This story is rated PG-13, as it has many elements that probably aren't suitable for the younger ones, including violence, some disturbing scenes, and language. This was my Nanowrimo project of 2007, if anyone cares to know.
Beta'd by the wonderful Hanako Tabris, keeping typos and other such tragedies at bay since 2006. Comments, critique, and etcetera are always greatly welcomed and appreciated.
By: Saffire Persian
Prologue: Auld Lang Syne
I'm a soldier, znachit ya
I'm a soldier, and that means
I otvetchik i sud'ya
I'm both the defendant and the judge.
Ya stoyu na dvuh kontsah ognya
I'm standing on both sides of the fire,
Ogibaya virazhi, obgonyaya smert' i zhizn'
Going around turns, overtaking death and life.
Ya begu srazit'sya s ten'yu lzhi
I'm running to fight with the shadow of a lie.
"Rise" - Origa
Edward Lawson had known, long ago, that true courage couldn't be found on the battlefield. All he saw there was the light of the insane and desperate, a fire fueled by the will to live in the eyes of those that were afraid to die.
This man was about to die. Edward could see that the man knew it, just as he himself knew it, just as the gun he carried knew it.
This man was probably just like every normal person he met during his travels. This man probably enjoyed a good drink, probably enjoyed afternoons in the sun, and probably enjoyed the company of his children and wife, if he were so fortunate. In contrast, he probably despised hardship, he probably ran from his problems, and cringed away from pain.
He was just like everybody else. Edward knew this. But he had been trained, trained to see these men as nobodies, so that the guilt of their spilt blood would not prey upon his conscience for long.
Edward smiled jadedly to himself for a moment, the gun that was trained on the man's head lowering slightly. The nobody looked up, hesitant and hopeful, his own gun almost within arm's reach. If things had turned out differently, had Edward been a different man, had he been in a different situation, perhaps this nobody sprawled out on the dirt before him would find the mercy he sought; but, as it were, Edward could not afford to spare the man any form of it. Mercy was dead and gone. Any sympathy he had towards the government and those that marched under its bloody banner had vanished the day he had realized it was full of liars who would not concede to reason.
With a startling display of speed, galvanized by desperation and fear, Edward's enemy lunged for his gun, but Edward was faster. He put pressure on his index finger that curled around the trigger. There was a jolting rush and a roar as a spark signaled the start of the life of a bullet--
We are not so different, you and I. You would do the same thing if I were lying at your feet.
--and the end of the life of a man.
And, perhaps, another splinter of his soul.
The air softened back into mute stillness, and he put the gun back in its case hanging right at his side, where it always rested. He turned, aware of the distinct quivering of some dead brush to his right. A red dog with black stripes on its back emerged, one forepaw sporting a bloody wound that looked worse than it probably was. A dead Furret was in its jaws.
The dog laid it on the dirt at his feet.
"Good girl, Ami," he told her. He looked at her hurt forepaw, mostly at the sizable chunk of flesh that was now gone, evaluating it. He would have to treat it when they arrived home, but for now, it wasn’t life-threatening or in need of immediate attention. He then jerked his head towards the dead animal whose throat appeared to have been torn out. "I hope you gave it hell."
"Good. The Fearow?"
The dog made a high-pitched whine, looking at the sky.
"Dammit!" he hissed. Ami flinched. This man had been a scout, too. He recognized the uniform. And where there was a scout, there was bound to be other personnel within at least a sixty-mile radius (if not closer) from the military. He would have to take great care in laying some false trails now.
As he looked at the pale face of the dead scout, Edward wondered if he knew this man from the time he had spent in Orre's military. He had been in it nine years before he left almost a year ago--nine long years dedicated to a cause he hadn't even been sure he believed in. Edward certainly didn't believe in the military now, just as he no longer believed in anything that could be called God.
Pray to Mew or Arceus or Ho-oh all you like, he thought with a grimace as his eyes lingered on the two bodies. Watch what good it'll do you.
His grimace deepened. He needed to get rid of the bodies quickly, too. He turned to Ami, his voice rough as he tied a piece of cloth he had in his bag around her wound. It would have to do for now, but it would, with any luck, keep the wound clean enough until he could disinfect it properly.
"We need to bury them," he said pointedly. It was as much of a duty as it was a necessity.
Ami paused for a moment, scratching at the earth with her injured paw, testing it, before nodding.
"Keep your ears open then."
As he and Ami set to work digging a shallow, but passable, grave, he couldn't help think back to the time he spent in the military, when things had still been relatively calm. It hadn't always been an easy time, but it had been a welcome time when things had been as they should be, not driven by greed, fear, or power. It had been a false peace, but it had been peace nonetheless.
What he wouldn't give for that now.
Yeup, and I'm the first to review. Had to shove my hamster into her travel case so I could concentrate. >> Otherwise, she would eat a Card book.
And unless my tired eyes deceived me, I didn't spot any typos I had missed before. *nods* Let us celebrate by eating butter.
Anyhow, I enjoyed the parts about praying to a god all you want, but nothing good comes out of it. Call me crazy, but I love when characters question faith. It makes me happy inside. And I'm interested in Edward's past in the military.
I noticed that once again, a Growlithe limps its way into a story by you. I don't know if I asked you this before, but do you like Growlithe? You use them in roles that any other canine Pokemon could fit in (well, at least in this story. Growlithe are the police dog of the Pokemon world).
Not much more to comment on in these two pages. See what other reviews say.
And just to let you know, I want to review what you recently posted elsewhere. The voice of that story intrigues me since I had an idea to write a story in that same idea of a voice.
Happy belated birthday, as well. Didn't remember until two days later, but... :x
A quite nice chapter. I couldn't help notice you bring the life/death theme into another one of your works :) Is that Russian or something similar in the pre-chapter song/poem?
Not much to discuss with prologues...although my reviews are subjective and awful anyways.
I'll be sticking around for the next chapter.
Love it. The precise way you worded it makes the reader begin to understand your main character, which gives it a lot of that feeling. It's the kind of prologue you look at and this, "Wow. This is gonna be one heck of a good fic!"
And the next chapter should be coming your way soon-ish, btw.
