When Kira was first paired with Dylan she suspected this could happen. At some point she even thought about making it happen herself. But after a week with the human she thought he was improving. He still showed clear anxiety and even fear. But it had been tempering and she knew he even saw her as his guardian in more than just name.
Every human soldier in this program was a veteran. While Kira's battalion was certainly not inexperienced – they had seen plenty of action from piracy control to organized warfare on various planets when hostilities with the Rynar flared up – many of the humans had seen fighting that would keep more than a few people up at night. There appeared to be a growing belief about the little aliens that they had a special kind of mental endurance. Surely the fact that they had the will to stand and resist those much larger than themselves was a testament to their strength? Perhaps it was. But they were just people too. Dylan was not just a testament to humanity's spirit but also proof that they had the same fears and troubles anyone else could develop.
There were protocols in place to assess soldiers to see if they were fit for duty. The humans were not exempt from this and now Dylan may very well have earned himself the honor of being the first human to be investigated. Kira and Mitchell’s mech stood in front of a desk. The human pilot was standing on the lowered deck of his machine. Before them was Major Ufurin, the battalion commander, rechecking the report from last night. He silently scanned over the projection before sighing and shaking his head. “You know this is a pretty clear case. I wouldn't be surprised if they just took one look at this report then immediately sent him home with Kemeng.” The two fixed him with pleading looks, wishing for him to do something. “Oh come now, you both know a soldier, a medic even, with this many problems has no place on the battlefield. The poor kid should have taken his leave of the military when he had the chance. Besides, I wouldn’t even be able to do anything if I wanted to. Investigations like this aren’t my call.” If Kira weren’t a good soldier she would remind him that he allowed the report to get past him and up the chain in the first place. But that was just Ufurin being a good soldier himself.
“You read the dossier I gave you, right?” Mitchell asked as he sat down on the edge of his mech's platform. The tiger flicked an ear in confirmation. “So you know what he can do.”
“Yes. But that’s all the past. The war's over and his demons could have caught up to him.” Ufurin leaned back in his chair. “He has a lot of potential to be an incredible soldier, though.”
Kira spoke next, “He's been improving with me. I think his condition can only get better in this program.”
“Then what was that last night?” Ufurin shot back.
“I don't know, sir.” Kira wanted to say it was just a fluke, but she wasn't sure. It was a very bad episode of his trauma affecting him. Worse even than when they were first paired. He wasn't crying when they initially met.
The tiger shifted his attention to Mitchell for his opinion. “I agree with Kira, sir. That was a bump in the road, but it's to be expected.” Kira perked up at that. Mitchell said precisely what she wanted to say herself. “He did decline the offer to go home.” Kira's ear flicked at the mention of declining to go home, but otherwise didn't look confused. Dylan must have been given some kind of offer to leave and not face the investigation. “I know he wants to be here. He probably knows he can handle this. That he can beat it.”
The major cocked his head. “Why? Why does he want to be here? Can he not overcome his problems at home?”
“If I had to wager a guess, home is a part of the problem.” At the officer's confused look Mitchell elaborated, “He may not have anything to return to. If the Guard doesn't take him back or discharges him for trauma, then he could have absolutely nothing, which would ruin him further. Kira, did he ever mention his family?”
“No. He's avoided talking about them entirely.”
“They could have perished. He's from Annapolis. That city was wiped out right along with the nation’s capital.” Mitchell shook his head sadly. “There's a significant suicide rate among the surviving Maryland and Virginian troops in the same situation. Now I'm not saying Maddock is suicidal, but he is better off than many of those boys and this program may very well be why. He's not totally focused on the past here.”
Ufurin cocked a brow at his charge. “Are you a psychologist now, Sam?”
The human shrugged. “Nah, but I do read a lot and have my ways of getting ahold of information.”
“Just like you get ahold of your smoking drug?” The tiger grinned toothily at his charge.
The man shrugged carelessly and looked totally neutral as he said back to his guardian, “I have no idea what you're talking about, sir.”
“Of course not. Now, for what it's worth... I don't want to see Private Maddock removed. But it's not my decision. You both may want to think up good things to say for your interviews. Dismissed.”
Mitchell got up and sealed his mech closed. The machine then followed the other sergeant out. Once the pair left the administrative building, they headed off for the battalion's barracks. Kira spared a glance to Mitchell with a worried look in her eye. Could he be right about Dylan losing his family? If that happened to her, she would be devastated. But Dylan seemed afraid, not heartbroken. “Mitchell... I think you may be wrong on Dylan losing everything.”
“Come now. Think about it. Nearly everything about him has been fear related.”
“That's only what’s visible. Don't push the matter. He probably suppresses a lot of memories and emotions.”
The day after the film night was a day to escape the regimented training, or lecturing as it had been so far. Much to the relief of the humans in the barracks today was not a day Mitchell would come barging in to get them all on a run that would leave them passed out in their guardians' hands. Instead, the lights just came on to encourage the men to rouse.
Dylan sat there motionless, already awake with his uniform ruffled from sleeping in it. He wasn't shaking, crying, or anything else. All he was doing was silently staring ahead. The others awoke around him and there were a few curious mentions of the traumatized medic. Some wondered if he lapsed into another stupor. He had picked up on this and simply held a thumb up to let everyone know he was okay and lucid.
From his past experiences he knew what was wrong. He was in some kind of state of exhaustion. It was like his mind was sick of its problems and just decided to make them go away for a while. He had a dreamless sleep. So no nightmares plagued him that night. But never the less he felt terrible for no clear reason. His mind wasn't plagued with bad memories, but simply wandered from thought to thought tiredly. It was depression, and he hoped it would not last long. Perhaps he could find something to do to cheer him up. It was a free day after all.
The door leading out to the giant barracks slid open and Sam marched in. The master sergeant's eyes quickly settled on Dylan and he beckoned for him to come. The medic reluctantly got up and followed the older man out to the balcony. When the door closed behind them Mitchell turned on his heel and asked, “How are you feeling?”
Dylan locked eyes with him. “Like shit. But better now.”
“You look like shit. Try to straighten up and not look like you're ready to off yourself.”
The medic frowned at him, immediately wary of what was going to come out of the older man’s mouth next. “Why?”
“You're going to be investigated today. An evaluation to see if you're fit to serve.”
“Fuck...” He scowled angrily and looked down. That was what he was afraid to hear. He was surprised it took them this long to get on his case. He was starting to think they were ignoring it. But he must have made too much of a scene to keep that up.
When he looked up again the other man had fixed him with a worried expression. “It's not too late to go for a voluntary discharge.”
The medic shook his head. “No. No I don't want to go back to Earth.”
He didn't say anything back for a few moments as he thought about what to say. His fists clenched and he bit back saying ‘None of your business’ in favor of, “My future isn't there.”
Mitchell sighed and shook his head, obviously not satisfied with that answer. “I think they're going to want more than that during your interview.”
“Does the UTO like to go digging in personal matters?” Discussing this was hardly a good way to get out of his slump. What a wonderful time to be investigated.
“Son, why you want to stay here when you have the option to leave will be important to them. The truth may be hard to think about, but it could win points in your favor.”
