Castle Roland

Adventure Quest

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 16

Posted: 7 Apr 16

Adventure Quest
Kyle Aarons

Agonizing Choices

Robin glanced down at his note-puter while his finger hovered over the erase all button. After a few more seconds of debate, he sighed. Part of him wanted to record a new message, one that showed only smiles, but it felt wrong to do so. Finally his finger moved over to the other side of the small hand held device and pushed the send key. He knew even as he did so, he was certain his parents would be able to see how tough it had been for him to record the message.

He wiped some more tears out of his eyes and took a few calming breaths. As he looked up he saw Jasper, with Oliver, escorting three other kids. All three of the others looks showed they were all but terrified.

Robin tapped his note-puter, turning it off, and stood.

Jasper moved up and looked down. "You OK?"

"Yeah…" Robin let out a long, somewhat shaky breath, "I just know my parents won't really understand why I don't want to come home. Both of them came here shortly after Adventure Quest started and both went home early. Dad always talks about how awful it was to get rained on, snowed on, and be cold. At the same time Mom only seems to remember how things stopped working and hearing kids cry about wanting to go home."

Jasper patted Robin on the back and squeezed his shoulder, "When they were here, it wasn't nearly as well established or nice as it is now. There were lots of glitches and at the time, there were adults in command of each camp, since holographic instructors and the like were nowhere near as good as they are today, and many of the adults had some problems with OSS. It didn't make for a good combination."

Robin shrugged, "Yeah, but I am loving everything they hated, other than the kids crying part. But we haven't really had too much homesickness like Mom talks about." He glanced over to Oliver, wanting to take his mind off the message he had just sent up to the space station so it could be sent back to Earth. "How's the hand?"

Oliver held up a non-electronic cast, made out of metalplast. "I came close to crying, if you want to know the truth, but they did a quick bone fusing so it doesn't hurt as much. Plus this metalplast cast only immobilizes the pinky and side of the hand, so it is nicer than the electro glove-cast. I will still have to wait a couple of days before I can test out with rifle, though. How is Dillon?"

"Happy to be out of Team Eight." Robin grinned, "You did good."

Oliver forced a smile and turned to the other three kids so he could introduce them. "Robin, I'd like you to meet three of the seven kids from San-San's Near Ocean Seven ISTAZ Team."

A moment later, Oliver opened the door in his mind and sent a thought over. 'The older one is Dwight, and he is very conscious about his injuries. The blond is Benjy and is scared out of his mind. The dark haired one is Saul and only a day older than me. Saul is probably the leader of them, even though they are looking to Dwight for some reason. Space command said they could stay and help, but…'

Robin returned the thought. 'Let's give them some time and see what happens. We still have some extra classes to go through and by then we'll have a better feel for them.'

Oliver nodded then pointed in the direction of the tallest kid, a sandy haired, brown-eyed kid who had a rather nasty scar running from the left corner of his mouth all the way down his neck. It disappeared under his shirt. "This is Dwight, he is the oldest, but just turned thirteen a month ago."

Robin moved forward and offered his hand. "Were you team leader, Dwight?"

The slightly smaller boy, the one Robin already knew was Saul, moved up. He pushed his jet back hair out and away from his very light blue eyes, and spoke. "No, but Dwight took over after our leader lost his nerve on us." The boy extended his hand and took Robin's hand. "Dwight's right hand still isn't working right, so he doesn't like to shake hands. I'm Saul."

Robin grimaced as he shook Saul's hand. He could feel Dwight's desire to not speak and his nervousness about his facial scar. "Glad to meet you. You all look pretty jittery. Is everything OK?"

"OK?" The youngest boy, a very thin, golden haired, green-eyed boy spoke up with a clearly frightened squeak in his already high-pitched voice. "I never wanted to set another foot on this world! It killed Ricky, almost killed Dwight and Ryan, then broke Nile! Now I am here again and stuck since there is another star storm coming! Why did I ever want to come here?"

Saul glanced over and protectively pulled the golden haired boy over to him. "Benjy, relax, man. We are here to help find Ryan and Robbie. We can't give up on them and you are the one who wanted to join us. You could have stayed up on the station."

