Chapter 14 – Calm of the Present
The Next Day
— Tuesday, October 25, 2129 AD —
“Here you go, sir. Have a nice day.”
“Mm. Thanks,” Mote responded absentmindedly as he grabbed his lunch tray and turned to find a place to sit. Lunch hour had only just begun, so the cafeteria still had plenty of empty seats; he quickly selected one in the corner in the back, where he dropped his tray onto the table and then pulled out a book. ‘War of the Ring’ read the book’s title — it was a new novel that purported to adapt a famous old medieval fantasy story to a science fiction ringworld setting. Mote had little interest in the adaptation aspect, but the reviews claimed that the book’s attention to scientific details was incredible, so he decided to give it a shot based on that.
Not so bad so far, he mused as he grabbed a crushed red pepper shaker from the table and dumped copious amounts of pepper onto the pepperoni pizza slices he had claimed from the lunch line. It was hard to go wrong with pizza, though even then, the pizza served in Opportunity’s cafeterias required an extra kick to appeal to Mote’s tastebuds. As he opened his book up to the bookmark and held it open with his left hand, while picking up the pizza in his right, he momentarily stopped to consider his circumstances: here he was, sitting alone and reading a book while having a calm lunch around Earth. Things have really calmed down recently… he thought to himself, there’s so much less to do. Less urgent things to do, at least. I suppose I AM scheduled to help Kate and Kirstin out with studying the Aldredian armor later today… but that shouldn’t take more than a couple hours. Anyways. He turned his attention down to the novel in his hands as he took a bite out of the red pepper-covered pizza. Where was I…? They had just reached the wall of the ring, and discovered that atmosphere leak… ah, here we go.
Many minutes passed as Mote continued eating and reading, tuning out the growing lunchtime cacophony in the cafeteria as he focused on the story before him. The heroes had just reached the wall of their ring world, where they found a hole that was steadily releasing an outflow of precious atmosphere. The hole was no where near large enough to vent the entire ring’s atmosphere at once, but it was old enough to cause the air all around the ring to thin just enough to detect — and now, the heroes were trying to pin down exactly who had caused the damage in the first place. I wonder how they’re going to explain this, Mote mused as he finished his pizza and took a moment to wipe off his hand with a napkin. They’ve already established that the ring’s walls are incredibly thick. Something big enough to blow a hole through it seems a bit much for this group to handle. I suppose there was that conglomerate they ran into a while back, perhaps they—
“Oh, hey! Whatcha reading?”
Mote looked up, to find the smiling face of Danielle looking down at him. “…Likely nothing you’d be interested in,” he replied as he grabbed his bookmark and placed it in the book.
“Aw, you always say that,” Danielle pouted as she plopped down into the seat across the table from Mote.
“I say it because it’s true,” Mote retorted as he watched her copy his earlier move of dumping copious amounts of crushed red pepper onto her pizza. He couldn’t help but smirk; Danielle had no actual need to eat, as she could simply use her Transtechnic ability to shapeshift herself into a form that had ‘just eaten’ — yet even so, there were times that she longed for the taste of actual food. Today seemed to be one of those days.
“Well, if you say so.” Danielle shrugged and began eating. Between bites, she glanced over at Mote, asking, “you up to anything interesting today?”
“Depends on what you call ‘interesting’,” he commented. “Kate wanted me to help her out with the Aldredian armor this afternoon. Aside from that, just a couple drills, a bit of training.”
“Just a normal day, huh?”
“I suppose so. All the excitement from earlier in the month seems to have calmed down, thankfully.”
“Thankfully?” Danielle frowned. “Aw, but I thought most of that was fun!”
Mote passed her an incredulous glance. “You thought babysitting the Black Suns and fighting Drakkars was fun?”
“Well… I more meant the whole ‘discovering new alien tech’ thing…”
“Do you even know how any of it works?”
“No, but I’m not the one who said I was excited about it.”
“Aw, c’mon, Mote!” Danielle quickly finished one of her pizza slices before turning to give Mote a look of excitement. “We found so much cool stuff, though! Like, that armor of yours, you said it could fly in space! Right? That’s pretty amazing!”
“Sure, but it looks stupid…” Mote grumbled.
“You said that about the armor itself, too, but I think it looks really cool!” Danielle exclaimed. “You just don’t know what ‘cool’ looks like.”
“Says the one who asks to turn into a dragon every other mission?”
“Hey, dragons are really cool!” Danielle retorted. “Take that back!”
