose I was rather tired."
Dread Lady Nathicana
31-07-2004, 06:01
Wincing, Nathicana silently curses herself forn ot having paid closer attention the night before. Christ, was I really so distracted with ... ok, yes, so I was ... damn, damn, damn ...

"I am so sorry, Tim. I didn't realize ... I mean, if I'd have been less ... that is, I ... aw bloody hell." She smiles wryly, shoulders slumping a bit as she sits down cross-legged, elbows resting on her knees, chin resting against the balls of her hands. "I just can't get a damn thing right, can I?" she says resignedly. "I mean, perhaps I should have let you sleep longer, or at least been more aware of your less than comfortable bits there and helped out."

Observing him closely with some measure of concern, she sighs under her breath. Stubborn. "I ah ... would have tried something more substantial, but ... I'm afraid my domestic skills are somewhat ... lacking. You need some more sleep, boy?"
31-07-2004, 06:11
Bondayehr wakes up with almost disconcerting rapidity, eyes turning sharp almost immediately. "Oh no... everything's fine. I've dealt with worse." Glancing away for a moment, he absent-mindedly scratches at the scar on the left side of his forehead, just barely hidden by the hairline. Yes, the nights on the mountain certainly classify as worse... or getting shot and anemic... or drug and nanite reactions... definitely worse. He looks back up, bordering on chipper (or, at least, as chipper as he ever gets) with a half-smirk. "So, what's on the agenda for today? If I remember correctly, I'm to drop you off at Razak's."
Dread Lady Nathicana
31-07-2004, 16:46
Sure you're fine. Can tell that just by looking at you. I'm fine. You're fine. We're all just bloody fine. When are we not, eh?

The 'worse' parts she can guess at well enough, at least in part. Given what he chose to share, and what she felt responsible for, her return smile is less than confident.

"Oh. You mean, you're not sticking around? I thought when I left you two yesterday that ... well." Aparently they have made other plans. Fair enough. "I don't want to be a bother, Tim. After you showing me a bit of how to get around, and my own explorations last night, I'm sure I could manage and let you get some more rest here or something. Though I admit, I'd enjoy your company."

Nathi gets to her feet, then offers Bondayehr a hand as well. "Reminds me. When you're set to head back, if I'm not here, give me a buzz. I promised a ride, and that means two-ways," she says, smiling a bit more. "Besides. I've enjoyed seeing you, boy. Wouldn't deny me the pleasure of seeing you again before we both have to head back to the grind, would you?"

That and I can't have you taking off without that lil something. God I hope I haven't screwed this one up too.
01-08-2004, 06:03
Timofeyev takes advantage of this moment to quickly ponder how things are going. He'd been operating with the understanding that he wasn't supposed to stick around, just drop off and then let Razak play the host... and he really isn't interested in imposing on the company of his elders. So either he tries to rectify the situation to how Nathi apparently saw it--which again puts him in the uncomfortable spot of having to negotiate multiple people he really doesn't know very well--or he continues with his previous, and apparently false, assumption...

Timofeyev frowns internally. Jeebus H. Hyskos, I'm in a bloody English drama. Now someone's going to come in the door and say "Um... ah... I was just wanting to say... hrm. Ah, would you... hrm... would you happen to want a spot of tea?"

Dammit, this constant negotiation of other peoples' wants suck. Tilting his center of gravity a bit so he rests on the soles of his feet, he stands straight up with a smile. "Well, I should at least escort you to your next host; it's only hospitible." That's a compromise, at least, given the finality of the last question... "Besides, it would hardly be gentlemanly of me to deny you much of anything you wish that I can provide."

He smiles a winsome smile. Hm, yeah. Definitely have to swing extra training time during the weekends. This soap-opera-extra-role crap has to stop.
Dread Lady Nathicana
01-08-2004, 09:39
Yep. Buggered it. Well, at least I'm consistent. This 'trying to do the right thing' bit just isn't for me. No matter which way I try to spin it, it seems I've got it all wrong. Constantly trying to second-guess needs and wants with people who won't talk plainly is enough to drive one mad. It's not as though I can read his damn mind. Why should it be so hard to help someone else be happy?

Looking over at him thoughtfully she can't help but wonder. And why the hell does it matter so much to me that he get there?

The answer to that is, as expected, rather convoluted, and not likely one most would think of in the same given situation. In fact, one answer hardly begins to cover why it is she'd taken it as a personal crusade to see this one boy succeed, be happy, find some measure of contentment. It started out as a curiousity. From there, it had become a need to understand a mindset so foreign to her own. There was, now and then, glimpses of certain simple things that seemed to be missing from her life in one way or another. Whether it be in the form of understandings or ideals, or something more tangible.

He was a nice kid. A good, decent sort. Self-sacrificing to the point of dangerous. Would rather die, literally she was certain, than put someone out or let them down. And he was a puzzle - one that wasn't an easy solve. She was starting to think there was no solution. He was a rarity, and one deserving of better things in her eyes. All that was reason enough, really.

Then of course there were the things that didn't readily come to mind. The quiet thoughts behind it all that she seldom let herself see. If perhaps she could 'save' this one, this boy who was in her eyes too good to be true, who more than most people she knew deserved for things to go right, then maybe, just maybe all those she had taken all such opportunities away from would not weigh so heavily on her mind.

And that is what finally gets her to stop, and think for a moment more. What I think. What I want. What I feel ought to be. Let alone, what I need. Jesu ... And the boy wouldn't even accept a hand up. You think I'd have caught that all earlier.

"Tim," she says in a soft voice, smiling past the odd feeling in her stomach. "I think you've been more than hospitable. Above and beyond, as always. And ever the gentleman, so no worries there. You've more than done your duty, and I appreciate your efforts in going out of your way to acommodate me. Your friendship, as odd as it may sound, is all I could possibly wish for, and more. I need nothing else. So, put all that aside, at least for the moment, and please, just tell me what it is you'd prefer to do, and we'll call it good. Just know that I will not be disappointed, or hurt regardless of what you choose, and that I am perfectly content either way."
01-08-2004, 16:53
Well, she asked-- Timofeyev's lips naturally quirk up into a wry half-smile, confirmed by the gentle yet very wry voice that follows. "Why should I, really? Every time I say not to worry or be concerned or to generally not do something, all I get in response is an imperious tilt of the chin, a haughty little smile, and another confirmation that you are indeed your own person and will do what you bloody well wish. I do understand you want to help, I really do, and it's appreciated." His voice loses the wry aspect, simply remaining gentle. "Still, the simple fact is that I've been thanked time and time again and there's just no real need for it anymore. You're welcome and have always been more than welcome. Just so that's clear."

He smiles. "Besides, I can't hang out with Razak anyway. He's a superior officer waaaay up the chain of command. Doing such violates the appropriate barrier necessary between a trooper and the person who writes that trooper's evaluation reports--essentially, preventing inordinate nonprofessional bias. I'll drop you off and you can have fun; I'll figure out something to do in the meanwhile."
Dread Lady Nathicana
01-08-2004, 20:16
Nathicana, for once, listens quietly, stifling her usual natural reactions even as he points them out, wincing inwardly.

"I let myself forget," she begins hesitantly. He's speaking plainly for once after all, and it would be a damn shame for him to clam up further now. "I'm used to operating around people where the roles and boundaries are clearer. What few friendships I have managed, have been among fellow leaders for the most part, and I'm still learning how it all works. Before Gothicum, and meeting the Trium folks, I never allowed myself to have that. It was simply too dangerous. And in finally doing so, I've shaken the balance I once easily maintained in how I handle things."

Shrugging slightly, she offers up her own wry little half-smile. "I'm trying to take a lifetime of lessons, and defenses, and habits and change them all to meet new criteria. That, and figure out how to balance it all. Perhaps it's no surprise I overcompensate on account. Dammit Tim, I've always been fine when it came to diplomacy and manipulating, and ordering things to my liking. But when it comes to dealing with people just as people, all the titles and classifications and bullshit aside ... lets face it, I fail miserably. And with you it seems, worse than most. And I'm rambling again, with no idea why I'm sitting here telling you all of this." Nathi shakes her head, frowning slightly as she fails to properly sum it all up.

"Tell you what. You try and be honest with me, and for the love o' god, speak your mind, and I'll try not to be a mother hen camp director. Fair enough? It seems to work out more smoothly that way anyways when I stop fussing long enough to think about it."
01-08-2004, 23:44
"Haven't been dishonest yet," he replies with a slight smile, "perhaps extremely quiet concerning my own selfish desires but such is often necessary for the good of others. Still, I understand and will do my best to overcome my usual reticence in speaking of such things. Hopefully, now that we've a better understanding of the mutual situation, any attempts will fare better in the future than they have in the past.

"Still," he continues, smiling a little more broadly, "I don't think you fail as miserably as you think you do. When we're just talking or hanging out, we seem to get along far better than we do when you're trying to either thank me or make up for past ills while I needlessly drag my heels at such things. Once one gets past the concept of who-owes-who, things go far better than, for example, they do right now.

"I think..." Timofeyev rubs his chin, bowing his head slightly in thought. "Motivation is the key to airpower. Random acts of kindness are good--for example, thanks for the muffins." He looks up and smiles. "Habitual acts of repayment or apology or gratitude or what have you only really underline whatever happened, which is in the past and long dead. Sure, I'm not exactly where I wanted to be right now. Isn't going to be that way forever. Sure, things very rarely seem to work out how I'd like 'em to. C'est le vie... le merde." He shrugs with a half-smile. "There's nothing either of us can really do about that; it's just blind, cold causality doing what it does. Seeing how we can't do anything about it, the last thing we should try to do is make up for the multiverse's failings. Just asking for trouble, there."

Bondayehr keeps half-smiling, moving over to the low table covered by the still-disassembled hand cannon before sitting down and quickly putting it back together, sliding components into position and snapping them in place without seeming to pay much attention to what he is doing. "As for the whole rank-consciousness deal, you haven't had to worry about that simply because most of your friends are peers. National leaders, personages of international import, what have you. I'm just a mook who follows and gives orders relatively down on the command chain. On a personal level," he looks over the reassembled weapon, checking the action of the gyrojet feed, "that doesn't mean much of anything at all. When referring to your other friends, like Razak, it does become important as a relation between Razak and I which should be kept in mind. I can hardly fault you for not remembering it because I never outright told you, I think." He puts the heavy carbine back down, wiping his hands off on the cleaning towel before standing back up. "Now you know.

"Sure, I would've liked to have hung out for another day--with no planning whatsoever as to what we would do--but you've previous arrangements outside my ken and that's just one of those daily disappointments to adapt to. No big deal." The lieutenant half-smiles, not at all wryly. "So, shall I get to dropping you off? Can't keep the PseudoEmperor waiting."
Dread Lady Nathicana
02-08-2004, 01:10
Yes, but ... Of course, however ... Still I should ... aw bloody hell.

He's right, of course. And realizing this, and the fact that he seems to so easily grasp some of the concepts she's been trying to make fit with marginal success is irritating, even though it seems to lift a bit of weight off her shoulders for what reason she can't quite fathom. It's the disappointment at the end that stings. Nathi nods in agreement with the rest, murmuring a quiet "No problem," at the thanks and deciding clarity had been achieved, and thus, no more need be said on it. How he manages to do what he does with his new toy however ... Sure as hell aren't wasting time training him up. Reports don't do justice by half, I'd bet.

"I'd like that too. As I said yesterday; it just isn't something I can do as often as I'd like. This won't be a long trip as is, and truth, I wouldn't want to overstay my welcome first time out anyway - despite reassurances to the contrary. I have several folks I hoped to see with the time available, which isn't nearly as much as I'd like." She smiles hopefully before continuing. "The good Chief seemed awfully concerned that you got off base for your free weekends. I'd enjoy setting aside one that works for both on account, if you'd like. No pressure, no plan, just a couple days playing normal folk for a change. With everything that's happening, I'm running out of time for it. Afraid my days of jetting around are about over. As for the offer, I'd love the company. Grazie."

There now. Not so hard, yes? Like they say, keep it simple, stupid.
02-08-2004, 02:07
"Certainly, on all counts. Contact me whenever your schedule seems to clear up."

With a smile, Bondayehr cleans up the rest of the way--essentially just smoothing out what he's wearing at the moment and a quick shave--then escorts Nathi through the relatively labrynthine Scolopendran public transportation system, finally going up three flights of stairs up to Razak's pad. Stepping back with a short bow, he lets the silver-haired man take command; after a quick exchange of thanks and welcomes the lieutenant pays his respects and returns to his little own little apartment.

After puttering around a bit, putting everything back in order, he sits on the low mattress and thinks. Looking at the communications station on the kitchen counter, he remembers that it's disconnected--not like he lives here and would have to use it anyway, right?--and sighs a little, knowing that he's not going to drop in on his college friends without warning. It's not something he does.

His foot taps something--the box of blueberry muffins--and his stomach reasserts himself. With a shrug, he pops open the top and munches on a good half dozen before he realizes there's something a bit... off with the taste. Checking the box again, he reads the name and groans softly. Jeebus H Hyskos, why'd it have to be that bakery? He didn't know whether it was a particular oil or ingredient they used there, but nothing made there ever agreed with him. Absolutely never.

Well, at least I don't have to stick my finger down my throat anymore, he muses as he neatly throws the box against the wall with a satisfying thump before it falls into the incinerator can, then gets up and walks off to the bathroom. I can spasm my stomach at will now! Huzzah for biofeedback!

Whenever Nathi returns to pick up Timofeyev, he's a bit on the green side but doesn't seem to notice or make any comment on it as he shoulders his massive duffel--perhaps a bit more shakily than previous--and hands over the black pantheyr pelt, rather carefully taken care of and with the skull reinserted, though the eyes are somewhat lacking, before heading back towards the airbase. "Just thought you might be able to do something with this."
Dread Lady Nathicana
05-08-2004, 04:11
"Il dio, Tim ... I couldn't possibly. This is yours, after all. You've earned it. Trophy and such," she says with surprise, taken aback long enough that for the moment, his slightly haggard appearance goes unquestioned. Nathi strokes her hands through the soft fur all the same, appreciating its texture, the rich black color of the pelt, not to mention the skill with which it's been removed and cured. "It's beautiful, truly, but it is too much."

She pauses then, looking him over closely. "You're not well, are you?" she asks with concern. "Is there anything I can help with? At least let me take your bag. You know damn well it isn't any trouble. What all have you been up to, anyway?"
05-08-2004, 04:22
"Eh, very mild case of food poisoning--something I ate today didn't agree with me, so I pretty much kicked back and relaxed. I've had much worse before." He looks perhaps a little disheartened momentarily once his offer is rejected, then shrugs it off and tries again. "Hey, I've got the wulph pelt. Smaller animal, works better for what I use it for. I don't walk around much in fur anyway... though if it comes to trophies, I really should start collecting ears. Old kzinti tradition, or so Law-Student tells me."

He closes and locks the door behind him, handing over the mobility duffel bag without hesitation. "'Sides, you do so much nice stuff for me, I figure it's my turn to do something randomly nice. Now if only I could've seen the look on your face when I nonchalantly described having to kill it while writing that letter..." Broad close-lipped grin, with a mischevious look in his eyes. "Must've been priceless."