Robin moved up and put his hand on Benjy's quaking form. The moment he made contact he saw the image of Dwight holding onto a boy's feet as the boy he was holding onto tried to put a rope through a rescue hook of a third boy who was hanging onto to some tree roots just out of the second boy's reach. At the same time a jagged rock was cutting into Dwight's face. Rain beat down on all of them so hard it stung.

Benjy, for his part, was with another boy. They had the other end of the rope around a tree further back ready to haul up the boy as soon as the rope was put through the safety hook.

Suddenly Dwight slipped as a bit more of the waterlogged cliff side gave out from under him; this sent him sliding some. The rock, which had dug into his cheek sliced down further ripping flesh and the boy's shirt. Only the actions of a slightly older and bigger boy prevented Dwight from going all the way over with the other kid he was holding onto. A moment later the kid they were trying to get to, lost his grip and fell screaming. He hit and bounced off a rock hitting the beach almost thirty meters below the group. Even after such a fall, Robin could see the boy was moving, albeit slightly.

Dwight screamed in pain, as the rock continued to dig into him. At the same time his hands started to slip from around the other boy's feet. He gripped down with everything he had and pulled the kid up, but smashed his hand quite badly on the edge of the cliffs as he finally dragged up the other bawling boy.

Robin forced himself to endure the images as he continued to keep his hand on the terrified boy. "You are doing the right thing, and you are in a safe camp. No one here is going to let anything bad happen to you. If you would feel better, I can get a couple from my team to stick by you while you are here."

Saul kept Benjy in a tight grip and gave an appreciative smile to Robin. "Benjy promised Ryan's folks he would take care of Ryan, so he is afraid to go home without him. If you could help us find him…"

Robin seemed to harden with an inner resolve. "We have six teams here, and all of us are going to do everything we can to find as many as possible. I can tell none of you want to be here but refuse to be anywhere else, so let me thank you. Your willingness to do this shows how much you all care."

Dwight finally spoke. When he did, his voice sounded a bit raspy, giving some proof his throat had been damaged as well. "Colonel McKnight already thanked us, but I want to say thank you from us for your kindness and willingness to try this."

Robin glanced down at Dwight's hand, noting it had some kind of nerve monitoring device on it. Not wanting to let anyone dwell on their injuries, especially after the warning from Oliver, he stuck out his left hand. He forced a grin. "An off hand shake is better than nothing."

Dwight accepted the left hand with genuine thanks in his eyes. "I can't let go with the right hand some times. The doctor's say one of two more nerve treatments will get me back to normal, but I have to wait fifty days between each one. The voice thing is probably for life, but at least I can open and close my hand without help most of the time now and can talk, just can't yell. Are you really going to try to find the others?"

"Yeah," Robin nodded solemnly, "this whole camp and everyone in it is here to be a backbone for a base of operations to find those from San-San who are still out there. We will do everything in our power to find them all.

Saul eyed Robin, "Word up at the space station says you have four Outstanding…"

"Actually he is five for five." Oliver spoke before Saul finished. "With his help almost everyone in camp has one Outstanding and most of us have at least two." Oliver glanced over to Robin, "I got to take Geothermal Dangers as part of my flight testing and aced it; Jay also got an Outstanding so all of Team Fifteen is in."

Robin grinned in satisfaction. "So who is left?"

Jasper rolled his eyes. "Dillon, Dena, Teri, and Tiffany, but we sent Tiffany's up for review. She may have one by the time I give after dinner announcements."

"Awesome." Robin's voice was calm as he glanced over to Oliver. "Round up everyone and let them know our guests are here. Tell them to bring their packs, cause some of what we are going to be told will be about our gear. Also let's put some classes together for Dillon, Dena and Teri. If Tiffany didn't make the grade, we'll hold a special class for her tomorrow." A gleam came into Robin's eyes as he got an image of Jasper's hand held flashing confirmation of the grade for Tiffany. "But I get the feeling she did."

A moment later Jasper's note-puter beeped. All the kids in the room watched as Jasper eyes went momentarily wide. "Yeah… No need to give her extra classes, Specialist."

Oliver gave a quick nod before heading out the door, trying hard not to giggle at Jasper's flustered expression. He sent Robin a thought as he left. 'I'll grab your pack too, and be careful. Benjy is not… Um… totally there… like in the brain or something.'

