Castle Roland

O'Connell's Grenadiers

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 6

Published: 8 Apr 14

O'Connell's Grenadiers

Copyright © by
Kyle Aarons

Atmosphere rushed out of the small lift with enough force to dislodge Caleb, but Robin's body blocked the door so all the younger boy did was smash into Robin's knees. Still the force was enough to knock the wind out of Caleb.

Robin waited for a couple of tense seconds to make sure the hatch below was going to hold. Seeing no sign of leakage and hearing only silence he breathed a sigh of relief and lightly grabbed Caleb's arm and spun the boy so he could see into the face plate of the heavy e-suit. "You OK?"

Caleb continued to gasp showing no sign he had heard Robin. Suddenly it dawned on Robin that sound waves simply didn't travel through empty space well enough for humans to hear so his attempt to talk to at Caleb with his external speaker was utterly useless. He switched over to his radio. "Kay, You OK?"

A few tears trickled out of Caleb's eyes as he fought to get air back in his lungs. Finally, after almost a full minute he managed a nod to gasp out a single word. "Thanks!"

"Not your fault. You are too small to fully wedge yourself in. The whole reason I took the door is I kind of expected this to happen. We have time so get your breath and then check the door controls and the power generator."

As the sound of the air being sucked out of the small lift above them caused the whole lift tube to vibrate; Cody looked over to Dante with total confusion and a bit of fear. "Robin, you two OK?"

"Yea, but as suspected the main bridge has been breached and there is almost no light. Only about half the panels have any lights and most of them are red. I can make out a jagged hole and can see out the outline of the fold craft. She has no external lights on at all. There is also a lot of debris and at least two bodies floating around up here so give us a few minutes to get our bearings. In the mean time, keep a close eye on the bottom hatch of the lift. If it starts leaking at all, use that large piece of a game table Dante grabbed or something to help it hold till we are ready to get back down there."

"Will do." Cody and Dante quickly worked to get the section of the game table ready in case it was needed. Zero G's made it easier but the section was awkward and barely fit inside the tube. It was by no means easy to position it to basically block the entire lower hatch let alone make it to where they could get it out of the way quickly if Robin and Caleb needed to exit the bridge quickly.

Finally, Cody got it centered on the lower hatch and turned to Dante with a bewildered look, "So who is Bob and how is he going to help us?"

Dante burst out laughing as he motioned for Cody to cut all radio feeds. Once he was certain neither of them were broadcasting, he shook his head to clear some of the tears of amusement from his eyes; wishing he could wipe them, but with the suit helmet in place shaking his head was the best he could do. He then took several seconds to calm enough to stop laughing so he could speak. "When we say "bob" it is used as a code, as best as we can tell our parents don't even know what it means."

"A code?"

"Yea," Dante erupted in another laughing fit as he saw total mystification play over Cody's face. "Robin came up with it back in the academy and we've used it a lot since then too. I am astonished no one ever figured it out."

"So what is bob?"

Dante took a deep breath trying to compose himself, but still had a hard time keeping a straight face. "I don't know how Robin ever got the idea, but early on at the academy we got in trouble when we met as a group. They kept saying the junior cadets weren't supposed to hold meetings with the upper cadets."

"You weren't but they were way harder on you guys than anyone else. Everyone noticed it, but as far as we knew you didn't meet again after the third or fourth time." Cody paused, "But you did didn't you."

"Oh yea, all the time."

"How? The cadre would have gotten word of any planned meetings. Some of the kids gained favors for narcing out others, especially you guys. I demoted a kid in my force for it and they tired to get me in trouble. Fortunately, they finally transferred her when I stood my ground and made it public I didn't want a spy in my force."

Dante nodded, "Robin told us all about it. You really gained some respect from all of us for standing up to the cadre like you did."

"Yea, well it all but guaranteed I'd never get above a force commander, but it was worth it. So how did you do it and what role does this mystery bob play?"

"What is bob backwards?"

Cody's brow scrunched up for a second before he spoke. When he did so, the words came out slowly as if measured and carefully thought it over. "Um, bob backwards... well it's the same, unless you are talking about turning the whole letter backwards then it is d...o...d. I don't get it."

Dante shook his head, "You are over thinking it. Backwards bob is still bob. But we use it as a code to reverse things or make numbers not mean the same things like times were done by either adding or subtracting twelve hours so we could openly tell each other stuff like bob wants us to meet in room 405 at 0900 and all of us would know it really meant room 504 at 2100. We even added in a date like saying the meeting was on the 13th then count backwards on the calendar. So the 13th would be the 17th on a 30 day month.

"Because of the stupid grid system used by the academy, with them always starting the Zero One grid where base camp was, we could even pull off meetings out in the field. We would say bob wants to meet at the northwest corner of grid fourteen and we would actually be on grid forty-one on the southeast corner. We got so good at it we started doing the same thing around our parents when we wanted to get away with something. Thus far they haven't figured it out. It's kind of cool."

Cody's eyes lit up as the pieces fell in place, "OH, so if we want to set up an ambush we could talk on an open channel saying we want them and bob to hide in room thirty-two and they would know to go to room twenty-three?"

"Exactly. It works for addresses, numbered streets, all sorts of stuff. It would probably be figured out fairly quickly in a battle but could still give us an edge in a really bad situation."

Cody suddenly started laughing and shaking his head.

Dante cocked his head to the side, "Am I missing something?"

Cody nodded, "Yea, big time. I am willing to bet many of the cadre back on Q Seven spent hours trying to figure out who bob was. Even funnier, since none of you had the name you probably caused every Bob, Bobby, Robert, and Robbie in the academy a great deal of problems as extra suspicion must have been directed their way."

Dante paused and raised an eyebrow, "You know, Robbie Kastrarov was one of the kids in my squad and they were always doing inspections of his stuff..."

Cody snickered, "And it was your fault."

Dante shrugged, "Good, I never liked the kid anyway."

Cody's father dug though the equipment a couple of the kids had found in their parents' stuff. After a few minutes he slipped on a shirt, flack jacket, pants and combat boots that fit him. He then secured the laser pistol Jared had procured for him out of the armory in a side holster, placed a couple of extra power packs in pouches built into the jacket and slid a combat knife into a belt sheath. Finally, he verified the stunner Jared had handed him had a full charge as did the extra power pack for it.

Once satisfied, he glanced back to Jared, "Now, you are sure me using all this stuff will not cause problems with any of your folks?"

