Meeting the Tamed Bear
“God is the shield of mercy, and God is the sword of justice.”
-from the First Canto, regular worship
Aymon's office, at least the relatively public one that he kept for business in Stonecourt, was immaculate. His large, wooden desk faced away from windows behind him. The desk was clear of any papers, since nearly all his important work and correspondence was done digitally, and securely. In front of the desk, there were two couches around a coffee table.
Aymon himself sat at his desk, waiting for his three young apprentices to arrive, and reading a memo from his intelligence team while he waited. It would be the first time he would see the three of them together.
His personal bodyguard, Halen, a ruddy faced giant of a man, stood at his right hand shoulder. Though Aymon was perfectly capable of defending himself, he recognized the helpfulness of an extra pair of eyes, or several. Halen was not a member of either Stonecourt's security force or the Imperial Fleet; he was employed specifically by Aymon and answered to no one else. They had known each other for many years, and Aymon trusted Halen completely.
"They're on their way," Halen said.
Without looking up from his dossier, Aymon nodded.
"ETA?" Aymon asked.
"Three minutes to get through security," Halen said.
"Anything unusual coming from that direction?"
Halen responded by placing a heavy hand on Aymon's shoulder and 'broadcasting' to Aymon what he had been listening to through the power. In this case that was the shining presence and unguarded emotions of the apprentices being led through security checkpoints in Stonecourt.
Two of the presences had clear emotional signals coming off of them. That, Aymon knew, would be Yan and Sid. Yan seemed tense and fearful, but determined. Sid was excited and jittery. The third apprentice, Kino, had up the strongest mental barrier Halen had ever encountered. All of Halen's attempts to discreetly measure her status slid off her like drops of water from the back of a duck. Still, this wasn't anything new. It had been the same way when Aymon had met her for the interview.
"What do you think of this group, Halen?"Aymon asked. Halen's hand had not come off of Aymon's shoulder, but he didn't mind its presence.
"They don't know anything. Other than that, I don't have much of an opinion."
"Do they remind you anything of what I was like as an apprentice?" Aymon asked.
"You were older and more experienced when I met you. And if you remember it was under quite different circumstances than picking out a couple of sterile Academy graduates."
Aymon barked out a laugh. "It was nothing if not a clean operation."
"Are you sure you can spare me? There are other people who can teach them the basics." Halen asked, changing the topic.
"And there are others who can watch my back, at least briefly. I don't really trust anyone else to instill the necessary knowledge into their young, impressionable minds." Aymon reached up his hand to put on Halens warm hand that was still resting heavily on his shoulder. "And it will only be for a few hours a day, and you will be with me the rest of the time."
"You're getting sentimental in your old age," Halen said, extracting his hand. "They're right outside the door."
"I suppose we should let them in, then." Aymon reached under his desk and slid his finger over the button that would open the door.
At the other end of the room, the heavy door swung open. Aymon's personal secretary, Melina Rosario, a high energy woman with braided grey hair, led the three young apprentices in.
"Do you need anything else, sir?" Rosario asked.
"Not at the moment, Ms. Rosario. Though if you could keep Admiral Vaalks off my tail for the next half hour, that would be extremely appreciated."
"Certainly, sir." She bobbed her head and slipped out the door, which swung shut behind her, leaving the three apprentices standing and looking around the room. Sid, the bald one, was standing in the front, radiating nervous energy. Behind him, Kino and Yan stood together, though Yan towered over both her compatriots. Kino's black braids were twined up around her head, rather than hanging by her ears as they had been last time he had seen her. All three were wearing the black cassock and short red cape that Aymon had given to them. It was a variation on the uniform that Academy graduates who entered the military wore, and similar to Aymon's own dress, though he had scarlet trim on his cassock rather than the short cape.
Aymon stood up from his seat and walked around to the front of his desk. Halen remained where he was, looking dispassionately at the group.
"Welcome to Stonecourt," Aymon said, holding out his hand. "Sid, Yan, Kino."
Aymon saw a look of annoyance cross Sid's face, and felt, rather than saw, Halen tense up behind him and the tension in the room rise a few degrees. He didn't miss the swift kick Yan gave to the back of Sid's leg, though Yan was clearly doing her best to keep it under wraps. Sid's face briefly twisted, but he got himself under control. Halen relaxed slightly. Aymon knew Halen's original posturing behind him had been all for show, but it was effective.
"Hello, First Sandreas," Kino said in an even voice. "It's an honor to be here."
"Please, come take a seat," Aymon said, gesturing to the couches. He sat down on one and waited for the three apprentices to arrange themselves on the opposite couch. They sat down with Yan in the middle.
"So," Aymon said, "We have much to discuss and relatively little time to do it in, as my schedule today is rather full. Have you all made your acquaintances with each other?"
