Mekton campaign 2013
Kenda Washio (鷲尾剣田)
The girl in the white karate gi sank to her haunches, breathing heavily as she watched the people milling about the gymnasium. Technically, it was supposed to be Phys. Ed. class, and she could see most of her classmates lining up for another round of zero-G dodge-ball. Normally she’d have been doing the same, but she was almost a week away from the shipwide karate kumite. She was in the running for top in her grade, and might actually make it to the Intersection semi-finals in a few months, if she could avoid getting knocked out of the competition. While technically, it was considered an extra-curricular sport, and not endorsed by the faculty; yet she had a real shot at the championship, and there were other students in her class who studied karate, if not quite at her level; and so the teacher had assigned the best of these to be her sparring partner for the duration of gym class, so she could work out.
One of the advantages of growing up in an old family like hers was that people tended to bend over backwards to accommodate her desires. Not for the money, precisely. Her family actually wasn’t all that wealthy. What they had was prestige. Because her family had been closely, if ambiguously tied to the war efforts for six generations, they were highly respected by the military and political leaders of the human race, and were frequently consulted on matters of policy and strategy. Because the human race so desperately depended upon its political and military leaders to continue their existence, this meant that her family was known by name to every family, and most individuals aboard ship, and indeed all around the fleet.
Of course, it also meant that whenever she screwed up, her face was plastered over all the shipwide holovids and even the occasional inter-vessel communiqué. If she made it to the championship, she was guaranteed that people would be watching; even if just to see her fail.
Her teachers described her as gutsy and courageous for pushing herself to excel, but she knew better. Really, she was just too cowardly to refuse.
Not that her parents exactly pushed her into karate in the first place. Not in words anyway. But her father and grandfather had both been champions at the kumite; her mother had won the all-vessel judo finals three years running, and her uncle was a veteran warrior, and practitioner of multiple disciplines.
No one actually said to her, “Kenda, you must take up the martial arts, and you must excel at it or die trying”.
She remembered, when she was a small child, however, when her father used to tell her stories about her family lineage. Always there was a note of pride in his voice when he talked about how strong the family had always been; how steadfast in defense of humanity. It had never actually been said that Kenda had to take up the family honour. It didn’t have to be. It was a given. She would be disappointing them if she failed to live up to the family name. She would be letting down six generations of ancestors, and bringing shame to her parents, and destroying the family legacy for her own future children.
She wasn’t strong enough to resist that sort of pressure. So, as a small child, when her mother asked her, one day after school, if she’d be interested in taking any after-school sports, she’d said she wanted to join the karate club.
And it wasn’t as though she didn’t enjoy karate. She enjoyed the exertion, and the feeling of being totally fit and full of energy. She liked the fact that she was physically much stronger than most of her classmates, including many of the male students. It gave her an edge when she was dealing with them, in case things turned nasty, as they could do with startling speed among teenagers. She just wished she felt she had more freedom to choose her own way in life, instead of always doing what her parents expected of her. That would have been true courage.
Of course, her mother had always assumed she would take some martial art or other somewhere along her life, so although she’d been pleased to hear it, she hadn’t fussed over it, like some parents do. That was always the way of it for Kenda. High expectations from her parents transmuted into lofty goals for herself; sometimes too lofty to reach. If she failed to reach her goals, bitter disappointment all around. If, by some miracle, she succeeded, it was “only to be expected”, or “in her blood”. She rarely received any actual recognition for the work she put into such goals, let alone praise.
At eleven, she had begun studying biology and exobiology. A natural whiz at the subject, she’d been allowed to pursue it as an area of expertise when she entered secondary education. Now, at fifteen, she was still studying, but she had already qualified for work as a lifeguard and first responder, and had been assigned an official duty-station, in the event of a shipwide emergency. Had her parents OOHed and AHHed over her skills? No, of course not. Science was in her blood, every bit as much as martial skill was.
