LAST EDITED ON Aug-01-16 AT 01:56 PM (EDT)|
Saturday, May 23, 2409
Early afternoon on a clear, bright day, and tanks hunted each other in the ruined streets of a small German town.
Along the periphery of the central square, an M4A3E8 Sherman nosed cautiously around one of the ruined buildings, its turret slowly turning to scan the tank's surroundings. The tank's commander was particularly concerned about the hill off to the east. If one of the enemy tank destroyers was up there, it could ruin the Sherman's day right quick, shooting down at it from that notorious campsite next to the castle.
As it turned out, an enemy TD was cause for concern, but the hill was the wrong place to be looking for one. Across the square, unnoticed by the Sherman's preoccupied crew, a Jagdpanther eased out from behind the crumbling façade of another building, took aim, and planted a shot from its long 88mm gun square into the American tank's flat side armor. The Sherman rocked on its suspension with the impact, sliding sideways an inch or two. For a moment nothing else happened; then a small hatch on top of the turret sprang open, and up popped a little white flag.
Moments later, just barely too late to intervene on the Sherman's behalf, another American-built vehicle—a tiny T1E3 experimental light tank, vintage 1930—came charging down the boulevard on the square's west side, rounding the corner with a spray of sparks from its sliding tracks. Buttoned up and facing the other way, the first the Jagdpanther's crew knew about its arrival was when it dumped a burst from its 37mm autocannon into their starboard track, immobilizing the vehicle.
"Nice shot, Nora," the T1E3's driver remarked, peering through her viewslot at their handiwork.
"Thanks, Nicki," replied the tank's commander/gunner from her seat up in the turret.
Mega-City One High School Armorsport League Final Match, Class A
Armorsport Complex #14 "Himmelsdorf"
Mega-City One, Zardon
"That's all we're going to be able to do to this guy," Nora decided. Nicki, just as much a veteran tanker as her partner, had reached that conclusion on her own; the T1 was already reversing away from the crippled Jagdpanther as its commander went on,
"Let's get out of here and leave him for—"
There was a sharp CLANG, and the T1 lurched as if kicked in the side by a giant. Nora had just enough time to think, Well, heck, and then her world exploded in fire.
Wednesday, March 24, 2410
Deedlit Satori Mandeville Memorial Institute
Jeraddo, Republic of Bajor
Nora Southwell Ozaki bolted upright, screaming her driver's name, her left hand reaching for a fire suppression handle that wasn't there. For a couple of seconds, she remained in that position, eyes wide open but not seeing a thing around her, face bathed in sweat, panting for breath; then the fugue broke and she flopped back onto her pillows, her body going limp. She lay there for a while, catching her breath, staring up at the shadowed ceiling.
As she came down from the adrenaline spike that had awakened her, Nora returned slowly to a full consciousness of her surroundings, of where and when she was. This was Room 208A, one of two bedrooms in duplex pod 208 of Percival Baxter Hall at DSM. Not her room at home; not Mega-City One General Hospital. Her supposed new start.
But we can't escape the past, can we? she thought, as she became aware of the dull aching of her body—an ache that hadn't been there when she went to bed a few hours ago. That made sense; she only ever had that dream when it was time for this again. There would be little point in trying to get back to sleep now.
Sighing, she dragged herself out of bed, pulled on her robe, and trudged across the empty common room to the bathroom. A long, hot shower didn't do much to alleviate the pain or the accompanying heavy, sluggish sensation, but she felt psychologically better anyway, as she returned to her room, washed down a couple of Analgesol tablets with a swig of bottled water, and got dressed for the day.
That job done, she stood for a moment regarding herself in the full-length mirror on the back of the door. She saw there a girl who had been told all her life that she strongly resembled her mother, and who, particularly now that she had attained a similar height and build, couldn't argue the point. Her auburn hair was a little lighter, and she wore it a little longer, though the latter had more to do with not bothering to get a haircut often enough than any personal style choice. Nora wasn't generally much for personal style choices anyway, so wearing a school uniform suited her; it saved her from having to waste time picking out what she was going to wear.
