Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Miru's Lesson Chapters 21-22

Chapter 21

     After mission preparation, Jon and Mia returned to their room.
     Mia grabbed a towel from her locker. “I need another shower. I smell like Special Decon soap. Need to use the latrine?”
     “No. It’s all yours,” Jon said and accessed his E-mail. There was a letter from his father, Doctor Paul Walker.

Dear Jon,

Sorry for not writing in a while, but things here have been hectic. The ethics lecture schedule keeps me busy in addition to maintaining the practice. William will be taking the lecture over next month and I will have some free time.

I met a woman named Michelle Sorens. She is a professor of Philosophy. The elevator stopped, and we were there for three hours until they could get it running again. Afterwards, I asked her out to dinner. Since then, we spend just about every spare moment together.


Julian and William say “hi.” William wants you to write more often. Alice sends her love and misses you greatly. She promises to have warm cookies and cold milk for you when you come home. She wants you and Beth to become friends again.

Yes, I am going to harp again about you and Beth. It’s none of my business, but let me give you some advice. Think with your brain, not your anger.

Dad


     Jon contemplated his father’s words while the computer downloaded a picture of Paul and Michelle. The picture revealed a tall, brown-haired woman standing next to Paul outside a restaurant.
     “You go, Dad,” Jon muttered approvingly.
     The mailbox feature chirped. Jon printed a copy of the picture and then looked at the E-mail list. Jon saw sixteen E-mails from his ex-girlfriend.
     “Delete, delete, delete--that’s all folks,” Jon muttered as he rapidly tapped the “Delete” button on the computer. He glanced over his shoulder at Mia, who wore only a towel and turned his attention to the computer.
     Mia went to her locker, opened it and started drying off damp spots. “What’s that about?”
     “The delete thing?”
     “Yeah. What happened?”
     Jon forced himself to not to stare at Mia. “She’s in med school. Two weeks before I finished Basic, she said she didn’t want to be with a soldier and ended our relationship.”
     “Med school? Is she an older woman?”
     “No, she’s a prodigy. She started pre-med when she was sixteen. She’s really smart,” Jon said as the com rang.
     “Not that smart,” Mia whispered softly while Jon picked up the com.
     “Room three eleven, Aggressor Walker speaking, may I help you?” Jon asked, his heart pounding at Mia’s whispered words.
     “Jon, it’s Ben. You and Mia are cordially invited to Five North. Bring lots of money; we’re thirsty.”
     “Hold on,” Jon said and cupped his hand over the mouthpiece. “Ben wants us and our money at Five North.”
     Mia pulled her panties on and turned slightly to face Jon. “I’m going to church first, then I’ll join you about nineteen hundred.”
     “I’ll be there shortly, Mia will join us after church,” Jon said to Ben.
     “Okay. We’re holding a table for the team by the Sub and Club.”
     “Will do!” Jon said.

***

     “Over here!” Tomas said loudly, waving his hand.
     Jon walked over to the table. “Are the others coming?”
     “Most of them,” Ben said. “I got the first round. What’re you drinking?”
     “Kirin.”
     “One unicorn!” Ben said brightly and picked up the gaudily-painted “team tray.” “I’ll be right back.”
     Jon sat next to Tomas. “Thanks.”
     “Did well today,” Tomas said.
     “Thanks. Where’s everyone else?”
     “Should be showing up soon,” Tomas said.
     Ben returned with two mixed drinks and two bottles of Kirin beer. He passed the drinks out and placed one of the beers in the center of the table.
     “What’s that one for?” Jon asked.
     “Many believe the Aggressor Gods hang out with us. It’s pretty rude not to offer a drink to those who watch over us, right?”
     “Right about that,” Jon said as he picked up his beer and looked at the stylized Japanese unicorn on the label.
     “Our tradition is that when you buy a round, one drink goes for the Gods. When someone buys the next round, they replace the Gods’ beer and take the one in the center as their drink. Sort of a rotating communion,” Ben said.
     “Gotcha,” Jon replied.

***

     Mia knelt quietly in the Arboretum and closed her eyes. Her breathing slowed as she sought the Goddess’ advice.
     In her tranquil state, Mia’s Light of Perfection radiated three meters from her, indicating her influence on others was limited to those she interacted with. Around her Light of Perfection was the cold darkness of Imperfection. As Mia’s meditative state deepened, the darkness of Imperfection was swept away by the Light of Perfection only the Goddess possessed.
     Dream-Mia knelt before her Goddess.
     “Rise, my Child,” the Goddess said.
     Mia looked up and stood to face her Goddess. The Goddess wore a dress made of light, under a filmy gown. Her features were defined by hints of shadow, though the face was blank.
     “I come before you to ask your help with my problem,” Mia said humbly.
     “I cannot do more than advise you,” the Goddess said.
     “How can I make them realize I had to come here? That I’ve dreamt of making the world better?”
     “You cannot, until they are truly ready to listen. Until then, your words will fall on deaf ears and cold hearts.”
     “Thank you, my Goddess,” Dream-Mia said and began the process of returning to the real world.
     “Wait, my Child. I have advice for another problem you have.”
     “I have?”
     “You fear you have alienated someone by your words and deeds. You fear your bisexuality will turn him away, don’t you?”
     “Yes, My Goddess. He strikes me as a one-woman kind of man. Until recently, I could not even think of a man in romantic terms again.”
     “Your worries are but an excuse for not opening your heart. Learn to trust again. Use caution and follow your heart.”