Dylan scanned over Sam's face. He had a soft look in his eyes, as if he sympathized with the younger man. The sergeant seemed to know many things. Perhaps he knew about this? The medic hesitated, but his fists finally unclenched. “I- I can't leave the military. The Guard would have discharged me at some point. I didn't expect to be sent here, but now that I am, I think it's my chance to...” He trailed off, but the other man patiently waited for him to either continue or end it there. He looked down once more and finished with, “my chance to start again.” That was a part of it. He mostly just wanted to escape the void that was his ruined life on Earth. But out here, perhaps he could fill that void with a purpose. Something to keep him going. He felt he needed that or else he could end up in a bad place.
Mitchell nodded slowly. “I'll do what I can to put points in your favor. Now go get yourself ready. This is going to be a quick investigation. If you're to be discharged, they'll want it done before Kemeng's ship leaves.” He held up his hand to stop the inevitable question. “Yeah, I know. Ridiculously short amount of time. No I don’t know why.”
Dylan merely cocked a brow at the absurdly small amount of time before he moved to go and get ready, but stopped himself and turned back to the sergeant. “Am I going to talk to them by myself?”
“Is that a problem? Perhaps I could let you talk to them from the deck of my mech.”
The medic's hand awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck. “Actually, could Kira be there with me?”
Mitchell failed to hold back a grin. “We'll see.”
This wasn't quite how anyone hoped to start his or her weekend. Some wanted to go out into the nearby city, Torsiah. A few wanted to try some things in the simulations, perhaps with their charges if they were. Others just wanted to relax for the day, read, and maybe play a few games. But then second platoon was slapped with the orders to remain in their quarters along with the rest of the guardians and charges. Kira was already prepared for it, so she didn't join in with the chorus of frustrated groans and shouts of disapproval. She simply sat on her bunk and watched the entrance to the room, expecting the investigators to show up at any moment.
Nothing happened, so she sighed and laid back onto her bed and started to mull over what they may ask and what she would answer during her interview. What would the first question be? 'Do you think he's crazy?' That may be too blunt and hurtful. The human obviously wasn't insane, just damaged.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the deep voice of Larish reaching her ears. “He has one break and they immediately jump on it.”
The wolfess looked down at the end of her bed where the corporal was standing. “I'm sure they've been aware of his problems for a while now. They probably can't keep ignoring it.”
“Do you think it's just a formality? If they've been ignoring it, then maybe they want to keep him.”
“Perhaps...” That thought did occur to her.
“I hope so. He just needs time. Besides, the simulations are proof of how collected he is in combat.”
Hatia the gryphoness abruptly poked her head around the large frame of Larish. “I hope so too! I like him, he seems nice and, you know, he killed all of those Rynar in the simulation. He's a tiny little bad donkey.”
“Ah, what?” Larish side stepped, bringing the gryphoness into full view and he looked at her quizzically. “A donkey?”
“No, what? Not a donkey! Butt! Bad. Butt. It basically means really awesome. Or something like that.”
The two chuckled and Kira brought her palm to her muzzle and shook her head. “Oh yes, bad butt. His doesn't even have a tail.”
“What?” Hatia looked at the other female as if she were speaking nonsense. “No! Bad donkey.”
“You just said it's not donkey. Is it donkey or is it butt?” Larish asked with an amused smirk.
“Right, sorry. Donkey. I'm pretty sure.” She had a silly grin at the edges of her beak. “But that is what it is. They literally say bad donkey.”
The wolfess scratched her head in thought “Isn't that some kind of farm animal?” Kira vaguely recalled something called a donkey when she figured out chickens.
Hatia fluttered a wing in acknowledgment. “The human who told me this term described a donkey as a stinky horse that can't reproduce.”
“Are you sure it isn't just an insult?” Larish asked. “I cannot fathom how being a bad stinky horse that can't reproduce is a compliment.”
They managed to get in a few minutes of conversation before their company commander, a Neishor like Larish, Captain Misia Jill, entered the room with four unfamiliar people in tow. “Second platoon!” He hollered out. “This is Captain Duntay,” He pointed out a male Viliti, a rabbit, “and his team. You don't need me to tell you why they're here. Do what they say and you all can be out of here soon.”
Duntay stepped forward. “Hello all! I apologize for having to keep you here. We will do our best to make this go by quick. So straight to business then.” His Yutri, which he had attached to his wrist, flared up with a projection. “Corporal Ni'ik, Corporal Pafil, Corporal Ahnel, and Sergeant Rottjir, if you would please follow us.” Larish, Sior, Hatia, and Kira stepped out from the rest of the soldiers and approached the officers. They turned and walked back out the door they came in from. This brought them to a hallway, with left leading outside and straight across being first platoon's quarters. Right down the corridor offered a few offices provided to the officers as well as stairwell access, then further on more quarters and offices as one went deeper into the building. “You're with me, sergeant.” The rabbit said over his shoulder. His underlings took the others and they all split up towards different offices.
Kira followed the captain into a little room she recognized as the one Fahne was provided. The rabbit gestured towards a chair across from the compact desk. Kira took it and the officer sat at the desk. He very delicately and neatly moved some of the owner's stuff out of the way then removed his Yutri and placed it down. It projected a computer interface with a screen and a keyboard for him to interact with. The screen was set up so it projected a solid gray back, preventing anyone from trying to see or read what the user was doing. He shifted it a bit so he could see her and type at the same time. He punched in a few items then looked at her.
“Good morning, sergeant. I figured before I speak to your charge I should meet you and get your questions out of the way, let you say what you want to say. That way, I think you would feel a bit more relaxed during Maddock's interview.”
“Relaxed? Am I going to be here for it?”
“Indeed. He was apparently not happy with the idea of being alone during his interview, but turned down Master Sergeant Mitchell's offer of using his mech and wanted you to be there instead.”
“Really?” The wolfess perked up and looked excited at that.
“Is that surprising? You are his guardian.”
Kira immediately suspected this was perhaps a bait for information and thought about her words carefully. “No, not so much. He has adapted well to me, all things considered. It's just a very pleasant feeling knowing he prefers my presence over a mech's.”
She seemed to suspect correctly when he started typing. “I can imagine. What information we have collected so far has shown most guardians grow rather protective of their charges. Seeing that protection appreciated certainly must feel rewarding. This is also why I think it’s a good idea to speak to you first.” He rested his hands on the desk and looked her squarely in the eyes. “I'm simply here to determine if his perceived problems could endanger other soldiers or even himself. I then determine what action to take. Whether that be discharge, transfer, staying on with therapy sessions, or nothing at all. I am an impartial party in this, so I am not here with any predetermined goals. Do you understand?”
That did put Kira at ease. She had never been involved in something like this, so she was glad to hear he wasn't trying to take Dylan away. “I do. But why not just begin with therapy sessions? I'm not a doctor but even I can tell you he needs someone to talk to.”
“I only have until the ship carrying Corporal Gongsun leaves to handle this investigation.” He seemed rather bitter about that. “So it would be prudent to assess if there is a need for Maddock's discharge or transfer while I can.”
That was curious. From her understanding these things could take days to weeks, as they would be very thorough. Why did Duntay have such a miniscule amount of time? This investigator was being a lot more straightforward than Kira imagined. It was rather comforting. So maybe he would actually answer that question. “That's it? All the time you have? Why?”
