Chapter 4: Dion1
I was a bit surprised to learn that they had the same kinds of food here as they did on Earth. Beef, chicken, fish, bread, fruit, tea seemed to be common wherever you go. One thing that disappointed me was that there was no coffee. Cedric got this blue liquid called soykaf. It was close enough. I got a large cup of it, a hamburger, and something that looked like fries. The card paid for the meal and the three of us sat down.

I asked Larani if she didn't know what the others skills were, how could we discuss strategy? "Well the team is made up of people from different nations, some of which were enemies not long ago. I was curious as to how they would get along with each other. Plus there's you." she answered, "We don't know much about you or in what areas you are skilled at. Is there something you're not telling us?"

What was I suppose to say? That I was a criminal? That I have a long history of stealing weapons and getting in gun fights? That Rapid Fire specialized in illegal weaponry? That most of my life was the equivalent of a war? How would the military react to this? Kick me off Rimfire most likely. Telling the truth was too much to risk. I took a few bites of my food before answering. "Nothing important. What did you want to know? I have been mostly in charge of Rapid Fire for several years with over thirty employees so leadership is no stranger to me. I am an expert in Earth small arms and I can use any of them well especially the handgun and SMG. I also know the martial arts Tae Kwan Do and Gun-Fu. Plus Rapid Fire's main office has total environment VR home learning system, allowing for quick basic competency of many skills. So far I have learned demolitions, teaching, electronics, and first aid. In addition, I can read people's moods."

Larani wanted to know what I meant by 'mostly in charge', "The real leader is Rapid Fire himself. He generally stays behind the scenes leaving me to do most of the work. Whenever there's a really big deal, I mean real big, he will make himself known, but that does not happen very often. I'm the one who does almost everything. But he's the one with the contacts needed to make the business run."

OK, so I chose not to let them know Rapid Fire and I were the same person. But by bending the truth, I can dodge most of the negative stigma from being the head criminal while keeping my leadership experience valid. "Your answers have left me with more questions, Nate. You know that? Tae Kwan Do? Gun-Fu?" Cedric commented.

"Tae Kwan Do is a very effective martial art. I'll have to teach it you sometime. As for Gun-Fu..." I pulled out my heavy pistol much to everyone's surprise. "This is the Colt AMT Model 2000, arguably the most powerful autopistol in existence. Standard weapon in the U.S. army. But it is more than that. In the possession of one who is familiar with Gun-Fu, it becomes an extension of his arm, his very being. True masters are said to have a special feel for the condition of their weapon, how many bullets are left, how long has been since the gun has been cleaned."

By now a small crowd of curious people have gathered around. I stood up and made a few dramatic movements. This was once small chat now turned into a full demonstration. Now I wished I bought the acting program for the VR system. The ammo cartage was pulled out along with the bullet which was ready to fire in insure there would be no accidents. I began a few warm up motions making large sweeps with quick movements with my gun hand. "You learn how to coordinate your firearm with other actions in combat. Dodges, sweeps, blocks, and grapples are the main focus, especially grapples."

To prove my point I chose an on-looker at random, a pretty young woman who dyed her hair a bright purple. In a flash I preformed a well honed grab to her shoulder, brought her in close, and jammed my pistol in her gut. "Bang. You're dead."

It was a conscious effort not to pull the trigger. I knew the gun was empty, but why take risks? I finished the demo by giving the unexpecting volunteer a quick kiss as the others applauded. I let the lady go and gave thanks for their time before sitting back down. "Rather impressive don't you think?" I asked Larani.

"You certainly attracted some attention to yourself. Do you do this everywhere you go?"

"Any businessperson will tell you how vital advertisement is to the success or failure of something. Normally this is not so dramatic or public. I prefer to rely on word of mouth, but since no one here has heard of me, it has to start somewhere. I want to ask you about these 'mektons'. How easy are they to operate? Is it based off anything I might be familiar with?"

"Piloting a mekton is not like anything else. It is a combination of joysticks, buttons, and foot pedals. Some, like construction mektons and roadstrikers, are actually controlled, in part, by your own movements. As a member of Rimfire, you will receive training soon. I'm sure you'll be reasonably competent at it."