Thanks for your review!
A/N: Here's the next installment. Feel free to point out any mistakes. Comments, critique, and criticism are also welcomed. Also, keep in mind that while Orre's army's ranking system is based off the United States, there are a few things that are going to be slightly different, mostly to do with the number of men in a squad, etc. Also, some of the Orre-Sinnoh stuff brought up in this chapter are not necessarily cannon, game-wise, though it has the potential to be. Just keep that in mind.
Chapter 1: Ante Bellum
There were times of justice and peace
Or was it just a dream?
Golden ages – joyful and free
So far away it seems
But the sound of laughter –
Still ringing in their ears
If there’s no here after –
Time will turn a page
And Seal it with a tear –
“Desert Song” – Fair Warning
Three Years Ago
The morning came much sooner than expected. The Dodrio’s bugle call rang across the military camp at exactly 0400 hours, rousing the entire military platoon from their cots, forcing them to greet the morning that had yet to rise. Having had training like this for a good six years prior, Staff Sergeant Edward Lawson had long since gotten used to the early-morning routine and got up without complaint and began to dress. The other men who Edward shared his tent with also began to rise—all save one:
Corporal Francis Zev.
Edward barely managed to suppress a groan. The corporal was a fledgling recruit, fresh and bright-eyed from the military academy in Diatreme, an army-run city about forty miles from Gateon Port. This was his first time out on the field. The sergeant didn’t quite know how he had gotten stuck with such a doe-eyed recruit in the first place. Edward certainly hadn’t requested anyone new to be added to his squad; he had enough people to look after already. Being a staff sergeant, he had to check periodically on the other squads as well as keep tabs on his own. Adding this blond one to the mix displeased him.
How the boy had even gotten to his present rank with his current attitude and behavior in such a short time frame, Edward could only guess. Corporal Zev did not, in Edward’s opinion, possess the qualities needed for someone of his rank. Zev was supposed to be an example of a well-trained officer, not a half-trained idiot. If Edward had been a betting man, he would have placed all the money he owned upon the boy’s parents for his success. Somebody with money or a good deal of influence had to be pulling the military’s invisible strings.
Edward knew very little about the Zev family. He hadn’t put in much effort to find out, nor did he really care to know. What he did know, however, was that Corporal Zev came from a family hailing from Gateon Port, a bustling city known for its opulence. Just living there entailed that you likely had a higher standard of living than a good percentage of Orre’s general population. Gateon was the prime place for commerce, and it got a lot of traffic, especially from Hoenn. Business was always booming there, and it was a favorite vacation spot for tourists—one of the only vacation spots Orre had to offer besides Agate—unless, of course, you were interested in seeing the old coliseum ruins scattered about Orre. The coliseums were a lasting “tribute” to Orre’s violent past, and, if you believed the legends, the origin of Orre’s curse.
Even had that bit of information of Zev’s home being in Gateon been a mere rumor, Edward would have swallowed the idea that he came from a well-to-do family easily. His parents had to be rich, if the Luxio that was currently laying on the boy’s chest was any indication. Pokémon were expensive enough as it was. What kind and how many you owned were as much of a status symbol of wealth and power in Orre as how big of a house you owned was. The Luxray-line itself was an especially rare commodity. Importing those beasts were expensive, even as Shinx. The military would want her more than it would want Zev.
In fact, the Military contract that Zev had signed had probably included a clause that stated the beast was to become the military's exclusive property if Zev ever had the misfortune of dying, along with any other pokémon he currently owned at the time of his passing. Edward highly doubted the Corporal would even bother to read the fine print.
“Can’t you wake him up?” Edward asked the Luxio, christened Storm, resting on Zev’s chest. She stared at him. Her sharp looks always had the tendency to be somewhat unnerving. They reminded him of Miranda – a woman whom he had known since his childhood days. Their resemblance to one another was uncanny.
The Luxio yawned, her yawn quickly morphing into a sly half-grin as she buried her muzzle back into her paws.
Private Tyrus Reed merely rolled his eyes as he buttoned up his uniform. “They’re both just a pair of damn lazy--"
“Just ignore him,” Private Adam Pryce cut in with a snort, quickly throwing his shirt on his well-muscled body, the light from the lamps bright. “He’ll realize we’re leaving once we collapse the tent on him. If that doesn’t work, he and his damn cat will suffocate and all our problems will be taken care of.”
The Luxio’s star-tufted tail twitched, her eyes narrowing.
Edward quickly grabbed the pokéball that contained his Growlithe off the collapsible table, clipping it onto his belt. The other two men followed suite – Pryce clipped two, while Reed clipped six.
“That sounds all well and good,” Edward replied after making sure the pokéball was secure, “but unlike you, I have my reputation to worry about.”
“I’ll wake him up,” Reed mumbled, walking towards Zev’s cot. Storm spat and hissed in warning, but Reed’s mind was already made up. With a well-placed kick, Reed sent the cot and its occupants tumbling onto the floor with a metallic crash.
Storm yowled, flickers of electricity lighting up the patches of dark, while Corporeal Zev stirred, groaning. It wasn’t long before he sat up, trying to tame his fly-away hair with one hand, while trying to restrain the yowling Storm with the other. He still looked groggy.
“Hey... What was that for?”
The Luxio bared her fangs. “Rrrio!”
Reed sneered. “Wouldn’t want you to miss breakfast.”
“Ah…” Zev’s eyes lit up a little. Storm continued to hiss and spit. “Well, thanks, man.”
Reed’s sneer deepened, brows creasing in disgust as he walked out of the tent, shaking his head, Pryce quick on his heels. "Whatever.”
Edward sighed, watching Zev tip his cot back up with his unoccupied hand. “You have five minutes,” he said, walking out of the tent.
The outside of the camp was a maelstrom of activity. It took only minutes after the Dodrio’s summoning call for the camp to come alive. It was like a Beedrill hive: a mix of chaos and order. A few late stragglers filtered out of their tents at random intervals, while a plethora of pokémon darted to-and fro between their legs. Edward held his place in the breakfast line, plastic tray and metal utensils in hand. Eating wasn’t really a pleasure anymore, just another necessity. It was the same routine every day, over and over and over. The food itself rarely seemed to change. He could smell the sizzling bacon, eggs, and hash browns.