“That's not really important.” He smiled at her. “Now, I don't want to keep these soldiers here longer than needed, so let's get to my questions, yes?” Kira folded an ear in assent. “Alright. How much of an understanding do you have on the origin of his problems?”
“I know he was in the bombardment zone for the duration of the war. I know he saw some atrocities and much of his unit was wiped out, but that's about it. He refuses to talk about it.” She'd taken to respecting his wishes and actively avoided the subject entirely. She had her guesses on more, particularly influenced by Mitchell's earlier thoughts, but she wasn’t about to provide theories that could serve as more ammunition for Dylan's discharge.
“Do you know if he has trouble sleeping?”
“He has nightmares, I know that. And before you ask I don't know about what. He doesn't talk about that either. Whether it harms his sleep, I don't know. He doesn't seem for lack of energy.” He seemed to keep up with Mitchell's idea of physical training well enough, which was actually very impressive.
“Has he shown any signs of insubordination?”
“None.” That was the truth. Although there have not been many situations for him to be insubordinate. The current phase of the program was more learning than doing so far.
“So no lack of discipline?”
“How about his military bearing?”
“How do you mean?”
“Laziness, messiness, performance in action...”
“No.” She cocked her head. “Although, have you reviewed the simulations?” He bowed his head in acknowledgment. “Well, then you saw in one of them he beat a Rynar to death with a shovel. I hope you don't consider that 'lack of military bearing?'” The shovel was a prized tool for soldiers and certainly a capable weapon. She was just worried if this desk pinned lapine didn't know that.
He chuckled and shook his head. “Oh no, I know what you're thinking. You think I'd see that as a sign of over aggression and lack of control from him. I know using a shovel as a weapon is perfectly acceptable. It's an easier weapon to use if one lacks adequate knife training. Although his failure to remember the Rynar had a knife was probably more of the sign of lost control. But, it could have just as easily been a mistake, one he could learn from.”
Kira nodded in agreement. “I think it was just a mistake. The military branch he came from was more of a well equipped militia than highly trained soldiers.”
“Perhaps you're right. Now, that was all the questions I had. Do you have anything you would like to add?”
“No.” She was certain she would think of something as soon as she left, but at least she would be here with Dylan and have the chance to say what she missed. “And that's it? Just, what, five questions then we're done?”
“Like I said, not a lot of time, and this isn't a deep head exam anyway. Just a bunch of simple questions. Now please go get your charge. I'll be right here.”
Kira deftly stood up and walked out of the room. She headed back to her platoon's section, all the while thinking about how anticlimactic that was. Perhaps she just saw the situation at hand as a bigger conflict than it actually was. She was worried that she would face a series of aggressive questions from someone looking to get Dylan kicked out and taken away from her. But instead a rather pleasant officer that seemed to be very open to the whole situation asked her a few questions. It actually looked like she had nothing to worry about. Surely Duntay would understand Dylan wasn't detrimental to the unit? He just needed more time, with good company, with her.
She quietly scoffed. The wolfess was so very biased, and she knew it. She really wanted a human charge. But what she wanted wasn't necessarily best for everyone else or even Dylan himself. That was something she just had to accept. The sergeant entered her platoon's section, ignoring the looks of interest directed at her, and bee lined for the humans gathered along the catwalk and transfer pad.
Once they saw her coming someone grabbed Dylan's attention. The man pushed off from leaning against the railing and walked passed all his fellows, receiving wishes of good luck and a few pats on the back, as he stepped out onto the transfer pad. Kira laid her hand out for him. As usual he paused, unexpectedly, it was a long pause. However, to her it looked more like worry than a brief flash of fear. He then stepped aboard and sat in the center of her palm. She slowly moved him to the standard carry position and spun around to head back to Duntay.
“So...” she began, “you chose me over Mitchell.”
“Yeah.” His tone was flat and rather resigned. He seemed to hold a lot less hope for this than she did. He would probably brighten up after meeting Duntay.
“Thank you. It means a lot.”
She felt him stroke her thumb fur. “I hope this captain sees that too.”
Her ears folded slightly. “You wanted to be with me to help your case?”
He didn't say anything back to that. Her mood was dampened somewhat by it, but she was still happy to be with him for this. She also liked to imagine he saw her as a comforting presence like he apparently saw her as before, despite the current dire situation. She returned to the office to find Duntay patiently waiting for them. Kira sat back down in the seat and placed Dylan in her lap.
The rabbit bowed his head in greetings and looked down at the human. “Good morning Private Maddock.” Dylan didn't respond to the greeting, but Kira did feel the familiar sensation of her charge pressing his back against her abdomen.
The wolfess nudged him with her thumb. Being rude was hardly going to help his case. That prompted the medic to speak. “Good morning, sir.” She expected a quiet and shaky voice, but he actually said it loud and plainly.
The officer leaned back in his seat, presumably to seem less threatening. “Now, I'll tell you the same thing I told Kira. I approach this impartially. Which means I'm not here solely to look for reasons to discharge you. That could happen, but so could a transfer, or required therapy, or even nothing at all. I'm simply trying to decide what is best for you and your unit. Understood?”
“Yeah, now just get to your questions.” His guardian poked him with her thumb again. “Please.”
“Very well.” He leaned forward again to access his computer. “Now, the most pressing issue about this whole thing was the way you locked up during your episode. I already have the details from Dahashi, so I do know what happened. You only reacted when someone finally touched you. That sounds like you lost yourself in your thoughts. Was it a flashback, perhaps?”
“How often do these occur?”
“Before this one, last one was a month ago. They started to slow down a month before that.”
“Do they just happen or are they triggered?”
He seemed to think about it for a few moments as he looked down at Kira's black pads. “Both, I guess?” Duntay gave him a curious look and was about to ask when Dylan went on. “They used to randomly come on just from thinking about something. Not so much now. Though I don't really test it. I just try to stop thinking about it and that helps. But... a couple of sounds last night seemed to trigger it before I could do that.” A frowned pursed Kira's muzzle. Last night was full of friendly conversation and relaxation. Dylan himself seemed to be having a good time with the other humans when she glanced over. What could possibly have triggered a flashback that would leave him crying?
Apparently Duntay had a similar thought as he asked, “What sounds made it happen? From my understanding it was a very friendly evening.”
“Some giant opened a can, I heard a buzzing sound... these things don't normally trigger anything. I like to think it was my mind deciding it was too happy so it did something about it.” Kira winced. She highly doubted there was any merit to that, but avoiding happiness for fear of a relapse was a very disheartening thought.
“Are you certain those sounds triggered it? Triggers could come from many strange things, but those seem particularly random.” Kira had to agree with that. How could a canned drink cause a mental breakdown?
“The buzz managed to end up sounding like a vehicle engine, somehow. The can... I- I don't want to talk about that one. But it was certainly relevant to something.” The human's flat voice broke into a blatant flash of fear that did not go unnoticed by his guardian.
“Of course. Is the experience you remembered a primary cause of your troubles?”
Rather unexpectedly, Dylan laughed. It was a bitter and stressed laugh. “It's just one of many.”