***

     Belastuger stood in the drink line at Grubby’s and observed the Aggressors around him. Most seemed unconcerned he wore a different uniform. A few gave him veiled glares. He returned their glares with equally veiled contemptuous smirks, daring them to act on their violent fantasies.
     A buxom woman with long dark hair laughed. The muscular, sandy-haired man she faced said something. The woman nodded and walked past Belastuger with a tray with three drinks in her hand.
     Belastuger grinned and left the long line. Duty is hard, but occasionally fun. He walked up to Orel. “How’s your father?” he asked in Rodinan.
     The line moved up. Orel stepped forward casually as if Belastuger hadn’t spoken.
     “I heard your mother saw her own face before she died. Such a terrible fate to see your face burned off, yes, very.” Belastuger saw Orel’s shoulder muscles tense, “Ever see someone with bloody charcoal for a face?”
     Orel looked to the front of the line.
     “Orel Krelov, traitor to the Motherland. Betrayer of the Marxist society that raised you. There is nowhere the State cannot touch you.”
     Orel faced Belastuger. “The State must be hard up for men if they sent the likes of you to ‘touch’ me. Go ahead, do your duty to the State. Only thing stopping you is your own fear.”
     Belastuger saw two CPs watching them. “I wouldn’t make plans for Christmas if I were you.”

***

     “Room for two?” an African-descendant woman with high cheekbones and short-cropped hair asked. A pale, blonde man held her hand possessively.
     Ellen stood up. “Always! Have my seat.”
     Leslie slid her chair backwards. Ellen sat in Leslie’s lap.
     “Join us,” Ben said affably.
     “Thank you,” the woman said as she looked at Jon.
     “Kana, this is Jon Walker. Jon, Kana Owela from Miru’s team,” Ellen said.
     Jon stood and shook Kana’s hand gently. “Pleased to meet you,” he said with a smile and turned to face the blonde man.
     “This is my Bond-partner, Erich Kessler,” Kana said. Erich shook Jon’s hand firmly with three up and down pumps. Kana sat down.
     “My round. What is everyone drinking?” Erich said with a heavy German accent. After receiving drink orders, Erich kissed Kana’s cheek, grabbed the painted tray and headed towards one of the bars.
     “What happened out there?” Ellen asked Kana.
     “We had just passed Bridge 29 when we lost commo. Miru ordered a turn south as a precaution. Fog caught us from the west. Good thing we had the transmission upgrades,” Kana said as she looked around. “It was closer than I care to think about. I heard you had an interesting time.”
     “We destroyed the shuttle. Neil thinks they were scouting,” Ben said. “Jon got on the scoreboard today. His first mission.”
     “Congratulations,” Kana said with a dazzling smile.
     “Thank you,” Jon said, unsure of how to react to his new status as a killer.
     “Getting crowded here,” Leslie observed.
     “Fog’s the worst anyone’s seen in some time. Control called everyone in and put the Guardians in their doghouses,” Ben said.
     “Doghouses?” Jon asked.
     “Temporary shelters at the Dumps,” Ben explained.
     “Gotcha.”
     Tomas jerked his head towards a group of men in black shirts and pants. “The Rodinans graduated today. Poor bastards can’t even go to Compound Two until the fog lifts. We’ll have lots of cops here tonight.”
     “Why?” Jon asked.
     Ellen put her arm around Leslie. “Too many Asterians, Rodinan exiles and Special Enforcement Service types near too much booze. Orel’s team has nothing but exiles or Asterians in it. They hate Rodinan communists and their supporters.”
     “Where’s Neil?” Leslie asked.
     “Redding from First Platoon asked Neil and Sandy to help him find a bookworm,” Ben replied.
     “Huh?” Jon asked.
     “You haven’t seen a Harvest, have you?”
     “Not that I’m aware of,” Jon replied.
     “After you graduate, team leaders will talk to you and see if you can fit in with their team. Next morning, you’re usually recruited for a specific team,” Leslie explained.
     “Miru and Orel talked to me the whole night, yet I’m here,” Jon said.
     “It’s an unwritten rule of the Harvest. While you’re talking to a Leader, nobody butts in. If they had left you unattended, you would have been fair game for anyone looking for people. Since Neil was ‘The Colonel’ for your integrity check, he felt he might have a problem recruiting and asked Orel and Miru to talk to you,” Tomas elaborated.
     “When Orel learned you’d shot competitively, Ellen was orgasmic. Her last shuttle clearance partner couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from the inside,” Ben said.
     “Orgasmic?” Leslie blurted and looked up at Ellen, a pouting frown on her face.
     “Only for you,” Ellen laughed and embraced Leslie.
     “Room for two?” Ashley and Steve asked.
     Tomas slid in his chair slightly and Ben shared it. Ashley and Steve took the empty chair with a smile.