She adjusted the memorial bracelet she wore on her right wrist and sighed, a flicker of melancholy crossing her face. Then, straightening, she slapped herself briskly on both cheeks, took a couple of deep breaths, shouldered her bookbag, and headed out to face the day.
The morning went fairly well, in spite of the aching malaise that had crept upon Nora's body while she slept. She maintained an air of good cheer, pushing through it fatalistically, without getting short-tempered or snappish. The concentration required to get back into the academic swing after so long away, particularly at a new school, kept her mind focused on other things during class, and in between she had only to get herself from one to another, which was not terribly taxing.
To the casual observer, it wouldn't have been evident that anything was the matter with her. Having only arrived at the school, where she knew no one, a few days before, Nora wouldn't have expected there to be any other kind; but, she discovered at lunch, she had reckoned without Yukari.
Yukari Akiyama was the closest thing Nora had to a friend at DSM so far, for no special reason she could discern. She was from someplace out in the Enigma sector, one of those Earth colonies named after an obscure region of the homeworld, and just by coincidence had become the first classmate Nora had learned the name of. She sat nearby in most of Nora's classes and had taken it upon herself to help the newcomer settle in, which was not the easiest task when you showed up three-quarters of the way through the school year.
Now she slipped into the seat across from Nora's at the end of one of the long tables in Hamlin Hall's dining commons, gave her a thoughtful look, and then asked without preamble,
"Are you OK?"
Nora looked up from her mac and cheese, mildly surprised by the bluntness of the question, then gave her almost-friend a not-entirely-convincing smile and said, "Yeah. All good."
"Are you sure?" Yukari persisted. "I don't mean to pry," she added, blushing mildly, "but you've seemed really... off this morning. Kind of slow and..." She paused, considering words, then finished, "... clumsy."
"Didn't think it was that obvious," Nora mused after a moment's consideration. She bought a little time with a corner of her Texas toast, then tried again, saying, "It's nothing major, Yukari, honest. I'm just... dragging ass a little today. Didn't sleep so well last night. I'll be fine."
Yukari gave her a penetrating, skeptical look, then shrugged a "fine, have it your way" sort of shrug and let the matter drop, changing the subject to an academic point regarding one of their morning classes. Nora was uncomfortably aware, though, that she hadn't really managed to convince her; she felt Yukari's eyes on her when they turned in their trays and left the caf, considering her unusually deliberate and careful movements.
Her friend's suspicions were confirmed in last-period PE, where the problem, whatever it was, became impossible to conceal. In just the few days she'd been at DSM, Nora had already developed a bit of a reputation in her section for being a capable athlete, and today she was markedly off her game. Her speed, energy, and coordination were all more or less absent, and unfortunately, the activity of the day was volleyball, where all of those things were needed. The result was more than a little shambolic.
Even here, though, she didn't let it get her down. After she blew a particular point that should have been a complete gimme, Coach gave her the "what the hell was that about" head-tilt; her response, rather than becoming defensive or sullen, was simply to shrug with a wry, weary smile.
"Sorry, boss," she said. "Body's not really workin' today."
"You need a pass to the nurse's office?" asked the coach, but Nora shook her head.
"Nothing they could do for me," she said. "I'll be OK tomorrow."
"Hm. Well, it's your body," said Coach with a nod.
"So they tell me," Nora said, all but inaudibly, as the game continued.
Yukari didn't confront her about it again in the showers after class, though it was clear from the surreptitious glances she gave Nora that she wanted to. Discretion won out, though, and the matter remained unraised so long as there were other people within earshot.
To Yukari's annoyance, her hoped-for opportunity to raise the question privately didn't materialize after class. There were too many people around on the walk back across the Common to Res Group West, and then she ran into some friends on the ResWest quad, with whom she had to stop and chat for a while. By the time she managed to extract herself gracefully from that conversation, Nora had disappeared.
