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Once back at the trailers, the cadets broke into two teams of four and rotated guard duties, eating and resting. Joel's desire to push forward changed as he realized just how tired and stressed all of the kids under him were.
He piloted his frame over to Gabriel as the two of them switched places during guard change. "I think we need to stick with my plan, but push it back a couple of days. We are in a pretty inaccessible area not close to any sites. Maybe getting a good rest and even having some fun would be in order."
Agreed, but only for a couple of days; I don't want to loose the edge we are all feeling at the moment. It just may save our lives. It would sure make life easier if we had a few more personnel to rotate duties though. None of us will ever be totally in sync with the entire squad since we have to have two of awake and alert at all times."
"I know." Joel expressed his concern, "Do you really think we will be able to do this for 2 or 3 months?"
Gabriel put his frame down on his knee, "To be honest I don't know. However, I am wondering if maybe those in high command who don't want us to succeed are hoping for us to simply wear out."
"If they do, then I have every intension of proving them wrong. Anything from Candice?"
"Nope." Gabriel shook his head. "You know, I've been thinking about the radio problem they claimed to have. Do you think the others did something to prevent her from contacting us?"
Joel's eyebrows arched, "It's possible. Chip and Cory are the radio guys for her. They could be forcing her hand by not letting her ask for help. If they are, though, they could get in a huge amount of trouble."
Lawson motioned to Joel to take a knee as he pointed over to the north.
Joel glanced over and instantly saw two beams of light bobbing up and down as if moving over rough terrain. Joel moved closer so they could talk without using their frame radios, "Is it one of those track machines?"
"I think so Major. See how close together they are and how bright? It is almost like twin spotlights. They stick out for kilometers!"
"Yea, I noticed. Why in gods name would a machine want…?"
Joel's words were cut off as a pair of laser flashes caught his attention. Instantly the lights went out. Moments later a bluish green bolt of light that looked a lot like a lighting bolt erupted from where the twin lights had been and headed right to where the laser flashes had come from.
The battle continued for a couple of more minutes between what Joel could only guess was a wheeled machine and one of the tracked machines. Another bluish green bolt was followed by a loud explosion. Moments later the lights reappeared and moved off further to the north.
Joel and Lawson moved in the direction of the explosion followed by Gabriel. None of them were terribly surprised to find a wheeled machine burning. So intense where the flames that liquid metal poured from under the front turret. Lawson was the first to speak. "Maybe the lights are a ploy to get attention late at night when these things are running low on juice."
Joel's eye brows shot up, "Very possible. It was pretty late when you first spotted the other one. The question still remains. Is it a friend?"
"Well it just killed this one, so I'd say at the very worst we have the same enemy."
Joel half snorted, "An enemy of my enemy?"
"It may not be a friend, but it certainly is shooting at the right targets." Gabriel noted, "At least for now."
Joel looked around and noticed there were no tracks in the sand, instead there was a long flattened path leading off to the north, "It is dragging something to at least disguise its trail. I think we should stick with the briefing recommendations for now. We leave those machines alone unless they fire at us. If they do shoot at us, we try to cripple, not destroy. I really don't want to make it mad at us if we can prevent it."
Joel paused as he noticed Lawson grinning from ear to ear, "Am I missing something?"
Lawson scanned the area again then took a knee. His voice was filled with enthusiasm as he started speaking. "You know, I have to admit I'm really scared, but this is totally awesome if you really look at it. Most kids our age can only get this kind of excitement playing a holo-game, yet here we are doing it for real. Hell, we are being allowed to be real frame pilots doing a real recon mission without supervision. If we never do anything else, we can say we have seen and done the real thing!"
Gabriel noticed how excited Lawson was and smiled at him, "You know, most of the cadre who are against us getting a frame force would be really pissed right now."
Confused, Lawson cocked his head to the side and frowned. "Why?"
"Because, they expected us to fold and start crying right about now." Joel snickered. "They are counting on the pressure being too much for a group of sixth graders."
"Not this group of sixth graders." Lawson stated forcefully as the smile reappeared on his face.
Gabriel's and Joel's expressions quickly matched their new friend's as the trio spread out and advanced on the burning wheeled machine. Using hand signals Joel directed the other two to take guard positions on two closest hills while he moved in and did a quick search for salvage. Within minutes, he backed away and motioned the other two to join him.
As soon as they were within normal conversation range, Joel shrugged "I'm not sure what type of weapon the other machine used, but it really did some strange damage; it didn't burn through like a laser, but left some nasty gouges in the side. My guess is it caused the traps inside to go off though, cause the main damage appears to have been from white phosphorous packs burning from the inside out. We could probably salvage the wheels, but we really don't need them and the inside is toast."
Gabriel kept his eyes fixed over the distant hills watching the twin beams of light disappear into the blackness. His voice was strangely unsettled. "It isn't worth it. We have plenty of parts from the other two Lawson killed."
Lawson glanced over, "What's wrong ell tee?"
Gabriel continued to keep his eyes scanning the inky blackness, "We're fine. The problem is the other squad. Lieutenant O' Meyers and the others are on this rock with us and don't have half the info or equipment we do. If we could be sure they got to their frames and got to see the same briefing we did, I'd be a lot less worried."
Joel took in a deep breath, "Should I send them the coordinates of the drop pod?"
Gabriel started to nod but suddenly shook his head. "We can't let them depend on us Joel. Command wants each group to work separately to see how we can handle the mess they tossed us in. Besides, their Daggers have more than enough firepower to kill a few machines and they have every bit as much data as we did. We found it, they have to do the same or go after a different one. Besides, if their radios aren't working for real, then we would have to send it unencrypted, and there are unknowns out there. We can't risk them getting to it before Candice does."
Joel kicked at the hard rock under the feet of his frame sending chips of the old lava flow flying. "What about our squad, Lawson?"
Lawson shrugged, "Huh?"
Joel turned to face the slightly younger boy, "I know how those in my regular squad are. Gabriel and I are almost exactly alike. We are both thinking long term, wondering how long we can hold out and neither of us has a good idea how to accomplish our primary objective. We know we can't go on forever with only eight of us, yet we will push ourselves to the limit and beyond before we give up.
Brandon, however, is another story. His dad is a general and he will never give up because his father expects no less than perfection. He is far more afraid of going back to his dad without completing this mission then of having to stay here no matter how long it takes. To be honest he would rather die than to face his dad without reaching our primary goal.
