For several minutes, the cheering continued to reverberate from the speakers of holographic display as well as from his squad mates. Lucas felt the energy of thousands of other inspired cadets shouting their various war cries. It seemed as though it pulsed through the structure of the space station.
If nothing else, Lucas decided, General Acrogave lifted the moral of the Terran Defense Force trainees.
The General stood tall behind the podium, appearing to feed on the energy pulsing through the station. Then as the ruckus died down, and the energy ebbed, he nodded at the video pickup, turned and motioned to the others, then followed them off the stage on his four powerful legs. Shortly after, the holographic display went dark.
For a moment, everyone in the briefing room stared at the dark display, then the blonde who hurriedly seated herself in front of Lucas turned to him and lifted her hand up over the seat, presenting it to him.
“Hi, my name is Jeannee,” she said with a slight southern drawl.
Lucas took her hand and said, “Lucas.”
“Nice to meet you Lucas,” her face lit up with a mischievous smile, “now that we are friends, would you be so kind as to introduce me to your squad mates?”
Jeannee’s frankness lit a smile across Lucas’s features, and he decided right there, he liked this girl.
“Okay then,” he said using her presented hand to pull her from her seat. He then placed his left hand on her left should and gently turned her towards Travis, “this is Travis, also known as Skylab.”
“You’re the guy that wears that silly paper hat in the corridors!” Jeannee exclaimed, then snapped her hand to cover her mouth, as though she could cut off the words that already fell from her mouth.
“I am,” Travis said proudly, showing Jeannee he bore no shame.
“I tagged him with the nickname ‘Skylab’,” Lucas said, just as proudly before resuming introductions.
“That over there is Josh…the lady over there is Shannon…he is Dennis…,” as Lucas pointed out each squad mate, he or she stepped up and gave Jeannee a curt handshake. Some mumbled, “nice to meet you,” while others just offered a quick nod.
After introducing Ryan, the last of the squad, Lucas notice Fasbo standing in the squad room doorway, “and that over there is Master Sergeant Fasbo, our tactics instructor and all around super smart guy.”
“Don’t pour it on too thick Lucas,” Fasbo said to Lucas before turning his attention to Jeannee. “It is a pleasure to meet you Jeannee, I have been expecting you.
“It would have been more interesting to welcome you to ‘some great name squad,’ but these unimaginative lackeys have yet to name their squad.”
“Did your last squad have a name?” Megan asked Jeannee with her thick Alabama accent.
Jeannee’s features darkened with sorrow before she met Megan’s eyes, “No, we were supposed to come back from the break with ideas. Then we would vote on the most popular choices.”
“I am so sorry if I stirred up some bad emotions,” Megan said after a moment of wondering what she should say next.
“It’s fine,” Jeannee said, her face brightening again, “I just didn’t expect to come back to no squad.”
“What happened to your squad?” Christopher asked after a long enough pause to know that no one else would.
“There was only three of us who made it back from the break,” she answered, then turned to Fasbo for support.
“Eleven of her squad mates were cut because arrangements could not be made to get them here for six weeks without giving away the existence of the Galactic Defense force. They have all been wiped, and are no longer a part of the first class of the Terran Division.”
“How many did you guys cut?” Lucas asked, knowing numbers were as important as technology and motivational speeches when it came to defending Earth from the Hoard.
“Jeannee’s squad is the only squad we lost,’ Fasbo answered without hesitation, “and quite frankly, we were not surprised.”
“Why,” Jeannee said, clearly hurt by Fasbo’s frank statement.
“Everyone take your seats, it is instruction time,” Fasbo said and turned to the podium.
Lucas assumed that Fasbo was dismissing the subject. He was surprised Fasbo was being so frank up to this point, so it did not come as a surprise that he was probably moving onto a different subject.
Fasbo leaned on his left arm as he watched his candidates grumble among themselves and settle into their seats. Once he saw that they were all comfortably seated, he paced the width of the room a couple of times. At the end of the second circuit he paused, and turned to face the class.
“You may have noticed that most of you come from the same region of the United States. All of you hail from the central part of the US. We did this on purpose for two reasons. First, we wanted some commonalities among classes. We knew all along that most of the classes would whittle down to a twelve or so students who would form the core of a squad.
“We also did not, nor do we currently know how we are going to handle alerts. If all of you are in the same time zone, then you will all be in the same cycle during Hoard presses.”
A hand shot up at his use of the word presses.
“I will address Dark Empire tactics at a later date,” Fasbo said impatiently, putting his hand up in way that the squad knew to mean; no questions.
“As you know from recent scrimmages with other squads, we group by language as well. You refer to the nationality of those language groups, but we have Spanish speaking squads where within the US and other language based groups within other nations with a different common language.
“All that to say, we group based on cohesion building principles. The Galactic Federation assembled Jeannee’s squad with young adults from affluent United States Families.
“Basically Jeannee, you squad was an experiment.”
Jeannee’s features twisted into a mask of pain and anger, “Experiment?” she said, her voice just barely an audible whisper.
“Please do not take offense to anything I say,” Fasbo cautioned, his tone stern, “you were far from Guinea Pigs, to use a Terran expression. What I mean by experiment is this.
