After another day at the Admiral’s villa Jena, Zircon and Natasha had been dropped back off in Asrat City to resume the rest of their shore leave. As a result of the events on the Herne, they would be planetside longer to allow Armitage Technologies to give the Herne a thorough rundown and service. It meant Jena had more time to catch up on the studies she missed in any case.
As a new week began the soldier was already looking forwards to the weekend. If nothing major cropped up, Handler would be visiting. Natasha had kindly offered to let Zircon stop with her for the weekend to give them some space. There was an alternate reason there of course, but Jena wouldn’t bring that up given the plans she had made with her lover.
Her mood had improved greatly after a good fight, several good talks and some recuperating. It made her studies easier to grasp. The bonus she had gotten from going up a rank sitting in her bank account was also a welcome boost to her good mood.
Seeing Commander Romanov waiting for her outside her class on a Thursday afternoon did cause a spike in her blood pressure and heart rate, though.
“Commander, what’s wrong?” Jena asked, already feeling herself slip into that soldier mindset. It was only then that she noticed the half-Trogadek woman wasn’t in her uniform and instead was in jeans and a hoodie, pretty similar to how Jena was dressed.
“Nothing’s wrong, Sergeant. I just wanted to sort some things out now.” She procured a laser measuring device from a pocket. “I need to run some final calibration checks before we start work on an exoframe for you.”
Jena’s worried expression quickly shifted to one of excitement. Those of rank Sergeant and above on the Herne got access to an exoframe. The suits of powered armour not only amplified strength and traversal abilities. They also provided a soldier with better armour, NBC and hazardous environmental protection, and information warfare capabilities. Flying in a Servitor was one thing. Flying in an exoframe?
“We can head back to my apartment. Zircon’s at the restaurant.” Jena started for the exit, getting halfway down the corridor before looking to Treshka. “If you don’t mind my asking, Commander. Why are you doing this, and why now in your time off?”
Treshka laughed. “The children wanted to do some shopping in the city, my husband is out buying fruit. I’d rather not see how the kids spend their allowance, and farmers tend to worry I might make off with their livestock.”
Jena thought back on her galactic history. “The Trogadek raiding parties were centuries ago.”
“Old fears die hard. Give it three centuries and I am sure farmers on Farringdon Three will still worry about Volsta dropships.”
Thoughts of her days in the Resistance flashed back to her. “… Yeah. I see your point, Commander.”
In the quad, the pair were getting some looks. Jena’s reputation had spread from the mugging incident and news of the attempted theft she helped to thwart. Treshka always got looks, the statuesque warrior towering above the others. Some were looking a bit appreciative of the way her jeans hugged her muscular legs.
“On a similar note, I am sure the Volsta will tell their children that if they don’t behave, a blonde falcon will swoop in and steal them away.” She commented quietly, having to crouch down a little to whisper it. On seeing the Sergeant’s demeanor shift, she patted her on the back. “Perhaps I went a little far in my praise.”
“I did what I had to do, Commander. Now I prefer to take pride in my military record.”
“Fair enough.” Commander Romanov then veered off towards a street vendor just outside the Academy to buy a bag of hot, freshly sliced Asrati Sandsnake. “Mmh, can’t get enough of this stuff.”
Eager for a change of conversation and a distraction from the sticky carvings of meat her Commander was lowering into her mouth, Jena asked about the Romanov children.
“Four of them.” Treshka said after a lick of her lips. “Three daughters. Zeshka, Malhka and Torhka. All of them studying at the Psi Research Institute on Ural Two.”
“That’s where Simeon works, right?” Jena had done some reading up. That institute had helped train some of the most talented psi users in the military.
Romanov nodded. “That’s where I studied, and where I met him.”
“And your son?”
“Dorheon. He will be attending there full time, once his schooling has finished.” Treshka lowered another slice of sandsnake into her mouth as they reached the apartment building.
“All psi-talented? You must be proud.” The cyborg swiped her hand over the entrance panel and quickly used her internal implant to assign Treshka as her guest.
“I’d be proud even if they weren’t, but as it stands they’re even better than I was at that age.”
When they got to the apartment, the Commander nodded in approval at the neatness. “All right, Sergeant.” She said, brandishing her measuring device. “Strip.”
“She made you strip completely?” Handler laughed, her spoon clattering from her hand into her bowl of ice cream. They were at a little cafe near one of the shopping complexes, bags safely stowed under the table. Jena had dipped into her promotion money to buy some new outfits.
