Thessalia’s question was probably well founded, but it was still somewhat unwelcome. Seeming to ignore her for a few seconds as he flash-boiled some water with the kettle, he added a few tea leaves into his cup, as well as another, before pouring the water into both cups and stirring it, the water slowly turning brown as the tea leaves diffused into the liquid. Pushing the cup towards Thessalia, Richard sighed. “I guess you have a right to know, seeing as you’re on the team and all,” he said as he leaned back on the counter, bringing the cup up to his lips and drinking a fair amount before placing it back into the table. “You’ll need the tea…” he muttered as he leaned his head back to collect his thoughts.
“Jacks always been…a quiet lad,” the Englishman began, with a voice similar to the narrator of a fable, “when I first met him, he was a nervous little bugger that barely hung around anyone at all, keeping quiet in his room while his maids bustled around him.” Taking another sip of his tea, Richard stared into the bottom of the cup, as if to gauge the amount that remained. “As a new inductee into the larger SPIRIT conglomerate, the children of the various companies assimilated into its operations were placed together under the care of a kindly old teacher who looked after us, not that there were many to speak of. The ones I remember are me, Jack and a child from Shanghai’s ROOK branch with too many missing limbs to be human…Jack’s behaviour intrigued me, and despite the fact that he tried to avoid me, my innate curiosity told me to follow him…but now it seems the tables have turned.” A small chuckle made its way out of his mouth as he drank another mouthful of the fragrant liquid “As the Australians say, it landed me a joey in my pouch,” he said as he drank the rest of the tea and placed the mug into the sink.
“Moving on however, the more I tried to talk to Jack, the more forthcoming he became. Believe me when I say he was even more introverted than he is now, as hard as it is to believe,” he said as he bent down to the fridge, swinging it open and removing the remaining roast beef from yesterday, “ at first it was just things like ‘leave me alone’ and ‘go away’, but after proper application of the Dempsey roll against one of the more…aggressive predators within our group, the boy started to stick to me like glue.” Using his foot, Richard kicked open the oven and unceremoniously threw the bowl in there before kicking it shut before setting the oven to reheat the meal. “Back then, he was just known as ‘Jack Roman’…but once we got to around 14, and we got fitted for our personal carapace armour and A.W.E.s…the lad started to change…From what I gathered, he became two entities, ‘Jack’ and ‘Roman’, with Jack being the jackarse and Roman being the timid little bugger at the table,” he said as he subtly pointed to Jack. There wasn’t any point though, really. Despite what he may have looked like he was doing, Richard knew that he was listening intently into this conversation.
“Jack was a refreshing, albeit annoying, change in the boy, but there was no denying his skill at arms, despite his lack of social skills which I attributed it to his upbringing. Between the two of us, we could dispatch most opponents and complete every mock mission set before us, but I noticed that while rambunctious and belligerent in the arena, he still remained quiet in every other situation,” he recounted as he kept his eyes on the frying meat, “fast forward a couple of years and he went to counselling, and then got diagnosed with multiple personality disorder- Ahh…here we go,” he muttered as he slipped on the oven mitts, sliding the roast beef back out of the scalding hot oven and onto the counter. Removing a carving knife from the rack above him, Richard dextrously cut through the meat as he continued the tale. “Eventually, everyone just got used to ‘Jack’ and ‘Roman’…well…except for Paul that is…and my training partner was separate from my social partner,” he said as he slapped the meat as well as some reheated veggies onto three plates. “A couple years later and here were are at the academy.”
Picking up two of the plates, leaving the last one to Thessalia, Richard moved out of the kitchen and sighed as he looked down at the sleeping form of Karl. With a swift kick from Richard into the snoozing American’s rear end, Richard unceremoniously woke him up. “Oi you lazy little wanker,” he said with a slight chuckle, indicating that it was a joke…mostly…, “it’s time to eat, get your arse to the table.” Looking over to the dining table, he saw that Jack had retreated somewhere, most probably to the rooms to sleep. Richard sighed. Whatever floated his boat. “Lets say we have some entertainment, shall we?” he asked rhetorically as he used his holopad as a remote, the giant screen embedded in the wall flickering to life as the Englishman pressed seemingly random buttons on the pad. Blue screens filled his view, before he finally flicked to the channel he was looking for. A man shaped figure suddenly exploded as a missile impacted. It was a direct feed to the battles in the arena. It was always good to study one’s enemies.