Duntay showed no signs of worry at that as he went on to the next question. “Do you have nightmares of your experiences?”
“Practically every night.” The way he just said it as if it were no big deal was rather disturbing.
“Do they keep you up?”
“Not anymore. I just deal with it and sleep right through most of them.” That was a good sign, right? The less he was affected by it, the better.
“I have a recurring dream that never happened. So far it's woken me up every time.” It never happened? What an odd thing, for the worst nightmare he has to be one that never was.
Duntay apparently found that as curious as Kira did as he asked, “What happens in this recurring dream?”
“Can't we just call it a point against my favor?” It was clear Dylan didn't want to talk about it, but the lapine fixed him with a look that said he wouldn't take no for an answer. Dylan hesitated for a few moments, but the officer waited patiently for him to collect his thoughts. “It's a stormy night, three wounded civilians and I are taking shelter in a home. I treat their wounds and I watch the darkness, checking each window. I briefly scavenge for medical supplies. Then...” He paused. Kira looked down to see him staring down at her palm. She sensed a flash of fear come from him. This dragged on for a few seconds, but Duntay said nothing as he waited. “Then, a... Rynar attacks. Grabs two of the civilians. I shoot at it. No effect. It eats half of one, then crushes the other in its grip.” Kira's free hand trembled slightly as she imagined crushing a human in her grasp. It balled up into a fist to try to stop the shaking, but then she just imagined a human pulped inside her grip. Then it opened again. She felt herself wanting to wretch at the thought, but remained neutral as the officer went on.
“This dream... is it always the same?”
“No. Sometimes I'll realize it's a dream. That may be why it always gets to me. It ends up feeling so very real. Well, I've tried a lot of things. Like meet the monster outside and try to draw it away from the house. It never works. It gets them every time.” That part seemed particularly troubling to him, that the civilians were killed each time.
“Have you ever tried to flee? To just escape the monster by yourself?”
“That... actually has never crossed my mind.” Never? So he never tried to save just himself. That actually lined up very well with his performance in the simulations.
“I see... alright, moving on. Would you say your trauma makes you more afraid of your larger allies than most humans are?” Kira's ears folded very slightly at that question. That answer was rather clear.
“Yeah. Though I've been adapting. Doing a lot better than when I first met Kira.”
“How did that go?”
“I locked up and almost fainted.”
The wolfess couldn't help but blurt out as she looked down at him, amused, “Faint? You almost fainted?”
Duntay interjected before Dylan could respond. “So you were swept with fear? Have you ever seized up in combat?”
“Nope.” The rabbit stared at the human for a few moments as he seemed to be analyzing his honesty. Kira herself questioned it. locking up was not a damning sign, but Dylan claiming he had never done so, particularly during his time in the zone, was very questionable. He eventually relented and typed something on to his computer.
“Last question. I know you've been presented the option to gracefully withdraw yourself from this program on your third day here. Why do you choose to stay and risk making things worse for yourself?” He had the option to leave? Kira had no idea. And he turned it down? She figured Dylan would take such an opportunity. Normally you cannot just leave military service on a whim.
“I think I'm better off here than home, captain.”
Duntay quirked a brow. “Indeed? You don't think spending time with your friends and family, at home, and having access to help at your size is better than more military service, in particular service with giants?”
“I think it would make things worse, actually.” His flat tone wavered again. Kira got the sneaking suspicion that Mitchell's guess about her charge's family may be in the right.
“Support circles are very important. You could develop them with your comrades, but family and close friends are best. I imagine the fighting saw many of them perish, but that just means you need them all the more. Trying to escape the fact of their deaths is not a good idea at all.” Kira had to agree with Duntay on that one, even though she didn't want to. Her charge was already afraid of most giants. How could he possibly take this over trying to heal with loved ones? “However. It's very important that you tell me why you think it's a bad idea.”
Dylan hesitated again. It was now that Kira picked up a very disconcerting scent from him. “All family I cared about is dead. What friends I had are dead. My home is destroyed. My unit was annihilated, a quarter of the survivors have killed themselves and the rest were being transferred as casualties were too high to call it a unit anymore. There's nothing but bad memories and a dark future left for me on Earth.” Both Duntay and Kira were silent. That scent Kira was picking up was most certainly that of extreme grief. She did not think he was lying. This had to be why he always avoided subjects like this. They were just too painful. Her ears folded as he went on. “I guess that was the bigger reason I volunteered for this. Yeah I want to see space and alien worlds and such, of course. But... a far-fetched hope that I could look for a new future was probably the bigger desire. So far, I think it's working pretty good.” Kira locked eyes with Duntay. This was a big deal, wasn't it? As far as she knew, whether a soldier had anything to return to was a major factor in these kinds of investigations.
“I see,” Duntay slowly said back and entered some things into his computer. “I'm very sorry to hear that. But I thank you for telling me. This is very important.” The rabbit looked at the little alien again. “That's it. If I had more time I would have many more questions that the psychologist part of me is aching to ask.” He smiled softly. “Do you have anything to add?”
“Then you are both dismissed. Could you direct Corporal Shaw to me?”
“With his guardian?” Kira asked.
“Both of them would be fine, it would hasten the interview process.” Kira flicked an ear in acknowledgment and stood up with Dylan still held to her stomach. “Thank you for your time, but you’re still contained to the barracks,” the rabbit added. “I may be asking for you two at the end of the interviews.”
Kira flicked her ear again then turned on the spot and headed out of the room. Once the door closed she was about to ask her charge if he wanted to go back to the barracks when he spoke first. “Could you take me back? I'd like to brood in silence.”
She frowned, but kept on walking, taking him exactly where he wanted to go. “Come now, I think it went well.” As sad as it was, she was quite sure 'dead family' was something in his favor when it came to discharge.
“Wow you're an optimist aren't you? I have a hard time seeing how anyone would reach the conclusion that I'm fit for duty.” She could detect a streak of frustrated anger in his tone.
She walked out into second platoon’s room then called out, “Corporal Nahtur! Collect Corporal Shaw and report to Captain Duntay in Lieutenant Kulhsah’s office.” She spotted the vulpine come out from one of the groups and go straight for the transfer pad, so she decided to wait for him to pick up Cody. She looked back down at Dylan. “Do you think you're fit for duty?” Would his thoughts on that even hold any merit? She had seen soldiers that wanted out. Dylan apparently wanted to stay, so surely he wasn't that crippled by this.
“Yeah, I do, actually. Put me into a hard spot and everything goes to the back of my mind. I know I can keep up in a fight. But people would still see me as a risk. And that's fine. That's reasonable. I don't blame them. But I don't want to go home. I just can't.” Trikil moved away from the transfer pad with Cody, so she stepped forward, but didn’t immediately let her charge off. She had a sad look on her muzzle as she kept her eyes on him. Was his family really all dead? She couldn't imagine suffering through that. She actually had a bit of a hard time believing it. She would be an absolute wreck. Dylan here, while certainly not in a good state, didn't seem like he was wallowing in grief. But then, she never had to experience the things he had.
Finally, she moved her holding hand down to the pad for him to get off. “Dylan, what you said back there. About your home and everything. Is it true?”