Same as usual.
He moved through the line on auto-pilot, food quickly slapped on his tray as he moved on. The cooks had a whole platoon to serve and a limited time-frame in which to do it, making it little more than an assembly line. That didn’t annoy Edward much; he could play the role of a near-mindless drone, allowing his mind instead to wander over the things that were far more important than how big his serving of hash browns was.
They would be at the very edge of Orre’s desert by late afternoon. The next day, Edward would be eating sand with his squad for the next two weeks. That troubled him. Most of the new recruits didn’t know what was coming, but the more seasoned soldiers did: it was the annual training mission through the Orrean desert with only barely adequate supplies, a map, compass, and your squad. The goal – if you could call it that – was simple: get to your destination as quickly as possible.
It was harder than it sounded.
The desert had been Edward’s acquaintance for five years now. He knew it well. He could live and travel within it for a good deal of time with the right supplies. The desert and its many secrets didn’t worry him, the men who made up his squad did. Somehow, the brass had decided to load him with a handful of new soldiers who hadn’t even been in the desert once—and if those recruits were a handful in normal circumstances, then they would be even more troublesome in a desert that wasn’t kind to those who weren’t adequately prepared. Even in May, the desert was always blazing in the afternoon and cold in the evenings.
Grabbing a box of orange juice as the final ingredient to his meal, Edward walked to one of the aluminum tables in the far corner of cafeteria tent, sitting down while trying to block out the unimportant background noise—the ceaseless chatter, the clattering of plates, the miffed complaints of soldiers that hadn’t gotten as much as they wanted to eat –
“Sir.” Edward barely raised his head to look up. He recognized the voice immediately. Corporal Catherine Mae. Part of his squad. One of the only two members of the female sex under his immediate command.
“Mind if I sit down?”
Edward nodded once. Just another part of the routine. “Feel free.”
“We’ll be arriving at the edge of the desert today.”
He swallowed a forkful of his hash browns, grimacing. They tasted like sand already. “I know.”
The corporal bit her lip, using her knife and fork to cut up the hash browns and eggs into perfect, equal-sized pieces. “Well...”
“Something troubling you?”
“I don’t think Valery’s ready.”
Private Valery Salem. Black-haired, green-eyed, pale-faced. The one who insisted on having those red-painted fingernails. That woman. She was one of the new additions to his squad. “No one’s ready for the desert their first time.”
“I know, Sir.” The food was in even more finely cut pieces now. “But I still don’t think she’s ready. She’s only here because her father made her. She doesn’t want to displease him, but…” A disapproving glint shone in the corporal’s eyes before vanishing. “She shouldn’t be here, Sir.”
“She’s seems to do well, regardless,” Edward said. “And we’re not in the middle of a war.”
Catherine grimaced and made an odd face.
“You’re not going to offend me by whatever it is you’re thinking of saying, you should know that by now.”
He and Catherine had known each other for years, ever since he graduated from the military training academy at twenty-one. They had been equal in rank not too long ago, and had fought together at the Orre-Sinnoh border before the treaty had been signed two years ago.
“Then with all due respect, Sir,” Catherine replied, meeting his eyes and holding his gaze, “you don’t share a tent with her.”
“You’re suggesting I find a way to excuse her from her position then?”
She continued to maintain eye contact, but didn’t respond. Her eyes were answer enough.
Edward sighed. “If she worries you that much, I’ll see what I can do. I’m sure I can talk with Lieutenant Thurston before we’re Teleported tomorrow...”
Catherine nodded her head, a relieved look entering into her blue eyes now. “Tha—“
“Ed! Cat! Hey!”
Now that voice he could recognize even if it were hidden in a crowd of millions. Edward’s face immediately contorted into a half-grimace as Corporal Zev made his merry way towards their table, his Luxio trailing just behind. He shot Catherine a look.
“You let him call you that?”
She gave him a long, hard stare. “No. Do you, Sir?”
Edward continued to watch the Corporal out of the corner of his eyes. “Not within earshot I don’t.”
“Hey, I thought I’d find you here, Edward!” Zev said, now appearing to be fully alert. His hair was still a bit of a mess, but a more tame than it had been. “You always sit at a corner table…”
And Edward had a very good reason for doing so.
“I’d prefer you not address me or Corporal Mae so casually.” Edward kept his voice firmly level. “It’s disrespectful.”
“But it makes it sounds like we’re so distant…” Zev replied. “It’s weird.”
Edward sighed. It was probably better he not pursue the topic.
“I’m surprised you’re not with Private Pryce and Private Reed, Corporal…” Edward began in as casual of a tone as he could, grudgingly making room for Zev to slide in beside him. The Luxio quickly jumped onto Zev’s lap, eying the bacon with more than just a passing interest. “I’m sure they would have enjoyed your company.”
“Wasn’ room,” Zev replied through a mouthful of food. “Ty said I should just go ‘n sit by you guys instead.”
The Luxio tilted her head upward, her nose brushing the Corporal’s chin as he leaned over his tray. “Liooo.”
The bacon on Zev’s plate immediately disappeared into Storm’s gaping mouth.
“Shouldn’t your Luxio be with the other pokémon?” Edward said, not bothering to conceal his irritation as he jerked his head toward the East side of camp, where all the other pokémon were being fed the standard fare. Edward was quite sure he could hear Ami’s barks as she badgered the other Growlithe into giving her their share of food. “Or has she actually eaten already?”
“Storm doesn’t like whatever it is they’re feeding the other pokémon. She won’t eat it,” Zev explained. Storm growled in agreement, her growl accentuated by the crunching sound of bacon. “And I’ve run out of the food my parents sent for her. She refuses eat anything else, so I figured I’d just let her have some of mine, right? She likes it and I did it all the time at home.” Zev blinked up at Edward. “That’s okay… isn’t it?”
“There’s nothing against it,” Edward admitted, wishing there were, “but we’re covering a bit of terrain today to get to the rendezvous point. You can’t get seconds.”