Jasper glanced over at Robin with a bemused shake of his head. "Corporal, I need to contact command. We need to find billeting for these three. Also, let's keep Tiffany's grade unknown for now. Let me at least have the pleasure of announcing it."

"No problem, Commander." Robin had to force himself not to snicker.

Saul waited until Jasper left the mess hall, "Corporal, I want in."

It took Robin a second to realize the boy was addressing him since he was busy studying Benjy. When it did finally click, he turned his attention back to the boy who was very close to his own age. "Drop the ranks. I'm Robin." He paused and looked over again doing his best to sound surprised, "What do you mean you want in?"

Dwight spoke up. "Look, I got clearance, even with my bad hand, to join in the search. So did Saul and Benjy. We are all recovered enough to go back out." Dwight glanced over to Benjy, "I need to be on a different team than him though. He still blames me…"

"No I don't!" Benjy fired back. "I am just mad we left em!"

Saul shook his head, "Ben, you know the rules and we have been through this; it was Nile's call and he made it. We tried to get down there, but there was no way. You did the right thing by sticking with us."

"It doesn't feel like it." Benjy looked down and kicked at the ground with the toe of his shoe. "We left him down there."

Robin's abilities kicked in again as he saw and heard several hours of conversation all within moments. The kids tried half a dozen times to try to get down the cliff, but each time they got close more of it crumbled as the heavy rain continued to pummel them. The attempts broke into a heated argument between the kids of San-San's ISTAZ Near Ocean Seven. After nearly two more hours, two of the others refused to leave when Nile, the team leader, finally made the call to abandon the boy. Instead of finding a direct path down, Nile decided they would try to skirt the cliffs, find a way down, and attempt to get to him before it was too late.

Begrudgingly, Dwight, Saul, and Benjy agreed, but the other two were having none of it. Nile tried once again to order them to come, but it was to no avail. They were not going to leave their buddy dying at the base of the cliff with the tide slowly moving in.

Four days later the group of four finally found a way down and worked their way back up along the beach, but try as they might they could find no sign of the injured boy or the other two. Truth be told, none of the four were certain of the exact spot the boy had fallen from. Still, they spent another week looking both along the beach and then going back up top and even tried climbing areas of the cliff face once it had dried, but they could find no sign of the other two from their team or the injured, presumed dead, kid.

Robin briefly wondered what he would have done in the same situation. Would he have stayed, risking other team member to try to get to Gavin or one of the others? He tried to hide his horror, but still trembled slightly. Fortunately, at least in Robin's way of thinking, the other three were too preoccupied to notice. One thing was for sure, there was no right answer nor was there a good one. In the end, the team leader probably made the right call, but what a horrible call to have to make.

At the same time, the two who refused to follow the team leader were very much in the wrong, but Robin couldn't blame them either. He seriously doubted Ajax would leave Fairfax under similar circumstances, no matter what Robin said.

Robin looked over the three kids once more, suddenly realizing why Mrs. Anderson had him make three fully equipped packs. He let out a long breath before turning his full attention to Dwight. "I'll try to find teams for you all to hook up with, but I'm not going to guarantee anything. We have spent the last few days trying to unite everyone behind the goal of getting as many as possible to the academy and the teams are pretty tight."

Saul spoke up, "Look, I know we look like we are ready to jump out of our own skins and run, but we need to do this!"

Dwight quickly turned to Saul, "Back off. This isn't your camp or mine."

Robin watched as Saul's eyes flashed in anger but he quickly took a step back and shut his mouth. Actually, he clamped it shut causing his lips to lose color. It didn't take much to see Dwight was indeed the leader of the three, even though Saul really wanted to be.

Partially because of this and partially to make a point about who Robin saw as the better leader, he turned away from Saul and focused back in on Dwight, "Look, I know you can all help us. After everything you have been through, you have proved you're survivors and probably know more about ISTAZ than the most advanced teams getting ready to hit their zones.