He hopped down out of her palm and turned to look at her. He had a neutral front, but she swore his little face looked like it was struggling to maintain that. “There's nothing for me back on Earth. Maybe I'll tell you about it after this is over and we're alone. Maybe.” He then spun on his heel and marched towards the human quarters, leaving Kira mulling over his words. Nothing for him? Even if he lost everything, he still had his life. That was at least a point where one could start again, and further military service just did not seem like the best option.
She turned back around and scanned the other soldiers in the barracks. If she was stuck here, then she was going to start prodding the others to see how their interviews went. A few others were already looking at her, likely curious about what her own was like. She ignored them and sought out the other three that went in first. She rounded up all three corporals so that they had a little circle then she laid it out, “What did you guys say?”
Hatia's wings fluttered wide. “I ended up talking about how sweet of a medic he is and how awesome he is and how cute he is.”
Kira chuckled and cocked her head. At least she said good things. “How cute he is?”
“Yeah! That was just kind of a joke, though. I mean, he is, but I doubt 'we need more humans for morale' is a good defense.” The group laughed lightly at that. “But on a serious note, I did emphasize how cool and collected he was. It's nothing they don't really know, though. They saw the sims.” A frown broke across the edges of her beak. “But that's really all I can say. He just seems to avoid everyone but other humans. You really need to open him up, Kira.”
“Indeed.” Larish said as he scratched the underside of his muzzle. “I was hoping I could encourage him after the first sim, when I talked to him.”
Kira shifted her attention from the gryphoness to the equine. “You know I still appreciate that.” She looked to the rest of the group. “And I'm trying! He's been getting better. I'm hoping once we get into the more interactive training the adaptation will help his confidence with talking to the rest of you on his own.”
“Assuming he'll still be around for that,” Sior added.
Kira fixed him with a wary look. “Did you say anything bad?”
“Bad? No, just honest. And nothing they didn't already know.” They all looked at him, curious about what the wolf said. “I told them he disobeyed an order. At least initially. I don't think it was the right call, so we both messed up there.”
“Not the right call?” Hatia squawked. “He got five of them by himself!”
“He died!” Sior shot back. “I should have had him go with the wounded, but I was worried for myself and my team, and I think he was just out for blood.”
Kira frowned and looked at him like he was a fool. “He's a medic, it's quite literally his job to worry about you. He didn't go looking to kill, he just wanted to help.”
“He did stop to engage those Rynar,” Sior stated flatly.
That was a very risky move. Room clearing with only one soldier without even knowing the layout of the room, how big it was, how many were inside, and how well a grenade's damage would spread were all factors that required a well trained team to pull off effectively. Dylan really did just get supremely lucky. Kira wasn't sure what to say to that. But Larish saved her from having to say anything. “The AIs did say the haze messed with the humans. Made them crave killing Rynar, beyond just being the enemy.”
Hatia and Kira nodded in agreement while Sior shrugged and said, “Yeah, I suppose. I guess it's not really his fault, then. Hrm, I hope they remember that part when they judge him. Er, sorry about that.”
Kira didn't immediately say anything back to her corporal. She was rather agitated that he said something negative about her charge. But she eventually shrugged and shook her head. “You were just being honest.” She couldn't fault him for doing exactly what was required – tell his thoughts. It just agitated her that it could be points against Dylan.
Seeing an opening, Larish decided to provide his own story. “I didn't really say much. I just said I think he may very well be a fantastic medic with experience that could make him one of the best in the battalion.”
“He's not THAT experienced.” Hatia added. “I mean, he's from a militia, isn't he?”
Rather abruptly the other medic in the platoon, Tihiri the black fox, apparently heard that and shouted across the room, “He's pretty good, actually! Calm and collected as well! That's very important!”
Someone else, a lion from Yirshan's squad, Private Gahly Nunnet shot back, “Apparently not, since we're here!”
Tihiri started to bicker with the other soldier when Yirshan returned from her own interview. The dragoness immediately sought out Kira and walked over to her. The wolfess was about to ask her what she told them but Yirshan spoke first. “All I told him was how he was afraid during our first meeting, but he was friendly in the simulations and seemed very nice. That's all I really know.” She looked like she wanted to say something more, but hesitated.
“Is something wrong?” Kira asked.
She looked down at the ground, then back up to the wolfess. “No, he just prodded at me some about Kemeng. I think he was making sure I didn't do anything to him.” She growled softly. “What does he think I am? I signed up for this! I wanted a charge! Why would I try to do anything to damage that?! I can't just switch them out! I lost my shot because somehow some diminutive little vermin got into the program and got himself kicked out!”
Hatia rested a hand on her sergeant's shoulder. “Come now, calm down. Talking like that will make sure you never get one again.”
Yirshan snorted. “Knowing my luck, after this they'll just start pairing humans with new recruits and I'll definitely never get one again anyway.”
Sior cocked his head at her. “Wow, what brought this on? You didn't seem that upset over losing Kemeng.”
“Kemeng's a bastard.” The dragoness growled out. “So good riddance. But... I saw Soli nuzzle his charge and they both liked it. It just... I don't know. I guess I want that and now I can't have it.”
Hatia giggled and looked in the direction of Corporal Soli Yulich, a male gryphon talking to his charge on the catwalk. “Hah! I didn't know he was such a downy ball. And, uh, actually I didn't think you were either, sarge.”
Yirshan rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah, I'm just covered in down feathers. I want to rub a human all over it.” She shook her head. “Yeah, I'd like to be close to one. It's pretty cute. But you know, I could imagine some interesting games.”
Larish fixed her with a wary look. “I'm assuming you don't mean simulation games?”
The scaled sergeant fluttered a wing in acknowledgment. “Hide and seek, chase, teasing. Things are that are very different since they're so small.”
Larish shook his head. “That could get dangerous and teasing may be rather cruel.”
“Oh come now.” The dragoness looked dejected that the equine would think it's a bad idea. “I KNOW I can be very gentle and all you need is a human open to things like that. Like Lieutenants Tahsah and Fletcher! You guys know how she put her charge in her mouth!”
Larish shrugged. “I suppose...”
Yirshan continued, “I bet Tahsah chases Fletcher all over her quarters and they have a wonderful time.”
Larish held up his hand then. “Now hold on, that's just silly and dangerous.”
“You're not a predator.” She deadpanned back, and then looked to the wolfess of the group. “Kira, you've imagined things like that, haven't you? Don't lie.” She looked like she really wanted her friend to side with her.
“I have,” the other sergeant answered. She rarely ever entertained the thoughts, however. Dylan would probably never be receptive to something like that so there was no sense in teasing herself all the time. “But I don't really think about it much. I have to be careful just nuzzling Dylan.”
“Of course. But I don't think Dylan is the right kind for it. But you would like that, right?” Kira flicked her ear as a yes. Little games exploiting the size difference would be rather interesting.
Hatia laughed softly. “You guardians really are strange.”
Yirshan scoffed and held her muzzle up high. “You're just jealous.”
The gryphoness giggled again, “If I was, then I wouldn't be jealous of you anymore.”
The dragoness growled at the corporal, then relented in defeat. “Stupid little monkey...” She muttered under her breath.