Zane moved up next to Jared and shook his head, "No sir. Most of what is fitting you is my dad's. There is no chance he'll be mad about it. You are a Grenadier now and spare equipment goes were it is needed when it is needed. The details of it all can always be worked out later.

Kerri spoke up as she checked to make sure her sonic stunner was set to full power. "Colonel Meschev, right now you are the only adult the Grenadiers have on this deck and every member of this unit will support you taking anything and everything needed for you to best take care of us."

Cody's dad stopped and turned to the three kids with him. "First off, I believe the proper title is now Lieutenant Meschev, secondly, and far more importantly you all have been the ones taking care of those of us from the other ship. You have no idea how much it is bothering me to be placing the three of you in extra danger aboard your own ship with this task."

"Don't be sir." Kerri stated with a voice tinged with hatred, "If there is one Q Six RG bastard on the Stallion, the three of us want to be part of finding and killing him."

Lieutenant Meschev paused and looked over all three kids around him. Each of them met his stare without blinking, putting truth behinds the girl's words. "OK fine, but if one is aboard, our first priority is to try to take him without damage to the ship or to innocent bystanders. If we find one, I expect you let me engage while you back me up and make sure there is not a second one trying to sneak in a surprise shot. Second, young ladies should not use that kind of language. Do I make myself clear?"

"We understand sir, but any of the three of us will not at all be unhappy to kill a Royal Guard prick or two. Denny, one of our best friend's, was killed down in engineering when they tired to sabotage this ship right after we got to Quaker VII. He was shot in the back... twice." Jared's voice dripped of anger as he handed laser pistols to Kerri and Zane. "Last resort only guys."

Kerri simply nodded while Zane took a deep breath as his hand touched the weapon. Zane quickly, almost nervously, placed his in the shoulder holster while keeping a far more confident grip on the stunner.

Lieutenant Meschev winced as he heard Jared but took a moment to put his large hand on Zane's slender shoulder. "If you don't feel comfortable with it, it may be best if you don't carry it."

Zane's eyes instantly changed from being nervous to a bit annoyed. "I'm fine sir. It's just my dad never lets me touch a lethal ranged weapon without him or an instructor being at my side. Part of me is expecting his belt to suddenly appear out of thin air and smack me for handling one without his direct permission."

Lieutenant Meschev suddenly smiled and snickered. "I can hardly wait to meet your father. I already like him!"

"From what I am seeing you are a lot like him sir." Kerri added as she checked to make sure her boot knife was in place.

Jared checked both of his fighting knives as well before speaking up. "Yea, you are. Even the way you got mad at Cody for bad speech sounded almost exactly like what Zane's dad would of said. You two will get along great."

Lieutenant Meschev cocked his head to the side as he noticed Zane slide a wicked looking survival knife into a built in sheath on the armored vest he was wearing. "I have seen some of my own troopers not carry knives with the confidence you three are."

Zane shrugged, "Then your people need to take a few classes with Luna's mom. There is no better knife fighting instructor in the galaxy. None."

"And no one more deadly with a blade of any type." Kerri added with total conviction. "She has taught all of us to use blades as if they are an extension of our own bodies. With the exception of Luna, you are looking at the three best knife fighting dependants in the Grenadiers."

"And Kerri is almost as good as Luna. She kicks our asses all the time when knife sparing"

Lieutenant Meschev reacted out of instinct as he quickly backhanded Zane across the mouth. "I can tolerate a great deal kids, but you curse around me and I will smack you." For a brief moment he could feel his heart stop as he realized what he had done.

Zane jerked his head back and winced but held up both hands while using his shoulder to wipe a bit of blood off his lip. "Sorry sir."

Jared and Kerri also held up their hands in the exact same way Zane did and backed away slightly. None of the three looked at him with any anger. Instead, they all looked a bit shocked and seriously tongue lashed. Their reactions surprised Cody's dad. On the other hand, it also pleased him a great deal. He hadn't expected these hard core merc kids to respect him they way all three were currently doing.

Jared spoke up ending the momentary uneasy silence. "We'll try to not let it happen again around you sir and we will let the other kids know as well. Most of our parents don't care if we cuss so we may slip up now and again."

Lieutenant Meschev moved forward and took a close look at Zane's lip. He took a deep breath as he noticed it was slightly split. "I am sorry; I should not have hit you."

Zane again wiped some blood off his lip, but shook his head, "No sir. You are the adult here and we will follow your rules. If you didn't hit me and my dad found out I said something you didn't like, he'd break out the belt. He may anyway when he finds out why I have a fat lip."

"I'll talk to him son. You had no way of knowing and I should have given you a warning first."

Kerri looked over a bit confused, "I think you just did."

"I mean without hitting one of you."

Zane shook his head, "It's OK Sir. That was a tap compared to what would happen if I did something one of the other adults in the unit didn't want me doing. Consider us warned."

Lieutenant Meschev raised an eyebrow, "So do all of you obey all the crew?"

Jared slowly nodded his voice turned very serious. "Oh yea. We kind of have to. When the unit is in combat there may only be a couple of adults taking care of us, and they are normally wounded or cannot fight for some other reason. Every kid on the Stallion considers almost every adult as a parent. Besides, many kids have lost one or both parents and other members of the unit step in and adopt or at least fill in till our own parents have recovered.

"For example, I lived with Zane for over three weeks back on Q VII cause both my parents and my sister had been hurt and hospitalized after we beat back the assault on your starport. To be honest I don't see how a merc unit with kids in it could work any other way."

Kerri joined in. "There are only a handful of adults who really don't take care of us. Warrant Officer Osop, one of our two fighter pilots, Mr. Kromwell, our tactical officer, Senior Chief Tonnel, the navigator, Mrs. Gunther, who is one of the cooks and of course Dante's dad and mom. Even then, if they tell us to do something we would still do it."

"Yea, but Major O'Connell would freak out if they did more than tell us to take out the trash." Zane stated, still pushing he shirt sleeve against his lip. "And they know it, so they simply steer clear of all the kids except their own."

Jared managed a bit of a grim grin, "And lately, even the Master Sergeant has been kept away from Dante."

"Yea." Zane stated showing some relief, "Thank god."

Lieutenant Meschev felt his head spin some with all the information and the way the three kids with him were reacting to the whole situation. As he tired to piece some of the information together in his own mind, he realized there would be way more involved in running a merc unit than simple battle plans and recruiting. How to deal with kids in such a unit had never occurred to him, let alone how to handle situations where parents were killed in combat.

