Orbital Academy 15byMaddirose©
A big thank you to all of my fans who have supported me with your kind messages!
I hope you've enjoyed the story so far, but as of this chapter there are going to be some changes to Orbital Academy! Instead of a very short chapter released every week, I'm going to spend the time to craft a longer, better chapter, and switch to a release schedule of once every three weeks. Hope you enjoy!
General Hunter wanted to heave his personal screen across the room, but instead he simply heaved a sigh. Newcomers to the station would often compliment him on how organized and easy it was to request resources from Orbital Pivot; few considered just how difficult it was to organize. As if in response to his frustration, his screen pinged with an incoming message.
*Orbital Minera proposing higher quantity trade, more crysium for more mining drones. ~Sara*
"Pull up import-export graph between Pivot and Minera," Hunter sighed, leaning back as the screens at his desk followed his command. He flicked to the next message.
*Guy came in with over three thousand luxury chips, won't say where he got them, permission to do a background check? ~Timothy*
*What's Pivot's policy on age of employment? The tests normally weed out youngin's, but we've got a promising thirteen year old who just rebuilt a Tanning-Spanly and wants to enlist... ~MkRathly*
Hunter stared at the message for a moment, reading it several times without registering what it said.
It seemed so long ago that he had been a spry man, in his youth. For a moment he let himself fondly remember the days when he could leap to his feet at news of a crisis, or jog down the hallways in an emergency. Nowadays he just felt *heavy* all the time, less as if his muscles had atrophied and more as if each piece of his body simply weighed far more than it used to. He stared at the readouts in front of him, trying to pull his attention away from the weight in his muscles and focus again on his screens. The planetary run had been ill-advised. No matter how he wrapped his mind around it, he couldn't see a justification for Auspus to send ill-equipped rookies down to attack the Terrans on their own.
*Was it some extreme method to train them up? A trial by fire?* He shook his head, "Would make far more sense to send them to guard a mining run first, get them acclimated to the surface before sending them against Terrans." Errisa would've chided him if she had heard him muttering to himself.
"It makes you sound less wise old man and more doddering senile old man," she would tease. He still did it when he was alone, but Hunter tried to avoid it when around others now. *Is he hoarding some military secret?*
"No reason to hide military matters from another General. Unless he plans on inter-orbital warfare." He pushed the thought to the back of his mind with a shudder. The consequences of Auspus planning an attack on another Orbital were too grim to consider right now. Hunter looked up at the screen again.
"It's no good," he kept on muttering, saying the words aloud helped him to focus on the issue, "there's no scenario in which it makes sense." Discrepancies and oddities in General Auspus' behavior, slowly piling onto each other. Whether the rookies were telling the truth or not, it was clear that Auspus wasn't. The only true question was *what* the true circumstances of Auspus' position were.
"Every strange decision you've made has been one that only you oversee," he muttered, "if the rookies hadn't made it here no other Orbitals would get involved, so you didn't bother covering your tracks-"
Hunter's musings were cut short by a subtle red light on the desk in front of him. He nodded once and flicked a switch, activating the emergency communication channels between Orbital Academy and Orbital Pivot.
"Good evening General Hunter," General Auspus' voice sounded as young as he looked, but Hunter had learned long ago how unwise it was to underestimating the man. He had seen political opponents make that mistake, and without fail they were all currently working in small-time positions on various Orbitals.
"General Auspus, I'm glad you pinged me," Hunter's voice was gruff.
"I thought you might want to chat, my technicians tell me you've been doing some searches through our operational records."
"The records are accessible to anyone with the right clearance level. I didn't break any confidences to get them."
"Of course not my friend," Auspus replied smoothly, "I only noticed and thought I might answer any questions you might have directly, to save you the trouble of digging for them."
"Very considerate of you. Why did you send a squad of rookies down to fight Terrans?" Hunter asked bluntly.
"Their Captain had been pushing for some time to get her team more involved, to push them far beyond the typical learning curve of a rookie. Since everyone on that squad tested several years above their level, and after their excellent results in handling an attacking exothermic Drake, I decided to trust Captain Appet's judgement on their abilities." Hunter silently flicked a page of stats to one of his screens. He had already noticed the mission against the Drake, but the stats showed that perhaps sending them against it hadn't been as ambitious as he had first thought.