Dylan sat at the side of his bed with black earbuds loudly blaring into his ears. His legs were shaking as his head hung low with his eyes shut tight. It wasn't sad music for him to wallow in. He muttered softly along with the lyrics as it played. They were words meant to strengthen and motivate. His lip quivered and he scowled. He tore the earpieces out and tossed them onto the bed, still playing. He always liked music that was encouraging. He listened to it a lot more over the past few months. But it didn't always help. A sob wracked his body and he shook his head. He opened his eyes to look down at his boots. A tear dripped down to patter onto one of the toes.
He was terribly afraid of getting removed from this program. But now on top of that he was thinking of home. If he could call it that. He considered himself lucky that he was not that close to his family, particularly his more distant relatives. But it still hurt. It hurt so very much. He loved his mother and even little brother, despite how much of a pain in the ass that squirrely bastard was. He felt himself laugh softly as he recalled his brother's tendency to whine and moan at him until he let him borrow his car, and how much that infuriated him. He would take a lifetime of that just to have him back. He recalled his mother's support to get him through college. Her patience, encouragement, and her disappointment. He sighed and shook his head. He was an awful student. She could not believe he dropped out then immediately joined the military. But then she went right to what she always did. Encourage and support him. He felt himself calming down as he lost himself in the memory of the two, rather than the anguish of their loss.
His attention shifted to the door coming from the giants' barracks as it slid open. Cody walked in looking rather confused, and Dylan could swear a little worried. He looked in his direction, then approached the medic. “Hey,” he started. The seated soldier nodded in response. “Uh, I know this whole thing is about you. But... you saw Duntay, right? Did he ask you anything about Kira?”
“No...” Dylan reached down and paused the MP3 player resting on his cot. “What, did he ask you about Trikil?”
He nodded. “Yeah, asked me if he's ever talked about anything that sounded like it might be a power fantasy.”
“Power fantasy? What?” This was certainly curious. Dylan thought back to Kira's request to keep an eye on Cody. He had, but he had never noticed anything off until now.
“I said the same thing. He said if I didn't immediately think of anything then there's nothing to be worried about.”
“So why are you worried?”
“I'm not worried. Just curious.”
Dylan scoffed. “Come on, it's obvious you're a bit anxious.”
“Really?” He sighed and frowned. “Well. All of this is pretty fun. Exciting. I'm having the time of my life. But they're still giants, you know? Trikil seems nice, but that little talk with Duntay kind of scared me.” Dylan could certainly understand that. Every human in this program had to take any potential dangers to their safety very seriously. If you detected a problem with your guardian, the human had every right to see it as a big deal. The amount of power they held over their charges meant it was very easy to make a mistake that could be detrimental to the small one. Dylan had felt nothing wrong with Kira. But Cody, someone that seemed so open and happy about everything, had to have picked up on something if he was getting this worried.
“Are you sure you have not felt anything bad about Trikil? Be honest, Cody.” Dylan was sorely hoping everything was fine, but there was no way he would let something like this just slide.
“N-No, seriously, no. I mean, he can be a bit… uh, absentminded sometimes and he's said some strange stuff earlier in the week but that's nothing serious.”
“Being absentminded is pretty damn serious when he can break you with a finger, man.” The medic was incredulous that the other soldier did not find this to be a big problem. There was no way he would trust himself with Kira if she were not so totally aware of him and how she handled him.
“He's been getting better! Really, he has. Nothing like that grab a week ago.”
“Are you absolutely positive?”
“Y-Yeah, I am. I think. He really tries and he's pretty fun. I don't want him to lose his guardian status.”
Dylan eyed him for a few moments, before relenting. “If I don't get kicked out today, I'll be watching you.”
“You think you'll get the boot?”
“God, I hope not.”
As the list of soldiers to interview neared its end, Kira anxiously watched as the last few came back from their sessions. She stopped asking them anything. It tended to be all the same. So she just resigned herself to standing a small distance away from the door and waited for any call for Duntay to see her again.
She cocked her head when the next person to walk through it was Mitchell in his mech. It looked in her direction, then thumped right up to her and stood by her side. Over its speakers Mitchell asked, “How have things been going?”
“I think fairly well. Though I'm not sure, really.” She debated mentioning to Mitchell that he guessed correctly about Dylan and his home issue. In fact he was scarily correct. It made her wonder if he already knew. She decided against saying anything, however. This was something up to her charge to share.
“Did he mention his family?”
She tore her gaze off of the door to look at the mech suspiciously. “He did.”
“He said they're practically all gone, right? Didn't try to avoid it?” This time it came out over her earpiece rather than the mech's speakers.
Her mouth opened slightly in surprise and she cocked her head again. “Wait, you actually knew? It wasn't a guess? How did you know?”
“So I was right?”
So he didn't know. “Mitchell…” She growled softly at the machine. “Yes, you were right.”
They were both silent, likely thinking about the medic that lost everything and how that killed any conversation right in its tracks. They watched the last soldier return from their interview, a coyote that went by Private Vulric Kontish. He didn't call for anyone, not even Kira or Dylan as the wolfess was expecting. “Hey, Vul,” she said as she stopped him.
“Yeah?” He glanced at the mech next to her.
“They didn't ask for me?”
“No. Actually I think they're talking with each other now and we'll be able to leave soon. Finally.” He took her lack of response as permission to go and went off to vanish among the rest of the troops.
She only had a moment to feel disappointed that she wouldn't have the chance to try to say things in favor of Dylan before Mitchell's mech turned around and headed towards the bathroom at the back shared between second and fourth platoon. “Follow me, Kira. I have an idea.”
Without hesitation the wolfess followed the machine into the bathroom. She ignored the looks they were getting from her platoon mates as they more than likely wondered why a mech would possibly want to go in there. Mitchell then went right into one of the stalls and closed the door behind him. “Uh... Mitchell?” She asked with a cocked head as she looked at the closed door.
“Yeah, hold on.” She heard the sounds of the mech opening up, then the soft sound of a tiny rappel. She immediately looked down at the bottom of the door with her ears turned forward and listening closely. The diminutive form of the human sergeant crawled out from under it, wearing his armor, including the helmet. “Quick, pick me up, and drop me off in the hallway,” he demanded as he shot to his feet. Kira crouched down and he hopped aboard her palm. “Wrap me up in your hand and hold it against yourself.” She obliged and delicately closed her fingers around him as he laid down on her hand. She then walked out of bathroom and tried to keep her hand as hidden as possible as she returned to the entrance to second platoon’s quarters.
It slid open for her and she looked through to see if anyone was there. Seeing none, she placed Mitchell down onto the ground and quickly stepped back into the room. She didn't doubt that other soldiers were quite curious now. But she knew they would more than likely leave her be if it looked like she didn't want anyone interfering. She sat down on her bunk and settled in to wait. However, her Yutri got a request for an audio sharing from Mitchell. She accepted it, then listened.
At first she could just hear the human's movements as he ran down the hallway. But soon, voices started to come in, presumably as he made it to Duntay's temporary office.
“... I don't think staying here is good for him.” It sounded like one of the captain's underlings.
“I agree. That little blood rage he had in the simulation is way too bad of a sign. He shouldn't be here.”