"Excuse me." a new voice interjected shyly, it was the woman I 'killed' in the demo. "Would you mind joining me for a cup of soykaf?" she asked.

How could I refuse? I politely excused myself and walked over to her table. We made small talk for a while. I learned her name was Cersandra and that she was a technician on board the station. She was curious about where I learned Gun-Fu. After I told her she was asking be about Night City. Cersandra was young, barely out of her teens and being twenty five I felt a little wary about trying to start anything romantic with her. Any fascination with me on her part is like an upper class teen attraction to a biker. I told a few tales about some of the fights I've been in (they were at least partially true) between sips of the soykaf (it was like coffee but lacked its bitterness), but learned nothing about life on Algol. It was approaching midnight when she said she'd have to leave because she went on duty early the next day. We agreed that we try to see each other again, but I wouldn't be too disappointed if we didn't. I was mildly surprised and a bit grateful to notice that Cedric and Larani had stayed the whole time. "I think she likes you." Larani said as Cersandra left the cafeteria.

"And how much were you paying attention to us, Captain?" I commented back.

"Enough to learn that you didn't live a perfectly legal life before coming here."

"Will that be a problem?"

"Not if all criminal behavior was left back there."

"It was, after all by business was there." I finished with a grin.

Cedric interjected mentioning that it was getting late. We compared room numbers so that we'd know where the others were in case of an emergency. Fortunately all of us were in the same general location. Five minutes later we were in our respective rooms. I got Deric's and there were still stuff of his that still had to be sent back planetside. My own belongings were there also. I went through them to make sure nothing was stolen. Everything was there and no one had appeared to have gone through it.

I got a small cubicle maybe eight feet across. The left side had a closet with drawers next to it. On the right was a mini bathroom with toilet, sink and shower stall. In the back was a computer and desk. The bed was mounted over the desk. All in all, it was very cramped. Hardly enough room to walk in and the only free space was at the front to the immediate left and right to the sliding door where Deric's and my stuff was placed. There was a note pad and pen on the desk and I had this inspiration to start keeping a diary. If I ever returned home, this would make a good book.

I spent the next hour writing down my experiences today beginning with a summation of my life up to the fight in the lab where I got verbose and detailed as much as I could. For privacy reasons I wrote in English. Somewhere along the line, I acquired the native language and writing without losing my own. It's something I'd like to figure out some day. Rule number two of being a fixer "What you don't know can kill you." By then I was getting tired so I dug out my sleep inducer and put it on. The inducer is a handy device for busy people. It gives you a full night's rest in only three hours. I climbed up onto bed, activated the inducer, and instantly drifted off into slumber. Three hours later the machine woke me up. At this time of night with no one around, I figure it would be a perfect time to explore the base.

I thought to look in the closet and to my surprise there was a UAA uniform hanging there. I tried it on and found that it fit rather well. But as nice as it was, I wasn't too comfortable walking around without some from of armor and this material didn't look like it would stop a mild wind. But since this would lessen my chances of getting attacked in the first place, I attached my badge to the UAA suit and walked out. The lights were turned dim in the hallway. I strolled down several corridors looking for any sort of change, a rec room, officer's lounge, anything to break the monotony of door after door. There wasn't any.

I thought I'd head down to the research section to check up on the lab boys. However that section was closed to non-authorized personnel. The guard commented on how much activity there was in some of the labs. A technician passed by and recognized me. It was the scientist who took my notes on the portal. I inquired as to the progress into understanding what was on the papers. He told me that language problems were interfering with any progress, but he said not to get optimistic. Most of the details behind the portal were not present in the stack. What was there was the plans for the screen, the device that actually created the portal was missing. What they did have was only an occasional reference to its inner workings and the idea behind the destination locator which determined where the portal would open.

