Chapter 15

I loved taking a morning walk around here. Now more than ever. Get out of bed to a nice view of Torchfront at a distance from our bow window. Take a nice warm shower. Eat a nice breakfast with Tria. Then take an early morning jog around the lot with Tria and Gid. Sometimes we had others join like Lake, Clou, Rally, Poem, NPH, and on two occasions, Victim jogged behind us.

I loved the smells during our morning jog. The perfumey antiperspirant Tria wore that smelled like the ocean. Which I think made her a little home sick for Luntier. The smell of breakfasts cooking in the hallways of the dorms. The misty, morning dew that chilled the lungs the moment you inhaled when you stepped outside. The sounds and smells from the rushing river and waterfall.

Jogging past the arena you could smell the wood, metal, and dirt from the apparatus and occasional blood, sweat, and tears if anyone decided to train there. The smell of the oily byproduct as early risers prepped their guns when we jogged past the firing range. Past the firing range were some utility sheds with patches of three feet tall weeds that produced a nice flowery smell even though they were ugly as hell. They looked like veins made out of pretzels with yellow flowers popping out of them.

Past that was a trail through the forest. The smells there were a giant collaboration of trees and wood not unlike the woods in Minnesaota. Only with a very, very different appearance. With duller colored trees and oddly shaped animals that looked more out of a Japanese cartoon than actual real life.

My favorite being a playful little, pink rodent that looked like a puff ball with a face and two long hind legs for high jumps and for wrapping itself around objects. It camouflaged itself into patches of pink, puffy flowers. To protect it from snake-like creatures and Jurassic looking birds that had little T-Rex-like arms and raptor-like legs with massive talons.

Anyways, back to the hike, at one point the path forked out. One path back towards the Ram's HQ. The other forked towards Torchfront. Sometimes on an a slow day with nothing scheduled we'd take the long jog into town and eat breakfast in this nice little cafe that gave us Rams free food. The food was nothing special but the people were nice. Run by a few, kindhearted old folks that seemed out of place in Torchfront.

Taking the path back to HQ led towards the storage units where Nobel would usually meet us and remind of us of the daily agenda. Our nice little jog would end there.

Then, four days ago, we finally got our deliver from Clasko which added onto our daily routine. The shipment came via a huge fleet of airships. Enough airships to eclipse the sun over Torchfront. It was beyond expectation.

The fleet's size was so unexpected that we had gotten surprised and nervous reports from patrol towers around the province that Fall had perhaps sent in an air fleet into Torchfornt. Which made me instantly think that I had really, really pissed of the Vame. But it was only minuets later that the fleet radioed to us and told us of their arrival. Kinda wish they did that earlier but when do deliverymen and women ever do anything right?

The first time I saw the fleet I was in shock. If you included the massive balloon, there was one massive airship the size of three cruise liners. I'd never seen anything like it. A ship of that stature didn't seem possible. It wasn't possible by Earth elements.

Accompanying the giant ship were four smaller ships. Though still large in their own right. Maybe the size of a Navy aircraft carrier. Further accompanied by six or seven smaller gun ships the size of yachts.

I thought that was it at first. Until I saw specks of smaller ships dot the sky. Five of them. At first, flying on pace with the slower fleet. But when they reached the city, they started showing off. Kicking into full speed and switching to a diagonal, echelon formation. Clou recognized and pointed them out as the prototypical jet fighters we were expecting.

Zipping to at least three times the speed of the fleet. Diving down towards the Ram's HQ. Doing an overhead flyby. Which got a cheer and holler from the onlookers. Which I think was everybody. Nobody was missing this.

The jets were sleek and impressive looking. The foundation of the frame was a pod-like cockpit in the center. The pod extended back into a sleek tail that ended in a four-winged tip. With one pair of wings running horizontal and one pair running vertical. Making four collapsible wings for balance and additional steering.

The main wings were two pieces. One mounted onto each side of the pod-frame. The base of each wing was a thicker wedge that forked towards the front of the ship. The twin engines were mounted into these wedges. The rest of the wing extended from the sides of these wedge.

The ships' weapons, double barreled machine guns, were mounted on the bottom of the pod. The ammo was stored in the wedges. The guns and ammo was lower caliber but were lightweight and good for rapid fire. Enough to tear into enemy balloon's and infantry.

This ship model was officially named the "Favor 1". Or Favors for short. Which wasn't all that shorter.

The Favors were just one of the new additions brought in. The biggest, literally, being a portable facility. A large, two story tall facility. It looked like it was made of ridged, reinforced iron. Painted dark green with barred windows.

The large airship delivered the facility onto a patch of flatland. Crushing a few trees in the process. The facility was then bolted into the ground with ten, fifteen-foot-long rods. At one point a section of the facility, an electric generator, broke off and landed directly onto our still-in-progress obstacle course. Destroying a good portion of the obstacle course and all of the generator. I was pissed but at least nobody was hurt and everything destroyed could be replaced.

