The Karshi, the ship Kemeng left on, was one of the ships that went back and forth from Earth to various points in UTO space. The human home world saw a lot of traffic from its alien allies as ships delivered personnel, equipment, and materials to aid in reconstruction. When a ship returned from Earth, it was not uncommon for it to come back with various goods. Presumably, this was how Mitchell would get his smoking drug. But the man also got something for Kira and her charge.
The wolfess sat down on the familiar bench she and Dylan had chosen as their place to be alone, with the familiar statue in front of it. The guardian crossed one leg over the other, then placed her charge down onto the thigh of her uncrossed leg. She held a small cardboard box in her other hand that was still steaming from when she heated it up at the mess. She placed it onto her other thigh and opened it up.
Dylan looked over at it after opening a bag of what he had said was dried meat. “So. Have you been waiting for this moment?”
Kira flicked an ear as she sniffed at the contents of the box – twenty little pieces of breaded and cheese coated meat. Chicken! She pulled one out and looked at it. “I have heard too much about chickens to not want to see what they taste like.” She tossed the piece into her mouth and slowly chewed it, savoring the taste. Her brow furrowed and she glanced down at Dylan who was watching her curiously. “This doesn't taste like siliash.”
“Yeah... it's chicken, not siliash.” He looked down at his bag just as a smirk crossed his face.
Kira frowned and cocked her head. “But you said siliash tastes like chicken.”
Her charge looked back up at her with barely contained humor. “That's because everything tastes like chicken.”
The sergeant opened her muzzle to say something, but then closed it and glared down at the human. After a few moments, a lopsided grin crossed her lips. “This is some kind of joke.”
Dylan finally laughed and nodded to her. “Yeah. I'm not sure how it got started, but when asked to describe a taste, a common response is just 'it tastes like chicken.'” He nodded at the box sitting on her other leg. “Do you like it?”
Kira looked back down at the open box. “Yeah. It's really good.” She plucked another piece out and tossed it into her mouth. It really was quite delightful. She quickly popped another one in before returning her attention to her charge again. The man didn't seem to be too interested in his dried meat as he absently stared at it. “Although... it kind of tastes like siliash.”
She was very happy to hear a snort of laughter come out of him. “You just said it doesn't!”
“Well. Yeah. It's chicken, not siliash.” He rolled his eyes at her, but his mirth quickly faded as he closed up his bag and tucked his knees to his chest.
She reached one hand down to him and paused there. He showed no disapproval, so she closed the rest of the distance and delicately stroked his side with one finger. “What's wrong?”
She felt him lean a bit into her pets as he said, “Eh... a couple things.” He sighed and shook his head. “I'm still rather bothered about going to the session alone.”
Kira smiled softly to herself. She had to restrain her tail from thumping against the bench. She didn't want Dylan to think she was happy that he was upset. However, she was quietly delighted that he saw so much comfort in her to the point of wanting her present for his first therapy session.
The interview with Duntay yesterday ended up revealing a few things to Kira that Dylan may not have been willing to share yet. But it was out now, so she suspected this made him more open to the idea of his guardian being present for his therapy where she could hear about all of his troubles. That was her guess, at least. He may just be afraid of the idea of being alone with an unfamiliar giant and wanted her there for him. That was also an explanation she would gladly accept. “Duntay wasn't so bad. Well, I think he was dead wrong with his initial decision, but he at least seems rather nice. I think you'll be fine with him.”
“Maybe, but it doesn't make it any easier sitting with some giant shrink for however long, telling him all of my horrible secrets.” He scowled and shook his head once more, but didn't continue.
“Giant shrink?” Kira asked after a brief pause then smirked. “Amusing mix of words. Is ‘shrink’ a word for a head brusher?”
He looked up at her confusedly. “Head brusher? No…”
She chuckled quietly, one hand covering her muzzle to keep in any chicken bits. “You sure? I’m guessing a shrink is a therapist. We call therapists head brushers, or just brushers normally.”
“Right. Okay… why?”
“Old practice. Therapists used to brush the fur around your head while they talked to you. Now you need to ask.”
“Seriously? I don’t think that’s a feature I’ll be trying. Not sure why we call them shrinks. Something about tribal head shrinking, I think.”
Kira flicked an ear in understanding. She wasn’t sure how that would connect to something like head shrinking, but slang and such words didn’t always make sense, though they could be fun to talk about. She stopped her stroking and ate a couple more pieces of the chicken. She glanced down at her charge a few times, half expecting him to say something more. “And the other thing?”
“You said a couple of things were wrong.”
“Oh. Yeah.” One of his hands awkwardly rubbed at the back of his neck. “Uh, well, I'm a bit agitated by you basically being my mother.”
Kira paused with her mouth open, ready to receive another bite of chicken. She snapped her muzzle closed then look down at him. “What?”
“Think about it.” He said up to her. “Actually, unless it's different with aliens...” Kira looked at the chicken bite in her hand, then plopped it into her mouth while she listened. “You're bringing me to the doctor then waiting in the lobby for me so you can take me home.”
The wolfess snorted in laughter and brought a hand to her mouth to keep the meat from flying out. She finished swallowing it, and giggled softly before saying, “That's the same with us aliens.” She picked up another piece of delicious cheese covered chicken and rolled it between her fingers. “That comparison isn't wrong. But that is what I signed up for. They made sure we knew things like this could happen before you little ones received your mechs.” She slipped the chicken bite into her mouth.
“Still, I'm sorry I’m dragging down our weekend with this.”
Kira quickly swallowed so she could say back, “Oh, stop it. It’s not your fault, and it's just an hour, then I get to show you some moves in the simulations.” She smiled at the last bit. She reserved them both a slot in in the simulation hive for a few hours of hand to hand training and perhaps some fun. “That's something I'm looking forward to.”
“Ah, I see. Eager to beat me up, are we?”