The three looked at each other and nodded.
"Is Kino the only one among you who has a voice?" Aymon asked.
"No, sir." Yan spoke up, this time. "We all met yesterday."
"Good. Please call me Aymon or Sandreas, at least in private conversation. There is little that bogs down speaking more than unnecessary formality. We will be working together closely enough and long enough that it is best to dispense with it immediately. Is your housing all right? I had my secretary arrange it for you. It should be relatively secure."
"It's good," Yan said. "Thank you. Though-" She stopped, cutting herself off.
"Yes?" Aymon asked.
"Is it all really necessary?" She finished. "The security, anyway?"
"I have no doubt it will become necessary soon," Aymon said. "That brings me very neatly to my next point, actually. You all are completely untrained, and, to be completely honest, that makes you a danger to both yourselves and to me. For the next five years at least, you will be going where I go, doing what I do, and acting with and for me. That means that you will be under constant threat of blackmail, kidnapping, and assassination, among other things. When you are around me, without having been trained to defend yourselves, Halen, myself, and my other security staff, may be forced to make choices in the heat of the moment that could lead to one or more of us being injured or killed. So, it is imperative that you all are trained as quickly as possible."
"Trained in what, specifically?" Kino asked. "We all had self defense courses at the Academy."
Aymon felt a silent wave of amusement wash off of Halen, though the feeling was directed specifically at him, not being broadcast out into the world.
"Self defense is barely scratching the surface of what you will need to be able to do to survive in this line of work. I say that speaking from experience," Aymon said. "Though I will leave that to Halen to explain in detail. You will be spending several hours a day training with him for the foreseeable future. The rest of your time you will be spending either with me or on duties which I assign you. Is that understood?"
"Yes." It was Kino who spoke this time, though the other two nodded.
"Good. I expect that you will put in your best efforts during your training. For the moment, I may not be the most reachable at unscheduled times. Your main point of contact with me should be through my personal secretary, Ms. Rosario, whom you have met. You should report to her, as she will be handling all of your scheduling. Through her, you will also receive daily need-to-know briefings." Aymon looked at the three, who were all listening to him intently. Seeing his look, they nodded.
"Though it should go without saying it bears reiterating: everything you do from here on out is completely confidential. Unless what you are doing is literally being attended by the press, you are not to discuss it with anyone aside from yourselves, myself, Halen, and Ms. Rosario. If you have any questions about this policy, please bring it up with Halen or Ms. Rosario." Aymon stopped as he saw Yan raise her hand.
"You're not in school, just spit it out."
"In terms of security, do you have any specific instructions on physical or digital confidential documents?"
"You will need to ask Ms. Rosario about that on a per document basis. But your personal communication devices cannot and should not be regarded as secure. You will be receiving secure devices soon, as well as training on how to use them. Err on the side of caution."
"Okay," Yan said.
"Could you tell us more about what we are going to specifically be doing?" Kino asked.
"As of right now, nothing. You will be training with Halen, observing, and learning as much as you can. The better you are at all of this, the faster that real responsibilities will be given to you. At least in these early stages, you will be attending typical government functions with me, acting as my aides and go betweens, and developing your own skills and interests to decide in what capacity you will be working further along in the apprenticeship. Does that answer the question?"
"Yes," Kino said.
"Later today will be your first real outing. At eighteen hundred tonight, we will be attending a dinner with members of the Trade Guild. I expect you all to not make fools of yourselves. Remember that from this moment forward, you do not merely represent yourselves, your families, or the Academy: you are representatives of the entire Empire." He stared at them for a moment to impress upon them the severity of what he was saying, but none of them seemed particularly affected by his words. This was almost certainly due to the fact that the three of them were already unbearably nervous. Though Aymon predicted the private dinner to be low stakes, it was still a bit of a baptism by fire, seeing as it was their first day on the job.
"On a lighter note, after the dinner, I believe we will have some time to sit down and actually learn some more about each other in a more relaxed setting. This morning I am in a rush, since I have a meeting with Admiral Vaalks later, who I am sure you will become acquainted with in due time." He smiled as he said this, showing teeth. "Before I release you into the tender clutches of Halen, are there any other questions?"
"What should we be prepared for in the Trade Guild dinner?" Yan asked. Aymon knew that she was a spacer, so it was no surprise that she was asking.
"On your end, polite conversation. On my end, attempting not to throttle Ungarti Vaneik. Someone will brief you before you arrive on who the key players are and who you should be watching for." Aymon said all of this quite dryly, then glanced up at the clock on the wall. "Unfortunately, I don't have the time to explain everything at the moment."
"You don't like Guildmaster Vaneik?" Yan asked.