***

     Stepashin looked at Ellen. “What a waste of a perfectly good blonde.”
     “It’s their way,” Belastuger said as he rose. “Comrades, my round.” Belastuger picked up the fiberglass tray and walked towards one of the bars.
     “For now,” Stepashin said. “Too bad.”
     “She’s too skinny, Dmitri,” Melanchiev said. “She has no tits.”
     “I’ll give her the nine-month weight gain program. Nothing prettier than a pregnant woman,” Stepashin said wistfully.
    "Gender criminals,” Karpovski growled. “Send them to the gulags.”

***

     “Where’s Mia?” Ashley asked.
     “She went to church. Should be joining us anytime now,” Jon replied.
     Tomas put his head on Jon’s shoulder and batted his eyes. “I’m taking her place until she arrives.”
     Jon laughed and pushed Tomas away. “You’re crazy.”
     Tomas raised his drink. “You don’t have to be crazy to be an Aggressor, but--”
     “IT GIVES YOU THE EDGE!” the others chorused.
     Jon looked at his chrono.
     “Just being fashionably late,” Ashley said.
     “I’m still available!” Tomas batted his eyes at Jon again.
     “I think Ben’s getting jealous,” Jon observed and took a swig of his beer.
     “Not as long as he shares!” Ben said suddenly. Jon choked on his beer to the amusement of the others.
     Tomas slapped Jon’s back. “Gonna make it?”
     “Yeah!” Jon croaked. “You two are crazy.”
     “Yes, we are!” Tomas said grandly.
     “Pervert,” Stepashin sneered from behind Jon and Tomas.
     Tomas looked up at Stepashin. “Say what?”
     “Faggot,” Stepashin said.
     Jon slid out of his chair and faced Stepashin. “Hey, no need to be rude.”
     “I’ll handle this,” Tomas said as he stood up, menace in his eyes. Ben stood up supportively.
     The Rodinans stood up at their table in response. “Guys, we can’t get insane here,” Ashley said. 
     Ellen got off Leslie’s lap. “Everyone, chill out. Now.”
     “It’s reassuring to know the women here have more balls than the men,” Stepashin said loudly.
     “Do you really want to take a chance on getting your ass kicked by a faggot?” Tomas taunted.
     Stepashin’s sucker punch caught Tomas in the stomach. A vicious uppercut connected squarely on Tomas’ forehead. Ben took a step forward, only to be restrained by Erich.
     “FIGHT!” a dozen voices shouted. Those at the surrounding tables quickly moved backwards, pulling chairs and tables away from the fight as Tomas recovered and delivered an uppercut to Stepashin’s jaw.
     The Rodinans moved quicker towards the scene, eager to join the fray.
     Calls of “Stay out of it!” filled the air around the two fighters. The silver-shirted Compound Police moved towards the fight from various directions.
     The Rodinans ignored the calls and closed in.
     “Stay out of it!” Jon snapped as Melanchiev reached the open space. Melanchiev stopped short. Jon pointed at another Rodinan, who started to step in the cleared space. “Stay out of it!”
     Tomas punched Stepashin squarely in the solar plexus and put him in a headlock. Stepashin tried to grab Tomas’ leg to break the headlock. Belastuger pushed his way through the Rodinans and punched Tomas in the face.
     Jon stepped in the circle, punched Belastuger on the side of the head, and stepped back slightly, bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet. “Come on, you little pussy!” he said to the larger man.
     Belastuger growled and ran at Jon.
     Jon stepped aside, grabbed the back of Belastuger’s collar and pulled backwards, jerking the taller man off his feet. He stepped back as Belastuger landed hard on the deck. “Plenty more where that came from,” he said to the delight of the crowd. “Plenty more!”
     Belastuger growled at the elementary throw and jumped to his feet. “You’re mine!” he shouted, his face red. He feinted with a fast left jab and threw a right hook that broke Jon’s nose before launching a roundhouse kick.
     Jon caught Belastuger’s leg with his left arm and held on tightly while he stepped in close with his left foot, pushing Belastuger backwards and breaking the Rodinan’s balance. Jon released Belastuger’s leg and followed the Rodinan down, his knee raised to hit the genitals.
     Belastuger shrieked in agony at the effective hit.
     Jon slid his left hand behind Belastuger’s neck and gripped his own right shirtsleeve. He pushed his right forearm against Belastuger’s throat. Jon gripped his left sleeve with his right hand and pulled his arms backwards, tightening the chokehold. Jon kneed Belastuger’s groin again and again.
     Belastuger weakly brought his hand up to claw at Jon’s eyes.
     Jon sank his teeth into Belastuger’s cheek, growled and shook his head from side to side as he had been trained to do to the enemies of the Alliance.

***

     “Police! Make a hole!” a dozen silver-shirted CPs shouted as they pushed their way through the crowd. Eight of the police officers moved the crowd back. Two officers easily separated and subdued Stepashin and Tomas.
     “Halt! Police!” a policeman shouted as he grabbed Jon’s right leg. “Grab his leg!” the silver-shirted man said. Another CP grabbed Jon’s left leg and they pulled mightily.
     Jon held onto Belastuger long enough to deliver a parting head-butt before the officers pulled him away and handcuffed him.

