The Uncanny Valley - Scene 2-3

The Uncanny Valley - Scene 2-3

A Story by Brenden Bow
"

I've posted scenes two and three because, to me, they're the most interesting parts - so far.This is my recently-started science-fiction epic. Overall, it's shaping up to be a difficult project.

"

“When you hear your name called, go to your designated area. Progressors over there,” said the deep-voiced clone-officer presiding over the new cadets’ orientation, pointing to the westernmost group of buildings. “Normal enlistees over there.” He pointed to the easternmost buildings.

When Mickey’s name was called, he joined the other progressor recruits in front of the western buildings. There weren’t many " as one would expect. He recognized Sayer’n and Calisle, the sirian and interan he had overheard conversing in The Greens a few days prior. He knew progressors were rare, but there were far fewer than he had expected. By the end, however, their number increased and he was joined by Aerin.

A name Mickey knew well had been called. The young man it belonged to smiled at him briefly. Despite having seen it many times before, his body’s flawlessness never ceased to unnerve Mickey. He was too good-looking, too well-made. It was sickening to look at, and he didn’t know why.

While flicking his dark hair away from his eyes, the short young man took a spot close to Sayer’n and Calisle, far from Mickey.

“Looks like it’s gonna be fun, doesn’t it?” Aerin asked him after taking a place by his side.

Mickey didn’t answer.

“If you bothered to check your mail, you would have seen your bunking information. If, for any reason, you did not see the message, line up in front of me and get ready to do fifty push-ups.”

Slowly but surely, a line of cadets formed in front of the instructor. After asking them their names and showing them his information tablet where their lodging assignments were recorded, he made them drop and give fifty.

Once the last was finished, he continued. “Each cabin is a hall, each hall has a male and female bathroom, and each hall can fit four. There are six halls on each side " east and west. Remember that. On your beds, you’ll find a training schedule. For the next eight months, you will live by that schedule. Once the eight months are up, you will be sent aboard a flier or, depending on your performance here, offered the chance to study further and test for a spot in Blue Outfit One through Nine.”

An excited whisper erupted among the cadets. That was why most were there " the chance to be in Blue Outfit. Blues weren’t heroes. Blues weren’t villains. Blues were above. They saw the most action, got the most recognition, and died most frequently.

Before his father was dishonorably discharged, Darius John Locke, the third human to be named a Blue, was squadron leader of Team Four. Despite his loathing at having to move constantly as his father and mother were sent across the galaxy, Mickey respected them, their job and their mission.

His father was his hero. Without the help of MFMP, Mickey’s father became a war-artist, a top-tier soldier. His climbing of the ranks with nothing but his hands and his feet inspired Mickey, made him want to be exactly like dear old dad. Still, after his father’s discharge, he felt no different.

“Learn your schedule " live it. Your first training session begins in ten hours. If you have any questions whatsoever, feel free to ‘not’ bother me with them. Refer your questions to the digital handbook, which should be in your inbox.”

A young man beside Mickey stepped forward and raised his hand, which was trembling.

“Cadet Clark,” the man groaned. “Haven’t we seen enough of each other? If this is about the handbook, I suggest you sort out your Eye-Mail. I don’t want to count your push-ups, and you don’t want to do them. So, please, for the love of Vishnu, make this easy on both of us and stop wasting my, and everyone else’s, time. Are we peachy?” he asked with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

Cadet Clark opened his mouth to speak, but stopped midway after getting a face full of the orientation master’s glare. “If we’re done here Cadet Clark…”

He nodded, cowing, and looked at the ground, refusing to meet anyone’s eye. “Fool,” Mickey thought.

“Once again, my name is Second Lieutenant Cody 4327B. Now, I’m tired of looking at your faces. Get out of my sight.” He waved them off.

Some of the cadets dispersed with their luggage in tow and went to their assigned halls " most hung around outside to chat.