"I think we can find you all slots, but you guys need to understand if they get an offer to join a team, they come in as a team member and the leader of the team is their new leader. I can't and won't guarantee you slots and I sure can't assure you any team will be willing to take two of you. To be honest, I think it would be better to split you up so you are forced to become a team member instead of being two separate teams in the same group. I need you to take a few minutes with Benjy and Saul, decide if you are all OK with being separated and being part of a team with a leader you all aren't used to. If you are, great. If not, I understand. You can still help us as we get ready and take a few more classes."

Robin glanced back to the other two. "Saul, you clearly are the most comfortable with being here, so I would like you to take the lead on telling everyone what happened with the star storm hit. We all need a clear picture of what it was like, what you all were thinking, and why you all did whatever you ended up doing.

"The best chance we have of finding your teammates and the others is to try to think like they did and try to figure out what they saw as the best options. The more you join in and help all of us, the better the chance of getting offered a slot on a team too."

Saul glanced over to Benjy, "Ben, I am going to do whatever it takes to go back out again, even if it means not being on the same team as you…"

Dwight moved up behind Benjy and put his left hand on the boy's shoulder. "Once this latest star storm passes we can get you a flight back up to the station. You can be safe while Saul and me go back out…"

Tears started trickling down Benjy's cheeks as he shook his head. "I left Ryan once, I can't do it again." He took a couple of deep breaths trying to calm some, but failed badly. "Find me a team that'll take me… Please…"

Robin cringed, "OK, but there is no shame in changing your minds, any of you. We have some standard equipment packs set up for three extras, but you may want to go through them and change out some gear once you talk to the whole camp. Also, it would be helpful if you would all add in what you are certified in and what classes you have. None of us have any ocean classes since we were a mountain forest ISTAZ camp, so a good way to find a team to take you, is to let it be known you have some skills and training we don't."

Robin stopped talking as members from Team Two entered the mess hall.

The moment Dwight saw the six girls enter, he took a couple of steps to get behind Robin attempting to hide himself behind the tallest person around him.

Even though the attempt was all but wasted because Dwight was several centimeters taller, Robin could clearly feel the boy was happy to have anything between him and those looking at him. Not sure what the best way to handle this, Robin stayed put and motioned for Ellen's group to take a seat at one of the tables.

Seeing Ellen and Lynn both frown, Robin forced a smile. "Let's get everyone here so I can make a quick round of introductions. Our guests are a bit nervous about being back down on Zong, especially since there is another star storm coming."

Ellen nodded understanding; but still spoke up, directing her words at the three kids from Near Ocean Seven. "This whole camp has your backs, guys."

Before she finished talking, all of Team Seventeen entered. Lynn shot a glance over to Jay, "Nice work on the Outstanding!"

Jay grinned as he fingered his newly awarded private rank pin. "Thanks, but I'd have been so screwed without Oliver. Man, am I glad Team Five gave him a slot!"

At the same time, Team Seventeen's leader, Patrick turned his attention to the three up front with Robin. "Ellen speaks for all of us guys. You aren't alone here."

A bit of confusion flickered in Saul's eyes as he whispered over to Benjy, "This ain't nothing like our training camp."

Benjy chewed on his lip and nodded slightly, "Yeah, they are like one huge team, 'er something."

Robin couldn't help but grin. "We try."

Before more could be said Team Nineteen and Team Fifteen entered as one large group. As they broke up to sit at their mess hall tables, several of them took a few seconds to congratulate Jay.

"Try, nothing!" Dwight muttered in astonishment. "Back when we went through training it was team against team and at the end it was a scramble to put teams together out of what was left after almost half of the camp dropped out during testing week. Our whole camp got four Outstanding marks!"

Robin let out a bit of an uneasy breath. He really wanted to ask why so few, but to do so just wouldn't sound right nor would it put the three kids more at ease. Instead he decided on a different approach. "The way I see it, we aren't in a contest with each other; we are in competition with our assigned zones. The more we help each other, the more we learn and the better chance we all have to win."

Oliver came back with the rest of Robin's team. Almost instantly Robin picked up on some mind-to-mind chatter between the other four as Oliver filled the others in on what he knew and had heard. After several seconds, he focused in on the rest of his team, 'Guys, let's give the floor to Dwight, Saul, and Ben. We can mind talk later and I can tell you all need a boost, so I'll give you one, OK?'

