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Major O'Connell eyes stayed glued to the tactical displays aboard the Grey Stallion. He watched as lifeboat after lifeboat was secured and towed inside the massive starship. At last he breathed a giant sigh of relief as the last craft with Grenadier kids was finally grappled and disappeared as it seemed to merge with the massive blob on his scanners. "They are all aboard."
Captain Tanner still nibbled nervously on his fingernails, "I just hope they are as friendly as they sound, cause there isn't a damned thing we can do to get them back if for some reason Brave Humanities decides to keep them."
Senior Lieutenant Meschev shook his head, "I doubt it, Major, when we bought equipment from Brave Humanities for us, they actually offered a discount to the Q VII academy so the kids there could train with the same equipment the government was buying us and even sent instructors to make sure everything was being handled correctly. From what Cody said, their people were great and many, including Cody were highly disappointed when they left. All the kids really liked them."
"As good as it is to know they have good instructors, Captain Tanner is right, until they hand our kids back, there is nothing we can do about it. I'll be a hell of a lot happier once they are back aboard the Grey Stallion." Major O'Connell stated to make it clear he was a bit edgy over the whole situation.
Before more could be said the radio came to life, "O'Connell Grenadiers PLC, this is Commander Jackson of Brave Humanities space defense forces, commander of the frigate Desert Eagle. It appears you are dead in space since you didn't accompany the lifeboats and yachts. What is your exact status and where, exactly do you need us?"
Captain Tanner frowned at the question, since even at max burn, the two frigates coming their direction were well over a day and half away, but he shrugged and keyed the radio, "Well, Desert Eagle, we have a bit of a situation here. We are still doing major repairs, but would love to start heading deeper in system with our kids. The problem isn't us. Instead, it is the fact we are the last line of defense for a number of passengers of one of the other ships. In the debris field of the SFC behind us from your position, there is a detached Wagon Class PLC. While the ship itself appears dead, there are some life pods stuck on the hull and a few others with little to no maneuvering thrusters on line scattered around it.
"Each pod contains dozens of kids from the Quaker VII academy and other civilians from the defeated world, so the Grey Stallion has to hold and protect them until help gets here. Making matters worse, there are also a couple pods barely holding on because of life support problems as well, but we can't assist yet. There are also 3 others pods out here without any comm, but they detached. So we assume someone is , or at least was, alive in them. We would have pulled the most desperate inside us, but our fighter bay doors are totally locked and without some serious repair gantry work, they will remain so. Also of some concern is there is considerable debris out here. We are clear of the main cloud around the SFC, but some of the life pods are still quite close and we have been shooting any threatening chunks away from the stranded life pods."
Senior Commander Bennett, of the White Tiger, jumped into the conversation. Her voice seemed to take on a bit of an angry undertone at what she was hearing. "Gray Stallion, do not move and if any of the life boats out there have any thrusters on line at all, tell them the same thing! Desert Eagle and Black Javelin, I authorize emergency folds now!"
Commander Jackson's voice took on a shocked tone, "Ma'am?"
"Mister Jackson, per BH command, our orders are to waste no resource in this rescue effort, and it comes from the very top. Now replot and fold! I want every kid out there who is in a life boat safely in your bays within the hour and crews combing all ships in the debris field for any possible survivors!"
Commander Jackson let out a long breath, "Plotting now, ma'am. Grey Stallion, brace for a bit of a shock wave, we will be there in a few minutes. Desert Eagle out."
"A few minutes?" Lieutenant Mischev asked.
Captain Tanner frowned deeply in confusion over what he was hearing, but hit the intercom and opened communications to all the stranded lifeboats at the same time, "All personnel, this is Captain Tanner. Be advised we were just told by a pair of Brave Humanities warships to prepare for a bit of a shockwave. Please brace yourselves as best as you can!"
Warrant Officer Osop's eyebrows shot up in some confusion, "I don't get...."
Major O'Connell glanced up from the tactical display with wide eyes as the pair of frigates burning toward them suddenly opened up fold rips on their own, disappeared off the board and reappeared out of new fold rifts less than a hundred kilometers from the position of the Grey Stallion, one between them and the lifeless fold craft, and the other between them and New Brunswick. He shot a look over to Captain Tanner only to find his XO's jaw was hanging open in a mixture of astonishment and fear.
On the other side of the bridge, Warrant Officer Osop, spoke for everyone, "Dear God, they can space fold on their own and even do so inside a system!"
Senior Lieutenant Meschev nodded slowly just a the whole ship shook from the shockwaves generated by the warships opening up such large tears in space so close to them. A second wave slammed into the Grey Stallion from the second space fold rip then two more, even more violet shakes followed as both fold rips snapped shut. As the shaking came to an end he glanced around to the others on the bridge, "Remind me to never ever piss off anyone from Brave Humanities. Capitol ships aren't supposed to be able to fold at all unless they have special Fold Ships attached, and until now, I had no clue any ship could fold inside a star system, let alone with such pinpoint accuracy!"
Upon reentry into the New Brunswick system, both frigates once again fired their main thrusters. One headed straight for the debris field while the other made a beeline toward the Grey Stallion.
"It gives me a cold sweat to think about the maneuverability advantage such a system would give them in combat." Major O'Connell stated to no one in particular.
"They could come in system, find hostiles and then refold to put them in the perfect weapons range, all before the defending ships could do much more than go to battle stations!" Captain Tanner nearly shouted in horror at the implications of what Major O'Connell saw in mere moments. As he watched the ship grow ever larger on the tactical monitor, however, he hit the intercom again, "All Grenadier crew, if you want to see a rather spectacular site, look out any port side window. It isn't often you get a chance to see a capitol ship, especially as close as this one is getting!"
Down on Hotel deck many small faces were suddenly plastered against windows, most with wide eyes, as the Desert Eagle continued to close on the much smaller PLC. Kids from the Quaker VII academy joined the Grenadier kids with excited grins and loud talk as they pointed out some of the features to those around them. At the same time, several of the adults and civilian children rescued from the doomed Wagon Class PLC looked on with a degree of fear. The difference between military and non military kids from the same world could be seen as well as heard by anyone bothering to observe the two very diverse reactions to the same event.
Jared found it hard to tear his eyes off the awesome spectacle as he spoke in hushed tones to one of the newest adoptees to the Grenadiers, a boy who wouldn't have given him the time of day less than four days ago, a kid Jared had personally taken around to a few of the adults to help him find a new home. With Jared speaking up for him, Stasik quickly found a home aboard the Grey Stallion with a man who had joined the unit on New Bravaria after his whole family had been slaughtered by Earth Core.
Now, however, neither of them was worried about what had happened in the past. Instead, both of them were acting as if they had been friends their whole lives as they exchanged glances and pointed out things on the ship the other had missed.