The western and eastern halls were large, cabin-sized and cabin-shaped. Facing one another, each side’s cabins were in an orderly line. The new recruit housing had been a recent addition to the base. Previously, the facility had merely been a large outpost AFTER tasked with keeping a watchful eye on the Sol system.

Mickey and Aerin, the first to make it to their hall, Hall C, picked out beds. Liking the seclusion, Mickey took the lone bed pressed into a far corner of the room. Beside the bed, on the blank wall, there was a holo-pad with two square buttons " one said “open”, the other said “close”.

He pressed the open button. With a buzz, a portion of the wall slid open, revealing a small closet. After shoving his stuff into it, he then pressed the “close” button.

 Just as the officer had said, Mickey’s schedule was lying on his pillow. Tomorrow, he would be sparring while sensible people were having breakfast. After that, the amateur progressors were being forced to attend a lecture about the proper use, safety, maintenance, dos and don’ts of their equipment.  “Gun safety " yay,” Mickey thought.

As Aerin unpacked her things and organized them for storage, Mickey flopped down on his bed, pouring over his schedule.

Outside Hall C’s door, there were voices and laughter. “I honestly thought that tehr-teer was going to rip me apart after I bumped into its bond-mate,” said a cheerful-sounding human male.

“Yes, master, it was bizarre. Tehr-teers are generally docile. Though, I guess you did nearly run over its djinn’aros companion,” stated another voice, a female’s. “Sir, I beg you understand: their bones are more brittle than your own.”

“They’ve got some kind of mystical mumbo-jumbo spiritual chain between them, don’t they? Why can’t that protect their ‘brittle bones’?” the cheerful male asked.

“Master, it doesn’t work that w"”

“Oh, silence yourself, girl,” the male spat. “I know it doesn't work like that because I know everything.”

“Yes, my master. Sorry, my master,” she conceded.

Mickey heard the boy’s voice hollow, his tone become more rigid. “Like their planets, they, the djinn’aros and the tehr-teers, share a mutualistic, co-dependent relationship bordering on symbiotic,” he rattled off, opening the cabin door. “Common tehr-teer and djinn’aros lore states that, on occasion, when a member of one finds a member of the other, a spiritual chain connects their ‘souls’, their eternal ‘spirits’, together for the eternity of Life-After’s.”

Never missing a fact-dropping chance, Mickey added, “Supposedly, this is a random occurrence. It’s a bad idea " trying to force a ‘spirit chain’,” as the two crossed the cabin’s threshold.

“Lest you want a stomach full of talons, I wouldn’t get any bright ideas, master,” stated the young woman from behind her companion, who was standing in the doorway.

“I thought I told you to be silent, Avery,” the young man said as he caught sight of Mickey, looking over his new lodgings. His face lit up. “Mick, oh, man, I am glad to see you!”

Choosing to warn his cousin, whose well of life-threateningly stupid ideas was as vast as the fortune he used funding them, instead of replying to his greeting, Mickey, putting on a macabre voice, said, “For your sake, I warn you " the odds of forcing a djinn and a tehr together and manifesting a spirit chain are astronomical.”

He dropped the campfire-story voice and said, “That is, if you believe in that sort of thing. I know you, and, above all, I know how your semi-functioning mind works, Johnny. My sincerest recommendation to you: Don’t think about it.”

“You’ve always gotta ruin the fun, don’t ya, Mickey? When are you gonna lighten up? C’mon, you’ve been a party crasher since we were kids. Isn’t it time you loosen up the old tie? Eh, not like it matters anyways. That ‘spirit chain’ nonsense is crap. Anyhoo, how’ve you been, buddy?” he asked.

“Johnny,” said Mickey, looking up from his schedule, “it’s only been, what, seventy hours since we last saw each other? Asking me how I am is unnecessary.”

Handing his suitcase and backpack to his the young woman, his servant, Avery Keys, Johnny didn’t seem to care that she was already burdened with her own luggage " and she didn’t either. Unflinchingly, Avery carefully sat her master’s luggage on the bed closest to the bathrooms. She then made her way to the last bed to claim it as her own.