Jennifer is kind of freaked out, but is kind of the odd one out as her family is not in Blood's Honor or the Forest Garden government. She sees this as an opportunity to break out of her family's dirt poor life and turn over a new leaf for all future generations while hoping she can help out her parents and siblings back on Dark Earth. For her, this is a chance to show all of us Blood's Honor and Forest Garden uppity ups that she is every bit as deserving of a cadet command slot as we are."
Gabriel snickered, "Which is really silly, cause we would be hard pressed to succeed without her and she is one of us. But Joel is right; Jennifer has not gotten to the point where she sees herself as Blood's Honor materiel yet. This gives her a chance to really be one of us in her own mind which is every bit as important as being part of the Blood's Honor Command College in body."
Lawson raised his eyebrows, "What about Karen?"
Joel whole face lit up betraying how much he liked Karen. "Her family has been in Blood's Honor for at least seven generations. None of them have ever been an officer, and have had no desire to be one. She is following in those footsteps. The only reason she is a Master Command Sergeant and not an officer is she has refused to take a cadet commission. She wants to be a sergeant like her father, her grandmother, her great grandmother, her great great grandfather, and on down the line. Almost every major Blood's Honor victory, in the past two hundred years has included a Sergeant Black. She has every intention of continuing along those lines. She is by far the toughest of the five of us and facing her in an unarmed combat pit hurts like you could not believe."
Gabriel seemed to wince at Joel's last statement, "So you see, we have a good idea where we all are and have gotten to know you well enough to have a good idea where you stand, but we don't know much about Derek and almost nothing about Paula. You have spent the last three months in close contact with them. How are they holding up?"
Lawson chewed on the inside of his mouth for a few moments as he thought it over. With a deep breath he turned to Joel. "Major, I think Derek is scared out of his mind. He is one of the strongest kids I have ever met, and in tactical games he is amazing, but…" The youngster's words drifted off seemingly in mid stride.
"But what?" Gabriel asked after a moment.
Lawson hung his head, "Look, ell tee, I don't want to talk bad about others in my squad."
Joel knelt, "We are not asking you to speak down or disrespect anyone. A leader needs to be able to judge the abilities of each person under him and pass the information up the chain of command. Unless we know what we are dealing with, we may expect more out of him than he can handle. He is the oldest kid with us after all."
Lawson took a knee next to Joel and slammed the powerful fist of the Rouge frame into the rock cracking the outer crust of the ancient flow. "OK, fine, here is the way I see it. In combat, Derek is awesome. He can move and shoot like the frame is part of himself. He sees tactical situations and none of us have ever beaten him at that darned Tac-Squad game the cadre has us play on the computer all the time. We have even seen him play and beat some of the cadre. But when he is not playing sports, fighting in his frame, or involved in a tactical game his abilities are about the worst of any of us, including the three that went with the other squad.
"He is not as smart as we are. He struggles with homework and refuses to ask for help. He works out every chance he gets, but when we come in to join him he finds an excuse to leave; usually to do homework we all finished hours before. Yet when given a chance, he is pretty fun to be around. He is funny, although a bit crude, and his love of cooking and ability to make even military field rations taste good is beyond impressive."
Gabriel nodded, "Yeah, as a cook he is top notch. Something tells me you six have been eating better than the ten of us have."
Lawson cracked an evil grin, "If you had nothing but cadre cooking since coming to Brile, I know we ate better! Derek took over cooking most dinners for us over a month ago, and most weekends he cooked all three meals for us. Any time the cadre or the rest of us tried to offer some help he would grin and basically kick us out of his kitchen."
"His Kitchen?" Joel nearly choked on the words, "The Cadre let him get away with calling it his?"
"It took a week or so, but about the third or forth time he cooked for them, they stopped disputing it." Lawson couldn't help it, he openly laughed. "Didn't you ever wonder where all the senior cadre officers and many of the guards disappeared to during your dinner times?"
Gabriel rolled his eyes, "Actually we did at first but after a couple of weeks we didn't give it much more thought."
Joel lowered his head, "So we had to eat Blood's Honor field rations while you guys were basically eating gourmet, how unfair is that?"
"Seemed fair from where we were eating." Lawson fired back with a huge smile.
"I'm sure it did." Gabriel half grumbled yet keeping a smile the whole time. "OK, so now we know more and at least some idea where Derek is coming from. How about Paula?"
The smile faded from Lawson's face and he kind of tossed up his arms. "She is a weird one guys. None of us really know much about her other than her skills which are absolutely deadly. According to the Cadre, she has a black belt in Shotokan and Mugen Tenshin. Neither of which I had heard of before I met her. She can put her fist through a brick and snap boards with her bare hands.
"In unarmed combat, the only one who has come close to besting her was Derek, and he only knocked her down once to my knowledge. After that, she didn't let him get close enough to land one of his power blows; although she does tend to come out of the pit with a few bruises after fighting him each time. The problem is he takes a pounding in the process, but is a tough kid and can handle more than the rest of us. She even took out cadre a few times, and as far as I know has not lost a match against a Cadre member without them paying for it.
"The throwing stars and blade she carries are not for show either, she uses them. One outing, she threw one of the darned stars right between Jason's legs and killed a sand-scorp none of the rest of us, including the cadre, saw moving up under the sand behind him. It stuck in so deep; she had to cut into through the outer shell with a knife to find it. Another time, she took the head off a full sized charging Brile Boar with a single swing of her sword."
Seeing both Gabriel and Joel give him strange looks, Lawson nodded. "I'm serious guys. She stood there and let it charge right at her while we scrambled to get out of the way. The whole time the cadre were freaking out trying to get us out of this steep ravine and kept yelling at her to get out of the way so they could open fire. At the last moment she spun to the side, drew the sword, and took the head off of it all in one dazzlingly graceful move. She ended up with a day of camp duty for not following orders but considering the outcome they dropped any other punishments. As a matter of fact, we had the thing for the next six or seven meals and it actually tasted really good after Derek finished spicing it."
"Scary." Gabriel whispered in some awe, "Those things can run at over forty-five kilometers per hour and weigh half a metric ton!"
"They can and this one did." Lawson confirmed with no hesitation. "I know she had to go through several tests before they would let her carry the stars or the blade, but she passed them all in a less than a week. Since we have been here, she even fenced some of the instructors and beat them as many times as she lost."
"The very fact she carries them let us know she knew how to use them." Joel stated with conviction. "Blood's Honor never allows a cadet to carry a weapon until they are certain it can be used safely. There are only twenty or thirty cadets who are allowed to carry blades longer than a knife, and I don't know of any who are allowed to openly carry throwing weapons; other than knives, and only a few senior cadets carry those."