The process of getting back to the airbase is simple, but reversed.
Dread Lady Nathicana
05-08-2004, 05:54
Nathi half starts to protest again, then remembers earlier conversation, and nods, smiling perhaps a tad wryly. "In that case, il mio cavaliere bianco, I'm honored. Molto grazie. Somehow, I can't help but think it will assist with my 'Dread Lady' image if used properly. Same with the ears for you, no doubt ... that is, sans the 'Lady' part there." This delivered with a more relaxed smile, and a brief wink.

She easily shoulders the bag, still a bit concerned. "I'm sorry about that all the same. Not much of a vacation this time around. Something we shall have to remedy next time. Which reminds me - true, we both have schedules, but perhaps it's best if you let me know when you're up for such a jaunt, then I can see what I can do on my end? I've time yet, after all, and there have to be some perks to being the boss. As for my expression," she says, giving him a mock glare. "Priceless doesn't begin to describe, boyo. I think I nearly choked on my ice water."

I hope I did the right thing in putting that order on hold, she can't help but think as they make their way back, uncertain of the reaction, but willing to wait and see how it pans out for now. No need to possibly insult, after all, and given the discussion on the topic previous, perhaps once it was best to err on the side of caution.
06-08-2004, 00:33
And perhaps that's wise. The transition back to the airbase, and from there to the shuttle, and in that back to the Ring go without incident. The two share quick good-byes then the Lieutanant jogs off on the bounce to unpack and get settled back in according to regs.

Unsurprisingly, he's the first one back. "Enjoy your weekend, sir?"

"Meh," Bondayehr shrugs.

"Sorry to hear that." Mathers leans a little out of the door of his office. "This week's grenades, then after that, launch weapons."

"Oooh," the lieutenant replies with a grin.

* - * - *

Back to the grind.

Wake up early and run. Shadowboxing in-place practice replacing more traditional formation PT, break up and fight amongst yourselves. Don't hit each other too hard WHAT DID I JUST SAY, TRAINEE? And someone, perhaps had a bit too much to drink before coming back tries to land one on the chief and gets a free one-way ride on Mathers Express Ballistic Airways.

While not necessarily disqualifying, such actions earn the trooper a new battery of psychological evaluations. Perhaps he's just not steady enough for the job--no problem, the blow didn't actually land so it's not striking a superior--so we can drum him out of training and send him back to his old duty. He's still better off for trying... and, just maybe, it was a fluke, and we can keep him on. One never knows.

On the bounce to the second range--not the firing one, because even the flimsy metal canopies of the rifle range are not conducive to throwing things in ballistic arcs. No, this range is a holdover from a world war fought one and a half billion kilometers away, a collection of craterized terrain blasted out by explosives of varying strengths that spreads out as far as arm can throw, quickly dying out after fifty meters but additional pockmarks and holes in decreasing density to almost one hundred meters out.

"I hope you exercised your throwin' arm over the weekend," the chief master sergeant announces, "'cause you're gonna be throwing rocks. For twelve hours."

And, yes, they start with rocks. Rocks vaguely matching the shape and mass of grenades, of course, but rocks. The most basic of weapons, and almost universal to any terrain. Again, the range safety procedure is checked out--one trooper throwing, one spotting, each station calling "Range clear!" until all report clear--and Mathers calls a distance. There are no targets here, only little pennants on thin little poles connected by orange strings indicating ranges in the previous increments. The rocks fly in their graceful little ballistic arcs, then thud anticlimactically to the ground.

Then the troopers run out to collect their missiles and return them--"Every single one must be accounted for!"--and it becomes the spotter's turn. Repeat for five-meter intervals up to fifty meters, which takes them into field breakfast--back to MREs, it seems--and that is when the ammunition truck carrying boxes clearly labeled DANGER! and EXPLOSIVES! and GRENADES rolls up.

These, of course, are magic words to any self-respecting trooper and the day improves instantaneously. Sore arms disappear as the grenades are lifted from their little egg-carton like packaging, their weight measured with gentle bobs of the hand. Oh yes, today would be a good day--

"These standard ME82 octonitrous explosive hand grenades are pretty much the portable fire support weapon of your arsenal. The octonitrous explosive creates a thermobaric effect multiplied by a combination magnesium/white-phosphorus sheathing which adds incendiary effects. The shell is, of course, pig steel designed to fragment into several thousand jagged parts to add shrapnel and its attendent physical laceration and trauma effects. It is also the standard on which all grenades are based on and you will learn to throw these to within a two meter circular radius of error at twenty meters."

As it has hundreds of times before, the range again explodes, albeit in as safe a manner as can be managed. Remove the safety pin, flip off the spoon, count, throw. The hours pass by and two types of throws are covered: the traditional high-arc throw, not changed much since the beginning of modern grenade warfare, between breakfast and lunch and the past-ear 'American football' spin-throw between lunch and dinner--the latter using the ME82A2 aerodynamic grenade, shaped like a pointed egg with fins, resembling an odd little rocket almost. This, explained Mathers, is the standard for when you need one end to hit a target, such as ranged armor-piercing HEAT grenades.

Dinner is a march back to the mess halls and its glorious meals of warmed-over reconstituted everything, and then November Platoon returns to its bay after a hard day's training. Bondayehr immediately breaks out the portcomp and notebook and begins studying, preparing for the night. For the night is filled with numbers that the day simply doesn't have enough hours for.

Another productive day at Camp Hartmann.
08-08-2004, 02:09
And so the grind continues. With grenades reintroduced, it is only logical to move to weapons designed to sling them further and more accurately than sheer bodily strength allows. The next week is taken up by a multitude of grenade launchers of varying calibers and types ranging from not much more than glorified flare guns through underslung auxilliarly launchers, through man-portable support weapons all the way to grenade machine guns.

"This is oddly cathartic," Bondayehr says with another squeeze of the trigger. *Blump blump blump blump blump blump*, goes the massive boxy weapon he's curled up around.

"Yep..." Corporal Friedlitz replies absent-mindedly, watching the explosions in the distance through his field glasses after a short pause, the air bringing back the sound of the concussions in a 'pop pop pop pop pop pop' muffled by distance.

The week after that takes it another step up to unguided rocket launchers, covering all forms from ancient weapons patterned after Panzerfausts and bazookas to hyperkinetics launchers and heavy recoilless rifles. Then guided missiles, usually a matter of first trigger to lock, second trigger to launch, all very rugged and simple field systems. Firing unguided rockets against moving targets is not easy... but they pick it up. With working at it for at least twelve hours a day for a week, they have to.

Of course, it isn't all shooting. There's a good amount of time spent in disassembling, cleaning, and reassembling too. The missile phase of training is easily the most expensive, requiring training on electromagnetic (radar and laser), infrared, visual, and even gravimetric homing heads... but, also, it's quite the easiest especially after everyone already instinctively knows to lead the target after having dealt with dumb-fire rockets.

The final event for that month is dealing with energy weapons, where the hardest matter for Bondayehr is to unlearn leading the target--otherwise, it is much simpler than using ballistics. They start with the ubiquitous powergun, more comfortable because of its loud noise and reliance on magazines of ammunition, then moving on to other tools of the trade. Menelmacari plasma rifles, Sunset phasers, Treznorian XML-powered UV rifles...

"Hey, this is familiar." Bondayehr frowns faintly, carrying the weapon with an unusual lack of curiosity and an equally unusual ease.

"Eh, boss?" The corporal looks over. "Use one before?"

"Yup. It's an... efficient weapon, both antipersonnel and antimateriel. You use this toggle here"--he indicates with his thumb--"to set the power of the shot. This end is will approximately stun someone through EM shock and concussive effect, while this end"--he taps with his thumb--"gives you your own lightning bolt shooter."

"Never seen it before." Friedlitz frowns a little. "Where'd you get to use one?"

"The Dominion."

"Ah." The corporal lets it lie there as the lieutenant is called up by Mathers to assist in teaching that particular weapon...

...and finally ending with the old pulsed eraser rifles, with special emphasis on all the nifty things one can do with an eraser. Hook it to your com-gear and use it as a directed radio broadcaster, or combine it with a field radar set and a dish as a makeshift radar emplacement. Use it to microwave what you just shot to a well-done consistency or even take x-ray pictures with it, all capable with twiddling two little dials, one for frequency and another for power. A third dial for bore-cone is optional, but useful for those times that a needle-thin beam may not be useful... such as taking x-rays.

Three more weeks of training down, three more weeks of mathematical nights. "Hope you like the cold," Mathers says with an evil grin, "because it's the GULAG for all you. Read up on survival in the taiga--you'll need it."

"Well, at least we won't die of thirst," Bondayehr mutters.
09-08-2004, 01:58
Dammit, I hate the cold. Bondayehr breathes slowly, in and out, letting his body adapt to the cold temperatures before moving. Frostbitten lungs don't help anyone, and he can take it if his core temperature drops a few degrees...

First objective is to get something warmer to wear than these summerweight fatigues. Second objective is to build a fire to get warm and keep it warm. Third objective, most likely tied to the first, is to get food. He kicks one foot through the snow that comes up to his lower calf. Well, at least I am not going to have to worry about water. Walking into the woods, Bondayehr takes up some flint and quickly makes a simple stone axe from it by chipping bits off with another rock. A trimmed broken limb makes a handle, tied firmly in place with cords made from hardy ground cover. Now armed with a stone axe, he goes in search of shelter, walking easily through the ankle-deep snow among the pyne trees.

He finds a sort of smallish cave with a mouth about a meter and a half in diameter in the earthen dirt in the stoss side of a hill, hidden behind a clump of snow that provides insulation for the animal inside. Probably an animal burrow, he thinks. Moving away from it, he fells some small trees and cuts them into firewood, quickly fashioning a bow firestarter and catching a log on fire. Transferring the flame to a small dry branch, he returns to the hollow and tosses the branch inside from the side, quickly clambering atop the hillock and waiting for something to emerge, axe ready.

A few minutes pass, then a whiff of smoldering hair... followed by a surprised roarish sound and a beyr bashing through the snow, knocking Timofeyev up the hill a little bit. "Damn," he says aloud as his arms go up, controlling his roll down the side of the hill, "just had to be a beyr!" Rolling into a three-point stance, one foot firmly grounded, one knee against the ground, hand down for balance, he looks up. The beyr is definitely angry and not in a curious mood, standing up on its hind legs trying to intimidate. Of course beyrs are quick. I run for it, it catches me, game over. Slowly rolling back on his other foot into a low, stable stance, he readies his axe in one hand, weighing it in case he has to sling as he watches the massive brown-haired animal's motions. His free hand takes up a handful of snow, trying to tighten it into a firm ball--it simply sifts through his fingers. Figures. Still...

He slings the snow in a cloud of white fluff at the animal's crotch. The beyr moves to flop down, protecting itself with its paws. Bondayehr springs up, swinging the axe hard in a wide arc. The beyr turns its head and body, pushing its center of balance off to fall while allowing it to swing out with one clawed paw. The sharp stone blade lands squarely on the beast's skull, sinking deep. The lieutenant feels himself picked up by a sledgehammer blow and thrown into the air, catching the trunk of a birch tree in the stomach as his body wraps around it before falling to the ground. Coughing, he rolls back onto his feet, ready to spring into a ginga--can probably only scare it off now with a swift kick to the nose--before seeing the animal twitch once and lie still.

Standing up and wheezing as his diaphragm recovers from the hit to the solar plexus, he looks down at his warm left arm. Pushing away the tattered sleeves of the fatigues reveals three long, deep lacerations. "Well, shit." Keeping his left arm as still as possible, Timofeyev rips off the rest of the sleeve and folds it into a bandage he ties tight over the oozing wound. Missed arteries... not bleeding freely... mostly a muscle hit, and not ragget. Not too bad. Putting some snow into his BDU cover, he walks back over to his smouldering log and melts the water, warming it to about body temperature before removing his makeshift bandage and splashing the wound clean. Checking his combat boots, he removes a support nail just under the arch of his foot and spools off some loose cording from where the leather is sewn to the rubber sole. A lot of people wondered why Scolopendran boots were made that way--both items seemed completely extraneous.

Sitting down, Timofeyev takes off his belt buckle, which used a powerful spring to ensure that it kept the simple canvas belt where it was supposed to be. Tying the thin thread onto dull end of the nail--it had a sort of lathed-out depression for this--he clips the belt buckle over the first laceration, holding it shut. Removing his belt, he folds it up, then holds it in his teeth before pausing to breathe and concentrate. Dulling the nerve endings would help, but he would have to watch, and that would make it more difficult... so, just in case.

And he started to sew.

* - * - *

Arm washed off and poulticed under a cleaned-up bandage of fatigues sleeve, he returns to the beyr and once again field-strips it, tossing the pelt into the cave. I don't have long until nightfall. If I don't have a fire going to keep my core temperature up by then, I'll have to induce a coma during the night to make it, most likely. If I don't wake up next morning, I'm done for. The pelt removed, Bondayehr's next step is to collect more firewood, then dig a pit just inside the opening of the burrow, lining it with rocks to absorb the heat. Lighting a fire, he takes the pelt--essentially in one piece except for the ruined face and the ears, now tucked into the lieutenant's belt--and covers the entry to the cave with it. With no other option immediately available he slices off some beyr-meat and cooks it by holding it skewered over the fire; it's tough and almost acrid as predator flesh usually is but it's food. "It's gonna be a protein-rich diet this week," he murmurs to no one in particular.

With that in mind, he sets up his portcomp and, inbetween runs out into the cold to quickly slice off more beyr and skewering it over the fire, he types up some more homework, taking grim delight in the irony involved. Once the local Ring sun orbits away from his position, nightfall comes rapidly and he simply stays inside in the warmth of the cave, putting more wood on the fire as needed. The beyr will keep. Using the beyr's skull as a bowl, he melts more snow into water for drinking and cleaning as he removes the bandage again, soaking it as he carefully checks his handiwork with the fingers of his right hand. No inflammation... no infection. Good. I'm going to up the lymphocyte count there just in case; it'll also put all this protein I'm eating to better use. Gotta make up for lost blood, too.

Finally, he digs another pit--being careful with his left arm--and pours water into it before dunking a few hot rocks from the fire into it. He didn't know why, but ever since the mountains of Sakkra he found that particular reptilian habit quite comfortable. Leaning up against the curved wall of the small den, he idly fiddles with the e-mail function of his portcomp. Should I tell her? ... Nah, no need to get her or anyone else worried. She's probably busy as is. 'Sides, she can't play taxi-driver every month.
09-08-2004, 22:05
The rest of the week is simply the collection of more wood in a brand-new beyr suit and going through the refridgerated and quite often freezerburnt remains of the beyr, supplimented with what bits of arctic willow and edible mosses he can find. Lots of protein and fluids to heal muscle and replace blood; lots of time spent meditating to heal more quickly. The fourth day in, he once again bites down on his belt and carefully, slowly removes the stitches; more a curiously eerie sensation of drawing something through the skin than anything that actually hurts. It is a far worse thing to watch than actually experience. Cleaning off the wound and reapplying his antiseptic poultice--crushed pine needles, while not the greatest for the work, would do--he once again wraps his upper arm tightly but not constrictively with his makeshift bandage.

By the time he makes rendezvous with the shuttle for extraction, the wound is well and safely scabbed over, already beginning to flake off. It'll scar pretty badly, he thinks, but that's not important.

* - * - *

"Planning on anything this weekend, boss?" Friedlitz asks as Timofeyev steps out of the extremely busy shower. Everyone is ragged after this particular week, and almost a tenth of the platoon washed out. One trainee, Private First Class Malacara, died from a beyr attack similar to Bondayehr's--she was promoted posthumously a grade to corporal and shipped back home with full military honors. This is one of the things November platoon tried very hard not to think about.

