“I still don't see why I was selected for this.” Casie complained as she paced around the suite of rooms that she occupied with Colonel Vrecken. “I'm not exactly what you'd call PR material.”
“Calm down, Casie.” Corry admonished, glancing up from her monitor. “You'll give yourself an anxiety attack.”
“I mean it. I'm the last person they should be sending on meet-n-greet duty. There's a reason I was sent out to...you know.”
“Sounds like an interesting story.” The blonde glanced up at the Squib, understanding her casual non-reference to Farpoint Base. By mutual agreement, neither woman mentioned anything to do with the Squadron directly, even in the privacy of their hotels suite. Corry had jumped at the chance to visit Coruscant, even if it was for recruitment duty, when Nick had mentioned it to her. Sensing his reluctance to send a Tau'ri to the capital planet alone, she'd elected to take Casie with her as companion and escort. She had no idea why she'd done so, but she was glad she had. The Squib was quite the traveling companion, and had kept Corry from several mistakes as they'd journeyed from Farpoint back towards high civilization.
“It is, but it's not exactly one I like to tell. If word of it were to get to the wrong ear, it would spell the end for not only my own career, but those of several others as well.”
“Just between us?”
“Yes. You swept the room yourself not five minutes ago, so you know it's free of bugs. And you have my word that I won't tell anyone.”
The little Squib didn't seem convinced by this speech and continued her pacing.
Corry knew when she was treading on thin ice. She had enough stories of her own that didn't bear telling, and urging confidences was a dangerous thing, but Casie's mysterious past intrigued Corry.
A quick buzz to the attendant droid and soon a tray of fragrant tea appeared. The droid was obviously programmed by someone with taste because an assortment of tiny little biscuits and cakes accompanied the tea.
Corry directed the droid to a small table by one of the windows and within moments of her curling up on one of the deep cushioned reading chairs with a steaming cup in her hand, Casie ceased her pacing and came to investigate.
"Sticky bun?" Corry asked innocently, offering the girl a small plate bearing both the Academy crest and a truly decadent swirl of pastry and toffee.
Once she had Casie sitting, the food and tea did the rest and soon the Squib began to relax back into the cushions of her own chair.
"So?" Corry said lightly through the curl of steam swirling over the rim of her tea cup. "You really hold the secrets to life and death and careers in your hand? How does that happen?"
“It happens by being naive and foolishly trusting.” Casie replied flatly. “I trusted one of my instructors and nearly got executed for treason because of it.”
The sound of a pin dropping would have been deafening in the silence that followed. For a long moment, neither woman spoke. Eventually, Corry broke the stillness that had settled on the pair.
“Treason?” She asked incredulously. She had always known the girl to be intensely loyal; the thought of her being accused of treason was unbelievable.
“What else would you call handing classified information to the enemy?”
“You're joking. Why would someone think you'd do that?”
“Because I did. I didn't know it at the time, though.”
“I'm not following you.” Corry's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“I can tell.” Casie remarked drily. “Let me explain so I don't lose you.”
“Before I begin, it's important that you know that senior Cadets are often used as low-level couriers. That's what I thought I was doing. I would never intentionally betray the Republic.”
“I know you wouldn't.”
Casie took a deep breath, looking away. Given what she had to tell Corry, she couldn't meet the others' gaze.
“It was a couple weeks before graduation...”
There really wasn't much difference, the man thought, between how the New Republic decorated its Academy, and how the Imperial Navy had. Granted, the former was the latter, in a sense. Upon taking Coruscant, one of the first things the New Republic had done was to convert some of the old military barracks on the planet to training academies such as this. Once called Arca Barracks, it now served the Navy as one of a number of training facilities scattered throughout New Republic space. Beyond the name and the purpose, it seemed nothing else had changed. Tossing his bag onto the bed, he stepped out onto the balcony to continue his musings, and take in the cityscape. It had been a very long time since he was last here. One corner of his mind reported an odd sound coming from a neighboring balcony. It took him a long moment to realize what it was: someone sobbing. Even as he glanced over the partition to find out what was happening, he knew something was very wrong. But hardened as he was by combat, he wasn't ready for the sight that befell him.