As a Commander on Quaker VII, such situations were handled by the government. Most of the times the kids were simply handed to other family members or in cases where none could be located he had assumed they were placed in orphanages or something, but to be honest he had never once followed up to find out for sure. As a traveling merc unit, some of those options would be difficult at best and impossible at worst.

As his mind raced over the staggering details he had never contemplated before, he still had to ask a question, "So do you mind if I ask why a few of the adults are kept away from you and why you are so against this Master Sergeant?"

Jared glanced over to the two with him only to see both of them turn away from his gaze. "It's just not talked about sir."

Lieutenant Meschev took in a huge breath of air, "Son, I am about to join this unit and I have two boys and a young girl. I want to know... Now!"

Jared hung his head and whispered, "How about we head to the first room we have the survivors locked in and just say that Dante's dad is about the cruelest bastard..." he looked up has if expecting to be smacked in the mouth.

Lieutenant Meschev frowned but waved his hand, signaling it was OK this time. "I can let bastard slide for now, but try to control your language a bit better please."

Jared nodded, "Yes sir."

Zane picked up the conversation as the group moved toward the first of several rooms to search for possible infiltrators. Like Jared, he kept his voice soft as if speaking on a forbidden subject. "Lieutenant, the truth of the matter is Dante's dad beats the cra... um... crud out of him whenever he so much as thinks Dante did something wrong, and most of us think he does it for no reason other than he likes to sometimes."

Lieutenant Meschev frowned deeply, "Why in the name of heaven does the Major allow such a thing?"

"Sir," Kerri chimed in, "with all do respect, what can he really do? If he does too much there is nothing stopping the Master Sergeant for leaving and taking Dante with him. He has threatened to more than once. At least with them in the unit, the Major can and does find ways for Dante to live with the rest of us the great majority of the time. Besides, as much as all of us hate the man and his constantly drunk wife, there is no better frame pilot in the unit and no one comes close to the number of confirmed kills he has."

"And he has only been in the unit for about four years." Zane added, "Maybe going on five now so for him to be the top ace in the unit, it really speaks to his combat abilities. We all hate the guy, and even he knows it, but the fact is he's an animal in a frame. He seriously lives to fight and kill things and he is damn..." Zane cringed, "Oh, sorry sir... Um... he is darned good at it. We deal with him and his wife and all of us have Dante over as much as we can. My dad loves Dante so much he installed an extra hammock and dresser for him in our quarters but my mom kind of gets sick of him as he is a bit of a hellion and for some reason he just rubs mom the wrong way which sucks cause he can't stay over all the time. He is like a brother to me though. None of us want to see him taken away from the unit, not even mom, and to be honest I'd be afraid the Master Sergeant would accidentally kill him if he knew we were not always keeping an eye out."

Anger turned Cody's father's voice into a bit of a hiss. "Hasn't anyone directly confronted this guy?"

"We think Captain Tanner and the Major did." Jared stated, "But shortly after, Dante ended up in the hospital beat real bad. Dante refused to say his dad did it. Instead, he blamed it on a group of kids on New Bravaria. The police on world investigated but nothing came of it. Since then, we do what we can to keep Dante safe but every couple of months he gets pummeled pretty bad.

A tear slid down Zane's cheek. "The last time was just after we got word the Q VI provisional government refused us access to high-speed interplanetary communication. Neil and I found Dante crawling out of the barracks shower room not even able to walk. He had huge bruises on his back in the shape of hand prints and both his eyes were basically swollen shut. We tried to get him to say his dad did it, but he refused to tell us. Robin's mom, Neil's dad, and my dad took turns watching him for almost a week. He was so badly busted up they had to feed him and... well it was really bad."

Lieutenant Meschev gently wiped the tear off Zane's cheek all the while wanting to explode. "Some how I think this Master Sergeant and I will end up in a wall to wall discussion sooner rather than later."

Kerri's face scrunched up in an odd expression for a moment, "A wall to wall discussion?"

An almost evil smirk crossed Lieutenant Meschev's face. "Yes. The walls will discuss the situation with one or both of our bodies, arms, legs and even faces until one of us gives in or is unconscious."

"Sir," Jared warned, "Even as big and strong as you are and as much as we would all love to see it happen, he is a beast in combat. I'd hate to see you get hurt."

"If he manages to win, I'll heal up and come back for more. Sooner or later he will loose or simply back down. Either way Dante will be the winner."

"Unless the Master Sergeant leaves the unit and takes him." Kerri warned.

A bit of a nasty glint entered the man's eyes as he responded. "I have dealt with his type before. I will not make it about Dante I will make it out to be between him and me. If he tries to take Dante and leave, I will publicly berate him for being too big of a puss frame jock to stick around and deal with me, an armor jock."

Jared managed a light snort. "There is no way the Master Sergeant will let you say that!"

"Which means he has to stay and deal with me. It may be painful for me, but I can assure you he will not come out of it looking or feeling great. Sooner or later he'll back down or find someone else to pick on cause I simply will not let him pick on Dante or any other kid in this unit."

Jared managed a smile, "Now I know where Cody found the balls to stand up to the academy and demote the girl who kept narcing on us merc kids."

"He did?"

Zane nodded, "And got into a bunch of trouble for it. They where even going to take his force commander slot away. We figured you must have stepped in cause it stopped very suddenly and the girl was transferred out of his force."

"First I have heard about it." He shrugged, "Good for him. I'll have to tell him how proud of him I am once he gets off my bad side for going places on that ship he shouldn't have gone."

"If he hadn't, there would be even more dead over there sir." Jared countered.

Lieutenant Meschev rolled his eyes and shook his head, "Both my kids said you guys were awesome at covering for each other. I guess I just didn't understand what they were saying until now. Good try, but it isn't getting either of my boys off the hook."

"Maybe not," Zane responded seriously, "But they are now Grenadier dependants so we will keep trying."

Lieutenant Meschev snickered as they got to the first door then motioned all three kids to get well behind him. "Again, I do the talking and searching. You three are here for backup only. Got it?"

All three nodded as the readied their stun weapons. Once certain they were ready he turned to the door and cringed slightly, angry about the whole situation, but furious over the fact he was taking the three behind him into a possible dangerous situation. In the short time he had spent with the kids, he had grown exceedingly fond of all of them. The thought of one of them getting hurt while protecting him made him focus on the task at hand with an inner fury bordering on madness.

He punched in the security override given him by Major O'Connell and gripped the stun weapon ready for any trouble. The door slid open revealing almost two dozen rather startled refugees from the other ship. "Ladies and Gentlemen, the rescue effort aboard our crippled ship continues to move forward, but has run into a few snags. It seems the craft we were on was sabotaged and there is ample evidence the Quaker Six government was behind it.

