From the past, to the present! Will Chirch and co. get through their final exam?
Chapter 10.2: Onwards
November 4th, 2252. 2. Kingsguard Research Facility – Infirmary.
“When I saw on the news that the Commanders had died, I… I almost blamed myself.” Tsubaki said quietly, unable to look the Captain in the eye.
“If I could speak to them right now, the first thing I would tell them both is that two of the civilians we saved that day survived.” Marko replied. “If they could know that, they’d be happy.”
“Two of the strongest soldiers in exchange for two civilians. I…”
“Lives aren’t something that can be exchanged.” Marko interjected. “And no one life is more valuable than another. That’s just how it is. Besides. Risking our lives to protect the ones that need protection is our job.”
Tsubaki sat silently, thinking about what Marko had just said to her. “I think I’m glad I failed today after all…”
Marko remained silent.
“Oh! How did the others do?” Tsubaki asked.
“Why don’t you ask them yourselves?” Marko replied. As if they had been waiting outside for this very moment, the rest of the squad burst through the door. Chirch, face streaming with tears, ran over and hugged Tsubaki.
“I was so worried about you!”
Tsubaki wrapped her arms around Chirch. “I’m okay now. Really.”
“From the moment we left the battlefield, XO couldn’t stop worrying. He barely even ate.” Eve said.
XO’s cheeks flushed red. “Of course I’d be worried! It’s not like Tsubaki to…”
Eve laughed. “Look at you, all flustered.”
“How did the rest of the battle go?” Tsubaki asked.
Chirch, finally letting go of her upperclassman, sat cross-legged at the end of her bed. “Oh! Yeah, that. Well…”
10 – Moments after Tsubaki had left the battlefield.
“And… there. All patched up.” XO said, smiling. “Your mom’s gonna be just fine.”
“Thank you, sir!” replied the civilian child.
“Thank you, Doctor,” replied the mother.
“Alright… let’s get those cuts nice and fixed up, little guy.”
As XO treated the civilians at the side of the road, Roda stood guard with Judge, who was in conversation with Eve.
“So… what’s this thing’s attack radius?” Judge asked.
“Ten metres.” Eve replied.
“Huh… that won’t do.” Judge replied. “Mind if I make a quick upgrade to his range?”
“How are you going to…”
Judge holstered his guns and took the large rucksack off his back. “I’ve got a remote-controlled turret in here that will auto-fire. Its effective range is about 10 times what your pup has right now.”
“So you want to give my pet a gun.” Eve replied.
“If it makes you feel better, Doogie Howser over there will be in control of it.” Judge joked.
“In control of what?” XO asked, a little worried.
Eve sighed. “Fine. Just promise me you’ll take it off the moment the battle is over.”
“Of course.” Judge answered. “Can’t be giving away my best tech like that.”
As Judge began to work on field upgrades, he contacted Chirch and Rose. “Girls, could you stay a little tighter to XO’s location for the next few minutes?”
“Roger.” Rose replied.
“Now, to get this thing to sit still… where’s the reset button?” Judge muttered to himself, unwilling to injure himself during the upgrade process. “It better not be up its-”
“Pull his left ear upwards,” was the instruction coming through the headset.
Judge put Roda to sleep by gently pulling his left ear. Pulling the tools out of the large bag on his back, he started to work on his upgrades.
“Looks like things have quietened down a little.” XO commented, standing next to Judge. “Those two have really made things easy for us.”
Chirch and Rose stood in the centre of a pile of mutilated bot parts, catching their breath.
“Man. Those things are tough!” Chirch exclaimed. “Being a soldier is tiring…”
“Eve. How’s the area looking?” Rose asked.
“Mostly clear,” she answered. “Most of the enemies seem to have found you. The next squadron is around 250 metres north-west of you. Other than that, the area is pretty clear.”
“Judge, how long on the repairs?” XO asked.
“I’m almost done. Just need to make sure the guns are fully loaded, and then we’re good to go.” Judge answered.
“Huh. It’s even weirder that I’ve never heard your name around the Academy. Not even Jackson is that quick with repairs.”
“Well, I don’t really show up to class.” Judge replied. “A lot of my would-be classmates are apparently pissed that some total stranger keeps scoring top marks, apparently.”
XO laughed. “Heh. Looks like Chirch and Rose aren’t the only wonderkids around.”
“Hey. Speed isn’t everything, you know.” Eve grumbled.
