Chapter 35 – An Evening’s Encounter
The Next Day
Soft rays of orange light spilled over the dusty roads of Compound Tresnon as Mark casually strode across the grounds of Wrikax Chaos University. Sunset signaled the end of another day of schooling, and many of the campus’s students were now milling about in the courtyard, engaging in training on the practice fields, or simply returning to their dorm rooms. Mark eyed the practice fields as he passed them by; among the groups training there, he could spot Spike, Sky, and Phoenix, all three independently getting in some exercise before the end of the day.
It’s nice to see that they’re keeping themselves healthy, Mark observed, now if only the others would do similar. Not really my place to push for that, though. …Hmm, is that…? As he approached the campus gates, he spotted the retreating form of Pierce, exiting the campus alongside a woman Mark didn’t recognize. …Making friends? Ah, I do recall Pierce and Phoenix taunting each other over dinner about finding dates. Well, good for them. Maybe Pierce will mellow out a bit. Hopefully… Though, speaking of dinner, I really need to hurry up…
With a deep exhale, Mark glanced up at the skies above, and then continued approaching the gates. Ever since arriving in Compound Tresnon, Mark had been cooking dinner every night for himself and the other Earthians. It was a win/win proposition to him — he enjoyed cooking, and the others were able to get a taste of home, even if that taste had to be approximated using Nimalian goods. However, while Mark enjoyed cooking, he sometimes forgot to replenish empty ingredient stores until too late — so here he now was, on an emergency trip to the grocery store before preparing the night’s dinner.
The Forcetechnic looked behind himself, toward the source of the call. Approaching with a casual wave was Captain Luke Travis, who quickly stepped up next to Mark. “Goin’ on some errands?” Luke questioned.
“You got me,” Mark replied with a sheepish grin. “I need to replace a few things before I can make dinner.”
“Didn’t you make a grocery run a couple days ago?”
“I was going to, but I got caught up training with Spike and Karísah.”
“I see.” Travis nodded, and then glanced around the immediate vicinity. “…You usually go shoppin’ alone?” he questioned, turning his attention back to Mark.
“I don’t want to bother anyone just for some grocery shopping,” Mark replied. “You don’t really need to talk to anyone to get groceries, anyways, so the language barrier isn’t an issue.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s true, huh. Even so, I find shoppin’ can be pretty boring when you’re alone. Mind if I tag along?”
“Not at all.”
“Alright. Let’s get goin’, then,” the Captain remarked as he began walking toward the gates, with Mark keeping pace beside him.
“Thanks for coming along, sir,” Mark commented as the two finally set foot outside of the campus.
“Ah, don’t mention it,” Travis replied. “And don’t call me ‘sir’ around here, it’s way too stiff. All things considered, I’d rather not remind the recruits too much about the military, anyways…”
“For the time being, just call me Luke.”
“…Are you sure?”
“Sure I’m sure. You’re not the type to forget the chain of command just because you don’t call me ‘Captain’ or ‘sir’ all the time — not like that chain of command matters much around here, anyways.”
“Well, if you insist… Luke…”
“See?” Luke grinned at Mark. “Not so hard, is it?”
Mark frowned in mild unease. “I don’t know, sir— uh, well… it just feels weird.”
“Ah, it’s fine.” Luke slapped Mark on the back. “If it upsets you that much, just consider it your birthday present.”
“Huh? My what?”
“Your birthday, Mark. Don’t tell me you forgot your own birthday? It’s today!”
“Oh…” Mark chuckled sheepishly. “Is that so? I suppose I lost track of time…”
“Damn, I should’ve kept my mouth shut,” Luke remarked with an amused grin. “Then I wouldn’t have to apologize for not gettin’ you a real present.”
“That’s fine, don’t worry about it.” Mark looked up wistfully at the darkening sky as he added, “though, it would’ve been nice if the others were here…”
“Yeah…” Luke glanced upwards himself as he released a weary sigh. “…It really is different, without the Colonel or the Major around.”
“Or Mote, or Kate, or Danielle…” Mark shook his head. “But I shouldn’t complain, I’m sure they’re all very busy.”
“That’s more true than you’d think…”
“Hmm?” Mark glanced down at Luke. “Did something happen?”
Luke carefully looked around at their surroundings, as though searching for any spies or eavesdroppers. Eventually he turned back to Mark and said with a lowered voice, “on their last mission, they apparently ran into Nanocreatures.”
“What?!” Mark’s eyes grew wide with concern. “Are they okay?”
“Yeah, they all made it out fine. But still… Nanocreatures…”
“I thought they were wiped out 20 years ago?”