“Indeed.” That sounded like Duntay. “Coupled with the family issue and where he was during the war... I don't think he needs more violence. What do you think, Nylac?”
“I have to agree. He can't stay here. He needs time to recover then maybe he can come back if he gets the chance.”
“Alright.” Duntay spoke again. “We don't have much time until the Karshi leaves with Corporal Gongsun. You three are dismissed and please inform second platoon and the guardian pairs that they are free to leave, except for Sergeant Rottjir and Private Maddock.” After that, there were the sounds of movement, and then Mitchell cut the feed.
He was going to leave with Kemeng. So they were going to discharge Dylan? He ears folded back. She was counting on some kind of transfer at the worst. How could they send him home to nothing? Surely he would only get worse! How could Duntay do this? She stood up when the officer's three partners entered the barracks. She idly pinged Dylan's Yutri and headed for the transfer pad when they dismissed everyone and called for her and her charge. She was the first at the pad and waited for him to arrive.
The door to the human quarter slid open and the medic went straight for her hand as his fellows cleared a path for him. She expected some kind of dejected doom walk. But he had his head held high and his back straight as he marched to her and hopped into her hand.
“You look... confident,” Kira remarked as she backed away from the pad and headed back to Duntay's room.
“No sense in letting what's coming drag me down. What happens, happens, you know? Being worried about it doesn't make it any better.” His voice was calm and steady.
“Last I saw you, you we're in a pretty bad state. Now you seem very calm. How do you manage that?”
“A lot of practice. But you know, before I had to worry about how I’d do in the interview. Now there’s nothing to do on my end, so no point in being worried, like I said.” They stopped talking then. Kira was starting to feel torn up inside and just wanted to quietly dwell on the fact that she would be losing her charge like Yirshan. But more tragic, because hers was actually rather sweet. As she went down the hall, she found Mitchell walking down it towards her, against the wall. She quickly collected him, much to Dylan's confusion, but the medic stayed silent.
The small sergeant nodded towards the other human then looked the wolfess in the eyes. “Put me in your pocket, Kira.” The guardian quickly obliged and slipped the man into one of the cargo pockets on her hips and carried on.
The door to Duntay's room was already open and he beckoned them in. Kira sat down just like before, but made sure her arm was not resting on the pocket Mitchell occupied. “Hello again,” the rabbit started. “So! Despite what little time we had, I'm absolutely sure-”
“Please don't discharge him,” Kira interrupted him. The officer paused with his mouth open, but snapped it closed and motioned for her to continue. “I know for a fact that Dylan is getting better, and his time with me is a big factor in that.”
The medic didn't say anything to that as Duntay looked down at him, but she assumed he nodded in agreement as the rabbit returned his attention to her. “Discharge? No no, that's the worst possible choice for him. With the time I have, I need to take his word for this. If he's telling the truth, then sending him home with nobody to support him would probably just be dooming him. I won't do that. And yes, I know you have had a good effect on him. That's why I think a transfer to a different unit is the best course of action. Specifically, the military hospital on Ashak. It has a small human integration program for medical purposes. It's technically a military posting, but he'll never have to see combat. Kira, you could come along and you'd receive a posting on the security team.”
Kira was silent, as well as Dylan. A transfer? She really should have expected that. It wasn't like her to jump to conclusions. She felt a mix of happiness, frustration and a bit of shame for letting her emotions get to her. She got her wish to still be a guardian. But a transfer to be a glorified orderly? No. No! That would stop her career dead in its tracks! She couldn't do that! That was NOT what she signed up for. “I can't do that.”
“Yes. I understand it is not a good posting at all for a soldier like you. But, it is your choice. I encourage it, however. It would be in the best interest of Dylan.”
“Yeah.” Dylan decided to speak at last. “But not for her. And this transfer is not good for me either, actually. Well damn, maybe it is. But no I don't want to do that. I want to stay here!”
Duntay looked down at him, confused. “What? You would escape combat duties, still get to treat people, and hopefully have Kira.”
“I don't want out of a combat posting. Don't you think I knew I would risk seeing more fighting by volunteering for this? Fighting isn't the goddamn problem with me, anyway. I KNOW I'll get over this. When I do, a hospital posting will drive me nuts.”
“You could transfer back out of that posting, you know.”
“I suppose. But I want to do it with Kira, and if she came then that would just clog up her career. I don't want that.” Kira's tail wagged gently. She found it sweet that he was thinking about what she wanted out of this.
“I'm afraid you don't have a choice in this. I'm certain this is the best option for you. So, go pack your belongings, Private Maddock, and report to the Karshi with Corporal Gongsun. Sergeant Rottjir, will you be joining him?”
She sighed and looked down at her charge. He met her gaze with a hard look. “Kira, don't do it. I'll be fine.”
She looked back up at Duntay. “I don't suppose I'll somehow get a new charge if I decline?”
“No. The only chance you have is if one of the other guardians loses their guardianship status. Even then, Sergeant Kultak is ahead of you due to Corporal Gongsun's discharge.”
She thought about it for a few moments. As much as she enjoyed being a guardian, she was not going to handicap her career for it when even Dylan himself did not want her to do that. “I will not accept this transfer.” Her thumb immediately moved to stroke her now lost charge. She could still sense it. Disappointment. She did not fault him. She doubted every part of him agreed with wanting her to turn down the offer.
“Then you two are dismissed. Rottjir, I trust you will take Maddock where he needs to go?” His tone was hard, but unnecessary. She was not going to disobey an order.
“Yes, sir.” She stood up from her seat and silently walked out of the room, leaving a Duntay that certainly did not look too pleased, either.
She and Dylan were silent as she briskly walked back into the empty quarters and then to the transfer pad. She laid out her softly trembling hand for the medic to disembark. He didn't immediately leave it as he scooted over to stroke the fur on her thumb. “You made the right choice,” he said softly, barely loud enough for her Yutri to pick up and translate. He didn't wait for her to respond as he hopped down and returned to the barracks to pack his belongings.
Kira's hands fell to her sides sadly as she watched him go. He was not confident anymore. He was clearly very upset now, with his head low. Apparently he was not as stoic over the future as he let on. Perhaps it was just a hope that he held onto, and now it was shattered. She sighed sadly and reached into her pocket to pull Mitchell out. He immediately demanded, “Get me back to my mech.”
Dylan could clearly remember the first time he saw a UTO ship up close. It was incredible, simply massive. It boggled the mind gazing upon something so tremendous that could fly into space and travel across the galaxy. Mind boggling indeed, as well as almost painfully exciting to think about. But that first time he was contained to what would amount to a very special pet carrier, as every other human called it, as he was brought aboard. That was fairly disconcerting at first, and it limited his grasp of the scale of it all.
But now, he was in something much better than a pet carrier. He was in the palm of the wolfess that had dedicated a part of her career to making sure he was safe and secure in this massive world. This made gazing upon this 'Karshi,' a gorgeous, sleek, winged kind of ship, a much more pleasant affair. Except he still had a hard time grasping the scale. He couldn't put numbers to it. He couldn’t even compare it to, say, a sports stadium. It dwarfed sports stadiums. It was more like a bunch of massive sports arenas stacked and placed side by side. It was just a frigate, from what he heard. He felt a tightening in his chest. It felt like a mixture of absolute awe and subdued fear. Mankind was exceptionally gifted that these massive aliens welcomed them into their fold. There was simply no way humanity could stand alone against any one of the alien species.