"I thought our, hm, personality conflict was well known," Aymon said. "We have a working professional relationship, because we must, but neither of us finds it pleasant. I don't really have time to expound upon the details at this moment, since I need to meet with the Admiral." Aymon stood up, and the three apprentices quickly followed.
"Halen, I do trust you not to scar my new apprentices unduly, at least on their first day with you."
"Of course not," Halen said, leaving his place behind Aymon's desk and walking towards the door. "Come on." He gestured for the three apprentices to join him.
"See you tonight," Aymon said to the group, returning to his desk. Halen opened the door and walked out, taking the three apprentices with him. As they left, Rosario entered.
"I'll see the Admiral now, Ms. Rosario," Aymon said.
"I'll let him in." Rosario stepped out again. Though Aymon should have been focused on the Admiral, who was entering the room with a constipated expression on his face, with his mind's eye he was watching Halen lead his apprentices away down the corridors of Stonecourt towards their training.
"The first thing you should probably know about me," Halen said, as he led the trio down the corridors of Stonecourt, "Is that my number one priority is protecting Aymon. Everything else is inconsequential. And if you get in the way of that priority, I will do what I need to do."
Though Halen was saying all of this in a pleasant voice, Yan had no doubts about his truthfulness. She made a mental note to never cross him, though the thought that she would hadn't crossed her mind until she firmly decided not to. The splotchy faced man was one of the few people outside of her own family who were taller than she was, and he was most certainly stronger.
"The second thing that you should know about me is that I did not graduate from the Academy, or any of the other schools for that matter, and I don't find that the Academy produces graduates with very much good, common sense."
This statement brought Sid up short and he almost stopped walking, as he spoke aloud for the first time that day. "How did you not get taken? You're clearly sensitive."
Halen laughed loudly. "Take a guess."
"You're from a remote colony, and no representative ever came looking for sensitives," Sid guessed.
"No," Halen said. "Kino, you guess."
Kino took a moment to think. "Powerful parents, probably dissidents, who hid you from the inspections."
"Nope. Yan, you guess."
Yan considered him for a moment, thinking about what she knew of him. He was giant, taller than any person raised on planetary gravity had any right to be. He hadn't attended the Academy, but was far from low powered enough to evade the inspectors just by being unnoticeable. He had somehow come to a high position in the Imperial Court, but not through any traditional Academy route, and his primary motivation seemed to be his loyalty to Sandreas.
None of this narrowed down very much. Yan knew that all ships and ports were inspected by Academy searchers, that was how she had been discovered, after all. He could have avoided this maybe by being a child of miners, which would also account for his general stature. But that didn't explain why he would have such a high up position. Yan didn't consider it feasible that Sandreas was searching for ultra loyal bodyguards among common miners, or even uncommon miners.
How could someone powerful go undetected for so long in childhood, but rise to prominence as an adult? Suddenly, it struck her, the one group of spacers who was never inspected but were quite powerful.
"You were a pirate," Yan said.
"You got it." Halen clapped a heavy hand onto Yan's back, causing her to stumble a little. "And don't you forget it."
"How did you..." Yan wasn't sure how to actually ask the question. "How did you get here?"
"Oh, that's a long story. But we have a long walk to get to the gym. It's not a secret. How much do you know about pirates?" Halen asked, directing the question to Kino and Sid.
"Only that they exist," Kino said.
"When I was in third year, pirates bothered the transport I was taking between Galena and Emerri. Nothing really happened, though," Sid said.
"Isn't that one of the most well defended routes in the entire Empire?" Kino asked.
"Yeah, and that's probably why nothing happened," Yan said. "Pirates aren't stupid enough to do anything serious in an area full of Guild ships."
"I think they just wanted to scare the captain a little," Sid said.
"Regardless, the answer for the two of you seems to be 'not very much'," Halen said. "Yan, I'm certain, has intimate knowledge of pirates."
Yan scowled. "If you weren't working for Sandreas it sure would sound as though you had some sympathy for them." She was being unnecessarily flippant, but only because Halen was as well.
"Sympathy is one thing and duty is another," Halen said cryptically. "There were many things that I loved about being a pirate, and many more that I hated. Regardless of my feelings towards that life, I serve a greater master now."
Yan frowned, but she saw Kino half smile. Halen was citing one of the first precepts, but clearly was not actually referring to serving the true purposes of God. For all the Empire may be serving God's purposes, Halen had made it clear that he was loyal to one man, Sandreas. In Yan's eyes, to call Sandreas God was a bit of an overstep, despite the precept of divinity in all sentient beings.
"What do we need to know in order to understand the story?" Kino asked, trying to edge the conversation away from the dangerous territory.