“I did, too, until a couple days ago. But I did some digging on the Relaynet, and it looks like there actually are some still around. The CSA in particular are still cleaning up after that whole mess 20 years ago.”
“I’ll say. As luck would have it, though, these Hero Machina folks — the Deans, as we better know them — seem to have plenty of experience with the Nanocreatures. Or I guess, the ‘metallic infection’, as the Nimalians have gone back to calling it.”
“Did Saito tell you to see what they know about the situation?”
“That’s it exactly,” Luke remarked, and then frowned as he began rubbing the back of his neck. “Dunno how to go about that, though. Apparently the one I should ask for is named Rebehka… Tchiréon? Over in Relédiaka. I thought about asking Davídrius to put me in touch, but he doesn’t really seem to be in the mood for that, recently…”
“Hmm…” Mark mused as the duo rounded a street corner on their way to Market Street. “…I could ask Karísah. She seems fairly close to all of Davídrius’s friends.”
“Any help would be appreciated. But, uh, try not to mention the Nanocreatures directly if you don’t have to. General Lead apparently wants all of this on the down low.”
“I see… well, I’ll try my best.”
“Good! Now, let’s talk about somethin’ less serious!”
“As expected, from you,” Mark commented with a smile. “Hmm… well, if you don’t mind, what’s your relationship with Austin and his friends like? I haven’t had the chance to ask, before.”
“Oh…” Luke’s face fell as he looked away.
“Ah, I didn’t mean to pry!” Mark quickly backpedaled. “If you’d rather not talk about it—”
“It’s not a matter of not wanting to talk about it, per se…” Luke sighed wistfully. “…I used to be pretty close to Austin. Like his big brother. We’re only separated by 10 years, after all. We grew apart a bit after I joined SERRCom, but I still always got along well with him, and Spike, and the twins. And then this conscription thing happened…”
“…Well, the argument doesn’t bear repeatin’, I’m sure you know where the recruits stand on this.”
“And that’s straining your relationship with your nephew?”
“Yeah… honestly, I think the Colonel made a mistake sendin’ me here, instead of someone else, but… can’t really change that now.”
“I don’t think I agree. You said it yourself, you used to be close to them. I think that makes you more qualified than anyone to help them through everything that’s happening.”
“Maybe, but I’m no therapist.” Luke sighed again, and then looked up as the duo approached the edges of Market Street. The crowds were somewhat thinner than on the weekend, but the street still bore many merchants and shoppers, all going about their evening business. “…Let’s talk about this another time, though,” Luke eventually finished.
“Fair enough,” Mark commented as he surveyed the street. “Now, let’s see… I wanted to get some fish, so let’s head down to the lakefront—”
“Oh, hey! Mark!”
Mark and Luke both did a half-turn to look behind themselves, where they noticed Karísah jogging up to them.
“Oh, Karísah!” Mark turned to face her fully. “I didn’t expect to run into you, here.”
“Looks like you’re not alone, huh?” Luke questioned as he looked beyond Karísah. Approaching from behind her were Davídrius and Kaoné — and the former had a decidedly sour expression upon his face.
“…It’s y’all,” Davídrius deadpanned as he stopped next to Karísah, his arms crossed. “What’re y’all doin’ here?”
“Davídrius, don’t give them a hard time,” Kaoné interjected, and then turned to give Mark and Luke a warm smile. “Hi! I recognize the two of you from when you first arrived on Nimalia, but I don’t think we’ve formally met. I’m Kaoné Densalin — you can call me Kaoné.”
“The name’s Luke Travis. It’s nice to meet you,” Luke replied.
“And I’m Mark Cox,” Mark added.
“Travis, hmm?” Kaoné passed Luke a questioning look. “Are you related to Austin?”
A pained expression crossed Luke’s face for a moment, though he quickly suppressed it with a smile. “Yep. He’s my nephew.”
“Family, huh?” Davídrius commented flatly. “Must be nice.”
Kaoné pursed her lips as she gave Davídrius an annoyed look. “…And you wonder why you have so few friends.”
“I—! I have plenty of friends,” Davídrius retorted. “More than I could need!”
“And still no significant other.”
“Tch. Not everyone needs a relationship.”
“Perhaps, but I think having a wife or a girlfriend would really help you.”
“Hey, hey, look here…”
“Ah ha ha…” Karísah passed Luke and Mark a sheepish smile as Davídrius and Kaoné continued bantering behind her back. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to get in your way.”