“Let’s just turn this guy back on, and…” Judge pulled Roda’s left ear again, bringing him back to life. As Roda barked, Judge handed XO a remote.
“Let’s get going. I’ll explain how to use this as we move.” Judge instructed.
With Chirch and Rose leading the way, the group advanced to the next area of the battlefield. As they walked, XO looked at the remote as Judge issued instructions.
“Okay. This is pretty easy. Press the red button to start auto-fire on the guns. Turn the dial up and down to adjust firing speed. The dog itself is programmed to lock on to enemies and the guns fire straight forward, so you don’t need to worry about aim. These guns don’t have a lot of juice, so you can’t just spray non-stop. Use them wisely.”
“Gotcha.” XO replied.
As the group approached the final area, a concerned Chirch spoke to them.
“Guys… is it just me, or is that bot kinda big?”
“Looks like a 5-metre class to me.” Judge replied. “Normally someone in a machina would deal with those.”
“Well, we don’t have one of those. What do we do?” Rose asked.
“The three of us will deal with it.” Judge replied confidently. “Robodog can cover XO while he looks for civilians, and we’ll go on the offensive.”
“How are you gonna fight it?” Chirch asked.
Judge laughed. “Don’t worry about me. I’ve got one last trick up my sleeve.”
Judge squeezed the straps on his backpack, and two metallic wings armed with guns shot out.
“That’s so COOL!” Chirch shouted.
“You guys ready to attack?” Judge asked, a proud grin on his face.
“Let’s roll out.” Rose announced, immediately heading towards the 5-metre class. Chirch ran after her, with Judge following behind, flying in mid-air using his rocket pack.
“There’s a few soldier-classes surrounding it.” Rose said.
“On it.” Judge sprayed bullets at the soldier classes, taking them out of commission from range.
“Man, those guns are strong…” Chirch said as she ran forwards. “There’s holes in those bots now.”
“Chirch. I think we should aim for-”
Before Rose could finish her sentence, the 5-metre class opened fire on the three soldiers. Evading the enemy fire, Judge unholstered the guns at his belt, firing at the large bot’s shoulders. This time, his weapons seemed to have little effect.
“Shit. This thing's real durable.” he cursed.
“Cover us from the back.” Rose instructed. “Chirch, we’ll need to get in close.”
“We should go for the legs.” Chirch added.
The girls charged forward, aiming to take out one leg each. Before they could get in close enough, the bot swung its arm, sending both girls crashing into a nearby building. Pulling herself up from the debris, Chirch looked over towards Rose.
“Hey. You okay?”
Rose pulled herself up gingerly. “Man, that hurt…”
Chirch watched as Judge distracted the enemy with rapid gunfire.
“Maybe we need a different plan.” Rose commented, watching the battle carefully. Chirch, however, did not share her friend’s patience, charging straight back in.
“No time for plans.”
Surprised, Rose watched as Chirch leapt off. The timid girl she had met just less than a year ago was no more. Not wanting to be left behind, she chased after her. As the enemy swung at Chirch, she leapt over its swinging arm. Rose, noticing an opening, leapt forwards at high speed, attempting to slice through the bot’s ankle region. Rather than slicing clean through, however, she was only able to make a superficial cut.
“Why is this thing so tough?” she grumbled, frustrated.
“You weren’t expecting this to be as flimsy as a soldier-class, were you?” Judge asked.
“I’m gonna keep firing at it and try wear it down. The two of you just need to keep it busy at close range.” Judge instructed.
Chirch, who had been picking a fight with the enemy for the duration of Judge and Rose’s conversation, addressed Rose.
“You aren’t just gonna sit and watch, are you?”
Rose quickly charged back into the action. As the girls attacked the enemy from both sides, Judge continued to fire.
With their combined efforts, they managed to subdue the enemy’s offensive, but they were struggling to create openings for attacks.
“I see why they leave the big ones to the machina.” Rose grumbled. “We’ve barely made a dent.”
“The top soldiers can take one of these guys out solo, you know.” Judge replied.
“Thanks for that demoralising piece of information.”
“If it won’t go down like this, we have to try something different.” Chirch interjected.