The guardian ate another piece and winked down at the human as she chewed. “Oh yes. I'm going to take out all of my frustrations on your poor simulated body.” He stared up at her with a look that she was certain meant he wasn't sure if she was teasing or not. She giggled softly and smiled reassuringly. “No, I'm just looking forward to spending time with your on an equal scale. I enjoy teaching hand to hand, anyway. It's always a pleasure to teach it to new people.”
“You've taught it before?”
She flicked an ear and ate another bite. He almost looked a bit impatient as he waited for her to chew it up. “Not on any real official level. I've been taking classes since I was a pup. I'm quite good, and I'm not gloating.” She had a happy glint in her eyes as she thought about her past. “More often than not I was the top of my class. Became the instructor's assistant a few times. Taught other students with the instructor's blessing. No assistant position in the military, though. But I helped a few fellow recruits while we had downtime.”
“Huh...” He looked back down, a small smirk on his face. Kira took the chance to eat more chicken. “So, been fighting since you were, uh... 'little.' And now you're here, a guardian.”
She feigned a frown as she asked, “What, think someone that likes to fight can't be a guardian.” He looked back up at her, probably to try to explain himself, but she cut him off with a smile. “It's okay, I know what you meant. I haven't had to use my skills aggressively very often. I just find it fun to practice, helps stay in shape, and it can be relaxing with a sparring partner. I prefer to not have to fight someone at all. But it doesn't hurt to be prepared.”
Dylan nodded in understanding. “Yeah, I get that. I never learned much in the way of martial arts, as you know. But I did practice a bit of shooting.” It was Kira's turn to be interested as she idly munched chicken, ears perked and ready. “I can't say I'm really that good. But my dad took me shooting a bit as a kid. I didn't like hunting, though. I didn't want to shoot animals.” He blushed a bit when an 'awww' came from his guardian. “Anyway, after he died I shot some targets with his guns. Eventually bought a few weapons of my own. I never practiced enough, but it was relaxing.”
“Leave it to humans to find painfully loud bangs to be relaxing.”
The medic grinned at her and rolled his eyes. “We plug our ears! Ahem, right, anyway. Same sort of idea, I think. It's fun, calming, and having a gun around and knowing how to use it is good if the bad comes your way.”
“So you enjoy firing weapons, but you became a medic.”
He shrugged. “I rather not shoot someone, just like you would rather not fight someone.” She bowed her head, point taken. “I still get a gun as a medic, though.”
Kira chuckled around some chicken and canted her head to one side. “And now a mech, eventually.”
“From rifle to giant war machine. That escalated very quickly.”
“That it did.” Kira reclined against the bench and thought for a few moments. Her paw idly bounced behind Dylan, briefly grabbing the human's attention. “I've only fired a weapon twice before I enlisted. Both were a few years apart. One was an air cannon and the other a crossbow. So nothing particularly fierce. The air cannon launched a fruit and the crossbow bolt was blunted.”
She looked back down to him to see an amused look. “To be fair, a fruit launching cannon and crossbow your size is perfectly fierce to someone my size.” She chuckled and bowed her head once more; a fair point, again. “Though, really? I thought you said you studied military science at university. So you were obviously interested in the military. But you never fired a modern weapon before?”
“Nope. I'm more interested in the strategies, tactics, and all that, than firing weapons.” She furrowed her brow and shook her head. “Ah, correction. Was. After learning to fire weapons I do rather enjoy it.”
“So you like strategy and you made it through university. How are you not an officer?”
The wolfess shrugged. “I will be one soon enough. I wasn't sure if I wanted a military career, so I enlisted instead of going through officer training. That was perhaps a mistake, as I have decided to make a career out of this. So now when I become an officer, I must take what is given to me instead of choosing my own path."
“When do you think you'll be promoted to an officer rank?”
“Most likely after Fahne is transferred to Special Insertion. I suspect I will be promoted to lieutenant and will lead the platoon.”
“Is that not what you want?”
“Oh no, it is. But it may not happen. I could be transferred to another platoon. Likely not out of the battalion, since you are a sort of anchor. Hopefully an anchor that can keep me in second platoon as well. But as I said, I will have to take what is given to me. It doesn't mean that what is given to me is not what I want.”
“So my guardian may be becoming an officer soon. My poor arm is going to get sore from all the saluting.” He signed the UTO salute, the left arm across the chest with two fingers extended and touching the shoulder.
Kira giggled and waved for him to stop. “I'll let it slide if you forget. Usually.”
Dylan went straight from a pleasant conversation with his guardian to this. Hell, it was a wonderful conversation. All things considered, it was normal, relaxing, friendly, and joking... it felt good. Like every other time he spoke to Kira. But now he was here with Captain Duntay and no Kira. What a way to dampen a mood. He did his best to stay pleasant with Kira as she carried him to his first session, but it seemed just as she left there was nothing to hold back the frustration that started to simmer up as he was carried over. The medic scowled to himself and squeezed the armrests of the leather chair he was seated in. A brief glance to his right showed him that that chaise lounge was most definitely real. So here he was. On a giant coffee table in a rather nice chair with the typical therapist couch right over there. Then there was the therapist himself, a giant rabbit in his own giant chair, looking down at him. Take a picture and you could get a very surreal cover to some very odd film or book.
The private kept his eyes downcast as the officer asked his first question, “You are well, I hope? You looked rather spirited when Kira brought you here.”
The human scoffed and spared the alien a brief look. “You saw that? Then you saw how quickly that changed.”
A small smile crossed the captain's muzzle. “I see little of the fear of giants that were reported about you.”
The man finally met the hare's eyes with a frown pursing his lips. “Are you saying I should be afraid of you?”
Dylan caught the briefest of a glower from Duntay, “I am saying that it appears you have gotten better in this respect.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” He wasn't afraid of the officer. Logically, he knew he was perfectly safe with him. His fear seemed to revolve around what an unfamiliar giant was capable of doing to someone his size. But that was a distinction he didn't feel like explaining, not to this guy.
“That is very good to hear. I suspected as much, based on how confident you are with Kira.”
“Yeah...” Was it really so hard to figure out that he just got used to her? Surely Duntay knew that.