“She did. Apparently these exoframes are skin-tight and everything needs to line up for various internal connections.” Jena groaned. “What have I gotten myself in for?”
“When is your first training session in one?”
“Two weeks time on a Thursday. She wanted Saturday, but…” Jena glanced to Young-ae meaningfully. “She seemed to get that I had other arrangements.”
The intelligence officer was looking particularly lovely. Her hair was artfully done up. Designer sunglasses helped her deal with the bright sun that day. Her light and airy sundress bore a swirling sand pattern on. Jena herself was in denim shorts and a tank top, eager to soak up the sun.
“I suppose training up now will save time once you are back on duty.” Handler said.
“Plus I get to fly.” Jena added eagerly.
“Plus you get to fly.” She smiled. “Are you nervous?”
“I’m fully flight-certified in all three Servitor classes, how different can it be?”
Flying in an exoframe was a lot different to flying in a Servitor. Jena had lifed her feet off the ground and promptly drove herself back-first into the sand. She could hear Treshka laughing through her commslink.
“Rookie error, Sergeant! Servitors, you push out with your back. Exoframes, you push up with your feet! Get up and try again!”
Moving in an exoframe was more ungainly than she thought it would be. The heavy black armour was soaking up heat from the sun and she had to shake herself several times to dislodge all the sand from her joints. The connections to her various machine interface ports let her fully integrate with the system, feeding its sensor systems directly to her brain. Not that it was helping much with flying as her next attempt had her skidding face-first for a few feet.
“Get up and try again, Sergeant! You think it’s bad rattling about in there? I can tell you some stories that will make your eyes water and your legs cross!”
That was one small advantage to losing most of her body on Farringdon III. All bodily waste extraction was handled by a single port designed for connection to systems like the ones in exoframes. She didn’t have to deal with any catheters. There was nothing left to do but dust herself down for another go.
Even as micromachines worked to heal her bruises, Jena still felt the need to lay on the sofa of their apartment with an ice pack on her face while Zircon and Natasha cooked.
“It’s a shame the Commander couldn’t stay for dinner.” Natasha called out as her hand jostled the contents of her pan about. “I think she’d like a nice stuffed pressbread.”
“I think she has plans with her family tonight” Jena called back.
“Will you be fine on your own, Sergeant?” Zircon asked, bringing her a glass of water fizzing away from a pain relief tab dropped into it.
Hauling herself up, Jena moved the ice pack to gulp down the concoction. “I won’t let me hitting a tree mess up anyone’s evening plans.” She spoke after swallowing and pulling a face. “Looking forwards to the concert, Natasha?”
“Definitely, and it’s nice that Zircon’s coming with me.” The chef quickly portioned out the contents of her pan into the sliced pockets of flatbread. “What about your evening?”
“Ancient Earth History.” Jena held up her dataslate, then tucked it safely out of the way as the food arrived. “We’re on the Annexation Wars. A bit of a bloody subject, but reading about early Servitor units and the first cybernetic soldiers is pretty interesting.”
“I’ll stick with the loud music and the handsome company.” Natasha said before sinking her teeth into her dinner.
Jena felt Young-ae stir, a lithe arm wrapping around her waist. The soldier had risen early to make some coffee for the pair, then sat in bed alternating between sipping and checking over her essay on early full-immersion control systems for Servitors. As a head nestled against her lap, she set her mug aside and used her now free hand to tousle the dark hair brushing against her stomach.
The intelligence officer didn’t get to visit every weekend, or sometimes only for a day or less. Jena tried to make the most of the time they had, knowing in the back of her mind at some point they would need to have a talk. The talk. The one about what will happen when the Herne and the Shuck go their separate ways.
A soft laugh escaped Jena’s lips as Young-ae planted little kisses on her stomach. She kept reading a while longer before a discontent sound came from her lover, a pair of dark eyes peering up at her.
“All work and no play makes Jena a dull girl.” The officer teased.
“I must have imagined last night then. There was a lot of play involved there. The amusement park. Karaoke. Here.” Jena smiled, still stroking her lover’s hair. “Wasn’t that enough?”
Young-ae contemplated that for a moment. Jena was amazed at how much younger the intelligence officer seemed when they were on their dates or alone like this, compared to the all-business commander of the Shuck she met years ago.
“No.” Young-ae shook her head. “Never enough.”