Over on the next balcony, a blue-furred Squib sat curled up in a ball, eyes red from crying. Judging by the long hair and swell of breasts, it was a female. Even as he processed this - there weren't that many Squibs serving in the military, if any at all - his eyes focused on something else. Her blaster was drawn, and it kept twitching towards her temple. Each time it did, her finger tightened on the trigger. Each time, it got closer. Each time, thankfully, it twitched away.
“Excuse me, Miss.” He cleared his throat, leaning casually on the wall dividing the two balconies. “If you don't mind my asking, why are you trying to...” He mimed shooting himself in the head.
“Don't!” She screamed, swiveling the blaster to cover him. “I don't care how many of you jackboots they send, you're not taking me there! I won't go back there, not now, not ever! You hear me? Never!”
“Whoa, whoa, slow down a moment. I don't know what you're talking about. How about we put the blaster down and talk this over all friendly like, hey?”
“Don't play coy with me, Jackboot. You know why you're here. I'm not going back to that hellhole.”
“I'm not going to take you anywhere, unless you want to go. I'm just trying to figure out what all of this is about.”
“You mean, they didn't send you?” The Squib sniffed, dabbing a rather sodden handkerchief at the corner of one eye. Her other hand, he noticed, kept the blaster pointed at him.
“Obviously not, considering I have no idea what you're talking about. Who are they?”
The girl rolled her eyes. “You know, Jackboots.” She paused at his puzzled expression. “The spooks. Intel.” She added helpfully, as if that explained everything.
“Why would Intel be after you?”
“Because of Commander Farrel. He's the one who's been sending the packages to the Imps.”
“You've lost me, Miss....” He drew out the last word, inviting her to fill in her name.
“Casie. Midshipman First Class Casie.”
“No last name?”
“Nope. Squibs don't have last names. At least none that you could pronounce.”
“I see. So, this Commander Farrel, you say he's been sending packages to the Imperials?”
“How do you know?”
“Because...because, I'm the one who delivered them.” The girl practically wailed, before bursting into fresh tears.
“Calm down, Casie. It's not that big of a deal.” He lied, knowing that it really was a rather large deal. If convicted, the penalty for such an act ran anywhere from life in prison to execution by firing squad. “Why don't I come over and we talk this out? I'm sure we can fix this between the two of us.”
“Not going to happen, schutta-face.” Casie ground out. “I've made my decision. I can't face going back to prison, not after last time. But I can still take him down with me. At least in death, I can still serve the Republic. Goodbye, Commander.” She added, raising the blaster back to her temple.
“No!” He shouted, launching himself over the wall between the two. In retrospect, it was probably a suicidally stupid thing to do, considering he could have fallen several hundred stories to his death. At the time, though, all he could focus on was getting the blaster away from the Squib. Keep her alive, and he could find out what this was all about.
Six feet of New Republic Naval Officer tackled the Squib, knocking the blaster out of line. Jamming his finger behind the trigger, he twisted, forcing her to relinquish her grip on the blaster. As he did, he ejected the power pack, swiftly palming it.
“Get off of me!” She shouted, kneeing him in a rather sensitive spot.
“See?” He groaned, rolling off the Squib. “You're a born fighter. Now, Miss Midshipman Casie, tell me what this is all about.”
“Why?” The other muttered sullenly.
“Because if what I think happened happened, I might be the only one who can save your career. But you have to trust me.”
“You ask too much.”
“I don't ask, I order.”
“Fine.” She snorted. “A few more minutes won't make any difference, I suppose.”
“Perhaps.” He allowed. “But you're deflecting.”
“Right. Well, it all started about eight months ago. I was skating along at the bottom of one of my classes. Commander Farrel approached me, offering to tutor me. I accepted, not thinking anything of it. The first month, I noticed very little change, but halfway through the second month, my grades started improving. Then, five months ago, he approached me again. He showed me that he had been fixing my grades the whole time; my true scores would have had me wash out seven months previous. He told me he would continue to do so...if I would do something for him. All I had to do was run a few packages around for him. I accepted. What else could I do? Without that, I'd be penniless on the streets again. Two weeks ago, I found out what those packages contained.”