All in all, going inside this ship would be an amazing experience. Problem was, he felt contempt for the damned thing. It was going to take him away from Kira and bring him somewhere else, to someone else. Someone he didn't know. On top of that, at a posting he didn't want at all. He didn't tell Duntay why he didn’t want a hospital posting. But the truth was he wanted the chance to kill Rynar, to help the soldiers that saved his planet from the monsters, to feel like he could actively do something. Being a nurse was good work, but hardly what he wanted, even if he could transfer out of it one day. He joined the military to be a soldier.
He looked to his left. Yirshan was standing there with Kemeng in her palm. The other human didn't look nearly as upset about leaving. He actually looked totally neutral. They met each other’s gazes. They nodded to one another and looked forward again. Captain Duntay was on the other side of Kira. He looked like he was in fairly deep thought. Dylan did not hate the rabbit. He knew he was just doing his job and doing what he thought was best. He still hated the decision he came to, however.
“Kira.” Dylan began. “I really hope you get to be a guardian again one day.” He felt her gaze fall onto him. “You were wonderful. You were good for me. Things were looking better with you. When you do get a new charge, I hope they'll be easier to work with than I was. You really deserve it, and I'm sorry.”
Kira giggled softly. “Sorry? Don't be. It was a little frustrating, but I decided that getting you to open up would make it all the sweeter when it finally happened. I'm just sorry that I won't get to see that, now.”
“Open up, huh? I doubt that means you want me to tell you all about the terrible things I've seen.” His tone was rather amused.
“Well, I'd listen if you told them. But. I was actually hoping to get the chance to cuddle you one day.”
“Cuddle? Isn't that a little... unmilitary like?” He was definitely amused now. That was actually rather hilarious to think about. Though a bit terrifying. Getting cuddled by a gigantic predator could not be good for one's heart.
“It is. But I've heard of other pairs doing it, with the human liking it very much.”
He wasn't sure how he'd feel about it, but he could understand it. “Well, hopefully your next charge will be happy to receive your cuddles.”
They were interrupted when their earpieces got the signal that the ship was ready to accept the human passengers. Duntay beckoned for Kira to start moving. “Good luck, Dylan,” he said to him as she passed. Yirshan was ahead of them as they walked. The ship just grew and grew as Kira closed the distance, leaving Dylan in more and more awe of it's size. To think, this was just a little frigate.
“Hold right there!” the voice of a human roared out over mech speakers. “Sergeant Rottjir, bring my trainee back!” Both Kira and Yirshan paused, but the dragoness resumed walking when Kira was specifically mentioned. The wolfess turned right back around and returned to Duntay while Sam's mech was marching up to the officer. “What do you think you're doing, captain?!”
The officer looked rather confused and slightly intimidated as the mech stopped in front of him and loomed over him as its dark eyes gazed down at him. “I'm transferring Private Maddock to a new unit, sergeant.” He heavily emphasized Mitchell's rank. “Is that a problem?”
“You bet your ass it is!” The much lower ranked soldier angrily said back. “That man is a part of MY training unit. As such, I need documentation on his transfer before he goes ANYWHERE!”
“What?! I sent you the documentation! Check your Yutri! Or you mech's computer!” He opened up his own device, presumably to make sure he did send it.
“Digital is NOT good enough! I want paper, in my hands, with you and the battalion commander's signatures on it.”
“Paper?! We don't use paper for that!”
“In my unit, we sure as hell do!”
“Your unit is a part of the UTO and the UTO does not need paper documentation for this!”
“The UTO doesn’t, but we do. Under article four, part two of integration of other military forces, you will see that traditional methods of operation for the integrating force must be respected and adhered to where possible until the integrating force reaches full operational status. My unit is all human in the middle of the integration period. In our culture, we use paper!” The mech suddenly opened up and Mitchell disconnected from the pilot’s position and walked out onto the deck. Dylan had to force down a snort of laughter. The human sergeant held out to Duntay a piece of paper and a pen. “Thankfully, I came prepared. Simply sign right here,” he patted the paper with the pen, “then I’ll run and get the major’s signature.”
The captain fixed the little human with an incredulous look that slowly shifted to a glare. He was silent as he stared at the mech, seeming to think hard on this. He then took a deep breath through his nose and shook his head with a slight smirk. “That won’t be necessary, sergeant. Surely once I sign it you wouldn’t be able to get the second signature in time.” He backed away from the mech and nodded to its pilot, then to Kira. “Well played, sergeants.”
Sam’s extended arms fell to his side and he shrugged as he turned to get back to the controls. Before the deck closed up Mitchell came on over the speakers, “I apologize for approaching so aggressively. I was just so upset that this almost got past me with just some e-mail trying to pass as proper documentation.”
“Yes, I'm sure that’s what got you upset. My deadline to resolve this is when that ship leaves. I won't be able to get your signed paper before that. So, I suppose I need to change my decision on this matter, then. Private Maddock is to stay, however I would like him to attend therapy sessions.” He looked the mech squarely in the eyes. “Do you need 'paper documentation' for this?”
“Of course you don't.” He looked towards Dylan. “Maddock, we'll work out the details later. For now, I must inform the Karshi that it will have one less human passenger and file my report. Have a pleasant weekend, all of you.”
“You too, sir.” They all said back to him as he turned to leave.
Dylan looked up to Kira. He could see she had a tremendous smile on her face as she looked at Mitchell's mech. “I can't believe that worked,” she said happily.
“Hah! Yeah, me neither. It was just barely above bullshit.”
“Never mind. Dylan, you're okay with this, right?” The mech's gaze looked down at the human in Kira's palm.
“Okay with it? I'm fucking thrilled with it, sarge!” He stood up in his guardian's hand. “Thank you.” He saluted the machine out of respect for the man. “You won't regret doing this for me.”
“I know I won't, son.” The mech gave him a lazy salute back, and then looked back up, beyond Kira. “Yirshan, is something wrong?”
Kira turned around, allowing Dylan to see the dragoness looking rather thoughtful. She looked at both sergeants, then her gaze settled onto the medic. “Oh, it's Kemeng. He apologized for everything he said and then wished me a long and happy life with a successful career.”
“You're kidding.” Kira said, surprised. “Why?”
“I don't know. He just did, and I know it was genuine. Now I kind of regret losing him.” She brightened up a bit. “So! What did I miss? You know the ship's about to leave, right?”
“There was a last minute change,” Kira explained. “Dylan's staying.”
Dylan swore he saw a flash of jealousy cross the dragoness's muzzle, but it quickly turned to a big smile. “Aw, I'm glad! Congratulations!” She stepped forward and draped her arm across Kira's shoulder and patted the mech's bulky spaulder. “Let's celebrate with lunch! I'm starving.” She then dragged Kira off with Mitchell following alongside.
Although he still felt the depression from last night's flashback at the back of his mind, Dylan didn’t feel his usual worry about eating with giants or soon talking to an oversized headshrinker. In fact, he was awash with relief and excitement.