"Bleah." Timofeyev runs the thin white towel over his hair. "I don't have a ride, and I'm too cheap to grab a shuttle. I'm just going to stay at Camp and weather the Chief."

The corporal shudders. "Gah. How you can do that after last week is beyond me. I'm gonna definitely need to get well lubricated and sleep after that."

"Heh." Bondayehr chuckles. "Drink one for me, will ya, Fred?"

"Sure thing, boss."

Mathers pokes his head out of his office door as Bondayehr walks past. "Do you have a moment, Lieutenant?" Nodding, Timofeyev turns on his heels and walks right on into the office as the chief master sergeant closes the door. "Now, sir, you're not drop qualified, are you?"

The lieutenant shakes his head. "I've never even been in a battlesuit before."

"Hrm. That's something the brass up top should've taken care of earlier. We're going to be doing remedial and advanced battlesuits over the next two months... mostly advanced, but we need you drop qualified by the end of the weekend."

Bondayehr leans back, sighs, and looks up at the ceiling. "So five drops in two days, Chief?"

"Better. Five drops in one. I'm thinking Saturday is going to be dedicated to classroom and sims, and Sunday will be ten hours of drops."

"Whoo, fun." Bondayehr grins. "Not to sound adolescent, but I wasn't going to go off for the weekend anyway. No sleeping in on Saturday, I'm to assume?"

Mathers chuckles. "Did you run last weekend?"

"On Saturday, ye--"

"Don't answer that. Sunday, then?"

"Er... no, Chief." Bondayehr shrugs. "I got food poisoning instead."

"Ah, yes, that. No worries, Lieutenant, I think I can tolerate you sleeping in one day. One." The grizzled sergeant looks down from under his brows with a stern frown, then a wry smirk. "I'd ask you about the arm, but I already know the medics have been all over you and I've read their reports. Quite impressive. More Sakkran training?"

Timofeyev nods.

"Right then. Get out of here, sir. You're hereby ordered to sleep as a training directive and you have full authorization to beat the daylights out of anyone who tries to bother you."

Bondayehr chuckles. "Yes, Chief. Have a goo--"

"Oh, and don't do any damned math in your sleep either. I need you rested if I'm going to spend my weekend running you through an emergency authorization grinder."

"Yes, Chief." Bondayehr nods and gets out of the office on the bounce as Mather just shakes his head.
11-08-2004, 03:30
"Right. Lieutenant Bondayehr, what is the proper procedure for performing a drop operation?"

Timofeyev leaps from his desk in the empty classroom. Oddly enough, the stilted formality of answering questions with military customs and courtesies acted as a retention aid. "Chief Master Sergeant Mathers, the proper procedure for performing a drop operation is as follows: First, in the drop bay, fall the unit into drop formation. Then, perform an immediate inspection of every trooper's health and suit seals."

The chief folds his brawny arms and nods. "Do you go over their seals for them?"

"No, Chief Master Sergeant. That is their responsibility and the responsibility of their designated suit safety partner. I am to simply check the summary on their external suit display and trust that the suit self-diagnostics are operational."

"If you find anything irregular?"

Bondayehr remains at attention, belting out the results of the last four hours of class with ease. The chalkboard behind Mathers is filled with numbers written in neat columns, repeated again and again to form and seal memory within the lieutenant's mind. "Seals are to be adjusted immediately; if they need repair that falls out of the drop timeline, the trooper is to fall out and report to the maintenance bay immediately. If the trooper's health is non-nominal as determined by the scanner for any reason, the trooper is to fall out and report to sick call immediately. If drop and personnel conditions allow, the vacant capsules are to be filled with available troopers."


"Then my adjutant checks my readings. If all is well, I give the order to mount. If my suit is damaged, I get a replacement. If I am unwell, command is reassigned. Then I inspect the drop capsules and ensure that all webbing is secure before closing the hatches before getting into my own capsule. The naval technician-on-duty checks my own webbing. Once my capsule's hatch is closed, I call a final verbal count-off of the unit before reporting to the firing room that my unit is secure and ready for drop."

Mathers nods again with a grim face, albeit with perhaps the faintest twinges of a wry smile. "Then?"

"I wait. Then I get launched first along with my decoys, which requires more passivity on my part. I do nothing until space-atmosphere transition is complete. Once the skin temperature returns to nominal, I activate the radar altimeter with my little finger and open the pitot tubes with my ring finger so the altimeter can be corrected to Terrestrial standard numbers."

"Run me through the numbers."

"Yes, Chief Master Sergeant Mathers. At fifty thousand meters, begin drogue chute sequence using my middle finger. I am to ignore the jolt that immediately follows as standard. The goal is to slow to eighty-nine meters per second before ten thousand meters. At ten-thousand meters, I eject the shroud and capsule with my index finger."


Bondayehr keeps his eyes caged, playing out the sequence in his mind. "At that point I have approximately two and a half minutes in Terrestrial conditions to assess the situation and prepare for low altitude deceleration stage. When the altimeter reaches six hundred meters, hit the drogue chute and then open the final chute around three hundred meters. Cushion landing with suit jets and Parkour roll if I have to."

"Good, good. Rest." Mathers nods, letting his half-smile show. "That took half the time it normally does. I'm sure all that brain candy the Sakkrans taught you served you well; we'll have to look into it for standardized training."

"I'd recommend it, Chief." The lieutenant eases up, body becoming comfortably loose. "Simulator time from here on out, I presume?"

"Yup. At this rate, we could fit in a jump today."

The drop simulator has two stages: a capsule simulator and a free-fall simulator. The capsule simulator--popularly known as the Drink Mixer--consists essentially of a model transatmospheric insertion pod (a "cap") hooked up to a four-ring mechanism that gives it all three degrees of rotational freedom, much like space capsule simulators of earlier times or the small amusement 'ride' occasionally seen at carnivals where the person straps in and is tumbled about erratically. Bondayehr straps in, wearing model standard battle armor, then it goes through the paces, beginning after launch. The inside of the capsule is dark, and silent, until suddenly there is a loud noise as the capsule begins to tumble through a simulated atmosphere. Much like the ride, the capsule is balanced so that any tumbling will generally rotate around the inner ear, minimizing any disorientation--it's hardly disorienting at all, but it is quite the rush. Once that ends, Timofeyev watches the red numbers on the inside of his faceplate tick by. They stabilize, cooling down... and then he stretches out his pinky and ring fingers to close some contacts, opening up theoretical radar panels and pitot tubes to register distance from ground and air density, which can then be put into Earth 'standard atmosphere' terms so the trooper need only remember one set of numbers. Three new numbers appear, one showing estimated corrected altitude in Terrestrial terms; once it reaches fifty thousand, he reaches out with his middle finger.

That one instantaneous jolt is far more severe than the tumbling, and, inside a pod, it's a shaking experience. Ignoring it, Bondayehr watches the counter reach thirty thousand, then reaches out with his index finger. Outside to in, he thinks, everything designed for almost the lowest common denominator.

The ride ends, and Mathers opens the hatch. "Good, you aren't dead. Again." Hatch shuts, and Timofeyev is once again in false orbit...

The freefall simulator is much more interesting. It consists of the lieutenant in his fake-suit suspended by cords over a giant guarded fan, obscured from his view by the fact that his faceplate has been covered with a virtual reality rig. The fanblast rather than the cords actually supports his body, the cords are simply a safety measure and act to simulate parachutes as when--

Right, six hundred meters. Drogue-- Bondayehr pulls a cord over his right shoulder, and is yanked back by the cords; hardly disconcerting after having been jolted about so many times in the pod simulator. The altimeter ticks by more slowly, but he's been taught to watch the ground, and he estimates... pulls the second cord over his left shoulder, then checks the altimeter. Two hundred thirty seven meters. Given the chute and his jets, that cuts it close to the safety margin. Theoretically one wants to push it down as low as possible, but that only comes with experience...

-Lieutenant?- Bondayehr's helmet headphones crackle.

"Yes, Chief?"

-You hit two hundred meters and you splat because I say so. Just so you know.-

"Thanks, Chief."

Six hours in simulators later, Timofeyev gets through ten full simulated drops without splatting with an average of two-hundred and ten meters. "Pushing it close, are we?"

Bondayehr half-smiles. "That's the point, right, Chief?"

"I'm not going to dig you out of the ground with a spatula if it comes to that. Now follow me; time to size you for what will hopefully not be the last suit you'll ever wear."

* - * - *

"Heh heh heh... sahweet."

"Stick out your arm, sir."

Bondayehr does as requested while a technician slips an upper-arm assembly over the outstretched arm, latching it to the torso assembly then tightening the seals before adjusting the length. Then comes the armored gauntlet, complete with five-fingered glove with thick, armored fingers. "Now flex your fingers, sir." The technician adjusts the glove while Bondayehr slowly wiggles his fingers with as much strength as he can manage without overexerting himself. "There, that should do it."

"Thank you, Corporal." Bondayehr grins exhuberantly at Mathers. "So, Chief, how do I look?"

"Happy to be wearing two hundred fifty kilograms of myomer and armor worth more than your yearly salary."

"What can I say... I dress fancy. Good thing it's self-supporting, though." This thing's practically weightless to the wearer... of course, that's the point...

"And you do it well." The chief plops the wide-visored helmet over Timofeyev's head and fixes up the seals before slapping the top of the helmet hard.

"Didn't feel it, Chief." The chief fiddles with the neck seal a bit, then repeats. Bondayehr looks up a bit. "Barely felt it that time."

"Good." Mathers nods. "It's good to know when you're getting hit. Juice him up, Corporal. You're gonna walk onto the shuttle, Lieutenant, then you're going to sleep in that suit. Might as well get you used to the life of a trooper while we're at it..."

The Corporal slaps in a new crystal-lattice battery and thunks the lieutenant on the head. "Good to go, sir."

Bondayehr nods, then looks around the fitting shop to find an obviously heavy crate holding machine parts. Walking over to it, he kneels down then gingerly picks it up with both arms... then transfers it to one hand.

The corporal chuckles. "Having fun, sir?"

"Rawwr, I'm huge."

"Stop goofing off, sir, and get on that shuttle. Looks like you will be getting off Camp for the weekend. If I beat you there..." Mathers growls very quietly, speaking softly. "...I'll take back the suit."

Bondayehr bolts through the shop, gingerly poking the large orange button that controls the segmented loading door, then rolls underneath the door as it opens and sprinting onto the field.

"Smart kid," mutters the chief, "he didn't try to run through the building."

"Or the closed door, like the last one," replies the corporal. "I hate having to replace that door. Scuffs up the suit a bit too."
11-08-2004, 23:34

Bondayehr half-opens one eye and peers out of the clear faceplate of his helmet. Chief Mathers simply frowns, slaps the bowl of the long wooden spoon in his palm, then reaches out and raps it against the grey helmet again. "On the bounce, trooper!"

The power-armored lieutenant idly brushes away the attacking spoon as he sits up and stretches out in the suit. Its internal network of webbing and padding made it unusually comfortable, all things considered; it was simply fascinating how the feedback sensors could fulfill the dual purpose of a padded underlayer of armor. Once the area is clear of interference, he rolls onto the soles of his armored boots and stands up quickly, stretching out more. "All right, let's kick the fires and light the tires."

"Right." Mathers nods as Timofeyev looks around. No longer inside the simple utilitarian cabin of the shuttle, they are now what must certainly be a company drop bay. It is a relatively large room dominated by four rows of fifteen cylinders, each two meters in diameter and extending four meters from the metal-grille floor to the plated ceiling. In between the rows there is enough room for three assault-armored troopers to stand shoulder to shoulder; obviously to work out for the inspection. Two large doors in one end of the room lead from the drop room to the ready room where the suit lockers are. Walking over to the forward-starboardmost tube (according to the clear labels on the walls indicating ship orientation), Mathers opens up the thick windowless hatch to reveal the dark interior of a drop capsule. "In you go, sir."

Timofeyev nods then backs into the capsule, settling into the grooves before leaning back on the kickstand, causing strong but light cavas belts to wrap over his suit, legs, arms, torso, and head, holding him firmly in place inside the capsule. Mathers quickly tugs hard on the automatically deployed restraints to check them; some he tightens with a few quick turns of a socket spanner. "Good to go, sir. See you when you get back." He slaps the lieutenant on the helmet, then closes the coffin-like lid of the drop capsule and latches it in place.

Cap troopers are not allowed to be claustrophobic. It is utterly black in the drop capsule, the same kind of lightlessness inside a deep cave. Timofeyev idly drums out a tune with his left hand as his hearing becomes more powerful to make up for the utter lack of sight. He hears the chief shutting and dogging the hatch, then finds himself in silence as well.

He chuckles momentarily to himself. "Bondayehr's Bulldogs, count off!" He hears himself over his suit radio and muffled through his jaw, but there is, unsurprisingly, no response.

A disembodied female voice. -Chrysalis Drop Command to Lieutenant Bondayehr. Report.-

"All present all accounted for ma'am," Timofeyev says as quickly as OTC has trained him to, without commas. "All report go for drop."

-Ack, Lieutenant. Enjoy the ride.-


The lieutenant feels an instantaneous jolt of acceleration as the doors directly underneath his capsule pop open and his spacecoffin is kicked out with a burst of ionized gas. From here on out, according to doctrine, is radio silence except in case of an emergency. He listens in to the secure command frequencies, which is also standard procedure. -Chrysalis reports successful drop. Primary objective is to land safely within the allowable circular radius of error indicated by suit targeting display. Secondary objective is to land as near the target drop point as possible.- Timofeyev amuses himself by trying to remember where Chrysalis is stationed, what fleet it's in, and where he can expect to open up at--

The capsule jars, then begins to tumble, too quick to be disorienting. Bondayehr just hums softly to himself, not letting the dark or the sound or the motion get to him too much. Ninety-eight percent of drop failures are errors in procedure--do what you're supposed to when you're supposed to and everything will be fine. The roar of ionized air dies down as tumbling ceases, and Bondayehr immediately reaches out with his armored little and ring fingers. Soft pops and thunks accent the soft whooshing of the air around the capsule, and several red numbers immediately appear in Bondayehr's vision. Were they any color other than red, they would be painfully bright after the total darkness.

Sixty thousand... fifty eight... fifty six... five four three two one-- Timofeyev reaches out with his middle finger.

*thwip UMP thwip UMP twhip UMP*

Each thwip of the three drogue parachutes is distinct from the three UMPs as they open, in three jolts of deceleration as the capsule begins to slow down. Bondayehr keeps his middle finger ready to toggle spare parachutes if need be, watching his indicated airspeed decrease... Eighty-nine Empress Square. Index finger.

Explosive bolts rip the remaining thin skin of the drop capsule and the restraints holding Bondayehr still to shreds. Immediately balling up to fall through the debris, eyes clenched, he spins about before stretching his arms and legs out, rolling onto his back. Unlike skydiving, the feeling of wind blasting over your face, the freefall of the drop is an odd form of weightlessness. The buffets of the wind are grossly dampened by the armor and feel more like gentle brushes as one hurtles through tiny packets of differing densities in the atmosphere. Opening his eyes, he sees that he is well above the cloud cover; stretching out again, he rolls onto his back and watches the glittering remnants of the capsule disperse through the air in the cloud of chaff it now was.