“Easier said than-”
Before Rose could finish her thought, Chirch launched her blade at the bot’s visual sensors, cracking them. As she charged in to reclaim her sword, the enemy reached out its left arm, aiming to grab Chirch’s leg. Rose, instantly noticing this, charged in, slicing through the bot’s fingers. As Chirch got her hands on the handle of her blade, she thrust it deeper into the bot’s face. Sparks flew as its visual sensors were destroyed from within. Judge, who had been watching the situation from afar, couldn’t help but be impressed. As Chirch removed her blade from the bot and stepped back, she spoke to Rose.
“It’s a bit of a dirty tactic, but it works every time.”
“How… how did you know to do that?” Rose asked.
“How did you know to cover me?” Chirch replied.
Hearing this, a lightbulb went off in Rose’s head. Laughing, she answered. “Sometimes, I forget you’ve been fighting your entire life.”
“Not to interrupt this little moment or anything,” Judge said, interrupting the moment, “but it’s still alive and swinging.”
“These things have motion sensors in them as well, right?” Chirch asked.
“Yup. You have to take out the core CPU to disable them, though.” Judge answered. “And that’s gonna be difficult to slice through to reach.”
“We should be fine.” Rose added decisively. “There’s three of us, and it’s swinging blindly now.”
“I’m gonna target the head.” Judge said. “Chirch’s attack has opened up a weak spot there. You guys should try and weaken the arms, then one of the legs. We could really do with a little extra firepower, though…”
“Did someone say firepower?”
“Oh, XO!” Chirch said excitedly. “And the dog!”
“The rest of the area is clear, and all the civilians are safe. We might as well make 5-on-1 now.” XO replied. “Isn’t that right, buddy?”
Roda barked happily.
“Well then. K-9 patrol, you guys should fire at the legs. Weaken the outer armour with the dog’s autofire, and then XO should target the joints with charged shots.” Judge instructed.
“Got it.” XO replied.
The squad, now fully reunited, were brimming with confidence. Quickly employing the strategy Judge had laid out, they got to work on targeting their respective areas. With Chirch and Rose each targeting an arm, the enemy swung wildly and confusedly. The girls effortlessly avoided each swing, swiftly moving in to attack the elbow joint at every opportunity. Their first attack didn’t manage to sever the arm, and neither did the second. However, just before their third try, they heard an explosion.
“The head’s completely taken out.” Judge announced. “Hit it hard.”
In tandem, Chirch and Rose approached the bot from either side. Putting all of their power into their swings, they both managed to slice clean through one of the 5-metre class’ elbow joints, sending its forearms crashing to the ground.
“Nice!” Chirch shouted.
“The knee joints are starting to weaken.” XO said urgently. “We should be able to finish it off now.”
“Time for an all-out attack then.” Rose said.
XO prepared his shots. With each pistol, he fired charged shots at each of the enemy’s knee joints. Seeing the enemy stagger slightly, he turned the firing speed on Roda’s guns to maximum, resulting in a single, continuous laser shooting from each gun. Once all of the charge had been used up, the enemy bot was staggering wildly. Without hesitation, Chirch and Rose moved in, each slicing through a knee joint and sending the bot’s mutilated body crashing to the ground. As they landed, both breathed a heavy sigh.
“Area’s clear,” Eve declared through their headsets.
“That was tough.” Chirch said, taking off her helmet.
As the group took a moment to process their victory, a message was emblazoned across the sky.
The group looked up, as holographic fireworks lit up the sky.
“Well, looks like we’re going to be Kingsguard soldiers.” Rose said.
“Yeah… we are.” Chirch replied.
2. Kingsguard Research Facility – Infirmary.
“And yeah. That’s how we did it.” Chirch finished.
“I wish I’d been there to see it.” Tsubaki replied.
“What are you going to do next, Tsubaki?” Eve asked.
“Well, I haven’t given it much thought yet.” Tsubaki answered. “But if I learned anything today, it’s that I’m not ready to fight just yet. I think I want to make sure my dad recovers first, and I want to help him run the diner.”
“You can always enter through the military draft exam.” Marko explained. “That’s usually how people who didn’t make it into the Academy join the Kingsguard. With your Academy experience, it should be easy.”
“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.” Tsubaki replied.
“So, what now?” XO asked.
November 15th, 2252. 10. Kingsguard Academy – Main Hall. Graduation Ceremony.
“And as you venture out into the world, be it in the Kingsguard or not, know that everyone here at the Academy will be watching you, the 73rd graduating class, with great interest. Each and every one of you has the potential to change lives and inspire hope in a country that needs it more than ever before. On behalf of the staff and benefactors of the Kingsguard Academy, I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.”
