Jacoby enjoyed routines. He worked on the hover in the morning, Exercised, spent a few hours in the afternoon supervising the Samalians as they practiced shooting, then went back to working on the hover. What he hadn’t done was bother learning the names of any of the ones he saw on a daily basis, other that Rig, his translator. In his head he kept track of them mainly by fur color. After Rig, the best shooter was the fire furred female, then the sand dune male, and the chocolate one. If he needed to talk to one he either went to them, or point and had Rig fetch them.
After two weeks, those four were trustworthy enough in how they handled their guns that Jacoby let them keep them powered at all times, with the caveat they needed to change the pack every morning to ensure it was at full power, and after the practice.
Rig invited him to join them in town for a drink each day, but Jacoby declined. He wasn’t interested in getting to know them, or thinking of them as anything more than trainees, or a job he was doing.
It was him, and them, there was no ‘us,’ and he wanted to keep it that way.
Even Tech seemed to feel the same way. They’d now been there long enough the adults took them for granted, so the children were allowed to wander around the temple and what had become the training grounds. Anytime they got close to Tech he roared and screamed at them, sending them fleeing. Once in his agitation he’d brought part of the wall down and had lost it again.
Maybe Alex was right about Tech having an easier time destroying than building. It felt like he looked for any excuses to bring the wall down. Of course the despair in his eyes once he realized what he’d done showed he wasn’t entirely in control of what he did. But once he regained control of himself, he set right back to work.
Only once had Tech wandered back among those training. He’d waited until Alex had left them to head back to the town and he’d come. The toughest of the Samalian had stepped forward, and they’d fought.
The fight had been hard and vicious, and while Tech had been the one left standing, he’d been limping as he’d headed back to the temple. The other Samalian had sat up in visible pain, and his friends had helped him. There had been a jovialness to their interaction and made Jacoby shake his head.
He’d just gotten the crap beaten out of him and they were acting like he was some big hero. Like he’d stood alone against an invading force. Jacoby had gone back to calibrating the power coupler. He’d never understand aliens, and he was happy about that.
Alex, on the other hand. Alex was getting far too comfortable with the Samalians for Jacoby’s liking. He spent most of his time in the town, talking with that older white-furred female. When Rig wasn’t helping with the shooting practices or training himself, he was hanging around Alex in a way that, if Jacoby didn’t know how dedicated to Tech Alex was, might make him think those two were going at it.
Not that he cared about it if they did. What other people got to in private was their own business. Although he’d never gotten how people could hook up with someone outside their species.
Just this morning, Alex had been with a group of children walking through the clearing. They seemed to delight in pointing at objects and calling out what had to be their names for them. Alex had mouthed the words. When an adult had called them to the templed and had them sit, Alex had sat with them. The Adult didn’t react to that, which told Jacoby that while this was the first time he had seen this happen, it wasn’t the first time it had happened. Until the Training started, anytime Jacoby looked in the group’s direction, Alex was paying attention to the teacher.
Jacoby was distracted the entire time the shooting practice went on, leaving Rig to handle most of it. He kept watching Alex. How he behaved around the Samalians, how he seemed to talk with them, and not just at them. As far as he could tell, he still had them fight as hard as before, he wasn’t going soft on them, but Jacoby couldn’t shake the sense he was getting more comfortable around them.
When the fighting was done, and they headed toward the town Jacoby called to Alex, then headed for the hover. When Alex joined him, Rig was in tow.
“You mind?” Jacoby said. “We need to talk.”
Rig said something Jacoby didn’t understand to Alex then walked away.
“You understood that?” Jacoby asked.
“Only a bit of it. He’s going to Padtir’s and I think he’s warning me that you’re getting jealous. But that part, I doubt I got right.”
“What are you doing Alex?” Jacoby looked at the charging station. No one had returned their packs. He was going to have a talk about that tomorrow.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what are you doing?” he motioned to Alex, and how he was dressed. “This is how you dress most of the time. Take those shorts off and you’ll be naked.”
“I’d still be wearing my knives.”
“That isn’t my point. Are you turning native on me?”
Alex raised an eyebrow. “I dress for the heat and you jump to the conclusion I’m going native? Maybe you need to take your jacket up before you boil your brain.”
“My jacket’s temperature balanced, as is yours and some of the rest of your clothing. So what’s your excuse for going half naked?”
“Maybe you never bothered paying attention, but Tristan doesn’t like clothing either.”
“He’s wearing pants.”