“That, and you do not shirk from being confrontational with a giant.” Dylan wanted to say something about him just being emboldened by his agitation about being stuck here. But instead the briefest flash of a smile crossed his face. Even anger wouldn't have made him behave like this a week ago. Maybe he wasn't afraid of giants as he thought he was. He still felt a gut wrenching tightness around the unfamiliar ones, but he stopped contemplating the odds of his survival if he took a leap off of a high platform to try to escape. So he supposed that was progress. “I know you don’t want to be here. But please remember I am not trying to find a reason to get you kicked out. I prescribed you to therapy to help you. That is all I am here for. To help you.”
“Yes sir, sorry sir.” The medic mentally scolded himself. He was letting his frustration get to him. Perhaps just rolling with the situation would make it end sooner.
Thankfully, the officer showed no agitation himself as he offered a shallow bow of his head in acceptance of the apology. “So, Dylan, we will start with basic questions to get you settled.” The private felt rather relieved about that. The less the officer poked around about his problems, the better. However, that was the whole point of 'get to know you' questions, wasn't it? He allowed a nod for Duntay to continue. “Now, your file says you went to school. What did you study?”
Dylan reclined a bit into the chair. That was a harmless question. It even cut into the hour – all 74.3 minutes of it – so less time having to spill the guts the doctor would inevitably be looking for. “Criminal justice, arts, and some computer stuff.”
“You got around. But you never finished anything, yes?”
The medic shook his head. “Nope. Five years of screwing around, skipping classes, and failing my fair share. By the time I realized I should have just taken history I was already too sick of school. So I just dropped out.”
“Should have done history?” Duntay looked interested, but for the life of the human he couldn't tell if it was just feigned. “So you enjoy history?”
“One of the few classes I could get myself to attend and actually have interest in the textbooks. Sometimes get lost in reading about history in my free time, so... yeah. Ignored it for years because I couldn't see a future in it.”
“You could become a teacher or work in a museum.”
Dylan glowered at the alien as he said, “Yeah. That's what everyone kept saying.”
“Not really interested in teaching or museum work, then?”
The medic shook his head. “No, no, it’s not that. I was just hoping for some kind of well-paying career that I enjoyed. I don’t know about the UTO, but where I’m from teachers are way underpaid for how important they are. Museum people may be better, but I never really looked into it.”
“Ah, understandable. A well-paying career that you enjoy is a wonderful thing in life.”
Dylan nodded in agreement, but was visibly looking frustrated. “Yeah. Need motivation for it, though.”
The human was clearly getting a bit agitated by this subject so Duntay wisely moved on. “So, was it your dislike for school that had you enlist?”
Dylan sighed and looked down. Was he already at this part? He probably decided family questions would be in bad taste. 'That wonderful empathetic bastard,' Dylan thought before saying, “Pretty much, yeah. Got sick of my unsure future. Figured if the military can't help me find a future, it could at least help me forget about it for a while.”
“That sounds logical. Military service can really straighten out a life-”
“Or break it,” Dylan interrupted.
“Do you think you’re broken?” Duntay shot back without missing a beat.
The human locked eyes with the rabbit as he chewed on that. “Me? Broken? Hell no. I think it’s all made me stronger. But scars can run deep.” He shook his head sadly. “Many others did, though.” He looked off to the side; his next words came out more quietly, “Didn’t always mend the flesh. Some just wanted to talk.”
“Some soldiers looked to you for guidance?”
“Guidance?” Dylan shifted his attention back to Duntay. “Yes. Something like that. I guess a medic is easier to approach. Did what I could. Just… talked. For hours if need be, or at least until my skills were needed somewhere else. Held my fair share, as well.” He let out a sharp breath through his nose and squeezed the armrests again. Holding a man weeping for his dead squad could really tear at the heart.
“Did you ever think you would have to do something like that when you became a medic?”
Dylan shook his head. “No. Not really. Before the war there was a lot of infrastructure to handle that. Soldiers could easily get ahold of a trained professional. But when everything went to hell, that just wasn’t possible anymore.” He leaned backwards into the chair, looking up at the ceiling now. “I didn’t hesitate to try, though. Anything to help.”
“You really like to help people, then? Is that what made you choose to be a medic?”
“No, actually,” Dylan answered with a shake of his head. “Well. Not entirely. I knew I was empathetic, but going for medical training was mostly just kind of an impulse thing. It seemed interesting; it would be a great skill to have, gett to help people. It worked out in the end. Being a medic is hard, psychologically, but it's rewarding as well. I really enjoy doing what I do. Though it’s still a ‘wish there wasn’t a need for me’ kind of thing.”
“What do you mean?”
Dylan suspected he knew damn well what he meant, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t talk about it. “You know, like a soldier would prefer to never have to be called upon? Same thing for a medic. As much as I like to help, I’d rather not see someone hurt.”
“Of course. Then with what you saw you must have seen so many hurt. Was the amount of work you had to put into it the hardest part?”
Dylan mentally kicked himself. He walked right into that one. It was a bad question to walk into, though. His fists clenched as he spat back, “Well. Watching someone die in my arms and listening to them crying for their goddamn mother is pretty fucking hard. It’s not all just patching up holes. The hardest part is the death. I’ll work until my fingers bleed and not give a damn. But someone dying as I work to save them is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with.”
The officer frowned and sat straighter in his seat. “I apologize, that was a badly worded question.”
“A bad question? Why would you ask a medic that? What the hell do you THINK is the hardest part of being a fucking medic?” He bit his tongue and tried to collect himself, realizing he was being aggressive. He sighed then asked, “How did you mean to word it, then?”
Duntay looked like he was fishing around for new words for a few moments. “I meant if the death and injury you had to tend to, your work, was the hardest part. Over the other parts of your experiences. Like survival, the violence you saw, or anything else.”
“Oh.” He shook his head. “Yeah… it was. Sorry.” Dylan's lip shook in a mixture of anger and apparent sorrow as he blinked rapidly to keep his eyes from being anything more than just glossy. There were a few moments of tense silence before the human finally unclenched and slouched in his chair. “Sorry... that brought up some bad memories.” He absolutely refused to think about them now as he squashed the thoughts and buried them in his mind. He diverted his thoughts by thinking about how nice the leather of this chair was.