Right next to them, Zane was also eagerly chatting with a boy he had actually gotten into a serious fight with in the halls of the academy only four months ago. The incident was an issue no longer as the two of them had arms draped over each other's shoulders. At the same time, they used their other arms to point out through the badly scratched and pockmarked window as the warship started clearing debris around endangered life pods with intense energy weapon fire. As they spoke, it was clear both boys were thrilled to see the massive craft moving to save other cadets stranded beyond the safety of the Grey Stallion.
Behind Zane, Jasha, Stasik, and Jared an exhausted looking woman moved up behind the boys and observed them for a few minutes before clearing her throat.
All four boys jerked their heads around at the sound.
Zane whole face broke into a huge smile and tears of relief floated off his cheeks as he pushed off the wall and floated over to her, "MOM! Are you OK?"
Zane's mom quickly enveloped her son in a hug and gave him a large kiss on the top of the head. "I'm fine Zane, just a little tired and sore and stiff after being stuck in my gun turret for the last several days." She then put her hand under his chin and lifted it so she could look into his dark brown eyes. She paused to use her thumbs to clear some of his joyous tears. "Young man, I have heard a great deal about what you have done up here the last few days. I am so proud of you!"
Zane gulped and pointed back to Jared, "All I did was follow..."
Jasha shook his head, "Come on comrade, Giver yourself credit! You did every bit as much as Jared! You helped to rescue us and take down Q VI Royal guard infiltrators!"
"Only because Lieutenant Mischev..."
Zane's dad entered the quarters and shook his head, "Son, I have already talked to our new lieutenant. He speaks very highly of your skills, bravery and even your personality. Your friend is correct, take the credit due you." He paused and looked over at the two unknown boys in his son's room. "So you two must be friends from the academy?"
Jared quickly put his arm around the boy next to him and spoke up quickly cutting off any response. "Stasik was in my frame force, but we didn't really talk much. But he is great at capture the flag and we worked pretty well together out in the field. Now that Mr. Kollan has agreed to take him in, though, I'm sure we'll get to be better friends."
Zane's dad nodded, but knew he was missing something. At the same time, he also knew by the way both Zane and Jared had hardened and were nodding, whatever they were hiding would stay hidden for the foreseeable future. Knowing to proceed further would be a waste of time he effortlessly floated over to Stasik and gave the startled and perplexed youngster a light hug. "So you were alone on the other ship?"
The boy gulped and felt tears well up in his eyes. After nearly a minute he nodded, "I went home the day they officially shut down the academy, but no one was there and there was a note on the door saying the whole place had been taken by the Quaker VI interim government for reasons of treason. I broke in, but everything was gone. I didn't know what else to do so I went back to the academy and was taken back secretly as one of the off world cadets by one of the instructors."He stifled a sob, "I took passage on the ship because I started hearing the Q VI people were arresting whole families and..."
Zane's father clutched the boy. "I wish it was under better terms, but let me welcome you to the Grenadiers. After all you have been though, do not hesitate to come in and see Zane at any time, even if it is just because you are scared or can't sleep. We will never get angry with you for doing so. We are here for you and I am sure Zane will be as well. From now on, our door is also yours."
Stasik looked up with astonishment as Jared moved up for behind and tenderly wrapped his arms protectively around him. "Same goes for my room. Maybe one day your family will try to find you. Until they do, you are one of us."
Off to the side Jasha tried to choke back a sob, but failed quite badly. Zane's mom responded instantly pushing off the dresser to make her way over to the boy, "Young man?"
"I'm sorry..." the boy started crying, "I should not have..."
Zane quickly spoke up, "The same thing happened to him, mom. I haven't been able to find a sponsor for him yet mom. I tired, but..."
Zane's dad quickly moved over and gripped the boy's left shoulder and squeezed. "Son, there is nothing to be sorry for. None of this was your fault, we will find someone for you."
The kid shook his head as he started bawling, "No, he should not be doing anything for me. We were all terrible to him, especially me! It was the fight we got into that got Zane demoted..."
Zane's dad continued to gently hold the kid while he glanced back to his son with a raised eyebrow. He never heard exactly why his son had gotten into a real head knocker and been locked down for a week. In addition to the lockdown, he had lost a couple of cadet ranks just before Quaker VII had surrendered to Quaker VI. All his father did know was there had been a rather nasty fight which had led to another boy going to the infirmary for serious injuries, which in turn had led to Zane not only getting punished at the academy, it had led to him getting a serious beating and grounding once he had gotten back to the Grey Stallion.
Zane kind of shrugged and glanced at his dad with a slight upturn of his lips as if to say I tried to tell you. He then turned his attention back on Jasha. "Hey, it was a fair fight at least. You didn't try to bring friends to gang up on me like some of the others did. Besides, after I beat you down, you didn't point the finger at me, you took equal blame and didn't send others after me like what happened to Neil."
Jasha forced back some sobs "But you got into more..."
"I'm a merc brat." Zane managed another shrug while cutting the boy's words off, "We always get into more trouble than the locals when we do something. Forget it. No hard feelings. If anything, I am the one who is a screw up. I haven't found anyone to take you in!"
Jared also spoke up, "If you had pushed the issue, you could have gotten his ass kicked out. Zane not only broke your arm, he dislocated your shoulder and knocked out two of your teeth. If you hadn't said it was a fair fight, he would have been gone and others would have tired the same shit with the rest of us."
Jasha gulped in some air as he glanced back at Jared while managing a pained smile, "Three teeth, they were only able to put two back in. They couldn't find the other and since it was a baby tooth, they put in a metal implant and told me it would really hurt when it comes out." He pulled on the right side of his mouth to show a titanium tooth.
Zane looked down at a nasty scar on his left ring finger knuckle and glanced away quickly.
"Zane!" His mother shouted, seeing the look of pure guilt.
Zane cringed but a bit of a wicked looking smile played over his lips, "Um, well..."
Zane's dad cleared his throat, "Well what?"
Zane looked down knowing to hold back would surely get him a few smacks of a belt, "I um... well, it kind of embedded into my knuckle. I almost pulled it out and handed it over, but when I heard they wanted to find it so they could put it back in, I left it there and put my other hand over it so it stayed hidden. I then wiggled it out and tossed it into one of the heating vents when they were taking us both to see a doctor.
Both Jared and Stasik tried but failed to hold back humor filled snorts as Jasha glared at Zane for a moment. All this got the other two boys was a pair of very stern looks from Zane's parents. Before either could say anything, however, Jasha shook his head and giggled.
