Usual disclaimers: I do not own th-(cut off for the sake of plain laziness).


"Getting on air with a prototype Striker unit fresh off preflight checks, and then using the very same Striker unit to simulate high-speed strafing runs against an enlisted non-Witch member of the military, and then crashing with it... Major Macmillan, I suppose you do know what happens if any word of this gets out of the base? Never mind the obviously furious faces of your ground engineers back in the hangar, as well as our Corporal here you obviously need an apology for; the people outside this camp isn't going to take to this incident kindly."

Focusing her gaze on the Major right next to me, the Brigadier General started on her lecture.

Macmillan's face was kind of pitiful to say the least. A mix of confusion and realization of what she had done all over.

"For starters," Briggs spoke again, "that Striker unit you just crashed was the latest set of a new-generation equipment sent over to Britannia for testing from Liberion. On you. A customized set catered to your skills and experience, intended to succeed your current unit. Perhaps if you kept your ego in check you would have never gotten into this mess in the first place. Perhaps you wouldn't even have been bothering our latest and only male addition to put workforce here, and an instructor to boot!"

Well, uh, miss..., I'm grateful that you're scolding her for me, but perhaps we didn't need that last bit. Being a man isn't anymore special than being a woman, for me at least.

Hearing that last bit, Macmillan's face turned sour.

"W-Why do I have to care? I can just manage it fine with my old Striker unit anyway."

Whether you can manage it with your old unit or not is not the problem here you bloody idio-

"Whether you can manage it with your old unit or not is not the problem here you bloody idiot."

Did the Brigadier General just read my mind!?

"Despite being a Major I must say that I am very surprised, for lack of a better word..." Her words starting to shake a bit, "... to your god damned attitude on everything you do."

There was a sudden chill inside the office with the Brigadier's stressed-out cold tone in her words.

"You are a Witch holding the rank of Major retained from the day you transferred from Liberion to serve in this unit. I do not deny that in terms of Neuroi kill count you are a gem, but outside of that I have to question how. The Hell. Did you. Earn that 'Major' title. Was it purely because of the kill count, or was it because of your looks, hell... Could it be even because you..."

She paused for a bit, took a deep breath and breathed out.

"... never mind. As angry I might be at the moment I should exercise control over that, and focus on other things at hand. Major Harvey Macmillan, from this point onwards for a month or until your Striker unit gets fixed, you are grounded. That means no operations for you. You'll still attend courses as usual, and I'll make it that should you be in poor behavior during that time, extra disciplinary action will be taken against you," she said. And after taking a deeper breath she bellowed, "Are we clear!?"

Flinching from Brigg's sudden exclamation, Macmillan blurted out a hurried "Y-yes!" in reflex.

And then the Brigadier General turned towards me.

"Corporal Jean Titor," she began. "For this month, I want you to concentrate on jungle training for the new recruits. You are to report to the Colonel on progress of the girls' training. And also another thing…" she said, while glancing towards Macmillan, "... if she tries something funny on you again, you are to report to me. Understood?"

"Loud and clear, Miss," I responded, unhesitatingly.

"All right. Both of you may now be dismissed, and continue to work on your assignments for the day. … And by assignments I mean doing your apologies, both verbal and written, Major. Otherwise expect the higher-ups to come knocking next time."

The two of us exited the Brigadier General's office.

While I was pretty content to enjoy the silence as I walk through the corridor, someone next to me didn't seem to agree with that idea.

Muttering something under her breath, to which I assume to be grumbling about having to get lectured by Briggs on a number of things starting from the crash, she was throwing a few leers at me.

I was not really in a mood to be a wisecracking enlisted soldier taking subtle jabs at a commissioned officer, plus I would love to think that I am not a dick - at least not in the literal sense of it, mind you - so to begin, I broke the silence between us.

"Major," I started. "Hangout at the water cooler. How does that sound?"

She immediately returned me a stare with a raised eyebrow. "Huh?"

"You know, today has been quite the long day so I guess we do need to chill. Also I'd like to talk with you for a bit."

"... All right."

Huh, I was expecting a bit more resistance from that. After all it's not very easy to have someone who hated your guts to begin with to accept an offer for a chill-out in hopes of making peace, I reckon. Then I suppose she didn't really mean to be such a bitch, but maybe I'm being a bit too optimistic about that.

– –

At the water cooler.

We both took a cup each and started pouring some cold water into our cups.

Without saying a word, we started drinking.

It wasn't until a minute or so later that she decided to break the silence.

"So," she began. "What did you want to tell me? Some words of spite for trying to kill you but failing?"

I let out a weak chuckle.

"No. But you know, deep down inside there," I pointed to her chest, "maybe you ain't really bad at all. You know, I like maintaining good assumptions about people no matter how terrible they may be. Well, I have seen a few irredeemable pieces of shit throughout my life so compared to them you might even be a saint."

She gave me a brief puzzled look, but then let out a chuckle herself.

"Pointing straight to my chest... You are a ballsy one aren't you. See, this is why I don't like your guts. You're not so easy compared to the ones I've known before. Behold, world, for this is a man who does not immediately wag his front tail at the sight of me," she quipped.