The captain wisely decided not to pursue those memories. “No, no, I should apologize. That was a very poor choice of words. Alright, how about this, any question I ask that you do not want to answer for whatever reason, simply say you do not want to answer them. Is that okay?”
The medic let out a breath of relief. “Yeah. That's good.”
Duntay bowed his head, giving his silent promise to keep to that agreement. “Do you think you will pursue a medical career now?”
Dylan shrugged. “Maybe a paramedic but I'm not going back to school. So I don't see myself going past that, if I even go with that.”
“Hmm, where do you see yourself in ten years?”
“Ten years?” Dylan looked at him rather dumbfounded. “I don't even know where I'm going to be in a month how am I supposed to even guess at ten years?”
“Could you perhaps see yourself still in the military?”
The human slipped out of his chair, and very quickly started to pace. The alien's eyes tracked his movements across the table, but stayed utterly silent as he thought. “I don't know,” Dylan said, not looking at the doctor. “Maybe. Hell, if I’m lucky maybe I’ll make corporal by then.” That was all he really had. He never was a good planner. His life tended to just be decisions on the fly with no real planning. He managed to stifle a laugh at that. Never aspired to anything, dropped out of school, just blindly went through life and it got him into space.
The medic found himself slightly disappointed that Duntay ignored the rank joke as he went on with this line of questioning, “Oh? After all you have seen, you would want to stay? Why?”
“Hell, I don't know. Got nothing better to do with my free time?” He stopped pacing now and looked up at the rabbit. “Can we stop talking about my future?”
“Alright.” Duntay glanced down at his Yutri, “You were very inexperienced when the invasion of Earth started, barely a few months into your service with no deployments. Despite your short service so far, do you consider yourself experienced?”
Dylan squinted at the rabbit before starting to pace again. That was a stupid a question. What was he leading up to? “I guess so...”
“You must have unique experience as well. Considering the size of your enemy, some of the wounds you had to handle must be quite different from what most medics need to handle. Does anyone you have saved stand out in particular in your mind?”
The girl with the ruined limbs flashed through his mind and his eyes widened for a moment as his pacing stopped. He quickly squashed it from his mind, not wanting to discuss that or even think about it in Duntay's presence. “I don't want to answer that.” The medic sat back down into the chair, tapping at the arm rests with his fingers with one leg bouncing on the ball of his foot in agitation.
“Alright. Let us focus on something more simple, like what you were doing when the invasion started.”
Dylan shook his head. He maybe could talk about that, but he was losing any will to speak about any of this. “No. Can we not talk about the war?”
“Is there anything at all about it you would be open to speak of right now?”
Without hesitation the human shot back, “No. Nothing. Change the subject.”
Duntay leaned back in his seat as he looked down at the man on the table. “I could, but I think it may be better for you to return to your guardian.” Dylan visibly perked up at that. “I see I struck a bad nerve, and I apologize. It is best for you to return to more pleasant conditions, and for me to reassess your condition.” He pressed something on his Yutri then returned his attention to his patient. “Once the sergeant arrives, I will need a moment to speak with you both then you may be dismissed to enjoy the rest of your day.”
Kira was sitting outside the empty waiting room outside of Duntay's office, playing a game and sending messages back and forth with a few friends on her Yutri when the device suddenly announced to her with a note from the captain that she may collect Dylan now. The wolfess cocked her head, confused. It hadn't even been a half of an hour yet. She stood up and walked to the door. It was already set to let anyone in, so it slid open without any hesitation and she stepped through.
Her blue eyes instantly focused on the low table she placed Dylan on. The human instantly stood up out of his seat and approached the edge of the table, and his guardian was quick to step up to the table and bend down and lay her hand out for him. He scrambled aboard without hesitation and then planted himself in the center of her palm. The wolfess tucked her hand to her stomach as she turned to face the captain.
The rabbit entered a few things into his computer, then shut it down and reattached it to his wrist mounting. He then stood up out of his seat and bowed his head slightly. “I apologize for the unexpected early end, but I imagine that is not something either one of you are upset about.” He smiled softly at that. “But I wish to inform you both that I want both of you present for these sessions.”
“What?” Kira asked in surprise while Dylan remained silent, though a glance down showed that he looked rather caught off guard by that as well.
“I want you to be here for him during these sessions, Kira.” He looked down at Dylan. “That should be more pleasant, yes? I also promise to rethink my questions on this. That was bad on my end. I believe I was wrong about a few things, and that slipped through. I promise it will not happen again.”
Dylan stood up in the padded hand and offered a salute, which Kira imitated. “Thank you, sir,” the human said.
Duntay returned the salute. “No need to thank me. This is just standard routine. Some people react well to therapy, some do not. Your behavior is nothing I have not seen before and is perfectly normal. It is my job to make conditions more favorable for you.” This was a lot better than Kira expected. She was worried that her charge would be reprimanded for being aggressive to an officer. But apparently his behavior ended up working in his favor; both of their favors, actually. The wolfess would much prefer to be with Dylan during his sessions than waiting outside. “Now,” Duntay continued, “If you do not mind me asking, what will you two being doing now?”
“Kira's going to show me some hand to hand in the simulations,” Dylan answered.
The captain smiled approvingly, and his eyes widened slightly as if he just had an idea. “That is good. That would be a regular thing between you too, yes?” Kira flicked an ear. “You will have much to teach him, I am sure. You both are dismissed, enjoy your day.”
They both bid him the same then Kira turned on her heel to walk out. She moved quickly, eager to leave this behind for a week. A few doors later and the wolfess was back outside, smiling pleasantly as the sun washed over her white fur. But as much as she would like to enjoy the sunlight, she wanted to get to the simulation hive with Dylan more. So she started her trot down the paths to the massive building.
Dylan was the first to speak, “That went a lot better than I expected,” mirroring Kira’s earlier thoughts.