“Because he’s so out of it he doesn’t even realize he's wearing them. He was naked the entire time we broke him out and never even realized it, probably. Everyone here’s naked. Samalians don’t care about what they’re showing.”
“Oh trust me, I’ve noticed. Anytime the fighting ends I make sure to watch the ground to avoid seeing what the adrenaline did to them. But that’s not just it. You’re taking classes. You’re spending your time in that town. You’re spending all your time with them.”
“And who do you expect me to spend my time with? Tristan? He can’t stand me right now and the feeling’s mutual.”
“Is that why you’re spending so much time with Rig? Looking for a replacement?”
“Watch it, Jack—”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Don’t even think about mentioning I’d look at another guy again, or I’m going to make you swallow that rifle you’ve grown so fond of.”
“I thought this was a job. Not a social experiment. What are you doing learning their language?”
“Keeping busy. Unlike you, I don’t enjoy spending all my time fixing a hover.”
“Then go on the net. You like that stuff right? The connection’s secure so why aren’t you spending your day in there? I’m keeping the power going now.”
“And do what? What, you think my life is in there or something? That’s my job. That’s what I do to make Tristan’s jobs easier, yes, I like it, but it isn’t like I need it. You know what I do need? Someone to talk to that isn’t obsessed with leaving. Someone I can have an actual conversation with, and right now the only place I can have that is in town, where there’s actual people. Not just a broken man and one who can’t stand having anyone who isn’t exactly like him around.”
“Are you calling me intolerant?”
“What? Can’t handle having the truth show up?”
“Listen here, I’ve worked with more aliens in my life than you’ve ever met.”
Alex grinned. “Somehow I doubt that, considering you spend your time in a town populated with only humans.”
Jacoby might have punched him, but he noticed a Samalian running toward them, hands waving and pointing in the distance. “What’s she saying?” he could just hear what she was yelling.
“At a guess, she’s telling us that you’re going to get to hit someone other than me. Grab your rifle, I think we have incoming.” Alex ran around the hover.
Jacoby grabbed the rifle. And headed toward her. Alex rejoined him, gun in hand. He barked two words in Samalian as he ran and She responded by speaking quickly, falling into step.
Alex shook his head, “I didn’t get any of that.” He said three words.
She responded with two that sounded close to what Alex had said.
“The hover is still far, having better hearing is definitely an advantage. They’re coming from the south.”
“Then they’re going to land close to the woods there. Can you get anyone in there ahead of their arrival?”
“I doubt it. We don’t have any way to communicate with the other side of town, and how do you know the layout?”
“I didn’t spend my days socializing, I spent some of them learning the terrain specifically so I’d know how to plan. What do you think protecting a place like this involves? Just running at the enemy and hoping to kill them before they kill you?”
“Tristan is the one who usually comes up with the plans. I just run in and kill the people he points me at.”
“Yeah? We’re going to have a talk about this afterward. Fuck we’re lucky they gave us privacy.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means everyone has a powered gun. They didn’t bring the packs in for charging. I just hope they didn’t run them down too much while practicing.”
“Are you telling me you’ve had them walk around with guns that don’t work?”
“Would you trust them with working guns?”
“That, we’re going to talk about after this.”
The town was empty as they ran through it. Everyone who wouldn’t be fighting was inside a building. They could see the hover approaching over the trees.
“Rig’Irik,” Alex called on seeing the Samalian, next to a building. “Is everyone in position?”
“Hiding,” Rig indicated the surrounding buildings. “Wait in town. They come, we kill.”
Jacoby was impressed. “Ambush fighting? Who taught you that?”
“Been in fight before,” the Samalian answered.
“You’d know that,” Alex said, “if you bothered talking with them. In bad years, some of the neighboring towns will raid each other for food.”
“What neighboring towns? We didn’t see anything flying in.”
“Some years are really bad.”
“That’s barbaric, why don’t they just ask for help from the city? There has to be a system set up to keep that kind of barbaric stuff from happening.”
Alex nodded to the landed hover. “Really? You’re calling them barbaric when it’s the corporations sending marauders to force them to hand over their way of life?” He motioned Jacoby away. “Now find a place to hide and wait until they’re all in the town. We don’t want any of them running off.”
Jacoby entered the closest building and glanced out the window. He counted a dozen men, more than double the last attack. So they’d figured the people here might have mounted a defense and weren’t taking chances.
Jacoby smiled. That was fine by him. He and Alex had trained them well in the short time they’d had. It had been a long time since he’d been in a proper battle. He was looking forward to this one.