Odd... Bondayehr scans the starry sky, notably lacking in the dotted-line Arch clearly visible from any point of the Ring... as it is the Ring. It also lacks a Saturn. Checking the horizon with what he knows to be his altitude, the curvature is a bit off for it to be Titan. Rolling back onto his stomach, he chuckles softly to himself. Well well well. A one-man invasion of Earth. Activating his suit snoopers, he looks over the alien terrain and wonders where exactly they've dropped him... but there seems to be a vehicle near the drop site, just outside the circular radius of error. Probably my ground contact.

The guidance concept in a capsule drop is the same as terminal guidance for an intercontinental ballistic missile--there is none. There is no need for any when launch-phase guidance can ensure no more than a twenty meter radius of error when the allowable is a hundred meters; thus, it is almost impossible for troopers to mangle unit coherency during their drop, as hundred-meter coherency distances can be common when the bigger toys are broken out. What few problems arise are when troopers open their chutes too soon and drift from their intended location or expose themselves to enemy fire longer than they should. Bondayehr begins opening his drogues just above the cloud cover, letting out a whoop of excitement as he rams harmlessly into the tops of the puffy clouds. Slowing down further, he looks around at the overcast conditions under the thick clouds and eyeballs it. Low cloud cover, cloudy day... He pulls the final parachute cord at two hundred meters, legs slinging out under him, hands immediately going up to the risers to control his descent in a quick spiraling swoop to lose altitude quickly and safely before leveling out and pointing towards his indicated insertion nav point. Landing quickly takes precedence over landing accurately in combat conditions, he lets himself come down thirty meters short of the goal rather than stretch the glide out. Pulling the disconnect cord, he rolls through the tall grasses of the field to bleed momentum as the parachute goes on ahead and continues to collapse. Ending his landing roll in a low kneeling position, he slings out his training pulse eraser rifle and scans the area.

One of a squad of MIDF troopers claps slowly, the entire group sitting lazily by their APC and their field radar gear. "We were watching the whole time. Eight on the re-entry technique, but a six on the landing, which was hardly graceful."

Bondayehr chuckles and slings his rifle as he stands up. "I'll take a six for my first landing. I won't even ask how many times they've kicked you out of a perfectly good starship," he replies to the elf.

* - * - *

Back on Chrysalis, Mathers debriefs the lieutenant over food. "Pretty good... but you didn't use your suit thrusters. You can slow down your landing times greatly that way--just cut your cords at thirty meters and let your suit do the rest from there."

Timofeyev nods and takes another bite of ship's gruel. "Yes, Chief. Where to next?"

"Now that would be telling."

* - * - *

Yes, the TYCS just called to inform me that they'll be running small-number drop exercises over our territory. No need to be shooting down shooting stars, capiche?

Site security: Command reports that the TYCS will be dropping someone in. If you see him, he is harmless. Do not take action.

* - * - *

Four more drops over about ten more hours. Exhilerating, but exhausting--although Bondayehr was beginning to appreciate the view of the daytime drops. Especially this one--free, easy, last one and then he can sleep away the rest of the day before the Camp grind reasserts itself--

*BAM* The fifth pod breaks away, and Timofeyev looks down through the nearly cloudless sky. "Great," he mutters aloud to himself, "they just had to put me near a water trap. Well, I'd best start angling for land..." With that, he carefully tilts his body to act in some semblance of a glider. (
13-08-2004, 21:31
Bondayehr hits the drogues a bit higher than usual, timing them manually to buy a bit more glide time. Bastards just had to put drop point on the edge of a cliff, eh? Good job for Mathers to make me work for accreditation. Snoopers down, he checks the landing site--some sort of cliffside courtyard, heatsigs scattered about on patrol with one sitting near the drop-point. And all inside the radius of error. Goodness, they're trusting. Hope I don't land on anyone.

He hits the main chute early, using it to glide him the rest of the way over with the cover of a thin passing cloud before tacking against the wind and holding himself still about seventy-five meters above the courtyard. Looking down twenty-five stories, he grimaces. No time to get scared of heights... here goes. He cuts the risers, and the freed clear-plastic parachute wafts away on the wind. To anyone in the courtyard, there isn't much announcement except for the blast of jump jets braking, first in short bursts like someone coughing hard, then in a long burn that sounds like a roaring fire, something like flamethrowers are supposed to sound.

The raven-haired woman who had been eating her lunch at a small table, shaded by a dark maroon umbrella leaps to her feet at the unfamiliar noises, sending her glass crashing to the paving stones.

The battle-armored lieutenant lands half a meter off of exact-drop point, landing with a light thunk on his heavy soles and killing momentum as he goes into a crouch, a cloud of steam condensing around him.

She whips around with more speed than any human has a right to, bringing her handgun to bear on the intruder. Bondayehr looks up, sees a gun drawn on him, and instinctively rolls to the right, unslinging his pulse eraser training rifle without thinking. He uses one arm to shield his visor, peering between gauntlet and the rim of his helmet.

Threat identified, the woman shoots without hesitation, emptying her clip at the invader as she moves quickly towards the cover of a nearby raised planter. The stubby pistol bullets ping off of the armor as the lieutenant pulls the trigger, painting Nathi's chest with a large flashing red dot as he starts moving in a low-crouching run, keeping weapon leveled and firing with months of training, left arm bracing the weapon and acting as a face shield. Medium-caliber pistol; can take those point-blank if need be. "I didn't expect a live-fire exercise!" he yells aloud to no one in particular as he kneels behind another planter and ducks.

"Chrysalis, Bondayehr. Taking fire!" He leans out from behind the planter and paints Nathi's chest with the rifle again, dragging up to her forehead before pulling back. "Is the opposition even wearing MILES gear?"

-Bondayehr, Chrysalis. Understood; we were informed this was a possibility... seems like your trainers are being quiet with us as well... and... we honestly don't know, Lieutenant.-

Cursing as she's targeted, the woman dives for the cover provided, rolling into a crouch, her back against the stone surface. Out of ammo and it didn't do a th-- She pauses, surprised by the lack of return fire. live fire, wha? The voice she can't help but find familiar, though she can't imagine what in hell the boy would be doing here, now, like this. She peeks carefully around the edge of the planter. "Identify!"

"Well, I know I've painted her already--" He peeks out from his planter at the familiar voice. "Nath? Don't tell me this is one of your tricks."

"Tim? Sweet Jesu, boy, if you want to visit there are more traditional methods. And what do you mean 'my tricks'?" she replies, her heart pounding against her chest, still not quite ready to come out in the open.

"What the--look, I just got dropped out of an orbiting starship; drop point is really not something I get to choose, though I'm glad you waited for me to be in armor before deciding to practice your target shooting!"

"My targe--" That does it. She stands up, rising up to her full unimpressive height, chin raised imperiously as she stalks over to the Lieutenant. "Here I am, quietly enjoying my lunch, when suddenly some guy in full battlesuit drops into my courtyard. What in hell am I supposed to do? Invite him over for a cup of tea?"

Bondayehr looks up, slings his rifle, then stands to his also not impressive but taller-than-Nathi height while folding his armored arms. "Okay, point. Fat lot it would've done anyway. Right now you should have fist-sized holes over your upper torso and forehead."

Nathicana puts her hands on her hips, her gaze rising as he does to keep her eyes on his shielded face, one brow going up. "Well then it's a damn good thing you weren't operating live fire, hmm? Imagine the scandal."

"Quite. The paperwork involved would be horrendous, and I'd--"--glances up--"--hi Shodey. What the hell are you laughing at? Ma'am."--glances back down--"have to get implants just so I could do it all in a natural human lifetime."

S.H.O.D.A.N. just shakes her head, giggling impishly to herself as she leans against the side of the house.

Nathicana shifts her gaze to her sister-in-mind, immediately suspicious. "Alright, out wi--"

"Freeze! Drop your weapon!" Several guards who had been the closest come rushing in, Treznorian rifles at the ready, though they look a bit confused at the scene.

Bondayehr rolls his eyes, sighs, and thumbs to his weapon already pointing muzzle down. "Safely stowed, though I'm afraid it's not the kind that I can open the breech on."

"Sante Maria madre del dio ..." Nathi puts a hand to her forehead, then shoots the guards a scathing glare. "A little late, what? Stand down. I just had a friend drop in for lunch."

Shodey just waves the guards off and starts cackling, causing the lieutenant to sigh again and rest his faceplate in the palm of his open hand. "Nathi, I get the definite feeling we've just been stung."

"You think?" she replies dryly. "Shodey, what evil spirits possessed you this time, dare I ask?"

The guards, thoroughly flummoxed by now, ease back, weapons lowered, exchanging several looks of 'what the hell' between them as they inform the rest of an 'all clear'.

"The usual ones. You should've seen the look on your face..." The avatar keeps laughing, shaking her head. "Besides, object lesson to you both in how to always expect the unexpected."

"Geez, thanks." Timofeyev grumbles. "Ma'am."

Nathi gives her a flat look, rather indignant. "And had I been properly prepared, our young white knight here would have several holes in his pretty armor, and likely himself. You know Pellegrino and Masetti are going to use this as an excuse to increase security measures here, goddammit," she complains.

"Right, and as she's already said, if this rifle wasn't hardwired to just give off a harmless optical laser, we would've had have one less world leader to grace our company and I would be rather put out. As would you." Momentary pause highlighted by the tapping of an armored boot. "Ma'am."

S.H.O.D.A.N. shrugs. "That's the nature of wake-up calls for you. And as far as Pellegrino and Masetti, they never really have to know..." The avatar shoots a truly cold look at the assembled guards with a dangerously thin smile. Scopa ... The guards take this opportunity to make an ordered retreat, again communicating with the others over their headsets and getting back to their patrols. One and all in firm agreement on one thing - silence is golden.

"I swear, mia sorella, you'll be the death of me one day with pranks like that." Nathi walks slowly over to the grey-skinned avatar and offers her a brief hug, then turns back to Bondayehr. "So ... now that we have you, what do we do with you, boy?"

Timofeyev shrugs his rifle from his shoulder and idly lights up Shodey's sternum from the hip. "Bang bang. Now we're even. What a way to wrap up ten hours of getting kicked off of perfectly good starships." Slinging the rifle again, he undoes the seals of his helmet and removes it. "I honestly have no idea."

"You know, one of these days I'd like the boy to have a positive experience in the Dominion," she says, shaking her head. "Well, get in touch with your people and verify, I'd imagine. Offer of lunch at the very least, stands. A room if you need or want it, and a ride back to wherever it is you need to go when the time comes," she says, the corners of her lips turning up in a half smile. "For both of you, of course."

"Rest is good. I'm sure one of you can pull rank and put off the debriefing... lessee..." He puts the helmet back on and checks the suit's internal clock before removing it again. "Right, it's about nine in the morning back home. I've got the rest of a Sunday off, five drops under my belt, and have drop accreditation. I'd better, especially after that last pinpoint landing."

"La mia casa è la vostra," Nathi says with a sweep of her hand and a little bow. "We have ample bed space, food is yours for the taking, you know your way around well enough to take advantage of recreational bits..." She trails off, looking back to him with a warm smile. "And regardless of 'why', I'm quite happy to have you here. You will let me or the staff know if you need anything, yes? And sis - can I get you anything?"

Shodey chuckles. "No, I just came in to be a nuisance. At this point I should be asking if there is any way for me to make up for my low sense of humor." She smiles slyly.

Bondayehr looks at a chair and, after deciding that it probably won't do well under two and a half thousand newtons, sits on the ground instead almost cross-legged. "Sure, I'll let you know. Food first sounds good, then a shower and some sleep."

Nathicana gives the avatar a sidelong glance, chuckling softly. "No worry of that, sister dear. I'll find a way for you to do so, no doubt." Her eyes light up with mischief as she casually continues. "Ever changed diapers before?" She lets that sink in as she turns back to Timofeyev. "Well, get yourself out of that suit and comfortable. I'll have Dom send out another plate."
16-08-2004, 15:07
The next two weeks have a new uniform and two areas of concentration. The first is adapting to life in the new uniform, the Scolopendran Low-Observability Powered Exoskeleton. Essentially no more than active-responding nanofactured materials over very thin myomer sheathes, SLOPE is practically identical to standard Scolopendran fatigues except that it is battery powered, enhances the user's strength a bit, and capable of stopping most pistol rounds and high momentum-low velocity rifle rounds (such as long range hits) and generally good at preventing grazes by improving ballistic deflection. The second emphasis is on the use of combat optics and sensors--light amplification, infrared, radar, ultrasound, magnifiers, scopes...

...and camouflage, which transitions into the next week of light combat exoskeleton armor. Standard thermoptic camouflage is relatively easy to use--just turn it on--but one must understand its limitations and avoid locations of extreme optical or thermal contrast. It is also a bad idea to use SLOPE thermocamouflage at extreme temperatures without some sort of thermal undergarment underneath the suit; trying to blend into desert sand or arctic ice is a certain way to get oneself grilled or frostbitten. There are also times when technology is either unavailable or simply not the best choice, and traditional camouflage becomes more important. Face painting, ghillie suits, foliage nets, mud application, hundreds of little tricks and operationally proven concepts that any schmuck can do.

* - * - *

Another month, another biome. This month, it's humid equatorial jungle. Already more comfortable by removing unnecessary portions of his fatigues, Bondayehr's first action is to dig up some garlic and rub down with it--all natural insect protection. Staying away from open pools where leeches tend to congregate, he moves around through the brush, skills learned in Sakkra again proving their worth.

Food and water are not issues; there are plenty of tubers of the yuca variety, and water vines are everywhere. Palm fronds make a decent shelter, and of course there is wood for fire everywhere. The insects and gnats are a pain, though, but protein from various benign beetles and locusts help support the lieutenant's diet.

Then there are the snakes. Bowah Constrictors, Koryl snakes, poisionous slithering... Timofeyev doesn't bother fighting them with anything other than fire at the end of an extremely long stick. Still... he thinks as he works on his homework huddled down under his palm-frond lean-to during the rain, I wonder what kind of animal will attack me now.

The week passes essentially without incident.
Dread Lady Nathicana
19-08-2004, 11:13
To: Chief Master Sergeant Mathers, Camp Hartman
From: Nathicana D’Aquisto, Devras, The Dominion

I have a somewhat unorthodox request, if you have time to address it. Our mutual acquaintance, Lieutenant Bondayehr, has been performing rather well, judging from the reports I’ve had the privilege to review. While this training is somewhat different in many respects from the usual education (understatement could not possibly be more blatant), we have a tradition of presenting graduates with an appropriate token, acknowledging in some way their hard work and achievements. I have no idea if or when such a date may come in this young man’s training, but it is my wish that should he do so, with honor, that he receive such a token.

With your permission, I would like to send a personal craft to your camp, to be stored away or left parked until such time as Lt. Bondayehr has completed his training successfully. Should he do so, it is his ‘from friends’ – no more, no less – as a token of our high esteem and congratulations. No strings, no requirements, other than the usual verification of ownership that goes with such things.

Should he fail to perform to the expected levels of excellence and complete the course honorably, I would ask that a quiet note be sent so that we can arrange to have the shuttle retrieved. I do not ask this to be cruel. I ask this because I know that receiving such a thing if he had not done his best would be a constant reminder of his perceived failure. That being said, I have every faith in the boy, and do not foresee this becoming a problem. I realize you are not in the habit of storing ships for your trainees, nor humoring the whims of perhaps overly-sentimental, foolish allies. As such, I apologize in advance, regardless of your decision.