“Heh…” Mote sighed, though wore on his face an amused smile all the same. “Never change, Danielle.”
“You realize you’re saying that to a shapeshifter, right?”
“Oh, Colonel! Major!” Danielle and Mote looked up to find Saito and Hackett approaching, each of them with a lunch tray in hand.
“Mind if we join you?” Saito asked.
“Sure!” Danielle replied cheerfully as she scooted over on the bench to make room for Hackett.
“We were just discussing whether or not I knew what ‘cool’ looked like,” Mote commented as Saito took a seat next to him.
“I wasn’t aware this was even a question,” Hackett remarked with a smirk.
“See?” Danielle stuck her tongue out at Mote. “Told you!”
The Electrotechnic released a sigh and shook his head in response. “Everyone always treats me like I’m a stick in the mud…”
“Well, I hate to break it to you, Mote, but…” Saito paused for a moment to take a bite out of his pizza before continuing, “you kind of are.”
“It’s not all bad, though,” Hackett commented as a frown crossed Mote’s face. “Every team needs an anchoring presence.”
Mote simply regarded the Major with an unamused expression before looking away.
“It’s nice to be able to have a nice, calm, regular lunch together again,” Saito declared after a moment’s silence. “You can forget how nice this is when you spend a month constantly on the go, doing mission after mission…”
“I suppose so…” Mote commented.
“Having an actual break would be nice, though,” Danielle stated.
“Unfortunately, we won’t be getting one soon,” Saito countered. “The techs over at the ETAA are still working through those coordinates that we recovered from the Dreadnought, and if one of them pans out, then CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir are at the top of the list to investigate.”
“It’s a shame, but I suppose it’s necessary to keep the technology out of the Drakkars’ hands…” Hackett lamented.
“You had a brief break recently, though,” Saito pointed out.
“Because you ordered me to, sir.”
“If I recall correctly, I only threatened to order you.”
Hackett rolled her eyes as Saito grinned in self-amusement.
“You got a break?” Danielle questioned as she looked over at the Major. “What’d you do?”
“I just visited my wife,” Hackett replied. “She was awfully surprised to see me.”
“Surprised in a good way, or a bad way?” Mote asked.
“What an astoundingly cynical question!” Saito remarked. “You might as well just ask if her marriage is falling apart!”
“It’s fine, Mote,” Hackett replied with a slight smile. “But to answer your question, she was glad to see me. She’s doing well.”
“What’s it like, having a wife?” Danielle questioned, “or even just being in a relationship, I guess. You’re the only one in our whole group who has one, right?”
“What a gut punch…” Saito muttered.
“Wasn’t it you, sir, who said that dating would just be ‘a waste of time’ at your age?” Hackett remarked with a smirk.
“Come on, Major, you’re not supposed to use my own words against me!”
“…Is it harder to get a relationship when you’re older?” Danielle asked.
“It can be,” Saito replied. “Most people who are interested in being in a relationship are already in one by the time they’re my age, or even Hackett’s age.”
“You seem oddly interested in this whole relationship thing,” Mote observed as he gave Danielle a curious look.
“Has someone caught your eye?” Hackett questioned.
“No… not really,” Danielle commented, “but, you know. None of us Eximius Vir have ever been in a relationship, or even really had the chance to, so… I was just curious.”
“…I suppose that’s true,” Saito admitted. “The four of you never really had a chance to interact with other kids your age… not until recently, at least.”
“I hope you aren’t suggesting that we try to date the new recruits,” Mote responded.
“Ha! No, Mote, I’m not. I can barely imagine that working out, anyways!”
“What about my question, though?” Danielle turned toward Hackett. “You haven’t answered, yet!”
“So I haven’t. Hmm…” Hackett paused for a moment to think and eat part of her pizza. “…It’s hard to explain what a romantic relationship is like, really. I guess it’s kind of like… having a best friend, but closer. More intimate, both physically, and emotionally.”
“Oh… okay. Hmm…” Danielle looked down at her empty plate. “I wonder if I can have that, some day…”
“I’m sure you’ll find a young man that suits you well, one day,” Saito remarked. “Or woman. Or whatever you’re interested in.”
“You’re sure?” She passed him a doubtful glance. “But you’re still single, too, aren’t you?”
The Colonel adopted a pained expression as he replied, “you guys just aren’t going to let that one go, are you…”
“I wouldn’t hold your breath, personally,” Mote stated, ignoring Saito’s quip as he addressed Danielle. “Our work isolates us from the rest of the world, and for good reason. We have too much to do to waste time on futureless relationships.”