"Because of this new development, we are forced to carefully check each and every person who came over to this ship."

Frightened and even terrified faces looked around the room as if expecting those next to them to pull out a bomb or something.

Lieutenant Meschev smacked the door frame with the butt of the sonic pistol to get everyone's attention. "Chances are good no one in this room was part of the disaster, but to be sure I need all of you to move to the left side of the room and strip down to your underclothing. Then, one at a time, you will come forward with your clothing and be inspected by me. Once clear you will go to the far side of the room, get dressed and we will move on to the next room."

One woman glared at Cody's father, "There is no way I am taking off clothing in front of you let alone in front of those kids behind you!"

Lieutenant Meschev raised his pistol, "Then I will shoot you and the three behind me will strip your unconscious body. You will be taken and locked in one of the other rooms wearing basically nothing until we land or dock with the space station."

"You wouldn't!"

Behind Cody's father the three youngsters of the Grey Stallion all raised their own weapons at the woman.

Noticing everyone in the room trying to back up further Lieutenant Meschev glanced back. He turned to face those in the room a moment later with a smirk on his face. "You want bet something on it ma'am."

Without another word being spoken, several men and women moved over to one side and started to undress. Finally, one guy looked over while keeping a protective hand on his daughter, "What about my girl?"

Lieutenant Meschev hesitated for a moment so Jared floated forward. "Everyone means everyone. If you are really freaked out enough to worry about it, Kerri here can search the girl, but you are all getting searched or you can go back over to your ship. We have dealt with Q Six RG. I would not put it past them trying to hide a weapon on a kid. They sure had no problems murdering one of my best friends on the day before his 14th birthday!"

The guy stared at Jared for a moment before he finally relented and nodded to the girl, "It's OK, go ahead and do what they want." He then glanced back to Kerri, "Will you please be the one that searches her. Quaker Six troops did some bad things to her when they hit our town."

Kerri moved up and nodded. "No problem at all, but we only search one at a time and if anyone tries to slide over to the far side of the room without getting checked, we will shoot."

Lieutenant Meschev finally breathed a sigh a relief after nearly twenty minutes. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry to have put you though this, but for the safety of everyone it had to be done. Thanks for your cooperation."

He waited until the three kids were in the hall before backing out of the room. He then closed the door and locked it again before glancing back at Jared and Kerri. "Good call dealing with the girl, thanks."

Karri kind of shrugged, "It's no big deal. All of us have seen some of the crap the Q Six assholes did..."

Lieutenant Meschev frowned deeply and cuffed her on the back of the head pretty hard, "The who?"

Just like Zane had before, she winced but held up both hands, "Sorry sir. How about the Quaker six jerks?"

"I'm totally comfortable with jerks." Lieutenant Meschev responded while finding it hard to believe he had just smacked another kid in the unit he had only unofficially joined. The fact the other two were looking at Kerri and lightly shaking their heads, it was obvious to him they saw it as her fault not his. A bit of a smirk played over his features as he realized both his own boys would soon find discipline aboard the Grey Stallion quite different and very sobering. As troubling as it was to hear about Dante's dad and a few others in the unit, the more he saw the more he liked it.

The next hour and a half moved forward rapidly. Each room became easier as the routine became familiar to not only Lieutenant Meschev, but the three kids with him as well. Overall, there were few arguments and the few times females or girls were overly nervous about being searched Kerri was more than happy to move forward and deal with them. The entire time they had only taken away a knife, which had been offered by the man carrying it, and a trio of touch shockers. Two were freely given while the third had to be taken by force, albeit very little. A quick spin and an arm lock quickly convinced the woman to release her grip on the hand held zapper. Of course, it didn't hurt that Zane and Kerri had moved forward pointing their sonic stunners directly into her face and Jared and pulled his laser pistol and told everyone else to back off.

Lieutenant Meschev continued to be very impressed by the skills, confidence and teamwork shown by the kids with him. The few times the tensions in the rooms they were searching went a bit high, they all reacted to it as if they knew what each other was going to do, spreading out to cover the whole room, each other and him. It was also clear to him they saw him as the primary leader and Jared as second in command.

Once, Jared moved forward and barked at Kerri when she had started to pull her knife on a guy who refused to move to the side of the room with the others. At the same time, a quick nod to Zane was all Jared had to do to get the boy to point his pistol at the guy. The rest of those in the room never had a chance to react as they clearly saw the adult leading the kids not having to take his attention away from them while the three kids handled the lone problem.

As they exited the latest room, closed and locked the door, Lieutenant Meschev glanced back, "You all want a break?"

"There is only three rooms left sir," Zane spoke up, "Let's finish this so we can catch some shuteye without worrying about who is aboard our ship."

Kerri was quick to agree, "Zane's right. I'll be a lot less edgy when we finish this up."

"OK, onward then!"

Jared moved up to the next door and waited to get nods from everyone before unlocking the door. A bit of a grin crossed his features as he spotted a kid from the academy he loosely considered a friend. "Lukian, good to see you. Are you OK?"

A minute smile played over the boy's lips and he eyes showed some relief. "Jared, comrade, has there been any sign of my mother?"

Jared cringed as he glanced back to Lieutenant Meschev, "Sir, Lukian was in my frame force and he took Robin and me out for a meal once..." It was abundantly clear to anyone looking on Jared really didn't want to say what was on his mind.

Lieutenant Meschev moved forward as he put an arm around Jared to give him some support. "Lukian, we will check to see if we have had any news in just a few minutes, but to be honest I have heard nothing of anyone looking for a boy with your name. We are trying very hard to link up family members as they are found. But even while we are checking rooms, more survivors are trickling aboard so it is not an easy task to say one way or the other. We will find out for you though, promise."

A woman kind of snorted, "Really, so nice of you all. Why are you coming in here armed?"

Lieutenant Meschev patted Jared and gave Lukian the most reassuring smile he could before he gave his standard speech and pointed to the left wall. "So this can all be over with quickly enough. Just move over there, take off all clothing other than under clothing and we will do a quick search. Once satisfied, we will leave you all be and I'll do a check to see if we can find Lukian's mother."

There was some standard muttering, but as with the other rooms the vast majority followed instructions. Most looked around with worried expressions, showing far more suspicion of those around them then the man and the three kids ordering them to undress.

A sudden flash of metal caught Lieutenant Meschev's attention. He reacted instantly shouting, "Weapon!" while pushing off the wall with his feet. His shoulder caught the man in the stomach and drove him hard into the wall. Those close by could hear ribs break as a rather large pistol slipped from the man's fingers and floated upwards.

