As part of the Naval Public Affairs Exchange Program created by the Galactic Senate, Warrant Officer I Nedeljko Uros will be chaperoning Szarus Klardo on the Praetorian-Class ENS Bodenicharov. Dux Ducere will be chaperoning Senior Seaman Stevan Dubravko aboard the Dragon Dreadnought Darothon.
Szarus Intro Pt. 1 - MAS-NA AnastasEdit
"Marine Air Station, Naval Academy Anastas! Marine Air Station, Naval Academy Anastas!"
This is it. This is where the king himself said Szarus would go. Some naval academy in the middle of foreign space.
Only a year ago, he had proudly exited decades of training. A sword, a pristine set of armour, a leader, and a unit. It was all his. It should have been very clear from there on in. He'd hang around on a Dragon Dreadnought for the rest of his life. He would serve Kray, and that would be it. Nothing else to it. Now, he was in a totally alien environment. Everybody was rigid. Anybody who was anybody had a uniform, and anybody who was nobody had a uniform. Also, these Eteno military men and women moved as if their every step was planned. Such order, such routine... it was unsettling.
Perhaps it was all dramatisation. They really weren't that different from Szarus' comrades back home. He'd go through their naval academy, experience life on a ship for a few months, maybe a year, and return home. Then, his life could continue.
"Hey, Dhragolon, it's the end of the line. Up and at 'em, right? Don't worry, you'll do fine. Glad to see more of you folks signing up." A uniformed Eteno said, tapping the Alda'Kapura on his shoulder, which was level with his nose.
That was one of the benefits of being selected for this program. Szarus had received perhaps one of the best accelerated language learning courses in the galaxy. He had his own instructor, and a quiet classroom for four weeks. In those four weeks, he went from knowing a handful of extremely basic phrases to being a mostly-fluent speaker. Some grammar issues popped up now and then, but that was to be expected with such an odd tongue.
"Hm? Oh, I apologise, you seem to have mistaken me for somebody else. I am... not a cadet. But I suppose I am attending this academy..."
"What're you on about? You're attending, you're a cadet. And don't let any DI hear you talking like that, or they'll kick your ass back to the open of the war!" The uniformed Eteno replied incredulously.
"I... eh, I'm here for the Naval Public Affairs Exchange Program."
"I guess you should get moving, then. Class Open Muster starts in two hours."
"Th- thank you, I'll go right now!"
Szarus rose from his seat, and rushed out of the rear door of the HV-17, followed closely by his new acquaintance.
"Hey, not too much of a rush! Wait a second!"
"Who are you, anyway?"
"I am Szarus Klardo, Alda'Kapura. If I may ask, what is your name?"
"Warrant Officer One Nedeljko Uros. But you can call me Ned, Alda'Kapura Klardo, I'm not the guy you should be barking 'sir' at. At least, not yet." Ned gestured to the two silver horizontal bars on the neck of his light blue uniform.
"You can just call me Szarus. Say, I'm not exactly sure how to get to where I need to be, could you perhaps assist me, Ned?"
"Sure. Right now, we're right by the air tower of the MAS. Just keep going South, and you'll be at the front gate of our very own Naval Academy at Anastas!"
"Thank you, I'll be going."
With that, Szarus began his jog Southwards. He followed the paved road, his head on a swivel for any sign of the academy, earning him odd looks from several cadres of cadets on runs. Soon, Szarus' came to an end as he reached a security checkpoint. It sat adjacent to a wide metal gate, housing a great plaza, and a mass of buildings and mock starships. The visibly-nervous Dhragolon approached the secutiy booth sitting in the middle of the wide road.
"I'm here for the Naval Public Affairs Exchange Program, would you be so kind as to tell me where Class Open Muster will be?"
"ID." The stalwart female guard commanded, raising her assault rifle slightly.
As he dug into his bag for the special card issued to him back home, Klardo noted that he had hardly been on Anastas for half an hour, and he'd already seen a female Eteno soldier. Of course he expected it, but that made it no less curious.