“To hear you tell it,” Johnny muttered, “everything is unnecessary. Oh, well, that’s neither here nor there.”

“Meaning what, exactly?” asked Mickey.

“Mick, Mick, Mick,” he said, shaking his head. “Never, you mind your pretty little tentacle-head. Your insistence that everything is ‘unnecessary’ isn’t the point.”

“Then, please, pray tell. I am dying to know what your ‘point’ is.”

“My point is, you apathetic jack-off: all these non-humans keep giving me dirty looks. And, because of that, it’s nice to see a friendly face " other than Avery’s. At least that’s what I was going to say until you started acting like a b***h,” he huffed " dramatic as ever, Mickey noticed.

In an effort to appease his drama-loving cousin, he grudgingly asked, “Something happen, my dearest?”

Walking over to Mickey’s bed, the young man nonchalantly sat down on his legs. Wincing from Johnny’s weight, Mickey wiggled his feet around, attempting to make his cousin’s impromptu seat as uncomfortable as possible.

Johnny, ignoring his attempts, began his story. “There was this sirian outside, right, he’s a big guy " really big ", and he had the gall to run into me, knock my stuff out of my hands, and ‘not’ apologize. Can you believe that, the nerve of those snake people? Ugh!” he exclaimed.

“Sirians are senior to damn-near every race when it comes to time spent as part of the Allied Federation, especially humans - probably why they’re so . . . superiority-complex-y. If your species could single-handedly wipe out entire planets in under forty-five minutes, I imagine you’d get big-headed, too.”

Johnny laughed. “They are full of themselves, aren’t they? " The filling being their heads, the filled being their bowels, and the filling’s entrance is, of course, their puckered rectums. See what I mean by ‘full of themselves?’”

Johnny and Avery shared a laugh, but Mickey and Aerin remained silent " a surprising feat for Aerin.

“But,” Johnny continued, “I suppose you’re right " when one’s people command the largest fleets of fliers in the Allied Federation, that person is entitled to an inflated skull.”

“Now that I think about it, you probably shouldn’t be saying anyone’s ‘full of themselves’, Johnny,” Mickey shot at him. “Hypocrisy is a poison.”

“Is that so? Well, tell me, Mr. Vat of Infinite Proverbial Wisdom, if hypocrisy is poison, what does that make the apple?”

Smirking, Mickey said, “Politics.”

“Turning a drop of poison into a weapon of mass destruction,” said Aerin.

Johnny apparently hadn’t noticed the willowy, sick-looking girl because, for a moment, he was noticeably alarmed.

He smiled a pretty boy smile at her, one that seriously impressed Mickey, and said, “You’re like my cousin " you’re a parter.”

“Yes,” she confirmed. “I am.”

“Marvelous,” he said, standing. Sauntering over to where she sat on her bed a few meters away, he moved slowly, almost as if to drink her in. Mickey hadn’t seen his cousin study anyone in a while. It was fascinating if a little invasive.

His eyes combed over every centimeter of her pure-white visage " from her seemingly-frail upper body, to her lithely-muscled lower body.

And, as he did so, she slowly grew more wary of him. “If you’re wondering what I am,” she began, “I can tell you"”

“Don’t tell me,” he cut her off, sitting next to her. “You’re an araedic-human cross. My Lord, I haven’t ever seen an araedic outside of holo-films and vids. Your species gives the impression of frailty when, in actuality, your muscles are much, much denser than the galactic population’s average. I imagine they’ve evolved in such a compensatory manner because the araedic home world has higher-than-normal gravity, right?”

She said, “Right.”

“There’s a grace about you… Open your mouth please.”

She complied, and he looked in. “As I thought, you’re a carnivore. Your fangs, talons, - you can close your mouth now " and lack of skin pigment are evidence enough for that.”

“My skin pigment?” she asked.