“You all came from very affluent families. Most young adults from that class did not show an aptitude towards this training. Not for reasons of intelligence, or physical ability, but because of cultural differences between your group, and most other successful candidates.”
The red in Jeannee’s face and neck deepened and Fasbo answered with a cool expression.
“Your former squad Master Sergeant speaks very highly of you, as she does of your former squad mates. Now hear me out,” Fasbo said.
Jeannee unclenched her fists and took a couple of deep breaths before setting into a more relaxed posture.
“We hoped most of your squad would return after the break, as we did for all the squads,” Fasbo offered an expression the squad learned to recognize as sorrow, “but unfortunately, most of Jeannee’s old squad could not return.
“When we formed the squad, and knew this summer training session was in the works, that it would be difficult to find an alibi for fourteen affluent children.
“The human education system is not uncommon among young sentient species, because it works with an agrarian society. Early in an evolving societies development, it is an all hands-on deck mentality when it comes to harvesting crops. As a society develops, and agriculture becomes less prevalent, then year-round education becomes the norm. Until then affluent parents in any culture that rears their children usually have plans for said children during educational down time.
“Many of Jeannee’s squad mates are visiting summer homes, or on sailing trips around the world, while others are learning the family business,” Fasbo turned his attention back to Jeannee. “Care to share your story with the squad Jeannee?
Jeannee glared at Fasbo for a moment, challenging him to force her. Then it occurred to her, she could say no. Her squad instructor was of the same species as Fasbo, and she recognized the look Fasbo offered her. Expressive creatures Jeannee thought, Fasbo’s like say so much without words. He was giving her the opportunity to bring her new squad mates up to speed on who she was and is.
“We…my…my father is an asshole, and because of it, I really do not have a family,” Jeannee started, looking at her shoes, her mind racing through story lines, trying to figure out how much she wanted to share with these strangers.
Fasbo offered her an expression that said, continue, you are doing fine.
Jeannee pulled one of her legs up and shifted her weight, stuffing her leg under her butt. Lucas made note of how gracefully she shifted positions and how comfortable she looked with the weight of her body resting on her right leg. He would last about fifteen seconds before his leg started to tingle from the lack of blood flow.
Jeannee settle more comfortably into her new position, then started to tell her story.
“As I said, my father is an asshole,” she checked herself, “Not to me. He is always been very good to me. But, if you are not his daughter, my dad is a total jerk!
“The very second after I was conceived, he cheated on my mom,” Jeannee again looked towards Fasbo for strength, which he offered with his warm eyes and steady demeanor. “My mom pleaded with him to stop, for the sake of their marriage, for the sake of me. He promised time and time again that he would. Well, he didn’t. My mom loved the man she knew before I was born with all her heart. She believed she lost him and someone else replaced him. It was impossible for her to accept that the prince charming that swept her out of her mom’s trailer park could be the same man who treated her like she didn’t’ matter.
“My dad was still a struggling business man when he met my mom. By the time I was born, he was richer than he ever imagined possible, and he changed because of it. Just before my fifth birthday my mom took a bunch of sleeping pills and never woke up.”
The silence in the squad room was as complete as though they were in the vacuum of space. No one looked away from Jeannee as she flicked her gaze from one face to the next. Most did their best to offer a supportive expression without looking too sympathetic. Jeannee did not look like the type who would accept sympathy.
“I found my mom’s journal a couple of years ago. Everything was in there. How she met my dad. Pages of how he would share his dream of success with her, and how they would live happily ever after. Poems my dad wrote to her right up until he started to change.
“As I read it, I started to think I was the reason my dad changed. Everything seemed to have changed after my conception. Then, the last entry in my mom’s journal went something like this. Jeannee, I know you will find this someday, and you will read it. Know your dad did not stop loving me because of you, he stopped loving me because of himself.”
Jeannee wiped a single tear from her right eye with her left hand, “My dad has showered me with love long before my mom killed herself, and since. The problem is, I will never forgive him for quitting on my mom, and he will never quit loving himself more than he loves anyone else.
“Ever since my mom died, it has been a steady parade of woman through my life. Some, barely old enough be my big sister. I would be lucky to squeeze a dozen IQ points out of the whole mess of them. When my dad isn’t making an ass of himself with some young floozy, or working to get richer, I get smidge of his time. He will shower me with gifts, take me to a fancy restaurant, or maybe a weekend getaway to someplace fun or exotic. But never more than a weekend. And those are usually interrupted by some emergency at work that cannot go a moment without his immediate attention.
“I hate my dad, but have no doubt in my mind that he loves his one and only daughter, he says so all the time.”
“What are you doing at this moment,” Fasbo asked.
“I am back packing my way across Europe,” Jeannee responded, “with a pocket full of cash. My dad didn’t want me to get into a bind. It never occurred to him when I asked to say no. He just handed me a wad of money and said, have fun.
“Before my abduction, I spend my days at the arcade playing video games. Because of my father, I have no interest in men, or any kind of intimate relationship with them.” Jeannee afforded each of the guys in the squad a challenging look. Each of them except for Lucas.
“That is my story, and you can judge me as you wish. I look forward to hearing your stories in the coming weeks.”