20 – Discthrower

A particularly-skilled phantom stood with Virn—both of them in their combat bodysuits with differing coverage of SIRAC and no helmets—in the middle of a large, walled training field. The sparseness of the field’s grass indicated frequent use. Atop the grass and dirt stood the cadets in rank and at attention. This field was just part of an abandoned military base at the edge of a deserted town. Low stratus clouds covered most of the sky and obscured the distant mountains. Of course, this environment was all a fiction maintained by a different simulator room than the one the cadets had their ceremony in.

     Kyora and Virn were watching an Aurora sergeant train the cadets in foundational Accellus use. This exercise—the first in a series—was real basic training. Typically, Accellus training began toward the latter half of the last year of academic work before an officer’s first posting.

     In a whisper that Kyora could hear, Virn recited, “Dulce et decorum est.”

     Kyora, who had been focusing on the cadets, looked toward Virn and asked, “What is that?”

     “What is what?” Virn responded.

     “That phrase. What does it mean?”

     “Oh, that,” Virn said. “My mother said it to me a long time ago when she found out I joined the Navy. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. It means, ‘it is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country.’ At the time, I didn’t know what she meant by that, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s an ancient Terran phrase written during a time when warfare was viewed as glorious. This same phrase was reused centuries later by a soldier in Earth’s tumultuous lead-up to the nuclear age who had bore witness to the horrors of their first global war himself. My mother was of the same opinion: there is no glory to be found on the battlefield. There exists only death and destruction.”

     “How did that make you feel?” Kyora asked, watching the cadets practice with their Accellus by recalling their standard uniform and resheathing themselves in it again. It was difficult for the cadets to catch on at first, leaving many of them naked.

     “I believe it was presumptuous of her to think I joined for glory and honor,” Virn told her. “But I think she knew me better than I knew myself. Although I told her I joined to see the galaxy—to escape the routine—, all I did was exchange one routine for another. I secretly longed for the prestige of being a soldier. I agree with my mother, but I must add that there is no other place that tests one’s character as thoroughly as the battlefield.”

     “It sounds to me like you had something to prove.”

     “Perhaps I did. Maybe it was to prove that I am more than tradition and religious rites.”

     By now, the sergeant had proven her point to the cadets. Growing accustomed to using the suit through the neural interface was akin to learning how to walk. The sergeant announced in her booming voice that she would drill them until accessing the interface was as natural to them as breathing or blinking.

     Before long, Krystal entered the simulator. She placed her boots upon the patchy lumionic turf expecting to see Kyora, Virn, and the cadets immediately as she entered, but seeing them so far away across the field destroyed her suspension of disbelief. Because she was reliant upon her extra perception with which she was supremely adept, being in an environment where people felt adjacent to her yet could be visibly or audibly anywhere near or far left her terribly disoriented and prone to looking over her shoulder only to find no one.

     Kyora noticed the corporal striding toward them. Before Krystal stepped within earshot, the phantom said, “Here comes the VIP,” with a condescension stemming from her ignorance as to why this former security guard had so far been treated with such regality.

     Stopping to give them the customary Federation Military salute—right hand on the forehead with palm out and open, and left hand behind with palm also out and open; legs together—, she spoke to them like a soldier. “Colonel Kyora Tseri! Lieutenant Colonel Virn Lorralis! Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you.” Despite being in the Navy for only a few days, she was well-adapted to Military discipline.

     “You’re here for special training?” Kyora asked.

     “Yes ma’am.”

     “Then we can have one of our non-commissioned officers train you.”

     “I would like to learn from the best, ma’am.”

     “Flattery will get you nowhere, corporal.”

     Through her Q-comms link, Virn said, “Let’s humor her. What have we to lose?”

     “Our time,” Kyora responded, “but fine. I’ll humor her.”

     “I’m bringing the three of us into a new instance,” Kyora said as she tapped on a lumionic interface generated by the simulator. When she finished, the sergeant and cadets vanished, but the environment remained. “What would you like to learn from us?”

     “I would like to familiarize myself with the various combat classes available to me, ma’am.”

     “There is an orientation module that the cadets will see later,” Kyora told her, “but I will load it for you now.” After interacting with lumionic interfaces once more, a lineup of eight lumigraphic mannequins appeared. Each mannequin represented one of the eight predefined combat classes available to an Accellus user. Every class had its own armor configuration—the ratio of SIRAC armor to exposed polyalloy bodysuit—ranging from minimal like Kyora’s to heavy like Virn’s. Weapons floated near the mannequin of the class to which they belonged.

     Krystal browsed the combat classes like a visitor to a museum as she stopped periodically to read the info boxes next to each one. Kyora and Virn looked on as Krystal practiced a process of elimination until she arrived at support: a class with a light to moderate armor configuration. Of all the weapons and equipment suspended around the support mannequin, one in particular caught her eyes.

     “What is this?” Krystal asked, pointing.

     “That’s a disc,” Kyora told Krystal flatly as the corporal grabbed the lenticular, thirty-centimeter disc and held it close. “Discthrowing is perhaps one of the more mentally-intense specializations.”

     “How so?”

     “Imagine having two pairs of eyes,” Virn illustrated. “One pair is yours and the other is on the disc. You can view your surroundings through both pairs at once, and you use both pairs to engage your enemy both from your handheld weapon and the drone simultaneously. You must be aware of your position and the drone’s at all times.”

     “The difficulty lies in ordering the disc drone,” Kyora explained, “while at the same time looking out for yourself.”

     Krystal asked, “Why isn’t it automatic?”

     “It keeps itself aloft,” Kyora responded, “but you must assign its targets which are either going to be in your direct line of sight or the disc’s. Both Avond Designs and the Military were reluctant to give the disc a mind of its own for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, most beginners neglect their disc when they start taking fire and it ends up idling until it’s shot down.”

     “I understand,” Krystal said as she turned the disc around with her hands and examined both of its sides before holding it in front of her chest. “Can I give it a try?”

     “After you configure your armor for support,” Kyora explained. Krystal’s Accellus fabricated SIRAC around her chest and upper arms while leaving her bodysuit exposed at the forearms, abdomen, pelvic area and thighs. Being a product of the simulator, Kyora had to link the lumionic disc to Krystal’s Accellus as if it were her own.

     “One exercise we have trainees perform,” Kyora told her, “is for you to run around a tight track while you pilot the drone through a course.” As she said this, her right fingers inputed a torrent of information into a lumigraphic interface that brought the track and drone course forth into existence. “Go ahead and give it a shot. Just throw the disc into the air and pilot it through the rings until you get comfortable, and then you can start running.”

     Doing as she was instructed, Krystal held the disc in her right hand, brought it to her left shoulder, and flung the disc into the air where it floated on gravitics. She could see through the drone’s photosensors via lumigraphs projected on her corneas. Every movement the disc made was a product of Krystal’s thought through her neural interface. After one successful pass through the course with the disc, Krystal jogged toward the oblong track and ran several laps without ever losing control of the disc.

     “Do you have any prior experience with discs?” Kyora asked her, impressed by Krystal’s demonstration of skill well into an intermediate level.

     “I don’t, ma’am,” Krystal said through her breaths as she came to a stop in front of Kyora and Virn. “Has anyone ever tried to control two at a time?”

     “Most supports use only one,” Virn said, noticing that the disc kept circulating through its course. “Though there have been known exceptions.”

     “Can I try it?”

     “Humph. Knock yourself out,” Kyora told her. Moments later, Krystal was running around the track again while maintaining two discs on the course—both traveling in opposite directions. Virn was genuinely impressed. Kyora did not know what to make of Krystal’s seemingly immense mental aptitude.

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