"Quite the proud one aren't you. Well certainly my first impression of you did not go off the mark."

"But of course," she snorted. "So, what kind of mess did you end up in, the one that landed your sorry ass to this hellhole?"

"Ruining my CO's lawn."

She returned me a raised eyebrow.

"Lies."

"Not kidding about that. Garden's messed up real bad by yours truly."

"Why the hell would you ransack a CO's lawn? Are you looking for some weed!?" she exclaimed, in a puzzled tone.

"Bingo," I said, "I heard he's been keeping a stash of it in the lawn and those are some pretty expensive ones in the black market so... Well there you go."

"You don't look like you smoke these stuff though?"

"Of course not. It's about the money, heh heh."

"Wicked!" she pointed at me using her two pointer fingers, and a naughty wink. "Now that does make sense on the 'ruining CO's lawn' bit."

I finished my cup of water, and went for a refill.

"I guess I like you better now than before," she continued. And then suddenly, it was at this moment I realized something was grabbing my rear. "Now that I am looking at you better, you sure..." she said as she stroked my rear, "have quite the package for a man. Your hips look like they move real well, I'd love for a test drive myself."

"Major Harvey Macmillan," I breathed out, "I believe you do realize that despite being several ranks lower than you I am one of the people who can report directly to the Brigadier General of your misdeeds?"

"Aww, you're no fun. Try to enjoy this a bit will you?"

"Not in the mood for rule breaking now, Major," I quipped. "Besides, you have apology paper works to make... And here comes your, uh, friends."

I glanced over to my side as I realized some extra people in our company having just arrived to this scene.

Captain Urquhart just shook her head in disbelief while Lieutenant Eden was sporting a naughty grin on her face. On the other side of the spectacle I also realized the presence of another figure that seemed to be waiting for me - Gurney.

"I-urgh, I can't believe this. You were just getting lectured by the Brigadier General and now you're out causing trouble again for this gentleman here... Just how much shame do you even have!? We're truly sorry, Corporal. She's just like that..."

Well, you ought not to apologize so much on her stead, Captain. Otherwise I'm just going to remember you by the name 'Captain Sorry.' This is so going into my diary...

"As expected from our shameless flight lead. Goes for a cuppa right after a spicy lecture session."

Some good words coming from Macmillan's fellow person, I reckon; if that grip on my rear during the last unarmed combat training classroom was anything to go by.

Meanwhile next to me was someone with eyes telling me she's expecting me to tell her what to do next, Private Heather Gurney.

"Looks like time's up for me over here as well, I shall be returning to my post because I have to set up my training curriculum for these recruits under my tutelage," I said, waving my goodbye to the trio with a salute. The Lieutenant returned my gesture with a wave and a mischievous grin, while the Captain returned a sharp salute.

Well then. Time to get busy with Gurney and her fellow recruits...

– –

INTERMISSION BEGIN

Europe, time and date unknown.

"The Hermit, Justice, The World… Quite a doubtful reading, I have to say."

"… I beg your pardon, ma'am?"

"Oh, just some fortune-telling. Say, Sergeant, have you always been a loner?"

"As far as I can remember, ma'am."

"But you do work well with groups, don't you? Though even with that you just seem quite… detached. I guess you do prefer being a lone wolf, though. One more thing, you seem to be so serious all the time. Don't you ever like let loose even for just a bit?"

"I am afraid I am not following you here, ma'am. Besides, if you mean that I need to take a break from time to time, I believe I am pretty well-rested."

"Oh, come on! That's what I meant! Ever so stiff, just like that. From the first day I saw you till now! Tell me, is anyone bullying you in the squad? Even though you're the leader, you look like you're barely fourteen."

"I believe I am doing fine, ma'am. It might not be becoming of me as a platoon leader to say this… but I have my ways in dealing with the unruly ones. There were indeed some complaints at first but we managed to iron out our differences of opinion now."

"Huh… fine, if you say so. Ehem. You were not thinking of finding a girlfriend over here do you? Coming all the way from that Southeast Asian country to Fuso and then getting reassigned here… are you following someone?… It'd better not be..."

"… Ma'am, I am merely here for my assignment as instructed. I arrived here for my post as instructed, and I did not come here with the prospect of finding a future spouse to settle down with, moreso a Witch of all things. For me it is duty first and foremost… Looks like it is time for me to return to my barracks. Have a good day."

"… Ah, he left."

"There he went off again…"

"That Sergeant, it was that Wing Commander lady of all people giving her time to meet him and he just brushed her off like that?"

"That… that's the one lady who's always with Wing Commander Litvyak isn't she?"

"She isn't just 'the one lady', she's 'The Evasive' you know!? The Sergeant should feel lucky to be able to talk to her at all…!"

"… Eavesdropping is not a nice thing to do, gentlemen."

"G-gah! Sergeant!? But you were there just a minute ago!"

"That's the Sergeant for you, I bet he'll screw us a few times over if we have to play tag against him."

"Well, he's great all right… save for the fact that he cannot get a hit on her at all. It's almost like bullying, I'm not surprised if she's really doing it-"

"Hey, that's taboo-!"

"Oops."