Growling in frustration, Yukari entered Baxter Hall and climbed up to the second floor, figuring she would check in at Nora's duplex and see if she was in. She knew the other bedroom in that pod was empty, its occupant either delayed or just not assigned, so it would be a decent place to talk. As it happened, though, Yukari didn't even need to go that far; as she emerged from the stairwell, she saw her quarry leaning over the half-open Dutch door of the RA's room at the end of the hall.
Despite her ongoing consternation, Yukari had to smile a little at the sight of the other girl's clothes. Nora was back in her PE track pants and sneakers, topped with a nonregulation front-pocketed hoodie. This was black with the white stenciled outline of an angular, turretless armored vehicle, and heavy gothic lettering:HETZER GONNA HETZ
"Hi, I need an evening pass," Nora was saying to the unseen RA when Yukari arrived. "You got my file, right? Got to go do the thing." Noticing movement, she turned her head and saw Yukari standing there, looking startled and a little troubled; Nora considered her for a second, then gave a faint sigh, smiling slightly, and added, "And one for my friend here."
"I'm really sorry," Yukari said as they walked the lakeshore path toward Port Jeradar in the afternoon sunshine. "I know it seems like I'm snooping, I mean I kind of am snooping, but it's only because I'm worried." She ran her hands nervously through her thick dark-brown hair, which had no real effect on its usual state of tousled disarray, and went awkwardly on, "I'd just really like to help, if there's any way I can."
Nora glanced sidelong at her, smiling that little inward smile again, then said, "Relax, Yukari. I'm not mad. It's not some kind of dark secret you've stumbled into, I just... don't want to make a big deal out of it. You know? It's not secret, but it's private. But..." She shrugged. "We're friends, right? Or close to it. So what the hell. Rather than try to explain it, I'll just take you along with me, and you'll see what's going on soon enough. Just promise me one thing."
"What?" asked Yukari.
Nora stopped walking and turned fully to face her, looking her in the eye. "Promise you'll try not to freak out."
Yukari blinked in nervous surprise. "I... I'll try," she said.
"OK. Best I can ask for," said Nora, smiling once more. Clapping the other girl on the shoulder, she added, "C'mon, let's go. I'm moving slow enough today without stopping to chat."
They caught the shuttle up to Babylon 6, Yukari's puzzlement deepening all the way. It only deepened further when they went not to the Zócalo or any of the other common public areas of the station, but instead to the central Medlab up in the administration sector.
"Hi, I'm Nora Southwell Ozaki," said Nora to the Medlab receptionist, a prim-looking Minbari woman of indeterminate age. "I have an appointment to see Dr. Ido-Spengler."
"Of course," said the receptionist, nodding. "He's expecting you. Go right in." She noticed Yukari hanging back a couple of paces, an uncertain look on her face, and gave her a questioning look.
"She's with me," Nora said.
"You'll need to sign a privacy release," the receptionist noted, not otherwise missing a beat, as she called up the appropriate form on the patient check-in terminal for Nora's inspection and authorization.
With that formality seen to, she issued Nora concise directions to a specific exam room, where the two students arrived within moments to find a tall, elderly man with a kindly mien and a jagged, upstanding shock of white hair waiting for them.
"Ah," he said, adjusting his little round spectacles at their entrance. "Miss Southwell Ozaki. Welcome. You won't remember me, but we've met, after a fashion."
Nora nodded. "You're Dr. Ido-Spengler, right? They tell me you did a lot of the preliminary work on me, but I never managed to be awake when you were around back on Zardon. I should thank you." With a wry grin, she added, "You do good work."
"You're very welcome," said the doctor. "Of course, I didn't do it alone."
"Yeah, seems like half the doctors in the sector got in on the action by the time they were finished with me," said Nora. "This is my friend Yukari," she added, indicating her still-nervous-looking classmate. "Apart from the official types, nobody at DSM knows my terrible secret yet. I decided she should be the first." Her wry grin flashed again as she added, "Besides, she was following me."