“Well, by itself, it’s not really a hint. Couple it with your tough hide, freakishly wild, long hair " which is actually somewhere between a grayish white and a pale blonde, not . . . maroon " and you’ve reached the sum, which, basically, states the araedic home world is a glacial one. Your people’s lacking skin color allows for a natural camouflage enabling you to get the jump on prey " whatever that may be. Did I hit the nail in the bull’s-eye on the head, or what?”

“Lilin is a predominantly glacial world, yes. And, yes, the araedic are primarily meat-eaters.”

“Ba-bam, baby " I am right again!” He grinned. “God, I’m so good at this.” 

He took a handful of Aerin’s hair and said, “You should probably do something about this. You’re ruining your split-ends with . . . grease " ew. Seriously, fix this " cut it. Just do ‘something’! This,” Johnny said, pulling at it, “is a travesty of global warming proportions.”

She said, “I wasn’t aware global warming was a problem anymore.”

“Oh, it’s not. The keratans took quick and proper care of that impending catastrophe.”

“I also wasn’t aware human males concerned themselves so much with aesthetics. It’s very . . . womanly.”

“He prefers the term ‘effeminate’, Aerin,” Mickey said.

Johnny ignored his cousin. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking life is anything more than a pageant show.  Living is breeding. To breed, one must find a mate. To find a mate, one must attract. To attract, one mustn’t look like an Interan Revolution refugee. And, honey, I hate to break it to you " no, I don’t ", but you look like one.”

“I guess I can accept that,” Aerin said.

He said, “Like a refugee stricken with so’ordicho breast parasites, who was somehow bitten by a pit viper ten minutes prior, and now suffers the effects of necrosis.”

“Okay, okay " jeez, what’s wrong with you? I get it. You’re starting to get a little offensive.”

“Mei tila, that’s not even the iceberg’s tip,” Mickey said under his breath, causing her to groan.

Johnny asked, “Incredible " you heard that?”

She said, “Uh, it’s no big deal…”

Johnny shook his head as if he were a teacher whose lessons kept zooming over his student’s head " Aerin’s head.

“Move back to point, shall we? We’ve established that the araedic are carnivorous and make berth on a high-gravity ice world. Yet, having said that, I can’t help feeling a mite bit perplexed.” His eyes narrowed in confusion.

With an eyebrow raised, Aerin asked him, “Perplexed by?”

“Sitting maybe five " no, that’s not right ", three inches away from a carnivore that could be classed as an alpha-level predator by galactic standards used to living in harsh terrains, who has…” he took her wrist with one hand, and, one-by-one, straightened each digit out with his other, “…opposable thumbs tipped with…” His face paled.

“Y-your talons…” he stammered.

“What of them?” she asked.

“They’re very " how can I put this politely? " um, they’re very . . . dirty " an atrocity really.”

She rolled her eyes. “Okay, Mickey, final verdict’s in.”

He asked, “And the jury says?”

“Your cousin is a… a… an a*s " yes, that’s it! Your cousin is an a*s.”

Straight-faced, Mickey told her, “E-yep,” heartily popping the “P” sound.

“At least this a*s grooms himself properly " shame on you for not tending your nails. Now, where was I…?”

“You were on opposable thumbs, master,” Avery said.

“Ah, right " good girl,” he said. “The entirety of that list, along with an old-Earth Nordic barbarian’s taste for morality and ethics " despite all of it, every single last thing, I’m unable to smell the stink of meat, decaying or otherwise, on her breath. I was practically mouth deep in your mouth, and I didn’t smell flesh " just some major halitosis,” Johnny answered.

“The smell,” she blushed, “is from a plant-extract supplement I’ve been powering through, and I haven’t touched meat, cooked or fresh, in a while.”

             Johnny asked, “Why not? Meat-eaters with a license are allowed to hunt in the forest. I imagine, with you being the daughter of Lord-King Aeos the Deranged, you wouldn’t have trouble procuring one. Hell, I bet they’d let you hunt without a license if you promised to keep daddy dearest away from their homes, their women, and their families...”

