6 Out of Commission

The next morning was spent in a classroom. Videos detailing Anyari military history were interspersed with question and answer periods.

The Anyari Space Force could trace its history back to cavalry forces some four hundred years before. The military had diverged to separate services: land, sea, and eventually air, in a way that matched Zeke's recollection of Earth military history.

The code of honor and behavior was very detailed, and where it was not specific, gave rules for determining correct behavior in situations it did not or could not cover.

One example was the method for decision making. The ranking officer had the final responsibility when a decision must be made, but within the bounds of expediency and reason, the commanding officer had the responsibility to hear the views and ideas of his subordinates. Conversely, the subordinates had the responsibility to limit their expression of ideas to a reasonable duration. The definition of "reasonable" was the problem.

This system worked well when time was available to make decisions, and when battles were fought with other nations, they followed a specific protocol which normally allowed for that time. Quick decisions and brilliant tactical maneuvers were not an important part of Anyari military strategy.

The Rogue's sudden and surprise attacks had revealed the weakness in Anyari military leadership--a weakness that the Anyari were still trying to correct. Hundreds of years of tradition were difficult to overcome, no matter how desperate the current situation. The emphasis on making the best decision was a hindrance when only a good decision was needed.

The Anyari language had names for the different levels of importance as they related to decision making. One name for decisions affecting the outcome of a battle, another that might cause the deaths of a squad, another for a single person. A new term for the survival decisions for the entire planet had been coined after the second Rogue attack.

After lunch, Zeke and the flight returned to the simulator section. This time, they were guided to adjoining classrooms. Zeke was shown to a separate, small room where another instructor soon joined him.

The attitude of the instructor was terse, but not overtly negative. "You're going to get an accelerated version of the course the rest of your flight has received for the last few days. I'm Tumek, a senior cadet. I'll graduate next week. I'll be in here, taking another course, but I can answer any questions you have."

With that, Zeke sat at the console and listened while Ran, evidently his personal MI, began to explain each system on a fighter.

Three-dimensional videos showed a fighter in a hangar. The view zoomed in and out as the various systems were shown and explained. Panels disappeared to reveal internal structures and components as necessary.

The purpose of the training was to be able to do field repairs. Most components were designed to be replaced easily--should an MI or robotic repair unit not be available. This would be a recurring theme in the training, that MI should augment, but not replace, humans. Performing tasks was necessary to allow humans to retain the knowledge necessary for operation and repair of any machine.

Zeke wondered how this worked in practice. Why would people want to do work that could be more easily and reliably done by machines?

Those who designed the training curriculum, and those who designed the fighters and all the other machines used by the Anyari military, knew that no one could remember all the material they were taught and would soon not recall the repair procedures they'd learned. Small, durable printed copies of the instructions were placed in an unobtrusive, but easily located, place in any craft or machine. This was for the worst case scenario where no other electronic equipment was working. Anyari engineers left as little to chance as possible.


The afternoons were filled with tactics. Starting with a single fighter against a single Rogue ship--the enemy was always a Rogue--the scenarios expanded to multiple fighters, and multiple Rogue ships. Calling them ships wasn't really accurate; each was essentially a single cybernetic organism.

The week ended and they had a day off. It was a day to spend in the recreational facilities at the complex. It would be weeks before they had leave. For Zeke, that wasn't an issue. Danil and his family were the closest friends he had and it was not what he considered "home."

He spent the day wandering the complex and watching videos available from the library available via his comm. He tried to look up Elenne, but found that she was gone for the day.

The next day, Firstday, or Monday as Zeke thought of it, started differently. They reported to a new instructor, Flen, in a dressing room at the far end of the center. They were issued suits with a random green and brown pattern, and light, form-fitting helmets that covered the head and neck.

"Ground combat", Flen told them. "Your weapons will be issued when we get to the designated area."

Dressed in special suits and helmets in hand, they boarded ground vehicles which ferried them several klicks away from the center compound.

The land was wooded. Each vehicle had several large wheels suitable for rough terrain. The path they followed showed signs of regular use, but had not been improved. They stopped at a practice field with targets and a rack of weapons that looked like a mix of rifles and paintball guns.

"Today," Flen said, "you will be paired against each other in a series of matches. These weapons fire small pellets. They might sting a little when they hit, but your uniforms will both soften the impact, and record hits. You'll get a chance to practice here first, then we'll proceed to the competition area. When I tell you to put your helmets on, keep them on until instructed otherwise. Follow all the instructions you are given here, and at the competition area, to the letter. These weapons are not normally deadly, but at close range, they can damage unprotected body parts!"

He instructed them in the handling of the guns. The rules were the same, and as strict, as they would have been on a range on Earth. There were only enough stations for half the flight to practice at a time. Zeke was in the first group.

This reminded Zeke of paintball, though the pellets were a little smaller. When given the order, he and the rest of the group fired on the targets. The targets were electronic, and a large spot appeared where the pellets hit. A tone, higher and louder the nearer the center of the target, was emitted with every hit.