***

     “Walker, you try anything, we’ll beat you so bad you’ll wish Daddy kept it in his pants the night you were conceived, got it?” the husky officer warned sternly.
     “Yes, Officer.”
     The policeman removed the handcuffs and stepped back. His partner drew her baton from her nylon duty belt.
     “I’m going to clean your face up,” the medic said.
     “Thanks,” Jon said. He winced when the medic cleaned around the bridge of his nose. “The nose is busted.”
     “Let’s let the doctor earn his pay, shall we?” the medic said casually while he cleaned Jon’s face.
     A man entered the room, a Warrant Officer’s black and silver bar on his collar. “How is he?”
     “Broken nose at least, Mister Wenger.”
     Wenger nodded and examined Jon’s nose carefully. “If you’re interested, one of the Rodinans has a broken nose and needs major stitches.”
     Jon smiled feebly, knowing that his enemy came out a sad second best. His smile vanished when he saw Neil standing at the doorway.

***

     Mia stepped into the room and looked at the closed latrine door. “Jon, you in there?”
     “Yeah. I’ll be out in a minute.”
     “Okay.”
     “Did you hear what happened?” Jon asked.
     “Ellen says you and Tomas got into it with the Rodinans.”
     “Yeah. My nose is broken,” Jon said as he opened the door and stepped into the room.
     Mia frowned at Jon’s swollen nose. “Does it hurt?”
     “Not as much as I thought it would. I’m having problems breathing.”
     “Gee, I wonder why,” Mia said, shaking her head. “I’m glad you’re not in the stockade.”
     “Might as well be. The CPs put me on report and barred me from returning to Five North tonight. If I go back, they’ll arrest me,” Jon said and sat on his bunk. “Neil read me the riot act and told me Major Phillips wants to see us tomorrow at thirteen hundred.”
     “How’s Tomas?”
     “He’s got a black eye. I talked to him before he went to his room.”
     Mia sat on her bunk and looked up at Jon. “What’s going to happen?”
     “Ellen told me I might get off light, this being a first offense and that I didn’t get into it until that guy jumped in. It depends if Major Phillips is burn-happy or not.”
     “Are you restricted to the room?”
     “CPs said I could go anywhere except for Five North.”
     “Want to go to the Arboretum?”
     Jon hid his surprise. “For a little while. I don’t feel like walking too much.”

Chapter 22
     August 3, Compound One:

     “Sir, Major Mikoyan reporting for duty, sir!” the commander of the Rodinan contingent said crisply as he saluted General Thompson.
     Thompson returned the salute. “Welcome to Kronskye,” he said with a warm smile as he leaned over his desk to shake Mikoyan’s hand.
     “Thank you, sir.”
     “This is our boss, Deputy Minister Harry Castleton,” Thompson said.
     “Honored to meet you, sir,” Mikoyan said and held out his hand.
     “Welcome to Kronskye, Major,” Castleton said.
     “Thank you.”
     “I regret our first meeting has to include a disciplinary matter,” Thompson said.
     “I regret that also, sir,” Mikoyan said.
     The intercom chirped. “Sir, Major Phillips is here.”
     “Send her in.”
     Major Teresa Phillips entered the office, stood next to Mikoyan and saluted. “Sir, Major Phillips reporting as ordered, sir!”
     Thompson returned the salute. “Major Phillips, this is Major Mikoyan, commander of the Rodinan contingent. Major Mikoyan, Major Phillips, Lima Company commander.”
     “Pleased to meet you, Major,” Phillips said.
     “The pleasure is mine, Major,” Mikoyan replied.
     “I’ve reviewed the footage from the Dome’s security cameras. We don’t tolerate fighting in the Recreation Dome because fights often escalate into brawls,” Thompson said as he looked pointedly at Phillips. “You know that, Major Phillips. Apparently your people don’t.”
     “Sir, may I speak?” Mikoyan asked hesitantly.
     “Go ahead.”
     “Colonel Konoye showed me the security footage of the incident this morning. My men were clearly the instigators. I respectfully request Major Phillips and I be allowed to handle this matter in-house.”
     Major Phillips nodded supportively.
     “What do you have in mind, Major Mikoyan?” Thompson asked Mikoyan.
     “Use this incident to reinforce discipline. Many of us remember what the Service was before the Asterian Civil War and yearn to return to those standards. The Special Enforcement Service has a well-earned reputation for being less than professional and disciplined. We’re going to change that. They will not get a slap on the wrist for this, I assure you, sir.”
     Thompson considered the request and shifted his gaze to include Phillips. “I will leave this to you two. Report what actions were taken no later than fifteen hundred hours. Dismissed.”