Robin quickly found them 'slamming the door' to their mind broadcasting and they all looked up at him with a bit of a guilty look. Oliver on the other hand sent a waning, 'Don't call him Ben, it is Benjy. He gets real mad if anyone other than Saul or Dwight calls him anything but Benjy.'

At the same time, more than a few others noticed the strange reaction of those in Robin's team, but Robin didn't let anyone focus on it. Instead he directed all attention to himself as he started with a quick round of introductions of the three new arrivals, making sure to emphasize Benjy's name.

Robin glanced back at the three noticing all three of them looked surprised at how he made it a point to tell the others of Benjy's preference of being called by his full first name. "So, I guess the best thing would be for me to turn this all over to one of you."

Saul was quick to take the lead as he glanced over to Robin one last time and shrugged off the fact Robin knew something none of them had talked about. He moved forward and glanced over to Oliver as he started talking, "We kind of talked about what we should say on the way down from the medical station. Oliver suggested we start from the point where we lost contact to command and our beacons blew…" He paused and glanced over the assembled group nervously, "Um, do you all, like agree?"

Patrick spoke up, "I am interested in if you all got any kind of warning. Did you know the star storm was coming?"

Dwight closed his eyes so he could not see how many were looking at him as he spoke. "I hurt my throat so this is about as loud as I can talk, so sorry… But um, we got an alert on our emergency comm units the day before warning of potential electrical interference and possible equipment damage. The automated message warned us to discharge our laser and or stunner packs to half so they would not overload, and do the same with any personal equipment, like music player, laser pointers, and the like. It also told us weather sats and communications were going to be down for up to a week.

"Furthermore, we were advised to find a place to hunker down for a few days so there was less a chance of injury, since emergency evacuation flights would not be possible during the height of the storm. It sure didn't prepare us for what happened on the second day of the storm, though."

Patrick nodded his understanding and punched a couple of buttons on his note-puter. "Then I guess, the next thing we really need to know is what happened and when."

When no one else spoke up Saul continued, "Well, the first night of the storm, the sky really lit up as the polar lights extended way down. I guess we probably should have taken this as a warning and done what the alert recommended, but we were not real close to a decent fresh water source. Part of dealing with being on a Near Ocean ISTAZ team, is learning the water purification units cannot pull the salt out of seawater. Instead it has to be boiled, the steam caught and then put through the purifier.

"Because we were pretty much out on an open beach with no good wood around, our team leader, Nile, decided to pick up camp and move to a fresh water lake and stream about fifteen kilometers away. The place looked like a good one to hunker down in since it had a grove of trees, water, and a couple of hills to set up camp on so we could weather out any storms. The problem was, getting there was not as clear-cut as we thought it would be.

"Probably because the weather sats shut down, we were hit with a rather nasty rain late the first night and it kept raining hard the next day as we made our way toward the lake. By the time we got to where we planned on crossing the stream, to head up to the lake, it was a river. Nile had us back off to get out of any flash flood danger and we started to set up camp when we had the first problems with our electronics."

Dwight held up his note-puter. "This was the first victim. All of ours went out within seconds of each other. It wasn't until we arrived at the medical station we found out transmitters and receivers can get really bad feedback. If you haven't done so already, you need to disable the send and receive functions. This will prevent feedback from coming into the circuit and frying them since there is another storm due to hit us within a couple of hours now. I am sure you saw the lights last night."

All across the mess hall kids quickly pulled out their note-puters and disabled the features, which allowed them to get and send downloads while Robin shook his head. "We didn't see them, but we heard about them. We were still down at our mountain training camp and the lights didn't extend down to us last night. I hear they would have tonight, and we'll really see them here though."

Seeing their warnings were being taken seriously gave Benjy a bit of courage. "The science team also told us most of our music players and portable game stuff would have survived if we had yanked the batteries."

Once again kids dug into their packs and started pulling out a whole host of personal items. At the same time Robin got a peak into Benjy's thoughts. Oliver was right. The kid was a mess. He was scared, angry, worried, anxious, and confused. He trusted no one other than Saul, but like Saul, he saw Dwight as his new leader. So, although he didn't fully trust the older boy, he did respect him. The poor kid couldn't get control of any of his emotions so there was no telling what would come out or when.