"… You do realize that it is 'The Evasive' I have to be up against, do you? The Wing Commander can dodge even the most sophisticated air defense systems we have today, her being a Neuroi War ace notwithstanding. What do you think I am to do with such an opponent?"

"Sergeant, sorry, we're just-"

"Sigh. Gentlemen, let's return to the barracks and prepare for dinner. Since we have nothing to do today, I won't excuse any tardiness. Chop chop, let us move."

"Alrighty then…"

"… Come again?"

"…! I mean, sir! Yes, sir!"

INTERMISSION END

– –

Morning briefings.

Ah, who would ever love going to one so early in the morning. The mere mention of it still makes me want to groan out loud, and it has been that way since I was still fresh as a Private.

However I'm now tasked with one, being an instructor myself. And now here I am, giving one to a group of girls. Not just any girls, those are Witches.

In the perspective of a certain group of people, I suppose I can expect this line of thinking: "Whee! A group of Witches, defenders of mankind, all for myself!"

Driven by the willy, huh? Won't be surprised if their brains were really there after all.

But enough of that for now. It's focus time.

… Though the scenery right in front of me doesn't really look like it has much difference with a school camping session, so part of the tension somehow went away.

In order to prepare the girls for camping in the jungle on missions, I was researching a good area nearby the base to be used for a camping area. To be honest, I only considered doing that because I got warned in advance by the Colonel to not be too harsh on these girls. So if it really was all up to me I'd give them an experience not unlike a baptism of fire. Makes sense, though, you definitely don't want to be losing a group of cadet Witches to a sudden Neuroi ambush. And definitely you don't want your record as team lead cum instructor be smeared with that kind of stain.

… So I thought, in order to help me justify things to my own self, but I still cannot shake away the feeling this scene gave me. The feeling that this looks like a straight Girl Scouts' camping.

Then another feeling struck me, and it wasn't even any better. Worse, I'd say.

That I am training young girls who, for some, do not look like they're past seventeen to prepare for the harshness of the jungle. The jungle ain't anyone's enemy, but it's sure as hell ain't anyone's friend either.

That I am training young girls the art of war. Child soldiers are not exactly anything new. But the mere notion of it isn't anything palatable to talk about either. … Save for that one guy. His growth's somehow gone retarded, not telling you why though.

That, some day, I have to deal with the pain of losing one of these girls in missions. … Argh, just thinking that already gave me a headache.

And then I felt a tap on my side.

"...ir…? S…"

"Huh?"

"S-sir?"

Ah, the always ever-so-helpful Gurney. Say, where did that headache go again?

I turned towards her, casting away all the negative thoughts I had a minute ago. "What is it?"

Her eyes turned towards a pair of her teammates, one of them fidgeting. … Oh, yes.

"Let's see… The loo, eh?"

Abashedly, she nodded. … God, please remind me that I am supervising a military camp consisting of Witches and not a Girl Scout's. Because I feel like a parent looking at their children.

With a smile I replied to her thus.

"Alright, I guess it would do good for me to ask you to pass this around to the other ladies: If you need to relief yourself, go in threes. Two shall stand guard while one goes for it. Take turns if all three of you need to go. Oh, and this goes without saying: No sneaking back into our base for the WC. Remember, there are no such things deep in the jungle. Take care."

And with that said, off they go for their business.

As I see the girls go off, I began recalling something. Something that I should have been aware since I arrived here, but seemed to have gradually pushed to the back of my mind.

So far things has been relatively peaceful and I managed to get on some certain people's good side here, and now that I think of it, knowing what I have heard about this particular base, something felt off.

Did I blend in a bit too well for me to almost forget about this uncomfortable feeling? Was it because of that I feel somewhat complacent? I came here in anticipation of having the unpleasant things I've been feeling here to rear its ugly head, but…

… It's as if it knows I am waiting for it so that I can pounce on it right away.

So I thought, as I raised my rifle to my eye level, staring into its telescopic sight.

Well then.

Will I be done in first, or, will I be able to stop whatever's lurking in wait for me here…?


[ Author's Notes ]

Hello again. As expected my interest is in heavy swings like my mood, plus I think I'm piling on my bad habit of "having plans that I never execute." Which isn't anything nice that I know of. I mean, that habit of mine is bad. Really.

As a result I decided to end this shorter than where I would have liked it to be (previous chapters had me going into page 10 for each of them in Word, so…) so that I can finally push chapter out and make it stop bothering my mind any further.

Also I think I might have dropped the ball by namedropping and then proceeding to cameo certain already-known entities in the Witches universe when I do not really know them as well enough as I would possibly be had I followed their main series. Granted, I only followed Brave Witches, but it is a show I am guilty of the "Next 5 Seconds" button spamfest offense.

The Witches' universe is one which I admit I am only familiar with the bits that interest me (here's looking at you, a certain Major Porsche). The rest that doesn't fit the bill is nothing more than something for me to acknowledge about the Witches' universe in general, but I guess that's what you get by subscribing to the 'Writing By the Seat of Your Pants' philosophy, something I am a very, very, a big fan of - and guilty of.

All right, maybe I should stop for now and start concentrating on other things. Until we meet again.