***

     After stepping out of Thompson’s office, Mikoyan looked at Phillips. “Thank you for supporting me.”
     “You’re welcome, Major. What will happen to your men?” Phillips said as they walked down the passageway leading to the Main Dome.
     Mikoyan’s brow wrinkled in thought. “I will fine them two month’s pay and put letters of reprimand in their files. What do you intend to do with your men?”
     “I don’t know yet. It will be strict, I assure you. Fighting cannot be tolerated.”
     “Stepashin started the fight. Folks was defending himself and Walker was defending his friend. According to Sergeant Melanchiev, Walker did try to keep others out of the fight, yet did not hesitate to even the odds when Belastuger joined the fight. I call that loyalty to a fellow soldier. I would factor that into my decision.”
     “Major, my men were just as wrong. Folks’ mouth is safety-wired to the smartass position. Walker made his first kill a few hours previously and hadn’t come down from the combat high,” Phillips said. “He needs to control that before he kills someone at the wrong time.”
     Mikoyan nodded thoughtfully. “I don’t envy you your task, because you have to factor in their motivations and self-defense. I only have to throw the book at my men.”
     Phillips smiled. “I should throw the book at mine as well. I don’t like being called in for their fuckups.”
     “I see some good coming from this, though it will take time to materialize.”
     “It will? How?” Phillips asked.
     “Don’t take this the wrong way. Our men fought each other to a draw. If you call on us for reinforcements, the Aggressors here know my people are tough and willing to do whatever it takes to win and vice versa,” Mikoyan said.
     “I see your point, though it will take time for that point to take hold amongst our people,” Phillips said, holding her retort back about “toughness.”
     They walked in silence until they reached the Main Dome.
     “Major, as pleasant as this conversation is, I must meet my men.”
     “Good luck to you, Major,” Phillips said as she held out her hand.
     “And to you, Major.”

***

     Phillips sat in her chair and returned Tomas’ sharp salute with a bored flick of a wrist. The gesture was not lost on Tomas.
     Neil stood against the right side wall, observing quietly.
     “Folks, you disappoint me,” Phillips said as she leaned forward. “While you hold no actual leadership position within your team, you hold a position of influence. Did you think that your reaction to one fucking word would cause your new teammate to be waiting outside?”
     “No, ma’am,” Tomas said.
     “This isn’t the first time you’ve been written up for fighting, is it?”
     “No, ma’am.”
     “Although Stepashin threw the first punch, you provoked him. I should pull your Shield and ship your ass to Suomi as a lesson,” Phillips said and leaned back in her chair.
     “Others will have problems with your sexual orientation due to cultural and religious reasons. You will have to deal with that diplomatically. Stepashin was looking for a fight, and you gave it to him. Send Walker in here and wait by the door."
     Tomas left the office then pulled the door closed after Jon went inside.
     Jon centered himself on the desk and stood at attention.
     “Walker, you have no idea how pissed off I am at you,” Phillips growled. “You took what should have been a fist-fight and nearly killed your opponent. I should court-martial you for attempted murder! Speak.”     “Ma’am, I did nothing until the second Rodinan assaulted Aggressor Folks. I couldn’t justify leaving a disparity of force unresolved,” Jon said formally.
     “What barracks-lawyer taught you that legalistic phrase?” Phillips held up her hand to silence Jon. “Don’t answer. As an Aggressor, there is a time to kill, and a time not to kill. I’m going to be watching you. Get Folks in here.”
     “Yes, ma’am,” Jon said. He left the room and returned with Tomas thirty seconds later.
     Phillips looked at them. “You two will clean the Returnees and Special Decon latrines for the next two weeks on your down days, starting today. Walker, you will not visit Five North during party hours or consume alcohol during that time. Clear?”
     “Clear!” Jon replied.
     “Folks, I am sending you to ten hours of anger management and crisis resolution counseling. You will not visit Five North at all or consume alcoholic beverages until I get the completion slip from the counselor. Am I clear?”
     “Clear!” Tomas said crisply.
     “Aggressor Leader, is patrol preparation completed?”
     “Yes, Ma’am. We’re ready for tomorrow’s patrol,” Neil replied. “Final briefing zero four, departure time zero four forty-five.”
     “Thank you,” Phillips said. She faced Jon and Tomas. “You know where you need to be. Dismissed.”

***

     The Aggressors who operated the two-man SV20s or worked outside up to twenty-four hours at a time eventually used the diapers. Cleaning “the rough” off in the open Returnees showers was humiliating and unhygienic. Those needing Special Decon cleaned up in the private showers before heading to the Returnee showers to remove the mothball smell of the Decon soap used to prevent rashes.
     “What are you in here for?” Tomas asked Jon as they entered the facility.
     Jon’s nose wrinkled at the lingering stench of excrement and Decon soap. “I told a Rodent I had pictures of his mother with an Asterian donkey for sale. What did you do?”
     Tomas opened the door to the cleaning gear locker. “Got drunk and thought it was a good idea to try seducing a Rodent.”
     Jon snickered. “Man, we lucked out having this done informally. She could have put this on our service chips. Bye-bye Special Purpose Forces.”
     “She could have sent us out of here without our Shields, too.”
     “Can she really get our Shields pulled? I mean, we completed training.”
     “Difficult, takes the General’s approval, but considering we beat the shit out of two Rodinans, she might’ve done it to soothe hurt feelings,” Tomas said.
     “It could have been worse.”
     “A lot worse. Know what I’m going to do when I finish my sentence?”
     Jon picked up a wheeled bucket and put it in the deep sink. “Share.”
     “Go to Five North and get toasted. Maybe there will be another sexy Rodent waiting.”
     Jon turned on the water. “You’re a slow learner, aren’t you?”
     Tomas laughed. “What about you? What are you going to do?”
     “I might work up enough courage to ask Mia out.”
     “I think she’s interested in you.”
     Jon turned off the water. “I know. I learned her fiancĂ© dumped her just before she came here. I don’t want to rush her. Good things come to those who wait.”
     “Don’t wait too long.”