Her father was an astrochemist, and had often voluntarily spent time in the labs with Intership Science Division, helping to analyze debris collected from asteroids in search of useable resources. Judging from his frequent, extended absences, his skills were in high demand.
In fact, her father seemed to think biology was a soft science. Sure, it required a great deal of skill and the nature of practical biology, i.e. medicine, was such that a wrong assumption could cost lives; but unlike the harder science disciplines of chemistry and physics, it did not require complex calculations, memorized formulae and a plethora of constants developed well over a hundred years ago by men who’d never even been in space.
She’d even learned to pilot her grandfather’s old single-man fighter-mech when she was twelve, and now could outfly most of the men and women who actually flew in the ship’s defense squad. She had hoped learning to fly would let her spend more time with her father, who was often remote with her, but although he’d taught her the rudimentaries of flight himself, once she had begun to develop any actual skill, he’d left her in his brother’s hands.
Not that Uncle Dan wasn’t a highly capable pilot. Probably better than her dad, if you got right down to it; after all, he was, she believed, the secret leader of the famed Red Impulse squad. And he knew the craft backwards and forwards, of course, as he himself had learned on it as a child. And she did enjoy spending time with him; and learned a great deal from him. But she had so hoped to spend more time with her father.
Even there though, her achievements were nothing exceptional. Flying was in her blood also. Her brother, her father, his brother, her grandfather, her great-aunt; in fact, going back six generations, her family line always included at least one who was a skilled flyer.
It would have been more surprising if she had not been a skilled flyer; and not a pleasant surprise, she suspected.
She shifted her focus back to the present, taking a sip from the bottle of OJ-Lyte at her side. Her sparring partner had finished adjusting her equipment. It was time to get back to work.
Later, after class, and after karate club, she made her way past the engine-level to the shuttlebay, where she’d agreed to meet her uncle.
It wasn’t commonly known that Dan Washio was actually the latest incarnation of the famed Red Impulse, but she knew. Well, he hadn’t confirmed her suspicions, but she all-but knew. He’d taught her to fly, after all; she knew his tricks and techniques. Once she’d passed a certain degree of skill, it became a simple matter of watching the holovids of Red Impulse, and now she knew for certain; if Dan Washio wasn’t Red Impulse, then he’d taught Red Impulse how to fly.
Her uncle was waiting impatiently when she arrived. She’d told him she would need to attend karate tonight. With the kumite so close, it would have been seen as irreverent for her to skip the club meeting, regardless of how many hours of private time she was devoting to preparing. If she failed to win at kumite, the social-columns would point to her failure to attend as evidence that she wasn’t serious about karate, and that she was obviously a total flake. Even if she won, there was a chance they’d do that anyway; but they were hard to predict.
He was annoyed with her, she could tell. She knew; or at least suspected what he was taking time away from in order to teach her. She didn’t know if her father knew what his brother was; had he known when he’d arranged for Uncle Dan to teach her, that he was asking the foremost flyer in the fleet to take time away from his elite missions and teach a twelve-year-old how to fly a battered old single-man fighter?
And yet Uncle Dan had never seemed to mind it; when she was on time anyway. Understandably, he didn’t have a lot of leeway for availability. If she was late, it was only her own flying time she was cutting into. He’d leave exactly when he’d said he would leave, and she wouldn’t see him again ‘til the next lesson. There was no room in the schedule to sneak in an extra ten minutes just to accommodate her being ten minutes late.
Two weeks after kumite was over, she was scheduled to try for her flying license. In fact, if it weren’t for kumite, she’d probably be stressing over it by now; but at the moment karate was her primary worry, and flying took a back seat.
“Let’s go, doll,” he told her, jerking his thumb toward the small flyer.
Tossing her equipment bag and backpack to the floor in the corner of the berth, she tugged at the ends of her ponytail, tightening the position of the elastic, then settled the helmet on her head.
