Theis was already in the control room when Ken arrived. “How did he even make it through Recruit training?”
“Jason Wolfe?” Ken shook his head slightly as he took a seat at the control panel. “This is nothing like his behavior a few months ago.”
“You know him?”
Ken hesitated before answering. “I worked with both him and Indigo Turner in Raqmu. We were about to fly home when we got word Thyla’s transport was missing and we were sent to investigate.”
“So you found Jeff.” Grief and anger warred in Theis eyes.
Ken nodded and steered the discussion back to the trainees. “They hadn’t completed Commander testing yet, but both of them were solid on the mission. Jason was focused, professional, and compassionate.” He studied the young man through the field monitors. “Maybe Raqmu had a bigger effect on him than anyone realized.”
Theis took a deep breath and forced his attention to the trainees. “Are you going to turn off the traffic and pedestrians?”
Ken shook his head. “I want to see how they handle getting the work done with the added distractions and dangers.”
“So this isn’t just punishment for acting up.”
“Technically, it isn’t punishment at all.” Ken cracked a grin. “I arranged all this weeks ago when I started planning lessons. Their antics in the dining hall just gave me an excuse to turn up the pressure without it being obvious that this is part of their training.”
Through the field monitors they watched as Indigo took control of the class and had Jason hack into the monitoring system to access field cameras. Ken quirked a brow at how easily the young man broke into the systems, but nodded in approval as they used the information to prioritize tasks. She soon had the class divided into teams and dispatched throughout the field to begin their work.”
“She varied their talents and sent them to places where the teams would be most effective.” Theis looked impressed.
“She’s a natural leader,” Ken noted. “But that,” he nodded towards the display, “comes from experience. Another area where her records don’t tell the full story.”
“So how do we handle this?” Theis leaned back in his chair.
“What do you think?”
Theis grinned. “Am I being tested, too?” He looked back at the monitor. “Since the others are focused on a mission, that leaves the two of us to look into this. Your days are full with training and technically I’m only cleared for duty if there’s an emergency. Our resources are limited, so I say we take a cue from Commander Turner and prioritize our tasks. She may be hiding something, but so far there hasn’t been indication she’s done anything wrong. Wolfe’s attitude is the more immediate concern.”
Ken nodded. “Agreed. He’s already had one command mission since his promotion, but I can’t access the mission files to see how it went. With his behavior today, I’m not comfortable with the thought of him leading a sing-along, let alone a field mission.”
“The way he cracked into the systems is another concern. He blew right through the field monitor security like this isn’t the first time.” Theis frowned slightly. “He wouldn’t be the first one we know to do this, and the others have been one hundred percent dedicated to Dawn’s Light and our mission. But it’s still troublesome.”
“His hacking abilities aren’t completely unknown — he patched into the transport van’s monitors with his flexscreen as part of figuring out what happened — but he does seem a little too familiar with official systems. I don’t want to assume anything nefarious on his part yet, but Evans’ office should be notified.” Ken noted Theis’ frown. “Given their hunt for Alfath sympathizers, they should be informed of anything suspicious. But I’ll talk with his instructors first. I want as complete a picture as possible before reporting it.”
Theis nodded. “That’s fair. I hate the thought of putting another innocent person through their interrogations, but it would be worse to let an enemy infiltrate the Order. I’ll see about pulling up his records and looking into his background some.” He looked back to the field monitor. “What about Turner?”
Ken studied the display, where the students were completing their tasks in much less time than Ken anticipated. He shook his head slightly. “Other than stimjuice assault, she’s done everything by the book. If she’s hiding anything, it’s going to be buried deep — which is a troubling thought — but I don’t want to bring others into this until I have more than niggling feelings.”
A chime sounded from Ken’s watch. He reached over to turn it off without taking his eyes from monitoring the class.
Theis glanced at the clock. “Drasil?”
Ken nodded. “They should have finished mission prep and be taking off about now.”
“You’re keeping track?”
“I have no involvement with any missions pertaining to the Alfath,” Ken recited. “That said, I grew up here and have been active duty for forty years. It’s entirely possible I may be accustomed to setting mission schedules.”
“It’s not exactly a stretch of the imagination that you’d be aware of your wife’s travel, either.” Theis sat up. “Speaking of which, congratulations! Little Girl told me you were bonded about a month ago. I’m very happy for both of you.”
“Thank you.” Ken bowed his head with a smile. “I’ll admit I was inclined to wait, but Angie convinced me that twenty-two years was long enough.”
“Why did you want to wait?”
“The Director obviously doesn’t trust me. I didn’t want to drag Angie into my troubles, but she said she wasn’t afraid and that we’d be stronger together. She’s right, but I still worry what will happen to her once Rett is ready to return to full duty and Evans pushes me out of Dawn’s Light.”
Theis frowned. “Do you really think that’s what he’s going for?”
“He knows what Thyla is capable of and that she’s on the loose, but still treats Caelynn as our greatest threat. She and I are magically bonded, so naturally that makes me suspect, especially since every other paladin to cast a Transference either died or was removed from Dawn’s Light.”