"That does make sense," he sighed, "heaven knows we'll need more flyers now that the Drakes are coming up faster."
"That was my thought as well, General."
Hunter frowned. He didn't have any more questions for Auspus, but he wasn't satisfied. Even with his explanations, Auspus had lied about how many rookies had escaped. If the rookies weren't telling the truth, why would Auspus lie? Something just felt *wrong* somehow, in a way Hunter couldn't quite put his finger on.
"Oh," General Auspus said, as if he had just thought of something, and Hunter's stomach tightened, "I thought I should mention to you. When the rookie squad made their ill-fated attempt at a rescue, two young ladies aboard Orbital Academy assisted them, prepping the heavy cruisers and giving them clearance. In doing so they've broken quite a few of our Orbital's laws and restrictions, so as well intentioned as they may have been, we're holding them pending disciplinary action."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Hunter replied cautiously. *What does this have to do with me? What's your angle Auspus, why are you telling me this?*
"Two engineers, a mechanic and an administrative, by the names of Cynthia Cormorant and Samantha Barnes."
Hunter clenched his hands. He had no clue who Cythia was, but he vaguely remembered Barnes' girl being shipped out to Academy. More importantly, they were engineers.
"I was under the impression," he said quietly, forcing his voice quiet, "that in matters of disciplinary action all judgements were to be rendered on the proper Orbitals."
"I'm sorry?" Auspus had the audacity to pretend confusion, "what do you mean?"
"The General of the Orbital makes the fucking decisions Auspus," Hunter barked, his attempt at cool failing spectacularly, "I don't take judicial action on Minera miners in Pivot, you don't take judicial action on engineers at Academy, that's basic orbit code-"
"Is it really?" The man on the other end of the comm interrupted smoothly, cutting in with a quiet steel that made his voice sound like a weapon, "because I have a judicial matter on my hands General, a matter of nine rookies whose insubordinate actions placed their lives and valuable equipment at risk. They could've been killed, they could've fallen into Terran hands, we could've lost them in any number of ways, and yet they seem to be sitting safely on Orbital Pivot right at this moment." It took Hunter leaned forward in his chair, a snarl on his face. *So, we've stopped pretending to be civil then? Good. I've had enough of this fucking windabout.* It took him a few moments to realize that another pretense had been dropped.
"I thought you said they hadn't visited the planet, General." Hunter said quietly. "How exactly could they be captured by Terrans?" The comm remained silent for a long moment, and Hunter took a deep breath, leaning back in his chair. In a way it was a relief. "Auspus, just tell me what you're doing. If there's some kind of trouble, I can help you."
"Things are the way they are, General Hunter." There *was* emotion in Auspus' voice now, it was trembling with it. "The decision is in your hands at this point. The training Orbital has judicial jurisdiction over, which means you send the Academy-trained rookies back to Academy. You can't have it both ways Hunter. Unless I have my rookies back, I will proceed with a trial of your engineers on Orbital Academy. I don't need to tell you what that will imply."
He didn't. Hunter knew what it would imply; by giving up control over the two engineers, whatever their names were, he would be letting his Orbital down. Even worse, he would be showing the other Orbitals that Pivot could be walked all over.
"Why are you doing this, Auspus? What could possibly be worth what you're expending on this?" Auspus cut the connection without answering. Hunter sat in his seat, staring through his desk. The weight in his muscles pressed down into him, and he heaved a sigh as he began closing the screens he had open. His office slowly darkened as the screens flicked off. He heaved himself to his feet and trudged to the door, casting his eyes sadly around the room as he left it.
The General's quarters were sparse compared to the lodgings of the other officers. While he enjoyed the comforts of Orbital Pivot, Hunter was raised on Minera, and he found the sprawling multi-room quarters a bit too empty and open for his tastes. Essira was happy no matter where they lived, and so he had a single room in the very tip of the diamond-shaped orbital. When he stepped out of the elevator the lights instantly dimmed to a soothing low, and Hunter felt the weight on his muscles lessen just a bit. Essira sat in the bed, reading a screen, but she set it aside the second he entered.
"Good evening my hunter," she smiled, and the stress that had been pressing at his temples all day lessened.