Blushing scarlet, Yukari looked down and mumbled a half-audible apology, but Nora just laughed and climbed up onto the exam bed in the middle of the room, saying, "Let's get started, shall we?"
With a nod, Dr. Ido-Spengler stepped to the control console at the foot of the bed. "By all means. Is this the first time you've had this procedure?"
Nora shook her head. "They had to do it twice before I left home. I'm a little ahead of schedule this time, but I figure all the hustle and bustle of moving probably had something to do with that?"
"It might, but it's just as likely to be dumb luck," said the doctor. "These things are hard to predict exactly. Too many variables—hormonal activity, diet, random chance. Anyway, if you've had it before, you know what to expect. I'll put your neuroprocessor in medical loopback mode and run a mild sedation program; when you wake up, you should feel much better."
Neuroprocessor? thought Yukari, but she kept silent as Nora made eye contact with her over the doctor's shoulder, then gave her a wink.
"Remember your promise," she said, and then the doctor pressed a key on his console and put her out like switching off a lamp.
"Did Miss Southwell Ozaki tell you any of the details of her condition?" asked the doctor conversationally, as he configured the console for whatever he intended to do next.
"No," Yukari replied, coming hesitantly up to stand next to the console. "She said I'd see what was going on soon enough. What condition?"
Ido-Spengler glanced at her in mild surprise, then shook his head and went back to work. "In at the deep end, mm?" he said. "Well... basically... this condition."
So saying, he touched another key, and the diagnostic bed's holoemitter resolved an image of the patient on top of her physical form, layering in data from various of the bed's sensors to give the illusion that parts of her body had become transparent, and other parts illuminated from within. Yukari had seen this technology in action before, on a school trip to a science exhibition; in that instance, it had been set to render the skeleton of the patient (actually a volunteer from the school group) visible, as if under an old-fashioned fluoroscope, but without the screen.
In this instance, though, it took her a few moments to grasp that many of the parts being illuminated within Nora's unconscious form were not bones; they were too angular, too geometrically regular, for that. When that realization clicked into place, she gasped, raising the fingertips of one hand to her mouth.
Well, now I know why she made me promise not to freak out, some rational part of her mused, while the rest tried to come to grips with the sheer extent of the cybernetic reconstruction the scanner bed was showing her. Both arms, the left to the elbow, the right all the way to the shoulder; most of the right leg; the ribs and pelvic bones on the right side; right eye and optic nerve; right ear; all the teeth and a substantial part of the skull and lower jaw on that side. All revealed in ghostly, glowing relief, showing the clean, inorganic precision of high-grade alloy, bioceramic, and myomer replacement parts.
"Gods above," she murmured, then turned to the doctor, a stricken look on her face. "What happened to her?" she asked, but even as the words passed her lips, Yukari thought she knew the answer.
"Miss Southwell Ozaki is—was—an Armorsport player," said Ido-Spengler. He did something to the console that overlaid the sleeping patient in a softly glowing red grid, causing the equipment to begin emitting a gentle hum. "Are you familiar with Armorsport? Armored vehicle combat, retooled as a game."
Yukari nodded. "It's—where I come from it's called sensha-dō. I'm... I'm kind of a fan," she went on, aware that she was understating the point somewhat, but disinclined to sweat the details just now. "She doesn't talk about it, but I knew Nora played for her old school on Zardon. She was pretty well-known in those circles."
Ido-Spengler grunted acknowledgement, still intent on his instruments. "Then you must be aware that she was involved in a terrible accident at last year's Mega-City One scholastic championship match."
"I read about it," said Yukari quietly, her eyes fixed on the biobed. "Even though I knew her tank's driver was killed, I had no idea it was this bad."
"By rights, she shouldn't have survived either," Ido-Spengler said matter-of-factly. "Ninety-five percent of patients as badly injured as she was wouldn't have lived long enough for a specialist like me to be called in, let alone accomplish anything... but Nora here just... wouldn't quit," he went on, a note of something like vicarious pride coming into his gentle voice. "Not then, not during any of the dozens of follow-up procedures, not at any point in her recovery process—which I probably don't have to tell you was long and very painful."