***

     After meeting the advance party, Mikoyan looked at Belastuger. “I need to speak to you and Stepashin. Where can we speak?”
    “My room, sir. It’s been swept for eavesdropping devices,” Belastuger said.
      “How is your face?” Mikoyan asked after Belastuger closed the door.
     “Sore, but all will heal well. Marks of honor,” Belastuger said.
     “Indeed they are, Comrade. Our plan required this in order to change public perception of us and assess the Aggressor’s discipline, fighting spirit and skills. If they fight this well with their hands, one can only imagine their skills with their weapons,” Mikoyan said.
     “I serve the Motherland,” Belastuger said simply. “Please be seated.”
     Mikoyan and Stepashin sat in the computer chairs, Belastuger sat on his bunk.
     “What is your assessment of the Aggressors?” Mikoyan asked.
     “They are good in the field, as expected. I studied their mission database to understand why they are feared throughout the Alliance. I put my observations on chip for your perusal.”
     “I look forward to reading it,” Mikoyan said, and then looked at Stepashin. “What is your impression of the Aggressors?”
     “As far as professional abilities, I completely agree. Off duty, they remind me of spoiled children. No thoughts of anything except their own pleasures. Many go to an ecologically-based church known as the 'Church of Kronskye.' Their teams are based on common likes such as sports or politics or hobbies rather than duty or love of the Alliance. They openly embrace their perverts. Some drink to excess. They lack discipline,” Stepashin said.
     “How do you judge their unarmed combat skills? Honestly,” Mikoyan said.
     “Not what I expected, sir. You’ve heard the stories about how one Aggressor is worth three trespassers. Pure exaggeration,” Stepashin said. “My opponent only wanted to punch on me. I suspect his homosexuality had something to do with that, so he could prove his manhood to others.”
     Mikoyan contemplated Stepashin’s statement in silence. “Superior Sergeant?”
     “TheAlliance's unarmed combat style is valid. If anything, it was better than I anticipated,” Belastuger said.
     “What makes the fighting style valid?”
     “The Military Combative style is similar to combat sambo,” Belastuger said, referring to the Rodinan approach to unarmed combat. “While I agree with Sergeant Stepashin’s belief about exaggeration, it’s a good combat style.”
     Mikoyan turned to Stepashin. “Sergeant, would you make sure the men are ready?”
     “Yes, sir,” Stepashin said. He stood to attention and left the room.
     “General Yarnov told me you seen action during the Asterian Civil War,” Mikoyan said.
     “Yes, sir. Stepashin and I served with the 42nd Raid Company,” Belastuger said modestly.
     “If it were up to me, you would be the Assistant Sector Leader here,” Mikoyan said.
     “I’m flattered by your trust, sir,” Belastuger said humbly.
     “What must we do to make ourselves truly effective?” Mikoyan asked.
     “Sir, training is what we need most,” Belastuger replied.
     “Agreed. Do you have a training plan prepared?”
     “Yes, sir. We’ll implement it after we--the initial detachment--help the Aggressors train our fellow Warriors, sir,” Belastuger said.
     “Warriors?”
     “Yes, sir. When we completed our training, Stepashin suggested that we take a new name to separate us from the Aggressors. The initial detachment chose the title.”
     “Ah, I see!” Mikoyan said approvingly. “Please continue.”
     “When we have completed training, we form teams and start patrolling. Initially, each patrol will have Aggressors with them as advisors. After our trainers are satisfied with our performance, they will officially turn the Sector over to us. Then we can begin the real mission,” Belastuger said.
     “Good. Are you satisfied with the way things are?”
     “Yes and no,” Belastuger said.
     “What are you not satisfied with?” Mikoyan asked.
     “Right now, we must rely upon the Alliance to maintain our equipment. General Yarnov said we would have our own technicians. We also lack rescue personnel. That worries me, because our people will eventually need rescuing,” Belastuger said.
     “Our support technicians will arrive next week. Some have actually served on Kronskye before. We hired firefighters to perform the rescue missions. They will be trained to deal with local conditions by the Aggressor-Rescuer school in Compound Two. In six weeks, Compound Two will have nothing but Party members,” Mikoyan said.
     Belastuger looked at Mikoyan curiously. “I don’t see how, sir. There are offworld scientists and the like there.”
     “There was very little scientific work being done from Compound Two. There is some archaeological work planned, but I can cancel it on security concerns. The civilian businesses will relocate just before we take over. Until they leave, we must be tolerant of them, especially the Asterians. We must lower the Alliance’s suspicions.”
     “Yes, sir!” Belastuger said. His voice lowered conspiratorially. “There’s a problem that you need to be aware of, sir.”
     “What?”
     “The presence of counterrevolutionaries, sir,” Belastuger said.
     “Explain.”
     “Orel Krelov is here. He leads an Aggressor-Rescuer team in Sector Four. We have had dealings with him before, sir.”
     “We have?” Mikoyan asked.
     “His father was Oleg Krelov. Department of Taxation issue on the standard shotguns.”
     “I remember. If not for the son’s Alliance status, we would have dealt with him long ago,” Mikoyan smiled. “What did you do when you saw him?”
     “I tried to goad him into a fight. He didn’t take the bait.”
     “That is too bad,” Mikoyan said. “He needs a reminder of the power of the State.”
     “I recommend we alert General Yarnov about Krelov’s presence and how his rank poses a serious threat to our forces,” Belastuger said.
     “How can his rank pose a threat?”
     “Aggressor-Rescuer Leaders generally run things outside the Compounds with only token oversight from their controllers. Krelov’s team is comprised solely of Asterians or traitors to the Motherland.”
     Mikoyan grinned fiercely. “We’ll take care of that loose end if the opportunity arises.”