Robin sent a thought over to Gavin, 'Can you pull my power packs out of my laser rifle and game player?'

While Gavin smiled, nodded and started to dig into the pack, Dwight glanced over to Robin with a questioning stare. He said nothing but it was clear he knew there was something very strange going on.

Robin did his best to cover by focusing in on Dwight. "So your note-puters got hit?"

"No they fried." Saul grumbled as he pulled out his old one and tossed it to Robin. "Something inside turns the signal from a powerful star storm into a power converter to recharge the battery or something along those lines. One of the scientists on the station told me Earth has a network for automatically killing the features if a class three solar storm or larger is detected, but it also includes an auto reboot timed for after the danger passes. Since there is no such network here, there is no such system on Zong.

"Mine got so hot it burned a hole in my vest and burned my arm." Saul pulled down his collar of his shirt showing a small rectangular burn scar on the front of his shoulder. "Our team leader's got so hot it started dripping down the front of his shirt and Ricky's blew up, sending bits of the screen into his shoulder. Those in the medical station told us they had to treat thousand of kids all over the planet for injuries from these stupid things!"

Robin looked at the misshapen glob and cringed. He handed it down to Ellen, "Pass it around. You should all take a look! Team leaders, you all need to make sure all of your team members have turned them off properly!"

Dwight agreed with a slight nod, "Robin's right. Double-check them. The rest of us in our team got lucky. I saw what was happening and managed to use my knife to cut the pouches off me and the others before they got burned. We have heard the new emergency message tells everyone to kill the transmission features about an hour prior now." Dwight snorted in some disgust. "But, to be honest, until I got to ISTAZ I didn't even know it could be done."

Robin thought it over for a second and realized Scouts had taught him and Gavin how, as had ISTAZ training, but those were the only times he had heard about the ability to adjust normal settings in a note-puter, and it was by no means straight forward. A cold shiver went down his spine as he realized the larger implications. He glanced at his note-puter and hit the countdown clock. At the same time his weird future power told him the Corps had indeed been updating the message to tell everyone to turn off the two-way communication features, but there were no instructions on how to do it.

Robin's eyes got real wide as he interrupted. "The incoming storm is a class seven! We have less than ninety-four minutes before the damaging waves hit! Ajax, go tell Colonel McKnight to have all the holographic instructors programmed to tell kids on normal Adventure Quest how to kill the send-receive! Even if they are told to do it, Dwight's right! Most won't know how!"

Ajax bolted out of the mess hall at a dead run.

Many kids in the mess hall turned a bit pale, while others let out gasps. At the same time Dwight blinked a few times. "Wow… No wonder you are the leader…"

Saul glanced over and nodded in total agreement, suddenly having a great deal more respect for Robin. "Even when we talked about it, we never thought about how few would know what to do!"

Robin let out a huge and very loud breath of air. "Will this latest storm damage other equipment?"

Saul glanced over to Dwight with a worried look.

Dwight shrugged. "It takes a class eight or more to do damage to laser rifles and even with the class eight, all we had to do was discharge the battery packs to half, so they should be OK, but if they had any other equipment survive, chances are this class seven will finish it off. One thing is for sure; there is no way to warn them. The only difference is, the polar lights will start lighting up the sky again, so if they saw it and put it together with the last star storm, they should know something bad is coming."

Robin felt like his gut had suddenly formed into a giant knot. Those lost out in the wilds of Zong were about to be hit again and there was nothing he could do about it. He rubbed his hands though his head and focused back in on Dwight. "The last one was officially classed as an eight, but I saw the feeds. It had to be real close to a class nine."

Jason spoke up, "So, you got cut off from where you wanted to go and your note-puters fried. What did you all do then and why didn't you head for the nearest bunker?"

Saul sent Jason a rather nasty look, "While we were dealing with our burns and setting up camp above the river, most of the other electronics started to pop. All our beacons blew, but we can't even tell you if it was before, during, or after our note-puters went. Nile tried to activate his, to let someone know we had injuries, but his was dead. So he had the rest of us try ours. It was already too late.