"Does she... does she know about all that?" Yukari asked, gesturing vaguely to the glowing traces of her friend's reconstruction.
"Oh yes," Ido-Spengler said. "According to her recovery therapist's reports, she insisted on full documentation once she was well enough to read it. Her parents are both engineers, you know. She probably knows her specifications better than some of the people who rebuilt her." With a self-deprecating smile, he added, "Although I flatter myself that I, at least, know her systems at least as well as she does."
"So... what's the matter with her? It sounded like this has happened before."
"It has, and it'll happen again, but it's nothing to be too terribly concerned about," the doctor assured her. "Nora's bionics are some of the most advanced in the galaxy, if I do say it myself, but they still have limitations. Cybernetic reconstruction of an adolescent is much trickier than it is in a full-grown adult, you see—unless you replace the entire body, which has its own drawbacks. Nora's implants are designed to grow with her, but she's at a stage of life where her body is changing fairly fast. Even the best cyberware available has difficulty keeping up. Sometimes it gets a bit... out of step. It's not dangerous if it's dealt with promptly, but when it's happening, she's apt to feel pretty wretched."
Yukari nodded. "She's been off all day. Moving slowly, reacting slowly... coordination problems..."
"All perfectly normal," Ido-Spengler confirmed. "It's unpleasant, but easily corrected."
"But it doesn't stay corrected."
"No," the doctor admitted. "And it won't, as long as she's still growing. When she reaches adulthood and her growth curve stabilizes, the systems will be able to stay in balance by themselves, but until then, they'll need to be recalibrated every few months. As I said, though, it's a simple process for a properly equipped cybermedical lab."
"How long does it take?" Yukari wondered.
"Oh..." Ido-Spengler paused, giving her a mischievous smile, and a moment later a cheerful chime sounded from the console. The hum and the red glow went away; a moment later, the doctor shut off the diagnostic imaging system as well, then pressed another key, and Nora stirred, mumbling.
"About that long," said Ido-Spengler, a twinkle in his eye.
Nora blinked awake and sat up, shaking her head. "Happy birthday," she remarked. "What'd I miss?" With a grin, she caught Yukari's eye and added, "You're still here, that's a good sign..."
"So," said Nora between bites of an enormous hot fudge sundae. "You didn't freak out."
"No I didn't," Yukari confirmed, then added wryly, "Though I did think about it." Then, sobering, she said, "Dr. Ido-Spengler told me what happened. Ye gods, Nora. I knew you retired from Armorsport after you were hurt in a match accident last year, but I had no idea how bad it was..."
"It wasn't an accident," said Nora, a little shortly. At Yukari's hurt expression, she sighed and said, "Sorry. It's not your fault. I just... it really riles me up that it got reported that way. An 'accident'. Just one of those things. Nobody's fault. It was sabotage, was what it was. Sabotage..." She looked down at her ice cream, unconsciously touching the bracelet around her right wrist. "... and murder." Looking up, she met Yukari's shocked eyes again and said flatly, "Somebody switched out one of the opposing tanks' AS ammo for real, live antitank rounds. And one of these days, we'll know who. My parents are Judges. They're never going to stop looking. I'm never going to let them stop looking. I owe Nicki that much."
"Nora," said Yukari, her voice small.
Nora blinked, coming out of her fugue, and shook her head, faintly disgusted with herself. "Sorry. Didn't mean to dump that on you. I'm trying not to dwell on it, but... well, the day I've had, it's especially on my mind, is all. When I get out of sorts like this... I dream about it. The match. The fire. Nicki. It... it all kind of gets on top of me sometimes."
"No, it's... it's OK," Yukari said haltingly. "Not what happened to you," she added hastily. "That's not OK, it's not OK at all. But... well, like I told you before. I'd like to help if I can."