“I know,” Zev answered, voice muffled, “But we’ll be back at the base soon...” The young man looked up at Edward again. “…Right?”
Every time Edward had the good fortune of talking with Zev, he always felt like he was needlessly repeating himself. “Not anytime soon.”
The Luxio was now eying the eggs with her greedy yellow eyes, and it wasn’t long before they too disappeared.
The desert certainly brought back memories, most of which Edward would rather forget. They weren’t at its heart yet, not even at its edge, but Edward had been down this particular road many times before, and he knew they were getting close. He moved at an even, steady pace, walking just off to the side of his five-man squad, keeping as casual tab on them as they consorted with the men and woman from the other squads. Given that the circumstances were less than formal, and the road was as desolate and empty as the rest of the desert was bound to be, the fifty-or-so-manned platoon looked less like a company of professional soldiers and more like a group of school children on a field trip, talking and having as good of a time as they could in the slowly emerging morning light.
The lack of organization annoyed Edward somewhat. Granted, they weren’t in any real danger of being attacked, so everyone being so carefree and careless would hardly bring about the apocalypse, but the lack of structure always made it seem like no one was taking their job seriously, and their profession – if one could call it that – was not something to be taken lightly. There was no war, as there had been when Edward first joined the military, but there would be. The relations between Sinnoh and Orre were shaky; the treaty that kept the two armies apart was less of a string that bound them together in mutual goodwill, and more like an elastic waiting to snap. As such, war was not a matter of if – at least not to Edward – but when. He didn’t want any of the men and women he was given charge over to be unprepared for what lay ahead in the near future.
If Edward had it his way, they would all be marching in a perfect line, like a proper army, but his superior officer who presided over the whole platoon, Second Lieutenant Clarissa Thurston, was far more lenient than he over such matters. The lieutenant was a large woman with broad shoulders who reminded him of a Glalie. It used to be a common joke that the lieutenant was a descendant from the ice-raiders from the northern-most part of Sinnoh until the men in question realized that it might very well be true. Still, beneath her hardened exterior, Clarissa Thurston was a woman who knew morale was important factor to those she had command over, and thus let them have their fun when the situation permitted it.
Edward grimaced, catching Corporal Zev trying to mingle with a few soldiers from Sergeant Evan’s squad while Storm weaved through the mess of people trying not to get her tail stepped on. Edward pitied the man who did. The soldiers gave Zev roughly the same reception as the men from his own team did.
He turned to Corporal Catherine, one of the few individuals who did not insist of making a party out of the whole occasion. She was quietly talking to Private Salem, however. “Keep watch over them, will you?” he said, catching her attention. “I have some business to attend to with Lieutenant Thurston.”
She met his eyes, nodding, looking both pleased and relieved. “Yes, sir.”
He nodded back to her once, before picking up his pace. As always, Thurston was at the head of the platoon, just off to the side, keeping a casual, but nevertheless careful watch.
“Lieutenant Thurston,” he finally voiced as he came within earshot. She turned, eying him briefly as he fell into pace beside her. “I wondered if I could have a word.”
“If this is about how you feel about our method of traveling, Lawson,”—the lieutenant rolled her eyes—“I’d prefer you keep your feelings about it to yourself. They’re about to get stuck in the desert for weeks, Sergeant, let them enjoy themselves while they can. I’ll have them marching like ants before we get to the rendezvous point.”
“My business has nothing to do with that particular matter,” he replied, grinning despite himself. “Though the thought did come to mind.”
A faint smile tugged at the corners the Lieutenant’s lips. “Well then, let’s hear your concerns.”
He would be blunt and to the point. No reason to do anything less. “Are you familiar with Valery Salem?”
The Lieutenant barely moved her head, keeping her eyes trained on the road in front of her. “The old general’s daughter? Of course. The higher-ups are hoping she inherited her father’s military genius.”
“Whether she did or not, I don’t believe she’s cut out to a soldier.”
If the lieutenant was surprised, she didn’t show it. “Really? What makes you say that?”
“She’s only here because of her father,” Edward said, recalling all the things Catherine had told him, most of which was left unsaid, but hinted at. “There’s nothing wrong with her physically that I’ve noticed, but…”
“She’s not happy here?”
“I wondered…” Clarissa began, hesitating. “I did wonder about the her reasons for joining. I was under the assumption that the girl probably just had the same passion for the military as her father.”
“He made her enlist”—Edward frowned—“or at least manipulated her into doing so, I believe. She said she didn’t want to displease him—”
“She told you that?” the Lieutenant cut in, her voice rising from its normally low pitch. “I haven’t really spent time with the girl, but when I interviewed her when she was put into my platoon, she seemed like she was the type of person to keep things to herself, not the type to divulge much of anything.” She paused, giving him a brief, penetrating glance. “And forgive me for saying so, but you’re also not the type to ask, Lawson. Did she come to you?”
“Well, no,” Edward admitted. “She didn’t tell me anything. Whatever she told, she told to Corporal Mae. It was the corporal herself who, in turn, reported her concerns to me. The corporal mentioned that she didn’t think Private Salem fit in with this lifestyle, that she shouldn’t be here, and the subject was worrying her greatly.”
“Ah, so it was Corporal Mae.” The Lieutenant nodded her head twice in quick succession. “That makes more sense. She’d be one to notice those types of things now, wouldn’t she? I probably would have thought the girl was just discontent—it takes a while for anyone to get used to this sort of lifestyle— but the Corporal’s got some good eyes on her now.” The lieutenant’s blue eyes softened. “Probably wants to save the girl before another war starts.”
Edward grunted. “Probably.” Over to the left, one of the men roared in laughter over some joke.
“Honestly...” Clarissa sighed a few moments later, pulling a string of blonde hair back behind her shoulders as she continued to walk. “Well, if it worries her that much then I suppose I had better look into it… By the way,”—she was giving him her full attention now— “after the corporal had finished telling you this, did you take the time to talk to the girl yourself?”
Edward shook his head, watching the sun as it continued to ascend into the cloudless sky. “No, Ma’am.”