Gabriel snorted, "Great, if there is any area we are below standards on it is self defense and unarmed combat. Now we have a perfect yet painful way to get our unarmed combat skills up. We can just let her beat the snot out of us until we get good out of desperation."
Lawson managed a forced snicker, "Painful is an understatement, she hits harder than most kids kick, trust me; the first time I jumped in the pit with her, she knocked the wind out of me in less than five seconds. The next thing I knew she flung me to the ground and was on top of me like some kind of tiger. I never even threw a punch."
"We'll you know what the sergeant at arms back on Forest Garden says," Joel tried to joke, "No gain without some pain." He turned serious again. "What else can you tell us about her?"
"Very little." Lawson replied with some unease. "She's wickedly smart. Paula is the top student out of all six of us by a wide margin."
Lawson snapped his fingers, "Oh, I do know she is Jewish. Once I noticed her reading the Torah in Hebrew and repeating the words so she can speak and read Hebrew. I asked her about it a few days later and said she would be happy to teach me when we had more spare time, so she does have a nice side to her, but it doesn't come out very often.
"I can also tell you her frame ranged combat skills are probably the worst in the group and in the Tac-Squad games she almost always comes in last place. Her moves are very predictable, and she doesn't use much imagination when planning an attack or defense unless it is a single frame situation, then she kicks butt. She uses terrain, darkness, and weather conditions to her advantage when she doesn't have to keep track of other frames; so if you play her, cover your back door.
"On the other hand, she is so good in unarmed she has the ability to do many of the same moves in a frame. She can actually do a spinning kick and when she throws a punch it is just like seeing her in the pit. She busted up Stella's frame pretty bad once when she actually flipped her and slammed her to the ground."
Joel let out a low whistle, "I've seen some of my father's best pilots do Frame Martial Arts. FMA is amazing to watch, and according to my dad, one of the hardest things to learn, let alone master."
"She got certified in it last month by Lieutenant Sparks. Until then, I didn't even know there was such a thing as frame martial arts."
Gabriel felt his jaw drop, "She has a BH certification in FMA?"
Lawson nodded, "Yeah. After seeing what she did to Stella, he told her she was lucky she didn't damage her own frame or accidentally seriously hurt Stella. She didn't even blink, saying luck had nothing to do with it and she could do the same thing to him or any other cadre."
"Oh, that was a bad move." Gabriel shuttered, "Lieutenant Sparks is one of 10 BH FMA instructors."
"Yea, well it was a heck of a fight." Lawson grinned. "He had her frame up in a riot frame and suited up in another one so they were on equal terms and told her to go for it. She charged and paid for it dearly as he put her through a tree. We thought it was over, but she stood and charged again only this time she did a spinning kick just as he tried to toss her again and he flipped back with a huge dent in the front of his armor.
"The next thing we knew they were tossing each other all over the woods while throwing punches and making contact with an occasional kick. They must have shattered a score of rocks and got thrown through a dozen trees each. Lieutenant Sparks' frame had a cracked visor plus his left knee, right elbow and shoulder were all leaking hydraulic fluid before he managed to leg sweep her and yank out her left foot support rod.
"Once she couldn't stand it was pretty much over, but she still knocked him down once more before he put on some sort of leg lock on the damaged foot that must have actually caused her pain cause she quickly tapped out. It was one of the craziest fights I had ever seen. I think the cadre used what was left of the two frames to make a single working one.
"Two days later, Lieutenant Sparks took her for a two and a half day field study of one on one and she came back with a Frame Martial Arts certificate and ribbon."
"Dear God!" Joel almost shouted, "And you had to go in the unarmed pit against her?"
"Yeah, and each time I felt a lot like those riot frames looked by the time I crawled out."
Joel turned to Gabriel, "How many BH cadets are FMA certified?"
"I think she makes five with the full certification and ribbon. The others are almost graduation age and win almost every unarmed competition the cadre can find for them. Usually it ends up with the four of them fighting for first through third. They all have quite a trophy case to take with them. There are probably forty to fifty others who are good enough to be in FMA classes, but there is no one below the age of fourteen with full FMA awards other than her; I'm sure of that."
"Unreal." Joel whistled, "So what else can you tell us about our ninja master."
Lawson giggled, "That would be a good call sign for her. But to be honest, the only other thing I can tell you is she's pretty much all business all the time. When we do have spare time, she tends to go to the pit and program in holographic opponents for combat or go to the frame simulators to practice. I don't think I've seen her do anything for fun the entire time I've known her which makes it almost impossible to get to know her."
Gabriel looked over to Joel, "Sounds like we will not have to worry about her wanting to give up at least."
Lawson cocked his head to the side, "No sir. She was furious for five days after she lost against Lieutenant Sparks even though she came back with the FMA certification and ribbon. I'm pretty sure she would rather die than fail a mission, any mission. If anything, she seems more like how you described Lieutenant Scott."
"Well, we won't put either of them in such a tight spot." Joel stated as he continued to watch the wheeled machine burn. "We just have to put our fears aside and heads together so we can figure out how to find the base and possibly an ultra as well."
Candice O' Meyers (Lt) Jason Anstock
Terrin Brant (Ens) Tracy Valenberg
Chip Beck (Ens) Stella Schmidt
Cory Bennett (MCSgt)
Beth Kohl (CmdSgt)
Candice rubbed her eyes as she gazed out the front of the Dagger she was ridding in. The Brile desert seemed to stretch on for an eternity. Each new dune top only brought the sight of more sand and the occasional dried up shrub. The only break to the mind numbing scenery was the occasional deadly sand-scorp as it jumped up from under the sand and scurried away from the powerful hover fans of the Dagger tanks and the wheeled trailers they towed.
Off to the west, an ever shifting wall of gray told all eight cadets ridding in the two tanks a sand storm was less than twenty kilometers away. Fortunately, the mass of airborne sand seemed to be keeping a steady distance so it looked like they would be able to steer clear of it.
Candice glanced back at the gridded holographic map behind her for about the tenth time in the past hour. "Chip, are you sure about this?"
"Ell tee, we've been over this half a dozen times already. The information we got from Joel's squad gave us way more than we had to start with. We have a much better idea of the actual crash locations, but there are variables. What Cory, Stella, and I came up with as the most probable location was wrong; it didn't crash in the swamp, which is probably a good thing, since it would have been half buried in muck and next to impossible to get equipment out of. This second target is the next closest, it just happens to be on the other side of this desert."