                Mickey grew uneasy, feeling tension squirm through the room. Johnny either didn’t care or didn’t notice - how, he didn't know, since all of it was leveled at him. Aerin was about to pop, and the keratan-human parter did ‘not’ want to be caught in the cross-fire. “Johnny,” Mickey said, staring at his cousin. “Stand down, now.”

That’s when Aerin said, “My reasons are my own, and no one else’s.”

            “Fair enough,” he said with a laugh, scooting over.

Instantly, the heavy atmosphere dissipated, and she faced Johnny, asking him, “You really and truly can infer physiological and biological information with a mere glance?”

“That, I can, my dear, but my deduction wasn’t mere inferring,” he said, giving her a seated half-bow.

Her face fraught with confusion, she asked, “How then?”

“Oh, V’seras Ruler of the All-Sea, here we go again. Spirits, I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take,” Mickey muttered. “Talk about equivalent exchange…”

Having exhausted the number of times he could read his schedule without getting bored to the point of suicide a few minutes earlier, his attention was focused on his new friend and egomaniacal cousin.

“Before the day of my glorious birth…” He stood, raising his arms high and pointing his head towards the ceiling. In silence, he stood there.

Under his breath, Mickey continued his muttering: “For I am a transgressor in the eyes of the furious spirits and their All-Ruler, I repent in the name of… Oh, this is silly. Shut up, me,” he thought aloud " for Aerin’s sake.

Stifling laughter, she apparently appreciated the gesture.

“…when God said, ‘Let there be light,' I came into being,” Johnny continued grandly after his dramatic pause. “My father and mother, bored with fame, fortune, and finery, decided that they wanted to fill the void in their then-meaningless lives. Deciding that, no matter what the cost, they wanted the perfect son, a living symbol of the Locke family’s perfection " aesthetically, physically, and mentally ", they planned. And after, they created.

“While inside my mother, a handsomely-paid group of geneticists fiddled with my genes. As a result, I have a highly-developed cerebral cortex. With minimal work, I became smarter than the average human, faster than the average human, and a damned-sight prettier than the average human.”

Aerin asked, “Because of your enhanced cerebral cortex?”

He laughed, and said, “No " because of my enhanced potential.”

“The keratan are the only ones besides the geray’ara to possess this technology"”

“Yes, mei tila!” he interrupted. “I am the product of human-keratan scientific cooperation.”

“I knew it!” she clapped, smiling. Ha, I knew it! I knew it wasn’t an urban legend or conspiracy theory.”

“It was a conspiracy, but an urban legend, it is not,” said Mickey.

“Everyone knows humans and keratan have been buddy-buddy since Second Contact back in twenty fifty-eight, that they work together and share research, but to this extent…”

She stood, poking and prodding him, feeling his muscles and examining his head. “Hm, I always thought the apex of human physiology would be . . . taller.”

“Ah-ha, ha, you’re so funny,” he said.

Mickey laughed. “Touch on a sensitive subject, did she, Short Legs?”

“Don’t start with that, Mickey. I’m five-nine,” he said.

“Sure, with those boots,” Mickey smarted-off.

“Dear cousin, I can and will destroy you.” Johnny glowered at him.

Sarcastically, he said, “Short Legs has a short fuse, no? " Who would’ve thought it?”

Aerin, paying no attention to the boys, seemed to be speaking to herself: “If, say, the sirians had that technology, the results would be unbelievable. They’d become shock-and-awesome troops " wow, Aerin, that was lame. …It’d give the strength, the edge needed to push them over the impasse between our two species. After millennia of bickering on it, they’d be declared the most capable war-artists.

But, if the araedic got ahold of it… well, our mechanical prosthesis modifications are great, but gene therapy introduces an entirely new way to play the ball game...”

The boys looked at her blankly, causing her to stop her pondering.

“Oh, you were listening?”

They nodded.

“Don’t be surprised. It makes you two look like cornyac in a tank-rover’s headlights. Is it that surprising I know what baseball is?”

Glancing at each other and then back to Aerin, the boys shrugged.