Jared had also seen the danger and was totally prepared as others in the room went for weapons as well. He pulled his laser pistol and put a shot into a man who was pulling at a holster hidden just behind his left hip. The laser shot hit him in the temple, ending his life before he could even find the grip on his weapon. Jared shouted, "Everyone get as close to the floor as you can and keep your hands open and away from your bodies now!"

Off to the side, Zane caught other movement and turned. The second he saw the blade in another passenger's hand he fired his stunner. At such close range and fast movement there was a high chance of a miss. His marksmanship, however, proved up to the task. The woman's eyes rolled up in her head and a bit of blood started to leak from her ears as the knife spun slowly through the air. She was actually pushed backwards by the force of the condensed sound waves which made it look like the blade was moving forward, while in fact it remained basically still while the former wieldier of the blade was moving backwards. Unfortunately, a couple of other passengers were also hit with part of the sound wave as it bounced off the metal walls and left them reeling.

Kerri also reacted as she saw the woman, who spoke right after Lukian, go for something behind her back. Kerri's blade was in her hand before the woman could complete her draw and with a push off the doorframe she spun toward the woman who was focused solely on Lieutenant Meschev. As her large pistol came into view, Kerri's blade made contact with the woman's hand. Using the momentum of her push off the door frame, she let the spin and the razor sharp knife do all the work. The blade circled all the way around the woman's wrist cutting off the entire hand even as it still gripped the pistol.

The woman floated backwards screaming loudly while blood flowed and even pumped out of the now stump of her wrist. Her screams were short lived, however, as Kerri did a backhand strike and embedded the blade to the hilt in the woman's throat.

Another man, off to the side pulled yet another blade but was intercepted by Lukain who reacted the way the combat instructors at the Quaker VII academy had taught him. The thirteen year old slammed his elbow into the man's nose, stopping his advance cold, but didn't prevent the man from grabbing hold of him and putting his blade up to the boy's throat.

"Take him Jared!" Lieutenant Meschev growled as he had his hands full. Even injured, the guy he was fighting threw a punch that connected with his jaw, but in doing so he left himself open. A huge fist slammed into his already broken ribs. The pain was too much. He let out half gasp, half cry and started to black out.

Lieutenant Meschev was not satisfied the guy was actually done, however. With a quick yank of the guy's hair, he grabbed the back of the guy's head and slammed it into the back wall with everything he could muster, not once, but five times.

Jared responded to Lieutenant Meschev's command. He spun and pointed his laser pistol at the man. Pure hatred resonated off the walls as he snarled. "Let him go you son of a bitch!"

Even as blood flowed from the man's broken nose, he shook his head. "So you can kill me? I think not!" The blade made contact with Lukian's skin just enough to part the skin and make a thin red line. "Back off and give me access to a life boat or this fucking brat's head will be floating in here just like my partner's hand!"

Kerri glanced over with wide eyes. "Jared?"

Jared glanced back. "Get all their fucking weapons floating around in here and keep an eye on everyone else. I'll handle this."

Zane, on the other hand, floated back way from everyone noticing Lukian's tear filled eyes were on him and was directing him to move in from behind. He gave a single hard nod as it became clear to both him and the now helpless boy that the guy had totally lost track of Zane in the sudden free for all. He moved slowly and silently. He let go of the stunner and gently pushed off the wall angling to the left side of the man who was focused on the other three and the boy he was holding.

Once Zane got into a good position, he slowly and soundlessly pulled his laser pistol and aimed it at the guy's head. "Hey ass wipe!"

The guy spun moving the blade slightly from Lukain's throat as he did so. Before he realized what had happened, Lukian's arm moved up to prevent the blade from having a direct path to his neck. An instant later, a beam of laser light bored straight into the man's already flattened nose while a second shot from Jared pierced the back of his skull.

Lukian cried out in pain as the guy's death jerks caused the blade to slice into his forearm, but before the knife could do more damage Lieutenant Meschev moved over and yanked Lukian clear of the man's death grip. He then slammed the already dead man into the ceiling cracking his skull open.

Lieutenant Meschev's eyes darted around the room wildly for a few seconds making sure no one else was attempting to use the sudden flurry of activity and resulting carnage to escape through the open door or worse yet try to take out one of them. It took only a few seconds for him to establish everyone else was huddled in a group, most balling their eyes out and more than a few had wet themselves or worse. Even better, Jared had not strayed far from the door, so anyone exiting would have had to get past the boy, which certainly didn't happen because Jared was moving his pistol over the whole group demanding they move to the other wall with their hands open and visible.

There was a few seconds of silence before the room's intercom blared out with Captain Tanner's voice, "Our weapon fire sensors just went crazy! Is everything secure?"

Jared responded as he moved over to Lukian and put his hand over the rather deep knife wound. "Looks like Robin was right sir. We had armed infiltrators aboard!" He then pulled his radio, "Erin! We could really use your skills over here in room one-one-seven, over!"

Erin's voice responded instantly. "Be their in less than a minute, Out!"

"Status!" Major O'Connell's voice demanded. "Who's hurt!"

Kerri glanced around, "Three are Q Six bastards absolutely dead one other probably is and the fifth jackass is floating with blood coming out her ears and her eyes rolled up in her head. We'll do a total sweep, Major, but it looks like we are secure!"

"I don't give a damn about them. What about you all?"

Lieutenant Meschev took stock of the situation himself before responding, "Looks like the only major injury on our side is a cadet Jared knows who helped and got his neck nicked and his arm slashed pretty badly. There are a few non-combatants who took the side effects of a sonic shot and there is blood all over the place. It is a real mess, but we are basically unscathed. You got some awesome kids down here Major!"

Trust me Senior Lieutenant, I know it. "Move the others to a different room once you are sure none are playing you. The live one I want hog tied and chained to a wall somewhere. I will personally deal with her when we can get down there!"

Kerri glanced over to Zane and cringed, "She'd have been better off if you had killed her."

Zane managed a grim smile while trying to control his shaking hands. "Makes me happy I didn't."

Captain Tanner's voice came across with a snicker, "That's the Zane I know and love. Good job kids. I think we owe you all some hazard pay."

"If needed, you can take it out of mine." Lieutenant Meschev replied while watching Kerri pry the hand off the micro missile pistol's grip.

"We ain't totally broke, Lieutenant, but pretty damned close. We'll handle it, but thanks." Captain Tanner responded.