Chip paused for an instant, but decided to try to talk some sense into Candice one more time. "You know, Cory told you we had a much better fix on the second pod than the first. It is a few hundred kilometers further, but we could go right to the area and simply search the side of a mountain. In the long run, it could save us time."
Candice's voice took on a nasty edge, "We already wasted a day and a half on foot in the swamp: we are going after this pod Ensign!"
Chip bit his lip to prevent a reply. The last two days had been a nightmare. Under Candice's leadership, or lack there of, the squad had accomplished very little and tempers were flaring across the board. On the other hand, a bit of an underground leadership structure had started to develop thanks in large part to the newest members of the squad.
Jason Anstock, a former cadet team leader from New Bavaria VI, managed to gather the others and calm them down after a disastrous start. The almost fourteen year old boy explained he was not trying to usurp anyone, only get things moving in the right direction while Lieutenant O' Meyers got her head screwed on right. Furthermore, they young man let the others know he had confidence in Candice. She had proven herself on Andar and he was sure, given time, she would come around and return to the same kind of leader she had shown everyone she could be.
The others, however, were seriously starting to think about giving him their support. Candice's demeanor had not gotten better and her decision making continued to decline. Part of the problem was, at least in Chip's way of thinking, Candice had not been able to sleep and even when she tried, she was just too nervous to lie down and rest let alone sleep. Chip shook in anger as he tossed up his arms in disgust. He took a deep breath as he pushed the speed up a bit.
A few minutes later the radio chirped once. Chip grabbed the radio and keyed the mike once in return. A moment later Chip smacked the control console in frustration as word of another problem came over the radio. He slowed to a stop.
Candice instantly turned, "What are you doing?"
"Stopping." Chip half snarled in return, "The fuel trailer's wheel has started to wobble again. Terrin says if we don't fix the entire axel, we'll loose it."
Candice slammed her fist on the command table causing the holographic map image to flicker. "Dammit! I thought we had that fixed!"
She jumped up, but Chip stopped her by physically getting in her way. "With all do respect ma'am, what are you doing?"
She glared, "Going to take a look, move."
Chip crossed his arms, deciding to push back a little. "And do what, other than get in the way. You can't fix it and all you are going to do is drive everyone nuts. Let Terrin and Stella deal with it and stop the micro managing crap. I'll put Cory and Tracy on ground guard to watch out for sand-scorps and Jason and Beth will take the machineguns. I'll move up to the turret and stay ready to engage larger targets."
"What the hell am I supposed to do then?"
Chip's voice lowered, no longer hiding his irritation. "How about get some sleep and figure out a way to pull your head out of your ass."
Chip instantly regretted his words, but what was said was said and he had about all he could take. "Lieutenant, the whole reason the fuel trailer took a hit to begin with is your insistence on getting one of our Daggers out of the danger zone while we still had plenty of time. If you would have let both of us fight the two machines, we could have killed them quickly without extensive damage to both the other Dagger and the fuel trailer. Terrin did what he could, but both he and Stella told you they didn't think simply replacing the wheel would do the trick, but you wanted to move out so we did.
"Now the axel is starting to give out just like he told you it would. Furthermore, if you would have left him and Stella with the Daggers instead of taking them into the swamp with you, this would not have been an issue. Almost every decision you have made since we separated from Joel, has been poor at best and flatly dangerous at worst. You need to slow down, think about what you are doing, and get some sleep before you kill one of us!"
Candice took a step back as her voice took on a less angry tone, "I could write you up for this."
"Then do it. Hell, write it up however you want and I'll sign it. But enough is enough Lieutenant. I'm not going to stand idly by while we flounder around like a fish left on a beach. Terrin and Jason have spent the last two days trying to correct your mistakes, but it keeps getting harder for them cause you just keep making our situation worse!"
Pure fury could be seen in Candice's eyes but she took a deep breath and held her tongue long enough to take stock of the situation. When she spoke, there was no question she was fuming. On the other hand, she saw enough validity to her long time friend's words to give some ground. "OK ensign, we'll do this your way. Terrin is needed to fix the axel and I know the other Dagger can use some work on the armored over skirting. Since we know the two of us are the least able to handle mechanical and welding repairs, I'm putting you in command.
Since you think I have totally blown the first forty-eight hours, the next forty-eight are yours to straighten it back out. I'm going to stay out of all decision making, all of it. Let's see if you can turn things around."
As she turned to head back toward the sleeping quarters she glanced back, "I really don't care what happens for the next forty-eight hours, don't bother me unless you need me to man a turret."
Chip waited until he heard the second door, leading to the infantry area of the hover tank, clang shut before he took a breath and exited into the hot Brile sun. He motioned for Jason and Terrin to come over then yelled out, "Stella, break out the tool kit so we can fix the fuel trailer. Cory, Tracy sand-scorp duty. Beth, take the machinegun on number one and keep your eyes peeled while I have a quick meeting."
Chip kept a close eye out with his laser pistol out until everyone was in position. Finally he holstered the weapon and turned to Cory, "Keep your eyes on Stella, she'll be vulnerable under the trailer. As you know, those darned things move just under the sand then pup up and strike so you have to watch for any kind of movement."
"We got it covered." He smiled as he realized Chip was basically taking command. "Did you finally hogtie Candice or something?"
Chip put on a light scolding look. "Cory, she's still our ell tee and more importantly a member of this squad. None of us need to be talking about anyone else here behind their back like that."
Cory cringed, "Yer right, sorry Ensign."
Chip let out a sigh. "Believe me, I know where you are coming from but we can't let the last couple of days divide us. We've got a lot of work to do and hopefully the ell tee will get some sleep and get back to being the leader we all know she can be." He then turned and nodded to Terrin and Jason, leading them out of earshot.
As the trio moved further away from the two tanks they all pulled their side arms, knowing sand-scorps would not hesitate to attack anything up to man sized. The wide open terrain would make a sneak attack basically impossible as long as all three of them kept alert, however.
Terrin was the first to speak, "So what's up?"
Chip tossed up his hands, "I finally had it and basically told her she was going to get one of us killed."
"Ouch, she must have gone ballistic." Terrin cringed.
"Yeah, it got even worse. But after threatening to write me up failed, she handed command over to me and told me not to bother her for forty-eight hours unless she needed to man a weapon."
Jason raised an eyebrow, "Why you? I thought Ensign Brant had seniority on you."