 “I also know what basketball is, and volleyball, though I couldn’t begin telling you the difference between fútbol and football. Are they not the same things? Speaking of which, can someone please tell me what in the ‘hell’ rugby is?”

“I think rugby’s like football,” Avery offered.

Aerin moaned, “Which football?” and began rubbing her eyes with the palm of her hand.

The boys shrugged, Avery remained quiet, and Aerin shook her head, saying, “Humans…”

Neither Johnny nor Avery deigned to reply. Johnny did, however, say, “If you don’t mind, And Space Museum, I’m going to sit back down,” instead.

“Sure, sure,” she said, sitting with him.

After a while of awkward silence, it was broken, unexpectedly, by Avery. Mickey wasn’t used to hearing her so much. In truth, most of the times he saw her he forgot she was there almost as quickly as he had noticed. “It is rather . . . overwhelming, being in the presence of one of the first, if not ‘the’ first, absolute human…” Avery said, trailing off.

Aerin nodded, and said to Johnny, “I shudder to think of the cost, the fortune spent creating… well, you " you must, must have cost a fortune.”

“A ‘large’ fortune,” he clarified, “was paid by my loving parents for the quintessence of the perfect anatomically modern human, indeed.”

Mickey asked, “Are you happy, Aerin?” with a roll of his eyes. “All the work I put into knocking this smug, whale-sized prick off his damned high-horse and you, in sixty seconds, put him right back in the saddle " thanks for that, yeah.”

She blushed. “Sorry, Mickey,” she said. “He’s just so . . . odd. Tell me, is there anything else you picked up on?”

“Hm, I see a lot, and know a lot; but, I can’t see all, and, it pains me to say to say this, but I don’t know all. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not omniscient, but I am closer than any of you,” he said while his index finger and thumb grasped his chin. “There are a few things " like how your hide makes injuring you a payless and thankless job; it’s thick, coarse. The problem is solely thanks to your human DNA, which doesn’t allow your endurance to be, er, up to snuff.”

“Not necessarily true,” said Mickey. “Araedic-human crosses have thicker hides than true-born humans, but can’t go toe-to-toe with true-born araedics in that department " and many others. She’s tough " just not as tough as pure-bloods; and she’s weak " just not as weak as pure-bloods.”

“Sounds like the makings of a riddle,” Johnny pointed out. “I am not as strong as a pure-blood. Yet, at the same time, I am not as weak as one. What am I?”

“That was amusing,” Mickey said.

“The likes of me, especially me " hell, ‘only’ me -, always have a few choice moments hidden up a sleeve or two, or three and four, five and six… You get the idea,” Johnny declared, his mouth in a half-grin.

Without hesitation, Mickey told his cousin, “Yeah, no doubt about that. It’s too bad those moments are so few and far between. You’d think with your ‘highly-developed cerebral cortex’ you’d be quicker on the draw " awh, guess Auntie Francine and Uncle Max neglected to ask for the wit toy with their kiddy meal.” With that said, he closed his eyes and relaxed.

Johnny’s eye half-twitched and no one besides Avery noticed, and he fake laughed at his cousin’s put-down. “You have a talent for knocking me back off the horse, cuz.”

“We all have our own little skills,” said Mickey, smug-faced. “I guess being ‘perfect’ doesn’t really help much humor-wise, huh? Oh, well, never, you mind your pretty, shaggy head.”

“Stop pissing in the cabin, you two. Contest or not, you’re making a mess,” Aerin said, exasperated. “Please, boys, can’t we all just put our genitalia back in our underpants, save urinating for bathroom times, and get along?”

With a chuckle, Avery said, “I’m going to like rooming with you for eight months.”

*

                Quick on his feet, Mickey charged. Barreling towards Aerin, he knew for certain he was going to hit her this time " he was moving too fast not to. “No time to dodge this one, eh?” he thought.

                Aerin’s right arm was aloft and outstretched, her open-palmed right hand rested at eye level. A few inches lower than her right, was her left arm. She placed her left hand against her right arm’s bicep and squeezed her feet together, making them face one another.