***

      Major Mikoyan, your men aren’t that tough, Major Phillips thought while she watched Tomas and Stepashin fight.
     She replayed the chip and studied Jon’s moves, a frown on her face. Though he had not used any killing techniques, the fact he choked Belastuger indicated he would have no problem killing when lesser means would serve. Cleaning the filthiest place in Compound One would not teach Jon self-restraint. If anything, his fellow Aggressors would remember Jon had watched a friend’s back and approve of his loyalty.
     She accessed Jon’s service record and read the psychological evaluation approving Jon for Aggressor duty. “Interesting,” she mused and pushed the intercom button. “Mister Krieger, come to my office, please.” Phillips reread the evaluation until Krieger entered. “Take a seat.”
     The redheaded Warrant Officer sat on the couch and waited for Phillips to speak.
     “I called you in here because we are about to have a fatality in the company.”
     “Who?” Krieger asked.
     “Walker.”
     “You think the Rodinans will target him over this?” Krieger asked.
     “No. That’s the least of our worries. Watch the fight.” Phillips replayed the chip and then shown Krieger Jon’s psychological evaluation.
     Minutes later, Krieger nodded. “I see what you mean. There’s going to be some serious problems in his future. I suggest we bring Carson into this discussion.”
     “No. Carson’s closer to his troops than I like to see in my subordinates. I don’t want him to think we’re singling Walker out,” Phillips said.
     “He is closer to his people than normal, but you can’t fault his results. He has a solid team, even with Walker and Fuller.”
     “Agreed,” Phillips said and leaned back in her chair. “What did you think when you saw the fight?”
     “Honestly? Walker punked the SES version of a Sergeant Major out,” Krieger said with a grin. “In front of his men, no less.”
     “How far do you think he would have taken it?”
     “I don’t know.”
     “I think Walker was just a little too eager to fight. I think someone spotted that while he was in Basic and steered him towards Aggressor duty.”
     “What makes you think that?” Krieger asked.
     “Have you ever heard of a shortage of slots for Lance Corporals in the Highlanders? Lance Corporals are dropping like flies there,” Phillips replied.
     “I see your point,” Krieger said.
     “If Walker went there with his current mindset--”
     “--he’s more likely to kill an innocent by accident. Or get himself or others killed because he acted before thinking,” Krieger finished.
     “Right. I figure this Captain Kimura thought going through the Aggressor Course would teach Walker self-restraint and caution while maintaining the right mindset for combat. It only taught him techniques and how to push the envelope further. How can we teach him self-restraint while keeping him sharp, all without being obvious we’re doing it?”

