30 – Plasmastrike

“By now,” Virn began, “you should all be comfortable with using your NI’s. I propose we conduct a demonstration of your adequacy. Sheathe yourselves in full suits of armor such as the one I’m wearing now.”

     All together, the cadets used their neural interfaces to swap between their standard uniforms and full suits of SIRAC, minus helmets. None of the twelve cadets had any trouble responding to Virn’s request for a demonstration.

     “Very good,” Virn stated. “Wouldn’t you agree, Kyora?”

     “They’ve come a long way from standing naked in a field,” Kyora said dryly. Virn had to suppress her laughter.

     Their Accellus training group was finally meeting outside of the simulators. Their training so far placed them on a barren field in an abandoned town, tropical beach adjacent to crystal blue water, forest clearing in the middle of the wilderness, snowfield amongst a coniferous taiga, and rooftop garden atop a tower on one of the Sister Worlds. Today, the cadets assembled within one of the Kelsor’s weapons ranges. Live weapons were forbidden aboard the simulators due to the way the simulators place participants within the simulator space. Weapons fire is not blocked in the simulator, and if one fired a weapon into a seemingly deserted virtual field, she would be killing her fellow starmen without even realizing it as each round passed through her lumionic bubble and into the bubbles of the adjacent starmen. At one of the AOTP mentor meetings, Xannissa had proposed the cadets use virtual weapons aboard the simulators for their training, but Kyora insisted that they conduct their training in an environment where live weapons could be wielded.

     “Depending on your reasons for joining the Military,” Virn said, “this may be the session you’ve been waiting for. Today, we’ll be covering the basics of Accellus weapon use.”

     Kyora, in her usual lack of SIRAC, fabricated a pistol. She kept her finger off the trigger and pointed the barrel away from the group. “This is the most basic handgun in our arsenal,” Kyora explained to the cadets while she showed them the weapon. “The Avond Designs S-Eleven.” The sidearm had a sleek appearance just like the prevailing Federation aesthetic. “It’s not my personal choice in weaponry. I prefer my handguns have a little more stopping power. That being said, you should never underestimate this weapon. It will save your life.

     “Just like most other handheld weapons in the Federation arsenal, and every weapon we’ll look at today, it’s a gravitic mass driver. It has two ammunition modes: kinetic and plasmic. Kinetic rounds are, of course, solid. They’re your go-to for longer-range encounters. Plasma is better against closer range targets. Why? You can blame thermodynamics for that, but that’s a discussion better had with a scientist. These drivers possess some of the strongest gravitics systems we can make. They propel rounds up to five-hundred meters per second in a barrel one-hundred-twenty millimeters long. That’s over one-hundred-thousand g’s of gravitational acceleration in a tiny burst lasting less than a thousandth of a second, and since it is a gravitic propeller, there is absolutely no recoil.”

     Kyora picked up a device bearing the universal symbol for omnium from a table nearby. “This is a handgun- and subsustainer-compatible magazine. All it does is store Military omnium synthevar that we can use for our weapons so that we don’t always need to drain our Accellus’ supply.” She slid the magazine into the bottom of the pistol’s grip and made sure it was secure. “There are two other classes of universal magazines: medium for drivers and assault drivers, and large for sustainers, launchers, and cannons. You’ll want to use unimags whenever you can, but it’s not the end of the world if you can’t. A tiny gun like this isn’t going to leave you high and dry, but don’t forget that every round you fire is a bit of personal reservoir you lose. Truthfully, most Auroras and Assault Force equip boosters to their backs before battle that function as extended reservoirs, but unimags are always an option especially when you have no access to a booster pack.”

     Kyora stepped over to the range and said, “I want you all to gather around here.” After the cadets moved in closer, the phantom continued. “If I try to pull the trigger now, what’s going to happen?” She held the S-11 up to eye-level with both hands and aimed it at the rectangular target twenty meters downrange.

     “Is your safety on?” one of the cadets asked her.

     “If it is, what would happen?”

     “The gun won’t fire.”

     “Exactly,” Kyora explained. She pulled the trigger, but the handgun refused to fire. “Every time you fabricate a weapon, the safety is on by default. This keeps you from accidentally shooting your friends—or yourself. You disengage it by using your NI. So now that the safety is off, this is a live weapon. Your finger doesn’t go on that trigger until you are absolutely ready to fire, understand? It’s in plasma mode, so I’m going to take aim and fire.”

     Kyora fired the S-11 several times at the target. All of her shots landed within the bullseye of the concentric circles on the lumigraph. The cadets listened to the initial silence that accompanied the split-second ejection of each plasma bolt from the barrel. Each bolt, like lightning, hit the target and burst into a single micro-thunder that, combined with the other bolts, gave rise to a miniature thunderstorm. Everyone’s Accellus placed lumionic barriers within their ear canals to soften the potentially-deafening noise of the exploding bolts.

     “How was that?” Kyora asked them.

     “Like a natural,” Virn told her, judging her friend’s accuracy and precision.

     “If the gun does not detect an Accellus suit, it also will not fire.” To demonstrate, Kyora recalled the bodysuit from her hands and pulled the trigger, but the weapon, despite having a unimag inserted, did not fire. She pulled it a few times to drive her point home.