Inching forward to meet Mickey’s full-frontal assault, she pivoted, sidestepping him at the last second and disappearing from his field of vision.

                As he looked around, cursing himself for getting cocky, Aerin stood behind him. There were a number of openings she could exploit, in a number of ways " some dangerous, some not.

Not wishing to hurt her friend, she decided on a simple takedown. Switching her current style with another, she loosened up her tense body. In a burst of speed, and without a moment’s notice, she had his neck in the bend of her arm. Thrice, she rammed her fist into his padded side. Despite the small, upward-pointing carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer disks that made up the uniform’s first and second layer of protection, in complete disregard of the ballistic padding, he felt her hits, her fists as if they were cinderblocks being rammed into him.

Seeing the thrice-repeated blows had thrown his sense of balance out of whack, she knocked his feet out from under him with a sweeping low-kick. Slammed his back into the ground, she straddled him.

With her knees planted firmly in the soil and locked around his midriff, pinning him down, she brought down her fist as if it were a hammer " Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer. Aimed directly at his more-amazed-than-flabbergasted face, her fist cut through the air like a directed missile.

Before her knuckles made contact with his flesh, the alarm rang, signaling the round’s end. Two inches above the bridge of Mickey’s nose, Aerin’s fist hovered. She had effortlessly stopped its descent mid-punch. After standing up and quickly brushing herself off, she offered her friend a hand, which he graciously accepted.

After helping him to his feet, she took it upon herself to scan Mickey for injuries. Mickey was too winded to protest " much to his chagrin.

“Line up,” Second Lieutenant Cody instructed, interrupting her inspection. The cadets obeyed and formed a line without difficulty. There had been no edge to his voice; he didn’t need one. “Nice job, you lot,” said the lieutenant, walking in front of his cadets " who had arranged themselves neatly.

Examining each progressor, he barked commendations and damnations where he deemed necessary.

He stopped in front of Handbook Boy, whose face was still in the ground where Avery had planted it. With a single fist to his chin, she knocked him straight off his feet, and caught him by the shoulders before he fell to the ground. Transitioning seamlessly, she got behind him, elbowed him in the back of the head, and sent him face-first into the ground where she then stomped the back of his head a single time. “Cadet Clark,” he exhaled, shaking his head, “why am I not surprised? Get your sorry a*s off the ground. Cadet Key didn’t hit you that hard.”

Cadet Clark moaned, tried to climb to his feet, and failed.

“For the love of… Cadet Locke,” he said, to Johnny, “pick Cadet Clark up and, if you’d be so kind, get him to his hall and out of his, my, and everyone else’s misery " he’s done for the day.”

Johnny said, “Yes, sir " I’m on it, sir.”

“Ah, ‘I’m on it, sir.’ " Music to my ears when my wife says it, and music when you pups say it. Good work, by the way. What was that " three or six punches?”

“Six, sir,” Johnny said.

“Doesn’t matter how many there were, it was poetry in motion " a sonnet, mind you, none of that experimental hogwash that’s popular nowadays.”

“Uh, thank you, sir " I think...” Johnny got out of line and strolled over to where Cadet Clark lay on the ground.

Lifting him, he whispered in his ear, “Word of advice, comrade: When she charges you outright, she wants you to think she’s going for a gut-punch, or a gut-kick, or a low-kick so you’ll try guard your lower body. That’s when she gets you. She feints, and, at the last moment, switches form and dishes out an uppercut. You’re lucky she got you once and not escalator-style " one right after the other. You’ll think it’ll never stop…”

As they walked away, Mickey heard Johnny tell the young man, “…away from her fists, away from her entirely. Use your longer reach to your advantage ... Yeah " I found that out the hard way, too.”

 “Other Locke,” the Lieutenant said to Mickey, stopping in front of him. “Keep at it. You’re going to have to improve ten-by-tenfold if you want to even be considered for the Blue Outfit, but, as I said, keep at it.”

“Yes,” Mickey said. “I will do better, sir.”