Zane's mom and dad glanced back and forth between Zane and Jasha who both started giggling over whole thing, very much egged on by the silly faces of Stasik and Jared. Both adults continued to observe the four boys for well over a minute before looking at each other and nodding clearly knowing what the other was thinking. They floated back and exchanged kisses while waiting for the boys' folly to fade.
Once the last of the giggles stopped, Zane's dad nodded at Zane and Jasha, "Well now, it would be a real shame for the two of you to get into any more brotherly fights and not be brothers." He paused and looked over to Jasha, "So what do you say son?"
Zane instantly pushed off a wall and all but slammed into his dad as he gave the massive man a hug, "Thank you!"
Zane's dad gave his son a bear hug squeeze as he waited for his offer to fully sink in. As it did, the boy burst into tears and nodded, not believing he had been so mean and nasty to such caring people. The very fact the boy he had fought was so thrilled by the offer only made him cry harder as tears of guilt mixed with tears of joy.
Several similar conversations continued to take place all over Hotel Deck of the Grey Stallion. Valerie, in particular, was eagerly chatting with her own parents about a girl she had met at the Quaker VII academy as they watched the massive ship closing on them. Even as the first flashes of light sprayed out across the wreckage of the fold ship, Valerie's parents had started putting up a second hammock in their girl's small room, knowing just like so many others aboard the Grey Stallion, Hotel deck would soon have way more kids that it had since the terrible events on New Bravaria.
Back on the bridge, the radio once again came to life, "Grey Stallion, this is senior lieutenant Dixon, our sensors show you've got a few pretty nasty dings. Several of your maneuvering thrusters are leaking and at least one of your main drive engines is slowly venting. We strongly recommend allowing us to dock with you so you can evacuate, or at the very least allow all but key personnel to come over while we begin repairs and check for other structural problems."
Major O'Connell glanced over to Captain Tanner, "We can't even afford a full fuel load..."
Captain Tanner nodded then hit the transmit button, "Desert Eagle, taking off those we rescued would be awfully kind, but we cannot afford any repairs from anyone but ourselves at the moment and don't really feel it is appropriate to burden you with any of our unit when we can't possible pay you back."
"Sir," Senior Commander Bennett responded with a bit of a chuckle yet still holding a hard edge to her voice, "The powers that be at Brave Humanities sent us to deal with any and all problems and this is a paid mission for us. I don't have all the details, but someone with more clout than many multi-planet empires is footing the bill for us to be here and to do whatever it takes to make sure you are safe. By those orders, I would be sorely remiss in my duties to leave a single scratch on your PLC when I have a Battle Cruiser Carrier with a landing platform, all need repair equipment, and a repair gantry large enough to give your ship a massive overhaul."
Major O'Connell floated over and grabbed the radio, "Footing the bill?"
"Yes," the woman responded. "In case you haven't noticed, this is not a normal rescue fleet. If Brave Humanities wanted to get a rescue ship or two here, I am sure they could have found something a bit more subtle than the White Tiger and her escorts. We were pulled off heightened alert back on Spider Bite and sent through the alien fold gate within double bounce range of there then we folded straight here. At the same time, another protection fleet on maneuvers had to fold into Spider Bite to cover the shipyard. The only way we can be pulled off station is by a company VP or higher, and I don't know how many VP's have the pull to send us and pull another off a mission to cover the ship yards, but, I do know none of them would have unless there was company profit to be made. So someone had to have paid for all of this, and paid though the nose."
She paused, "Besides, I personally am looking forward to shaking your hand and the hands of the kids that fought side by side with my adopted son back on New Bravaria."
"Your son..." Major O'Connell's eyes went wide as he realized what battle the woman was talking about, "You boy is a Blood's Honor cadet?"
"Indeed he is. He is a hard one to impress, sir, but your kids did so. Cory almost never has a good thing to say about anyone other than his fellow BH cadets. However, on the rare occasions I actually get to see him anymore, he still talks about how your kids refused to back down from Earth Core tanks and even tired to hold the line so he and his squad mates could retreat. He doesn't have many friends, even inside BH academy, but he firmly sees some of yours as buddies. I wish there was a way for your kids to touch base with him again."
"From what I heard," Captain Tanner broke in, "Your son and his friends did every bit as much, if not more than ours did to those APC's. And yes, it is still a topic of conversations around here. I have heard a couple of the kids here mention Cory Bennett's name, so I firmly believe the feeling is mutual. Hopefully, one of these years we can all arrange for a reunion."
Major O'Connell whistled softly and shook his head at the sheer bizarreness of the universe. The odds of meeting anyone associated with such a small and inconsequential skirmish light years from his current location was astronomical, the fact it was the mother of one of the boys who had actually fought side by side with Robin and the others was truly a wild twist of fate. "Well, since our kids have fought side by side and think so highly of each other, I guess I have little choice but to accept your hospitality, since, to do otherwise would be fighting fate, and I have enough enemies already. I do not wish to add fate to the list. Be advised we have a number of injuries from the miss-fold and the subsequent hard burn to help defend the fleet of life pods and ships you picked up."
"The Desert Eagle has a full medical bay and the most serious ones can transfer to us if need be. We are even equipped with pair of regeneration chambers. There is nothing we can't take care of."
"Very well. Just for the record, your crews pulled one of those who fought with your son, Robin Lerrik, into one of your bays not too long ago. I don't know how badly, but he was injured while searching for survivors on the Wagon."
"He'll get the best treatment BH can give him."
Major O'Connell gave a bit of a snort, "You know, that is the second time I have heard those exact words with regards to Robin. The first was by one Colonel Allen Price, commander of Shadow Brigade, Blood's Honor. Now those same initials belong to Brave Humanities. What an interesting galaxy we live in."
"Colonel Price's son happens to be one of the cadet officers in my boy's frame force back on Forest Garden. He was also there the day your kids took the fight to Earth Core in their defense. I am thrilled to have a chance to pay you all back. Prepare for docking."
She then took a deep breath, "Commander Jackson, I expect the absolute best treatment and care for all of those from the Grey Stallion. They are more than a mission to me..."
"I've been monitoring, ma'am. Trust me, they'll get only the best care from us!"
Just as the Desert Eagle was extending a docking tube to the Gray Stallion, Robin was standing back with Jessie and Cody, watching as everyone piled out of the rather cramped yacht and into the massive docking bay of the White Tiger. He waited until everyone except his two friends had exited the yacht before giving the ship a quick walk through. "Looks secure."
Jessie took a deep breath and nodded, "With any luck I'll never have to set foot back inside this craft. Everything reminds me of mom, dad, my sisters and brother." He bit back a sob. "I still don't understand why they murdered them."
Robin winced as the pain flared in his ribs, but still he forced his arm around his friend's shoulders, "I really don't know why, but remember, we didn't find your bother or younger sister, so they could still be alive."