***

     “Jon-san! Save me a seat!” Miru called from the serving line at the mess hall.
     “Sure!” Jon replied. 
     A few moments later, Miru placed his tray on the table and sat. “Thanks.”
     “Anytime, Miru-san. Thought you’d be eating at Five North.”
     “It gets expensive, even on a Leader’s pay,” Miru replied and bowed his head in prayer. Jon fell silent until Miru raised his head.
     “How bad are your tracks?”
     “You don’t know?” Miru said and reached for the salt.
     “Kana and Erich didn’t talk much about it.”
     “It cracked Day’s periscopes and started eating Night’s outer airlock door gasket. It was a miracle we all made it back without losing interior integrity.”
     “Damn!” Jon said. “How soon will you be ready?”
     “Tomorrow the paint will be cured. All we have to do is put on this week’s anti-frat markings and we can roll.”
     “That’s good.”
     “Erich told me about your fight this morning while we were steam-cleaning the tracks. What did Neil say?”
     “He told me I should have stayed out of it, yet I think he accepts that I couldn’t stand by and let Tomas get his ass kicked when the second Rodent jumped in. He’s miffed at me, but furious with Tomas. I gather this isn’t Tomas’ first fight in the Dome.”
     “It wasn’t.” Miru nodded and took a drink of milk. “What did Phillips do?”
     “I get to clean Special Decon for two weeks on non-patrol days and I’m barred from going into Five North during party hours until I complete my sentence. Tomas is barred from Five North until he completes anger management counseling. Neil says this is off the record, which tells me we got off easy.”
     “You are one lucky son of a bitch.”
     “I know. Tomas said Phillips could have pulled our Shields.”
     “That’s the least of your problems. You don’t know who you fought, did you?”
     “Bella-something.”
     “Superior Sergeant Kirl Belastuger did four years with the SES during the Asterian, was demobilized and went into their inactive reserve system. He was recalled for this assignment.”
     “How do you know?”
     “He was training his people in knife fighting with real knives. Zedimore and I saw a Rodinan get five teeth knocked out of his head. Belastuger told him to pick up his teeth and go to the medics as casually as I’m talking to you. Zedimore reported the incident and Larsen had a serious discussion about training safety with Belastuger. He said that’s how they trained in the SES during the Intervention. He was toying with you.”
     “My nose says otherwise,” Jon said.
     “Given his history and rank, it’s safe to say he’s one of the few SES types who actually knows the profession. He could have killed you.”
     “I doubt it. I pretty much controlled the fight.”
     “You didn’t control that fight from what I hear. You jumped into it for the right reasons, but you didn’t follow through. Erich told me you pulled him off his feet and then you let him get up and break your nose. That’s why you look like a raccoon.”
 “He looks worse than I do.”
     “If you had followed up after you took him down the first time, you might not have a broken nose. You shouldn’t have toyed with him.”
     “I guess I was trying to keep the fight from escalating. I don’t know.”
     Miru fell silent, knowing his opening ploy failed. He ate silently while Jon lingered over his dessert. “You like to read?”
     “Depends on the subject,” Jon said.
     “Ever read ‘Danger Close!’ by Vilor Boloza?”
     Jon laughed. “I got afternoon detention for reading it in high school. My math teacher was not happy.”
     “It’s a good book, and he makes some interesting observations. He says we’ve gotten soft,” Miru said.
     “On the voyage here, I met his platoon sergeant during the war. K’Hunu said after the Second Nippon War, we cut the military budget, rested on our laurels and trained less. When the Alliance moved to stop the Asterian Civil War, the initial forces paid in blood,” Jon said, looking at the remnants of his pie. “Blood that we could have avoided with proper training beforehand.”
     “He’s right,” Miru said and reached for the salt. “If you look at the aftermath of most wars, you’ll see that trend. The population is grateful the war is over. The politicians reduce the size of the military to reassure the voters that their sons won’t have to serve, and cut the military budget to spend on social programs.”
     “Jameson’s ‘Profits of Peace’ program,” Jon said and took a drink of milk. “We had three hundred front line divisions in 2547 when the Intervention ended. Now we have about half that scattered amongst eighty-seven planets. With more budget and force cuts in the future, we’ll be overextended, under-funded and under-trained. We’ll pay for their stupidity in blood when the fucking Imperials decide we should live under their system of government. The planetary forces won’t be enough to stop them because they’re downsizing also and relying upon us to take the brunt of an Imperial invasion.”
     “And here we are relying upon them to take the first hit while we move in,” Miru said and wolfed his meal down in silence. He wiped his lips on a paper napkin and tossed it on the empty tray. “What are you doing to improve yourself as a soldier?”
     “I’m here to improve and gain experience in ChemWar. Now that I’m done with my training, I’ll start my leadership correspondence courses soon.”
     “The correspondence courses are a good start, but bland. We’re creating great thinkers who read Sun Tzu and can quote Clausewitz, but we’re not creating enough thinking fighters for the next war.”
     “What’s a thinking fighter?”
     “A thinking fighter is dedicated to the profession of arms. He is focused on becoming a perfect solder in all respects. You’ll start becoming a good thinker when you start your correspondence courses. Being well-schooled isn’t enough. You have to constantly school your body and then integrate mind and body. A thinking fighter is trained in multiple techniques and isn’t in love with any particular method or strategy. As a result, the thinking fighter can react quickly to the unexpected and implement alternative strategies when the enemy tries getting creative. Want to train with me and become a thinking fighter?”
     “Sure!” Jon said enthusiastically. “But how are you going to teach me that?”
     “You can start tonight by reading, 'Logistical Support of Infantry Training Operations' by Major Dean Campbell. It’s on the Military Net under, ‘Unclassified Military Studies’,”
     “Logistics? I’m a grunt. That’s not my job.”
     “There’s no shame in knowing how the system works. A thinking fighter puts aside the traditional contemptuous thoughts about support personnel and learns as much as he can about their job. Support personnel are trained to fight if need be, so why should you not learn to do their job if need be?”
     “I’m seeing the thinking part. What about the fighting?”
     “Once your nose heals, I’m going to start by making you really good with a spin-knife. Then I’ll teach you that when you make war, you make war.”