“You ’will’ do better, eh? Nice attitude, Locke " confidence, I like.” He turned away and, with a salute to Aerin, he said, “That was some fancy footwork, Cadet Hanin. Araedic war-artists, particularly those of your caliber, are war assets through and true.”

Both nodded " Mickey, stone-faced, Aerin blushing furiously.

Continuing down the line, he barked here, congratulated there. He said to Avery, “That was a beautiful uppercut, Cadet Key. Of course, I expect no different after seeing your phenomenal performance during the physical entrance exam of which you were the sole star.”

“Normally, sir, I do not accept compliments on principle, but, coming from you, it is an honor.”

The second lieutenant laughed. “If I remember correctly, you placed in the one percent, beating out the other ninety-nine by a significant margin " excluding Cadet Locke ", isn’t that right?”

Astonished, a few of the other cadets stood on tip-toes to better enable them to catch sight and size-up their newest, biggest threat in the race to Blue Outfit. Only a handful would be chosen to test for that honor, a special place on the thrones of the stars " a special place more exclusive than the testing seats were.

Clueless about the specifics of the examination, the adolescents and young adults knew one thing: They would be waging war against one other for a place at the Blue Outfit table.

“Sir, with all due respect,” she said, formally, perfectly. “I don’t care much for the ways of braggarts, so I, with the utmost respect, am inclined to refuse"”

“Easy there, Cadet. You don’t want to start refusing orders so earlier in your career.”

“You didn’t give me an order, sir.”

“Damn, thought I did. As your superior, yada-yada, by the power vested in me, I command you to admit you’re a damn-fine prospective war-artist.”

“Lieutenant, I"”

“I’m stopping you right there,” he cut her off, yet again. “Make this easier on us, you, me, your fellow pups, and do as I say.”

“I"”

“I " thank you for beginning my sentence for me " suggest slowing your roll and listening when I say acknowledging your prowess isn’t ‘bragging’; it’s acknowledgement " strictly.”

She hesitated. “Um, then, yes " yes, it was me. Er, I… I did that.”

Mickey heard some of the recruits whistle, mutter, and nod their head approval. Mostly, the majority kept silent.

Teasingly, he asked, “Forgetting something, cadet?”

“Oh, sir, oh, no " I’m so, so sorry, Lieutenant! I, uh, I got… Don’t worry, sir; I won’t let it happen again, sir. I’ll swear it on my life if you give me another chance.”

“Jeez,” he rolled his eyes, giving a short, nonchalant wave of his hand, “at ease, cadet.”

“Yes, of course, sir,” she said.

When the lieutenant finished his round, Mickey, groaning, but on his feet, whispered to Aerin, “Again, you made me look a fool and, simultaneously, a child. " How? I don’t know; I never now " I swear, if it wasn’t for this uniform, I would be laid-up in med-bay with internal bleeding,” he said, examining the disk-plated full-body suit they had been issued that morning.

The black and white uniforms, form-fitting, able to soak up directed-energy-concentrating firearms (or DECFs) fire, protected the chest and abdomen, upper and lower back with two layers of a newly-discovered and commissioned medium-weight ballistics fabric created by sirian craftsmen.

Along with his upper body, his legs were also safeguarded, by doubling-up the legs’ disks.

“Oh, please, you didn’t do that badly,” she comforted.

“Are you aware I’m clueless when it comes to hand-to-hand combat?” he asked her.

“I became painfully aware of that somewhere between the third and fourth time I threw you to the ground,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“Head to the northern building, cadets,” Cody instructed. “It’s time to begin your next lesson. Dismissed,” he grunted.

© 2012 Brenden Bow


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Added on September 27, 2012
Last Updated on September 27, 2012
Tags: Science, fiction, fantasy, space, military, government, politics, love, hate, death, soldiers

Author

Brenden Bow
Brenden Bow

TX



About
I've been writing for nine years. It's a solitary art, writing; seclusion works wonders for one's evolution as a writer. I enjoy secluding myself for days, sometimes weeks, with my work. more..

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