Nora gazed sadly at her for a second, then smiled. "You are helping," she said.
Yukari looked a little taken aback, then returned the smile, and they both went back to dealing with their ice cream.
"So anyway," Nora said as they walked back toward the shuttleport, "that's what I'm doing here. Oh, Mom and Dad gave me some song and dance about a change of scenery doing me good, but it's obvious. They sent me to DSM because it doesn't have an Armorsport team. They're afraid I'll crack if I get back in a tank." She snorted. "Not bloody likely. Tanks..." She trailed off, then went on, "They're part of who I am. I mean, Al and Leona Southwell Ozaki's baby girl, right? I was born in a tank. My middle name is Bonaparte, for chrissake." She shrugged. "But, you know. Sometimes you have to humor the folks, am I right? So here I am."
"I know what you mean about humoring the folks," Yukari agreed. "I always wanted to try out for the sensha-dō team back home, but Mom was worried I'd get hurt and Dad thought it would be too expensive. And they never said anything, but I'm pretty sure they both thought it was strange. The other kids sure thought I was weird, collecting tank models and books about the game..."
"You'd have fit right in at my place," said Nora with a grin. "Other girls had boy band posters, I had the Effective Armor Thickness chart..."
The bleep of an attention-seeking multicomm unit cut off any response Yukari might have made to that. With a thoughtful frown, Nora pulled the device from her hoodie's front pocket and flipped it open. "Southwell Ozaki, go."
"Nora, this is Dean Montaigne," said the administrator's voice. "Are you and Yukari still on B6?"
"Yeah, we're just heading back to the shuttleport now," Nora replied. "What's up?"
"Well, I have good news," the dean said. "Your roommate has just arrived in-system; she's up there now, and should be clearing Customs on the docking level any minute. Since you're there already, could you please meet her and give her a hand getting the right shuttle?"
"Oh, hey, cool," said Nora. "Sure, be glad to."
"Excellent. Thanks so much."
"Not a problem," Nora said easily. "Southwell Ozaki out!"
They caught a core shuttle to the docking level, arriving just in time to see the passengers from the most recently-arrived commercial flight file out of the checkpoint and disperse onto the concourse. Nora paused by one of the public datapanels, out of the flow of traffic, and signed into it, then started thumbing through her correspondence file.
"OK, let's see here," she said. "Email, email on the wall, who was my roommate again? Aha, here we are..." She looked from the screen to the passing flow of luggage-bearing sentients, then grinned. "... And there she is."
Yukari followed her eyeline and saw at once who she meant: a girl about their own age, human-looking, with brown hair in a bob and eyes to match. Casually dressed in cardigan and jeans, she was dragging a giant wheeled suitcase behind her, and carrying a plump duffel bag over one shoulder. After taking note of the clothes and the baggage, Yukari looked back at her face again, just as the new arrival turned in their direction with that universal "now where the hell am I again?" expression—
—and realized, with a cold-water shock, that it was one she recognized.
"Holy—!" she blurted, and then, after a moment's panicked looking around, attempted to hide behind Nora.
Bemused, Nora looked back over her shoulder and said, "Um... I don't know what you think you're doing, Yukari, but I'm not very good cover."
Yukari emerged, but still looked like she wanted to hide. Catching Nora's arm, she said, "But, but, that's Miho Nishizumi!"
Nora arched an eyebrow at her with a slightly sardonic smile. "How do you know my roommate's name?" she asked.
Yukari opened her mouth to explain, but before she could do so, Nora strode forward, forcing her to trot or be left behind, and raised a hand to hail the newcomer. "Oi! Nishizumi, right? Nora Southwell Ozaki, your new roommate. Dean M asked me to come meet you, make sure you don't end up on the shuttle out to the asteroid mines by mistake," she said with a grin.
The newcomer blinked, surprised to be called out to in an unfamiliar place, then smiled and gave a little Japanese-style bow as best she could with her burden. "Yes, I'm Miho Nishizumi. Pleased to meet you. I hope we'll get along well."