“Data on troop deployments. Info on ship rotations. General low-level, but classified information.”
“Did you confront him?”
“I tried to. I told him I was done handing over classified data. That I was going to report him for what he'd done.”
“What did he say to that?”
“He told me that if I reported him, it would spell the end of my career. That he would set things up so that the guilt would fall on me.” Casie looked away, unable to meet the Commander's eyes any longer.
“Listen, you and I are going to the Commandant. You're going to make a full report on this matter, and together, we'll bring this creep down.”
“No.” Casie shook her her head emphatically. “My confession is already on the datapad on my desk. But I'm not confessing in person. They'll send me to prison. I can't go back, not after last time. Even if they didn't, my career would be over.”
“What if I could guarantee you that you'd not only avoid prison, but also have a long career in the Navy?”
“If you could....but, no. You can't make that guarantee. Goodbye, Commander.” With one last look at the man, Casie raised the blaster back to her temple and pulled the trigger.
Oddly enough, the only thing the blaster emitted was an odd clicking sound. Turning, the girl stared dumbly at the now non-functional weapon.
“I know I loaded this thing.” She muttered.
Raising an eyebrow, the Commander looked at her. “You did. I unloaded it.” He held up the power pack. “Now, you're going to come with me to have a chat with the Commandant. How you come is up to you. You can walk or I can carry you like baggage. Your call.”
“Fine.” The Squib muttered sullenly. “I'll make the damn report.”
“Good choice.” Rising, the Commander pulled the girl to her feet, before offering his arm to her.
“Don't try anything funny.” She warned him, eying him accusingly. She wasn't used to such courtesy from anyone. Men in particular, she had found, tended to disguise their true motives beneath polite exteriors.
“I'm not going to.” He promised. After a moment, she took his arm. Together, they walked off towards the Commandant's office, each lost in their own thoughts.
The tea had gone quite cold. Corry quickly set her cup to the side, her eyes not meeting Casie's.
"I don't know what to say." She said softly.
Casie's cup was set down with a clink. "You don't? I thought you'd understand." The Squib said bitterly.
"Oh no! It's not that!" Corry's head came up and she found the squib's face rigid. "I'm so sorry Casie. I had no idea. If I had known..." She reached across the table and touched the girl's hand. "You see, I'm the one who requested you for this mission. David tried to tell me this wasn't a good idea and I wouldn't listen to him."
Corry squeezed the little engineer's hand. "I'm guessing that David was the Commander, your knight is shining armor. Am I right?"
Casie nodded slowly and Corry sat back with a sigh. "That explains a lot." She dusted tiny crumbs off her knees and stood. "Well, enough of that. Let's get you out of here. The memories must be..." She shuddered and began gathering up their belongings.
"We can take a hotel on the other side of the city. I understand there's a nice place with a lake on the 400th floor of some building, with a spa and everything. I can take a skycar back here for the meetings and you can lie in the sun and forget all about this place."
“No, Colonel, that won't be necessary. You shouldn't be inconvenienced simply because I have bad memories. Who knows, perhaps this whole experience will be cathartic for me?” Casie offered a shrug, glancing at the blonde woman, who still wore an expression of concern.
“If you think so...” Corry sounded confused. After all, it wasn't every day that one of your friends admits to committing treason-even if it was unintentional.
Casie nodded, motioning for the Colonel to return to her seat. “One of my old instructors would have a fit if he found out. He had this stupid phrase he used to use with us. 'Pain is weakness leaving the body.' He'd say. 'Pain is your ally. The best thing about pain is it lets you know you're not dead yet. Learn to master it, and you will learn to master yourself.'”
“I had a Drill Sergeant like that once, a long time ago.
“No doubt.” Casie remarked drily. “Besides, we can't leave just yet. You've got a preliminary meeting with the Commandant in an hour.”
“Right. Sorry, lost track of time.”
“It's fine, just don't tell Commandant Barclay that. He's a real hard-liner.”
“Sounds like you know him.”
“I think I do. Although to be frank, I'm hoping he's not who I think he is.”