Jared nudged Lieutenant Meschev with a smile as he saw the man was totally focused on Kerri who had moved over to the dead woman and was pulling her knife out of her neck. "We told you she was a total terror with a blade sir."

"Yea..." He shook his head to clear it. "Alright, let's find another room for these people. We will check them as they come out so no one leaves this room without being totally checked over."

Seconds later, Erin showed up with a large first aid kid procured earlier from the doomed craft next to them. She was flanked by Valerie and Mitchell, the kid who was well known by several of the kids aboard the Stallion. All three had their stunner out.

Jared moved out in the hall with Lukian. "Keep some pressure on it. She'll fix you up."

Lukian quickly grabbed his arm the second Jared let go. "Man, I should have taken you all out for lunch more. Thanks a million."

"Hey, don't sweat it. You did great in there. If you can tell me where your mom was when the miss fold happened, maybe I can get Robin to see if he can find her. He is over there now."

Lukian shrugged as Erin pulled his hand up and looked at the wound. He winced in pain but stayed focused on Jared. Tears leaked out of the corner of his eyes, "No clue, comrade. I woke right when it happened. I was lucky cause I stayed in the hammock so I didn't get hurt. I called out for her a few times but heard nothing. Once I managed to untangle myself in the pitch black of the room and found my survival pack, I got my pen light out and looked around the room. Mom and her boyfriend weren't there. I guess they went out after I fell asleep."

Zane looked over a bit confused, "You didn't come in with the first group or we would have invited you into the secure section with a few other cadets we know. Did Robin find you?"

Lukian sighed, "No, but I hooked up with most of the others in this room as they made their way to the link tube. From what I heard, Robin found most of them on Charlie deck. I was on Delta."

"So you were stranded alone on Delta?" Kerri asked as she cleaned her knife blade on the dead woman's pants.

"Well, kinda, I guess. I made it to an escape pod, but it was full so I, along with a couple of others, stayed in the hall. Those in the pod opened the door to give us some heat since they couldn't separate for some reason, but they finally had to close the door as it started getting too cold for the pod to provide enough heat for the pod and the hall. One of the guys in the pod handed me and two others light e-suits he found in the emergency locker and told us good luck. The other two went to look for another pod, so I left them in search of my mom. I was almost out of power when I found the group moving to the link tube. I have no clue what happened to the two adults who were with me in the hall to the pod. They aren't in this room though.

"Anyway, all those you took out joined up with the group from Charlie deck when we were pushing through Echo. They seemed nice enough, but I could tell all five of them knew each other and they seemed to have some military knowledge. As a matter of fact, the guy who almost killed me seemed to be their leader. A couple of them called him sir a few times. Once the others tried to attack you, I knew he had to be one of them so I did what I could to stop him."

"You did good." Lieutenant Meschev stated with total conviction. "Without your help we may have easily lost someone in there. What happened to your E-suit?"

Lukian's eys fell toward the floor, "Um, well, I gave the suit to the kid who opened the door for me since it was basically out of power and I had filled the waste unit on it..."

Erin continued to work on his arm finally shaking her head, "You aren't the only one we got full e-suits from. Over the past hour and a half I have treaded about a dozen others who made it to us. All managed to find e-suits but had run out of power and were suffering some frostbite and in two cases oxygen deprivation. It's a good thing you made it to us when you did." She paused. "I'm going to have to give you a pain shot so I can stitch this. It's too deep for glue to hold it. Sorry."

He winced as the air injector fired in a heavy pain killer right though the skin without a needle. "If you think I am going to argue about a pain shot and stitches, you're wrong. This is starting to hurt pretty bad." Before he finished, his speech was starting to slur.

"Not for much longer." Erin stated as she turned to Valerie. "He is about to go out. Hold him so I can stitch." She then glanced over to Jared as the boy's head sagged. "He'll be out for several hours and will have a nasty scar. I am not very good at stitches without an auto stitch unit. This is only my fourth time doing it and two of the other times have been on others of us from the Grey Stallion."

Lieutenant Meschev glanced back as he started checking the rest of the passengers in the blood filled room. "You mean to tell me there was no auto suture kit in that huge bag of med supplies?"

Erin's face turned a bit red in some embarrassment, "There was one, but I used up the supplies in it and for the life of me I can't figure out how to reload the spare cartridges." She held up a large box shaped item and another box of tube like items. "I can't even figure out how to open the stupid thing to get the old one out! I spent like an hour trying."

The kid who had told Jared about the medical station earlier gave the lady next to him a light shove, "Mom?"

The woman glanced up. Blood from the severed hand had sprayed over her face and the clothing she had taken off was covered in blood as well. "What now Roman!" she screeched showing she was on the verge of breaking down."

The boy floated up and glared at her, "Come on mom, help them!"

The boy's father pointed a finger at the boy, "Roman, do not speak to your mother like that." He then turned to look out the door, "My wife was going to school to become a nurse. She may be able to reload your stitch thing."

Erin started to move forward but Valerie stopped her. "I'll go in first. Stay behind me just in case."

A bit of surprise flickered across Erin's face as this was the first time any kid in the unit had shown any concern about her welfare. "You could get hurt too."

"Yea, but if I do then you will still be OK to put me back together. Without Robin, you are our medic and are damned good at it. Besides, you don't know how to fight. I, at least, have some skills."

Zane floated forward and motioned for Mitchell to do the same. "Val get the suture kit from Erin and the cartridges then move on in with Erin so she can see how it is done. We'll keep you both covered."

Val grabbed the equipment and looked back to Jared, "He is still bleeding pretty bad put pressure on it till I get this stupid thing working."

Jared clamped both his hands over the knife wound with a nod, "Got it."

As Valerie move up with the device, the man spun his wife around, "Hun, they need this thing working. Help them."

The woman looked at her blood covered hands and shook her head, "I'll contaminate it."

Roman took the device, "OK mom how do I open it?"

The woman glanced up. Everyone looking on could see she was basically in shock, going on an internal autopilot. Her voice was monotone and her eyes were a bit glazed over. "The refill tubes have three small pieces that stick up on the back. Push it into the three small holes in the back of the unit and twist like you are opening a lid."

Erin looked around and motioned him toward her, "Hey kid, get out of all the floating blood before you open it."

Jared half shouted from outside the door. "Good idea Erin. Bring it back out here first!"

Roman followed the others out of the carnage and into the hall. He then did as his mom had instructed. There was a hiss of air then the back popped open. "OK mom what now?"

The woman mumbled a long set of directions.

"Dad, I didn't hear her."