The lieutenant closed her eyes, face angled downwards as she shook her head, a quiet half-laugh coming from her. “I understand you hold Corporal Mae’s judgment in very high regard, Lawson, but you can’t rely on her or anyone else to always see and report things that are going on right in front of your eyes—and in your own squad, especially—nor should you. You need to ascertain these things for yourself before you report them to your superior officers. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, Lawson, and goodness knows you’re more experienced in this field of work than most of them, but your job isn’t to only keep them calm when you’ve got bullets flying at you. You understand me, Lawson?”
He nodded, only once.
“I’m relieved to hear that,” she said, a thin smile flitting across her face, as she waved her hand dismissively. “With that out of the way, I will give some consideration to the matter, as I said previously, but I want you to talk to the girl yourself and see if you can get anything else out of her. If being here really is causing her problems, I’ll see if I can do something to remove her to a more fitting location. I can’t just discharge her from the military over something like this after she signed the contract; however, I could probably assign her to some job within the military that wouldn’t require her to be on the field. I’m sure that would appease her father as well, if he is the source of the problem. But I don’t want to do this hastily, Lawson,”—She fixed him with another of her hard stares— “so you make sure you talk to her tonight and set thing straight. Tell her about the sort of job I’m offering her as well. Let her know what she’d be getting into.”
“Good.” She exhaled the breath she had been holding. “Now, Lawson, perhaps there’s something you can do for me in return.”
He squinted at the coming sunlight. “Oh?”
“I have a certain private that goes by the name of Morgan Audrey who needs to be transferred to another squad. She’s currently under Sergeant Howe’s command, and her current arrangements just won’t do.”
“She doesn’t get along with her teammates?”
“Not exactly, no. Audrey is a very amicable girl, resourceful, experienced, intelligent—you wouldn’t have to deal with another new recruit in your squad if you took her, Sergeant.” They exchanged knowing glances. “Useful as she is, it seems like her squad has a hard time dealing with the fact that the she’s female. I can imagine you can see where I’m going with this?” A nod. “Because of that, Audrey has to put up with some of the most asinine comments I have ever heard—all of them coming from a bunch of imbeciles who think they can score a night with her. And I for one won’t stand for it—not while they’re under my command.”
Both Edward and Thurston wore identical grimaces. Edward had known quite a few men like that in his time and he hadn’t enjoyed working with them as much as he enjoyed complaining about them. Edward grinned inwardly. He could see Miranda’s face already. She had a particularly unique way of referring to men like them. “I see.”
“Would you be willing to take the girl?”
Edward nodded in assent. “I don’t have any objections to the matter.”
“Good.” The Lieutenant sped up her pace. “Then I’ll inform her of the transfer and bring her around to your camp tonight once everything gets set-up. Make absolutely sure you talk to that Salem girl before I arrive, Lawson. You can inform me of your opinions on that matter then, and I’ll remove her from your squad if need be.”
He bowed his head. “Ma’am.”
I love this fic so far. the only problem i've spotted so far is the fact that the first chapter is up there twice... I don't know if you did that on purpose or if it was an accident but I thought I'd point it out just the same. Can't wait for more! XP
Certainly not on purpose. XD Thanks for telling me. Totally an accident. Thanks for pointing it out.
Ah-ho! I emerge from the battle of teh Woopahs to review!
I like the fact that you're setting up more of the army life in this chapter. Sure, this one isn't popped full of action, but it does well as a chapter to give the reader more information.
I'm hoping to see more of this hodge-podge of characters (a few of which remind me of characters from another book >.>).
No mistakes were spotted. *salutes*
And holy simoly...I just noticed that it took me two months to review. XD; Whoops.
And you just gotta love it when you have not two, but five other writing projects that nag you at once.
Chapter 2: Vis-á-Vis
On the move –
Through the land of shadows
And the setting sun in a boundless range
As the night comes on –
Sing the desert song...
"Desert Song" - Fair Warning
It was late. Even the harsh sunlight was giving way to the approaching night, sun dipping behind the far-off mountain range that seemed to be nothing more than a mere bumpy line against the darkening horizon.
Edward and the rest of Lieutenant Thurston’s platoon had arrived at the rendezvous point just a few hours after noon. What they found in wait for them was a camp buzzing to the brim with activity, an odd sort of expectant tension filling the air, so thick that it was nearly palpable—all on account of the trial that lay ahead. For many of the recruits, the training exercise that was due to take place in less than 24 hours would be their first time venturing into the Orrean desert for anything longer than a short car ride. As such, there was no preventing the excitement, fear, and nervousness that came along with it.
Arriving at the base camp so close to the teleportation time meant Edward and the rest of the squads in Thurston’s platoon would have little time to prepare for the coming departure into the desert. The process tended to be somewhat time consuming—perhaps even more so than usual this time around, since Edward was quite sure he would be the sole person doing the explaining and the sole person dividing the supplies. The rest of the his squad, aside from Corporal Mae, of course, had no idea what to expect, nor how to plan for it—and with good reason. Even if Edward had been given two weeks to prepare his squad for the sand-filled days ahead, the sergeant doubted he could fully prepare them for what the journey no doubt had in store for them. No one was ready for the desert their first time.
All Sergeant Edward could do was hope, hope that his squad would be one of the lucky ones this time and avoid any of the stupid accidents that commonly occurred during this particular training exercise; however, considering the individuals that he had been assigned to watch over—or babysit, as the case might be—Edward doubted it. Very much doubted it. As such, he was preparing for the worst.
In the hours following their arrival at the base camp, he and the rest of Lieutenant Thurston’s platoon worked quickly to set up their own section of camp for the night, pulling various supplies out of the dusty vehicles and erecting tents until they dotted haphazardly about the once empty space around them.
Now, as the last remaining preparations for tonight were finishing, Edward conceded that he could no longer postpone the duty he had currently been trying his best to stall: the matter concerning the Salem girl.
Edward had been avoiding his talk with Valery as long as he could, (he inherently disliked poking into anyone’s personal affairs, and didn’t relish what he had been assigned to do) but now that his squad was relaxing from the day’s march, chattering and talking in an easygoing manner that Edward envied, the man knew he could not avoid the meeting any longer.