After a few shots, Zeke could tell that he'd have an advantage. He'd fired rifles and shotguns on Earth with his grandfather and played paintball with his friends.

Comfortable in his abilities, he took his time and watched the rest of his flight mates. They would be his competition and knowledge of their abilities was more important than practice. He continued to shoot, but made sure that his shots were less accurate than he could have done.

He could tell from the awkward way they held the guns, that most had seldom, if ever, fired such a weapon before. Geren, several places to his left, seemed to be doing pretty well, though. Being from a rural area, he'd probably had some experience that those from the city would not have had.

After about fifteen minutes, Flen stopped them. They placed the weapons in holders as he instructed, and stepped back for the next group to take their places.

By chance, Rilt had been right behind him, so he must have been aware of Zeke's performance. As the second group was given the command to fire, Zeke could see that Rilt was as inexperienced as most of the flight. His frustration was apparent in his body language and he uttered a few expletives as his first few shots were at the outer edges of the target.

Flen repeated his instructions, the same ones Zeke had heard on Earth. "Hold your breath, squeeze the trigger, don't pull."

After a minute or so, Rilt settled down, and his shooting improved. He finished with a score slightly higher than Zeke's and a smirk was visible on his face as he turned around.

Flen verified each weapon had been "safed" and addressed them. "Now we'll go to the competition field where you'll be paired against each other. You will each participate in a couple of matches today."

They boarded the ground vehicles and were driven further eastward. The land became more uneven and they crossed several small streams, which the vehicle had no problem traversing.

Two fields were marked in small, adjacent valleys with streams that met not far from the end. They stopped at a crest between the valleys where a couple of large clear shields allowed for viewing the activity below.

"The boundaries of each field are marked electronically and are projected on the face-plates of your helmets so you'll be able to see them."

He continued, "You'll receive instructions via the headsets in your helmets. If you hit, or mark, your opponent, they will either be incapacitated, partially or totally, or killed. If you are hit in the arm or leg, the suit will stiffen, impeding the use of that limb. A shot to a vital area will be scored as a kill. The match ends when one is marked as totally incapacitated or killed. Questions?"

"Rules?" someone asked.

"You are not to deliberately hurt your opponent. The consequences are severe, but that has never been a problem. Do not leave the field until the match is over. Doing so forfeits the match. You've been given no instruction on tactics, you may have noticed that is a common practice when a new area of training begins."

With that, he announced the first pairings. "Dev and Pretr on the north field, Rilt and Zik on the south."

Zeke didn't know whether to be pleased or worried. Rilt had shown the most animosity of anyone. Though he thought his experience would improve his chances, losing might make the situation worse. For that matter, he thought, winning might do the same.

A voice in his headset, and indicators on his face-plate, directed him to the east end of the field. It was about a hundred meters wide and perhaps two hundred long. There were trees for cover. The ground was uneven and muddy in many spots with worn spots and footprints from previous matches.

"The match will begin in two minutes," the voice, female as usual, announced.

Rilt was at the other end. The trees and brush limited his view to less than thirty meters and even that only in some places. The creek cut across the field at an angle, it was only a few feet wide, but the channel was ten meters in some places with the banks becoming steep and muddy as it disappeared out of sight.

"Enter the field and wait," he was told. He stepped across the illuminated line that really only existed on his face-plate. He looked around for where the best cover was, and spots that would not be obvious hiding places.

He had just decided that he would follow the stream on the south side as it headed west and south, crossing out of the field, when the MI announced, "Begin."

Rilt, he guessed, would be aggressive. Waiting was probably not his style, and Zeke intended to use that to his advantage.

Zeke sprinted, leaving himself exposed, assuming that Rilt had not been given an advantage by starting first, so he would not yet be close enough to see him.

He stopped and crouched near the edge of the field, in a slice of terrain between it and the creek bank, and waited. The ground was muddy, but he didn't hesitate to lie on his stomach.

He waited. The disadvantage of his position was that he didn't have any cover if he wanted to move. The advantage, he thought, was that it did not look like a good hiding spot. He hoped Rilt would make the same assessment.

It was more than ten minutes before he caught a movement among the trees on the other side of the creek. He didn't have a clear view or shot.

Rilt continued on, barely visible, but making enough noise to give an idea of his location.

Zeke had started from the southwest corner of the field, and when Rilt encountered the stream, he followed it as it headed back northeast.

When Rilt had almost passed out of sight and hearing, Zeke slowly slid down the bank to cross the creek. He crawled through the mud and stayed low, below the top of the bank. He was soon on the other side and slowly following Rilt. With luck, Rilt would get trapped in the northeast corner, and Zeke could find a spot and wait.

It took him a while to catch up. As soon as he heard any noise, Zeke again lay down and inched forward along the ground.

Ahead were downed logs and trees for cover. Rilt was following a narrow band of trees along the north edge of the field. Between them was a grassy, open area about ten meters across.

Zeke was in a position to shoot, but Rilt was too far.