"The man tired to get her to talk again but failed. He took a deep breath, "I think she said just pull out the old tube and slide the new one in. Then close the back and push the three prongs of the old one back into those slots and turn it the other direction. It will flush the unit of possible contaminates and seal it. She said something about holding the front of it and green lights but I didn't understand what she meant."

Roman shrugged and did as he was told a second later there was another rush of air and a popping sound. He let go as super hot air shot out of two vents at the front of the unit and burned his hands pretty badly. "Shit!" he backed off shaking his hands trying hard not to cry. "It burns!"

Erin moved forward instantly and took a look. "Zane, Mitchell, hold him so I can look." She cringed as she saw the kids hands were bright red and already had some blisters on them. "Val, break out a pair of burn compress and put it on his hands now!"

The man shot up and tired to peer out the door. "What the hell happened?"

Erin looked over at the device and smacked her right fist into her left hand. "It is showing me five green lights so it is full and he got it working, but the new tube must have something in it that super heats air to kill everything to prevent contamination before it can be used again. The vents are in the front and that is where he thought he should hold it. His hands have some nasty burns."

Behind Erin the boy cried out as the first burn pack was slid over his left hand.

"Roman!" the man shouted as he tired to move into the hall.

Lieutenant Meschev stopped him with a hard shove. "Sorry sir, but no on leaves this room until they are checked!"

"But he is my son!"

"He will be given the best medical care we can possibly provide sir, now back off!"

There was a second shout of pain followed by a rather odd buzzing sound.

The man tired to push past once more but was shoved backwards with a great deal of force. He floated all the way back to the back wall before he managed to stop.

A bit of desperation permeated his voice. "Come on! He is my only boy!"

"Erin, what can you tell us?" Lieutenant Meschev demanded. "This guy deserves and answer."

"I'm almost done with the other kid's arm since the auto suture kit is working, but I will need other stuff for the burns. The packs will cool the skin and prevent more damaged, but I didn't bring the full burn kit and it is kind of hard to set up and move it. I can take care of him better back in the main area where there is plenty of room to get it set up and the power to run it!"

Jared glanced over with a bit of astonishment, "Do you know how to set up and use a full burn unit?"

Erin nodded, "Oh yea. Burns were one of the most common combat injuries I saw on a daily basis at the Gale Wind Military Hospital."

Zane glanced over with some surprise, "Robin worked there as well, didn't he?"

"Uh huh, Robin and I actually trained in the same hospital the whole time you guys were on world. I saw him several times but I don't think he paid me much attention. Girls were not allowed to work in the male wing and boys couldn't go into the females sections so I only saw him a few times during lunch and on breaks and he was always busy reading stuff about space ships which I later found out was for his emergency ship repair certification.

"The fact he was a merc kid was a big reason he didn't learn as much as I did, but even the doctors and nurses at the hospital were amazed he passed the ship repair test and spent some extra time around him after word spread. If you guys could have stuck around a bit longer, I think he would have caught up to me and probably even passed me in med tech abilities.

"Anyway, the whole reason my dad and I are part of this unit is Robin overhead me talking to a nurse about my dad wanting to get out of the military before Q VII surrendered. He came over and handed me a note saying my dad should come to the Grenadiers to look for work and with the job we'd get a free way off world."

She pulled the suture kit off Lukian and checked the work with a satisfied nod. She then put a strip of glue over the very shallow neck wound and pinched it together before she turned her attention to Roman. She winced as she saw the boy was holding his burn pack wrapped hands into his gut and trying very hard to stop crying.

Lieutenant Meschev looked over to the man he had shoved back, "Sir, it is your call as it is your son, but you have seen first hand how good this young lady is with injuries. She says it would be best to take him into the secured section with the other kids and there is no reason not to believe her."

The man held up his hands, "Check me so I can see him first... Please!"

Zane motioned for the guy to come over, "I'll check him you check the others."

Jared nodded, "Mitchell, keep an eye on Zane, just too make sure. We came damned close to loosing Lukian in there."

Mitchell nodded, "Sure thing. What are you going to do with Luka?"

Jared glanced back to the unconscious boy. "As of now, Lukian is a Grenadier. Erin can take him back to the others when you all head back. If we find his mom great, otherwise he can stay with me and my sister or something." It was clear to all listening the matter, at least in Jared's eyes, was closed for further discussion.

Mitchell nodded. "You guys seem to be adopting quite a few of us even though we treated you quite badly."

"Only those of you who we know at least tried to be nice to us." Zane responded with very little emotion. "Besides, we have lots of empty rooms and not nearly as many kids as there used to be aboard the Stallion thanks to Earth Core and Quaker Six." He managed a bit of a crafty smile to hide the pain the words brought with them. "Besides, those of us double digits left will be only too happy to share some of the chores with the rest of you."

Lieutenant Meschev rolled his eyes not sure if he should laugh or smack Zane. He settled for a slight chuckle as he glanced over at Mitchell who clearly found the comment amusing, "You sure look better than you did a few hours ago. You doing OK?'

The boy managed a nod, "The Grenadiers found me some clothing and let me get a shower so I am doing a bit better. As much as I want to find my family, at least this way I am doing something other than crying my eyes out. Besides, if worse comes to worse I have been told by just about every kid in this unit that I can always stay here with them." He tried to joke as he looked over to Zane, "I think I now know why."

A bit of despair washed over him as he stifled a sob, closed his eyes, and clenched his fists for a second before calming himself enough to speak. "What else do you need done sir."

Cody's father had to fight hard to keep his voice from shaking in a mixture of sorrow and rage. He moved over to the lad and gave him a hard hug and held it until the boy loosened his own hold. "Are you sure you want to do anything more?"

"Sir, I have to. I am one of the only ones left unhurt. I'll be fine, really..." He paused and gave the big man another hug, "But thanks."

Lieutenant Meschev again gripped the boy firmly. "Any time son and I do mean it. Any time. "

Mitchell rested his head against the man's chest for a few seconds before nodding. "So what do you need sir."

Lieutenant Meschev thought over the situation for a few seconds then responded slowly. "Well, we badly need anyone who exits this room escorted to another empty room and then we will certainly need someone to clean up the mess in here. We also need some restraints for a captive."

Mitchell glanced over to Jared once Zane finished checking Roman's father for weapons. "Where do you want them? I was told we are out of empty rooms without an external facing in the locked down section."