She didn’t know why her uncle insisted on her wearing a helmet; surely if the flyer ever crashed, a helmet would be the last thing that worried her; but he said it was good practice. She knew the real ace pilots; the ones who flew out in mechs to fight when the Albatross was threatened, they all wore helmets; but their helmets were fitted out with oxygen masks and HUD systems, and they wore pressurized flight-suits to help keep them from blacking out when they performed high-intensity manoeuvres.
The helmet she wore looked like it might have done service as a motorcycle helmet at one point in its life, before the visor had come off and gone missing. It would at best protect her from bumping her head, if she ever had to eject and the canopy malfunctioned without killing her. She didn’t get it; but she did what she was told, as she usually did.
Tightening the chinstrap, she approached the flyer, mounting it as she’d been taught. This was trickier than it sounded, because although it had hand and foot-grips down the side, this was not actually accessible from the ground. No human was tall enough to reach the lowest rung; it had to be at least fifteen feet off the ground; probably closer to twenty. Fortunately, the forward landing-gear doors opened wide enough to give her a platform a little lower, and she vaulted onto this with relative ease, then sprang to the ladder and climbed up the rest of the way.
Technically, she assumed, the manufacturers probably assumed the flyer would be mounted from a mounting platform or portable ladder, but her uncle had always taught her to rely on herself. She was strong and fast, he told her; why wait for equipment she didn’t need?
Sliding into the cockpit, she began flipping switches and calibrating her instruments. The electrical system was old, as was the flyer itself. While in flight it was reliable, as it drew on the power generated by the engine; but once it was sitting in its berth in the shuttle bay, it relied on its battery to store and distribute power, maintaining electronic settings and running the startup systems, and the battery and its connections frequently failed, so the calibration rarely held.
Switching on the engine, she felt the thrum of power as the magnetic turbine whined into life, and the lights in the cockpit brightened considerably. She signalled the baymaster for launch permission, and was assigned a priority number. A few minutes later, she eased the machine out of its berth and into the launch bay proper, waiting while the hatch closed around her, and the precious air was cycled out of the bay and into the pressurized holding tanks. When the massive bay-doors rolled back, she gunned the engine, checking the readout one last time, and when nothing stood between her and the dense, diamond-studded vista of deep space, she activated the thrusters and the small vessel punched its way into the wild, black yonder.
Her uncle was watching from the observation deck, she knew, and also had a communications lock on her systems which allowed him to read her instruments at a glance, and even modify her settings with only a slight delay, should something unexpected happen; but by this time it was a formality. She was fully capable of flying circles around the Albatross, literally and figuratively, and then landing neatly on the head of a pin on her return.
It was on her return that things became unusual. Her uncle had lost his prickly demeanour; apparently her flying had satisfied him such that he was no longer annoyed with her busy schedule. Inexplicably, he invited her to stop at the Snack Bar for a burger and fries. Normally she ate better than that when in the presence of adults; especially with the kumite approaching, but she was willing to indulge occasionally, and was curious what her uncle wanted.
While munching her fries, she watched her uncle attentively. He so rarely had time to waste like this; he couldn’t have asked her out here just to spend time with her. He was eating, but mechanically; not thinking about the food, and not saying much. Most of the time, he was glancing at the holovid over the bar at the front of the place. It was playing the news, but it wasn’t very interesting news, by the looks of things. They were going on about the junior hockey finals going on down on Deck 12. It had to be a slow news day if they were reporting on teenage hockey.
Glancing around furtively, Kenda could see the room had very few people in it, and none were close. Perhaps now was the best time she would ever have to ask him what she’d wanted to know for months.
“Can… can I ask a question, Uncle Dan?”
His eyes leapt to her almost in surprise. He certainly hadn’t forgotten she was there; perhaps he hadn’t expected her to start the conversation? She picked up her milkshake and took a sip before setting it down again.
She glanced about again, then leaned closer. “It’s about Red Impulse.”