Cody nodded, "And they said they took captives including kids, so there is a chance both of them are alive."
Hatred flashed in Jessie's eyes for a moment. He slammed his left fist into his open right hand with a bit of a snarl. "If those animals took them..."
"We'll find them, even if the three of us have to go it alone and scour the whole galaxy." Cody assured his friend, sounding much more like a mercenary kid than he had even been capable of less than four days ago. This in turn got a sharp nod from Robin as he fully agreed to Cody's words.
As they stepped out of the ship, the trio glanced at each other in astonishment as they realized they had gravity. Much like Caleb had done in the bay ten down from them, all three kids took tentative steps and Jessie even took a couple of light jumps to test it.
The left side of Robin's face scrunched up as he tried to figure out how it was possible, but quickly turned his attention back to the subject at hand, basically ignoring the guards and repair crews. "Jess, it's possible they are on the wagon somewhere, but if they are alive, then they are still in this system, probably stuck on one of the two marginally habitable worlds. If EC or Q VI took them, they couldn't have gotten far with them."
Before more could be said, a woman entered the bay and spoke, clearly catching only the last part of the conversation, "Who couldn't have gotten far with whom, son?"
All the guards snapped to instant attention other than two closest to the woman, both moved to cut off the line of fire between Jessie, Cody and Robin and the new arrival.
Robin glanced up and stated to say something rather rude about being interrupted, but as his eyes fell on her rank he bit back his sharp reply, snapped to attention, and saluted. The salute caused another burst of pain in his ribs, but other than a sharp wince and a bite on his lower lip he continued to stand at perfect attention.
Next to him Jessie duplicated the proper military salute and felt a couple of beads of sweat pop up on his brow as he to saw the woman's highly decorated uniform and name tag. The fact he was in the presence of a capitol warship commander was way more intimidating than any of the generals who had visited the academy or any number of the multi-billionaires he had met when his dad had them over to discuss business.
Cody was a bit slower than the other two, but his stance was just as ridged and his salute was held with a firmness drilled into him by not only the academy, but his father tutoring when away from the academy.
The woman gently pushed on the shoulders of the two guards, "My son fought side by side with one of these three. I am confident they will not shoot me."
Both guards glanced back but moved out of the way allowing the woman to move past them toward the three boys. She nodded, returned the salutes and took note of the rather pained expression that crossed Robin's face as he dropped his arm back to his side in a crisp fluid motion. "Would you all please surrender your side arms to my guards?"
The trio of boys spoke as one, "Yes Ma'am!" They then slowly lowered their hands to their weapons and pulled them slowly, moving their hands down to the barrels so they could pass them over to the guards butt end first.
The pair of guards who had moved to protect Commander Bennett moved forward after a quick gesture from the woman and secured the weapons while a third one moved up to help. The young man taking the micro missile pistol form Cody, glanced back at the other guards with wide eyes as he quickly popped out the clip, just to make sure it didn't accidentally discharge and kill everyone on the platform. The guards then extended their other hands and waited while the three boys carefully pulled their sonic stunners and handed them over as well.
As they backed off, Robin cleared his throat and spoke with a nervousness he was not used to hearing in his own voice, "Um, you may want to hold up... I ah, well... I also have boot knife strapped to my right leg, a switch blade in my right front pocket and a set of spiked knuckles in my left back pocket."
Commander Bennett cracked a bit of a grin as another guard moved forward and secured the other three weapons. Robin once again cringed in pain as he held his arms out so the young woman could easily find the rest of his personal arsenal.
Yet another guard glanced over at Jessie and Cody, "Anything else?"
Jessie shook his head and raised an eyebrow as he saw the rather wicked looking knife and spiked knuckles. "Not on me."
Cody nodded his head and turned to show a knife tucked into the small of his back, "Just this." He then glanced over to Robin, "It was his idea."
Robin lowered his arms and bit back a yelp as he took a deep breath and glanced over at the guard with a bit of aggravation, "I would have more, but they didn't fit properly under the heavy E-suit I had to wear while searching the Wagon and the knife I usually have in the heal of my boot is missing. Must have come out in the miss-fold, cause it wasn't there when I put them on.
"Now there is a merc kid!" Commander Bennett snickered, "You must be Robin Lerrik."
Robin nodded and frowned in some confusion, "How did you know ma'am?"
"Because my boy still speaks of you often and the other boys here are clearly not true mercs." She nodded in Jessie's direction, especially him."
Robin snickered. "Give him a few weeks with me and he will be ma'am."
"Yeah," The woman nodded in strange satisfaction, "I clearly see why my boy liked you so much."
"Do I know your son?"
Even with the pain he was in, Robin's face lit up and his smile was huge, "Cory, Cory Bennett? Is he here?"
Commander Bennett shook her head, "Sorry, he is on some kind of field study with all of the others who fought side by side with you all back on New Bravaria. But, the second he gets back I will make sure he contacts you. For now, you need to get to sickbay, your commander said you were injured, and I can tell by your actions there is something seriously wrong with your right side."
Robin's smile faded some as he shook his head, "I'll live, how is everyone else?"
"Son," Commander Bennett's voice hardened, "I was not asking."
Beside Robin, Jessie gave him a hard nudge, "We'll grab the other cadet officers, check on the others, and get you a report Robin. Besides, she's right, you need to get some medical attention. You have only gotten worse over the last couple of days."
Robin growled, but a strong hand closed on his left shoulder causing him to look up only to find Commander Bennett staring straight into his eyes. "OK, fine, but..."
"No, I am taking you up to sickbay, now." She then turned to the guards, "Only the best for these kids, and get this one," She pointed to Jessie, "whatever he needs as far as the status of all the others plus whatever else he needs or even wants."
"Um, actually, he is our commander." Jessie pointed to Cody.
She shrugged, "Fine, get them both the information they need. They have free access to everything except vital ship functions, and if they want a tour of those, then they get it. Understood?"
All the guards nodded, clearly a bit surprised with the level of clearance given the boys, but none of them even tried to protest.
As she started to forcibly lead Robin out of the docking bay, she paused and turned sharply to the her ship's crew, "A few final points. I want this ship upgraded and better armed and armored, also the weapons we took from all these kids should get a proper cleaning and ready to be handed back with full charges and or ammo loads. All blades should be oiled and sharpened and be stored for them as well. These are guests, not prisoners and should be treated as such!"
She then pushed Robin gently, but firmly toward the way she had come into the bay, "So what were you three talking about when I came in?"
Robin glanced up, rather astonished to feel so intimidated by the woman, but decided to tell her everything he knew and had found out over the last few days, including the fact Earth Core and Quaker VI infiltrators had apparently taken several people off the crippled Wagon including Jessie's siblings.