Terrin waved Jason off, "I do, but only because I scored higher on frame piloting than Chip. If we get a break from her, I really don't care who she put in command." He turned his attention back to Chip, "So what's the game plan?"
"To be honest, I wanted to hear from the two of you before I decided. I've got some ideas, but I've only been in a command slot a couple of times. Both of you have way more experience than me."
Jason wagged his finger in a half scolding way, "Than I, not than me."
Chip paused and thought it over, "Really?"
Terrin nodded, "Yeah, Chip. You do that a lot. Turn the words around. You don't say me have more experience than you."
Chip frowned, "I hate English. It's lucky I didn't have to take the final. I probably would have gotten a B."
Jason looked over perplexed. "What's so funny?"
Terrin grinned, "Here we are basically stranded on a world with active machines, out in the middle of a desert with a broken trailer carrying all our fuel, and we are talking about English classes and grades."
A slow grin spread across Jason's face, "Yeah, rather ironic actually. So Ensign Beck, what are your ideas?"
Chip looked a bit surprised, "Well, I was hoping to hear your ideas first."
Terrin shook his head, "Not gunna happen. You're in command. You tell us what you want to happen and we'll help you do it. If we start giving you ideas, then no one will really be in command and we will be right back to where we were less than ten minutes ago. We need one person in command, and the rest helping to carry out the mission objective set by the person put in command which is you."
Jason nodded, "Ensign Brant is right. If Lieutenant O' Meyers would have settled in on mission objectives and let the rest of us give advice and work toward those goals, we would be a lot better off right now. So before you do anything else, you need to set priorities in your mind and let the rest of us know what they are."
Chip's lack of leadership experience showed as he knelt in the sand. "How?"
"Relax." Terrin knelt beside his flustered friend. "You are already on it, Chip. You have everyone on assigned duties working to get the trailer fixed, and I'm sure by the way you posted guards you have every intension of me getting under there to help, which is the best use of manpower we have had since we separated from Joel."
Jason nodded, "So now we need mission objectives once we have the trailer fixed."
Chip let out a long breath, "To be honest, I want the skirting damage on the Dagger fixed before we move as well. I want to be at one hundred percent before we move another centimeter. There are machines out there and another set of laser hits could do serious damage. But I also don't want to waste any of these forty-eight hours."
"There are other things we could do while Ensign Brant and Private Schmidt gets us fully operational." Jason stated.
"None of us have had a decent meal in over two days, we have not showered, we haven't even cleaned the main weapons since we engaged the two machines as we left the base."
Terrin nodded in agreement, "And even though we have verbally passed on what our mission is to Jason, Stella and Tracy, they have not had a chance to see the actual mission disk. I bet they would be a lot more helpful if they had all the information we do."
"The sand-scorps will be a problem where we are, and there is a sandstorm that could switch directions on us though." Chip stated basically thinking out loud.
"Then let's fix the trailer and get behind those first set of hills before we set a camp. We can rotate guards, clean up, cook a decent meal, and do all the maintenance." Jason suggested.
Chip nodded, "OK, let's make this happen. By the time we have a camp and everyone eats, I should be able to come up with a basic plan."
Terrin stood, "Then you can call another meeting and we'll help you plan the best way to go about accomplishing it."
Chip grinned in satisfaction, "Thanks guys."
Jason gave a quick nod, "No problem. Actaully, thanks for asking." He paused, "So where do you want me?"
Chip paused, "I was going to put you on the other machinegun, but it may be better if I take it and you set up in the turret and watch the mission disk. That way if we need a big gun, you can be ready while getting as much information as we have."
As three boys started walking back toward the tanks, Jason spoke up, "Speaking of the information we have, what about the extra info from the other squad commander?"
Terrin glanced over, "It sure gave us way more to go on than we had before."
"Yeah, I realize that." Jason chewed on his lip a moment, "The question I was really asking is, can we trust it."
Chip stopped dead in his tracks and glared at Jason, "Joel would NEVER mislead us."
Terrin nudged Chip, "He doesn't know Joel, Chip. It is a legitimate question." He turned to face Jason "Look, I realize you don't know any of us very well, but Blood's Honor cadets would never cheat. My bet is his squad actually found one of the pods."
Jason held up his hands a bit defensively, "I really didn't mean to insult anyone. But if he found one, why not just tell us where to go?"
"He may have withheld a few things. I'm sure he would have never given us the exact location because he figured it would be better for our unit if we did it on our own. He saw how frazzled we were and probably figured what he gave us would help get us turned around, which I believe it has. I also bet he has been in one of those machines and found out about the traps he warned us about first hand. The cadre would have warned us about them before we ever tired to set foot in one if they had known."
Chip calmed and nodded, "The Cadre must have hit them with EMP projectors and set up an EMP field around them so they were powerless until the electromagnetic pulse field was removed. They never had to go inside. Heck, for all we know Joel captured one somehow."
Terrin noted the skeptical look in Jason's eyes, "You really need to get to know Joel and Gabriel. When the two of them work together, they are a whole unit between the two of them."
"We all heard the Cadre talking about Senior Lieutenant Price and Lieutenant McCurdy several times." Jason remarked as the trio once again headed back toward the Daggers. "The only other question I have, is this: If we have the same information they do and you are correct about them already having found a pod, then they must have gone after the same one we are cause it is by far the closest. So how did they go right to it and we are not?"
Terrin and Chip exchanged questioning glances. After a moment Chip spoke carefully, "You are absolutely correct. As fast as they got us the information, they must have made a bee line right for it. There is only one explanation."
Terrin nodded as he too thought it over. All three boys spoke at the same time, "We are missing something!"
Jason's suspicious side came though again, "So is it something they withheld?"
Terrin shook a waning finger at Jason, "Don't go there again. You'll have to trust us for now, but let me make this very clear. Joel would not do anything to mislead or hold back a key piece of the puzzle."
"OK," Jason again held up both hands, "if you are both certain the other squad found the closest pod and gave us all the needed data as quickly as they did, then what are we overlooking?"
Chip shrugged, "I have no clue, but it must be sitting right in front of our noses. Let's keep it in the back of our skulls while we attend to our urgent needs, maybe it'll dawn on one of us."
"They were a lot more organized than we were and had time to really talk things over. This is our first chance. I'll have plenty of time to play and replay the briefing. Maybe there is something in the mission briefing you guys missed."
As they approached the crippled trailer, Cory fired a shot right past them. Terrin didn't hesitate. He spun while drawing his own pistol. Before he finished his turn, his laser pistol sent a pulse of high intensity light at a sand-scorp.