I close this missive in hopes that I have not already acted too late, and that this request will be viewed favorably. Many thanks for your consideration – please let me know at your earliest convenience.


Fair enough, yes? After that little stunt of ‘dropping in’, planned or no, I couldn’t help but think … Well. We’ll see how this goes.

Nathicana sent off the note using standard Triumvirate encryptions, finished up the last of her work, then headed back down the hall to continue work on setting up one of the guest rooms as a nursery. Granted, it was a task that could have been hired out, but she had taken a measure of satisfaction in painting walls in the evenings, and choosing furniture and décor for the room. Already the room contained things she had never thought to see at the villa; tiny clothes, soft toys, little necessities she had read about and gotten quiet advice on. She shook her head and chuckled softly as she sat down and started sorting out the hardware for one of the two cribs.

Ah, the things you get me into, Dev.

Of course it was Devon’s fault. Somehow or other, it always was. And she found she liked it that way.
20-08-2004, 17:24
Back in a suit of old Mobile Infantry "standard" battle armor, Timofeyev spars with Corporal Friedlitz. Apparently this three-week block of training was going to be dedicated to essentially living in the armor, including more capsule drops... of course, according to Friedlitz, training capdrop 'missions' were intentionally designed to not be any fun. Which makes sense, after a fashion.

Once in the armor and used to moving about in it--mostly just keeping in mind that is body is a little thicker than usual--Bondayehr gains an appreciation for why battle armor was the revolution in infantry warfare that it was. In hand to hand, even the combat drones set to 'expert' were hardly a threat unarmed and only became a concern when armed with armor-piercing melee weapons like vibroweapons or Shogunate beam swords. It also becomes apparent why swords, especially of the vibro and variable variety, returned to vogue with the advent of powered armor. It was simply a faster, more efficient, and quieter way to hurt people and break things sometimes than with ranged weapons. As all archaic weapons are dependent on strength and agility, powered armor naturally enhanced them. Bows optimized for battle armor use like those fielded by Freod are simply evil. Timofeyev tried to pull back one unaugmented; it simply was not going to happen with a draw weight on the order of a quarter to a half ton.

Then there were the added perks to Mark VI armor being, simply, sixth-generation powered armor. Built on the Russian model, once it was sized, getting in was simply a matter of folding up the front, stepping into the legs, readying the arms and locking the front back down. While it may seem impossible to be mobile in a two-hundred-fifty kilogram suit of armor, it is possible to move about--albeit relatively slowly--due to the self-supporting and self-balancing nature of the suit. For ease of mobility powered and unpowered, the myomer tensors and retractors were set to norms that would tend to make the arms and legs easy to lift. This increased wear on the artificial muscles, of course, but like most things Scolopendran those are modular and easily swapped out. The onboard electronics suite is simply impressive with ballistic and direct-line targeters coupled with three-dimensional satnav and radar land imagers to aid both in traditional shoot-the-target aiming as well as indirect fire--no more guesswork as to how to fire that grenade over that hill. While useful in that regard, the three-dimensional topography becomes absolutely priceless when added to the suit's integral jumpjets, for terrain-hugging almost-flight and planning for extended jumps, which is again not so much planning for execution (as that would defeat the purpose of the simplicity of an armor suit) as seeing if the terrain allows for it.

All of the various information the suit has to display is done graphically when appropriate projected into the polarized armorglas of the visor, so it looks to be comfortably out in the distance, easily readable no matter how the eyes are focused thanks to in-suit microcameras designed to register pupil position and dilation. Displays are changed with taps of the front teeth, chin levers, flicks of the eyes and winks. Most of the training for a suit, especially in this immersive atmosphere, is building up these miniscule motions into combat instinct. This is why professional M.I. often look sleepy or otherwise relatively unemotive beyond lips and eyebrows--many of the more extreme emotive indicators as jaw-clenching, winks, wandering eyes, are all co-opted into operating the non-vital subsystems of the battlesuit.

Then, of course, there is the enhancement in kit. A trooper in standard armor carries what used to be classified as a support weapon as a standard weapon in addition to some form of rocket launcher, flame pill launchers, grenades, underslung secondary weapons, some sort of flamethrowing set of either a plasma flamer carbine or hand flamers, twin pistols, vibroknives, a variable sword, ammunition for anything that needs it... a single trooper easily outguns an entire squad or two of unarmored infantry, with that estimation increasing depending on what kind of ammunition is currently loaded in the variable warhead tube launcher. Add to that the fact that anything less than a heavy caliber machine gun is not much of a threat to the armor (unguided anti-tank rockets such as bazookas and LAWs are also not too much the threat as they have to hit the man in armor) and a single trooper is expected to take on well over his number of conventional infantry, mostly by using his brain to his utmost advantage.

Holding a kzin pistol in two hands simply because the blocky grip cannot be held comfortably in the human hand, Bondayehr blasts a few more training dummies into oblivion with a wide grin. The fact that he is currently five meters in the air shooting down at the now-active dummies (inexpensive mass-produced robots from Zero-One) doesn't hurt the effect. Running out of ammunition for that, he stows that pistol and draws the standard-issue twin powergun pistols, simply firing into the crowds (a simulated orc horde) before crushing two under his armored boots. He lets the momentum bend him down at the knees, then leaps back into the air, all a cacophony of superheated air jumpjets and truly thunderclap powergun discharges.

Even in the adrenaline rush, he finds himself thinking about the particular mechanical an propulsive details of the jumpjets--high-bypass fan, with the 'cold' air going into the superheating caterpillar-drive chamber, the 'hot' air completely expanding after lower-energy combustion while going through the turbines that drive the fans...

* - * - *

Chief Mathers sighs. I don't exactly know what the international intrigue around this kid is all about, but I'll be damned if I become a part of it.

Scolopendran Mobile Infantry Special Operator Training School (SMISOTS)
Camp Hartmann, Ring Sector 67, F.S.S.


TO: Dread Lady Nathicana d'Aquisto, DLN
FROM: Chief Master Sergeant Edgar R. Mathers, Training Instructor, N Plat, SMISOTS, FSS
SUBJECT: Your Request

As you prefaced, your request is an unorthodox one. As such, I am unable to grant it. We do not make a habit of holding gifts for other people and if I cannot do it for the family of the lowest Private Basic then I cannot do it for the head-of-state friend of a second lieutenant. The standards set in place have to remain equal, else there be no need for standards, and this goes to both training and property rights standards. As long as 2Lt Bondayehr is in my training platoon, then he will be subject to the exact same rules as Cpl Friedlitz or P2C Imidovna.

That being said, the duty of the trooper is not to provide criticism to solutions but to solve the problem provided. While I can't take custody of any such gifts as you suggest, it is standard operating procedure for storage facilities to be left open to trainees and service personnel for personal craft. It is regulation that all military installations provide for long distance craft such as this, hearkening back to the days of carports and garage on base housing. As such, if you somehow simply transfer ownership to 2Lt Bondayehr, then the ship can be stowed as if he had flown it there himself. It is his right, after all.

I cannot be tasked to say it is from a friend, as that would be against my blatantly egalitarian policy. Also, the moment that ownership is transferred, the requisite luxury tax (to cover costs of storage and maintenance of public aerospace facilities) will be immediately deducted from 2Lt Bondayehr's pay. Such things are determined on a flat rate, so he can probably expect to see a ten to twenty percent decrease in his take-home pay for the duration of his ownership of the vehicle (I. I'm not trying to dissuade you or anything, simply trying to point out certain outcomes that may have been overlooked. The only additional downside that I can see this alternative as having (in addition to your previous plan) is that if the gift is to be retracted then the effect will still be notable in his back pay.

While I understand this may not be suitable to your needs, it is all I can come up with at the moment.

Training Instructor, N Plat, SMISOTS
Camp Hartmann, Ring Sector 67, F.S.S.
22-08-2004, 17:41
Bondayehr breathes slowly and carefully through the musky scarf of deyr pelt, hands deliberately choosing holds, pulling himself up, feet supporting and legs lifting him over the steep rock face.

What a really, really odd whim. He knew, when they dropped him off in mountainous terrain, that they'd pick him up no matter where he was. Coming across a stream, he followed it until its origin became readily obvious--it was one of the spill rivers off of the wall-mountains. And then he had a whim.

And now he was acting upon it. It is, after all, a response to thoughts that had lingered in his mind since Khess. Now as the time to grab them by the throat and squeeze the life out of them, or else he'd fall into a trap of his own psyche he knew far too well. That would be overactive adaptability--try something new and the result of it must be the standard result that can be expected forevermore. It was almost as bad as his tendency to take suggestion as order and single out-of-place pop-off phrases as ways to change living his life so other people could live theirs easier... but all those had the same basis in the same character flaw.

Really, he thought about it, which was part of why his actions are now instinctually slower and more careful, I'm more of a complex behavioralist B.F. Skinner organic machine than a real person. Very, very stimulus-response. Every stimulus has a response based on its result, and if the first result is bad... hoo boy.

There aren't very many things that Timofeyev admittedly fears, but what he does has a bad tendency to conflict with very basic natural needs. For companionships and relationships, the response is fear because after avoiding it for the longest time my first attempt at it ended up in me being used rather badly. He sighs softly. Either I end up hurting someone or they end up hurting me or both. That was both. Retaliating was probably childish, perhaps, but understandable. Still don't feel guilty about it; I'm just very much afraid to try again.

Sex is about the same way. The lieutenant rolls his eyes a little, chuckling grimly to himself. First try that way leads--not rationally, mind you, which is the funny thing--to bunches of armed goons with guns chasing me through a forest where my own friends beat the daylights out of me and I get shot every now and then. So, yeah, fear future occurances of that as well, and that conflicts quite nicely with the biological imperative. I wonder if I can get Shodey to turn that off or something.

Then there's mountains. He shudders a little at the thought. There are no Hhoulars on this mountain, this is not Khess, my best friend will not get badly hurt trying to protect me. Another step towards the top. If I can do this, maybe I can fix those others. In time.

He looks down, sighing again as he climbs by feel, lungs working very carefully in the thin air. Or leave them broken, as they're certainly useless to me at the moment. Maybe after I get out of SMISO. If they ever let me out.

Clambering onto a ledge, he clunks his head against something smooth and hard. Looking up while rubbing his pate, he suppresses a moment of vertigo while the gently mirrored Ring wall stretches up a thousand kilometers or so. Grinning a bit to himself, he sits down and watches the Ring plain stretch out in front and under him, a truly unparalleled view. The lack of a horizon allows him to look over the thin cloud cover to the other range of spill mountains across the plain, a thousand kilometers away, its wall rising up mindbendingly, reflecting the sky and the space surrounding it. The plain curves up, and here the circular shape of the Ring is plainly evident, a dotted line arching up through space and back around.

Okay, now I understand why people used to think gods lived on mountains. He looks down over the lands of the sector, numbers and sizes mind-bogglingly huge because the concept of 'horizon' holds no sway here. And, in retrospect, that's probably why some people like to climb mountains.

Leaning back against the sheer Ring wall, Bondayehr waits for something to go wrong before the shuttle picks him up to return him to camp. If he can be proven wrong about it...
23-08-2004, 09:08
[belated tag]
24-08-2004, 05:38
Assault armor is a bit... different. Not as blatantly a suit as the old "standard" armor, it resembles a slightly beveled trashcan on dog legs with a dome-like helmet sporting a multisensor array and two oversized bulky arms. Based roughly off of a Sakkran Horde Suit, the armor still moves as fluidly as the person inside of it. However, as people don't have legs jointed quite like the suit's and their arms and legs are now quite a bit longer, it takes a little practice to get used to.

"It's like wearing heels," Corporal Friedlitz says helpfully.

Bondayehr takes another mincing step in the metal monstrocity. "I don't really want to know when or why you felt like wearing heels, Fred..."

The corporal shrugs. "It's what my female T.I. told me. Anyway, feel free to take normal-sized steps... just imagine walking on the balls of your feet instead of heel-to-toe."

The suit then scuds across the flat field like a metal cat, legs swishing quickly and deftly. "Okay, now the legs make sense."

"Yup. They're Hoppy Legs. Try running around and jumping."

Breaking thirty kilometers per hour while running is quite the experience. With additional experience, troopers can get up to fourty-five kilometers per hour... and jumping, even without jets? They're not based on flea legs for nothing.

Of course, it's a more complex system and as such has its disadvantages. The onboard XML fusion plant can keep it running for a week at full power, true, but no one really wants to carry around the foamed-storage hydrogen cells required to keep them operational longer than that. It's trickier to get into and out of than standard armor, with the front of the torso, the forearms, and the upper legs opening up. Unlike standard armor, unpowered assault armor is essentially stuck right where it is--no unaugmented human has the strength to lift the legs as needed without pulling something, although the arms are still mobile to some extent...

But that's the price one pays for being able to lift a metric ton over their head. Overall, assault armor is far more powerful than the standard suit, even with drawbacks considered, which explains why it replaced the older suit.

And in hand-to-hand combat... Timofeyev lands on top of two drones after a quick pounce, grinding them under his feet, rips a third one in half and beats off fifteen others with the halves before jumping away again. Combined with kicks that can launch people thirty feet into the air... This is oddly theraputic.

Then there are the integral weapons systems. Unlike the standard armor, where everything is carried and fired like any infantryman uses a weapon, that would be an inefficiency for the sheer power of assault armor. Each forearm stows an integral plasma flame carbine and a man-portable particle cannon; flip out and grab the pistol grip to operate, flip back to stow. The over-the-shoulder support weapon, usually a heavy missile launcher, can be swung down by hand or linked to follow the eye, and then the standard Sakkran ninety-millimeter Chunk Projector Mark II snub cannon with the underslung pulse eraser rifle goes in the hands like a normal weapon.

Subtle... bah. I'll show you subtle, Nathi. A loud thumping bloop and the Chunk Projector hefts the stubby shell into the air with electromagnetically-generated impetus, curving up and then back down in a graceful ballistic arc before bursting quietly in midair, sprinkling down a cloud that suddenly goes up in a massive yellow-orange gout of flame, the thermobaric round flattening everything within a fifty-meter radius.
25-08-2004, 05:02
The final test for SMISO initial training is a week of survival in one of the most hostile environments known. The desert is a hostile place of brutal sun, baking ground, and hazy superheated air. Timofeyev remains curled up under the shade of a rock inside a small canyon-like wadi, covered by some rough kindling that passes for brush. Gloved hands folded behind scarved head, he sighs as he waits out the rest of the Ringside day, still slightly cool from the hot, dry wind that whips over the terrain.

Six months. He'd taken the final for his truncated program and passed; maybe not as high as he would've liked but he had proven an understanding of the vital subjects. Given that he wouldn't be designing rockets any time soon, and now that he has all his notes for future reference... it was acceptable. Another sigh. I would've done better if I hadn't had to worry about this, too... and this is just going to get harder. But it is a challenge...

Softly muttering a Sakkran chant to himself, he slows his body's metabolism, dropping his core temperature and letting the ambient temperature keep him alive. In short, he makes himself cold-blooded and quietly appreciates the new sensory details he picks up from the ground, the air, measuring the temperature differences between them. Well, Ssh has that advantage. Clearer sensory feeds for stuff like this. I wonder how she's doing, anyway. I'll have to get in touch during the month off.