Kira flicked an ear out of Dylan's sight. “Yes. Though admittedly I thought it would go well. I didn’t think it would have gone bad enough for him to want me there in the future.”
“I don’t think it really went badly. He did say it was normal.”
“It still didn’t go well, though, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, true…” He paused for a seconds and mulled over his next words. “I just really don't want to talk to him about this stuff. I don't know him. He's not my friend. Why should I tell him these things? Because he's listening? If I wanted to talk about them I'd talk to you.” He paused and backtracked. “Er, if you'd listen.”
Kira's thumb stretched out to lightly run down the human's side who showed no signs of wanting to back away from it. “I would listen to anything you have to say.”
Dylan was silent as he sat there with Kira's digit stroking him. A glance down from the wolfess showed the medic looking down at her padded palm, seeming to be in thought. After a silent few moments, he leaned into her thumb. “Thank you. I don't know what I'd say, if anything, but... maybe. We'll see. I'd rather just forget.”
“I won't go poking around for anything,” Kira started as she ceased her stroking when she felt him pull away. “But if there's anything you want to get off the end of your muzzle, just start talking whenever you want.”
Kira's ears perked up when she heard a chuckle coming from her charge. “End of my muzzle?”
The wolfess giggled softly. “Right, flat faced. Sorry. But it's just a figure of speech.”
“And it means... to say what's on your mind, I suppose?”
Kira's eyes focused on the simulation hive as she drew closer to it. “Sort of. It mostly applies to something that's been bothering you. Presumably you would want to remove a problem from the end of your muzzle, yes? It's always in sight, you can feel it on your nose, and it could be causing pain.”
“That makes sense. We say getting something off your chest.”
Kira glanced down at him, a little confused. “Explain?”
“I'm no expert but I think it has to do with the tightness in your heart when a problem burdens you.”
“That makes sense too.” Kira thought end of the muzzle made more sense, since a lot of things could get the heart going. But at least it was more reasonable than bad donkey. By now, the guardian's quick gait had brought the pair to the simulation hive. It was fairly active, with a fair few troops filing in to have their fun in a slew of assorted games and activities. Thankfully, it was all neat and orderly as people just went straight to the pods they were assigned for their registered time slots. Kira, though, had to first bring Dylan to the human section.
As she padded over, Dahashi announced to them in their earpieces that he would pop in next to the sergeant. As a result, Kira didn't flinch when he suddenly popped in, though she felt Dylan jump. The incorporeal blue vulpine looked down at him with a grin. “Sorry about that! I'll try the walking approach next time. Hello you two!”
Kira looked the AI's avatar up and down with a cocked head. “Hey there. Dahashi, what are you wearing?” The vulpine was dressed in a ridiculous outfit that consisted of a long, green and brown plaid skirt. Or some kind of huge cloth wrap, as it went up to a shoulder with studded leather armor visible beneath. He even had leather paw wraps. Then to top it off, he had a large sword hanging from his back.
Before the oddly dressed fox could answer, Dylan suddenly asked, “Freedom?”
“FREEDOM!” Dahashi barked back happily with a raised fist, his tail swishing eagerly as Kira stopped in front of the transfer pad and lowered her hand. He grinned and chuckled.
“Did Rome get boring?” The medic asked as he hopped off and turned to face the two.
“Oh no, no no!” The 'pharaoh' shook his head. “I just saw Braveheart and thought the outfit would look fun to wear. Although I looked up kilts, and it appears that these weren't around at that time.”
Dylan smiled in clear amusement. “Well, historical inaccuracies aside, you look fabulous.”
“Don't I? Thank you!” The vulpine beamed cheerfully before moving on to different matters. “You're both here early. I suppose the session ended sooner than expected? No matter! Kira, your assigned pod is free and of course Dylan's is.” A quick glance showed only six out of the many were occupied, so that was hardly a surprise. “Now, I have a lovely arena set up with a huge amount of programs ready if you want them. Would you like to try it out? I highly recommend it.”
The avatar almost looked like it was pleading, Kira noticed. Actually no, it was pleading. A lopsided smirk crossed the wolfess's muzzle. “Eager to show off another one of your creations, are we?”
A proud front replaced the pleading as the fox stood straighter. “Can one not enjoy and share their art freely?”
Kira flicked an ear. “Alright, Dahashi, change my normal program to your new one, for now.”
The AI's tail started to wag happily again. “Thank you! Also, since you're here early but your pods are open, extra time for you two. Have fun!” He then flashed out of existence.
Kira returned her attention to looking down at Dylan, her tail wagging cheerfully. “We already had a hefty time slot. We're going to be here awhile. Make sure you're good and ready!” She nodded to a restroom at the end of the catwalk. “I'll see you in the sims.”
He bid her a wave, then the wolfess turned and went off to her pod, ascended a couple of levels, nodded to a few people she knew, then finally reached her destination. She quickly slipped into her pod and sealed it closed. Dahashi's ever present watchfulness saw to it that her world flashed white and promptly linked her and Dylan into a session.
When the simulated world loaded, Kira found herself eye to eye with Dylan – and he wasn't wearing his uniform anymore. He was instead adorned with a plain white sleeveless tunic and a belt. His boots were replaced with sandals with thin leather traps that wrapped all the way up his calves. This prompted Kira to look down at herself, to find that she was wearing the same thing, minus the sandals. Sand was under her pads and between her toes.
“Wow...” Dylan gasped, prompting Kira to look up and take in her surroundings.
It was a massive amphitheater made completely of stone with a huge oval shape. Seats ran all along it, clearly enough room for tens of thousands of spectators. It rose up high, perhaps around fifty falics, which were very close to human meters when the scales were matched in simulations. Fabric overhangs all around the top blocked some of the blue sky, but provided a pleasant shade as well as lovely pillars of light shining through the gaps between them. “It's impressive, Dahashi,” Kira remarked.