However, progress in the other devices was progressing at a good rate. The ammunition for my Colt Mauser cannon could be easily reproduced with their technology and that they have already made two clips for me. Once again he asked to examine the actual gun. Once again I told him I'd prefer to wait until I can feel 100% sure that it could be put back together once their examination was completed. He mentioned how far they have went into the workings of some of the weapons found on the C-team and how they were going to incorporate them into their own weapons, both for people and mektons. The though of a mekton sized Mauser cannon sent chills down my spine.

It occurred to me that my arrival could change the face of Algolian history. The mixing of two technologies had a tremendous potential and I hoped that not everything from this merger would be directed for war. We came to the computer lab where some skill chips were being studied. It took them a while to realize the function of the chips was simple and straight forward, to provide a database to which the user can access the provided skill. It just seemed to unlikely to them and they were equally amazed and repulsed by the idea of programming skills into people. There was a chipware socket in the room also and the interface between man and machine was being studied. The general opinion was that Algol had the capabilities to create such devices but never though to since they had their mektons. I made sure to point out the advantages of investing in improving people from the inside instead of fancy suits of armor. They promised to correct that mistake.

One area they learned much from was organ replacement cybernetics. Currently they had cybernetic replacements for arms and legs, but they weren't as good as the original. With actual perfected models at their disposal, the mistakes made could be corrected. Perhaps they could find a way to actually improve Earth cybertech, finding a better way for a pilot to interface with his/her mekton for example. Thinking about those large robots reminded me that I didn't know how to operate one. I asked the closest person around if the training areas were open. He gave me directions to the VR simulation room then fell asleep on the desk. I asked for whatever skill chips they could spare before leaving them to their work and hoped they wouldn't blow up the base by accident via drossiness.

The place was right where I was told. There was no one there, but instructions were provided on how to operate the simulation by oneself. I turned on the computer and set it to novice level with the simplest mekton available, Cedric's construction robot. I climbed into the gyroscope and put on the helmet. Then I braced myself as I gave the order to begin. Immediately I saw an urban landscape around me, but it was smaller than what I was used to. I realized that I was bigger. There were two joysticks in the front of the small cockpit. Each stick had a variety of different buttons. A warning sounded informing me the leg harnass was active and that the footpedals were turned off.

I grabbed the sticks and carefully lifted a leg. The mekton's leg matched my own motion as I took a step. The Heads Up Display (HUD) had a radar scanner in the corner in addition to fuel and ammo readouts. Carefully I walked down the street. Before I could go ten steps another mekton jumped me. It was exactly like mine, but completely black. As it charged, I moved the joysticks any way I could. Red crosshairs appeared on the screen. When one of them was on the attacked I pushed one of the five or so buttons on the joystick. The right arm shot out with the fist ending where the crosshairs were, but the had a gun in it. Plus the target was still out of reach, but it would be soon. I released the button and the arm returned to it's normal position. When it was almost on me, I did a quick side step and went for a trip. At least the leg harness was easier to control. The maneuver was a success and the black mekton fell flat on it's face. Before it could get up I gave it a quick kick then stomped on its right arm as I frantically moved the controls about trying to learn their function. One button I hit sent me straight up.

Great, I activated the rockets. At least direction was easier to control. There was a second set of joysticks next to the first more or less hidden from view that controlled my speed and direction. I circled around and made quick adjustments to the weapon controlling joystick until the mekton was in the crosshairs. This time a different button was pushed and the rifle fired a shot hitting my opponent in the back. I tried to land again, but instead crashed head first into a building.

My vision went black and I heard an automated voice say "Simulation ended. Evaluation ready." I climbed out of the harness and rushed to the computer. For a first try, it wasn't that bad. If this had been real, I would have killed myself in the crash, but the other mekton was severely damaged. The computer suggested reading the mekton handbook. Sure enough there was the aforementioned book on a table near the computer. I picked it up and started reading. Several hours later, I tried the simulation again. This time I was armed with a better idea as to how the controls work.