The woman listened intently until she got him to the sickbay and turned to one of the medical techs, "You, get the lead doctor, now!"
She then motioned for Robin to continue. Less than a minute later a man came in. He paused as he saw Commander Bennett then noted the look of pain on Robin as he motioned for the boy to take a seat on an exam table. As he moved forward to check on Robin, Commander Bennett stared at the doctor and pointed a finger right into his chest. "Royal treatment doc, nothing less. I want it made clear to everyone up here to treat this young man is if he is my own son, got it?"
The man gulped and nodded, saying nothing.
"Also, I know how it goes on rescue missions, the company line is to do what is needed but to try to minimize costs where possible. There is to be no such view to be taken up here on this mission. All those we are pulling aboard, especially the kids, from this disaster who need attention better get only the best from your staff as well. We cut no corners nor spare any expense. This is not just a Good Samaritan mission; we are getting paid. And, just so you understand where I am coming from, I want it known and circulated through all the medical staff of the White Tiger, this boy and his friends are personal friends of my son. Understood?"
The doctor nodded, "Absolutely ma'am, I'll pull all personnel in until everyone is fully treated and we will keep extra staff up here until everyone has recovered."
"Perfect." She then turned to Robin, "Son, if there is anything you need, have one of the doctors contact me." She then shot a look straight at the doctor, "And I really don't give a squat if we are at battle stations and getting shot at, if he needs anything, he gets a direct line of communication to me."
Robin resisted the doctors attempt to get him to lie back, "Ma'am, what about Jessie's..."
Commander Bennett's whole face seemed to turn to stone, "Son, if they are in this planetary system, we will find them!"
"I want to be there when..."
A tiny hint of a grin appeared on her face, "Now I understand."
"Understand what?" the doctor asked before Robin could say anything.
Commander Bennett lightly shook her head, "Doc, not quite two years ago, this fine young man and his friends held the line against Earth Core armor while trying to get my boy and several other younger Blood's Honor cadets to fall back out of the line of fire. His bravery almost got him killed, yet here we both stand, as once again, he is injured and only wants to help his fiend rescue siblings from EC agents. It is this drive and total selflessness I hear about whenever Cory talks about what happened that day, and we are now getting the privilege to see it firsthand.
"If there is a way to get him back to full health before we find and hit the bastards who stole his friend's siblings, than do so. The same applies to any and all who want to help him, for if he wants to take the fight to Earth Core again, then by God, we should give him the chance!"
"But he is just a kid!"
Robin snarled and gritted his teeth as pain shot across his rib cage, "No, I am a merc, son of mercs and above all else, I am an O'Connell Grenadier! Somewhere out there, Quaker VI and Earth Core spies have kids from Quaker VII and may have a brother and sister of my only true friend from Quaker VII. Just patch me up, cause I want to be there when we kill the sons of a bitches who took them! Just find them and let me get my buddies and our Blade frames from the Grey Stallion. We'll do the rest."
As the doctor's eyes went wide, Commander Bennett nodded, "Find a way to make it happen doc, even if you have to do a full DNA workup and put him though a full regeneration inside a chamber." Commander Bennett then glanced over to Robin, "It'll be painful."
Robin sorted, "So was having a grenade explode into my back and having the gunner shield blown off from the top of the tank into me back on New Bravaria, but its nowhere near as painful as what I am going to do to those assholes who stole those people off the Wagon."
"Damn, I wish Cory was here!" She snickered, "You two are definitely cut from the same block of whatever made the two of you! And forget about your Blade frame, I'll find you and your buddies something more fitting of a friend of my son."
Before more could be said, she turned keyed her headset, "Bridge, we have at least two renegade ships in system and probably a third. They have hostages and need to be located. Check the other two worlds and start a system wide sweep just in case they are trying to hide in space or on one of the other planets or moons. All escorts, nothing leaves this system unsearched until we find all the hostages. Nothing!"
The Doctor moved up to her and whispered, "Ma'am, just the couple of pokes and prods I have done, tells me the boy has at least two, probably three, ribs broken and some internal damage from moving around too much. He'll need a full regen and it'll cost us..."
Commander Bennett's look alone was enough to cut off the rest of his statement. Her words only added force to the look, "I don't care if it costs me my command, which I can assure you it will not, but it very well might cost you yours if he is not better than he was before he broke his ribs. Do it, do it right, and do it now or find out what it's like being a doctor on this backwater planet of New Brunswick!"
The doctor gulped and nodded. He then moved up to Robin, "OK, you heard what I was told, and I can tell you we can get you back up and healthy in the next 36 to 48 hours. However, I cannot stress enough, getting bone marrow and back spine fluid pulled hurts like hell and that is just the start. I'll have to take a drill and get a tiny sample of brain matter, and like the other two procedures, I can use a local, but cannot put you to sleep to get the needed samples and from what I have witnessed and have been told, the locals don't do the greatest of jobs to mask the pain.
"I have never been through one, but everyone I have put through a full regeneration says it is agonizing, and you will be conscious the whole time. The body cannot go into a coma nor does pain killers work. Sleep will not come until the process is done either because the process prevents you from going to sleep."
Robin frowned for a moment as something deep within his mind remembered someone saying all this to him before. Déjà vu seemed to take over as his mind replayed pictures of a similar medical facility, only the walls were a darker grey and the one speaking to him was a woman. Suddenly it dawned on him, it was not a trick of the mind at all. "I have done this before."
"Huh?" the doctor nearly shouted.
Robin nodded, "I am sure I have, only I didn't go through everything. The woman kept saying I would not survive it as injured and young as I was..."
"Young man, a full regeneration, even a partial one to take care of life threatening injuries costs millions of credits. There is no way you have..."
Robin cut him off pointed to a spot right behind the ear, "The brain sample comes from here and the bone marrow is taken from here." He pointed to his thigh bone. "The laser burns a hole into the skin and cauterizes the wound, since the regen will heal the damage anyway. The fluid from the spine is normally taken form between the fifth and sixth vertebra, but it couldn't on me, because of the fragments in my back..."
Robin started to pull off his shirt but stopped as the pain and effort of getting his arm all the way over his head took his breath away.
The doctor pulled a laser scalpel. Seeing Robin shake his head, the doctor gently put his hand on Robin's left shoulder, "Young man, BH is about to spend millions putting you back into one piece. Somehow, I think we can find the extra few credits to buy you a new shirt."
A slight giggle escaped Robin's lips as he reluctantly relented, allowing the doctor to remove his shirt with a couple of quick clean cuts.
As the doctor moved around to Robin's back he gasped, "Dear God! You survived this?"