The morning started off just like any other morning for Richard: Badly and to early. Grumbling his way through his morning routine, the pilot managed to soften up a bit after a morning shower. At least enough to stop his glowering face from scaring any children. His uniform, about as impeccable as it always got, with the vest and bowtie beneath, was thrown on haphazardly, and Richard made his way towards the breakfast hall. Along the way, however, he was accosted several times by students who offered their congratulations on yesterday’s exhibition match, which he received with good grave and ‘thank you’s. It seemed that Squad one was the Squad of the hour. Some of the faces he could place to names after seeing their performances, managing to rise above the level of an average pilot, but most were just lost in a sea of mediocrity. He had no doubt that his teammates would have the same treatment; although if they had the same reaction, Richard had no idea…He highly doubted that Karl would be as gracious and dismissive as he had been.
The breakfast hall was once more flooded with various chattering students as Richard’s eyes remained glued to the plate in front of him. Today’s menu was a combined American and English Breakfast…in other words, lots of bacon and eggs, a grilled tomato, toast, sausages and a slab of black pudding, with some baked beans on the side. While the Englishman was happy to see something from where he was from…the sheer amount of food that was on the table made him take many second, third and fourth glances at the meal while his schoolmates dug in. He swore that the food could have fed a country on its own if he left it…nevertheless, he picked up his knife and fork. A man such as him couldn’t let such a trivial fact get the better of him. ‘Have at thee!’ he shouted internally.
Standing outside the cafeteria as he cradled his stomach, Richard regretted having eaten all of his food. That last strip of bacon was probably what did it for him. A smouldering cigarette was held in his right hand as he resisted the urge to throw up what he had eaten. Managing to keep it down for the most part, Richard reduced the tobacco stick to a stub and snubbed it out against the steelcrete wall of the bunker before dropping it into a wastebin. Exhaling the remaining smoke from his lungs, the Englishman rubbed his packed stomach once more as his holopad rang, probably with the details of today’s lesson, like the colonel seemed to do every day. It was nice. It gave them the sense that their commanding officer was watching over them.
“To: Squad One Cadets
From: Colonel Landsfeldt
Subject: Training and Congratulations
Your collective performance yesterday was satisfactory, cadets, and I must congratulate you on your victory. However, there are still some points that need to be addressed before you become fully cohesive as a unit. First thing is first, however: Scarlett, your support unit, has been sent back home to the Russian Union after some…complications which I shall not delve further into. In other words, the school is bringing in a replacement for her, and I will assume that you know her by now. Have fun guessing. Cadet Minori, due to your adequate performance yesterday as squad leader, I will be promoting you to squad Sergeant. Cadet Williams will be your Corporal for now, but that will be subject to change depending on his performance. Moving on however, I’ll give you the lesson plan for today.
Today’s main mission is an orbital drop, to get you used to your position as shock troops in the greater theatre of war. More details will be given upon your arrival, but you should mentally prepare yourselves now so you’re not found wanting when you do start the mission. After that, you have a theory lesson with me, so don’t exhaust yourselves too much. Report to Arena 17 by 1000 hours and you will not have latrine duty.
Landsfeldt signing out.”
Richard’s brow knitted in thought. An orbital drop mission? Now that was an interesting mission indeed…It meant that they would have to rapidly react to any threats that were sent at them from the beginning. An aerial drop was one thing, after all, they didn’t have to consider the heat of re-entry, and a drop from an orbiting ship meant that they would have to be boarded into a drop pod. Richard smiled. Well. Looks like the Colonel had a flair for the unknown considering that he had just thrown them into the deep end. Drop pods were suited more for infantry than A.W.Es, and even then, could only take up to four lights at most, which meant two mediums or one heavy and light. Anything bigger and the thing would break apart on entry, not to mention the impact strength of the pod. Richard already had an idea of who his drop partner would be. And he didn’t like it one bit.