The vomit flew over Specialist Jane Weiss' head and splattered messily onto Trooper Smithson.
"Christ on a bike, Weiss, watch where you're puking!"
"Sorry," Weiss gasped out between coughs. "It's not ex— " A pause; more choking. "Not exactly obvious where it's gonna go. And this place is—" Weiss doubled up again.
"Yeah, no shit." Smithson shrugged, sending some partially-digested food spiraling away from him. "That's why you shoulda taken anti-emetics, like you were told. Crow," he added as an afterthought, while scanning Direction Four.
Specialist Zheng cut in. "Facility Two is nothing, Probationary, so if you can't even deal with this, you better just quit now."
Weiss retched again. The cautions from the bottle of anti-memetics rose unbidden into the mush of her forebrain:
Potential Operational Hazards:
- May decrease comprehension of rapid operational changes.
- May cause mild to moderate vertigo and/or dizziness.
- May cause moderate to severe nausea.
Between heaves, Weiss heard MTF Theta-90's commander in her earpiece.
"Formation One? Dimaccio. Smithson, shut up and concentrate on your job. And you, Zheng. I remember what a puke fountain you used to be." A moment of dead air. "Weiss. You're not the first to make that mistake and you probably won't be the last. But you only have one chamber to go, and someone who just sits there puking like a two-year-old is useless to an MTF. So get your shit together. Dimaccio out."
Weiss wiped her mouth with the back of her glove and straightened up. Or, at least, straightened in a direction that locally resembled 'up.'
Most of Mobile Task Force Theta-90's training took place in a complex known as the Anomalous Geometry Training Center — or, to its regular visitors, "Escherville."
AGTC Facility Two, for example, was described by the General Training Manual as
An area designed to induce medium-scale distortions of the perception of direction and orientation
and, perhaps more accurately, by Trooper Jason Smithson as
That gaff where they all reverse gravity and turn it, sort of like, sideways, and you walk down some stairs and come out, except then it's the wall and that.
Even so, Facility Two was relatively mild by Theta-90 standards. As such, it was usually where a rookie's first practical training exercise took place. And a rookie's first PTX was a significant milestone in their MTF career.
So when Task Force Commander Paul Dimaccio had briefed Specialist Weiss that she was to join a couple other Task Force members for PTX: MORNING STROLL, she had nodded, said "Yes, sir," the appropriate number of times, signed the necessary paperwork, and then giddily made her way back to her quarters.
Giddiness, she later considered, was something she could have used less of.
"Did you scan that feature dead center, Delta-Five?"
Weiss mentally scrabbled for the correct direction scheme. "Remind me which direction's Delta-Five?"
Smithson snorted. "Piece of piss, Weiss. It's the one that isn't One, Two, Three, Four, or Six." Weiss was really getting to know the Task Force's token Brit. Chiefly, she was getting to know how contemptuous he was of her.
Weiss' earpiece clicked. "Weiss? Dimaccio. Delta-Five is to the rear."
"Dimaccio, this is Weiss. Thanks for the reminder, sir, over."
"Ooh, get you with your voice procedure!" Smithson again. "Are you a secret super special soldier, Weiss?"
"Smithson, Dimaccio. Shut the fuck up during instruction." Click. "Weiss. That being said, you don't need to use full VP unless specifically briefed to do so. Now tell me what I meant by 'the rear' just now."
Weiss took a breath, let it out, and answered. "It's relative to the formation's designated direction of advance, sir."
"By the formation commander."
Zheng cut in. "Dimaccio, One Actual. May I?"
Weiss groaned inwardly.
"One Actual, go for it. Dimaccio out."
Zheng glanced over her shoulder, addressing Weiss directly. "You don't get off that easily, Probationary. Why do we use this system?"
"Because, uh, in a lot of the environments we have to deploy into, normal direction schemes don't make any sense."
"Do we always use this system? If not, when do we use it?"
"We, uh," — Weiss paused, turning slightly — "we only use it for broadly Euclidean spaces, where it makes sense to use it."
"Keep your eyes on Delta-Five, Probationary." Zheng never referred to Weiss as 'Specialist'. "Tell me two other environments where we'd use different schemes. Specify the—"
Smithson didn't let her finish. "Contact, contact, contact! Hostiles inbound, Delta-Four!"
Weiss glanced to her right as she dropped down — no, she corrected herself, towards Delta-One — to see several training drones appearing from various crevices in the Direction Four walls (floors? Ceilings?). Weiss knew, from the kind of experience she'd rather forget, that just because their weapons were non-lethal didn't mean they were non-painful.
As Zheng and Weiss scrambled into what cover they could find on their local surfaces, Smithson dropped to a kneeling position, bringing his weapon up from ready.
"Fuckin' hell! Fast little buggers, ain't they?" Smithson shifted position slightly, bracing the rifle against a metal bar. "Gonna have to cheat, then…" CRACK-CRACK-CRACK. "Shit!" CRACK. "Fuckin' hell! Come on, you little bastard…" CRACK. "Get in!"
And, just like that, it was over. Weiss saw the last of the drones fall towards Delta-Six, obviously their designated 'down' direction. Smithson had to duck to avoid drone fragments falling past him. The entire incident had taken no more than a few seconds.
"You beauty!" Smithson grinned. "Alright, you lot, drama's over. Super Smithson saves the day again."
"Is that so," said Zheng, unfolding herself from makeshift cover.
"Fuckin' right it is, Zhengie! They didn't even get a taze off."
"Yes." Zheng indicated the remains of one of the drones. "Probably because they weren't even armed."
"Yeah, well. I don't remember your arse bein' able to hit the broad side of a barn, neither, Zhengie, so I'd shut it if I was you."
Zheng colored slightly, but said nothing in response.
The radio clicked again. "Smithson? Dimaccio. I'd like to remind you that Specialist Zheng is the designated formation commander."
"Yessir. Even though she's just a specialist," added Smithson, not quite quietly enough.
"That so, Trooper? I guess you're too good to work under a Specialist. Well, when you're done there, report to the Watch Commander for four nights' fire watch. Because only Super Smithson can protect the Angle Grinders from things what go bump in the night."
"You're the hero Theta-90 needs, Smithson. Dimaccio out."
Weiss was trying her best not to smirk. Zheng's mouth curled up, ever so subtly, at the very edge.
"Now that's over with, I think it's time we pressed on. There's a doorway here. Weiss, take point and lead us towards the doorway — which is in what direction?"
This time, Weiss' response was immediate. "Delta-Three, Specialist. Because it's designated forward relative to us."
"Correct." Zheng nodded slightly. "When you're ready, Probationary. No need for a tactical approach for the next phase. Just open the door and walk through."
"Will do." Weiss cautiously approached the door, grasped the handle, turned it, pushed, and walked through.
Onto what all her senses told her was a ceiling.
There was a short pause.
Very slowly, Zheng looked down at herself. Equally slowly, she looked back up at Weiss.
And then, abruptly and with a sudden smile, towards Trooper Smithson.
"Super Smithson! A man of many talents. I hope your many talents extend to being good at doing my laundry!"
"You— the fuck— " Smithson swallowed and decided not to push his luck. "Fine. Whatever."
"You truly are our greatest hero, Trooper." Zheng beamed at him. "Probationary? When you're ready."
Weiss allowed herself a small smile as she wiped her mouth again. "Yes, Specialist."
And Formation One moved toward the exit.