Robin managed a pain filled shrug as he felt the doctor's hand run over his back. As with any sensation over his back, it was odd to feel areas getting touched right next to areas which had no nerves left. "Yea, I lived, but from what I was told, I shouldn't have. The rejuvenation chamber saved my life."
"No Rejuv chamber allowed you to recover from this, son. No, you were put into a regeneration chamber and repaired by one hell of a doctor. He repaired what had to be repaired and touched up other areas, but left some areas alone to prevent your body from the possibility of doing a rejection, something a body as badly mangled as yours was, couldn't have handled."
"But everyone told me the only reason I lived is because Blood's Honor found one of the only surviving rejuvenation chambers on New Bravaria and managed to repair it and get me a full day in it."
The doctor shook his head, "No way. You were taken to a regen chamber." He chuckled for a moment as he realized what must have actually happened. He continued to rub his hand over Robins back amazed at the level of damage and the skill of the person behind the controls of the regeneration unit, "And after what Commander Bennett said, I bet Blood's Honor did it in secret because they had to have acted quickly to have any chance of saving your life and didn't have time to find parents to ask. They just did it and sent you back to a hospital with a rejuv unit. Besides, rejuvenation units don't repair tissue like has been done to your back."
Robin glanced over his shoulder as something the doctor had said caused a light bulb to flash in his brain, "You said they stopped before I was totally healed?"
"Yes, they probably had to, because the way some of these scars look like, they first healed you then did surgery, probably to pull out shrapnel. If they had done a full healing on you, you would still have razor sharp bits of metal in you, cutting up your insides. But, judging on all this damage, they had to do something to stabilize you, or you would have surly died. I have never seen anything quite like this, but they must have regenerated you to the point where they could do the surgery then put you back in and done a quick heal of the worst of the surgical wounds.
"My best guess is, they had to stop at some point because your body simply could not handle the pain of the quickened healing on such a mass scale. They then took you out, made sure you were stabilized and sent you back down to a hospital with the rejuvenation unit as a cover story."
Robin nodded his understanding, "But if I go into one again, can you repair the spots on my back and my left foot that have no feeling?"
The doctor took a deep breath, "Um, I could."
The doctor let out a long breath of air, "If you really want me to, I'll do it, but it will only add to the pain and length of time inside the unit. As old as this damage is, it will burn like hell as I focus the energy on each spot to first cut away all the damage and then force regeneration of new tissue as well, so you will cry, scream, and plead for me to stop, but I will not be able to until I fully repair the area I am working on. Then it will be time to move on to the next spot. At some point you will not want me to do any more, no matter how tough and determined you are.
"If we are going to do this, you need to tell me what areas you want me to do and the order you want me to do them in. We will do them last, since your ribs and internal injuries have to take priority and will probably mean a good 24 hours or more in the chamber on automatic settings, so you will already be exhausted and be in a great deal of pain.
"I will then have to take over on manual settings so the time will only increase. Once I am done with each area, I'll give you a few minutes to recover and tell me if you want me to move on. If you say yes, you cry, scream and plead all over again until the damage is repaired. If you do decide to go forward with even one area, I will have to clear it though Commander Bennett and she will probably want to clear it with your parents. Much of this can be done while the unit works on fixing your current problems though."
"Can someone be there with me?"
"We can get your parents here to be at your side..."
"No, my mom would freak out. I want one or two of my friends there. They will not let me back out as easily as mom would. I also want to talk to them first so they won't let me back out until I just can't stand any more."
The doctor took a deep breath and rubbed his forehead, "I am not going to talk you out of this am I?"
Robin fiercely shook his head, "No sir."
The doctor clenched his fists for a few seconds before finally relenting. "Fine, while we get you prepared for the chamber and get the samples we need, I'll get Commander Bennett's permission and line up whoever you want in there with you. You need to come up with a list of priorities for me to fix, because I can guarantee you," He once again ran his hand over Robin's back and shook his head, "there is no chance in this life or the next you will make it though a full repair of all this damage in one stint in the chamber."
"We'll see." Robin countered but finally kicked off his boot and used his other foot to pull off his sock. He then pointed to a long scar running from his heal bone up to the middle of his calf. "This one screws up my frame piloting when I do hard turns since I can't feel the frame properly, so it needs to go. The long jagged one I got from having the gunnery shield imbedded in my side is next. I really don't care much after that, just the more you can fix the better. Just go from bigger to smaller."
The doctor gazed at the ceiling for over a minute before calling in a medical tech. "He is going into a chamber, and before you ask, this comes from the commander herself. Her son and this young man are friends and should be treated as if he is her son. Get all the samples. You'll have to use a lower spot in the back because of scar tissue along his spine, so get some help if you need it. I need to prepare the chamber and talk to the Commander for a few minutes."
As the doctor left the tech glanced over and shook his head, "This is really going to hurt."
"So I keep hearing. Get on with it, cause getting all the warnings is not going to make this any easier."
Several decks down, Caleb finished his shower, used the warm air blower to dry then grabbed a towel and wrapped it around himself. He then poked his head out of the shower room and down the long corridor. Seeing no sign of the Ensign, and having no idea where exactly he was he sat on one of the benches to wait.
A few minutes later he heard the sounds of kids' voices and once again glanced down the hall. As he did so he felt a shiver run up his sine as he spotted over half a dozen kids form the academy moving in his direction, all of whom had tormented him during his stay on Quaker VII. He ducked back into the shower, and started looking for a place to hide, when another voice, this one of the ensign who had escorted him to the shower echoed off the hall, "Guys, this is a warship. If you want to rough house, I'll take you up to the gym and find you one of our combat instructors so you can get a real workout."
Instantly, the excessive noise ceased. Still Caleb could hear the footfalls getting closer. Even knowing the Ensign was with them, Caleb found it hard not to bite on his fingernails in some fear. This time, however, he found a bit of confidence in himself and stepped out into the hall, wearing only a towel.
Much to his astonishment, six of the seven Quaker VII cadets instantly stopped and tuned so their backs were to the wall and saluted. At the same time the seventh one, a cadet officer, came forward with a Quaker VII academy aerospace uniform and handed it to him.
The teen took a deep breath. "We found an extra one in some of our gear and wanted you to have it. We also got some help from the crew and found you some kill ribbons and a set of lieutenant ranks."
Caleb glanced at the uniform color and felt his jaw drop slightly, "But..."
The ensign moved up and patted Caleb on the head, "The surviving aerospace instructors have all signed off on this young man, as long as you want it, you are now a cadet officer, even if you don't stay with them , they wanted you to have this. And, it was their idea, not mine or anyone else's on this ship.
One of the cadets holding a salute spoke, "Take it sir, you earned it!"