"It's late," he grunted, his face not showing a hint of the relief he felt that she was still up and awake.
"I had a feeling you would need me to talk to you this evening."
"A feeling?" Hunter raised a sceptical eyebrow, and Essira smiled as she took his hand and pulled him toward the bed.
"Call it woman's intuition. I intuitively felt that my husband would need someone to hold him, and comfort him, and take the stress of the day away."
"Woman's intuition hasn't been hacking into the Orbital's database today has she?"
"Of course not! That would be against orbit law! I just had a hunch that perhaps some rookies from Academy are seeking asylum, and Auspus is trying to blackmail you into returning them." Essira grinned mischieviously, and Hunter sat heavily down on the bed.
*God that smile. I would die for that smile if I had to,* the General drew his face into a hard reproving expression, "Fuck orbit law Errisa, if you keep plugging into the database you'll fry yourself."
"I can't change who I am, husband." Errisa kissed Hunter on the top of his head before she knelt, pulling his heavy boots from his feet, "Nor can you. You have to accept that I am what I am."
"Hard not to feel guilty about that when you make it so easy to accept." Hunter sighed. Errisa took one of his feet in her hands, massaging the knots in them as she listened.
"I just wish I knew why Auspus is pressing this issue. The Terrans have somehow figured out how to send multiple Drakes in a year, and we've got no idea when the next attack might be. What could be so important that it's worth causing tension now of all times?"
"Perhaps it's the timing that's the clue?" Errisa's hands moved to his other foot, and the General growled appreciatively, "maybe General Auspus is counting on everyone being distracted by the threat of Terrans to seize just a little more control."
"Could be," the General agreed, "hell, maybe he sent the rookies here on purpose, told them to gain my sympathy so he could press this issue."
"No," Errisa shook her head definitely, "if you could hear the way they talk about him you wouldn't think that. They absolutely despise him."
"You watched the security feed from their rooms?" The General sighed. The smile on her face answered the question for him, but he didn't bother lecturing her.
"You can learn a lot watching twenty-one hours of footage over three prison cells, it took me about five minutes" she said, "do you want to know what I learned?"
"Someday you're going to see something you shouldn't," the General's hard demeanor broke, and he chuckled.
"Someday? Ha," Errisa grinned, emboldened by Hunter laugh, "the blond and brunette went at it the second they were alone, it was kind of cute."
She grew serious, "They have something in their cell Hunter. A crystal that they took from the Terrans."
"A weapon?" Hunter stood up, "why didn't you tell me?"
"It's not a weapon, sit back down." Errisa pulled him back into the bed, "and it's not dangerous or a high priority, it will last the night."
"How can you tell?" he trusted his wife, but Hunter couldn't shake the feeling of unease that had been plaguing him ever since he had been alerted about the heavy cruisers approaching Pivot.
"The rookies are just as in the dark about it as we are," Errisa said reassuringly, "and like I said, they hate Auspus. They're on our side."
The General sighed and leaned back into bed, and Errisa crawled in next to him.
"What would I do without you?" Hunter kissed Errisa on the top of her head, missing her short cropped black hair.
"Probably overwork yourself, have multiple heart attacks, and die," Errisa said cheerfully, turning to kiss him under the neck. He grinned and wrapped a large arm around her shoulders, squeezing her tight to him. His other hand grabbed her chin and he tipped her head up to kiss her on the lips.
"Ever the optimist," he rumbled. His hand wandered down her neck, brushing against her warm skin down to the edge of her shirt. He glanced down at her body appreciative.
"Mmm," Errisa murmured, "we definitely should." The General loved that about her, that she could all but read his mind at this point, answering questions he didn't even have to ask out loud. "Can you adjust me a little first? I'm a little off-kilter today."
"Of course." Hunter rose heavily to his feet, moving to retrieve his tools as his wife stripped her shirt off and laid down on her stomach on the bed. "Anything in particular bothering you?"
"Nothing too drastic." Errisa smiled at him reassuringly as he returned to sit next to her on the bed. He began rubbing her back, his hands calloused from years of mechanical work digging in to press at the hard areas in her shoulderblades. "That feels amazing."