“Now that’s a little harsh, don’t you think?” Hackett questioned. “Besides… as important as our jobs are, you can’t make your life revolve entirely around it. That’s how you burn out.”
“I’m aware,” Mote responded, and then patted the book on the table near him. “Which is why I have non-work-related hobbies.”
“I suppose I should’ve expected you to say that…”
“Yeah, Mote! You shouldn’t think about work all the time!” Danielle exclaimed. “There’s more fun things to do than read books, too! There’s places to go, things to see! Like Nimalia! …Aw, why do only Mark and Luke get to go to Nimalia, anyways?!”
“Yes, why do they have to go to Nimalia?” Mote questioned.
“Well those are two very different questions,” Saito remarked. “But we’ve been over this. The new recruits went to Nimalia to train, and Mark and Captain Travis went with them to watch over them. We need someone to tag along with them, after all. And it would be a waste to have the entirety of CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir there.”
“Aw…” Danielle pouted.
“Is it not a waste to have any member of CSF-1 or the Eximius Vir there?” Mote pressed, “Mark and the Captain both have invaluable skills that are being wasted on being chaperones for a bunch of kids!”
“You realize you’re only a couple years older than the recruits, yourself, right?” Saito pointed out.
“The recruits may be 20 years old, but their inability to accept the responsibility of their positions is the mark of childish immaturity. And then we send them off anyways, due to a prophecy, of all things?!” Mote looked around at each of Saito, Hackett, and Danielle. “I can’t be the only one who sees how ridiculous this is, right?”
“This again…” Saito sighed warily. “As I said, Mote… we’ve been over this. The supposed ‘prophecy’ doesn’t factor into SERRCom’s decision to send the recruits to Nimalia.”
“Yes, you claimed that the Nimalians can teach them better than we can, but I don’t buy that, sir. You were able to train us just fine.”
“And it took well over a decade to get the four of you to where you are now,” Saito countered. “If having the recruits learn from Nimalian instructors can halve that time, then it’s worth it. I simply don’t see what the problem is, here.”
“Yeah… didn’t you say that you didn’t like teaching them, anyways, Mote?” Danielle questioned. “What’s wrong now…?”
Mote scowled and looked down as he took a moment to gather his thoughts. “…It’s just…” He glanced up at Danielle, and then back to Saito. “…For as long as SERRCom has existed, we’ve been relying heavily on the other nations in the galaxy, the Nimalians especially. But this can’t last forever. Sooner or later, SERRCom — and Earth — will need to learn to stand on its own two feet, and part of that means training our own Chaotics. Not handing them off to someone else!”
“In an ideal world, perhaps I would agree with you,” Saito replied. “It certainly would be nice if SERRCom was capable of being completely self-sufficient. But we don’t live in that world, Mote, and we won’t for quite some time. That isn’t something to lament, either. If anything, we should be glad to have allies like the Nimalians who are willing to help us, even if that help is somehow in their own best interests.”
“The Colonel’s right,” Hackett declared. “The galaxy is a connected place, after all. We should take advantage of that, rather than pretend that no one else exists that could help us when we need it.”
Mote grunted in disapproval. “…Just sounds like we’re handicapping ourselves, to me…” he muttered.
“Well, regardless… nothing we do or say now will change the fact that Mark, Travis, and the recruits are on Nimalia,” Saito stated. “I appreciate you raising your concerns, Mote… but the plan remains the same. This is the best we can do with the cards we’ve been dealt.”
A heavy silence fell over the table as Saito and Hackett continued eating their lunch, with Danielle fidgeting uncomfortably and Mote staring at the wall past the table. A holographic view of Earth stretched across the entirety of the far wall, a sight that most would find fascinating — but to Mote, it merely deepened his frustration. Why couldn’t Earth be self-sufficient? And why do others seem so opposed to the idea, to start with?
Just as Mote began to turn this thoughts over in his head, he noticed a clock on the far wall that read a time close to 1 o’clock in the afternoon. “Oh… that’s right.” He grabbed his book and empty lunch tray and stood up from his seat. “Kate wanted me to help her with the armor this afternoon…”
“I remember reading something about that…” Saito remarked, passing Mote a sideward glance. “Take care, then. Try not to break anything.”
“I won’t, sir.” Mote nodded toward the Colonel, and then passed Hackett and Danielle brief glances before turning toward the garbage bins, prepared to finally continue on with his day.