"Since the note-puters were all toast, we tried to use one of our terrain overlays only to find it had shorted out as well. The last thing to go was our emergency comm unit, but when it went, it went big and nasty. I lost half my gear as the star storm caused it to do the same thing as our note-puters. But as those of you who took E. Comm. know, those things have a way more powerful battery pack. It's lucky for us I had already taken out the shelter or we would have lost it along with most of my other gear."

Dwight finally moved forward fully revealing his scar, "We stayed put for three days, but we started running low on food. We needed to hunt or fish, so we moved up stream. We knew there was a lake up there somewhere, but without the maps, we had nothing more to go on.

"I still don't know exactly what happened, maybe we were not at the stream we thought we were or something, but we walked for two full days only to find ourselves getting into so hilly territory with no sign of a lake or more than a few trees. Nile had us set up camp, fish out of the stream, and touch up our burns while he and Ryan went out hunting. We chopped down a tree, sorted out what gear we had left and stayed there for a full week thinking they would see our fire and find us. But the fishing was poor and hunting only bagged us a few rabbits.

"Finally Nile decided to head back to the ocean and work our way back around to the first bunker we had used, which was real close to the coastline. We must have walked right past it or something. But we missed it and after a full month we didn't see much choice but to continue to move down the coastline. The weather was nasty and we had some big storms blow in on us off the ocean, so we once again moved back some. We set up camp for like another month, but once hunting and edible plants started thinning out we packed up and moved again. By this time what clothing we had was not in good shape and we were down a laser rifle and stunner from carelessness."

Dwight noticeably shuddered as he looked at his feet. "While we were moving to a new camp spot we got hit by a real nasty storm and one of our team, who thought he saw a flash of light moved up to the edge of a cliff. It gave way…"

Benjy broke into tear at this point. "We lost him! He fell and died!"

Robin moved up to Benjy and put his arm around the boy while he looked over to Saul who was having every bit as much trouble as Dwight. The moment he made contact with Benjy, he got the rest in a massive burst, almost like a computer downloading a massive file.

Robin winced with the knowledge, sights, and sounds of the aftermath, but decided to take the lead. The three from Near Ocean Seven did not need to relive it… They needed a safety and friends. To this end, Robin looked out at the group of stunned kids. "Guys, as you heard, they lost one of their team. Dwight was seriously injured trying to save him, and two others from their team refused to leave, even though there was no way down the cliff face since it was falling apart. Their team leader ordered them to back off and find a safer way down, but it took four days and they couldn't even be certain they had the right spot when they got close to the area of the fall.

"They searched for over a week, but there was no sign of the kid who fell or the other two who stayed behind. Dwight was getting weak since the cut was getting infected. Making matters worse, Nile and Benjy were both somewhat sick from exposure; so they did what they had to. The set up a new camp and got as healthy as they could, but Dwight had to take over after Nile got so sick he couldn't even care for himself, let alone lead.

"They then moved once the hunting went sour. They had to go slow since Nile was still somewhat sick and very frail. Dwight settled on a protected cove with trees and a waterfall coming down a rocky cliff and a shallow cave to sleep in. This gave them fresh water, firewood, easy to grab crabs, shelter, and good access to fishing. They were found there fifty-four days ago when a rescue flyer spotted smoke from their camp fire."

Dwight's head jerked up as he stared at Robin. There was no way the kid had gotten some of this information! They hadn't even told the doctor's at the medical space station about Nile's sickness causing them to have to feed and restrain him so he didn't walk away in a delirious stupor. Before he could say anything, however, Robin spoke up again.

"Guys, we need to find a place for all three. They all want to find a team to take them in, too. I already told them I would not guarantee them a slot and I think it would be better if they spit up and each joined a different team. For now, we need to find them bunks and give them our support. They can all teach us a lot about survival in near ocean areas and after being out for almost five months, they have learned survival tricks we haven't even dreamed about."

Tasha was first to speak up after looking around her table and getting quick nods, "We are down to five and started with seven. We'll be happy to take one of you and add you to our team."

Robin glanced back knowing if any team could help Benjy it would be Tasha's especially since Jason and Troy were both very protective of teammates and had even escorted Oliver around a few times to keep Randy from getting stupid. He gently patted Benjy on the shoulder. Almost as if Robin had spoken to him, Jason stood and moved up, putting a protective arm over the smaller boy. "Come on I'll introduce you to the team and we'll get you settled in."