“Private Salem.” The girl blinked up at him from her place beside the squad’s as of yet unlit fire. She met his gaze, shoulders tensing. “Sir?”
“Care to walk with me?” he gestured over to the side, away from the milling crowd of military personnel, and most importantly, outside of earshot. Edward could see Private Zev watching him curiously; Reed did something of the same, though he was making pains to hide his interest, avoiding any sort of eye contact.
“I guess,” she said. It was all she could say.
“Good,” he said, leading her away from the main band. Once they were a good distance away, out of earshot of anything human, Edward turned to her, halting abruptly, while keeping his voice low.“I’ve heard that you don’t seem to be doing well here.”
“What do you mean?” she replied, brows creasing as she grit her teeth, brown eyes darting back to the campsite before flitting back and stubbornly locking with Edward’s own, though now with a decidedly wary gleam present in them. “Who told you that?” She hesitated. “Sir.”
“I’m afraid it’s not my place to say.”
“Well, whoever told you that is a liar,” she spat. “I’m fine, sir. Perfectly fine.”
“I’m sure you are,” Edward replied.
“Of course I am. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
Edward tried to ease into the conversation as smoothly as possible. “Some people just aren’t cut out to be soldiers.”
“I just meant some people are hardly suited for military life.”
“Catherine talked to you didn’t she?” Valery grit her teeth, shooting an ill-concealed glare back towards their campsite. “Didn’t she?”
“Even if she was, that is hardly the topic of dicuss—“
“Don’t lie to me!” Valery hissed, voice rising. Edward could see it was taking every bit of self-control she had to keep from yelling, and stopped himself from even attempting to interrupt her. “Don’t lie. I hate being lied to.”
Edward sighed. “Very well.”
His answer seemed to calm Valery down somewhat, though it failed to extinguish the accusatory spark in her eyes.
“What did Catherine say to you?”
“She mentioned to me that you didn’t want to be here. That you weren’t the type of person that would adapt well to a military lifestyle.”
“I’ve lived a ‘military lifestyle’ my whole life, sir. No offense”—she snickered humorlessly— “but I’ve long been used to that.”
She shook her head. “No. But I’ll adapt, don’t worry, sir.”
Edward wanted to tell her that some people didn’t just “adapt,” that some people weren’t built to tolerate the reality of military life, but he refrained from doing so, doubting a lecture would improve the amiability between them. This life they lived now, migrating from army base to army base while doing an occasional military exercise, was hardly reality. Playing training games and marching about were not what soldiers were kept for, made for. Soldiers existed only for war, as a nation’s attack dogs, so other people wouldn’t have to get their hands dirty. “But Corporal Mae informed me that you didn’t want to be here.”
Valery glared at him. “I don’t.”
“Then why are you here?”
“It’s my duty to be here.”
She nodded once. “My duty.” She met his gaze again. “Doubt you care, sir, but during the last war with Sinnoh, all my siblings were there, fighting. They died. All of them. I was too young to fight then, but now that I am, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t do the same. Father told me that, and I agree with him. It wouldn’t be fair, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t…” She paused, eyes shifting focus. “…try.”
Edward let a respectable moment of silence go by. He had seen firsthand what the war had cost the people of Orre—he could still remember, and always would. “That doesn’t mean you have to fight here.”
Her eyes flit up at his face, confused.
“When Corporal Mae brought her…concerns to me I went and spoke with Lieutenant Thurston regarding the matter.”
The anger was back in her eyes again. “You what?!”
Edward held up his hands. “She informed me that if you really don’t feel comfortable here, we can do something to help that. We can’t negate your contract; however, we can transfer you to something… somewhere where you will feel more comfortable. Some position within the army that will keep you from going out onto the field if war ever starts again. ”
“My father would never allow it,” she said firmly, defensively even. “Never. He wouldn’t let you.”
Edward folded his arms, wishing he had something solid to lean against. “General Salem retired three years ago. He has no power anymore. He has no say over what the military says or does any longer. In fact, I was under the impression that he was sick of it—sick of the war and the military.” And after losing so many children, Edward couldn’t particularly blame him. “And even if he did still have power, you are ultimately Lieutenant Thurston’s responsibility, not his. What she says goes insofar as it specifically doesn’t go against the contract.”
This time, Valery did laugh at him. “You don’t know my father.”
“No, I don't," Edward admitted with a shrug of his shoulders. "All I know of him is what I heard in his military addresses while the war was going on." Hardly something to form a suitable opinion on.
"He didn't retire three years ago because he was sick of war,” Valery began, voice fast picking up speed and volume. “He didn't make the treaty with Sinnoh just to ‘save the people.’ He made that treaty because we couldn't win. It wasn't feasible and we didn't have time. The treaty bought us time."
“Bought him time.”
Edward frowned. “I don’t see what—“
“He might not have any power now, but he will.” There wasn’t a single waver of doubt in her voice. Part of her sounded proud, but hesitant at the same time. “He intends to run for election.”
"What, for president? That election is a good five years away."
Raven shook her head. "No. To be the Commanding General. That’s this coming year. He wants to be the one who leads the whole army. He doesn't want to be the leader of this country. Who would? The president has no power."
“The president has power,” Edward replied, “and plenty of it.”
“But the Commanding General has the whole army at his back. They’re at his beck and call. If war came, the president—“
Edward laughed. "Even so, Commanding General? He'll never get that position. I wouldn’t worry about it. Commanding General Grants has been in his position for over forty years. Once a person is in a seat for that long, people won't vote him off. They're afraid of change. Change brings bad news here."
Valery moved a few feet away from him, pausing for a moment, before turning back, sighing, half her face lit by the fading sun-glow. “Again, you don’t know my father. If he wants something, he’ll get it, no matter what the cost. General Grants is old, sir. He won’t be here forever.”