And then specialist training. Which is going to be worse. He heard it all from Fred--five straight months of Hell. No weekends, just days of field-training exercises, simulated missions, and nights of hypnotically-trained languages, the major world languages. Everyone already knew English and Arabic, added to that would be Mandarin, German, Spanish, Russian, and Hindi. A smattering, that would be sure, but it would be improved during off-times like anything else. Bondayehr already knows a bit of Spanish from school and Russian froim his heritage; beyond that... Yeah. Definately need to get that encephalon from Shodey installed first thing. Brush up on those languages and perhaps expand them through their language families. If I can get ahead on that, it will make things a lot easier in the end.

Drifting off to sleep with a thrumming song in his head, he awakes as his body alerts him to nearing torpor. Quickly bringing his metabolism back up, he escapes from his little hideaway and starts heading towards the goal of this week--Fort Stinkin' Desert, the only Scolopendran outpost on this battered and broken Ring terrain.

Why the hell are there even deserts on the Ring? Bondayehr mutters to himself as he readies his stone axe and chops clean through the top of a cylindrical cactus, then sucking the water out of the central stalk and pulp. Well, desert biomes are biomes too, I guess, and maybe they serve some greater ecological role. I dunno, not my area of expertise.

Food... Bondayehr doesn't worry so much about food. Food requires water to digest. Water better used to just keep living on. Certainly, water could be found--in cacti, on the leading edges of sand dunes, in the deeper broken wadi... So much of the terminology of the desert is Arabic. Not overly surprising...

Having the portcomp along from sheer habit, he types up a quick missive to Shodey to be ready to get him on the weekend, then another to Nathi.
Hi Nath,

It's been a rough six months, and I'm almost through this part. I'm on the final test--wandering about in the desert with little water and less food. Yeah, fun times. I'm just going to rough it out on Sakkran biofeedback and get to the goal as quickly as possible.

Then a month off (probably a good deal spent with Shodey) and then back to training. I figure I'm going to join the Mygalomorphae Antrodiaetidae--the Trapdoor Spiders. You had to deal with Macrothele--Wolf Spiders--I think... the MA are just a bit more think-heavy than the knock-em-down MM. Those five months are not going to be fun, and in an unprecidented show of limitations I'm going to tell you right now that I'll need support. I want to make it through now, to see if I can do it. But it'll be tough and I'll need motivation, so I'll need you to just send warm fuzzies when you can.

I may not be able to reply, sometimes for being too busy, sometimes for security. But the thoughts will be appreciated. Trust me on that one. I may also get the leaders of my unofficial fan club to divert support mail my way.

Thanks for everything,

-- Tim
Basically, the plan is to just force-march along to spin-minus, breathing through the nose, closely controlling exertion and metabolism to keep him running on the heavy meal he ate the last night at Camp Hartmann. He could eat again in a week... just pretend to be a Sakkran and go. Minimum digestion required for homeostasis, basically pull a parlor-trick death during the day, then repeat... his body should not be wanting for food.

His mind, on the other hand, still very much mammalian... Just like in Man Plus. Well, I may not be a cyborg, Colonel Roger Torraway, but I know where you're coming from there. Just something to push against. Ignoring his stomach's unnecessary requests for food, he keeps on keeping on.
Dread Lady Nathicana
25-08-2004, 13:53
After much deliberation and research, Nathicana came to a decision. In between the hustle and bustle two missives were sent, one with a decidedly more warm tone than the other.

TO: Chief Master Sergeant Edgar R. Mathers, Training Instructor, N Plat, SMISOTS, FSS
FROM: Dread Lady Nathicana d'Aquisto, DLN
RE: Your Response to Previous Request

Noted. Said request was after all made as a friend of our good Lieutenant, nothing more. Had it been made as a Head of State, believe you me, the wording would have been far different, leaving no doubt in your mind whatsoever of my intentions and probable displeasure should you choose to be less than cooperative. However, as that was not the case, and as I asked for no special favors due to my political position, we shan’t give it another thought. I must admit however, it has been some time since I was lectured to like a schoolgirl on basic protocol. An … interesting experience.

In doing some research of my own, I’ve found the tax rate not to be quite so staggering, as I had hoped I would. You Scolopendrans certainly do take pleasure in making things difficult, I’ll grant you that, but given his usual Spartan lifestyle, and financial arrangements such as I’m aware of, I would imagine said tax not to be too much of a burden, should he choose to accept. I thank you for making me aware of that little detail in your previous missive, at least. Knowing was helpful, as was the actual transfer of ownership tidbit. I’ve modified plans to something I hope the boy will find acceptable.

Again, my thanks for your assistance and punctual response.

--Nathicana D’Aquisto


Good to hear from you, boy. Hang tough. Can’t say as I envy you the work, but damned if I wouldn’t trade now and then, even with the hostile environment, for a few moments of solitude. No rest for the wicked, yes? Perhaps some day, if life ever slows down for either one of us, you could teach me some of those Sakkran tricks. I still remember that first time you played possum in my front room. Could you just see pulling that one in a staff meeting? Pellegrino and Massetti would have fits.

Perhaps we’ll run into one another while you’re on Rhea – that is, if you’re up to visitors and the like. And yes, I’m familiar with MM. Solid. Damn solid. Pre-emptive best wishes on that whole ordeal, even without the decidedly rare request. I’ll keep it simple and spare you the fluff: I’m honored, my pleasure, and understood. If there is anything else we can do on this end to help that won’t go against the rules or your own personal code, you let me know. Which reminds me. Damn you idealists and your rules and/or codes.

I am going to do something perhaps a bit unprecedented myself here, and offer you a choice. You’ve stayed the course, boy. By all reports you’ve done a damn fine job of it, too. You’ve worked hard, and have the marks to prove it. In my culture, such achievements – whether you view it as such or not – are worthy of celebration. I have in my possession a Selene class shuttle. Not the Tempest no, but another. It’s a beauty, no doubt about it. Got it right from Zin Karma, fresh off the lot so to speak, sporting a nice coat of silver and blue, and souped-up as best as could be managed. Comes fully loaded, has all the ‘comforts’ one needs for trips, not unlike my own, and seems to have a decent carrying capacity. All in all, a nice little personal craft. It’s yours if you want it.

No strings, no ‘payment’, no ‘thanks’ for anything present or past, and no feeling bad on my end should you chose not to accept. Just a gift, from friends who wish to acknowledge that you will have achieved an impressive benchmark in your life. Yes, I realize it’s more than your standard ‘happy graduation’ mug or the like. Yes, I realize it isn’t in your nature to accept. And yes, I’m aware of the taxation for such a gift, hence my earlier damning of your society’s propensity for making such things difficult. It seemed fitting. Don’t think of it in terms of size or worth – it isn’t about that, and besides, it’s all relative. As I see it, you have three choices.

The obvious one, to accept it. The tax as I understand it, would be around 5% of your free income. Between your usual stipend and the fund I had set up for you, there should be no problem, especially if you haven’t been giving it all away every week. I know damn well you can’t have been spending it all on yourself. Second obvious choice would be to decline, which only results in you preventing yourself from enjoying the ride. No pressure – it is your choice. Third, and perhaps not so obvious, would be to accept, and keep the title in my name so you wouldn’t have to bother with any such taxation issues. This of course, by its very nature seems to be the least likely course because I know you, and I know you tend to walk the straight and narrow as often as you can, even if it is just a matter of appearances. So, I’ll throw in a caveat: think of it as a test drive rather than a dodge. With this you can always make the choice later to go with one of the first two options after having had time to see if its even worth the tax and bother or not, and do it with a clear conscience. Fair enough?

That being said, I’m proud of you, boy. Damn proud. I’ll enjoy hearing what bits you can share when you’re able to as you continue on to the next phase of your career. While our professional lives may keep us understandably distant on certain levels, our private lives belong to ourselves, and with that, this rather 'unconventional' friendship of ours. Glad we got some of those little hiccups worked out back there on Titan. Lord knows, I’m bad enough at these things as is. Thanks for your patience. Best of luck with the last leg of this section of your training, boy. Let me know what you decide, at your convenience. We’ll make whatever arrangements are necessary from there depending.

26-08-2004, 05:12
Scolopendran Mobile Infantry Special Operator Training School (SMISOTS)
Camp Hartmann, Ring Sector 67, F.S.S.


TO: Dread Lady Nathicana d'Aquisto, DLN
FROM: Chief Master Sergeant Edgar R. Mathers, Training Instructor, N Plat, SMISOTS, FSS
SUBJECT: Your Request

Lecturing is just one of my standard duties, as you may have expected. As for the head of state business, rest assured that the Dread Lady of the Dominion, while deserving of my respect, is not in my chain of command. I'm far more open to requests from friends of my troopers than the leaders of foreign powers.

You should be pleased to hear that 2Lt Bondayehr will pass with flying colors as soon as he reports in to Fort Stinkin' Desert. Our biotelemetry data indicate him to be making exceedingly good time during the nights, although he's been scaring the techs with his body tricks. Interesting friend you got there.

Please feel free to drop off the shuttle whenever the lieutenant agrees; I'll make sure he gets it. After that, he's graduated initial training and isn't my responsibility anymore.

Training Instructor, N Plat, SMISOTS
Camp Hartmann, Ring Sector 67, F.S.S.

Meanwhile, a few tens of thousands of kilometers away, Bondayehr checks his portcomp again in a small ditch. Hrm. He thinks momentarily, then chuckles. At least this has some sort of utility, and it's not like I'm ever going to ever get another chance to get anywhere near hardware like that for day-to-day use... His fingers quickly tap out a response, clicking send before slinging the computer back over his shoulder and marching on. 'Sides, have seen the inside of one of those. A guy could live in it.


Prepare for surprise number two--gladly accepted, no strings attached. It'll actually fit better into my lifestyle--better, at least, than an apartment I'm never in. If I drop the apartment, I should manage to break about even or end up with a bit more money in-pocket. May keep my beater about for tinkering... as if I'll ever have the time to.

I do know from Shodey that this brainwork I'm getting done she's really going to be delicate with, seeing how she doesn't want to interfere with my biofeedback any, so my two weeks on Rhea will mostly be laid out cold for recouperation. Then I get two more weeks off... then training. Can't say I'm looking forward to it, but... hey. Gotta start somewhere. Now that I know how all these things work, I need to learn how to use them in context... as well as learn negotiation and such.

Still, with the shuttle, I can stay true to my zoomie roots. Thanks for that much.

27-08-2004, 02:00
"Are you sure you're not hungry, sir?"

"Not in any form that my body actually needs." Bondayehr grimaces. Even though he'd calculated carbohydrate conversion and usage correctly, adding into it additional energy via the lipid and protein contents of that last heavy meal and his body is still running fine, his mind, accustomed to eating every so often each day, makes him feel as if he's been starving for five days.

Which he has. "Actually, if you could get me something relatively empty just to sate the system--crackers or lettuce, especially lettuce, I'd appreciate it."

"No problem, sir." The private nods. "Congratulations."

* - * - *

Given the nighttime drills, the survival exercises, the constant scurrying about, the total number of trainees now standing in formation is about half that of those who showed up for Training Day Zero. "You've all done an excellent job," Chief Mathers pronounces, pacing back and forth, "and are now officially Special Operators pending successful completion of specialty training. Now's the time when you decide where you want to go in your career. Em-Em, the strikers, or Em-Aay, the counterinsurgents. Once you call out, fall out and get your kit. You're dismissed. Grab training information from the rack in the barracks and you're done. Hooah?"

The squadron replies enthusiastically, and Mathers nods. "Right. Alphabetically..." he begins calling out names, ticking off responses on a battered clipboard he holds in one hand. Bondayehr's name is the third called, and he reports his intent to join MA in a loud, clear voice before stepping back, making an about-face, and jogging out of formation. MM gets a few more than MA this day, although Timofeyev smiles as Friedlitz calls out his intent to go MA as well. One can hope to have a friend in training...

November Squadron dissipated to the four winds, Mather nods again, tucks his clipboard under his arm, and looks over to the lieutenant. "Show's over, sir."

"Just the first act, Chief." Bondayehr smiles and tosses his head lightly towards the corporal, running back to the barracks. "Sides, I just wanted to keep an eye on some comrades."

"He'll be fine... with help." Mathers almost cracks a smile at the lieutenant. "I'm sure you'll take care of him, sir."

"That's the reason I have these, no?" The lieutenant taps the red spots on his lapels.

"Glad to know you see that, sir. Anyway," the chief continues nonchalantly, "I checked up the line and you are technically pulling multiple services with this, so..." He holds out a shades-of-grey low-observability patch, a large trapezoid with the letter 'M' inscribed and 'I' over that. "Your arm's going to get rather busy with all the insignia."

"Thank you, Chief. Actually..."--he half-smiles--"it means quite a bit. Thanks." Looking over, he watches the Chief apply the gecko-webbed back of the patch--all the easier to remove and replace for situations where identifying markers aren't feasible or allowable--to his sleeve just under the Aerospace Directorate insignia, perfectly centered from years of experience.

"I wish it were at top, sir, but each to their own."

The lieutenant chuckles as Corporal Friedlitz runs up, two kits over his shoulder. "Heh. I kinda thought I'd see you here, sir." Bondayehr and Friedlitz both look quizzically at Mather's scathing look at the corporal... then make soft 'ah' noises and quickly exchange salutes before Friedlitz continues unfazed. "Anyway, I got your kit for you and--" Friedlitz's eyes note the new addition to Bondayehr's sleeve as he offers the officer his kit. "Niiice."

Timofeyev slings the duffel over his shoulder and nods. "I think so. Need a ride anywhere, Corporal?'

"On the subject of rides, sir..." The chief interjects politely.

"Already been briefed, Chief. This surprise will have to surprise someone, no?"

Friedlitz quirks an eyebrow. "Errr... yes, sir. I could hitch a ride to Zeyad, if you're willing."

"Excellent." Bondayehr turns to Chief Mathers and smiles. "Good afternoon, Chief."

Mathers salutes more easily than he ever seems to have in the last six months. "Good afternoon, sir."

Returning the salute in a professionally casual manner, Timofeyev nods. "Have a good one, Chief. May you always walk on warm sands."

Mathers chuckles. "You too, sir."

* - * - *

Friedlitz boggles, and even with warning, Bondayehr can't help but emulate him. It's a sweet ride, to be sure, and in his favorite colors. "Boss, how in the hell did you manage..."

Timofeyev manages an easy shrug. "I guess there's just a few perks to being an international hero..."

* - * - *

The corporal fidgets in the copilot's seat. "Damn sight more complex than your usual zipcraft... or does it just have a lot of nifty features?"

"I dunno. This is only my fourth time flying one of these things. I don't recognize a lot of the controls." Bondayehr looks over at Fred's console, essentially a repetition of his own. "Go ahead. Find things with interesting labels and fiddle with 'em."

Friedlitz immediately leans forward unnecessarily and taps a small button, eliciting a pair of soft whirr-thunks! from aft-port and aft-starboard.

"What was that?"

"Label reads 'missile pods,' boss."

Bondayehr looks back down at his console. "Why indeed it does. Sahweet. Flip that one that says 'eraser turret.'"

Another whirr-thunk! from below the cockpit. "Nifty, boss. Now all this thing needs is armor--"

"Got that."

"--and shields and you've got yourself a real aerospace fighter."

"Fred, that's your tasking while we're en route to the Segments. Find the shields button."