     “Okay,” Kyora said as she recalled the pistol, catching the magazine as it was left behind. “I want all of you to pick a lane and face downrange.” The cadets followed her order and stood at one of the firing stations. The range became populated by lumionic targets all ten meters down. “Fabricate an S-Eleven and point it downrange. Do not disengage the safety until I tell you!” The two Auroras walked behind the cadets as they fabricated their pistols and pointed them at the targets. Lieren tried to keep her hands from shaking. She’d never fired a real weapon before, let alone hold one. She found the experience exhilarating.

     “Safeties off!” Kyora ordered. “On my mark…” she was interrupted by a weapon discharge. “Excuse me?” she shouted. “Did I tell you to fire?”

     “I’m sorry, colonel!” Lieren cried. “I didn’t mean to.” The girl was shaking even more now. The last thing she wanted to do was piss off her instructor.

     “Everyone stop and recall your weapons,” she told them. “Trigger discipline! I said, when that safety goes off, you never touch that trigger until you are ready to fire. Is that absolutely clear?” Kyora hated when she sounded like a drill sergeant, but it always occurred when she trained others in weapons use. She appeared to place the blame of her trainee’s faults on them, but in reality, she felt responsible for every mistake made by her trainees when live weapons were being used. The last thing she wanted was for any of them to get hurt regardless of whether their Accellus’ would protect them from a slipup.

     Kyora allowed them to refabricate their weapons. This time, Lieren held her finger far away from her trigger after disengaging her safety. When the order was given to fire twelve rounds into the targets, she hesitated for a moment. After collecting her wits, she squeezed the trigger, noticing that no matter how long she held it down, it would only fire once until she released her finger. After everyone had finished, Kyora commanded them to once again recall their S-11’s. She wasn’t interested in their marksmanship for this lesson, so she ignored how awful it was. She gathered the cadets together and fabricated a new, larger weapon.

     “The rest of the weapons I’ll show you today I did not intend for you to try. The S-Eleven is a self-defense weapon in most respects. These other ones are weapons of war. This,” she explained, showing off the weapon in her arms that she pointed away from the group, “is the AD-Ninety-Nine assault driver. It is the workhorse of the entire Federation Military, so listen close…”

     Xannissa stepped off of the lift when it arrived at main engineering. Officers, engineers, technicians, and others of the crew, including a moderate number of personnel from their compliment of Auroras (especially after the syndicate attack) filled the central atrium. After the first week working with GreDrive’s and Archetype’s synerdrive, she could describe every minute detail of its operation. After a month-and-a-half, she could tell you its personality, its hopes, and its dreams. The same could not be said with regard to Fiori. She woke up that morning thinking about what Fiori told her weeks before: being an outside expert to work side-by-side Fiori’s operators—memories she no longer possessed. But she figured her mind was trying to refer back to those memories because of the jump drone project that was nearing completion. Regardless, Fiori was the one machine that she could never understand. There were plenty of others in the Federation that made it their careers to design drive systems. Xannissa only maintained them; maybe optimize them here and there, but she was no designer. One thing was certain, though, and it was that Fiori seemed to always have a plan.

     “Lieren,” Xannissa said as she approached the young Larissian bending over one of the lumionic tables. The cadet had adopted Xannissa’s open short jacket look, but she tended to take it a step further by leaving her arms out of the sleeves such that the jacket draped over her shoulders.

     “Good afternoon, Xann,” Lieren said. The cadet pulled herself away from the diagrams she was staring at.

     “Making any sense of it?”

     “A little bit. I still have a lot to learn,” she told her mentor, giggling.

     “How was the weapons training? Not too harsh, I hope.”

     “I thought it was really fun,” Lieren told her. “I did accidently discharge the gun, though.”

     “You what? I told Kyora to have that training in the simulator with lumes. If she had listened, this kind of thing….”

     “It’s okay,” the cadet said, interrupting Xannissa. “No one was hurt.”

     “Thank goodness,” Xannissa said. “It’s bad enough they assigned you to a mission like this. You’re too young.”

     “I knew the risk when I signed up for the Academy,” Lieren softly assured her. “In a way, I’m following in my mother’s footsteps.”

     “Was your mother Navy?”

     “Defense Force. She passed away during a mission several years ago.”

     “I’m sorry to hear that.”

     “It’s okay,” Lieren told her. “I came to terms with her death a long time ago. My father still struggles with it, and now with the rest he’s dealing with….”

     “It’s a lot for a person,” Xannissa said.

     There was a long pause. Xannissa started looking at diagrams projected from the table before Lieren asked, “So, what are you doing today?”

     “Well,” Xannissa explained, “I’d like to do some routine maintenance on the mediator. After that, the adjunct reported a slight fluctuation in ODEC Two. Nothing too unusual, but I always like to go back and check the run logs just to be safe. Usual stuff. Also going to test the fabrication program of the little side project I’m working on.”

     “Oh? What’s that?”

     “I’ll show you when we get to it,” Xannissa told her, teasing her student.

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