“Impressive?” She heard from Dylan. The human jogged up to the edge of the arena to place a hand on one of the walls below the bottom row of seats. “This is the Colosseum!” He looked around with wide eyes, taking in the stone architecture and scale of it all. “Restored and everything. It's... god, I never imagined seeing it so real and intact. Is this what it looked like two thousand years ago?”
Dahashi's disembodied voice spoke up, “Yes. As far as my sources go, this is what it would have looked like. I'm glad you like it!”
“It's just...” Kira noticed a pleasantly surprised look across Dylan's face as she padded up to him. “You could recreate any historical setting! That's just... oh... that's like living a dream.”
Kira grinned at him. “Is this the history lover coming out?”
The man walked out into the middle of the oval, hands out stretched to his sides. “You don't need to love history to be amazed by this. Video games have nothing on this!” His echo resounded through the amphitheater, his excitement only magnified by it. His hands went to the back his head and he whirled on her. “You're going to teach me to fight in the Colosseum.” His hands came down to his sides and he sighed, shaking his head. “I went into space expecting to see awesome technology and advanced aliens. And I did. But now I'm here admiring one of the greatest creations of the Roman Empire. Never imagined this. It's really amazing.” He looked her over, probably noting Kira's not quite so amazed expression, despite how happy she was to see Dylan excited. “Sorry. Getting a little carried away.”
Kira shook her head. “No no, I'm glad to see you worked up. I'm sorry but... I guess I just don't have the historical reference to be so impressed. I've seen things like this in games before, so that may hamper it a bit.”
“I... I guess.” He looked a little disappointed as he carried on. “The modern version of this place is partly collapsed and a worn by time. Seeing it fully intact outside of a movie or video game is...” It looked like a new thought crossed his mind. “Dahashi has been working on Roman Empire simulations... is ancient Rome outside these walls?”
“It is!” the AI's voice answered, sounding rather excited as well.
Dylan looked like he wanted to get out of here and see, but he appeared to control himself as he let out a breath. “I need to see that. But later. I might just waste the whole session looking around. We need to get to training.”
Kira happily agreed with that – they would see what else Dahashi had to offer after Kira felt she taught enough for one sitting. The length of the time slot did permit a couple hours of antics after she finished. So, eager to get to said antics, Dylan smoothly fell into the routine of the training, made much easier for him by Kira being at his height, rather than a couple feet taller. Though she did have some mass on him, the wolfess could easily adjust for his weight class.
While Dylan clearly wasn't a martial expert, he at least held onto what little training he had before fairly well. So the discipline was there, as well as a plethora of basics that made getting into the training quite simple. As a result, he took to Retaya quite well. It was a quick and light technique created by the Tordenchi. It focused on debilitating, so claws and jaws were kept to a minimum, with a lot of open palm strikes and grapples. It wasn't complicated and was often taught to law enforcement. It was a good start, and it also was helped by the fact a human could fight with fists without damaging claws or puncturing their palms, much like an equine. She would teach him more heavy hitting styles suitable for a mech later.
For now, it was just simple things. First, Kira had to make some minor adjustments in her teachings to account for a plantigrade form. The leg shapes were different, but still perfectly compatible, for the most part. So first came the stance. With Dylan's own experience mixed with hers, they crafted a slightly adjusted stance suitable for his shape, but it still retained the general posture. The legs were just spread less wide and more bent at the knees.
Once that was done, she then ran through simple deflections and counters. He already knew such simple things, but that was with closed fists and blunt kicks. She had to show him how to defeat a swiping arm intending to rend with claws, as well as unfamiliar kicks that tried to utilize toe claws for the same purpose. This ended up being the bulk of their practice, although it was no great struggle. Kira merely wanted her charge to be well prepared for such a common attack, even if he would be relatively safe inside of a mech and normally anyone else with armor was quite secure.
Grapples and holds were also complicated by claws. A common attack when things go lethal was to get into a hold and try to tear the throat open. This wouldn't really be a problem in a mech or armor, but it was still important to be prepared to counter as many attacks as possible.
Finally, there came the jaws. Biting was very common. If not for tearing into an enemy's flesh, then to disable something. Clamping down onto a hand when an opponent goes for a head attack could help shift a fight in your favor. The worst case was to end up on your back with your limbs pinned and your throat exposed with nothing to shield it from a predator's teeth.
The simulations could be adjusted to completely forgo endurance limits, but the sergeant preferred the full realism package. So getting tired out from the training was fully possible and as closely to full realism as the systems could estimate for a specific person. It helped determine the limits of a person's endurance. Dylan was certainly well trained and had plenty of endurance – for certain things. The man could apparently run long enough to make Kira pant just thinking about it, but she was still much more adapted to hand to hand fighting techniques. So her pride was spared the hit of being tired out before her student. When she noticed the human getting sluggish, she decided it was time for a break.
She finished things off for one last bout of actual sparring. It lasted all of a second. The human struck at her and she smoothly deflected his blow, swooped a leg into his calf, and knocked him down onto his back. She then dove down on top of him to pin his arms. Her mouth opened wide and her teeth came down to his neck. Her teeth touched flesh then stopped. The one blue eye facing him met his with an amused glint. He looked rather shocked by the sudden defeat as he lightly panted. “I, uh... guess I have a lot to learn,” he said slowly.
Kira was happily pleased that he didn’t even flinch from her jaws, and responded to that trust by quickly releasing his skin, nosing at his throat, then offering a few affectionate licks on the exposed flesh. It was silent thanks for all of the trust he put in her, both for this right now and for everything outside of the simulations. The scope of the sentiment was probably lost on him, but she didn't mind. It was still a chance to show small affection. She had save proper appreciation outside the sims for when she was certain she wouldn’t remind some of his baser instincts that they should be afraid. When she was finished she pulled her muzzle away, but remained seated atop him. “Indeed. But you're not too bad. I'm just that good.”
“Oh. Vain one, aren't you?”
“Hah!” She laughed as she got up off of him and offered a hand to pull him to his feet, which he graciously accepted. “No, just proud of my training. I personally can't wait to train you in a mech.”
“That may be an unfair advantage for me.”