"Likewise," said Nora. "Here, let me help you with your case. Did you drag that thing all the way from Tomodachi?"
"It's not as heavy as it looks," Miho said, but let her take over the dragging of it, all the same.
"This is my friend Yukari," said Nora, indicating. "She came up to help me out with some stuff. And she was just about to tell me where she knows you from," she added, winking.
With another furious blush, Yukari bowed and said, "I, I don't know her from anywhere, not as such. I just—um—it's really an honor to meet you, Nishizumi-dono. I'm Yukari Akiyama. I'm a big fan of yours. I've followed your sensha-dō career since the Junior Championships."
"Ha! I might've known it had something to do with tanks," said Nora cheerfully. "Yukari's nuts about tanks," she explained to Miho, who also seemed to be blushing. "Me, I gave them up for Lent, but to each her own, right?"
"I, er... yes," said Miho, who seemed rather at a loss. "Um... I'm pleased to meet you too, Miss Akiyama."
When they were back aboard the core shuttle, Yukari said, "I never expected to see someone like you at DSM, Nishizumi-dono. We don't even have a Tankery program here." With a sudden hopeful look, she asked, "Did you come to start one?"
Miho hesitated, looking downcast, then said, "I'm... I'm sorry to disappoint you, but... I've given up sensha-dō. That's actually why I'm here. Because the school doesn't do it."
"... Oh," said Yukari awkwardly. "I... oh." Then, pulling herself together, she said, "Well, it's a great school, even so. I think you'll like it."
"I hope so," said Miho.
"I'm sorry I upset your friend," said Miho contritely as she unpacked.
"Eh, she'll be OK," Nora replied easily, leaning against the doorframe. "She's not really upset, she's just a little disappointed. You're the second Tankery rockstar she's met, and we've both given up the game." She grinned. "It's statistically anomalous."
Miho chose not to take up the implied question there, asking one of her own instead. "Have you known each other long?"
"Since Monday," Nora said.
Miho finished putting away her latest handful of clothes in her bureau, then turned a surprised look to her suitemate. "Really?"
"Yeah," said Nora. "It's like that with me sometimes. I make friends fast. Enemies, too," she allowed with a shrug. "'Cause I say what I think."
"Well," said Miho with a smile, "I don't see anything wrong with that." She put her empty suitcase away in the closet, then unpacked a few items from her duffel bag. As a sort of final touch, after a moment's consideration, she placed a stuffed animal at the head of her bed, then stepped back, hands on hips, and surveyed the scene.
"There!" she said with audible satisfaction.
Nora stepped into the room and leaned down to pick up the stuffed toy for a closer look. "Hello there..."
The doll itself was nothing too outlandish, a yellow teddy bear of the standard sort of size and shape, but it had been customized in a way that Nora found quite arresting. It looked like it had been in some kind of bear car crash or something, and only recently released from bear hospital: black eye, arms bandaged, one of them in a sling, one ear completely covered in gauze, the other ear and one of its feet showing signs of Frankensteinian reattachment.
"That's Boko," said Miho cheerfully.
Nora considered the bear a moment longer. "Heh! Cute..." She glanced up, met Miho's eye, and winked. "In a weird sort of way." Then, as Miho smilingly blushed, Nora went on, "OK, so! Let's get to dinner before all the good stuff is gone, and then we can get your uniforms squared away."
"Is it really all right to go to the dining hall first?" Miho wondered.
"Yeah, it'll be fine. You won't be expected to be in uniform until morning, since you got here after class today," Nora told her. "So let's get a move on!"
"OK," Miho agreed, preceding her out of the room. Nora stood a moment longer, looking thoughtfully at Boko, and gave him a fond smile.
"Yeah, I feel you, buddy," she said, then put the bear back on Miho's bed and hurried out after her.
DSM Panic! The Panzermädchen Files
File 01: "Survivors"
a Future Imperfect Mini-Story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
special to the Eyrie Productions Discussion Forum
© 2016 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited