“They simply are not ready,” one of the GAM's top brass emphatically declared for the fourth time in the past two minutes. He and the rest of the Council of Officers sat at a long steel table, each with a datapad set before them. The city's skyline was in full view, a two-inch-thick pane of bulletproof glass protecting the important men from any threats.
“How so?” quipped Venko. “We saw their performance on the mission. They were superb. A recorded thirty-eight kills, successful detonation of the bomb and disengagement of the armada, minimal damage to the armor suits, and a brilliant innovation on their part...due to Captain Vault's failure to land at the predesignated point. I say they should be sent into action, effective immediately.”
Vault leaned into the arm of his chair, silently watching the debate and analyzing each man involved. Captains usually were not included in the Council of Officers, but he was handpicked by Venko to be a contributing voice. Venko would have promoted him to Colonel, however, Vault preferred to be at the helm of the Indefatigable.
After Venko's imperious voice finished stating his case, there was a general murmur of agreement and the sage nodding of heads. General Derringer, who was known for making his opinions quite clear, chimed in once more, “As I'm sure Dr. Klept will agree, these men just aren't prepared for combat. They've barely received a few weeks of training, they're sloppy, and we'd be wasting them by deploying them.”
“Klept?” Venko extended his hand to Klept, who was sitting a few seats down from the head of the long table. Klept paused, gathering his thoughts.
“Although you know we usually share the same opinions, I feel I must agree with General Derringer: these men aren't prepared for what lies ahead. Once they face shellshock, or are put under stricter orders they don't feel like obeying, or face an obstacle they've never encountered, their lack of training will come to fruition. This success was an isolated incident, you shouldn't expect it again. You're playing roulette with their lives.”
Venko leaned back in his chair a few degrees, taking in what Klept had said. “Well,” he began, “if Klept disagrees with me, he must have it right.” There was a smattering of laughter, accented with nervousness. “Thank you for your input, Doctor.”
Vault looked into his lap, contemplating whether to bring up what happened in the cargo bay. “If I may interrupt,” Vault chimed in after a polite cough, “I witnessed something when my dropship received the Death Squad...”
“Which was?” Derringer prodded, settling into his seat. He could sense the direction Vault was going.
“DS03 Bruce Moore...he openly yelled at me when they landed into the cargo bay, regarding my inability to pick them up at the planned landing point.”
“I can't say I blame him,” Venko smirked. “Continue, Captain.”
Vault bit his lip, blinking. “Two of his fellow team members stopped him from any act of violence, but given his demeanor and criminal record, it became clear he had the intention of violence.”
“And who stopped him?” Venko inquired, his fingers folded.
“DS02 Michael Sanchez and DS05 Sebastian Traw. DS05 personally gave him a spurning in front of the other team members.”
“If this alone isn't enough to illustrate the immaturity of the team, I don't know what is,” Derringer added his piece, hardly giving Vault time to finish the last word.
“We proceed as planned,” Venko ordered, his voice raised slightly to overcome that of Derringer. “Also note, Derringer, that I am the Commander General here. I have the final call. You all provide advice, not votes.” Vault subtly glanced to his left and right, an uneasiness settling over him, as it silently did over everyone else in the room. “Death Squad will be deployed tonight at 2300 hours for Syoto, in the Kentus System. There has been a considerable amount of criminal activity linked to one organization, the Death Squad will be eliminating the leaders at a meeting that will take place tomorrow. Meeting adjourned.”
Vault had an objection to raise, as his ship would be bringing the squad into the Kentus System. The area was nefarious for brigands and raiding parties, and the Indefatigable was still under minor repairs. He had heard tales of GAM cruisers falling under assault and never returning. Vault drew in a breath to object, then stopped himself. He left with the others.
Traw walked through one of the many hallways of the compound, passing the occasional stone-faced personnel with their head bent over their datapad. He and the other Death Squad members had been rewarded with a day of doing as they pleased.
Passing the training rooms, Traw noticed Moore in a mock arena, fighting a mechanized dummy with targets painted around the vital areas. Traw stopped for a moment to watch, crossing his arms. He found it fascinating to observe men as they fought. Traw saw that Moore's fighting style was feral and fast, taking on his enemy with unprecedented ferocity and relentlessness. Once he got a hold of his enemy, which then became more akin to prey, he would never let go, punching and slamming until the enemy was thoroughly beaten.
Moore wrapped his arm around the dummy's neck and landed an onslaught of punches into the midriff, nearly tireless in his attack. Finally, he pulled the head down and smashed into his knee, rendering it dead. The dummies were constructed with varying degrees of toughness, emulating different classes of enemies. Moore just finished one of the toughest.
Traw considered stepping in for a word of reconciliation after what happened aboard the dropship; but he was too fascinated with Moore's practice battle. Sweating through his workout suit, Moore took a few steps over to a pillar mounted with a datapad. He punched in a few keys, and a large mechanical arm reached down from one of the ceiling panels, grabbing the fallen dummy and replacing it with a new one. At that point Traw stepped into the training room, the sound of the door shrouded by the sound of the machine.
The new dummy turned on and immediately took a fighting stance. “Let's tango,” Moore snarled, mirroring his mechanized opponent. The dummy threw a left hook, then a right jab, both of which were dodged by Moore's arm. Moore then proceeded to land two solid punches into the dummy's face. “Come on, Farley. I'm gonna take you down,” Moore continued, knowing the dummy would never speak a word in reply.
Traw leaned against a pillar in the shadows, hoping he would go unnoticed. Forty short seconds later, the dummy was lying lifeless on the ground, completely incapacitated. “Hey, Moore,” Traw began, stepping forth. He stumbled over his words. “I, ah, I wanted to apologize for givin' you a hard time before. I never..”
“Don't bother,” Moore interrupted, going about his business without looking Traw in the eye. “I don't care anyway. Even if it meant something.”
Traw looked to the floor, unsure of what to say. “If you don't mind me askin'...who's Farley?”
For once, Moore looked Traw in the eye. “That's none of your business.”
Traw continued staring him in the eye.
“I'll just leave you alone, then,” Traw mumbled, taking his leave.
After he left the training room, Aveer caught sight of him. “How are you today?” Aveer wondered, clapping Traw on the shoulder. Traw grinned warmly for a moment, looking to the floor.
“I'm doin' alright,” he answered as they strolled through the hallway. “Wouldn't suggest goin' in that trainin' room, though. Moore's on some kinda rampage in there with those practice dummies.”
Aveer's face turned, and he glanced behind them. “He has many demons...” Aveer noted.
“What do you mean?”
“In my culture, we believe each child is faced with demons. Some more than others. When the child becomes a man, he can start fighting the demons and freeing himself...or he can run with the demons and ultimately bind himself to them as a slave. I think Moore runs with many demons.”
“How many do you have?” Traw asked.
“Hard to say...I do not count them, I just know they are there. Day to day, I fight them. I know I must.”
“Why do you have to, though? I mean, this doesn't sound worth it to go to all the trouble.”
Aveer stopped, his eyebrows deepened. “What makes us human then?”