Friedlitz nods and immediately gets to searching.
28-08-2004, 17:36
Normally, Timofeyev would have jumped at the chance to watch someone rooting about in any form of surgery, but this time he lays still as a corpse on a simple stainless steel table in a room of wires and pipes, S.H.O.D.A.N. working her technology indistinguishable from magic over him. An isolation box is firmly planted over his brainpan, the hair-thin varicolor lasers visible through its blue-tinted plexiglas sides as they burrow tiny holes into the lieutenant's head, injecting nanites both biological and mechanical into his grey matter. It isn't her preferred method, avatar fingers getting into her work--for, in her mild recovering rampancy, she has grown attached to the image of herself personified in one of her ubiquitous humaniform avatars--but, being a disembodied mechanical Gestalt, her 'fingers' could be any form of instrumentality...

And they work deftly, finding contentment in working so finely, within parameters so close. This, Shodey muses, is the fusion of her two hobbies, the old pastime of improvement via cybernetic modification and the new enjoyment of the abstract logic of divine mathematics, modifying while not changing the essence of the person being changed. It is the difference, essentially, between buiding a road along a mountain, either cutting away excess rock in jagged edges of exposed rock or working around natural curves. Both achieve the purpose; one is faster and more 'efficient,' but the other is truer to the natural form. It is that latter state that the mechanoid queen strives towards over the hours of surgery. It is the same reason she and Bondayehr agree that the latter must remain unconscious during the procedure--ever since his unusually violent reaction to nanites at the end of the Dominion situation, it was readily apparent that even the work of nanomachines were too indelicate to be gentle to the lieutenant's enhanced bodily senses.

The work finally ends, Bondayehr left asleep for the rest of that day as his body adjusts to the subtle changes. Even then, the healing process, very much similar to Nathicana's in days past, will take a total of twelve days...

Even when limited only by his imagination, Timofeyev avoids the rococo dreamscapes of Nathi; he remains in a smallish cubicle whenever he does not explore what he is allowed to see of Zero-One cyberspace, talking to the populace, being his usual mildly gregarious self. When he is in his cubicle, his own partition of unreality, he learns. At the behest of S.H.O.D.A.N., he brushes up on his Spanish; he fills out on his tertiary Russian; he expands through the related languages to learn at least the basics of all the Slavic and Romance languages, expanding through the Arabic-related languages such as Swahili. He always enjoyed being a linguist, now he gets and enjoys the opportunity to become a polyglot. "Well, this is sort of interesting. Hurrah for there being thirteen languages in the Slavonic family."

S.H.O.D.A.N.'s cyberspatial avatar nods. "I don't see any need to go into Sorbian, but the others will probably be useful. I do not see Scolopendran interests coming in contact with any nation that speaks Serbo-Croatian anytime soon..."

e-Bondayehr shrugs. "Meh, I'll take that too. It isn't like I've got anything better to do."

"I can easily teach, and you can easily retain, the basic mechanical differences between the Slavic branch languages and equip you with a basic vocabulary that you can augment on your own time. I am certain SMISO-MA will build upon it, and it will allow you to expand in multiple languages as well. You have a good mechanistic and passable speaking grasp of Spanish; we can strengthen that and exapnd it through the Latin branch. We can cover the Germanic branch through English and the Semitic branch through Arabic."

"So... ah... what exactly have I signed up for?"

"You're already fluent in Arabic and English, passable in Spanish and know a smattering of Russian. We can raise the latter two to proficiency, then teach you a basic knowledge of Hebrew, Dutch, German, Afrikaans--that may be useful in dealings with Territorials--Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Latin--always useful--Italian, Portuguese, French, Romanian, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Macedonian, Ukrainian, Byelorussian, and Slovene."

The lieutenant whistles. "Intensive, neh?"

"I very much doubt I'll ever have the chance to hard-wire information into your head again, so we'd best take advantage of it." The gestalt smiles mischievously. "Seeing how you've decided not to take advantage of being able to create whatever your imagination wills and pass the time that way..."

"Some things are best left private." Timofeyev looks at the room and a potted plant appears in the corner, while Shodey quirks one wiry brow. "Exactly. You understand then."

"Tim, I've been places. I very much doubt that you could shock me."

"Some things are best left private." Bondayehr grins. "Now let's get cracking on those languages."

* - * - *

Timofeyev walks briskly through the artificial sunshine, idly rubbing the side of his head. Despite her best efforts, adustments still need to be made. Ah well. I've had a lot worse than a little headache and the occasional lapse into a language I suddenly magically know. The campus of the University of Stonozka hasn't changed much; perhaps a new modern-art statue here or there--apparently a bit more tastefully done than the last few--and still very compact, essentially being several mildly urbanized levels of an agro-arco with a false-topside full of green and lots of fountains. The fountains, unsurprisingly, had a particular purpose of assisting in circulating water about the arcology and through the system, acting as late-stage filtration and aeration systems. Aesthetically, they looked and--more importantly to Timofeyev--sounded nice.

Wandering west through the law-school side of campus, he hears the soft crush of grass not associated with his combat boots, coming in his direction. After shrugging it off--Hell, everything's fine--the footfalls suddenly disappear, which is his first clue.

The second clue is the roar of a distinctly feminine--at least to Scolopendran ears--kzin. "TIIIIIIIIMMMMMMM!"

Instinct breaks in. The lieutenant immediately rocks back onto one foot with his next step, face a grim mask as balled fists come to chin, center of gravity back as he swings his other leg out. Looking over, he distinctly sees a 'ret flying towards him, arms outstretched, going quarter-speed thanks to the new encephalon. Familiar 'ret, actually, with ears slowly fluttering in mid-flight, despite the sharp teeth. Timofeyev loosens his outstretched leg and turns his boot just enough so that Law-Student doesn't get a steel toed present under the ribcage. He leaves the encephalon on slow-motion, just out of curiosity so he can fully grok the experience of getting pounced, leaning back further to reduce the momentum of the inevitable impact. The relatively short kzinret slams into the human, balling up protectively before drawing him into a roll of tangled limbs reminiscent to a running gag in a comic strip. Three meters later, Timofeyev is on his back and Law-Student is sniffing the air curiously. "Hi, Shorty. You've grown a bit, haven't you?"

"Only five centimeters." The kzinret sniffs the air some more. "That was not the expected response for a leap-then-scream... but," she cheers up quickly, "where have you been? You disappeared from the multiverse for... what... six months?"

"Well, the question addresses the comment--training for SMISO." Bondayehr disentangles an arm and indicates the new patch on his arm. "Special Operators and such, so you got to see some of that in action just now."

Law-Student chuckles. "Not very effective."

Bondayehr grins purposefully. "Only because I made it so. I don't really like hurting friends." The 'ret winces, but nods her understanding before Timofeyev continues. "Now, this is pleasant and welcome and all, but I think we'd best get up before someone accuses us of breaking public decency laws."

"Right, right..." Law-Student springs back to her feet, quickly followed by the lieutenant, who begins to brush down his fatigues with his hands.

* - * - *

A few minutes later the two catch up on old times in Law-Student's room over some mugs of strong honeyed tea, both sharing the gritty details of their recent lives. Life at the UoS continues in its usual mode, Law-Student reports. "Still, we all miss you. I particularly miss the arguments." Soft chuckle.

"Hmmm." Timofeyev looks down into his tea. "On both counts..." He thinks for a moment. "It's mutual."
29-08-2004, 23:11
Impromptu parties are a relatively common affair at institutes of higher learning. Their organization becomes more efficient when engineers are involved. When engineers and cadets are involved...

Missives flash across messaging systems. Communicators buzz and are answered, plans formulated, time made free, party materials inventoried and additional resources acquired via all the methods available to the university student. Law-Student simply sets the ball rolling as she heads to class, leaving the lieutenant idly lounging about on her couch reading quickly through a kzintsu'ng primer, then lets networking do its wonders. Occasionally updated, she returns with the sense of a job well done and spends an enjoyable time catching up with her friend, stories mutually exchanged.

Another friend arrives, then another, then a few more, slowly congregating in an arguably natural, coincidental fashion. People start arriving with the products of their labor, cooking and baking, and so everyone has a communal dinner passed with fine company and more stories and anecdotes. Then comes a prodigious amount of alcohol, consumed slowly as an aid to the discussion.

This continues for several hours.

The kzinret's constitution is naturally more resistant to alcohol, being more massive and thus having more tissues to distribute the effects over. Timofeyev is unnaturally more resistant, able to choose not to even try absorbing and processing any more alcohol than he chooses and just passing it out naturally--certainly a little harder on the lower gastrointestinal tract than usual but not egregiously far over nominal. Everyone else, on the other hand, is limited to simple human constitutions and the effects begin to grow.

And it keeps going.

Conversation breaks apart, turns to dancing (or the attempt thereto) then coalesces and splits apart again; the jokes become dirtier, and mixed company is ignored as it always is. Bondayehr relates bits of his training, old Russian stories, what jokes he learned from the enlisted M.I., then leads in Slavic drinking songs on the fly when everyone appears to be muddled sufficiently for them.

People begin dropping out as they reach their accepted limits, taking their leaves and heading back; some require assistance from others, but only a few; Law-Student and Bondayehr physically carry one back home, gently tucking him in and making sure his roommate will take care of him before heading back.

"Well, that was the last one," Timofeyev says. "I guess I should head back to wherever it is I'm sleeping tonight."

The kzinret arches one furred brow, sniffing the air slightly. "How far away is that?"

"Well, I'm in the process of moving my stuff from my apartment to a nice new shuttle I got, but Al Mahdi's about half an hour away via the train. My place in town is only about ten minutes away but I've moved my bedding so it'd be a night on the floor."

Law-Student chuckles, shaking her head. "We cannot have that. I have plenty of room--and you are not imposing so shut up before you say so."

Bondayehr closes his mouth with an audible click and half-smirks to himself. "No worries, Shorty, I'm getting better about accepting help, aid, and other nice gestures. Ground rules?"

"Make yourself comfortable, t'rralap hryikshlazra wtyeztjetz."

"You're reverting to your native language, Shorty."

The kzinret scoffs. "It is as native as this one is, and you have been 'reverting' for two hours now."

Timofeyev chuckles. "I'll have you know that was Czech, not Russian, and I haven't known that language for more than two weeks as of right now."

"You are still not getting a translation. Yet."

"Drat." The lieutenant just snaps his fingers and follows along to his accomodations for the night.
31-08-2004, 03:02
The lieutenant takes every opportunity over the rest of the month to relax and enjoy himself, and for a very good reason too...

He hates to swim. Naturally, his body is notably less buoyant than the average becase of his light but dense build, and it is even harder to keep afloat when one is in full fatigues and combat boots. Still, with a bit of luck (and a modicum of practice in the University pool) he makes it across the shallow lake at an entirely different portion of Camp Hartmann--a military base the size of a nation has its advantages. Stepping out, drenched to the bone and coughing, he idly rubs the four tiny scratches along the base of his neck that the lakewater sting just a little. Nothing comes for free, one supposes.

The number of trainees who fail the early-morning initial swim is disheartening.

Then Bondayehr is chased over an obstacle course, suits up into standard powered armor for a field operations exercise, then gets out to practice hand-to-hand combat both armed and unarmed. Before breakfast.

After breakfast is an intensive introduction to the languages SMISO-MA rams down the trainee's throats: Russian, German, Mandarin, Hindi, and Japanese. Timofeyev has a head start, already knowing at least the foundations of the first two. He is only expected to apply himself harder to the other three.

Then another field operations exercise, highlighting the need for language knowledge in a mission. Then another class period covering diplomatic technique, and another short field operations exercise in fatigues demonstrating diplomacy with foreign 'allies' on foreign soil.

* - * - *

"And what guarantee can you give us from the artillery?" The Um Lizaan smirks, grumbling softly in a dialect of Arabic. "The suits like artillery, yes?"

Bondayehr frowns. "Nothing overt, but my men are willing to build hideyholes that the women and children can use in case of that."

The Um Lizaan idly taps his service pistol. "One could swear you're from Army Intelligence. That will just make us more succeptable to the gas."

The lieutenant ignores the accusation. "Tunnels from the town to dirt bunkers outside of it. If you set up patrols, outside of the village, they can detect artillery setting up positions and give warning for escape and retaliation."

"Good." Hand moves away from pistol. "Keep talking."

Timofeyev manages not to get shot this time. No one is perfectly skilled or lucky, not in MA training.

* - * - *

Then lunch. Then a complete drop-to-retrieval field training exercise covering how to insert wihout being detected, setting up shop, observing an enemy without being seen, covering one's tracks and escaping. Dinner is wherever and whenever anyone makes it during that mission, because after it everyone is too tired to do anything more than clean up and sack out.

Which leads, of course, to the inevitable night raids and random call-outs for inspection and training.

And whenever they do get to sleep, their dreams are invadeed by verb conjugation and sentence structure, speaking languages East and West in hypnotic training to be quizzed and practiced during the language 'class,' now martial-arts katas done in time to group language testing. Mildly surreal, Bondayehr thinks, but nothing worth complaining about...
03-09-2004, 01:34
"Remind me why we're doing this again, Fred?"

Two figures tromp through the swampy marsh, outlines obscured by the foul-smelling miasma of the bog, the 'silence'--although the word hardly applies with the slosh of algae-infested water, the slurp of mud, the constant buzzing and chirruping of insects--between the two shatters.

The addressed one shrugs, grey-on-grey blocks-and-bars rank on his shoulders shifting slightly. "For the defense of the Segments, boss... and what else can we do in a hellhole like this except keep going?"

Bondayehr looks back through the bug-eyes of his armored gas mask. This portion of the Ring is not quite terraformed, and is currently in a stage less than conducive to mammalian life. An experiment, really, with high concentrations of cyanide, started after the discovery of several planets relatively rich in the poison. "True, true." A slight garumph. "We've been out here for... what... fourteen hours?"

"Thereabouts. Estimated time to target is two hours."

Timofeyev sighs. "Yah, where the training instructors will probably kill us for our efforts."

"I wouldn't complain too much, boss," Friedlitz chuckles, "you're only pulling slightly above average for deaths. Not like it means much beyond room to improve, and not having the advantage of having been in for years..."

The lieutenant taps high up his forehead. "Been there, done that. Personally, I'd like to not relive that sort of thing."

"Yeah, but ya can't be perfect at everything, no matter how hard you try... hold up, sir." The corporal pauses, then points. "Wire trap."

Timofeyev freezes his motion but not his body. "The spidey sense is acting up, Fred. Drop."

The sponge-chalk training rounds come whizzing in; Friedlitz luckily ducks under the barrage but the lieutenant is lit up from knee to shoulder in puffs of red chalk as the rounds vaporize on impact. And sting like a mother.

* - * - *

It's in advanced training that troopers really begin to find their niche, or expand upon what they've already established. Freidlitz is an excellent shooter and hand-to-hand man; Sergeant Prasanth is an outstanding linguist; Private Numenoi could sell hijabs to the Israelis. Lieutenant Bondayehr... well...

I can shoot. Well enough, given time to aim. On the move, though... Another training round to the face as he once again fails to line up the target.

I can run. Sorta. A very large chalk round, representing an autocannon shell, turns his knee clean white as he ducks behind a rock in broken desert terrain. Would've blown his leg off if it weren't real, and as it is, the resulting bruise needs a sports brace for two weeks.