Instead of a straight forward attack, I played a game of cat and mouse with the computer. Getting experience at using the simulated controls doing different things was better than straight combat. I tried throwing objects, pushing down walls, I even tried using the rifle as a club. The martial arts I spent so long learning didn't seem to do much good here. The mekton simply wasn't flexible enough to take some of the moves. At least I could still do a good grab. I finished off my opponent by removing his weapons one by one before firing the rifle point blank in it's canopy. This time around I was giving a good performance rating and was recommended to advancing to the next level. Not wanting to push my luck I returned to the book. For the next few hours, I was either reading the book or in VR simulation. I wasn't aware what time it was until the intercom called for me to report to conference hall 7.

I ran back to the administration level and found a map leading me to the conference. Larani and Cedric were there in addition to seven other people who would be my teammates. The chatting they were doing stopped when I entered the room. Larani demanded to know where I was and was shocked when I told her. But despite the progress which was made in simulation, she claimed that was no excuse and that I was damned lucky that Haversom hadn't arrived yet. I used the time to introduce myself to the others and learn their names.

In addition to Larani (our leader) and Cedric (assistant commander), there was Tammis Veric (flight tactician), Eiran Alestain (technician/pilot), Laian (Murian Liaison {wherever that was}), Tharis Tremaine (technician/pilot), Celine Attara (astro-navigation/ pilot), Karin Myiian (reconnaissance), and Aleoi Hiarri (computer technician/pilot). All of the new members were young. Well under twenty five, and some looked liked they were in their teens. Like Night City, some kids just had to grow up quick. Tammis looked about twenty. He had brown hair, eyes, and skin, plus there was this feel of calmness about him. I knew that I could count on him in a fight. Then there was Eiran. I could not believe how young this kid looked. He was in his mid teens, if that old. His green hair was plastered to his head from a cold sweat and ended in a thin pony tail stretching to somewhere about his waist. He looked real nervous and didn't seem to be doing much talking. Actually, he kept his mouth tightly shut. When one of the female members of the team tried to speak to him, I'd swear he looked like he was going to faint. Currently, he was fiddling with a tool from his tool kit. Next was Laian. One look told me that in some ways we were opposites. While I lived a rough live rooted deep in dark reality, she was still innocent and appeared to have lived a sheltered life. She saw little, if any, violence, and I had witnessed slaughter and misery. But we both were strangers in a strange land. Cedric told me that Murian had isolated itself from the rest of the world on the shuttle ride here. She and I would have to stick together if we were to fit in with everyone. But when she looked at me, Laian paused a moment then her eyes got wide. She stared at me until she realized what she was doing and turned away. What spooked her so badly? I learned later that she has psychic abilities. She probably scanned me and came across some awful memory which gave her the shakes. Well, if she's going to go poking around people's minds, sooner or later this would happen.

Tharis seem to be as confident as Tammis. His posture was similar to the upper class, refined families of home. I had a feeling that we were going to get along great. Celine was full of energy. When I came in she was doing most of the talking as she briefly flirted with each of the men in our group. Eiran was particularly uncomfortable when his turn came up. When I sat down in my seat (the one reserved for Daric), she gave me a approving 'hello' and battered her eyelashes at me. I've seen her kind before, out going and living romance to the fullest, and fastest, in some ways Eiran's opposite. With a mixed gender group, I wondered how much her consummate flirting would interfere with our missions.

Karin could replace the AC unit for the Astrodome. The look she gave me when I walked in late, was more disapproving than Larani's. Her uniform was clean and pressed with everything in place. I bet they gave her a lot of arctic missions because the weather matched her personality. Finally there was Aleoi. She had a smile that could light up a room. Her tan could only come from a life time's worth of tropical living. On the floor next to her was a small computer. The worn handle told me that it went wherever she did. Friendliness was almost oozing out of her.

After introductions were made, Tammis asked me how long I was on the simulator. I told him about five hours. "When do you sleep, Fox? Artis told me that you were up past midnight."

"I was, there is a device in my possession which gives you a full night's rest in only three hours. It frees up a lot of time."

"Protocol calls for an observer at all time in the simulator." Karin noted.

I resisted the urge to tell her what she could to with protocol and instead pleaded ignorance. "Is everyone in Night City as handsome as you?" Celine asked with a smile.