Terrin cursed the missed shot, but it did cause the meter and a half long reptile to rear up with the help of its poisonous tail. This gave Chip a perfect target and he didn't waste it. His shot nailed it, knocking it to the ground. His beam was followed moments later by a killing burst from Jason's heavy auto-pistol.
Tracy's face burst into a huge grin as she did a quick scan to make sure the area was clear. Once she was satisfied, she pumped her fist. "Now there is the kind of teamwork we need!"
Chip gave her a quick thumbs up as he jumped up on the second dagger to man the machinegun, "We just need to clear our heads and calm down. By sunset we'll be working together just as well as we did on Andar."
Tracy noticeably shuddered, "We really didn't have a choice, Ensign. It was work together or die."
Cory glanced over, "There isn't much difference if ya really look at it. If we don't act as a squad out here, we'll fail at best and get killed at worst."
"I haven't really been thinking along those lines Master Sergeant." Tracy admitted as she looked over a bit sheepishly.
"Don't worry about it. None of us have had the proper focus since this started. Everything changes now. As a matter of fact, I want you to forget the first two days and simply pretend we just got the mission a few minutes ago. The last two days simply didn't happen, OK?"
"You got it Master Sergeant." Tracy smiled as she scanned the desert yet again.
Chip glanced back at Cory as he activated the controls and took the safety off the heavy machinegun mounted on the top of the Dagger. "Well put. I think you're right on the mark. We simply need to forget the past two and a half days and move forward as if we are just getting out the gate."
"I don't think we have a choice Ensign." Stella half grunted from under the fuel trailer. "If we dwell on all our mistakes, we'll never get back into sync. Back on New Bravaria we were taught to forget about the past and focus on the future during missions. The time to figure out what could have been done better will come when there is time to do a recap."
Terrin slid under the trailer with Stella, "You know, it amazes me how different the teaching of other academes are yet all of them have the same goals."
Jason tossed up his hands, "There is no way every school can teach everything, but from what I have seen in the last few months, BHJMA's Command College comes about as close as possible. The problem with your school is it is so tough there isn't as much free thinking as there is at NBJMA. You guys should have stood up to your lieutenant when she sent you and Stella into the swamp with her and left those of us who couldn't fix combat damage with the tanks."
"Yeah, you're right." Terrin responded with a note of disgust, "But, to be honest none of us wanted to hurt her feelings and up till now I have never been in this type of situation. The fact is we are so used to being under the command of someone who tells Candice what needs to be done and she does it that we had no clue she would react like she did."
Jason sighed as he moved toward the turret. "One thing we learned at NBJMA is, there are some leaders who are great as long as they are under someone, but not so great when put in total command."
Chip sighed as Jason disappeared into the dagger to take control of the turret. "How long to fix the axel guys?"
"It doesn't look good Chip." Terrin called out. "Give us an hour and we'll let you know."
Chip nervously stood guard as he watched Terrin and Stella rotate time under the trailer, carting equipment back and forth and looking more and more aggravated on each trip.
"It was totally busted!" Stella grunted in total disgust as she finally slid out pulling the welder out from under the crippled fuel wagon as she did so. "We welded a sleeve around the break, but its not going to last more than five hundred kilometers, seven hundred and fifty if we take it slow and get lucky."
Terrin poked his head out from under the trailer, "Then we either figure out a way to replace the whole thing or we abandon it. Candice should have let us stop and fix this a day ago, maybe we could have prevented it from getting this bad."
"Just great." Chip punched the side of the blast shield meant to protect the person manning the machinegun, "We can't loose the fuel trailer, it would take too long to make fuel with hydrogen converters. Give me some options someone."
"I only see a couple, commander." Terrin stated after a couple of seconds, "First we could scrap the cargo trailer and we could make the axel on it work for this one. It'd take a couple of days, but it would work. The other way is to unload the cargo trailer and move the fuel over to it."
Tracy spoke up, "That would take just as long, if not longer. We would have to move the pumps and all the gear over and mount it, plus we would have to pull whatever is in the cargo trailer out. The fuel trailer is built specially for pumping hydrogen at high pressure. Without the trailer, refueling will take three times as long and we'll have to start making fuel in a matter of days instead of weeks."
"Worse than that," Cory glanced up to Chip, with a glum look, "Without the fuel pumps, we will not be able to fully fill up the tanks cause we wont get enough pressure to do so."
Stella kicked at the sand, "This sucks."
Jason stepped out of the tank just in time to hear the conversation. "Hey ensign, we could always use the information Joel gave us and capture one of those wheeled machines and turn it into an armored fuel carrier. From the info he sent us, the inside is large enough to hold almost everything we need."
Chip raised an eyebrow, "Now there is a interesting idea, but we need frames if we're going to pull it off."
Terrin wiped off his hands as he stood and stretched, "Right now, I'm glad Joel had us each take a mobile machine shop which basically takes up the back of one of the daggers; but since we have it we should be able to use one of the axels from a machine. It would take some work, but I'm sure we can manage to resize it. But like you said, we need frames if we are going to go against machines on purpose."
Jason flashed a devious grin, "I may not have the location of our cargo pod, but I sure as hell have a solid lock on a target that may have something we can use."
Chip spun to face Jason, "Really? What?"
Jason set a portable holographic player on the tank as he jumped down. "This is directly from the mission briefing." He turned to glance at the voice activated player. "Play section one point six two."
Instantly the image of the ship commander from the doomed supply ship appeared in the center globe. Sparks caused the man to flinch as he talked. "Our plan is to eject three cargo pods you requested and then jump in the life boats and burn for our fold craft once we steer her through basic re-entry. Furthermore, damage to the lower sectors of the ship prevents us from doing an emergency discharge of the other cargo. All doors are jammed below Echo. As it is, we are going to do an explosive removal of the cargo pod bay doors." The image stuttered briefly and repeated. "As it is, we are going to do an explosive removal of the cargo pod bay doors. The equipment for replacement personnel we have with us will have to be provided by some other means. We are forced to take the replacements back to the ship with us and will advise Command of the situation once we get back to our fold craft."
Terrin held up his hands showing his confusion, "Yeah, so?"
Cory, on the other hand, smacked his head, "OF COURSE!"
"Huh?" Chip asked as he looked back and forth between Jason and Cory.