“Aw,” Kira said as she dusted sand off of him. “Your natural size is the biggest disadvantage for hand to hand and here you are worrying about having too much advantage with me. So sweet.”
“Maybe. But not sweet enough to not try to use it anyway to beat you in a match.”
The wolfess chuckled and nodded in approval. “Very good, always use your advantages. I already know you have no problem with that. But! I'll probably have armor on. Maybe even powered.”
“Aaand there goes the advantage. Most of it, anyway.”
“We'll see. I would like to know how to beat a mech hand to hand, so you would be teaching me as well. Now, time for a break.” With that, she plopped down onto the sand and her friend put himself down right next to her. She looked up at this Colosseum and scanned across its seating, then looked back down to the open area she was in. “So... what sorts of shows happened in here?”
“Oooh, let's see...” He appeared to perk up cheerfully at the question. “A fair few things. Battle reenactments, executions, gladiator fights, and sea battles, to name a few.”
Kira flicked an ear and cocked her head as she turned to look at him. “Sea battles? What?”
“You heard right. Sea battles. They would flood the grounds and bring in ships with crews to simulate a battle. The place is too small for maneuvers and such, so I imagined they just rammed each other, boarded, and fought on deck with a little bit of proper ship to ship fighting.”
Kira blinked rapidly a few times as she tried to imagine that. Human maritime history was already much more extensive than any other species, but to cram water based ships into here and have them fight? Apparently humans liked boats more than she thought. “That would be a sight to see.”
“Yep.” Dylan nodded in agreement. “That would be amazing.” He sighed and looked over the stone structure again. “Duntay, after asking me about school, suggested I could have worked at a museum with a history degree. Everyone says that. But... I could see that working here. Right here in a simulation. Match aliens in scale then show mankind's past. From here in the sands of the Colosseum to Apollo 11, the first manned mission to our moon.”
“Yeah,” Kira agreed with a flick of her ear. “That is an option. But it's mostly done by AIs, with other people sticking to the real world.”
“Oh. I see.”
The sergeant placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed lightly. “Sorry. Didn't mean to attack your hopes there.”
“It's fine. I don't think I'd ever go back to school, anyway.”
Kira released her light hold as she asked, “Duntay said that? He was trying to get you chatty, huh?”
“Yep.” Dylan nodded and smirked. “It worked for a bit. But then I misinterpreted a question. Thought he asked me something like ‘what is the hardest part about being a medic?’”
The wolfess frowned. “Ow. Did you answer it?”
“Sort of. I mostly just got upset. You know, some other guy might say having to deal with 'Doc, I'm having trouble peeing' kind of questions...” Kira made no move to ask what he actually said. She was already certain she knew. If he was like any other experienced medic, the answer was most likely somewhere along the lines of watching friends die and zipping them up into body bags. “Then after a bit tamer questioning, he managed to lead up to asking me about anyone I have saved that stood out in particular to me.” He shook his head in frustration. “That brought up a lot of shit I didn't want to talk about. Not with him.” He was silent for a few moments, and his guardian equally so. She would say something, but it looked like he was mustering the will to speak himself.
Kira felt a slight breeze blow through her fur as a wind came through the arches along the amphitheater. She closed her eyes and took it in. She stayed like that for a few seconds until Dylan asked her. “Remember when I told you about that girl I saved? The one with the broken limbs?” She looked at him with slightly wilted ears, and flicked one. That was not a pleasant story. “That one... that one is one I think about a lot. For what happened afterward.”
“You said you saved her, didn't you?” The guardian was a bit worried now. She really hoped that wasn't a lie.
“I did. But... her limbs were broken. Both of her legs were compound fractures. I treated them as best as I could, but we couldn't keep carrying her. She was losing a lot of blood, it was already showing signs of infection, we had to hide for the night...” He shook his head and scowled and his hands dug around in the sand. “That night I had to stuff a rag in a young girl's mouth and have a few guys hold her down as I cut off both of her legs.” Kira’s ears splayed and she quickly wrapped an arm around her charge and pulled him into her side. She felt him shudder against her, but didn't hear any sobs. “I still can't believe she survived. She was strong. So very strong. We got her back to base the next day. Recovered well. She wasn't even broken emotionally. I saw her smiling and talking a week after that.” He went silent for another few moments as he stayed leaning against his guardian. She dared not say anything yet. “I dunno. I don't want to sound spiritual and all that. But... that was motivating. This young girl stared evil in the eyes and made it out alive. And I helped her. We helped her. Despite the odds, the utter goddamn hopelessness of everything, we pulled her out of there and saw her and... many others through to liberation.” He sighed and shuddered again. “Light in the darkness, you know? We could still make a difference. I could still make a difference. That was the most daunting medical situation I ever had. Helping that girl. But it was damn worth it.”
Kira gently rubbed his side as she mulled over his words. That was not nearly the depressing story she was expecting. Yet she was still quieted from it. Perhaps she just couldn't imagine the dire situation. Hiding away in ruins with a few other soldiers and cutting the legs off of a child in the dead of night. It was a shockingly morbid thought. But the end result was... not pleasant, but somehow invigorating. After a minute of silence between the two, Dylan pulled himself away from the canine and sat straighter as he said, “Er... sorry. That was kind of sudden.”
“No, don’t apologize. I did say I would listen to anything you want to say.”
A very slight smirk crossed his lips. “Felt kind of good, talking about that.”
Kira matched him with a grin. “You smell better.” Her nostrils flared to emphasize the point. The man seemed like he just unloaded a large amount of stress.
“I do try to smell great.”
“I said better, not great.”
They both shared a short laugh before Kira got to her feet, with Dylan following suit. She lashed a toothless smile at him. “Alright. So, are you ready to look around?”
“What? Stopping already? Don't tell me your tired.”
She growled playfully at him. “You were the one slowing down at the end.”
“Sure, but I'm all better now.” She fixed him with an unbelieving look. He grinned back at her. “Hah! I kid, I would love to see Rome.”
The sergeant nodded to the upper levels of the Colosseum. “To the top, then?”