"Only the lucky and the rich. I happen to belong to the former. You can buy your looks there. If you have the money, you can be bio-sculpted into anything. And believe me I mean anything, animal themes are very popular this year."

That gave her a pause. When I asked Eiran what kind of machines he has worked with in the past, about all he could do was stamper. He did mention that he worked often on his city's fan carrier and its mektons. I could tell that he would have preferred a lower profile position. What this kid needed was a boost to his self-confidence. We made small talk for the next twenty minutes or so. We each learned something about each other. I was careful to edit my past in the same manner as I did with Cedric and the others. Karin demanded to know more, but then she demanded that from everybody. I answered as best as I could without admitting any illegal activities.

As I expected, Eiran and Laian were pretty quiet. Neither asked questions and only spoke when spoken to. I could feel the tension in the room from people who's nations were enemies in the not-so-distant past and tried to disperse it by changing the topic of conversation. When the clock said 9:00 hours the door open and a large man walks to the front of the room. It was General Haversom. Today he looked more like an old baker than a military commander. He was flanked by a taller, arrogant-looking man and an attractive blonde girl. The girl moved to a corner desk and pulled out a lab-top computer to transcribe the meeting. The taller man sat in an empty chair, and Haversom walked to the end of the room. Behind him, the wall is replaced with a holographic image of the Solar Arrays. He coughed slightly before he began to speak. "Good morning. I don't have much time for this, so I will be brief. I am General Haversom and the young lady is Marci D'able. You have all been chosen by your various governments to represent them in the Overwatch program. You all know what that means. You entered this room as strangers: Kargan, Elaran, Murian, Ettaran, and Earth. You will leave members of Fireflight. That is your new squadron name. Captain Larani is the flight commander. Her second is Lieutenant Cedric. The old ways are dead; I will not hear of any infighting. The world is looking for you as examples. You WILL be on your best behavior at all times! As of this moment, you are no longer under your oaths of service to your respective monarchs. You now serve the USS and the people of Algol. This is noted as of 3-15-20, 9:10am, and logged." Marci nodded and the General continued, "Welcome aboard. Are there any questions?"

Tharis asked, "What kind of mektons will we be piloting?"

"For now the base has five Aux-01 Ottos. But we are expecting a shipment of ten Stallions and later Sentinels."

Karin asked, "What is HE doing with us? He has no formal military training. No alliance to any nations of Algol. In fact he is not even basically trained in mekton operation."

"For those reasons you mentioned, Myiian. It is true that while Conners is not a native of Algol, it is also true that he shows no preference to any Algolian nation. He will act as a neutral party in any international conflict. From what he has told me, and I have every reason to believe it is the truth, he is an expert in out-of-mekton combat which makes him an excellent replacement for the late Daric Tallus. His unique perspective on events and years of combat experience is qualification enough for Fireflight. Plus his arrival has given our science much to learn in many fields."

Take that you cold-hearted bitch! I decided to risk a question. Gesturing at the taller man I said, "Thank you for your support, General Haversom. I was wondering who that man was and what he has to do with the briefing."

The man stood up and spoke with regal stature, "I am Lord Delaney, a member of the Council of Lords and leader of the Peace Faction on Elara. I am here as a representative of my government because as yet not all of us are satisfied with neither the need of the Overwatch program nor the placement of weapons in space. Some of us believe that you might drop asteroids on your enemies causing global devastation."

His mention of astroid bombs struck close to home for me. The US has suffered several such attacks by the European Space Agency (ESA). I told him this making sure to mention that while the damage to the impact area was as devastating as one would think, the area around it was virtually untouched after the initial shockwave. The last part was mostly true, but there was something fishy about this guy. I made a mental note to keep an eye on him and another on my back when he's around. "Perhaps they will be please to learn that the replacement for a one time enemy of ours knows of the horrors that result from space weaponry." he replied, but I doubted his words.

Tammis inquired about the known activities of Axis. His answer was a straight 'unknown' which was unsettling to all of us. Celine thought to ask about any ship that we might be given. Haversom told us about the Rimfire which is under construction. When it is completed, it was to be ours. Since there was no further questions he turned the meeting over to Marci for a guided tour.