“I'll fill you in later. We should get ready to meet him.”
It didn't take long for the two women to get cleaned up and ready for their meeting. Soon, both were standing outside the Commandants Office.
“Colonel Vrecken and Lieutenant Connolly to see the Commandant, Sir.” The Yeoman said, opening the door to the inner office.
“Enter.” A deep voice rumbled from within. As they entered, Corry got her first look at Commandant of Midshipmen Captain Howard Barclay. Tall and slender, he looked young for his rank. At least, until one looked at his eyes. Hard, calculating, unyielding steel. A hint of life, echoes of pain. That look, combined with the firm set of his jaw and tensed shoulders, set off all sorts of alarm bells in Corry's head. This was not a man to be trifled with.
“Commandant, a pleasure to meet you, Sir.” She nodded politely, offering a crisp salute. “My aide, Lieutenant Connolly.” She added, motioning to the Squib at her side.
“The pleasure is mine, Colonel.” He replied, motioning for the duo to sit. “What brings the two of you to Arca Barracks?”
“We're looking for some potential new recruits for the Outland Defense Force, Sir. I have with me authorization to run the profiles of your graduating class against a series of selection criteria.” With a slight motion to Casie, she bade the engineer to hand over one of the datacards in her possession.
“I see.” Barclay mused, perusing the data. “Hrm...Admiral Ackbar...General Cracken...well, it looks like everything is in order. I have no objections. Tell me, Colonel, what is it exactly that this - what did you call it, Outland Defense Force? - do?”
“I'm afraid that's classified, Sir.”
“So my cadets will have no idea what it is that they're volunteering for, then?”
“Not exactly, Sir.”
“So what information do they get that I'm not supposed to know?”
Both women looked at each other for a brief moment. Casie shrugged microscopically. They'd have to tell him something, if for no other reason than to get him to shut up. Nodding, Corry indicated that the Squib should tell him.
“Well, Sir, what they're told is that they're volunteering for an elite unit with a classified mission statement. Should they decide to accept, they'll be briefed on the operations of the unit once at their duty station.”
“I see.” Barclay rubbed at his beard for a moment. “Well, I'll be the first to tell you ladies that I haven't seen or heard a bigger load of dung since the last fertilizer shuttle arrived on my family's estate last leave. Now, I'd appreciate a real answer.”
“Sir, with all due respect, you don't have the security clearance to know.” Corry said rather pointedly.
“And she does?” He shot back, waving a hand towards Casie. “Don't act all surprised, Colonel. I remember Miss Midshipman Casie quite well. I remember what she did.”
"Lieutenant Connolly, Sir. She is an Lieutenant, not a Midshipman. A rank she earned by blood, sweat and incredible bravery." Corry shot back, stressing the rank rather emphatically
“Whatever, it still doesn't change what happened.”
“Then you'll also remember that she was cleared of all charges.”
“That doesn't mean I trust her.”
“You don't have to. My superiors trust her. I trust her. With all due respect, Sir.”
“You can be ordered to disclose, Colonel.”
“Only by the Provisional Counsel, Sir.” Casie interjected, her voice cool and quiet. Corry knew that that usually meant that the Squib was about to unleash chaos. “What I did was a long time ago. People change. I've paid for my mistakes.”
“So you say. That doesn't change what you did.”
“Sir,” Corry interjected smoothly, throwing a warning glance at the Squib. “Rehashing old history will get us nowhere. We do have your permission to conduct our screenings and observe the cadets, yes?”
“You do. Understand, Colonel, my concern is only for the security of the Republic and the safety of my cadets.”
“Completely, Sir. Unless there's anything else?”
“Not unless you need a guide to show you around.”
“That won't be necessary, Sir.”
“Very well. Let me know if there is anything else I can do for you, Colonel.”
“I will, sir.” Both women rose to their feet, offering textbook perfect salutes. As soon as they were safely away from the Commandants' office, Corry let out a sigh of relief. “Man, that looked like it was about to turn nasty. Any ideas why?”