Caleb reached out to take the offered uniform and underclothing with tears in his eyes, "Seriously?"
The teen holding out the uniform nodded. "Comrade, we all got to see the battle vids from your fighter! Even now they are being replayed in the mess hall for all the others to see. You saved all of us!"
The Brave Humanities ensign nodded, "Very impressive flying out there. More than a few of our pilots want to shake your hand as well! The audio from your firefight aboard the PLC is also being played. All and all, the only thing any of us of the White Tiger have to say is; you guys kicked some serious butt out there."
Finally Caleb took the offered uniform. Without any hesitation and no sign of modesty, he dropped his towel and got dressed right in the hall, clearly embarrassing the ensign, a few passing crew members and a couple of the Quaker VII cadets. The teen and the others, however smiled and cheered as Caleb finally slipped on the slightly large shirt and pulled the belt tight around the pants that were a bit big for him.
Still, it was not too bad of a fit and it sure felt good to be in the garb of a cadet officer. Caleb finished buttoning the last shirt button and sat down to pull on the socks and shoes that actually fit pretty well. As he stood, all seven kids tuned and saluted him. He smiled and returned the salute, realizing as he did so, he actually now outranked the teen who had handed him the uniform. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I could sure use some chow!"
The ensign grinned, "I'll take you up there as soon as someone gets the towel out of the passageway."
The most junior ranking of the cadets who had come down to greet Caleb quickly ran up and grabbed the towel and dropped it into a chute that took the towel down to the laundry room a few decks down.
Caleb frowned, "I could have done..."
"No sir." The boy only a few months older than Caleb responded, "It is time we all paid you back for the terrible things we have done to you and your friends."
"What's done is done."
"Not for us. You all risked your lives to save us, and Vladimir put it best, none of us deserved squat form you, comrade, but you all ignored all the horrible things we did to you and risked your lives to save us all. Even if it is just for a short time, let us pay you back and at least try to even the tables a little bit."
"I'm a merc, Putting our lives on the line for others is what we do."
"But you didn't get paid..."
A smirk played over Caleb's face, "I think the biggest problem is you all think mercs are just in it for the money. It's how our parents make a living, but most mercs actually care for and about who they are fighting for. If we didn't, we wouldn't be able to stand up against incoming fire and then take the fight to those we are fighting. Like it or not, every one of us wanted to be cadets at the Quaker VII academy, we wanted to make friends, we wanted to just be a part of it all. We also were out on the lines with our parents when Q VI hit your northern greenhouse complex. We stood there as Q VI tanks came straight at us, we also got to see firsthand as a few of them opened up on friends, family, and parents of our friends. We were the decoy and we accepted it because we cared and still do. I just don't get why you all never saw it."
Caleb paused and glanced across the ashamed faces of the seven kids, "You know, maybe there is a God after all. Maybe Vlad was right when he said it was His will I went through what I did, because without everything I put up with, I would have never found the courage to do what needed to be done out there. One way or the other, all I wanted and still want is your trust and friendship. None of us Grenadiers have gotten much of either over the past few years. Instead all we have done is see many of the few friends we have die."
The teen who had handed over the uniform gulped and used his shoulders to wipe tears out of his eyes, "Those days are over, Comrade. We will never be able to apologize for the way we treated you all..."
"Then don't." Caleb stated, "It's over and time to move on. Besides, we need to get organized and find what happened to those the Q VI and Earth Core jackasses kept. They couldn't have gotten far."
The youngest of the others frowned, "And do what?"
"Kill them and get those they took back." Caleb stated, sounding way more adult than his cute face, wavy sandy colored hair, and big brown eyes looked. "Until every survivor of the Wagon is safe and all those who destroyed her are dead, this isn't over. Besides, we know they have at least one from our academy and they probably have more."
The ensign's eyes went wide, "Don't you think it's time to let us adults take over so you can all go back to being kids."
"No chance in hell!" Caleb stated firmly. "My dad would never let me start something then back out without at least giving it my best shot to finish. The kids of the Grenadiers started this and the kids of the Grenadiers along with those of the Q VII academy, who have now taken us in, deserve the chance to finish it!"
He looked over the faces of the other seven kids, "Right?"
Once by one, pretty much from oldest to youngest they nodded in sullen yet determined agreement.
Caleb turned his attention back to the ensign, "Like I said, this isn't over."
A deck up and well aft, Dante sat at a large table with Yuri, Cody and Jessie eating the first decent meal in several days. All around him, kids from the Quaker VII academy nodded at him, passed by and gave him hugs, pats on the shoulders and generally did their utmost to make him feel like he was wanted.
One of the Cadet officers finally came up and slapped down Lieutenant pins, "The second we can find you a uniform, we want you to pin these on."
Dante glanced at the pins for a few seconds with a mixed reaction of skepticism, anger, hope and pride all balled into one giant knot in his gut. Part of him wanted to throw the pins back while another part wanted to believe they were being offered in earnest thanks for what he and his friends had done for everyone in the massive mess hall.
Fortunately, Cody spoke up, "Congratulations, Dante, you are now a cadet officer!" He put his hand over the pins and pushed them over to the still unconvinced and untrusting boy. "You earned them."
Dante shrugged and took a deep breath, but finally accepted them and nodded to the older boy, "Thanks, but I want to wait before I put them on."
"Comrade," the older boy almost pleaded, "We have done you all very wrong. We know it and there is no excuse. We can never make right what we have done, and after what you then did for all of us, makes this all the harder. I know it must be hard for you to trust us, but we are not just handing you these pins because we feel bad about what we have done. Your skills alone earned you the rank."
Yuri nodded, "Dante, as long as you are around us, you should be an officer. It was your hologram thing that allowed you all to navigate the wreckage and find us all and your combat skills in the halls of bravo deck that allowed us Caleb to get to the fighter." The boy pointed up to the huge holovideo replaying the dogfight. "Without you, none of us would have gotten out of the bay!"
Dante nodded, "OK, fine, I helped and yes I am still more than a bit pissed by the way I was treated back on Q VII, but as much as I want to, I can't pin these on yet."
The older boy who had handed placed the pins on the table frowned deeply, "Why not, Comrade?"
"Because this is not over with yet."
"What more is there to do..."
Dante's eyes hardened, "Find those who tried to kill all of you and make sure they can't do the same thing to anyone else... ever!"
Cody started to argue, but stopped himself. After everything he had heard and had learned over the last few days about the kids he had reentered the crippled PLC with, he knew in his heart none of them would find the current situation as acceptable. He took in a deep breath and gripped Dante's shoulder, "Put those pins on, uniform or no."
Cody's voice took on the hardest anyone had ever heard come out of the youngster, "No Dante, put them on. We are going to need more cadet officers to lead those who want to help us end this once and for all."