Ken shrugged and shook his head slightly. “I’m trying to prepare myself, but I honestly don’t know what I’ll do. Evans wouldn’t be foolish enough to let me remain in the valley as a protected civilian, but I can’t ask Angie to give up everything to leave with me. And then there’s Bet: she should stay here to continue her therapy, but would likely insist on leaving, too.” He cracked a slight grin. “She’ll probably ground me if I try to argue with her.”
Theis chuckled. “She is a determined lady, isn’t she?”
“She had to be to raise me.” Ken rose from his seat. “Looks like they are reassembling. Did they get everything?”
Theis quickly scanned through the field cameras. “Yeah… uh… no. They didn’t finish resetting the take-away place on 5th and Hastings.”
Ken quirked a brow. “It was the main objective in the exercise today — how could they miss it?”
Theis shrugged. “They started, but it’s nowhere near complete. Looks like they just gave up on it.”
The exhausted trainees gathered by the entrance, reporting in the completion of their assignments. Indigo checked off each zone as the teams reported back, and had the class lined up by the time Ken arrived. “The field has been reset, sir,” she announced as she offered him the tablet.
Ken ignored the tablet as he looked over the trainees. He let the silence stretch on until Indigo pulled the tablet back, then lifted his voice. “Paladin Theis, has Field F been reset?”
In the control room, Theis hit the button to activate the field’s holographic emitters, and images of the take-away shop appeared before the class.
Ken paced through the over-turned chairs and scattered carry-out boxes. “I must have missed when they redecorated the shop. Tell me, Commander Turner, do the reset instructions say anything about steamed saber palm leaves hanging from the lights?”
Indigo’s jaw clenched as she looked at the hologram. “No, sir.”
“Who is responsible for this zone?”
“I am, sir.” She kept her gaze on Ken.
Though Ken kept his gaze on her, he could see the way Jason shifted his weight through the standoff. “You knowingly left the work unfinished and then tried to report to me that the field was reset?”
“I assumed command, which makes me responsible.”
“Very well,” Ken nodded and turned to address the rest of the class. “The rest of you are dismissed. Commander Turner will remain and ensure the field is, indeed, reset.”
Two hours later, Indigo finished cleaning up the shop and did a final inspection of the entire field. She returned to the gates to find Ken and Theis waiting for her.
“Paladin Theis will be assisting with training while Paladin Brooks-Creed is deployed,” Ken explained as she gawked at Theis. “So who was supposed to reset the take-away shop?”
Indigo turned her focus to Ken and assumed a stoic expression. “It was my responsi…”
“Yes, it was your responsibility,” Ken cut her off. “You assumed command of the class, and so you assumed responsibility to see the mission complete. But that isn’t what I asked.”
She hesitated a moment longer before answering. “Jason Wolfe and I were resetting the shop when other teams started reporting in that they were finished. Jason told me to go ahead, that he would finish up in the shop so I could double-check the other locations. I should have checked and confirmed it was properly reset.”
“You should have.” Ken agreed as he opened the gates and stepped aside so she could exit, and the three of them walked back towards the Lyceum. “But we should also be able to depend on one another to do our jobs.”
“So what now, sirs?” Indigo couldn’t mask the concern in her eyes. “What will happen to Jason?”
“What do you think should happen?” Ken kept his voice neutral.
She shrugged. “He was always dependable, sir. You saw what he was like in Raq…” Her voice faltered as she cut her eyes to Theis. She cleared her throat. “He’s always been diligent in his duty since the first day of Recruit training. Today, though…” She shook her head. “Something’s off with him. You made it clear that we aren’t getting any more chances, but I think it would be Dawn’s Light’s loss if he were kicked out for one bad day.”
Ken remained quiet as they passed through the main doors of the Lyceum and paused in the lobby. “Your concerns are noted, Commander Turner. Dismissed.”
Ken and Theis waited until she had disappeared down the hall to Ground Tower. Ken turned to Theis. “As Head of the Order and as your friend, I strongly advise you go back to your apartment and relax.” Theis frowned slightly, but Ken explained. “Our numbers are stretched thin, and unless Evans changes his stance on my participation in missions, we may need to rely on you to take up our slack. You just got your new hand today…”
“Don’t call it that,” Theis interjected. “This glove may prove useful in-time, but it is not now, and never will be, a part of me.”
Ken dipped his head in apology. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to imply it was anything more than a gadget. You just got your new cybernetic grasping device…”
“Deluxe cybernetic grasping device,” Theis interrupted once more, this time with a grin. “I may not like wearing it, but this baby has all the bells and whistles.”
Ken laughed. “Regardless, I imagine you would like a break from it. Even if not, I don’t want you pushing yourself too hard too fast.”
“Alright,” Theis relented. “I’ll go get some rest. What about you?”
“I’m going to check into some of those things we talked about.” He cracked a mirthless smile. “I may as well make use of my office while I can.”
“Call if you need me.” Theis clapped Ken on the shoulder as he turned to head to the lifts to the paladin apartments.