"Ah! Here is my identification. Now, where could I find Class Open Muster?"
"Watch your tone, cadet, CDI Galimenko doesn't appreciate your kind of attitude. COM is in the main plaza, you'll just have to wait there until it begins. You're early."
"Thank... Yes ma'am."
Szarus found his feet quite intriguing as he passed through the opening metal gate. Gazing in awe at the immense plaza, and the buildings and mock starships surrounding it, he plopped himself down beside a fountain.
"Hey, hey Szarus, wake up!"
Klardo groggily rubbed his eyes, attempting to get his bearings. He was surrounded by Eteno, and staring right at him was one in particular.
"Szarus, COM in five!"
"What... Ned, what are you doing here?"
"Occupation Transition Training."
"Aren't you already set for your time in something?" Szarus asked as he slowly rose from his rather uncomfortable resting place.
"Me? Nope! I'm an administration NCO looking to get into the support business. Look, we need to get in line. Like I said, COM in five."
"Alright, I'll do what you do."
Klardo watched as Ned found an open place beside a cadet in the mob of bodies. He copied him, seeking out and claiming a position for himself. Very soon, a horn sounded, and a lone Eteno exited one of the buildings. He deliberately ambled to the front of the crowd.
"CADETS! SOUND OFF!"
"CHIEF DRILL SERGEANT, YES CHIEF DRILL SERGEANT!"
Szarus followed as quickly and loudly as he could. He stuck out like a sore thumb, both taller and of different colour than most of the crowd.
"I am Chief Drill Sergeant Galimenko, and I will be turning your sorry selves into sailors worthy of upholding our proud naval tradition! Together with my staff, I shall train you, test you, and run you into the ground! You entered here a disorderly, shameful mess! You will leave here as strong, proud sailors for our great navy! Over twelve weeks, you will..."
And just like that, it passed. It took decades to make Szarus the scout he was. It took the Imperial Navy twelve weeks to give him sailor training. But, unlike his classmates (which he declined to interact with, except in training scenarios), Szarus was not given the title of Seaman at graduation. Instead, a group of higher-ranking Officers took him aside and had a discussion with him. They told him about a staging ground a hundred miles away, going to a ship called the ENS Bodenicharov, and choosing a chaperone for his time with the Imperial Navy. The Officers suggested several sailors, all notable for exemplary service records. However, they also put forth the option to directly suggest a chaperone. Naturally, Szarus chose the only person he knew, the only person he ever talked to, however briefly, during training.
Warrant Officer I Nedeljko Uros.
Szarus Intro Pt. 2 - NSG-3 AnastasEdit
If things were normal, Szarus would be accepting awards for serving in the Battle of Asylum. Then again, if things were normal, he wouldn't have just attended a foreign military academy. Szarus stood in silent concentration, Warrant Officer I Uros to his left, and some random Eteno sailor in full dress to his right.
What was most odd was that Szarus was standing in drill position. Not a Dhragolon-taught stance, but a position of attention taught to him by an Imperial Marine Corps DI. He didn't consider them as tough as Dhragolon teachers in terms of physical strength, but they sure made it feel like that they could stop the planets from rotating if they yelled at it long enough. What was once a dull roar became absolute silence as a uniformed Imperial Navy officer stepped in front of the rows of troop shuttles. He faced the segregated squares of Eteno, a few other species, and Szarus. The lone Dhragolon in the audience.
"Hello, new and returning crew of the ol' Boddie!"
Cheers erupted from a great many sailors and marines.
"My name is Captain Nikolai Filipovic. This is my fifteenth tour of duty on our fine ship, and her thirty-second. Let's have a round of applause for this big thing!"
More cheering and clapping.
"Good, good. As you all know, the 951st Fleet has been dispersed, and the heavy cruisers Isaev, Lyudmilia, Toronto, and Silligieh will be joining us for the thirteen months we'll be away from our friends and families. Our tour will take us right along the North-Eastern fronts, so we'll be in the thick of it. We will make nine stops in port, and in eight of them you will be allowed at least a day of free leave. How's that for a nice cruise?"
"I would like to welcome 41st and 678th Battalions, Imperial Marines, to the Boddie. They'll be making sure we can do something useful for the fatherland by keeping those Kklxin bastards off our ships. If we're lucky, they might be able to steal one for us. I heard that some Kklxin officers are getting stolen coffee rations now, let's reclaim our national treasure!"
Szarus peeked over the heads of his new short-statured comrades, seeking out the marines. Two squares of tan-camoflauged Eteno stood rigid just beyond two or three groups of gun crewmen. With their arms folded behind their backs, seemingly unfazed by the heavy gear they carried, these marines indeed looked quite professional. Rightly so, as they'd be protecting the ship from boarders for over a year.
"So, to wrap my little speech up, remember the alarms and such. First week, we'll cover all the drills. General Quarters we'll be doing a lot, Crew Muster and Power Emergency will be worn out as well. So, sailors and marines, get to your shuttles! We have the next thirteen months of our lives ahead of us!"
So it was that two battalions of marines, and over 15,000 sailors were ferried to the 9th Southern Fleet's flagship in orbit. Szarus was delighted to find that Uros was quartered in the same room as him, and would be able to aid him during his stay. He was also delighted to know that he'd be getting a large-sized cot. However, his enthusiasm was curbed by the fact that his face was about four inches from the cot above him, and he could barely stretch out his legs. It seemed that large for an Eteno was still quite small for a Dhragolon. He was above a snorer, and below an adjuster. His first month would be spent working in the hangar, reportedly one of the most dangerous parts of the 'ol Boddie'. This was going to be a fun cruise indeed. At the very least, the common room he shared with over a hundred people had a small handful of game systems.
As did most of the sailors who were new to the ship, Szarus did his best to acquaint himself with the cramped, supremely utilitarian design. All of the walls were a dull grey, with countless pipes, large and small, running along them. Every bulkhead passageway had low cieling, and you had to make sure you always remembered to step over the 'knee banger', lest you trip or break something in a rush. While attempting to locate the hangar bay he was supposed to work in, Szarus came across the enlisted mess. Like the rest of the ship, it was cramped and grey. However, the food was slightly better (when food was served in place of ration cubes at all) than what he was used to. Flags and posters hung from the walls, and a projector imbedded in the low cieling occasionally played movies, or popular shows. This was about the extent of productive searching that day for Szarus, as a great majority of the time he found himself aimlessly wandering the labyrinth-like battleship. Many a time he accidentally came across a damage control centre, storage, assorted quarterings and offices, and shops completely separate from anything pertinent to his newfound duties.
The worst part of the ship, however, was not the dull colour or tight passageways, the lack of actual food or the confusing shop and department addresses (which Szarus did eventually figure out), but the noise. Yes, the noise was constant and nigh-intolerable. His first few hours aboard the ship were relatively quiet, but then, the strike craft contingent was brought aboard. Over and over, the water-brake arrestors banged and banged, reverberating throughout the whole ship. No matter where you went, the nearest hangar was accepting the many craft that would be instrumental in defeating enemy forces in space, and supporting troops planetside. When the stream of craft finally ended, some of the squadrons practiced rapid launching and recovery. If the arresting action made noise, then the launching action of the ceiling-mounted sliding 'hooks' created a crescendo of cacophonous cranium-splitting cracks as every strike craft was catapulted from their cradle of a ship. It was a wonder the battleship even stayed together as the launching mechanism slammed itself against the water brakes, that would find near-constant use during the thirteen-month tour.
Szarus figured he'd get as much sleep as possible his first night, so as to retain a clear mind for the busy morning. Just as he climbed into his cot, feeling tired from his day of taking in the sights, the first drill occured. What a delightful, ringing alarm. It was the kind that rang in your cranium for hours.
"General Quarters, General Quarters, all hands man your battle stations! Hull breach on port side and starboard side! This is a drill."
Stevan Intro Pt. 1 - Krar Starsailor AcademyEdit
Stevan was a proud Eteno. He served the Imperial Navy for three years and knew that no other force of the galaxy was equal to it. His life was close to what he wanted. But things took a drastic turn after he was transferred to be part of the Alda'Kapura. The Dhragolon, as stubborn as they were, normally did not let other species into their ranks, but the Galactic Senate made some exceptions as part of a transfer program to unite the empires. About sixth months ago, a new academy was constructed on Krar for this purpose.
"You are Senior Seaman Stevan Dubravko, correct?" said his chaperone. "I am Dux Docere. Welcome to the Krar Starsailor Academy."
Krar was rather unusual for a Dhragolon colony. It was a planet-wide city on a T0 world. It almost felt as if he was aboard a spaceship rather than on the surface of a planet. The entrance to the academy just looked like a door to another room. The gravity was slightly lighter than he was used to.
"So this Naval Public Affairs Exchange Program? How exactly is it going to work? I've spent only a few years training while you Dhragolon spend decades."
"Oh, that is nothing to worry. That's why you are here on Krar. This colony was created for the purpose of introducing other species to our culture. If you have any further questions regarding your stay, do not hesitate to contact me. Make your way to Room 128 for the Introduction."
Stevan made his way rather quickly still unsure of what to expect. He still had no idea of how long he had to spend his time in this place.
He entered the room and the Introduction already started. Except for one high ranking one, there were no other Dhragolon in the room. It was mostly filled with other species, mostly Eteno. Perhaps he could have a few others to speak with as he still felt rather awkward speaking to the Dhragolon. He always felt they spoke more than they needed to, but soon enough, his perception of them would change.
"Greetings. I am Master Algorosh Szaranin. As you know, this academy is intended for other species than the Dhragolon. During your time here, you will learn of our ways and become adjusted to our styles as a Starsailor. To begin, let's go over how you will spend your time here.
"First, there is no definite amount of time it will take to finish your training. You move at your own progress. Your goal is to complete a set of tasks which you will be provided shortly. Upon completion of your last task, you will be transferred to a ship where you will live aboard until you are no longer fit for duty.
"Your list of tasks has been uploaded into your data pads. You may begin at any time."
Stevan raised his hand.
"Yes? You have a question?"
"Whoah, whoah, whoah. That opening speech wasn't even 30 seconds. We're just starting, now?"
"Yes, you heard correctly. You are now dismissed to complete your tasks."
Immediately, Stevan was puzzled. Keeping his thoughts to himself, he began criticizing the DFM's ways in his mind. Advancing at your own rate? That's inefficient. No teamwork or anything? How do these Dhragolon expect to accomplish anything? He still kept those thoughts to himself giving the academy a chance.
Stevan Intro Pt. 2 - Krar Starsailor AcademyEdit
He took a look at his data-pad. The list wasn't terribly long, but at the end was, "More tasks will be assigned later." He carefully eyed one particular task - to interview a Master-ranked Dhragolon other than Algorosh. Reading the reason why, Stevan realized it was that he needed to get an insight on different Dhragolon fighting styles. Masters were rare among Dhragolon ranks, so Stevan saved it for later. Another one which seemed a bit easier was to complete the first level of the training simulator.
"Simulators? I didn't even know Dhragolon used those," he thought. Most Dhragolon did not use simulators, but exceptions were made on Krar. He chose the training simulator as his active task which marked it on his map. It was quite a long walk, at least ten minutes as the academy was very complex. Without the map, he probably would have gotten lost as the place was built like a maze.
Stevan entered a large cubical room made of wireframes - the training simulator. No one else was there as the other students were doing different tasks. Not long after stepping into the room, a 3D polygonal figure walked up to him, It was slightly taller than an average Dhragolon. It reminded him of the old computer generated effects developed by humans during the 1980s and 1990s.
A female AI spoke, "Level 1. How well can you do against opponents taller than you?" The polygon figure's right arm turned to a sharp, trianglular sword. Stevan was given a pistol. "Fight!"
Stevan tried to keep his distance from the figure to avoid close range attacks. He did not have a lot of training using swords in close combat. The tall size of the figure also proved a challenge as Stevan usually battled with opponents only slightly taller than him.
Stevan managed to land a few solid hits with his pistol, but that still didn't bring down the figure. But it wasn't long until it got too close to him. Stevan found himself barely dodging the figure's slashes, but Stevan was quick. He drew his knife and managed to block the figure's attacks. After about five minutes on the defense, the figure disappeared followed by the AI. "Level complete! You have completed a task. This simulation was to test how well you would do in close combat."
Although Stevan had plenty of tasks left to do, he was not sure if he was quite ready for the next level of the simulator. He knew for a fact that his Eteno ways would not get him far in these specifically programmed scenarios. The simulator would be looking for Dhragolon solutions. That's when he looked at his task list to speak with a Master Dhragolon.
He spent many hours researching where he might be able to meet a Dhragolon Master, and he searched non-stop all throughout the region around the academy. Eventually, he arrived inside a presitigious room with a dome glass ceiling. A fountain was at its center with several trees dotted around it. He could see all sorts of species going by: Dhragolon, Eteno, Karnasaur, Sarkakion, and even some he did not recognize. Past the glass dome he could see a green nebula in the starry sky along with a white sun. The subtle sounds of a crowded mall and the rushing water of the fountain accompanied the view along with some uplifting, yet soothing piano melody playing from hidden speakers. If he could not find a Master Dhragolon at the academy, he could certainly find one around here. Krar had the reputation as the waypoint of the Galactic Senate - the pathway of other species to the DFM and vice versa.
He spotted an exhausted looking Dhragolon resting on a bench and immediately recognized him from his studies during the past few days. "Ahrganot Skizgo?. I know you. You're part of GSSOC, right?"
The Dhragolon lifted his head and leaned forward slightly to look at Stevan. He paused for a moment trying to figure out what to say. "I'm on hiatus right now."
"It's classified, he replied with a rather long face.
"You Dhragolon are always so mysterious, aren't you? The name's Stevan Dubravko. I'm part of the exchange program to learn your ways. One of my tasks here is to interview an experienced Dhragolon Master. I'm supposed to learn what sort of skills your kind has."
"Maybe some other time."
"Oh c'mon. Don't brush me off so easily. Skilled Dhragolon fighters are really hard to come by. We were not allowed to interview our instructors. I literally spent days looking for someone like you."
"I'm really not up for it."
Stevan could tell by the Ahrganot's look on his face that there was something he did not want to talk about. Perhaps he could find a way to get some information out of him in his current state. It would be a win-win situation. If Stevan succeeded, Ahrganot would leave with a greater self-esteem, while Stevan would get a task checked off. "Something's bothering you. How about let's go get a drink and we'll have that interview? My treat."
"Inviting me for a drink? What are you on about?"
"Now you're being ridiculous, man. You should really get whatever it is on your mind out. It's killing you."
Hesitantly, Ahrganot replied, "Alright, fine. Where are we going?"
Stevan thought for a quick moment, choosing carefully. "Well, Red Octagon is not terribly far. It's in the lower levels. Let's go." Stevan chose that bar rather than an Overworld bar because of the crimerate was higher. It was risky, but if Stevan suceeded in his plan, he would get to see how Ahrganot handles fights.
Stevan Intro Pt. 3 - Krar UnderworldEdit
Stevan and Ahrganot entered a bar with several neon signs. A jazz multi-species band was playing rather slow music. The sounds of glasses bumping into each other accompanied an ambience of a mumbling crowd.
"One beer, please," Stevan said.
"And him," said the Karnasaur bartender.
Ahrganot was spaced out. Stevan quickly nudged him, "Oh, uh...just an arkorha."
The two took a seat at a high table. Ahrganot took a sip of arkorha, an alcoholic drink originating from Ucharpli.
Stevan said, "So tell me, Ahrganot. What's on your mind?"
Stevan knew that Ahrganot would realize what Stevan did to him. Getting him slightly drunk to get information out of him. Nonetheless, it still worked. "I'm looking for my brother."
"Your brother? Why's that?"
"He's my archrival. I'm going to challenge him to the death when I meet him."
Stevan began taking his notes so that he could get the information he needed to complete the task. "Ah, so you want to prove your skills over him? That's interesting. Tell me then. What kind of abilities do you have?"
"I'm no super Dhragolon. I don't have any special powers. No cybernetics or anything."
Stevan was puzzled. He tried to contain his conflicting beliefs. It seems this Dhragolon lacked a good deal of patriotism. There was no trace of pride anywhere to be seen. It would be very offensive if an Eteno were to act the same way. Stevan, however, contained his ranting and instead played it safe. "You're pretty humble, you know. C'mon. Have some pride."
"Well, I did graduate from the Malinian Combat Institution."
Stevan replied, "I've heard of that place. That's some kind of ninja school, isn't it? Pretty prestigious for you to come from there. Tell me more."
"I served as both an assassin and a spy before joining GSSOC."
"Wow, pretty awesome. You must have some impressive stealth skills then," Stevan said. He tried to compliment him to see if he could stir some positive feelings into him.
Ahrganot was not sure what to think. All he could do was reply, "Thank...you."
Stevan still could not resist his ranting, but this time, he tried being constructive. "Well, I don't mean to brag myself, but we Eteno are taught to have the utmost pride in yourself. We are patriots. We serve the empire and die honorably. If you ever hope to defeat your brother, you should probably do the same. Anyways, thanks for the quick interview."
"No problem," Ahrganot said.
Stevan got out of his chair, while Ahrganot remained sitting finishing off his Arkorha. As Stevan was leaving, he positioned himself next to a burly Katrakhan with a gas mask sitting on a high stool. Stevan kicked the thug in the ankle while pretending to just bump into him. "Watch it, ya runt!" the thug said in a gruff European accent.
"Excuse me?!" Stevan replied
"I said 'watch it'. Clear enough for ya?"
"Don't call me a runt."
"Ya think your tough, eh?" the thug Katrakhan said. He got off his chair grabbed Stevan's throat. Stevan could have broken free effortlessly if another Eteno was doing this to him, but this was a Katrakhan. The thug's grip was much tighter. The Katrakhan lifted him above the ground, and Stevan pretended to struggle trying to get the Katrakhan's burly hands off. Deliberately, Stevan prevented himself from escaping to see if Ahrganot would actually do anything. As the whole bar went quiet, Stevan spotted Ahrganot raising his head, then moving at a blinding speed and appearing behind the thug, drawing both of his daggers and putting them up the Katrakhan's neck. The band stopped playing and everyone else went silent to look at the comotion.
"Put him down!" Ahrganot said.
"Or what?" the thug replied.
Ahrganot said, "I said put him down!."
The thug let go, dropping Stevan to the ground. Stevan backed away slightly. This was a rare oppurtunity - not only meeting a Dhragolon Master but also seeing one in combat. The Katrakhan began, "Alright, put those knives away. Let's settle this with a fair fight." The Katrakhan swung his lumbering arm at Ahrganot who ducked his head and grabbed the thug's arm and pinched one of his nerve points paralyzing it almost effortlessly. "Argh! What ya do to my arm?!"
"Don't worry. It'll stay like that for about an hour."
"Alright, alright, you win," pleaded the thug. I didn't mean to cause you guys trouble.
The rest of the people in the bar resumed their businesss. Stevan was stunned at how quickly Ahrganot dealt with the thug. He hardly had time to blink. He ran to Ahrganot. "Wow, you are truly an amazing warrior. I've never seen anything like that!"
"It was nothing I couldn't handle."
"Well, thanks anyway. I better be off now." Stevan quickly made his way back to the Overworld to avoid any further conflicts. On his way, he reviewed Ahrganot's strategies. He preferred stealth over brute force, using strategy to defeat the enemy rather than shooting first then asking questions later. A good lesson for the day, and a good practice of Stevan's clever acting.
-more to come