“Despite his words, his primary concern is for his own position. My knowledge threatens that. Plus, there's some...personal issues between us. I'll fill you in later. According to the schedule his aide gave me, the senior marine cadets should be getting ready for the Citadel Challenge. Care to go watch?”
“Definitely.” Corry brightened at the change of subject. “What exactly is the Citadel Challenge?”
“You'll see soon enough, Ma'am.” Casie replied as a pair of cadets passed them in the corridor. “Unless it's changed since my day, it's a combination of a capture the flag game, force-on-force, and search-and-recovery. Officially, it's referred to as the Citadel Challenge. Unofficially, the Cadets call it the Killing House.”
“Why?” By this point, the two women had made their way to one of the observation points in the training area, overlooking the course.
“Because it's almost impossible to win.”
“But it can be done, yes?”
“It has been successfully completed once in its history.”
“So what is the goal, exactly? What does this course test?”
“Character. This is one of several no-win scenarios that they put Cadets through to see how they deal with such a concept. And it gives an indication if they can truly deal with combat.”
“So what's the solution to this one?”
“There is none. The objectives are mutually exclusive.”
Below them, a group of cadets assaulting the course split into two teams; one staging a noisy diversionary assault in full view of the towers, the other slipping into a set of what appeared to be sewer pipes. Casie shook her head at the tactics.
“Idiots.” She muttered.
“A problem, Casie?” Corry glanced down at the Squib. She was positive something was bothering the girl, but she knew from experience that it would take a lot of coaxing to bring it into the open. Casie could be remarkably stubborn in that regard. Fortunately, it was one of her more endearing qualities.
“Yes. Those sewer pipes lead to a giant holding tank with no other exit. Unless I miss my guess, those cadets are walking into a trap.” As if to punctuate the Squib's words, a series of explosions sounded from the pipe ends. “Thought so.”
The cadets on the surface weren't faring much better. Half of them were already down, with the other half falling back. All except one. The cadet in question, a young male Arkanian, was actually pushing forward, actually making it inside the building before he was tagged out.
“Looks like a good candidate.” Corry commented.
“Indeed.” Casie replied, glancing at the datapad in her hand. “Cadet James Haywood. Top in all of his classes.” Continuing to skim her datapad, she noticed another profile, causing one eyebrow to arch in slight confusion. "Interesting......”
“Nothing. With your permission, there's something I'd like to check on, Ma'am.”
“Alright. Do your thing. I'll wait for you by the entrance.”
It wasn't until the third study hall that Casie struck pay dirt. She scanned the room, looking at the faces. One of the cadets at the table nearest to her glanced up, his nameplate and Midshipman's rank badges glinting in the afternoon light. His eyes widened in surprise at the sight before him. Not many Squibs entered the military and fewer still wore the rank of a Naval Lieutenant. Swallowing his shock, he stood, calling out as he did so.
“Officer on deck!”
A vast, sibilant scraping filled the room as the cadets, twenty-five in all, shot to attention.
“As you were.” Casie returned their salute. “I was hoping you could help me, Midshipman.” She added, turning back to the first Middie.
“Aye, Ma'am.” The Middie braced back to attention. “How can I help, Ma'am?”
“I'm looking for Senior Cadet Lyn Averre. Engineering track. She here?”
“Aye, Ma'am.” Turning to look over his shoulder, he bellowed out in his best parade ground voice. “Averre, front and center!”
From the back of the room, a petite – for a human, anyways – woman with brown hair and grey eyes shot back to her feet. Hesitantly, she moved to stand in front of Casie, surreptitiously trying to wipe a smudge of grease from her cheek as she did so. “Senior Cadet Lyn Averre, reporting as ordered, Ma'am.” Her voice, quiet as it was, betrayed her nervousness. Part of it was Casie's appearance. Most beings found the eye patch disconcerting; the glowing azure orb beneath even more so. She braced to attention and offered what should have been a textbook perfect salute. It would have been, had it not been for the unfastened collar of her uniform and loose hair.
Returning the salute, Casie paced around the nervous Cadet. In addition to her hair and the unbuttoned collar, Casie could see the young woman's undershirt peaking out from beneath her uniform tunic. her boots needed polishing, and her nameplate was askew. Glancing up, the Squib noticed the faintest sheen of perspiration start to appear on the young woman's forehead. Internally grinning, she let the girl sweat while she continued her impromptu inspection.
“Button that collar, Cadet.” Casie barked, playing the gruff officer to a tee. “Bind that hair. Tuck your shirt in.” As the girl hurried to comply, she continued. “Being in proper uniform at all times is one of the best psychological tools an officer has. If she takes the time to be in proper uniform, her crew will be inspired by her confidence. They will believe that even the most hopeless battles are winnable. Should her crew see her improperly dressed, they will pick up on her panic. They will begin to wonder if they're just being fed into the grinder. Remember that.”
“If it's quite convenient, Cadet, I'd like for you to accompany me.” Casie's sudden shift from gruff instructor to almost amiable companion shocked the girl even further. To her credit, though, the girl barely paused, long enough to swallow nervously, and gave the only answer possible.
A short walk later brought the pair to a shady balcony overlooking a courtyard. One of the advantages of it, aside from the view, happened to be privacy. Taking a seat on a convenient bench, Casie motioned for Cadet Averre to likewise sit. Obviously nervous, the girl did as instructed. While not long, the walk had been in silence, and she was sweating profusely.
“Tell me, Cadet. Why is it you want to volunteer for the Outland Defense Force?”
“Well, Ma'am, it's because it seems like I'll have better opportunities for adventure with them. I have friends serving with the various sector fleets, and according to them, most of what they do is sit around in parking orbits or escort merchies from point A to point B. Necessary, yes. But not exactly the most adventurous of a lifestyle, is it?”
“Helpful tip, never answer a question with a question. Also, allow me to rephrase my question: Why did you volunteer for duty with a unit whose very existence is denied? It's quite peculiar that a Cadet knows of a classified unit that has never appeared on any official roster or order of battle.”
“Well...”The girl drew the word out, clearly stalling for time. “You see...it's kind of...a long story. And if I were to tell you, someone might be mad at me for spilling the beans.”
“You can tell me how you found out, Cadet.” Casie's voice went ice cold. “Or you can try and explain it to the Admiral. And I can guarantee you that the Admiral has ways of making you talk. Your call, Cadet.”
“Yes, Ma'am.” Lyn muttered in a small voice. “I found out from my brother. He serves with them, as part of their infantry detachment.”
“Please don't kill him!” Lyn begged, starting to tear up. “He didn't actually tell me. I figured it out by reading into what he wasn't saying. 'Watch the unseen by the shadow it casts', that's what one of my instructors told me, and I was practicing it, and I stumbled across an offhand reference to the unit while researching the Citadel Challenge. Plus, he's got this girlfriend who's a real bitch and would probably hunt you down if you made a move against my brother.”
“Relax, Cadet. Your brother isn't going to be killed. I'm part of the unit. I just wanted to know how you found out so we could plug any leaks. What we do, well, if the public ever found out, there'd be riots everywhere.”
“You mean, you're not going to kill him?”
“No. Have a few angry words with him, yes. End his life, no.” Under her breath, Casie muttered to herself. “Although he'll wish he was dead when I'm through with him. Call me a bitch, will he? Won't be saying that ever again by the time I'm done.”
Wiping her eyes, Lyn smiled wanly at the Squib, before glancing at her wrist chrono. “Sithspit! I'm supposed to be class! My instructor is going to fry me.”
“Relax, Cadet. I'll walk with you and smooth things over. Who is your instructor?”
“Lieutenant Commander Jackson, Hyperspace Navigation. But he won't accept any excuses.”
“Leave that to me, Cadet.”
A few minutes later, the pair entered Lieutenant Commander Jackson's class, with the officer in question turning quite the glare at the Cadet.
“You're late, Cadet!” He snapped.
“The Cadet was with me, Sir.” Casie intoned smoothly, offering a salute. “She was being interviewed.”
“For what, Lieutenant?”
“I'm not at liberty to discuss that, Sir. Neither is Cadet Averre.”
“And if I order you to discuss it, Lieutenant?” Jackson growled.
“Unfortunately, Sir, this conversation is over. I have my orders, and they include both my silence and the silence of those I interview. If you have any questions, please direct them to Vice Admiral Burn. Good day, Sir. Cadet Averre, you have your orders.”
Offering a final salute to Lieutenant Commander Jackson, Casie spun and exited the room, heading for the main entrance and Colonel Vrecken.
“Well, I've seen enough for tonight.” Corry muttered, tossing her datapad on the table that sat between the two women. “Time for some dinner.”
“Sounds good, Colonel.” Casie replied, stretching in her chair. “Making something here? Or going out?”
“Oh, I figure we should go out. We have to have at least one night out on the town.”
“Definitely. Anywhere in particular?”
Casie called up a list of restaurants in the area, scrolling down the list with remarkable speed. Eventually, she settled on one. “How does Corellian strike you?”
“I'm game.” Corry tossed a shawl towards Casie, along with a small handbag. “Let's get going.”
Grinning, Casie tucked her datapad into her bag. “After you.”
Several hours later, the pair stumbled back into their suite, one practically carrying the other.
“...and so he says to him. He says...I forget what he says. But the next thing you know, there's this.....boom. This boom, right? And he goes flying out the window, right onto a cargo scow.” Casie was saying, her words slurred by a combination of a long day and too much alcohol.
“You, Miss Connolly, are drunk.” Corry noted, ribbing her companion good-naturedly. “And I need a shower.”
“Very much so.” Casie didn't so much look at the blonde as stare at a vague and ill-defined point roughly three meters past her left shoulder.
“Hey!” Corry feigned shock.
“Corry.” Casie muttered, eyes closing slightly.
“I'd like to apologize now for what I'm about to put you through.”
“Yes.” With that short summation, Casie dashed off towards the refreshers, moving with remarkable speed for someone as drunk as she. Moments later, the sounds of her retching filtered out through the partially open door.
“Oh, grohl.” Corry rolled her eyes. This was part of the reason she hated dealing with drunks.
Soon enough, the sounds stopped. Hesitantly, Corry poked her head into the refresher. “Feel better?”
“Slightly. I'll probably have one hell of a hangover in the morning, though.”
“Most likely.” Corry remarked in a dry tone. Shaking her head, she moved to get the Squib back on her feet. A few minutes later, she had Casie cleaned up and tucked safely in bed.
“Colonel?” Casie's voice, while not quite as slurred as it had been, was still hard to understand: a combination of her drunkenness, fatigue, and her peculiar accent.
“Did I ever tell you about my Killing House test?”
“No, I don't think so.” Intrigued, Corry returned to sit on the foot of the bed.
“It was just before that...thing with Commander Farrel. I'd stumbled across a bit of information that proved to be rather useful...”
Casie hung upside down in the crawlspace. It wasn't her ideal orientation, but for what she needed to do, it was the only way. As quickly as she could, she finished tying in the remote control for the ray shield that she'd secretly installed. Technically speaking, she should have been in bed. Technically speaking, she shouldn't have modified the Citadel. Technically speaking, cheating wasn't allowed. But, as one of her instructors had told her just that day, technicalities could still get you killed.
Capping off the last wire, she replaced the access panel. With a bit of luck, she'd be the first Cadet to ever win the Killing House. As she understood it, the challenge was this: eliminate the enemy force, capture their commander, rescue a high-value hostage. All three could be done, but not in conjunction with each other. Hence her modifications. The ray shield would prevent the other team from 'killing' the hostage - supposedly a highly placed Senatorial aide – yet allow her team to extract him, all the while staging a very noisy assault. If all went well, this time tomorrow she'd be the talk of the Academy. She refused to consider that things would go badly.
Twelve hours later, she was standing in front of a Board of Inquiry.
“Would you care to tell the court what you were thinking, Ms. Casie?” The senior officer asked, glancing up from the datapad in front of him.
Swallowing nervously, Casie tried not to show her fear. She'd been standing quietly at parade rest while the board reviewed the pertinent facts. Now, it seemed, they were going to rake her over the coals.