“Nah, it’s fine,” Luke responded casually as he eyed the two Deans with a smirk. “This is fun to watch!”
“It’s nice to see that Davídrius gets along with someone, at least,” Mark commented.
“Hey, I fuckin’ heard that!” Davídrius snapped. “You ungrateful lot…”
“So what’re y’all doing around here?” Luke questioned, glancing between each of Karísah, Davídrius, and Kaoné. “Runnin’ some errands, like us?”
“We were actually going out for dinner,” Kaoné remarked. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen Davídrius, and what better way to catch up than over food?”
“Maybe if that food wasn’t in public…” Davídrius grumbled.
“Yeah, so we were headin’ over to the lakefront,” Karísah declared. “They have some good fish, there, after all!”
“Oh, then don’t let us get in your way,” Mark commented as he stepped to the side.
“Not at all. It’s been nice meeting you!” Kaoné remarked. Just before the trio left, though, she turned to Luke. “Uh, sorry. You’re the overseer for the Earthian students, right?”
“I guess you could say that, yeah,” Luke replied.
“Okay. I wanted to talk to you about what they know, and their general attitudes. Just so I can better teach them. Is there a good time for us to meet?”
“Uh… huh. Well, I’m free pretty much every evening.”
“Alright, then, how about tomorrow evening?”
“Works for me,” Luke replied. “…Oh! While we’re talkin’ about meetings, there was something I wanted to speak with y’all about, actually. And it’s kinda urgent.”
“Urgent?” Davídrius echoed incredulously, “the hell is this about?”
“Well…” Luke looked around a little before gesturing for Kaoné and Davídrius to step closer. He then lowered his voice as he continued, “y’all are friends with Rebehka Tchiréon, right?”
Kaoné and Davídrius exchanged uneasy glances. “…We are,” Kaoné replied slowly. “Why do you ask…?”
“This better not be goin’ where I think it’s goin’,” Davídrius muttered.
“I’m afraid it might be,” Luke responded with a grim expression. “…Without sayin’ too much, SERRCom needs to know about the, uh, metallic infection.”
“I fuckin’ knew it.” Davídrius scowled. “And just why the hell do y’all want to know about that, huh?”
“I can explain later, but now isn’t the time for it.”
“Now ain’t the time to talk about the fuckin’ infection, either.”
“C’mon, Davídrius, settle down,” Kaoné insisted. “The Union and SERRCom are allies, remember?”
“Sure, but Treséd ain’t gettin’ shit outta the Union,” Davídrius shot back. “‘Sides, you’ve read the reports. You know we can’t talk about this to just fuckin’ anyone!”
“No, but the Earthians deserve to know what we know. It’ll be easier to beat the infection if they do.”
“Besides, Pallan said that he wants the Earthian students to learn about the infection as part of their education.” Kaoné glanced over at Luke. “I was already looking to set up a lesson with Rebehka for that purpose, but if something happened with SERRCom to make this ‘urgent’, then we can move that up.”
“Thanks, I appreciate it,” Luke replied with a curt nod of his head. “Anything you know, we’d like to learn. And I’d like to be present for that lesson, too.”
“Of course. Unfortunately, neither I nor Davídrius know as much as Rebehka does, so you’ll have to wait to meet with her to learn more. I think I’ll be able to set something up for this weekend, though.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.”
“Good,” Kaoné responded. “I’d also like to know why SERRCom suddenly wants to learn about the infection… but that can wait for another time.”
“Right, of course.” Luke nodded again, and then stepped to the side. “Well, don’t let us keep y’all any longer.”
“Finally…” Davídrius muttered as he began walking off. “Kaoné, Karísah, let’s go. I’m fuckin’ hungry.”
“He really never changes…” Kaoné remarked as she shook her head in disbelief. She then bowed her head toward Luke and Mark and began walking off herself. “It was nice to meet you. I’ll see you tomorrow, Luke.”
“Yeah… and sorry about Davídrius, ha ha…” Karísah laughed uneasily. “Well, see y’all later!”
Luke and Mark continued standing to the side of the street as they watched the Nimalian trio walk off. Eventually Luke took a deep breath, and looked up at Mark. “…Well, that’s one thing taken care of, I guess.”
“I suppose so…” Mark commented, his gaze lingering on the Nimalians for a moment. Eventually, he snapped his attention away and looked down at Luke. “…We should probably hurry up with the fish, now. I was already going to be late with dinner, but now…”
“Yeah, I getcha. Let’s go, then!” Luke remarked. He and Mark soon set out toward Market Street themselves, prepared to finally run the errands that they had originally set out to complete.