Cory's grin and fast talk betrayed his excitement. "Figuring out where the glide pods went includes lots of variables, but there is almost no deviation on where the PLC crashed and it was carrying supplies for replacements which never arrived cause we never saw any new faces! That means it almost certainly had their frames!"
Jason pointed at Cory, "Exactly! Even better, the data they provided was from the ship as it came down so we have a direct track on it until it got to about two kilometers from the ground. Combined with the info we got from the other squad gives a great track. The wind shear would have deflected the glide pods a grip, but not the much larger and somewhat controlled PLC. Remember, they blew the hatches on the glide pod bays and only the main engine was off line. The guy on the vid said it was coming in warm so the directional thrusters and auto pilot were still working when they abandoned the ship. The auto-pilot would have reacted to the multiple hull breaches by doing a direct decent!"
Chip's eyes lit up, "Man, you're awesome! Do you have a fix?"
Jason grinned, "Yeah, what do you think took me so long to show you all this? It is less than ninety kilometers from here, east north east; I have it down to less than three square kilometers. It is in some hills covered with desert scrub brush and small trees which surround an oasis from what the map shows. It's right on the edge of the waste land we are traveling though, but far enough in that sand-scorps will probably not be a problem since they are is more rock than sand. It's about six kilometers from the edge of their range from what the danger zone map says."
"Load up!" Chip shouted out. "Forget about our other plans. Showers and a good meal will have to wait another few hours. We have a crashed PLC to get to!" A bit of a frown crept over his features as he looked over to Terrin, "What is the fastest we can go with the trailer?"
"I'd keep her under fifty-five KPH, Chip, anything faster…"
Chip held up his hand. "We stay at forty-five, we are still less than two hours to the crash site."
Stella hefted the welder into the back of the second dagger, "Would they really crash a PLC?"
"Not on purpose." Terrin managed to grin, "But it looked awfully real. Regardless, if the briefing was staged, they would have put something there. BH Command would never include it in the briefing without covering it with a crash site of some sort."
Cory snickered, "The way Command thinks, they may have found a scrap-heap and plowed it into the ground just so there is an actual crash site."
Terrin glanced back at Cory, "Good point. I wouldn't put it past them. They may have even included some mild toxins or other problems. We'll need to do a full Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) and magnetic scan when we get there. This could be a set up for a quick failure."
"This academy is really amazing." Tracy stated as she helped lower the jack stand and assisted Cory in getting it stored. "I would have never thought of doing a magnetic hazard sweep even if there is a crashed ship sitting there, let alone an NBC scan."
"It's pretty clear Command has pulled out all the stops on this training mission." Chip stated as he continued to scan the area for sand-scorps. "They want to make sure we are really ready to command a frame force before giving us the chance to do so. Being careless, is not a trait Command will want to see out of a group they are planning to put in command of a full frame force.
Beth finally stood down from the other machinegun as everyone got up on the Daggers, "It looks like things are finally stating to turn in our favor. Not only did we make a temporary repair, we are heading away form the sand storm that has switched directions and is starting to creep this way. It'll be on top of us in a few minutes."
"Yeah," Terrin grunted, "It's about time something went our way! We best get in and secure all the hatches though, cause we aren't going to be able to outrun it with the trailer in this condition."
Chip nodded, "No joke. Terrin, you have number two. Take Jason, Tracy and Cory. I'll take number one with Beth and Stella. I'll have Candice in case I need a gunner. I'll follow since you have the fuel trailer. I'll be able to spot any problems."
Terrin gave a thumb up as he motioned for the others to climb into the hover tank.
Beth did one last check of the area as the pair of Daggers powered up and turned more to the north. As she did so, she noticed a very large winged craft emerge from the sand cloud and bank hard to the south trailing smoke, "Chip!"
Chip popped his head out of the hatch and instantly turned his eyes in the direction Beth was pointing. His eyes went wide. "Holy crap! Beth, get that on the gun camera! Stella send a ultra short range burst over to Dagger two and have them turn directly into the storm and slow to thirty! I want that storm over us ASAP!
"You what?" Stella called out is shock even as she obeyed.
"Dammit! Do it!"
"Relax, already done sir!"
"Sorry, good work!" Chip didn't pause, "Beth, as soon as they have confirmed tell them to stay inside the storm as long as possible and swing around to a heading of straight north for one hour before speeding up to fifty and making a straight dash for the crash site. Also, have them turn on their back blackout lights on mode three. We will follow their lights. Once everything is confirmed, have them hit full ECM and then do the same for us."
A full minute of silence past before Beth looked over, "Done sir."
"Good." Chip took one more look as the craft struggled to stay airborne in the distance. "As soon as you have me a decent vid, lock this beast down!"
Beth quickly obeyed, jumping down and hitting the electric seal on the overhead hatch as her feet hit the floor. "Chip, shouldn't we be going to help?"
Chip pointed to the viewer, "No. Put the vid you shot over to the briefing table. "Stella go to UV. With them on mode three you will be able to follow their rear blackout lights even in the sand storm.
Stella looked back with concern, "Understood Ensign, switching to ultra-violet mode now. What's up?"
"Give me a second to confirm and I'll let you know."
Beth pointed to the holographic display, "It's coming up now sir."
Chip watched the fifteen second feed with a chill, "Oh crap."
Beth raised an eyebrow, "What?"
Chip hit replay and put it on a continuous loop. "You don't know what that is?"
Stella watched the loop repeat several times before her face went pale, "It looks like the armor landers we faced back on Andar!"
Beth sagged against the side of the briefing table, "Chip?"
"That's exactly what it was. That's a Black Comet. It's a small sized combat armor lander capable of carrying six heavy or twelve light armored vehicles. You can run it through computer ID if you want."
Beth shook her head, "No one is better at threat ID than you are. I know better than to second guess you when you're this sure. Are you sure it wasn't one of ours?"
"No chance." Chip stated with total certitude. "They are bottom line craft made by Zip-tech on over a dozen worlds. They are one step up from flying junk. Their best models come with almost no defensive capabilities and a pretty high engine failure rates. Blood's Honor chewed through almost a score of them as we were pulling back to the PLC on Andar and didn't even need heavy ADA."
"ADA?" Stella asked.
"Air Defense Artillery." Chip replied. "Normally it takes heavy missiles, special heavy tank weapons or ship mounted cannons to bring down a lander; but Blood's Honor frames were shooting them down with standard mounted weapons. On the other hand, Black Comets are fast and can be quickly converted to burn petrochem or hydrogen. In addition they are cheep, low tech, and parts for them are easy to get a hold of or even make. This makes them perfect for many new or down and out mercs. More than a few poor planets have them as a staple for their rapid armor deployment as well.