I can fight, after a fashion. Another fist in his stomach, an elbow cracking down on the back of his head.

I am a pretty smooth operator, but... Okay, so the contact draws a gun on him. What else is he supposed to do but disarm the guy? Good thing all the contact's cronies are just packing pistols and so the contact makes a damn fine shield as he high-tails it out. How's that a complete failure?

Pretty much, jack of all trades... Bondayer sighs, battered a bit deeper than the bruises or the scrapes. Master of none.

* - * - *

"I know that look, boss." Friedlitz frowns.

Timofeyev lolls his head over to the corporal next to him in the foxhole and half-smirks. "Really?"

"Yer bummed."

"Give the man the Nobel Prize for Psychology," Bondayehr mutters. "I'm pretty much last in the rankings in everything other than archaic weapons. Whaddya want?"

Friedlitz sighs. "Well, you gotta remember that everyone worse quit..." Immediately winces.

"That's it. Fred, you are no longer morale officer." Bondayehr picks up a fistful of mud and throws it idly against the corporal's knee with a soft splat.

"Bleah. What I'm saying, boss, is that right now you're leading the pack in staying power. A lot of people who you would say are doing better are thinking of dropping this late in the game. 'Sides, it's all a learning experience--just take it like a simple run. Catch up with the guy ahead, pass, move on."

The lieutenant scoffs. "What, get them to teach me what I'm missing, then throw them from the heap as the student becomes the master?"

"I wouldn't put it that way," Friedlitz mutters with a roll of his eyes, "but sure. You know full well that Command is gonna skim right off the top the number they need. If you're not in that number, then you've just wasted a full year of life in blood, sweat, and tears."

"And dreams," Timofeyev adds.

"Them too. Now you're holding on, and that's good, but just holding on's not gonna cut it. Time to start moving forward if you really want this to happen."

"Would you believe, Fred," the lieutenant replies as he rests his head against the foxhole wall, "that I really don't know? It's not like I chose to be here. It's not like I chose the logical path that brought me here. All I did was a stupid nice thing and somehow causality put me right here."

"Exactly. Now are you going to grab causality by the danglies and threaten to twist if you don't start getting your way, or are you just going to keep being causality's bitch?" Friedlitz pauses. "Sir."

Bondayehr arches an eyebrow. "Fred... equating the simple mechanism of reality that relates cause and effect to some sort of kinky homoerotic metaphor is the oddest thing I have heard over the past year." Another pause for some thought. "However," he continues suddenly, raising a finger, "the sadistic elements and the concept of inflicting pain to get my way are honestly quite appealing to my baser instincts and gratifying to my current feelings of inadequacy. Thanks."

"Errr... no problem, boss. Normally I wouldn't support the whole sadist bit, but I trust you aren't going to go overboard with it."

"It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, Fred," Timofeyev says, sitting up and slapping home a new magazine into his training rifle with conviction, "and it's time for us to get some Korean cuisine."

"Err, sir, only 'bout a tenth or so do that--"

"Dammit, Fred, I'm regaining my morale and it's not like political correctness is as much a saving virtue of the Segments as elsewhere, so please support this Russkie's lame attempt at humor and metaphor with a comrade!" Flopping easily to the top of the foxhole, Bondayehr sights an incoming OPFOR platoon and plants a chalk grenade cleanly into the middle of it... immediately beginning to feel better.

"Okay, sir," the corporal replies, shifting up and helping to mow down the stragglers, "but if you start handing over quotes with a sadomasochistic bent I'm going to worry about you."

Bondayehr uses the scope on his rifle and pegs a female trooper in the shoulder, chuckling mischievously to himself. "'I wanted to destroy something beautiful...'"

"Aw frag, boss, quitit!"
04-09-2004, 18:56
It all makes sense now...

The realization hits him as he drifts down on what has to be the most vulnerable way to make a drop, a simple sno-cone parachute in the middle of the morning--something SMISO will probably never do. Tracers and chalk rounds skitter through the thick drop stick, people wincing visibly as they get hit and are marked as dead before groundfall.

It makes sense, really. Why they make such a fuss over it, keeping count. They're trying to see who gets it, and 'it' is a basic concept of survival. You can die at any time, for any reason. Get over it. Mulling this over, he curls his legs up and grabs his rifle from the pouch hanging from his leg. Explains all the witching-hour 'shelling' nonsense, the attacks no one can defend against.

He balances the stock of the weapon in the crook of his arm, knowing accuracy will suffer and not really caring. Once you know you are going to die, eventually, it becomes less important. Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real--over a long enough period of time, the survival rate of any population goes to zero. No longer fearing what cannot be avoided, no longer being pushed down and boiled internally by worry, one becomes free to do what it takes to not avoid but delay the inevitable. It's hard, but there's no other way to win freedom from fear but to meet it constantly.

A pull of the trigger, a staccato explosion of sound as the rifle sends chalk rounds back down to the general location where the machine gun emplacements are hidden. Sure, he'd drift, not paying full attentions to the risers, but he'd drift no matter what. Sure, he was getting their attention, but perhaps he could keep their heads down long enough to land, and as long as they were paying attention to him...

...then again, actions inspire imitation and so the rest of the stick begins to retaliate, all drawing up their weapons and firing on the way down as they can. Not a brilliant idea, not at all, but no less brilliant than being dropped at low altitude under heavy fire. Their lives may as well be forfiet, so they may as well go down swinging.

Turns out the lieutenant gets high marks for this exercise--it is always, always stressed in training that if one is in a 'chute, one's priority is landing. Trying to shoot people while suspended in midair is a patently bad idea. This exercise, on the other hand, is intended to highlight a very simple truth:

Flexibility and initiative are far more useful than absolutely rigid doctrine.
06-09-2004, 06:40
The final test of SMISO-MA training is the grueling endurance obstacle course run, euphemistically called "Hell Run." Troopers with more poetic bents called it fancier and perhaps more artful things in the past, but Hell Run was its first name and Hell Run is the name that survived wave after wave of MA trainees.

It is not a completely foreign idea, Hell Run. Essentially, get half of a marathon track, twenty kilometers. Scatter the usual obstacle course obstacles concerning climbing, swimming, crawling, rappeling, and so forth along its length. Mix in the need for troopers to carry sufficient water on their backs to make it through, and stir with a time limit. Thus one gets the prescription for weeding out sufficient numbers of trainees that survived the past five months of nonstop training.

They're all smart enough. The tests on languages and diplomacy, the exercises, all passed. Every single one of them can speak--at least marginally--seven different languages. Many can speak eight, thanks to their parents and their ancestral language. Bondayehr can speak thirty-odd, thanks to the unfair advantages of being mildly chromed and having the queen of the mechanoids as a teacher. They all know how to read metahuman body languages, they all know how to avoid conflicts and deal with unknown cultures as well as anyone can.

They're all strong enough. Minimum standards well above the normal military physical fitness standards, all passed. Bondayehr is in the middle of the lower-third, but his wiry frame does have advantages--pushups are easier and his apparent strength is higher, as it doesn't have to move as much. This is taken into account--speed is often better than sheer force. They all know how to climb, swim, dive, crawl, leap and clamber.

They're all tough enough. Sustaining themselves through the past five months proves that.

Still, all that simply isn't enough, and so there is Hell March. Twenty kilometers, twenty-two obstacles--all different, of course--and four hours to accomplish it in while carrying sustenance kit.

* - * - *

Bondayehr leaps over stacked logs and clambers up ropes, rappelling down towers and sliding down zipropes. Clamber over a horizontal rope over on pond--body flat against it, leg hooked around with toe of boot acting as a feed, pulling himself along by the arms--and swim through a second pond. Drinking water in small sips from his canteen as he goes. Climb up this rope net, slide down this steep hill, run over these hills and through that field. Actually, it's not so bad... running is always boring, just running, but all this adds something to get the mind off of it.

Odd... something's up. All of these obstacles are about five hundred meters or so apart... at this rate, there's going to be quite the stretch. Timofeyev thinks to himself as he runs at a steady rate even after a little more than two hours, keeping his body in check while his thick-soled boots pound the beaten path. Take a turn around this tree, out of the copse, and...

A broad, broad field. The Ring has no horizon, so the finish line about nine or so kilometers away is clearly visible... and the path is now made of moderately fine sand with the little red DISQUALIFICATION flags on either side. "Oh, Jesus CHRIST," Timofeyev groans, doing some quick math. Nine kilometers, at twelve minutes a kilometer, is... eighteen, nine, one-oh-eight... and about one-thirty minutes elapsed out of two-fourty. That gives... Feet pounding through sand, the soft ground sapping energy and momentum. One-ten. Two minutes to spare, and the ground isn't cooperating. He does not look down at his boots. That only closes passages, makes it all worse, increases fatigue...

He leans forward a little more, grits his teeth, and lifts his legs higher, increasing his pace just marginally. Time to push it out.

Running is dull.

Running on a track is boring.

Running in a straight line with absolutely nothing to distract the eye is... absolute hell.

Hell Run.

Can't close your eyes, because then you fall. Can't look around, or else you slow down and don't make the time limit.

The home stretch is the worst part, the make-or-break. When you decide to sprint and push it all out or when you slow down, thinking you have time, taking it easy and failing because of it... and when that home stretch can get you across most decently-sized small cities? And on sand?

No way but through. Timofeyev hums to himself, chants in ancient Sakkran that he doesn't exactly understand, does math problems in his head with his new encephalon. Composes music. Thinks of stories. Ponders existence. Anything but to think directly on the distance between him and the goal.

And there is no cheering, no support whatsoever. Those who are already standing by the sidelines at the finish lines are ordered to silence, casting an oppressive pall of nothing on the last stretch, the real Hell Run. Just another mind game, Timofeyev realizes, just another observation: for the special operator, you don't do the last gasp to cheers. You don't see support, you don't see friends and comrades cheering you on. When it comes to do or die, you are as you were when you were born, you are as you will be when you die. There is only you, alone.

Oh, they still try to offer support through glances, facial expressions... kilometers away, there is no difference to that small humaniform speck drawing nearer. In fact, it only becomes worse, being alone, away from the group, the group watching you in judgemental silence.

The meters fade away, meaningless numbers. Infinity behind and, more decisively, infinity ahead--but one cannot think that. One can never think that. Infinity brings doubt, then fear, then anguish, then surrender--and when one must bite, one bites deep...

A quick glance down at a grey speck ahead. Human-shaped. "C'mon! Get up!" Timofeyev knows he shouldn't yell... but he has to nonetheless. "Get your ass on the bounce, trooper!"

The speck looks over and waves with a wry half-smile. "You go on ahead, sir, I'm beat."

"Like hell you are." Bondayehr turns a little, diverting to pick the man up... and remembering the briefing. A little addendum to Hell, especially for the Scolopendran do-gooder nature.


Some people think that Hell is being separate from God. Perhaps, given how humans are such social creatures, Hell is true separation from others, all hope of aid and fellowship sundered. Gritting his teeth, the lieutenant tears his eyes from the one on the road and presses on, pressing harder.

No friends. No comrades. Just him, the path, and the finish line, nearing. Getting so close... and the control begins to slip as he counts the seconds to passing, the meters between, the NO, DAMMIT. Keep MOVING.

He crosses the finish line with five minutes to spare, sore from head to toe, singing a fight song in his head before doubling over with fatigue. He doesn't wave away help... he, everyone after Hell Run is thankful for it, needful for it. Later, he thinks, it's another mind game, perfectly crafted.

In Hell, you only have yourself but before and after--and perhaps, if you're lucky, during--you've got your fellow troopers there for you.

* - * - *

Bondayehr spins down the drive of his five-month-new Selene shuttle, now with garish silver lightning-bolts and the words Lightning Bug on the sides--and hops out of the shuttle into the coolness of its little parking hangar, practically into the arms of Law-Student. "Hey, you--glad to see you made it, Shorty."

"I promised, no?" The kzinret hugs. "Have fun?"

"Hell no. But no worries about that for another month, at which point..."

She nods. "I understand."

* - * - *

It is another month on the town, a time for relaxation, but with a tiny little speck in the back of his mind. He and his friends go to festivals and plays and operas and shows whenever they can, eating and drinking and being merry for everyone knows what happens tomorrow.

* - * - *

Meanwhile, quite a long ways away, two men in a bunker look over some curiously regular transmissions that have been emanating from over Camp Hartmann for the last few months, added to some information and analysis passed along by S.H.O.D.A.N. concerning an unusual biological infestation in the good lieutenant, hence removed.

"Well, that's interesting..."

* - * - *

Timofeyev averts his eyes from the couple snogging across the table. "Jeebus H Hyskos, who invited them?"

Law-Student chuckles. "They are just showing affection. It is not as if they are 'doing it in the street.'"

"Sure, but..." Bondayehr chuckles quietly, shaking his head. "Some things are just best left private, yaknow? Anyway, let's blow this taco stand. At least hit the balcony for some air."

A little shuffling, a slight change of scene. Same old Apartment of Überness, but... Timofeyev leans on the railing, looking out over the campus of the old UoS, and sighs. The kzinret follows suit, minus the sighing. "It's been a year. Good to be back, for sure, but... it just isn't home. Not anymore."

A nod of a broad felinid head. "Such is life."

"That it is. What, about a year and a half ago I did the right thing and now I'm here where I wasn't planning to be and away from everyone who I really care about and who really care about me." He looks down the few stories to the ground, then back up at the simulated stars. "In the meanwhile, I've been shot, run into the dirt, pounded, pressed, mauled, frozen, baked, and been generally screwed with." Another sigh. "Now I'm going to be shipped out to who knows where while you're still here for another year... what are you doing once you get out, anyway?"

Law-Student listens quietly, nodding when appropriate, finally responding when prompted. "I am thinking about entering the Diplomatic Corps as a civil servant. My knowledge would be better suited there than for diplomacy... and we have both, and will both, have our adventures, Tim. That is the Hunt--surely you have known this for some time."

"Heh, yeah." The human half-smirks. "Hanging around you has taught me all about the Hunt. Then Sakkra confirms it and this... geez. It's nuts. Oh well--we'll just have to catch up during my leave, then. Just like everyone else."

Another quiet nod. "Just like."

* - * - *

Second Lieutenant Bondayehr stares out the window of the train heading out for Al Mahdi, watching the grass of the steppes of Xanadu outside, trying to catch every detail of every fiber... and of course failing. His jaw is unintentionally set, eyes staring out in thought, arm idly up against the windowsill. Law-Student, the perpetual friend, sits next to him but says nothing. The rest of the train car notices but remains respectfully quiet...

Service is life in the Segments. Service to the state is a definite phase, whether that service be as a civil servant, a police officer, a firefighter, a member in the Civilian Defense Corps... but only a select few go into the Military Services. Only a select few get shipped out. Only a few, every day, getting shipped out for the first time and knowing that this would be the last time they'd see their home, their nation for five months. It is a rite of passage for that select few, the last ride before embarking on whatever ship takes them offworld and to their new station in orbit or beyond, far away from their past, their established friends, their family... It is understood, and respected, and thence comes the subdued tone. The train arrives, unloads and loads in an unusual quietude, an innate, unconscious understanding that someone is Shipping Out. A quiet form of brotherhood.

Bondayehr goes through the gate then reports in to his commanding officer, Captain Derevlian, at the nonsecure comm shack. Finally offering the kzinret following him a quick hug in parting, he steps through the door to the flight line and whatever adventures await beyond.