An orb of blue light suddenly popped into existence in front of them. It flitted about as Dahashi's voice came from it. “Hello! Follow me to your seats!” The pair exchanged looks. Seats? They didn't question it further, though, as they quickly took off after the orb when it flew off. They navigated through a maze of stone halls, iron gates, and stairs. But with the AI's guidance it took only minutes for them to come before a spectator entrance to the seats. But instead of going out there, they turned to look out of one of the many arches along the outside to see a city straight out of the history books.
Unfortunately, Kira was still desensitized to these sights, but Dylan felt the full effect. “Oh my God...” He muttered as he stepped closer to the edge and looked it over. Arches, domed stone buildings, and red tiled rooftops. They were hardly so high up, the view wasn't quite so grand, but that didn't seem to faze the medic as he simply stood there, eyes darting around. The streets were barren and lifeless, though Kira knew full well that they could be bustling at the AI's will.
Dahashi walked up from behind them and stood next to Dylan, wearing a white toga with a purple Sash across it. He scanned it over with the pair. “It's far from done, but the look is there. What do you think?”
“It's incredible.” The human answered without looking at the blue vulpine.
“Thank you!” He waved a hand over his replica. “You may explore it whenever you have free simulation time. But first, you should take your seats.” As if to punctuate his words, the raucous roar of a crowd suddenly began to filter out from the entrance behind them.
“What?” Dylan asked dumbly.
“Your seats!” The Roman fox beamed happily at him. “There's a show about to start!” He beckoned for them to follow Come, come! Let us not miss it!” He turned around and marched off to the entrance with the two soldiers in tow. When they walked out into the open air, they were greeted with the sight of the amphitheater bustling with life. The seats were crammed with people of numerous species cheering down at the arena grounds. But a look down showed it was no longer ground. It had been filled with water and six wooden ships were floating in it with blue clad people on three and red on the other. “Come now! You don't want your seats to be taken, do you?” Dahashi said to them as they gawked. This was actually new to Kira, so she looked just as dumbfounded as Dylan.
Kira was the first to muster her wits. She grabbed a hold of Dylan and brought him along as she followed the vulpine down to the lower seats of this level. The three moved down the aisle a short distance then the human and wolfess were pointed to sit between a green dragon and another human. The AI then promptly vanished from existence when they took their seats.
Dylan looked around at the crowd curiously. “Are they all just... run by Dahashi?” he asked.
Before Kira could say she didn't know, the dragon next to her charge said, “I'm not!” He held out a scaly hand for him to shake, which the medic took after a moment of confusion. “I'm Soraf, a friend of Dahashi.”
The man looked at him curiously. “Pleasure to meet you. Another AI then?”
“Likewise, and yep!”
Dylan motioned to the rest of the crowd. “What about all of them?”
“There are currently four AIs, including Dahashi, connected to this session, as well as five non-AIs. Oh, now six! The non-player characters are loosely controlled by all four of us, but for the most part are just given a set of advanced reactions. You could have a nice chat with any of them.”
Further conversation was suddenly interrupted by brief fanfare from a band somewhere in the amphitheater, then silence across the area. Dahashi was down at the lowest level, in one of the boxes that seemed to be reserved for important people. “Greetings, everyone!” he loudly spoke. “I'm glad you could make it on short notice! I know the naval battle was planned for next week, but a few honored guests compelled me to want to do it while they're here!”
“Are we the honored guests?” Dylan quietly asked Kira as Dahashi continued his speech.
“I suppose so. The topic did come up, maybe he picked up that we were both interested in seeing something like this.”
“More art to show off?”
“Well. I like Dahashi's art.” The human sitting next to Kira suddenly leaned forward and looked at Dylan. They met eyes then the unknown man winked at the other before sitting back and listening to Dahashi.
Kira watched as Dylan appeared to have thoughts jump though his mind. He looked down and she heard him quietly mutter, “Oh, right. He heard everything...” She patted his back. It sounded like he just realized the AI heard all of their talk, though he didn't seem frustrated by it, so much as simply remembering that the AI could do that.
They both returned their attention to Dahashi as he was just finishing his speech. “Now! Let the battle begin!”
Right after he spoke the crowd started to cheer as all eyes shifted to the ships as they dropped oars and paddled the short distance to each other with soldiers on deck, ready to board their opponents. Dylan was right. There wasn't exactly much space to move, but it was still quite the sight! The six wooden leviathans needed no sails as dozens of oars propelled by manpower alone sent them forward. Two of the ships rammed each other, bow to bow, while the other four moved alongside one another. Then soldiers began to leap across the gap and tore into the each other with mock wooden weapons. The clatter of fake swords against apparently real armor reached Kira's ears and dozens of people started to 'fall' on the decks.
It didn’t really sound like a battle. In fact, Kira’s hearing easily picked out laughs and merriment among the fighters. Even as one ship started to break apart for seemingly no apparent reason, only to sink a small distance and have the warriors jumping from piece to piece to get at each other, it just seemed… jovial. It was just a game, and the AIs controlling it knew this.
“We need a team.” Dylan abruptly said to Kira part way through the mock battle.
Red or blue? Naturally, Kira had to choose her favorite color. This was obvious. “Blue team! Let's cheer for blue team!” Her blue eyes seemed to get a bit of a twinkle in them when she looked at him.
That was all it took. Then just like that the man turned into a wonderful representation of an overzealous fan. “Go blue team! Tear them apart! Get them!” Kira could swear she saw blue team suddenly gain a morale boost as they became more aggressive and red seemed to just be more willing to go down. She noted it, but said nothing. Her charge may have as well, but he showed no signs of caring.
Kira happily fell into cheer with her charge, calling out for the splintery doom of red team. She didn't rightly care who won, and she doubted Dylan did either, but the moment was happy, fun, cheerful, friendly... this was exactly the kind of relaxing things she wished to do with her charge. Despite his trauma filled problems, the investigations, and the therapy sessions forced into her weekend, the training, the games, idle chatter and simple fun with the little alien, that could only get better as they came closer, made it all so very worth it.