“Yes, Sir. “She finally said. Hands trembling, she launched into the explanation she'd been rehearsing ever since James had been injured. “In reviewing the data available about the Citadel Challenge, I'd surmised that the only way to successfully complete all three objectives was to introduce a controlled variable: that of the issue of the hostage. To that end, I installed....” For the next half hour, she continued to speak, walking the board through step-by-step what she'd done. The problem wasn't that her ray shield idea hadn't worked. Rather, it had worked too well. She'd gotten the harmonics wrong, cutting off most of the airflow to the containment area. By the time anyone had noticed, James was in the hospital wing. “...so in retrospect, Sir, I must have gotten the harmonics wrong. I don't know how, but that seems to be the only explanation.”
“I see.” The senior officer paused for a moment, almost as if choosing his words carefully. “You are aware, Miss Midshipman, that the Citadel Challenge is supposed to be a no-win scenario, correct?”
“I am, Sir.”
“Permission to speak freely?”
“Granted. Keep in mind that it is your head that's in the noose, though.”
“Aye, Sir.” Casie paused, sucking in a noisy breath. “The concept of a no-win scenario is to test character. In practice, one is given a set of objectives that are mutually exclusive. However, the life of a slave is one giant no-win scenario . As a slave, you can't truly live, or even survive. All you can do is keep your head down and hope one day that fortune smiles on you. I'd say that's a better test than the Citadel.”
“We know you were a slave prior to enlisting. A slave as well as a number of other things. Somehow, I don't think Madame Declara's preps a being for life in the military.”
“With all due respect, Sir, I don't think that's relevant here.”
“Perhaps not. The fact is, though, that the Citadel, as well as numerous other tests are designed to see how a Cadet reacts to a no-win scenario in a military perspective. Tell me, if you had to do this all over again, would you do it the same way? Think for a moment before you answer. We've got all the time in the galaxy.”
For a long moment, Casie was silent, her gaze turning inwards. Finally, she replied. “I don't know, Sir. The concept was sound, but the execution was flawed.”
Across from her, the senior member sighed. “Consider this, then. Were this the real galaxy, you'd get one chance at freeing a hostage. Fail, and they're dead. If things go that bad, maybe you're dead. Maybe your whole team is dead. It's happened. The best thing to do is accept that both you and the hostages are already dead and work from there. It's the only way to function effectively as a soldier.”
“I see, Sir.”
A short time later, the panel had reached its decision.
“Miss Midshipman Casie, this board has come to a conclusion. Before we pronounce sentence on you, I would like to say, for the record, that what happened to Mister Midshipman Barclay was an accident. Nothing you could have done, short of not installing the device, would have prevented it. Be that as it may, your actions are still inexcusable. Accordingly, a formal letter of reprimand will be placed in your file. Don't let it happen again, Miss Midshipman.”
Corry glanced over as the Squib trailed off. A soft snore announced that the girl had finally fallen asleep. Not bothering to hide a smile, Corry reached over and pulled the covers up, tucking the petite alien in. “Sleep well.” She whispered as she rose and made her way down the hall to her own room. For her to say that tomorrow would be interesting would have been an understatement.
The next day found both Colonel Vrecken and Lieutenant Connolly in one of the myriad interview rooms around Arca Barracks, the former looking rather chipper, the latter still dealing with a hangover.
“You ready, Lieutenant?”
“As I'll ever be, Ma'am.”
Thumbing a button on her comlink, Corry called for the first interviewee. The door opened to reveal a petite – for a human – woman with brown hair and grey eyes. As she entered, the girl hurriedly tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, nodding slightly to the Squib, whose mouth twitched in what might have been a smile.
“Senior Cadet Lyn Averre, reporting as ordered, Ma'am.” She said crisply, offering a textbook perfect salute.
Corry motioned for the girl to sit, then slid a slim folio across the desk. “Normally, I wouldn't do this quite this way, but you've made quite the impression on my aide, and your scores are impeccable.” She watched impassively as Lyn read through the folio, eyes alight with excitement. “So you see what we do. Are you in? Or are you out?”
Grinning broadly, Lyn set the folio down. Glancing between the pair of officers, her smile grew even more. “I'm in.”