Benjy glanced back only to see both Dwight and Saul nod. Still whimpering at the memory of losing a teammate, Jason quickly started making small talk with him as he escorted the scared boy over to his table.

Meghan was next to speak up. "Saul, the two guys in my team would love to have another boy and with your help I bet we can get Dillon an Outstanding grade on his Wilderness Survival test."

Saul nodded slowly, "Yeah, sure… Um, thanks for giving me a shot." He didn't look happy, but his voice told everyone he was surprised to get the offer so quickly.

Ellen stood, "Dwight, as you can see my whole team is girls, but we'd sure love to have you with us. We are the only team with two members without Outstanding marks and only three of us have two. None of us have three, and only three of us have passed any wilderness classes, so we are in need of lots of help."

The offer totally took Dwight's mind off of how much Robin knew about them. Dwight nervously chewed on his lip, "Um, my right hand is still a little screwed up, but um… if you're OK with me not being able to do a few things like I'm not allowed to carry a laser rifle even though I passed, since my finger can freeze up on the trigger, and you are OK with a boy joining you…"

"More than OK with both." Adrienne spoke up seriously. "We all tried to get a few guys to join us back at Dal-Houston, but none of them wanted to join a group of six girls."

Saul flashed Dwight a playful grin as he sat down at the table with Team Eleven, showing he did have a nicer side inside him, "Lucky dog!"

Robin couldn't help but giggle as Dwight turned a bit red and sent a hint of a glare over at Saul. "Mrs. Anderson has packs for them all..." He paused, "Oh, and after dinner, Mrs. Anderson is offering a special class. From the way it sounds it is something we can all do even when none of our electrics are out, but we will be outside the fences, so we will need to break into groups so we have a guard detail."

Just as he finished speaking Colonel McKnight came back in with Ajax. The man moved straight up to Robin and patted him on the back so hard Robin had to fight the desire to wince. "Corporal, I don't know how you manage to do it, but you keep finding ways to impress us. You just saved thousands of kids from injury and the Corps millions upon millions of credits in medical treatment and gear! We are uploading the instructions to adjust setting in all note-puters to all holographic instructors now."

Robin glanced up, "Sir, you need to thank the guys from San-San Near Ocean Seven. Had they not told us about it and mentioned they didn't know how to adjust settings I wouldn't have thought of it since I already knew how from Scouts."

Dwight shook his head, "None of us put it together with those on standard Adventure Quest, sir. It was all Robin."

"Still," Robin shot back, "without you three willing to come down here and help…" He glanced back to the Colonel with a bit of a grin as he saw a way to better integrate the three new arrivals into the camp and their temporary teams. He hoped it would also help all of them with their nervousness and self-confidence. "Sir, shouldn't they at least be brought into the Corp and given uniforms?"

"Consider it done." Colonel McKnight squeezed Robin's shoulder and looked at the three new arrivals clearly surprised to see them all sitting with different teams. "If you guys want it, come see me and we'll fill out paperwork to make you all senior privates. If not, Robin's right, the least the Corps can do is give you recruit rank and uniforms.

"As far as needing guards for Mrs. Anderson's class tonight, I'll assign some of the academy cadets so you all have plenty of time to strike it rich."

He glanced around. "Tomorrow we will continue with testing and get you all a list of other classes we are offering you over the next week. After some discussions we settled on wanting each of you to sign up for at least three of them, and every team will need at least one survival class in Near Ocean, Jungle, Grasslands, and Forest. In addition all teams will need two, preferably three members to take a class on Winter Survival. This is a new class for us, so those taking Winter Survival will see we aren't as prepared to teach it as we are the others. To be honest with you all, we are still working on the exact format of the class, so it will not be available for a couple more days.

"Finally, whatever teams are going after the advanced ISTAZ teams, will need at least two members to take Hazardous Earth Creatures and Hazardous Native Creatures, and one member must take Advanced Geothermal Dangers."

At the mention of the last class both Fairfax and Oliver both said "me" at the same time.

Colonel McKnight snickered, "Oh, you two are really going to love tonight extra class. Dinner is already in so it will be early. This may be the last hot meal you get for a few days too since we will lose power in about ninety minutes, so enjoy it."

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