In a moment, Rilt reached the western edge of the open area and started back south, directly toward Zeke. He could see the grim determination on Rilt's face, then a flash of concern as he realized how exposed he was. He paused for a second, deciding what to do.

That was all Zeke needed. He quickly fired several shots, catching Rilt in the center of his chest and one in his forehead. The suit froze and Rilt, clumsily, fell over.

"Match to Zik Tilor," he heard in his ear and adrenaline rushed through him.

"Weapons are safed, you may congratulate each other on a match well played."

Zeke took that to mean that he should go shake hands with Rilt, like the custom on Earth after a ball game.

As he reached Rilt, he could see the anger on Rilt's face.

"A good match," Zeke started, but Rilt's suit was still frozen and he remained strangely quiet. After a moment, it released and he clumsily got to his feet.

Unsure of what to do, he stepped closer to Rilt, his hand outstretched.

His senses returned and he could hear Elenne speaking.

"...many fingers?"

"Hunh?" he said, his thoughts foggy.

"How many fingers?" she repeated.

"I know you are holding two, but I see four," Zeke answered. His head hurt, everything in the room was blurred.

Gradually the fog lifted. Zeke could see several other people in the room. All but one had the light colored smocks that identified them as medical staff. His vision was too blurred to identify faces, but the exception had on a uniform.

"Why the crowd?" Zeke asked her.

"You have been seriously injured---a severe concussion at least. The scans show that you will recover, but you have been unconscious for some time. There was some concern."

"What is going on? I don't understand what happened, or why I'm here."

"You seem to be clear enough for an explanation," Elenne said, giving a questioning glance to the onlooker by the wall.

With that, Elenne and the other medical staff left as the man in uniform stepped up by the bed. Despite his blurred vision, Zeke could see that it was Yipt.

"Your time here has been eventful, although this time, I'm afraid, the situation is serious," he said.

"Did I do something wrong?" Zeke responded, a hint of alarm in his voice.

"No, the problem is not you, the problem is Rilt. He struck you with his weapon. The helmet protected you a little, enough to keep the blow from being even more serious, but they are not designed for that."

"I know he was upset; he felt humiliated when I won our match."

"No doubt," Yipt agreed. "His response, however, is one no society can tolerate. Especially among those who are to be leaders."

"What will happen to him?" Zeke asked.

"That is the matter which brings me here. A hearing will be held to ascertain his guilt. With the video evidence, it is simply a formality."

"I guess I don't think he is a bad guy. A little obnoxious, but even his superior attitude didn't cause a problem."

"He is, as are we all, a product of his upbringing. Those you have come to know here have been, I think you will agree, reasonable, helpful, and hardworking. Rilt was the latter, but he had some progress to make on the first two. These other traits were likely to wash him out of training."

"Rilt's family is not the most popular on Anyar, but they do have wealth and influence. Perhaps you got the impression we were an egalitarian society. In many ways, we are, but not completely so. I doubt any of us would be unaffected by such an upbringing."

Yipt was quiet after that. Perhaps giving Zeke time to consider it.

"I assume these are things I need to know, or you wouldn't be here. I don't understand why." Zeke's statement was a question.

"The determination of guilt, as I said, will be handled formally. However, you may not know that the punishment is determined, within limits, by the those affected."

"I don't want to be responsible for his punishment."

"That is often the case, but it is a responsibility you cannot avoid."

Zeke felt heavy with the responsibility. He could think of nothing to say.

"It is not," Yipt told him, "something you must decide now. You will have the counsel of anyone you choose. This is a basic part of our system of justice. But for now, you've had a difficult day, whether you know it or not. You deserve some time to recover."

"I am feeling much worse now than a few minutes ago. I don't know if it is this responsibility, or the knock on the head."

"It is something you can put out of your mind for now. I knew things might be different on Earth. It was decided that you should be informed of the process as soon as possible."

"It will be a few days," Yipt concluded, "before someone talks to you again on this subject. You will be briefed more completely then. I have no doubt you'll do what is best."

With that, Yipt briefed him on what he would need to do to keep up with the rest of his flight as he would be in the medical facility for a longer stay this time. He concluded and left to perform his regular duties.

Elenne returned and he asked how long he would be a patient this time.

"Several days," she replied, "perhaps a week. We have the means to speed the healing of most injuries; the brain, though, is still something we let repair itself."

He mentioned what Yipt had told him and the decision he faced. She just nodded.

"What if someone is really traumatized by the crime against them?" he asked. His tone betrayed doubts about the process.

"We have limits to the severity. If someone chooses an alternative punishment, unless the offender agrees, a "judge" must approve it. Nothing is perfect, but it is what we're accustomed to."

That ended the conversation. She stood by the bed and touched his arm for a long moment. "How are you now?"

"OK, I guess. My vision has cleared, but I still have quite a headache."

"You'll be taking it easy. You'd go home in a day or so if you didn't have duty, but this is the best we can do until you're ready for duty again," she said with a smile.

"How much am I going to see of you?" he asked with a hint of a grin.

"Not enough that you'll grow weary of me... but enough."