The medium sized ships contained other, new ships besides the Favors to replace our outdated ones. Like transports, bombers, and larger gunships. Then they took our old ones from our hangers to be striped for parts.

While the large and mediums ship had to land at the Torchfront airport after they loaded and unloaded, the Yaceht-sized ships were small enough to land on base. These yachts unloaded some of the fanciest toys. Crates of new weapons, body armor, tools, and materials. Taken and stored in the new, portable facility.

So my routine jog wasn't so routine anymore. It was normal until you reached the firing range. Where the once mild wafting scent of gun oil was magnified by industrial smells from the new facility. Most of the smell's came from Clou's new workshop. Which took up slightly over half the entire facility.

Depending on the day and what projects were going on, it smelled like a metal foundry or a wood shop. And the facility blocked off the path we typically jogged along. So we had to take a detour along the river to get into the forest.

For awhile there was a junk ball of packing material and other garbage left behind from the shippers. The idiots unpacked everything and just left their garbage behind in a stack behind the facility. I had the grunts clean most of the ball but good portions of it blew away. I still find streams of tape and sheets of plastic stuck in trees all the time. Careless.

Jogging along the river in the morning we'd often pass by another new addition. This one in human form. The youngest member of Clou's Favor squadron. A woman in her mid twenties from the province of Rouglova. On the southwest end of the continent.

A people of extremes, the Rouglovans. Typically wearing clothes made of dead animals. Covered in tattoos as signs of honor and accomplishments. Some parts of the body reserved specific accomplishments. Military enlistment gave you a tattoo on the wrist. Heroic service deeds gave you a tattoo on the collar bone. Fatherhood gave you a tattoo on the left shoulder blade. Motherhood, the right shoulder blade. Marriage was on the throat. A painful place for a tattoo. I'd prefer a wedding ring. Must make remarrying slightly more complicated. There were probably hundreds of these ritual tattoos.

Three of the five new pilots were from Rouglova. The woman we met along the jog was nicknamed Beat. Unlike other nicknames around here, she came with that name before I had a chance to give her one myself. She was always at the river with giant headphones on her head. Listening to music and doing this wild dance-karate-meditation thing by herself. Each ear cup of her music player was the size of a softball ball cut in half.

Long, auburn hair and tan skin. She had black, green, and white tattoos over her body. Including a black tattoo over her upper lip. I imagine that was painful.

She was usually reserved except when she was around her squad mates. Often hanging around by herself and when she wasn't she was off in her old world singing beats under her breath. Hence, her nickname. Though she'd usually give us a quick greeting when we passed by. Unless she was having a day when she would lose herself completely in her music-kung fu.

Past the forest was unchanged. Until we reached the home stretch where we'd normally meet with Nobel. Now we were met with Nobel and some overly assertive, busybody that Clasko sent over to look over the shipments and how the equipment was getting used. He was here temporarily. Thankfully. I think his name was something like "Band-Aid" or "Bandolier" or something. I tend to tune him out when he spoke so I dunno.

Tria, Gid, and I just got done with our latest morning jog and headed back to base. Instantly met with Nobel and "Ban-something". Nobel met us with a notepad and three towels. "Bandicoot" met us with a notepad and a haughty attitude. He was tall, slender, but had the voice of Barry White but with the tone and affliction of Alex Trebek.

He greeted me with an upturned chin and a comment he must have learned from Clasko, "Corbank..."

Good lord, I think I liked it better when Clasko called me by that name. His sarcastic take on my last name was far less annoying than "Bandito's" pompous take. But I could see why Clasko would pick a guy like this to work with... A-holes, the both of them.

I patted my face down with the towel and sighed into it. Before rubbing down my arms and give him the stink eye, "Hey... Sport."

He let out a hissing sigh, "It's not Sport. Or Junior. Or Buster. I'm not one of your lesser soldiers to just gives a name to your own choosing. You will call me by my proper name."

I paused a few seconds before asking, "...Which is?..."

"Lilop!" He barked.

"Lilop?!" I repeated with surprise, "Lilop what?"

"Lilop Syvil!"

Where the hell did I get the name "Bandolier"? Or whatever? Wow, was I off by a mile!? So if that wasn't his name... who the hell was I thinking of?

Tria had her towel wrapped around the back of her neck. Using it to wring some muscles in her neck and shoulders. While glaring over at... "Lilop". She hated him more than I do. On a number of occasions he'd challenge her intelligence. Even implying that a woman lacks the ability to be smarter than him. She proved to be smarter than him at every challenge which just drove him to challenge her even more.

She cracked her neck with the towel and scoffed at him, "Lilop...You can only be called a name because you lack a rank."

He whipped his head around at her and snapped, "I'm the Senior Assistant to the-"

"A rank you made up and doesn't actually exist." Tria said with a grin.

"That's right!" I retorted, "I'm a Captain and Tria's my First Lieutenant. So I think you should start calling us by rank from now on, Senior!"

Lilop looked at Gid and remarked, "And what are you? First Oaf?"

Gid gave him a sideways glance in disbelief that this guy would have the audacity to start something with him. Gid had never even spoken a word to this man before. He took a looming step closer to Lilop and warned him, "Among many things, I'm in charge of security. You sir, are not civilian nor are you significant personnel. You fall in the middle. You are quite literally... the very last person on my or my soldier's list to assist in case of emergency. So if we're every attacked, keep you head on a swivel."

He sneered at Gid, "Is that a threat? I can have you jailed for a threat."

Gid, Tria, and I all got a slight chuckle from that. I reached over and gave him a mocking pat on the shoulder, "Riiight. Clasko is going to put Gid in jail and take him out of commission? You even pass a hint that Gid should be jailed and he'll fire you quicker than... Actually, you should totally try that."

Gid answered his question, "No threat. It's an honest warning. That being said, I don't mind telling it to you. Just don't go looking for trouble, Senior Assistant."

Nobel, who was standing by and listening to the conversation, decided to chime in, "Heeey now. Lets not pick on assistants too much here."

"Don't worry, Nobel. You're significant personnel." I told her.

She smiled and nodded, "Oh, okay... Well then! Caaarry on."

Gid walked past Lilop without saying another word and headed back to the dorm. He had already spoken a day's worth of words. He was tapped out. Nobel was smart enough to get us back on track when she asked Lilop, "Didn't you have news for the Captain?"

"Oh. Right." He said, back to his straitlaced self, "Clasko radioed me with a message to give you."

It must not have been very important if he didn't contact me directly. Well, at least nothing Halfaxi related. But if it was related to the regular war, I suppose he'd have to go through proper channels to tell me. I put my hands on my hips and nodded, "Yeeeah? What is it?"

"In addition to the supplies and facility given to Torchfront, a shipment of newly recruited soldiers are on their way. He mentioned that they should be bright prospects for your new regime and should arrive later today or tomorrow."

I raised a delighted eyebrow, "Oh yeah? Sweet!"

He then rolled his eyes, "He's also sending one of his officers."

"Officers? You mean like... lord, there's not another one of you out there, is there?"

"No. A Miss Encarnacion."

Tria smiled, "Aidia? Damn, Gid left too early. That'd make his day."

He rolled his eyes again, "I should have know you'd know her. You both share a-"

I smiled and pointed a finger in his face, "Careful now. I know she outranks you and I have no problem repeating anything you say back to her. She'll grab your neck hard enough to make you're judgmental little eyes pop out."

He went tight lipped. Tria kept glaring at him, "Any other news to report, slick?"

"Yes, in fact. Last night I saw three of your men painting graffiti on the side of the mobile facility."

I groaned, "Don't start that with me! Its a giant metal box. Who cares what they paint on it?"

"You won't be the only ones using it-"

"That was a rhetorical question. As long as it's not offensive or vulgar, I don't care!"

"It was offensive! To me!"

"If it's offensive to you than I'm sure I approve of it."

He tried getting in a few more words but with nothing more relevant to say, Tria, Nobel, and I headed back to my office to go over the daily agenda. Away from his prying gaze. As we were walking away, Nobel asked us, "Just how long is he suppose to be staying with us?"

"No more than a week, I hope." Tria said before adding, "I don't know how long Clasko tends to have him here. But if its over a week, I'm pushing him over the waterfall."

-V-

After our jog, we headed back to my office. I reclined back in my chair with my legs kicked up on the desk. Tria walked over to a small sink in the corner of the room. Next to Cablo's old liquor cabinet. She took a handful of cold water and splashed it across her face. Muttering, "I hate that guy... Why are so many of our allies so unbearable?"

Nobel cleared her throat as she sat down at a chair across from me, "I'll just go ahead and assume you don't mean me."

Tria didn't respond which made Nodel shift uncomfortably in her seat, "Sooo... Anyways. This new friend of yours, should I clean out a room for her to stay in?"

I shook my head, "No. I doubt Clasko will afford her a lengthy trip here. Besides, if she stays here she'll be staying with Gid."

She smiled and winked at me, "Ah. Gotcha."

I sighed, "Don't wink at me. It's creepy when you do it."

She lowered her head, "Sorry..."

Tria walked over and sat down at a chair next to Nobel, "For the new recruits I suggest we just give them cots and the spare room in the mobile facility for now. There will be plenty of room in the dorms after we start making cuts. It puts the new recruits on their toes."

Nobel came to a realization, "Replacements? Wait... You guys would tell me if Lilop was replacing me, wouldn't you?"

"Oh lord, no!" I retorted, "I mean, yes. We'd tell you. No, he's not replacing anyone."

"Except for maybe one of the firing dummies." Tria offered.

"I'm perfectly fine with that. As long as I keep my job." Nobel said.

Tria smiled at her, "You will, so long as you stop making passes at Roan behind my back."

Nobel blushed and burred her face under her hair, "Uhh... yeah. Will do..."

I lowered my feet from my desk and leaned over to a pad and pen to write a note to myself. All this talking of the new recruits reminded me to go over the obstacle course with Gid. Or the "muscle recognition course" as he was calling it. Which made it sound much more legitimate. Like an actual training exercise and not a high school P.E. class.

Our plans changed a bit when the shippers dumped the facility right where the end of the course was supposed to be. Then dropping a piece of it on the course. So were were going to have to repair what was broke and then make a turn in the there somewhere.

After I finished the note to myself I looked back up at Nobel, "That's all for now, Nobel. You're dismissed."

She nodded and stood up, "Okay. I'll go start getting the cots ready."

"Oh." I said, "And they're going to need some type of restroom. Why don't we make the room we gave to Lolip assessable to them? Or, at least the restroom. It may put him out of a room but we're not required to give him any shelter whatsoever. He can stay with Victim for all I care."

Tria crossed her arms and nodded, "Amen."

-V-

Late that afternoon Gid and I went over the new layout for the "muscle recognition course". AKA, the obstacle course. Afterwords, I took a stroll around the campus. I spotted three Rams at the shooting range. The mustachioed Fall brothers, Lopes and Fingers. Also another new member of Clou's Wing Rams. A crazy looking dude named Stregea. No nickname for him. Just, Stregea.

He had paler skin than Tria and Gid combined. An almost hairless head, eyebrows and all, except for a single patch of a dreaded top knot on the top of his head. Like his squadmate Beat, he was a tattooed Rouglovan. Most of his tats were under his clothing. His most noticeable tat was over the right side of his face. It looked like an angled bar code. A tattoo that included his eyelid.

I saw Rally running around. Still picking up scraps of packing material. A job I ordered her to do. Victim was getting a workout. Jogging around. Lake was talking with a few of the younger Rams.

Then I spotted Cablo sitting at a sort of patio table and chairs. Out in the middle of the lot. Sipping on something. I invited myself to join him which he had no noticeable problem with. Sitting down at the table to his direct left so we were both facing the firing range. He greeted me with a nod of the head and tilt of his glass, "Hello Captain. I'd offer you a drink but I only have one glass.. And it tastes like plant urine so you're not missing anything.."

"Plant urine, eh?" I repeated with a chuckle, "Now I'm curious. Not enough to actually try it."

"Smart." He said as he took another, begrudging sip.

"So uhh... why drink it?"

"Supposedly it helps keep the Athermites from spreading to the brain." He said before looking at me with a knowing smile, "I know it's not true but... Well, I guess I can't help myself not to attempt these silly little remedies."

I smiled and let out a single, amused laugh, "Yeah well, you know what I hear helps? Streaking in the rain."

He laughed, "Ahh, humor is a welcome change of pace."

"Well I thought about treating you like some weird, diseased invalid. But that seemed like too much effort."

He smirked, "Certainly. A welcome side effect of my condition is an excuse to be lazy."

"You're damn lucky."

He smiled widely, "Yes. I am."

We watched as a couple other Rams made their way to the range. The girl with the tail for hair, Mizfit and Hutch. The foul mouthed strongmen that Gid destroyed weeks ago and was clearly on steroids. He was probably a front runner for the cut list unless his attitude improved and he got off the juice. Though to be fair, I don't think a genetically advanced lab-baby like myself can judge someone for taking steroids.

Cablo remarked about them, "I tried on three separate occasions to change the Ram's wardrobes. All attempts failed. One attempt ended with the uniforms being ripped to rags and thrown in a pile. They walked around in their underwear or less out of protest. You've already accomplished that in your short time here."

He was talking about the new uniforms put into place. We had designed a sizable array of clothing, uniforms, and body armor designs. We sent the designs to a clothing factory in a nearby neighborhood and sent the armor designs to Clasko awhile back. He had them made up shipped along with some experimental body armor to test out. The armor took up quite a few storage units.

The formal uniforms I kept the local colors. Black waist coats, purple dress shirt, black pressed pants. With a leather, padded back. Woman's uniform same as the men though they had the option of a skirt if they wished. I guess men had that option too. Nobody was stopping them if they wanted to wear a skirt.

Higher ranked officers like Mythology and whoever I eventually chose to replace Cabloo were given white, uniformed top coats. Each with our new ranks embroidered on our left coat sleeve. The insignias were simple. I was the Captain and got one long gold bar. Tria was my second in command so she had a gold bar split into two halves. Gid was third so his bar was in thirds, and so on.

The standard, on duty gear for active soldiers were army fatigues. Their color choice of black, sand, or olive green.

The casual wear was black clothing with purple piping. All the pipping on the shirts had a purple "X" cross in the back. They varied from loose fitting, fleece-like material. To tighter micro polyester-like material. Shirts, sweatshirts, tanks, pants, hoodies, skirts, shorts, short shorts, whatever. Just as long as it was black with purple piping.

A popular fashion item amongst this region of the continent was a crocheted, wide gaped jacket with hood. So we had some of those made up for the Rams in black with a purple X on the back. It was highly comfortable.

The dress code required the Rams to wear any casual pieces or fatigues if they in casual situations. Or any combination of the two. We gave them enough variety to keep them happy while getting them to drop some of their more exotic looks.

The Rams had no official emblem but the purple X pipping was what the townsfolk now recognized us by. Hopefully, we were working up our reputation enough to make the townspeople actually feel comforted by those purple X's and not wary.

The body armor was where the meat was. The standard versions were basic but effective. In a variety of camouflage styles and sizes. Light, heavy, and basic sized armor.

Light armor was basically just the fatigues with some padding around the elbows, hands, knees, pauldrons over the shoulders, basic chin strap-combat helmet, and a utility vest. The vest had many deep pockets and a plastic weave sewn between the vest fabric to stop shrapnel and little else.

The heavy armor had a full helmet with goggled eyes and a small opening for the chin, mouth, and half of the nose. The torso was covered in a heavy jacket. Similar to the weight and feel of a fireman's coat. But with patches of armor plating sewn into many areas over the body. As well as pants similar to a fireman's. Also with armor plating. Also equipped with a small backpack of small explosives, major first aid, and other tools.

The standard armor was a hard woven body shirt and leggings. Thick and sturdy enough to protect from shrapnel, rough elements, and resist some types of projectiles. Good for getting down and dirty in rocks or other hard surfaces. For the most part it had the same body armor as the light version but with a thicker vest.

We also received a couple of copies of a prototypical combat suit. Unlike the other suits we had, these came in only black. The first and bottom layer was a full body glove. With black patches sewn into specific locations to allow the body to breathe through the constricting fabric. Over the body glove was pieces of exoskeleton-like armor.

The pieces of armor were originally made of a black metal with a high sheen. But the reflective sheen was scuffed away and dulled. Each piece was strapped across the body with black straps and clasps.

A domed helmet with goggles over the head. An armored chest plate over the chest and back. An armored tasset and battle skirt. A back strap along the spine helped protect from potentially crippling or lethal damage.

We made a minor alteration to these exoskeletons. On the tasset, a holster for Gid's power revolver. Replaced the stock gloves with Gid's shock absorbing gloves to handle the gun. The suit was designed to give a lot of protection while sacrificing as little amount of mobility possible. The only question was how they held together in battle. They seemed solid but who knows how they'd perform.

Back to the firing range, we watched the soldiers practice their fire in the new standard issue fatigues. I responded to Cablo's earlier comment about me getting a dress code implemented, "Yeah well, it helps having the amount of leverage we have. They had a lot more job security back then. Now they know that if they give a reason, they can be easily replaced."

"I spent too many years being idle. I tried breaking the Rams into shape but made only minor successes."

"Well, you weren't given much to work with. You've done a fine job."

"So you've stated before." He said with a smirk, "But if I wasn't a civil, sickly, dying man and was more of a personality similar to that of Arrbrito, or Greasy as you call him, then looked at my body of work would you still be so complementary?"

Hmm... Well that was a thinker. I shrugged, "Well, good point. Maybe there is some truth to that. But the difference in attitude tends to show what type of effort is put into a task. Greasy seems to put all of his effort into keeping things the same."

"I swear, he used to have potential. Problem was for every inch of potential he had, he believed to have three more inches of it."

"Right. In other words he's an egomaniac and a punk."

"If you want to put it that way, than yes."

"I do. I do want to put it that way."

He took another reluctant sip and winced, "Oh man... I'll say this, it puts me at ease to know I'll be leaving the Black Rams in good hands. Even if by the end, they resemble nothing like they did during my leadership... Actually, especially if they resemble nothing like they did during my leadership."

"Well I won't lie. My time, and my team's assignment here isn't permanent. But I trust we can find a true leader. Maybe even within the Rams."

"It's not like we have hard to fall."

I smiled, "Oh, you'd be surprised."

He took his final sip and sighed. Tossing the empty glass to the table top, "Ugh, nothing seems to surprise me anymore. It's a perk of living on borrowed time."

"Now you're depressing."

He laughed, "And there's nothing anyone else can say or do about it."

There was a moment of silence. Not an awkward silence as I'm so used to. This was just a relaxing siesta in good company. Watching the busy Rams go about their days. Besides the firing range, I saw Nobel carrying a small bag of food to feed to Victim. Who was laying down in some afternoon shade after his jog.

Poem was wheeling a cart of netting to the muscle recognition course... Screw it, Gid. I don't care what he calls it. It's an obstacle course to me.

Poem's netting was going to hang at two levels along the course. The bottom layer of the net hung about three feet over the ground. Was only one foot wide. And stretched over twenty five feet. A wider net hung six feet over that net. Which gave the user something to grab onto as they tried crossing.

Poem took the netting to Gid who heaved the net out of the cart and tossed it to the ground. Pulled out a dagger and sliced the bindings. Then he, Poem, and NPH began to unraveled and laying it across the ground.

Greasy and Gaps were headed to the gym in work out gear. Greasy hadn't seemed to notice me. I could tell he hadn't because he hadn't shot me a dirty look yet.

Tria, Lake, and Goth had began slicing open some packages of a new medical tool that were shipped to us. Black sticks about eight inches long and two inches in diameter. One end was painted white and the other was painted red. The white end had a cap that popped off which revealed a sharp pick. Which could be used to dig out bullets and what not. The other end was a cap that had to have a seal snapped and twisted off. Which triggered the stick to heat up a piece of metal. Which was then used to cauterize wounds. Painful, but useful in an emergency.

Then there was Clou and her apprentice Skunk. Clou was leaning back against the doorway to her workshop as Skunk was carrying some scrap over to her. Two hunks of partially rusted metal under each arm pit and bare wires wrapped over his shoulders. Clou shouting for him to hurry. Loud enough that only the sounds of occasional shots from the firing range could block out her voice.

Cablo got a chuckle over Clou's shouting, "If nothing else, Roan. You're group is an entertaining bunch."

"I'm not sure if you meant that as a complement or not. But I'll take it as one."

"It was." He said before telling me, "I've spent most of life with the Rams. Married once but I don't think either of us really cared for marriage after the first year. We loved each other. but weren't the most loving of people. No children. My family is the Rams. That was all I allowed myself because that was all I could handle in my life."

"That's slightly depressing. Again."

"Saying it out loud, I can see why you'd think that. But honestly, I don't regret much. Only not being able to accomplish more with the Rams. That being said, seeing how you can successfully lead your team, lead the Rams, and still keep your close friends and loving partner so near and loyal, is slightly disappointing from my own perspective."

I smiled widely as I looked at Tria as she was sifting through some packages, "Well, I can't apologize for that."

"Nor should you."

"Nor shall I."

He frowned at me, "Alright, alright. Wipe that goofy smile off your face."

I laughed, "Fine."

We sat a few more minutes before I nodded towards him and added, "I like talking with you like this. It allows me to relax while appearing like I'm actually working."

"Seems to kick the Rams into a new gear seeing their boss and former boss talking together." He said with a smirk.

"Watching them." I added, "Glaring at them. Judging them."

After she finished unpacking her supplies, Tria came over and the three of us made idle chit chat for nearly an hour in the nice weather. Until Nobel came by and told us that Aidia's transport was arriving shortly.

When the news broke, I'm sure it wasn't just coincidence that Gid dropped what he was doing and moseyed on over. Not that he'd ever admit to or show his excitement.

We walked over to the hanger's landing pad just as a ship came flying in from the horizon. This one was no where as breathtaking as the giant fleet that came days before. It would have looked like any other everyday airship except for the fact that it was headed towards our hanger and not to city airport.

A long, dark green body with a bubble cockpit. A brown balloon on top. Over the bubble cockpit was a long, silver rod that curved upward. The ship looked like a grasshopper with no legs and one antenna.

Nobel, Cablo, Tria, Gid, and I stood in wait as a couple of hanger attendants stood at the pad as they guided the ship's landing. When it settled into place and the attendants gave the pilot the safe sign, the side doors opened. Revealing a group of young men and woman sitting at benches or standing in waiting for departure.

Of all the young men and women waiting to exit the ship, the first one to hop out, even before the attendants rolled the stairs over, was the grinning Brazilian herself. Aidia jogged on over. Greeting us with her arms wide open and a toothy smile. Not wasting any time she said, "Afternoon, blokes! I come bearing my sexy self, a troop of prospects, and a top secret mission!"

I chuckled and shook my head, "If it's top secret then stop shouting it."

She ignored and walked right past me. Going right over to Gid and gave him a hug. He reluctantly and embarrassingly hugged her back. Tria smiled sarcastically at him, "How sweet..."

Gid cleared his throat and took a step back from Aidia. To which she gave him a playful punch in the shoulder and a mischievous cackle. And by playful for her I mean the type of punch that could knock anyone else unconscious if aimed anywhere near the head. The thudding sound of meat on meat made me wince.

Aidia finally acknowledged the rest of us by asking, "So... Top secret mission time. We got somewhere private to talk or do we have to settle for a bathroom stall? Though from what I hear about Torchfront, I don't even think those are private."

Cablo looked at Aidia and Gid then over to me. Giving me a look that seemed to ask me, are these two really a couple?

I nodded to him and said, "Yeah... Quite a pair. But yes, Aidia. I have an office. You're welcome to talk with us there. Unless you're really adamant on the bathroom stall."

She thought it over for a second before agreeing, "The office it is. But I think I will first hit the stall. Long flight and there was no way I was using the bucket in that little ship."

"I see you haven't changed under Clasko's leadership." Tria commented.

"Hell no." She laughed once, "Why do you think he sent me on over? Couldn't wait to get rid of me."

I shook my head, "Riiight. Well, Nobel will show you to the nearest stall and then to my office. We'll meet you there."

"Sounds good." Aidia said as Nobel ushered her.

Tria and I started walking for the dorms. Gid took a step to follow us until Cablo gave him a sideways look. Gid shrugged his shoulders, "What?"

Cablo smirked, "... Really?"

Gid frowned, "Yes! Is there a problem?"

Cbalo shook his head, "Not at all... Good for you, young man."

Gid stared blankly at him for a second, "Hmph."

Gid walked past him towards the dorms. Leaving Cablo chuckling to himself as he went to the parked ship. Greeting the new class of potential Rams.

-V-

I called in Clou and Lake to join Tria, Gid, Aidia, and I. Then we dismissed everyone on the entire floor and charged Poem and NPH to guard the stairs and make sure a single soul didn't come within ear shot of this conversation.

I sat behind my desk while Aidia and Tria sat at the chairs across from me. Clou and Lake sat at a side bench. With Gid standing near the door as an extra guard to make sure no one eavesdropped. I began the meeting by officially greeting Aidia, "So Aidia, welcome to the Rams. For however long you're here for."

She smiled, "Thank you kindly, my fellow Earthling. And how long I stay depends on the mission."

"Which is?"

"First, I wanted to update you on Miasma."

"Any successes?" Tria asked.

"No. Not really." Aidia sighed, "They were suppose to act as construction workers. Building a pent house for a known Halfaxi member. Then plant a bomb for said member. Well... plans changed and Fall ended up giving that pent house to a new commanding officer. Not Halfaxi. So Clasko gave the word and we assassinated the regular officer. I mean, he was an evil son of a bitch anyways. Torture, murder, rapings, and so on. So it's still progress. Just not a success."

"So we've still accomplished nothing versus the Halfaxi." I said, dejected.

Aidia nodded, "Pretty much. But one of the reasons Clasko decided to bomb this P.O.S was that maybe if we give the impression that the I-400 are knocking off all types Fall officers, maybe Brink and his Hal-goons won't be as suspicious when the Haflxi officers start dropping too. That its all coincidence."

"So we've set up an added cover. Better than nothing." Tria said.

"Miasma has to lay low until things die down. Until we figure out if their cover has been blown. They did a good job covering their tracks so hopefully it wont be a problem."

"So they're unavailable. I assume that's why we're getting this top secret mission and not them." Clou pointed out.

Aidia shrugged, "Well, more or less."

"Really?" Clou asked, doubtfully.

"Ok." Aidia admitted, "That's exactly why. Think of it as a chance to prove yourself."

Tria scoffed, "Right. Because stopping the Halfaxi on Morda wasn't enough. Right?"

Aidia grumbled, "Ugh, do you want the mission or not?"

"Fine. Give it it to us." I told her.

"Good. Because well, it's not like you have a choice anyways."

"Just spit it out!"

"Alright, alright!" She said with exaggeratedly wide eyes, "The city of Broost in Court Rise province. Who knows about it?"

Tria seemed offended she even had to ask, "Of course I do. Like most of the province, Broost is mostly agricultural. However-"

"Ok, ok." Aidia said as she stopped Tria there, "I don't want a book report about it. I just want to know if you knew of it."

"What about Broost?" I asked, trying to get this conversation going forward.

"In addition to a bunch of farmlands, there is a Fall foundry and factory in Broost."

"I was just getting to that." Tria mumbled under her breath.

Aidia continued, "Typically the foundry deals with minor things. Parts for ships. Rocket casings. And a laboratory wing where they test things from new industrial paints to weaponized gasses. Typically the non lethal kind. But lately they've been upping their game and we think a Halfaxi is behind it. A man named Ulrich to be specific."

"Ulrich was responsible for the biological war that destroyed a level 2 planet nearly fifty years ago." Gid mentioned.

"And he's at it again." Aidia told him, "He's using that wing to build dirty bombs. Explosives with a wide area of chemical contamination. We don't know if Ulrichis there or not but we're fairly certain he's behind it. Normally, we'd wait and scout the area and strike when we know he's present. But with dirty bombs being made, we cant' afford to just wait and watch."

She continued, " So Clasko is sending Mythology to infiltrate and destroy. Priority one is destroying the dirty bomb manufacturing. Priority two, is capturing or killing Ulrich. Capture only if you know for certain that you can do so without risk of his escape."

"I guess I'll have to ask Cablo to come out of retirement and look after the Rams while we're away." I said.

"Actually, that's why I'm here." Aidia told me, "Clasko still views the Black Ram development and the prototypes you're using a high priority as well. So he's leaving it up to you to decide between yourself and Tria. One stays with the Rams and one leads the mission. I'll take the absent member's place in the mission."

Tria looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders, "We'll talk about that later. What are the mission details?"