She was watching for his reaction, or else she would have missed it. For just a moment, his eyes widened, and then narrowed again as he watched her speculatively.
“I doubt I can tell you anything you can’t learn for yourself in the library computer banks, but ask.”
She smiled. Smirked actually. She knew; knew he was lying. She didn’t think badly of him for it; clearly the truth was a dangerous truth. Was he protecting her? Or himself? Or Red Impulse, if by chance it wasn’t him? In any case, he wasn’t lying to her just to be mean.
“I don’t think that’s true, uncle. I think you know more about him than most people. Maybe more about him than anyone.”
“Why would you think that, girl?” his voice was gruff now, and slightly defensive. She couldn’t help but continue to smile. Although she was risking annoying him, the more defensive he got, the more certain she was that she was on the right track.
“Well, I’ve been watching the holovids every time he’s on the news. I’ve watched him flying. You know that technique you taught me, for climbing out of a gravity-well and veering to keep from losing engine power? I’ve seen him use it.”
His eyes narrowed again, and he watched her closely, so she finished her thought. “So either… you taught him… or you are him.”
There was a rueful smirk to his lips now, and she couldn’t help grinning in response. “I’m not as dumb as my folks think. One plus one equals two. Only in this case, I think one and one equals one.”
“Enough,” he finally replied. “This conversation is dangerous to have here. Concentrate on your kumite, and we’ll talk about this afterwards. Good luck, kiddo.”
He got up to leave, waving his credstick at the pay-meter.
“Wait, you wanted to talk about something, I thought?” she asked him in surprise.
“I did. But now the conversation’s going to go a bit differently. We’ll give flying a skip next week; I imagine you’ll be too tied up in practice anyway. I’ll see you the week after, and we’ll prep you for the licensing test.”
Frowning at the thought of the test for her pilot’s license, she picked up her milkshake and rose to leave, picking up her equipment bag and backpack and slinging them over her shoulders.
When she got home that evening, her mother, brothers and sister had already eaten. Her father was still at work, and wasn’t expected home ‘til late, so she went to her room and pulled out her homework. An hour of biology, half an hour of maths, half an hour of history and an hour’s worth of English reading later, she heard the door to the main suite open, and heard her dad’s voice. She hurriedly scribbled her thoughts on Julius Caesar into her datapad, probably missing a detail or two from the nights’ reading assignment, and then sauntered out into the main room. It looked like her dad was having his dinner in the study again. The kitchen and dining area were empty, and she knew he wasn’t going to be eating in the bedroom, where she could hear her mom watching a holovid; it would have been uncouth to eat there.
She made quietly for the study door, and then paused. She could hear voices through the door. Was he watching a holovid too? No; it sounded like he was talking to someone. She could’t make out the other voice clearly; perhaps it was over a commlink. She didn’t want to eavesdrop; she was in the process of tiptoeing away when she heard her name. She couldn’t just leave after that.
“… Kenda is too young to be of use to you, surely … no, I know … yes, they were young too, but this is different … because she’s my daughter, damn you … of course I don’t want that … surely you can wait another year; she’s barely a teenager … there are other skilled young people, why her? … I see … yes, of course I’m sure … why would I use an unsecured connection, now or ever? … well I won’t force her; the decision must be hers … I understand; when? … when’s that? … I see, so two weeks from now then … yes, I’ll tell Jade you’ll be here; I’m sure she’ll be delighted to see you again … I’ll see you then …” The conversation ended there, and Kenda hesitated, uncertain what to do; but before she had decided, the door slid open with a whoosh, and her dad came walking through, his pace strong as always, but faltering as his eyes fell on her.
“Eavesdropping isn’t a habit a young lady should acquire,” he began reprimandingly, but the tone didn’t last. “You overheard, I presume?”
She nodded quietly, uncertain whether to feel ashamed of herself or not.