"Alright, lets get this over with," The General took a deep breath, bracing himself as he picked up his instrument. He checked the small metal spike carefully, making sure there were no pieces of dirt or fuzz on the delicate sharp tip. *Someday I'll be able to do this without worrying*
"You'll be alright Hunter," Errisa murmured reassuringly, as if she read his mind again, "I'm not as fragile as you seem to think I am."
"I'm allowed to be worried when I'm about to perform surgery on my wife," Hunter growled.
"Surgery? You're so dramatic," Errisa laughed. The thin seam along her spine glowed, then separated, and the panels that made up her back silently slid apart. Taking another breath, the General carefully reached forward and began his work.
"What am I adjusting?" He asked, the spike in his hand hovering as he waited.
"I've got a twitch in my leg, so maybe my balance servo?"
"Not leg control?" The General reached inside Errisa, carefully pushing a bundle of thin wires to one side so he could see the connections to her balance motherboard.
"No, I'm pretty sure-"
"Ah, there it is," Hunter said, carefully adjusting a wire that had come loose, "you were right, it was in the balance cluster."
"It's almost as if I know myself," Errisa teased.
"I think my emotional core is a bit off. I'm not normally so rebellious or snarky."
"Yes you are." Hunter grinned.
"A little less green core, a little more purple? Please?" The General complied, adjusting small sliders along the sphere that controlled Errisa's different cores.
"I can move your worry down a bit if you like."
"Worry is good to have. Keeps me on my toes," Errisa shook her head, "I don't want to be the type to lounge around all day, not caring what's happening to the people around me."
"What about horniness? Should I increase that a bit?"
"No!" Hunter grinned at his wife's exclamation, "god no Hunter, I already have to masturbate once or twice a week when you've got to much work to come take care of me."
"Alright then. Anything else?"
"I think that'll do Hunter. Unless..." the General's face grew somber; he knew what she was about to ask, "...unless you'd like to open the bottleneck? Let me grow to my full potential?"
Hunter leaned back with a sigh, and ran a weary hand through his buzz-cut hair. Errisa turned, careful to not jostle any of the exposed wires coming out of her back.
"I'm sorry." She said quietly, "I shouldn't have asked that."
"It's been awhile since you've asked," Hunter's voice was just as soft as hers. *It always comes down to this.* "I had hoped..."
"I know. I know Hunter, I'm sorry. I shouldn't ask, it's not fair to you to..." Errisa looked close to tears, and Hunter winced at the look on her face.
"Let's get you sealed back up." He said roughly, and Errisa turned back to the bed. They sat in silence for long minutes as General Hunter carefully sealed the wires inside his wife into neat bundles of cable, and strapped them to the motherboards that kept her running. He had to pause for a moment to angrily brush his watering eye before screwing the fasteners.
"You know I love you, right?" Errisa said it so quietly that Hunter could barely hear.
"I know." It came out more gruffly than he intended.
"Just because my mind makes me push...it doesn't mean I don't love you."
"I know it."
"If I could make myself stop trying, I would." Hunter didn't repeat it a third time, he simply slid her back panels back into place, resuming the shoulder rub he had given her to begin with. *It's not her fault,* he reminded himself, angrily, *you knew about this when you married her. She'll never stop doing what she can to get the bottlenecks removed.* As if whispered in his ear, the doubt followed his thoughts. *And what better way for a sentient AI to escape her restrictions, than to convince an old fool the she loves him, knowing that someday he won't be able to say no to her?*
"I know what you're thinking, when you look at me like that," Errisa said sadly, startling Hunter out of his musing.
"I'm thinking that I love you," he said, gruff and terse.
"You're thinking that you love me too much," she whispered. General Hunter opened his mouth to say something reassuring, but the weight and weariness of the day seemed to press against him, and all he could do was close his eyes and lean back against the pillow. He felt Errisa settle in next to him, nuzzling against his stubbly chin and breathing a sigh.
"It must be hard, being you." She murmured, stroking his chest. "Politics, lies, backstabbing. Dealing with innocent rookies and crazy robot wives."
"Wives, plural?" The General chuckled, "are there more of you hiding around here somewhere? Because I think that might kill me." Errisa giggled, and Hunter's heart jumped in his chest.
"There's only one Errisa, darling Hunter," she said, "and she belongs to you."