“Well,” Edward said, voice hardening, “he isn’t general yet. He has no right to force you to stay in this position. He has no right to coerce you into do—“
Valery’s voice turned as hard as his, then. “My father didn’t ‘coerce’ me into doing anything. I love my father. I love and respect him more than anything. He wants me to be here, so I'm here. My siblings would want me to be here, so here I am. Don’t want to be, but sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do, be someone you don’t want to be. Even you, sir, should be able to understand that.” She grimaced, voice quieting, face falling along with it. “Catherine should have been able to understand that. I told her…”
“Catherine—Corporal Mae—just sees things differently,” Edward started after a few seconds pause. He then hesitated for a few seconds more. “You… aren’t the only one who lost things during the war.”
“I know that, sir.”
“I respect her judgment. You seem resolute, but something had to concern her, regardless. She wouldn’t just come to me for no reason at all.”
“It’s really none of your business,” Valery said, her tense appearance reminding him of an animal trapped in a corner. “And none of hers, either. I shouldn’t have told her anything, but I thought she would understand—“
Edward breathed in, heedless of the angry looks he was receiving, meeting them calmly. “Perhaps she understands you better than you realize.”
“I don’t care!” Agitated feet shuffled against ground like wood rubbing against sandpaper. Her eyes were as dark as her black hair. “There’s nothing she”—Salem shot a sharp glare at him—“or you or anyone can do about it. Better not to try. I’ll deal with it myself. I can take care of my own problems, sir, whether you believe me or not.”
“I believe you,” Edward said finally, sure he could hear the sounds of pokémon crowding in for the evening meal. “I’m just here to make sure of what you want. Unwilling soldiers hardly make good allies, nor do they help the squad as a whole. If you felt you would be better off elsewhere, I would do my best to accommodate you. If you feel better here, I will do my best to do the same.”
“Despite what Catherine told you?”
“Despite what she told me. I value her opinion highly, but it is not within my power to make you leave, nor would I want to do so. Unless you presented some problem that would severely hinder the group as a whole, I would not go against your personal wishes.”
“So you’re not going to make me transfer or whatever—“
Valery breathed a sigh of relief. “Good.”
“However, I would appreciate it if you kept your obvious displeasure to a minimum. Corporal Mae was only acting as she saw best. You will also be sharing your tent with another woman starting tonight, so I would appreciate it if you kept your feelings about our conversation out of your nightly discussions. It would likely make the newcomer uncomfortable.”
Edward could tell Valery was curious, surveying him as if she was hoping to draw some sort of clue from his expression and read between the lines. She bit her lip. “Fine.”
“I’ve heard,” Corporal Zev said as both Edward and Valery arrived back into camp, “that the government’s making a product that will increase a pokémon stamina and strength a hundredfold.”
“Is that what you heard when you were fraternizing with those idiots from Sergeant Evan’s squad?” Reed replied, snorting. “Sounds stupid to me.”
Edward took the moment to sit down in his empty chair. Valery followed suit, lowering herself into the seat next to him. She looked far from pleased at the arrangement, though there were no other seats available. The squad shot them looks as they sat down, Catherine’s gaze in particular boring into him. He shook his head. Catherine’s face fell in response. Her eyes eventually wandered over to Valery; the girl stared back with a hardened glare.
Zev still hardy skipped a beat. “But could you believe it if it were true, though? Bezerkers. That’s what they would be. It’d be an army of berserkers. Can you imagine them fighting in the leagues now if that product got out?”
As Edward’s eyes wandered around the sparking fire pit, the sergeant was startled to find someone he didn’t recognize sitting to the left of Private Pryce. A woman. A brunette with green eyes. She had momentarily been hidden from his view until she had leaned forward in her chair, perhaps to better hear just what Zev was trying to say.
“Man,” Zev’s voice sounded impressed, and he whistled, “they’d be like machines. Machines! Never tiring. We’d never have to fight in wars either. We’d be unstoppable.“
Edward’s left eyebrow rose. “I would have to agree with Private Reed. The idea sounds quite...”
“But wouldn’t this be good news for you?” Zev blinked, somehow looking for all the world like he had run into an invisible brick wall. “You’d be one of the people first to get it, wouldn’t you? Your Ami would be a beast once you get a firestone and that drug. And my girl would be a terrifying thing, too.” The Luxio on his lap growled in agreement. “They’d tear ‘em apart with that miracle drug. WHAM! ZAP!” he snapped his fingers. “Dead.”
Sergeant Edward frowned. “I prefer man over machines, Zev,” he replied levelly. “I prefer things that think and feel, not just things that only act.”
“Oh, come on!” Zev seemed somewhat put off, eyes hopping from person to person around the glowing fire before stopping abruptly once they reached Catherine. “You agree with me, don’t you, Cat?”
Her harsh blue eyes gazed back at him. “I don’t,” she said simply.
“I believe you.”
Everyone turned to look at the person who had spoke—it was the woman he didn’t recognize. Perhaps this was the Morgan Audrey that the lieutenant had mentioned, though he could see no sign of Clarissa anywhere.
“Do you?” it was Edward, not Zev, that responded. “And you are?“
“Private Morgan Audrey, sir,” she answered in turn, rotating her chair around to better face him. Her voice sounded odd to him. She appeared to have some sort of accent that Edward couldn’t quite pinpoint. It didn’t help that the woman seemed to be trying hard to suppress it, speaking as slowly and articulately as she could. “I believe the lieutenant mentioned me to you.”
“The lieutenant explained my situation to everyone here already, sir, but Lieutenant Thurston asked me to tell you that she would like to speak with you as soon as you are able. She expected you to be here when we first came, but since you weren't… she had other matters to attend to, or else she would have waited…”
“In any case,” Audrey said, turning her attention back to Zev, who looked as eager as a bookworm in a library, “my fiancé has heard of those rumors as well.”
“He has?” Zev looked ecstatic. Reed looked like he wanted to slam his head against the nearest solid object.
Audrey smiled. “He’s in the military’s science division right now, trying to work to get a better position, so he tends to hear about those kinds of things.”
“What other things does he hear?”
“Oh, he hears a lot of things. Like those items that trainers have been giving their pokémon to hold? He works with those things a lot, and…”
Edward let his mind wander away from the conversation, grimacing. He wondered what exactly he was going to tell the lieutenant. Hoping that he wouldn’t get his ears chewed off because he had wasted some of her time by not being around when she had wanted him, Edward was about to stand up and try to locate her when a voice snapped him out of his thoughts.