"Well," Aidia began, "The factory is on the outskirts of the city. Near a river and dam. The foundry is built next to the dam and shares a concrete foundation with it. If we destroy the dam, it'll rip the foundry apart. Or at least the part of the foundry we're targeting. This is the easiest and most efficient way of destroying it. But it comes with possible drawbacks."

"I'd think so. What would that do to the city?" I asked.

"The city would loose most of its power and destroy tens of thousands of acres of farmland. Fatalities are to be expected in the foundry, dam, and its possible some in the farmlands. The local economy would be in chaos for a season and the majority of the city would be without power for weeks."

"Oh, is that all?" I asked, facetiously.

"I know." Aidia sighed, "It's guerrilla warfare and it's cruel. But it won't compare what would happen if Fall used a single dirty bomb in a city. Let alone multiple cities. Torchfront would be in a higher risk than most other cities since there is no church presence here. They could just plant one in the middle of the city without having to worry about killing their own. Kill dozens or hundreds with the initial blast. Hundreds or thousands more with the aftereffects."

"I understand that but is there no way to destroy the foundry or even just the chemical wing without destroying the dam?" I asked.

"Yes, but they'd be able to rebuild. If we destroy the foundation, they'd have to start over from the very beginning. Even the portion of the Foundry that remains will be too unsteady to use."

"Surely they have other chemical facilities they could continue this work though." Tria pointed out.

"Right. They do. But this facility allows Ulrich to make his dirty bombs under most of the noses of the Church. Most of Fall doesn't approve of dirty bombs. Those loyal to the religion believe it's inhuman. As for everyone else, they're just worried about an accident effecting their own asses. But and the Halfaxi probably don't share those concerns. Hence, the out of place facility in Broost."

"Which brings up the chemical aspect of the mission." Aidia said before turning to Clou, "You know about engineered radiation, right?"

Clou shrugged her shoulders, "Yeah. It's boring and lame, but I know about it."

"Which is why we need you to infiltrate it and not just blindly bomb the damn thing." Aidia said.

Lake snickered, "Dam-thing... Nice."

"That wasn't a pun!" Clou barked at her.

Aidia continued, ignoring Lake, "You have to scout this chemical wing and make sure that by destroying the building, you don't spread chemicals or radiation into the city or river. That'd turn minor casualties into mass casualties. We can't allow that. If its unsafe, we need to come up with another plan on the spot."

Clou rubbed her chin and thought about it, "Hmm... I'd have to see to be sure but if it's weaponized it's probably not actually radiation. Poisonous fumes perhaps. Danth's not really at that point, technologically speaking. But this is the Halfaxi so who the hell knows. Again, I'll have to see for myself."

"And how do we infiltrate this facility?" I asked, "It has to be highly guarded."

"That's what we have to plan, still." Aidia said.

I nodded, "Alright. But first things first. Could you guys leave for a moment and allow Tria and us to discuss this?"

Clou stood up and parted with a typical remark, "Alright. But if it's more than five minutes we'll know you're in here doing it."

"Just get out of here." I barked at her.

The moment they left and closed the door behind them I looked at Tria and asked, "Alright. So which job are you comfortable with?"

"What I'm comfortable with?" She repeated, almost annoyed I even asked, "I can and will do whatever job I'm given."

I nodded, "I have faith in you whatever task you're given. That's not what I meant."

She paused a moment, "Well... What did you mean?"

I sighed, "I actually meant what I'm comfortable with. I asked you in hopes you'd answer for me."

She smirked, "No way in hell, Snarky."

I leaned forward and sighed again. Troubled with my own thoughts and reasoning, "I... have an... idea. Of what I want."

"Aaand? Just tell me."

I ran my fingers through my hair and grunted, "Well, I really don't want to leave the Rams just as we begin cuts and new recruits and a complete overhaul."

"Okay then." She said with a slight smile, "So, you trust me to lead this mission?"

"I do..." I said as I nervously tapped my feet, "But... We've never had a mission where success means such a loss of innocent lives. Then the first one we get, I pass it off on to you."

"Well, that's not true. I mean the raid on Morda's City Hall cost over fifty civilian lives and hundreds of Prime and Calopis soldier lives."

"Right but that wasn't just us and a battle was going to happen with or without us."

"And if it wasn't for us, here and now, dirty bombs could go off across the planet."

I nodded, "I know, I know. The mission has to be done but I just feel like I'm passing off the tough responsibilities."

"Well, you're the only one who thinks that. Besides, I have a basic knowledge of radiation in case something happens to Clou. It may not be industrial knowledge like hers. But its something. It has to be me. So, relax. We'll get it done."

I smiled, "Good. I know you will."

She smiled back, "To be honest, I was just saying I didn't care what mission you gave me because I had to say that. I don't want to be in charge of the Rams. Not by myself."

"Yeah..." I said with raised eyebrows, "It's going to be interesting."

She duplicated my facial expression and nodded back, "Indeed it will... Snarky."