Captain Avril’s voice was loud enough for the whole training hall, even if there were only seven soldiers to shout orders to in here. Haylen and the other two new meats stood at attention in one line, the four older members of team 1 in another.
The commander of the ship entered the hall, followed by the administrative officer. The middle-aged woman placed herself in front of them, her dark brown eyes looked at them one by one, a satisfied smile on her lips.
“At ease, soldiers. Welcome to the UGS Ignis. I’m commander Nihad, and I’m proud to say you joined one of the best crews in the UTF. Congratulations.”
“Thank you, commander”, the recruits said in unison. Or not quite in unison. Haylen sort of chimed in a millisecond after. Praesidia employees never responded this way. They didn’t get congratulations either.
“This is sergeant Joel, my administrator.” She gestured at the officer in the wheelchair beside her, and he looked at them all with a trace of skepticism on his square face.
“I deal with your personal accounts and accesses, paychecks, contact with civilian authorities, medical journals, you name it.” Then he raised a finger warningly. “I am not, and I cannot stress that ‘not’ enough, not your personal shopper. I might be able to help you book urgent meeting on your domiciles, but I won’t order that special kind of chocolate or exclusive brand wallet for you. Other than that, I’m your man in the jungle of bureaucracy.”
Joel nodded at them, then looked at the commander as an indication he was done talking.
“Thank you, sergeant.” She looked at the recruits again. “You already met captain Avril. I will spare you the awkwardness of being officially introduced to the rest of the crew in a formal ceremony or the like. Instead you will meet them as I take you on a tour through the ship. You’ll get to know each other soon enough anyway. Are there any questions before we start?”
Tianyi held her hand up.
“Yes, private Tianyi?”
The commander’s lips twitched a little, amused. “In two hours from now. Do you think you will survive?”
“I can make no such promises commander, but I’ll do my best.”
Haylen wasn’t looking at Tianyi, but he could hear her grin as she talked.
“Any other questions? Preferably regarding the ship or your job.”
Leon raised his hand in his characteristically sloppy way. “I ent got stuff synced to my account yet.”
“No? Sergeant?” She turned to sergeant Joel, who was already tapping his tablet.
“On it, commander.” He looked up briefly at Leon. “Sergeant Leon, was it? I’ll send you a message when I fixed it.”
“If there’s nothing more, we’ll get started with the tour”, the commander said, and nodded at the sergeant, who barely gave her a look in return but moved towards the door, still busy with his tablet.
“This is our training hall”, the commander said, gesturing at the room in general, “where you can run simulated exercise programs with interactive targets, in a gravity range from zero to one point five, or workout in the old classic way. You’ll get more detailed instructions on safety measures and simulator management later. Prepare to spend a lot of time in here. I expect my crew to be literally fit for fight all the time, even in times with little to no real combat.”
Haylen actually looked forward to play around in a sim again. Praesidia did have a base where the employees were supplied with equipment, lodging, medical care and so on, but only the basics were covered. It was up to one and each to stay in shape, and even if there was an outdoor training area, you couldn’t get any sim training unless you went to Sol’s Ward and paid for it. On the other hand, Praesidia had been a busy company with a tendency to take commissions that turned violent, so Haylen had never had a problem with too little combat training.
He looked around the hall, catching a glimpse of the people watching from the spectator’s seat up on one wall. The lights reflected in the glass and he didn’t try to see the faces, but he did notice someone with long, red hair turning their head away the moment after their gazes happened to meet.
Then the commander told them to follow to the next area of the ship, and the group left the audience behind to see the locker rooms.
– – –
“Xander? Have you seen the new recruits?”
“Hm?” Xander stroke a wisp of wine red hair behind his ear to get it out of his face as he looked up from his tablet at Olena, one of the soldiers of team 2 that he used to hang out more with.
Olena was looking impatiently at him, an air of eagerness around her where she was hanging on the doorpost to the common room. Like most of the soldiers on Ignis she had an athletic build and a short haircut with a minor personal twist. In her case, it meant a thin braid at the very back of the crown of her head.
“Have you seen the new recruits?” she repeated. “Have you seen the new frontliner on team 1?”
“Oh. No, I only read up on them, are-”
“You have to see the new frontliner on team 1”, Olena interrupted as she stepped in, grabbed him by the arm and dragged him with her to the simulation hall.
Commander Nahid was taking the new recruits on the usual guided tour around the ship, and up on the narrow spectator shelf above the sim area, his fellow members in the tech-and-research-team, Daleen and Roz, were watching the new recruits through the glass. Emile, one of the ship’s engineers, was there as well.
“Look”, Olena hissed at Xander and pointed.
He looked down. He recognized all the new soldiers in team 1 from the crew list cards that they all had access to. “What am I supposed to look at?”
“Oh my god, are you blind? Look at the blond! Look at him, Xander!”
Xander looked. And that exact moment the new frontliner looked up at them. At him. Xander blinked and looked away, his cheeks hot all of a sudden.
“Alright, now I have looked at him…”
“If I die in battle now I’m going to die happy”, Olena sighed. “That is the face of an angel, I tell you.”
“The kind of angel that could burn you to ashes with one look”, Daleen mused, “but yes, an angel indeed”. She re-tied her short pigtails. Keith used to compare her to a cushion with tassels, which annoyed the hell out of her since she despised tassles, but it wasn’t long enough for a ponytail yet.
“As a scientist, I regret to inform you that you are all, in fact, wrong”, Roz said, her cornrow braids swaying as she briefly turned to look at them. “The true eye candy down there is the smaller soldier.”
Xander carefully glanced at the group below again. The soldier, named Tianyi if he recalled correctly, was telling the others something with a grin on her face and waving arms. He shook his head and snickered. “You’re all so embarrassing, you know that?”
“I’ll never be ashamed of my desires”, Olena stated, her eyes still fixed on the new frontliner.
“Here’s hoping their skills as soldiers are as good as their looks”, Emile said dryly. His black hair was as long as Daleen’s, but he usually only kept it from his face with a headband. He eyed them over, the thin bone structure in his face reinforcing his condescending look “And that the three of you can keep your pants on at least until they settled in properly.”
“I haven’t said anything!” Xander protested.
“Oh babe”, said Daleen smiled, “you didn’t have to. Your cheeks never lie.”
Of course he blushed again at that.