“Sir?” He turned towards the voice. The new private’s face was inquisitive. “What do you think?” Edward grimaced, wondering how he’d look if his squad realized he hadn’t been paying attention, but Audrey soon solved his problem. “I mean, do you really think the idea of a new pokémon army is that ridiculous?”
Edward took a moment to collect his thoughts. “In one sense, yes, in another, no. The whole idea of the government creating an invention to make the army like Corporal Zev described I find to be highly likely; I’ve heard rumors of such a thing going on from people I know in the upper echelons. They’re always planning some great project or other. However, it’s the idea of the government—any government—putting such an ambitious plan into action that I find ludicrous. I highly doubt such a thing would be as heaven-sent as the corporal is attempting to make it sound.” ‘Berserkers’ were what Zev had called them, hadn’t he? Yes. That had been the term. ”Berserkers, by definition, have no reason. In past times, clans were recorded to have used natural berserkers to fight because those warriors brought with them a lot of power. In consequence, the berserkers, once roused, wouldn’t listen to reason: they would just tear apart anything and everything in front of them, friend or foe. They had no way of differentiating between the two. I think the idea of using them died out for a reason. So even if the army were to create these ‘berserkers,’ as Zev coined them, they’d be too risky to ever dream to put into use. The idea wouldn’t be allowed to pass. In my opinion, in any case.”
“I follow you, sir. But if it was as the corporal said, would such an army make Orre invincible?”
An ember from the fire shot into the air, fighting off the growing chill. The sergeant smiled, his face completely devoid of humor. “No one is invincible, Audrey. Not Orre, not Kanto, not me.”
Ever since the border wars with Sinnoh had ended three years ago, Edward had come to appreciate certain things in life that he hadn’t ever bothered to appreciate before. Silence was one of them. Silence meant that the battle was over and your enemy was dead and you could breathe again. Silence meant you didn’t have to worry about the shrill sound of gunshots piercing the air around you, or where the next attack by human or pokémon was going to come from. It was also during those quiet, precious moments frozen in time that you could actually allow yourself to be human; you didn’t have to pretend anymore. You were no longer forced to hide behind a facade of courage and invincibility—you could allow yourself to be a normal person—not a hardhearted soldier—again.
As such, it irritated Edward when his moments of hard-found quiet were disturbed. So far, he had avoided such interruption. He had avoided Catherine’s eyes when she had retreated into her tent for the night with Private Audrey and Valery. She, of course, had recognized his need for the quiet, though another talk between she and him were inevitable. But that could wait. The others had eventually left him in pursuit of sleep as well, until it was only he and Ami still loitering around the heat of the fire and lantern light. Aside from the occasional whine from the Growlithe, Ami was full, and thus, more or less content to leave him be. As for the other night owls that still prowled around the campsite, Thurston had finished her business with him with less irritation than he had expected; the rest had nothing to do with him.
However, when a yawning Zev had stumbled out of his tent, the hour now drawing dangerously close to midnight, and sitting in one of the empty chairs beside him, Sergeant Lawson knew, instinctively, that it was only a matter of time before the corporal said something.
And, of course, it had to be a question.
Which was naturally followed by Zev’s sleep-glazed eyes trying to get a good look at what was being written down.
Edward had hoped to ignore Zev, to pretend he didn’t hear the question, or notice the boy’s attempts to peer over his shoulder. That, or hope the Zev would interpret his not answering as his way of telling him he had no desire to answer engage in (what Edward believed to be) pointless conversation. The letter that was now occupying his mind was far from finished, though he hoped to send it off in the morning. But Zev was as relentless as always and asked him again, and Edward found he could no longer ignore him.
“No, come on, who’re you writing to? ”
Edward nearly misspelled the next word in his sentence as he wondered whether he should refuse again or actually give the corporal the information he sought, debating which of the two options would lead to a shorter conversation. He decided on the latter. “An old associate of mine.”
“Like your family?”
“Though fitting, I would hardly call my family ‘associates.’” Granted, he had been deliberately vague, and “associate” was far from the right term to describe the relationship, but Edward reminded himself he wasn’t supposed to care.
“Don’t write to your family?”
Edward shrugged. “I write now and again. Enough to let them know that I’m alive and still want in on the family inheritance.”
What followed was a very long, jaded glance. “Hardly. Let’s just say she worked for my family a long time ago and we have somehow kept in contact throughout the years, and that she would murder me in my sleep if I didn’t write.” Edward's fingers brushed against his right temple. “That satisfy you?”
“Oh.” Zev yawned, letting the conversation drift to an end. “Yeah, I guess.”
Edward took advantage of the respite, the soft scratching of pen on paper the only sound that broke the midnight stillness. It wasn’t until Edward noticed the corporal’s head bobbing that he bothered to speak again.
“If you’re tired, go to sleep,” Edward said pointedly as Zev startled himself awake. “We have a long way to go tomorrow.”
“Storm’s on my cot.” Zev said, blinking away the sleep in his eyes, voice somewhat slurred. “Don’t wanna wake her up.”
“That would wake her up.”
“No it wouldn’t.”
“Yeah it would. If you felt your soul tryin’ to be sucked into somethin’, wouldn’t you notice?”
Edward sighed. “Then take my cot. I’m not using it.”
Zev stared at him. “But aren’t you going to go to sleep, too?”
“Yes,” he said, “in time, but not presently. I still have things to take care of.”
“You’re gonna sleep out here?”
Edward paused, inhaling the dry air. “It’s warm enough.”
Even if the temperature plummeted to the point that the roaring fire in front of him couldn’t stave it off, Edward supposed he could take a leaf out of Zev’s book and let Ami lay on top of him. She was warmer than any blanket he owned.
The dog in question snored loudly, legs twitching as she lay sprawled out on her back.
“Well, all right,” Zev said, accepting the offer. “You sure? Want me to get some extra firewood or somethin’?”
“Firewood won’t be necessary.”
“Doesn’t it bother you to be alone, though?”
“Not in the least,” Edward replied, looking up at the clear, starry sky hanging above him. “I enjoy the silence.”
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