Jared snorted, "By the time we are done with them, there ain't a chance in hell they will have any weapons let alone something capable of giving us a hull breach, but just because Robin made it clear no unknown survivors should be in an external facing area, take them down to my room. It is in the cordoned off section and there is nothing left worth taking even if they wanted to. Besides both me and my sister have all our combat stuff with us so I know there is no weapons in there. In addition, the shower works pretty well and it appears almost all of them will need one judging by their pants. I'll contact the bridge so they can override the two showers every twelve hour sub routine."

Valerie grabbed the keys, "I'll get it open and stand guard till everyone is locked safely inside." She nodded to Mitchell and pointed to her left. "You help escort them. It's just a few doors down this way."

Robin paused as he got a detailed update of the firefight aboard the Stallion. He breathed a giant sigh of relief when Jared told him no dependants were hurt and was very happy to hear Lukian had made it off the ship he was currently on and was safely sleeping with the others. He keyed his radio to the bridge, "Sir, I request Lukian be allowed to stay with us if we can't find his mom."

Major O'Connell responded a few seconds later. "I am not running an orphanage, Robin. As it is, I have already agreed to take some kid by the name of Mitchell and a girl by the name of Olga, plus I understand there are a few others who may need a home as well and I have said we would."

"Sir, we used to have over forty double digits. Besides, they are all cadets from Quaker and we could use them. I know for a fact Lukian has his basic frame certification and wasn't half bad. I took him in a one on one match, but he got in a couple of good shots. Just ask Captain Tanner. He was there for the competition."

Major O'Connell kind of tossed up his hand. "OK son, I'll give the go ahead for him as well, but no more promises. If we can find sponsors in the Unit, then we can add a few more."

Robin closed his eyes knowing he was pushing his luck, "Sir there may be one more..."



There was a huge sigh, "Who is it?"

"Well, we don't even know if he is alive or needs us yet if he is." Robin replied, "But his name is Jessie."

Captain Tanner spoke up, "Is he the one you introduced me to when I came to watch the cadet competition?"

"Yes sir." Robin stated. "He is about the only reason we have pushed on this far. I found out he was booked on Bravo and..."

Captain Tanner cut him off, "Rob I know for a fact by the way you introduced him and the way he reacted to me and you, he was about your only true friend at the academy. If he is alive, you manage to find him, and he needs a home I will sponsor him personally. You just focus on getting back to us in one piece."

A big grin spread over Robin's face as he looked over to Caleb with some surprise. "Thank you sir!"

"OK, you have your answer." Major O'Connell fired back, his voice trying to sound far more annoyed than it really did. "Now stay safe."

The Major quickly clicked off the mike and turned to stare at Captain Tanner with a rather befuddled look. "What the hell, you hate most kids."

Captain Tanner managed a half shrug, "It's for Robin."

Major O'Connell raised an eyebrow, "You could have just simply said we would take the kid and you know damned good and well I'd have caved, cause you're right. It's for Robin. So what gives?"

Captain Tanner turned his gaze toward the ceiling of the bridge, "I only met the kid once, but for some reason I found him to be amazingly charismatic. After our kids were all finished competing, he came back over and took time to take me around for a tour of the academy and the barracks..."

Major O'Connell snorted in some amazement. "You didn't even want to go to that blasted thing. If Robin hadn't begged you to go you wouldn't have!"

A bit of annoyance crept into the Captain's voice. "Yes I would have! Jared and Dante both asked me to go as well."

"Dante?" Total astonishment could be heard in his voice and the faces of several others on the bridged mirrored their own shock. The Major almost shouted, "I thought you detested him!"

"I do most of the time." His face betrayed his words and it was obvious they where a half truth at most.

Major O'Connell shook his head as a huge smile spread across his face. "So, all this time you weren't just some stone cold heartless bastard who hates kids. How much time have you been spending with them when the rest of us were too busy to notice?"

Captain Tanner's shoulders fell a bit as he turned to face his commanding officer and life long friend. "Oh come on, I spend quite a bit of time with the older ones. Who do you think helped Dante get the parts for the robot he was building?"

A rather puzzled look crossed Major O'Connell's face and he paused to think it over. "To be honest, I had no idea you knew about the robot. As for the parts, I figured he stole them somehow."

A bit of a smirk crossed Captain Tanner's face, "Only some of them."

Major O'Connell started laughing, "Such a great role model you are!"

Erin's father couldn't help but chuckle, "And he very well may be a dad if Robin manages to find his friend."

Captain Tanner's face turned totally serious as turned to the sergeant. "You don't know our kids well enough and you damn sure don't know Robin. If Jessie is alive somewhere on that ship, Robin will find him."

Major O'Connell nodded, "For our kids, a friend is the same as if not more important than a brother or sister. The kids down there will fight and die for each other. I know you are a bit freaked by the firefight down there. We all are, but I can tell you with total confidence Zane and Kerri are far more angry at the fact the kid from the academy was hurt than they are at having to fight and kill. And if you want to know why, it is because Jared likes him, which means the kid's a friend of the unit and thus one of them."

There was a slight pause before Captain Tanner spoke up, "Which makes him one of us. If he really has lost his family, Jared and Robin have officially made sure he has a new one."

Erin's dad frowned deeply, "I find it rather troubling some kid they barely know would be defended with such vigor when my daughter can't seem to find a single kid in the unit to play with let alone confide in."

A young tech who was working on the navigation center looked over with a bit of a snarl on his face. "Sergeant, if all the reports I am hearing about your daughter are even half true, those days are over. It takes a while for us to trust other kids. We have been burned too many times. We tend to wait and watch for a while, sometimes weeks or months. Most find small ways to get accepted by one or two then the others quickly join in. A few never do, and they tend to be the ones who leave the second they can.

"She is now in a brand new class. By pulling her weight down there in such an emergency, and keeping some of the kids down there alive, she is now fully one of us. She may have gone into tonight as an outsider but I can guarantee you the next time you see her she will be one of those the rest will kill and if necessary die for."

His snarl switched to a half grin as he added, "And you will now find it much more difficult to find out if she has done something wrong, cause every kid on Hotel deck will cover for her when needed."

Sergeant Akem's brow furled, "How would you know?"

Major O'Connell glanced over, "Because up till about three months ago, Patrick was the oldest of the double digits. He tuned sixteen shortly before you joined and like all other kids who change to the legal age of an adult he got the choice to join or go. Also like the vast majority, he chose to stay. Patrick, here, was born into this unit and is now, like me, a third generation Grenadier."

Sergeant Akem's jaw dropped slightly as it dawned on him just how tight a group the core of the Grenadiers was. With nothing useful to say, he simply turned back to his station while managing to stammer out, "OK then, my bad."

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