As Director Stickman concluded his speech, staff started directing the graduands, diplomas in hand, out of the hall. Chirch walked out in the middle of the crowd, and looked for her classmates when she got to the lawn outside the hall. The browning leaves provided a scenic autumn backdrop for her big day.
Chirch turned to see Bell, Onato and Fourth waving at her. She made her way over to them.
“Thanks for coming, guys,” she said, smiling.
“We wouldn’t miss it.” Onato replied. “Even though we’re a little jealous we’re not going with you.”
“I’m really gonna miss you guys.” Chirch said, a little forlorn.
“Tch. We’ll be there before you know it.” Bell replied, puffing her cheeks. “And we’ll be stronger than you, too.”
“Then I’ll just have to train twice as hard as you!” Chirch replied, punching the air in front of her. “I’m not gonna lose to you guys.”
“We feel the same way.” Fourth answered, a determined expression on his face.
“Anyway, what are you going to do now?” Bell asked Chirch. “You don’t have to report for duty until January.”
“Ah, about that.” A familiar voice interjected. The three first-years froze in place.
Chirch turned in the direction of the voice. “Captain Marko?! What are you doing here?”
Marko scratched the back of his head. “Well… you’re officially my student now. I can’t exactly miss your graduation, can I?”
“Huh.” The appearance of her new mentor took Chirch by surprise. She’d imagined him as the strict, distant type.
“Can I borrow you for a moment?” Marko asked.
Chirch looked to her friends, who nodded nervously. With their approval, she followed Marko. They walked over to Rose and Rio.
“Ah, Chirch! Congratulations on graduating!” Rio bellowed. “Looks like we’ll be having eating contests even more often from now on.”
“Thanks!” Chirch replied happily.
“Anyway, Marko. What did you need us all here for?” Rio asked.
“Oh. I just need to give Chirch and Rose their training schedules for the holiday.” Marko replied, handing a couple of pieces of paper to each of the girls.
“You know e-mail exists, right?” Rio joked.
“It’s better to talk about it with them.” Marko replied.
Chirch and Rose’s faces turned pale as they read through the training program Marko had devised for them.
“Seriously… I think I’ll die if I have to do that.” Rose groaned.
“Oh, come on! It can’t be that bad. Let me…” As Rio leant over to read the schedule, his face also turned pale. “Oh god.”
“Make sure you follow the diet plan as well.” Marko added. “Eating well is just as important as training well.”
“That’s a lot of protein.” Rio joked. “Looks like I know where my winter bonus is going! Ho ho ho!”
“Chirch. You’re free to go home over the holiday, but if you want to stay with Rio and Rose, or at the Kingsguard Facility in Adamine, then you’re more than welcome.” Marko replied. “I’ll come pick you up on January 2nd so you can report for duty.”
“I… I think I’ll go home.” Chirch replied. “I’d like to see everyone in my village again. And… there’s someone else I have to visit.”
“That’s fine by me.” Marko replied.
“Anyway, come on! Let’s all get a picture!” Rose exclaimed excitedly, pulling out her camera.
January 2nd, 2253. 7. A cemetery in a village in the Western Mountains.
Chirch, freshly picked flowers and fruit in hand, headed to her grandmother’s grave.
As she approached her tombstone, she noticed that a small potted tree had been left there. When she had come yesterday to clean, it wasn’t there. Who could it have been? As she laid down the flowers and the bowl of fresh berries, she had one last conversation with her grandmother.
“I’m leaving today. I don’t know when I’ll be able to come back. The people in the village will help me look after you, like they always have. I just wish it was easier for me to come and see you, because I miss you a lot. Anyway. I thought I’d be a lot more scared to leave, but somehow… I think it’s all gonna be okay. I was really lonely when you left, but this past year I’ve met lots of amazing people. I can’t wait to tell you about the people I meet when I join the Kingsguard.”
As Chirch said her final goodbyes, she heard a car pull up at the cemetery. Marko stepped out, and walked over to her. As she turned to him, he nodded, telling her to take her time.
“Well, one of them’s here right now. My new teacher. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more stories about him next time I see you. I guess this is goodbye for now, Grandma. I’ll see you again soon.”
After saying a quick prayer, Chirch picked up her bag, and nodded to Marko.
“I’m ready. Let’s go.”
ONWARD… TO THE KINGSGUARD