We began with the general quarters where I made a request to pick up a few things. A five minute break was declared and I hurried off to grab my armored suit and Colt-Mauser cannon with clips which was to be dropped off at the mekton bays. It wasn't a large robot, but it would do until I felt fully trained in using one. I got back just in time. While I was gone Larani got this idea to give me formal training on the tour so I could become a fully fledged Ensign. After the barracks we went to the mekton bays where there were the five Ottos Haversom mentioned. I dropped off my armor and cannon here in my new locker. The janitors had just placed my name on the locker door, throwing Daric's away.

There were bays for ten more mektons. Laian asked where the missing robots were. To which Marci replied that they are late and should be shipped from Elara soon. I heard Tammis make whisper a crack about Elara shipping schedules and the quality of their work. I gave him a disapproving look as my first act as 'peace keeper'. He seemed surprised that anyone heard him, especially since I was several feet away. You learn to keep your ears open in Night City, if you don't someone can sneak up behind and backstab you.

Then she gave us a look at the Beta Quadrant, through a viewing port. I noticed a construction crew excavating the wall of a crater. Eiran saw it also and tried to ask Marci about it. But when she turned to him, he lost his voice. To save him the embarrassment, I asked the question for him. Marci said that the crater was part of their expansion plans. Between stops, Larani drilled me with information about the UAA military including ranks, duties, salutes, code words, and standard flight formations. We then went back to the living quarters, this time they were for the standard crew and not for Overwatch, before heading to the gym and workstation.

There was a target practice area at the workstation. I was asked to demonstrate my firearms skill. The standard issue UAA pistol felt light in my hands. I much prefer heavier pistols. They made me feel more powerful and threatening. The target was man-shaped and fifteen meters away. It hung from an overhead suspension system like in Earth's police stations. I aimed quickly then fired off the whole clip of eight shots. The paper target was reeled back to us and I yanked it off. On the target where the man's face would be I created two eyes and a grin with bullet holes. I gave it to Larani saying, "Have a nice day."

"Show off." Karin muttered. But this time there was a sliver of respect in her words, just a sliver.

Everyone was impressed by my display of gun skill. Actually this pistol was better than I thought. Didn't have the penetration of what I was used to, but it had a good feel to it. Cedric suggested that I show them another demonstration of Gun-Fu, but Marci insisted that they must be done soon because she had an important appointment later. As a finale to our two hour tour we were taken to the elevator where I originally met Larani. Since seven out of ten of Fireflight members haven't seen Dion City I paid it no mind. We descended down and soon the door opened again. The newer members are shocked to see a green lawn and living trees. Beyond the small park, a street with small buildings extends toward a cavern wall. In the better light of an artificial day it was easier to tell appreciate the fact that the whole city was contained in this large subterranean cavern. Marci explained that the cavern was being transformed into a living area for the families of the base.

She passed out the remaining badges and ID cards and leaving us to explore on our own. Larani ordered me back to the administration level for a test Haversom prepared for me graduation into Ensign, after which I was told to go to the simulation and practice more on the VR mektons. I gave a small 'harumph' and proceeded back up the elevator. Before taking the test I got a bit of breakfast. It felt more like lunch considering how long I've been up so far. Most of the test was written questions about stuff Larani told me. I remembered most of it and what I forgot or wasn't covered, I fudged using what I had learned so far. The test included several 'what if...'s situations which I answered to the best of my ability, but I couldn't resist making it sound more like a story. I mean it was impossible to accurately say what you'd do in a particular situation with the information given in the few lines of the test. Just when I completed the test I felt the floor shake beneath my feet.

Several other people had felt it also as they begin to talk amongst themselves. Just when I was about to ignore it, the floor shakes more violently. This time several people fell down. Fortunately there was something solid in reach when the second tremor hit. The alarm klaxon sounded. I began to run for the mekton bay. Whatever was causing this was most certainly outside and the best way to get there was inside a mekton. Marci's voice came over the intercom. She sounded scared and hurt, "All Fireflight members to the mekton bays. Repeat all Fireflight members scramble."