She follwed her father into the cozy room he called his study. Really it was more for relaxing than for studying anything. The warm, oaken desk and the black, leather swivel armchair, the thick-pile carpet and comfy sofa along the wall and reclining armchair across the coffee-table, all served to make the occupants feel comfortable. The holovid projection system descended from a point in the middle of the ceiling, and doubled as the room’s light-source when it wasn’t in active mode.
Settling herself onto the sofa, she watched while her father sat and sipped from his tea.
“We need to talk,” he told her. “I’ve been asked to discuss this with you. Well, really I’ve been told that if I don’t discuss it with you, then someone else will. I think this is probably best.”
“Is this about Uncle Dan?” she asked nervously.
“Uncle Dan? What do you mean?” her father asked in confusion.
Now it was Kenda’s turn to be confused. Did her dad know about Uncle Dan? If he did, then why the pretense? If he didn’t, would telling him about it be endangering either of them?
“Um, well,” she began, “Uncle Dan and me – ”
“Uncle Dan and I”, her dad interrupted.
“Uh, yeah. Uncle Dan and I were talking, after my lesson today. He took me for a burger and fries, and… well, actually he didn’t say much, but I asked a few questions. I dunno, I mighta gotten him in trouble by askin’. I— I’m not sure I should tell you what we were talkin’ about, on accounta if he got into trouble, it could be that me tellin’ you would put him in more trouble,” she tried to explain.
He nodded after a moment. “Well, I don’t know what you were talking about, but it may explain the sudden interest from other parties. I won’t press for details; your uncle’s in well over his head in secretive matters which are none of my business. If you’ve stumbled onto one of them, I don’t want to know.”
“Was that him you were talking to?” she wanted to know.
“No. It was Bruce Grey, head of the Nambu Institute.”
“You’ve met him, I believe. At that gala two years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve forgotten him, however; as he isn’t very memorable to look at. The Intervessel Science Collective, as I’m sure you know, is the governing body which controls certain para-military organizations which exist to protect humanity, both from alien influences and from abuses of power. They draw all their recruitment through the Nambu Institute, who have their fingers into every educational facility on every vessel in the fleet. They select individuals with promise, vet them for psychological makeup and train them for service in these highly exclusive para-military organizations. Each vessel has its own branch of the Nambu Institute, though how they’re organized fleet-wide is something I don’t know. Bruce Grey is the Albatross’ head of the institute.”
“And he wanted to talk to you about me?” she almost squeaked. What did this guy want with her? Maybe she shouldn’t have let on to her uncle what she suspected; now they wanted to silence her maybe?
“The Nambu institute has always been interested in children of the Washio family. We carry the Blood of the Phoenix; which makes us superbly suitable for their programs and for the agencies they feed.”
“What does that mean,” she asked in confusion.
He sighed. “I’ve told you in the past about our family history. About my father’s great-grandfather, who fought against the secret invasion from Selectrol. The Selectrones are no more; the last of them was driven from earth and has never been heard from again; but for a time, he wrought havoc on the earth, and the ones who stopped him were a small band, controlled by the International Science Organization; the direct predecessor to the Intervessel Science Collective. While these young people were trained to a superb degree, they were also prepared in other ways. They were modified on a genetic level, and the modifications made carried on through the bloodline of the surviving members.
“I carry that blood in my veins. So do you and your brothers and sister. Even if you never decide to harness what’s inside you, it’s still there, and your children, if you decide to have any, will carry that blood in their veins too. Although others can be trained to work with the equipment the ISC provides, those with your bloodline can practically become one with it. Not, perhaps, to the same degree as once was possible; legend has it those who fought against the Selectrones could merge with their equipment almost completely, and become one with the Phoenix itself, burning away their enemies. I don’t know whether the blood has been thinned over time, or whether we’ve lost the technological know-how to harvest it; but the Phoenix was laid to rest before we left earth, so it doesn’t much matter anymore.”
Kenda looked about as confused as she felt.