The boy who had handed over the pins glanced over at Cody, "End what? We are safe."
Cody stood and gave the slightly older kid a stare that sent a shiver up not only his spine, but everyone else looking on. Those around Cody quieted down as the air around him and Dante seemed to grow uncomfortable and even held a hint of hostility. As those close to the sudden area of silence noticed, they too grew quiet. Less than two minutes later the whole mess hall fell silent, including the several dozen adult crew members of the White Tiger. It took only another minute before all eyes turned to Cody and Dante.
Cody pushed his plate of food away so he had a place to stand so everyone could see him. He then jumped on the table pointed to the replay of the dogfight, "Fellow cadets of Quaker VII, our fight didn't end with Caleb and Vladimir taking out those fighters. No, comrades, those who saved us..." He reached down and pulled Dante up on the table with him so everyone could see him as well, "The Grenadiers fight to save us ended out there."
"If we are truly going to re-establish our academy and someday retake our home, our fight begins now. Dante, here, has been offered officer pins, as I hope all the others form the Grenadiers will. It is also my hope they accept them, but we need to show them and ourselves we are capable of becoming what we are trying to become. Comrades, fellow Quaker VII cadets, can we simply allow ourselves to be transported down to New Brunswick Prime and let Blood's Honor and Brave Humanities take us in as orphans? Is that how you want our academy in exile to get its start?"
Cody continued to stand on the table with his arm dripped over Dante's shoulder, "Are you going to let the two of us, plus whoever else from the Grenadiers who comes along to once again risk life and limb to take the fight to those who did this to us? I, for one, think it is time to close ranks with the Grenadiers to help them find those who escaped with fellow Quaker VII citizens and take them out!
"It is now our time to take the lead, to stand up, and to fight. There is close to 800 of us, the last vestige of a free Quaker VII. We have all the basic skills needed and got some of the best training money could buy. We have aerospace pilots, frame pilots, armor platform pilots and crew, and plenty of infantry cadets in this room. We joined to learn how to fight and now we have a chance to use the skills we have and deal with those who just tried to kill us."
Cody once again pointed up to the replay of the space fight. "Those aren't adults in those fighters, they are cadets. The fired the first shots for us and gave us the chance we needed to regroup and reorganize. The real questions I am asking now, are this: are we going to let someone else once again fight for us or are we going to show we are willing to pick up our flag and carry it proudly as we seek out and obliterate those who did this to us? Are we orphans or are we military cadets willing to fight and if necessary die to reclaim what our leaders lost?"
Hundreds of kids glanced around the hall nervously looking for someone else to speak up. Finally a fourteen year old kid, who had stuck with the Quaker VII academy the whole time, even though he had been given the chance to go back to his home planet several times before Quaker VII surrendered spoke up, "Comrades, you took me in as one of your own and I stayed with you because of it, even deciding to stay with you all as you fled. As we all boarded the PLC back at the space port, all I heard was how you all would one day come back and set things right. Now is the time to take the first step to being able to carry out all the tough talk about reforming so you could someday go back and kick some Q VI teeth in. If you do so, I will be right there with you all, if not, I will see if these Grenadiers will take me in. One way or another, I am not going to run back home to Andar IX with my tail between my legs where Lord Talborne is crushing the life out of my world. No, I want to do the exact same thing you all talked about, but I am alone, you are not. I cannot take a world back alone, but I sure can help take yours back, but you have to start somewhere, and Commander Meschev, is correct. Now is the perfect time to start. They killed hundreds of us. They need to be tracked down and killed like the rabid dogs they are."
A girl gulped slightly, "As much as I want to do this, we don't have many of our leaders, our cadre is all but wiped out and many of our force leaders are dead or missing. We have upper level cadet leadership, but most of the rest of us are lower enlisted cadets..."
Dante hardened and interrupted the girl, "You have all the leadership you need. You need fill in's for cadet offices, well..." he knelt and grabbed the pins off the table and pinned them onto his t-shirt, "You offered them to me, and I'll accept. There are more of us on this ship and others out there on the Grey Stallion. This time, however, you will need to fight with us instead of against us."
Several heads stated to nod, but another voice threw out another problem, "All of this is great, but we have nothing to fight with..."
Suddenly, Senior Commander Bennett's face replaced the scenes of the dogfight. "Cadets of Quaker VII, the real question is, do you want to do this? For if you do, the equipment becomes my concern, not yours."
Cody glanced up at the holographic form of Commander Bennett, "I do ma'am."
She smiled warmly, "Of this I have no doubt young man. From everything I have heard, Robin would never trust someone the way he trusts you unless you were cut from the same fabric of the universe he is. What about the rest of the once proud Quaker VII academy?"
"Once proud?" an angry voice shouted from the back of the hall, "We may be beat down a bit, but we are not out!" An older girl, wearing a cadet infantry uniform pushed her way past dozens of other cadets to make her way to Cody and Dante. The cadet Major nodded at the two on the table and stared at the holographic figure, "If we can figure out a way to find them, all you have to do is give me a field pack, a rifle, and a hand full of bullets. I'll show you we are still very proud! I just lost dozens of fiends and it is time for those who did this to feel God's wrath though us!"
All around the huge mess hall, kids took deep breaths and looked for friends, many realizing for the first time they didn't have nearly as many as they did just a few days ago. Heads started to nod and those who found themselves debating couldn't help but feel the attitude within the hall change from relief to anger, to determination. As it did so, they too realized it was either honor the memories of those who had been killed by ridding the galaxy of those who had killed their buddies or let someone else do it for them. For kids who had devoted their lives to leaning the arts of warfare, it just didn't seem right to let others fight and die for them. Finally, even the most reluctant found their fist clenching and heads nodding.
A bit of a prideful smirk crept into Dante's facial features, "Anyone who wants to be part of this should probably move to this side of the hall so we can get a good idea of who is really a Q VII cadet and who isn't."
Within three minutes there was not a single kid on the opposite side of the mess hall. Even the youngest of the surviving junior cadets moved to stand with those several years older than they were.
Commander Bennett spoke again, "Very well, you really want to take on dealing with rest of those who did this to you, Brave Humanities would be more than happy to loan you the needed hardware to make it happen. You all relax for the next couple of day and get yourselves organized. I'll do likewise and within a couple of days we'll be ready to start issuing equipment. In the mean time, I will send out some patrols to pinpoint where those who did this to you all ended up. Once we get you locations, it is only fitting I leave the rest will be up to those they hurt the most."
She paused and nodded to everyone in the dining hall, "And for the record, I will personally send Blood's Honor a report as to the bravery and decency of the cadets they are sending cadre to help."