"To put them into perspective, Blood's Honor's cheapest armored landers are ten times tougher than the top line Black Comet. You know, I heard some of the cadre say Joel would have had a confirmed kill on one of those if they had not classified the gun camera vids from all our frames."
Stella's head jerked around, "No way!"
Beth shrugged, "You need to get to see Joel in action. If any cadet took one down, it would have been him. I still wonder why they blocked everyone from viewing those vids. I'd kind of like to know how many each of us took down that night."
Chip shook his head, "I bet they think it would eat at us to know how many we each killed. Besides, it kind of went against everything Blood's Honor codes of conduct stands for."
Stella shook her head, "Not really. It was kill them or die. And if we hadn't taken as many out as we did, there would not have been even a third the number escape Talborne's trap. By taking them down in mass the way we did, we all saved a lot of innocent lives."
"Oh, I know." Chip agreed quickly, "But as far as battles go, Blood's Honor probably took more lives on Andar than any other two major battles over the last five or ten years, if not more."
"I'd still like to know what the count was for each of us." Beth, sighed.
"The fact they gave each of us an ace ribbon tells me they have proof each of us scored killing shots on at least five tanks or frames." Stella stated firmly. "They made it clear to everyone the ace ribbons we wear on our dress reds are an understatement of the truth."
"Which makes hiding the vids even more silly. The very fact we each have ace ribbons says the sixteen of us took out at least eighty enemy units. That is staggering, so why hide the whole truth. It makes no sense." Chip growled, "All sixteen of us are proud of those ribbons. It isn't like we don't know we had to have killed men and women to get them.
"Don't get me wrong. It sucks we had to kill, but they really didn't give us a choice and I know I'd have happily shot a few more if I had known those bastards had killed Joel's mom and twenty-one other Blood's Honor elite framers in their cowardly sneak attack. Too bad one of them to fall to our guns wasn't Talborne."
"There's a guy who deserves a laser up the butt." Stella agreed, "I'd consider it an honor to pull the trigger given half the chance. He caused the death of many of my friends and a half dozen New Bravaria instructors. But of all us, I really feel for Private O'Malley. Poor Lawson lost just about everything and everyone he knows. That little guy fought like a demon, and I can guarantee you he took out way more than five, probably should have a double ace ribbon alone, but he still kind of thinks he failed his fellow cadets. It just ain't fair. I just wish I could make Talborne pay for what he did even more than what we did back on Andar."
"With any luck he will go into hiding after Blood's Honor tears the throne out from under him. Then we can finish training, graduate, and hunt him down like a diseased sewer rat." Beth chimed in showing her own anger.
"Amen." Stella raised her fist in agreement. "But first things first. What are we going to do about the flyer out there?"
"Steer clear and let whoever it belongs to do their thing. It's a big planet. There is plenty of Brile for both of us." Chip declared firmly.
"What do you think it's doing?" Beth asked
Stella glanced back again, "From the vid, it looks like it's crashing."
"It is. There was smoke coming out of all three engines." Chip shook his head, "I can't believe anyone would take a aircraft into a sand storm let alone one that is known to have engine problems. I'm sure those turbine style engines sucked in sand and ripped them to shreds."
"The storm just shifted a few minutes ago, it probably took the pilot totally off guard."
"It should have never been close enough to be put in danger. The real question is who are they and what brings them to Brile?" Chip asked to no one in particular.
Stella chewed on her lip for a moment, "They aren't supposed to be here, so it probably isn't for a good reason."
"Maybe, maybe not." Chip shrugged. "I'm sure there are mercs who come here once in a while for petro-chem, to try to grab some salvage, or both. In the grand plan, it is pretty easy money and if you can pump a ship full of petrochem it may allow a small merc unit to make payroll for a few months until they find a new contract.
"On the other hand, I'm also certain there are many bandit and pirate groups that find Brile a tempting hiding place. Either way, we are going to steer clear, at least until we get frames. Even then, I have no desire to tangle with modern armor of unknown numbers in a cadet frame."
"Do you think they spotted us?" Beth asked with clear concern in her voice.
"I seriously doubt it." Chip stated more calmly than he felt. "They were already in serious trouble when you spotted them. Besides, Even if they did and by some miracle they were able to ID us, all they would have seen is a pair of Daggers.
"They would be in the same boat we are. Daggers are standard heavy recon tanks used by scores of worlds and hundreds of merc units with decent money. We have composite armor which is way more expensive and high tech than the average Dagger is equipped with, but our signature is identical to any other Dagger and they would have no way of knowing they were seeing a highly upgraded version.
"On the other hand, they would know the owners have decent money cause Daggers ain't cheep. As a matter of fact, the cost of this tank is almost as much as a single Black Comet. On the off chance they did spot us, they are probably as scared of us as we are of them."
Beth took a deep breath, "Still, they were in trouble and could need help."
"Then they will have to get it from friends, not us. A Black Comet is not a PLC, it had to be launched from a larger ship. Since it is here, it has friends somewhere out there to come get it. Right at the moment I am in command and the idea of there being someone we don't know on this rock with us scares the crap out of me."
"According to New Bravaria cadre, fear is the biggest enemy." Stella declared as the sounds of sand blasting over the hull of the tank told Beth and Chip they had entered the storm wall.
Beth shook her head, "Only if you let it guide you. Fear can be a friend or an enemy. It just depends on what you do with it."
"Which side of it are we on then?" Stella asked as she backed off the back of the other tank a bit more realizing the commands Chip had given coupled with the UV mode allowed her to see the trailing blackout lights further than she expected, even in a basically zero visibility sandstorm.
Chip thought over the question for a minute, "You know, it's a close call. I'm not afraid to say I am scared, bordering on terrified and yes, we are running and hiding from an unknown group. However, we are still driving on with our mission and I have no intension of stopping or giving up. Given the fact we don't have all our equipment and it is clear there are potential hostile humans and there are certainly hostile machines on this world, I think we are doing a better job facing our fear then cadets from any other academy would be.
Stella managed to smile as she adjusted the hover fans to compensate for the heavy winds buffeting the tank. "No other academy would ever dream of putting a group of new senior cadets on a real mission alone let alone on a planet with machine war tanks roaming around."
Beth relaxed a bit and managed a slight grin of her own, "Welcome to Blood's Honor, Stella."
Chip snorted as he pointed to Beth, "What she said!"