Her father chuckled. “It’s a lot to take in, I know. And it’s all background to the current sitation anyway. Bruce Grey wants to recruit you. I don’t know what position he has in mind for you, but one thing I do know; those who work for Bruce routinely put their lives at risk. I’m not trying to dissuade you; although it’s dangerous work, it’s worth it. Humanity is what’s on the line, if we fail, or refuse to take the risks. But for a child —”
“I’m not a child, dad,” she replied quietly.
“… no, I suppose you’re not anymore, at that,” her father responded.
“You said ‘if we fail’. Does that mean you work for him, too?”
Her father hesitated, eyes glancing away behind his flat, rectangular glasses. “I… hadn’t meant to say that. But yes. I also serve in one of the organizations the Nambu Institute feeds.”
“Well, you work for the ISC, I know; but that’s not exactly risking your life,” she replied thoughtfully.
“And it’s true that the staff of the scientific labs of the ISC are also pulled from the Nambu Institute, but although I’ve been known to work there occasionally, they’re not what I do. And I’m not getting further into that with you, any more than I’m getting into whatever secret you share with my brother. There are some things one simply does not discuss with outsiders, and at the moment, that’s what you are.
“You need to make a choice. The Nambu Institute will take you high. Your studies there will outstrip any public, private or military educational institute; graduates are at the pinnacle of excellence. However once you graduate, and even before, you will serve as needed in one or more of the organizations which draw on the Nambu Institute. This is essentially a life-time commitment. You may move around between the organizations, but you can’t just turn around and work in an office suite for the rest of your life. People’s lives depend on the organizations you’ll be trained to serve. For you to refuse to loan them your expertise, once you’ve been trained and developed to have those expertise, is tantamount to deserting your post. Not very well received in these difficult times.”
“Have they said what they want me for?”
“Not to me. But then there’s no reason to suppose they would. I can only assume they don’t intend you to serve directly under me, or they would consult me. Failing that, you could be anywhere; even another vessel.”
“What about Ryuu-kun and Kazu-kun, have they been invited also?” she asked.
“Neither your older brothers nor your younger sister have been asked to join. Thus far, they have not shown a particular excellence which might indicate their usefulness to the organizations. You are unlike them; do not compare yourself to them.”
She was stunned. While her fathers conversational tone made the comment sound matter-of-fact, it was the most complimentary thing he’d ever said about her.
Usually her eldest brother, Ryuusuke, came off best in the family. He had a certain charm about him which made him an excellent public speaker, and he had a flair for use of language which meant he had won many speech contests, essays and debates. People thought he was probably going to wind up in politics eventually; though if asked, he would say that he planned to become a lawyer.
“But they have the blood,” she pointed out.
“Yes. And they may, one day, have children who will serve the organizations. You may be the one who speaks to them, as I am speaking to you today. If you choose to follow the path I’m offering you.
“You likely won’t be offered a second chance; it’s now or never if you want to. You don’t have to decide immediately. You’ve got your competition coming up, and you should be concentrating on that. But give it some thought, and make up your mind before too long, or you may find the offer rescinded.”
“What should I do?” she asked.
“I can’t decide this for you. Legally, you’re a child at the moment. You won’t be considered an adult for three more years. As far as the ISC is concerned though, if you’re old enough to want to fight to defend humanity, then you’re old enough to be allowed to.”
“But you agreed to help them. How old were you when they offered?”
Tipping his glasses farther back on his nose, he considered. “I was fourteen, in fact. I didn’t see action for two more years; but I was training with the NI at fourteen.”
“Then, I’ll do it.”
“Stop. You have a month. Use it. Consider this carefully before you make your mind up. You’ll have the rest of your life to regret it, if you choose unwisely.”
With that, the conversation was over. He rose to his feet and gathered the dishes from his meal, then glanced at her.
“Was there anything else?”
She shook her head. There was too much to think about here. Turning, she made for the door.
please note: this is an incomplete document, and will be updated when I have more time for it