Thread: Finding Courage
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Old August 8th, 2008 (07:23 PM). Edited August 8th, 2008 by Saffire Persian.
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Astinus::
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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 it took me even longer to finally update. xD And they'll be plenty more characters where Edward and co. came from... provided I can actually get this finished.

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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Not everything.”

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.”

“Your duty?”

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."

“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—“

“No.”

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.”

-(o)-

“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.”

“She did.”

“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…”

“I understand.”

“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.”

-(o)-

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.

“What’cha writin’?”

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.

“Doesn’t matter.”

“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.”

“Girlfriend then?”

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.”

“Recall her.”

“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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