"Some of it is spacer lifestyle in general, which is hard to understand to outsiders. The main thing is that pirates have a nearly unbreakable code of loyalty towards their ship and mates, that's a big part of how Aymon got me."
"Why? Aren't pirates, you know, bad?" Sid asked. Halen laughed.
"God, they're all just people," Halen said. "No worse or no better than people here. But what they do have in common is that, every person who does become a pirate is marked for death by the rest of the universe."
"So you have to be loyal to each other or risk dying?" Kino asked.
"The empire executes any pirates they catch, with very few exceptions, though most are killed during the capturing process. Other pirates want what you have, and the Trade Guild and miners will fight you off. It's a rough living, and unless you're very, very good at it, and also very lucky, you won't last long."
The group came to a heavy set of doors which Halen unlocked. "I need to get you all security access," he commented as they walked through the doors into a deep stairwell. Inside the echoey stairway, he continued his story.
"I was born a pirate," Halen said. "As you might be able to tell, pirates have few qualms about genetically modifying their offspring to be stronger and better."
Sid opened his mouth to say something, but jammed his hands in his pockets instead.
"It doesn't really matter what my childhood was like, it's not really relevant to the story, but I grew up entirely in space. I didn't set foot on a planet until I was your age, actually. My whole life was on my family’s ship and the occasional black station."
"How did you discover that you were a sensitive?" Kino asked.
"Ha. Well. That's a digression, but I'll answer your question. Most kids are picked up by inspectors before their sensitivity becomes full blown, but obviously it didn't happen with me. And it's hard to notice something like that, especially on a ship. The normal things that kids do, as a kid on a ship you are... Instructed... very carefully that some doors should not be opened, because there could be something deadly on the other side. Specifically, there could be a hard vacuum on the other side. So the instinct when discovering a locked door that you want to go through is not 'why won't you open?' it's 'who can I ask to check what's going on behind there?'. And the other usual things, like summoning objects and such, that's hard to notice in microgravity too."
"So what sign did you see?" Kino asked.
"It took me until I was, oh, fifteen or so before I really noticed something was going on. I started getting these massive headaches whenever I was around other people, which was all the time, on a spaceship. I was developing a real affinity for picking up other people's emotions, it was one of my talents, and it was starting to ruin my life a little bit. Between that and appearing amazingly lucky all the time, I managed to piece it together and get my life a bit more under control."
"What did you do when you found out?" Yan asked, curious despite herself.
"Do you mean what I did to stop myself from going insane or what I used the power for?" Halen asked.
The group was in a long hallway which seemed to be underground. Luckily, it was a fairly well lit place, and looked to be used fairly often, given the scuff marks on the linoleum floor, so Yan didn't feel too apprehensive about where they were going.
"Both, I guess," Yan said.
"Learning to control the power is, honestly, it's probably all the same things you do at the Academy. Learn to meditate and use it consciously rather than unconsciously, figure out what it can and can't do, all that stuff. Boring, really. I kept it secret for a long time, just researching it on my own, but once I had the basics down I did eventually tell my family and the rest of the crew of my ship. It was called the Bluebeetle, by the way. And then a lot of family drama happened, but in the end, what we decided was that the crew of the Bluebeetle was going to split in half, and I would create a stardrive for the new ship that we were going to get."
"You, uh, created a stardrive?" Yan said.
"Oh, yeah, I've actually made several," Halen said, completely nonchalant. He lead them further through the tunnel. "How do you think most pirates get capable ships?" Halen asked.
"By capturing Trade Guild ships," Yan said.
"Oh, that's some of them, sure. But you have to have a stardrive in order to catch a ship with a stardrive. As far as I know I'm the only person who was born a pirate who then created a stardrive, but usually people just get paid off very, very handsomely. It's fairly lucrative, I'm led to believe."
"I guess nothing ever went wrong when you did it." Yan said, which made Halen laugh.
"We always did take the appropriate precautions. Bring the ship to a totally empty region of space, dump me by myself on a shuttle, fly a safe distance away, don't come back for a week. It's both incredibly dull and incredibly dangerous, which I guess is the worst kind of job. You know how to make a stardrive, right?"
"A little. Everyone is taught the principle of it at the Academy, mainly as a warning to never, ever do it. I think that's because for a bunch of years they had people try to make 'improved drives' as their final projects and dying because of it," Yan said. "Between that and the fear of accidentally making a defective one and killing everyone on a ship in the process, I was never really tempted to try."
"They like to put the fear of death in you," Sid poked Yan and signed to her. Yan smiled a little. Halen missed the exchange as he was walking in front.
"So you made a stardrive, and you went off with a new crew?" Yan asked, wanting to know the rest of the story.
The group had finally come to a set of doors that opened into a gym and training area. They seemed especially secure, since Halen didn't use his normal security key, instead using the power to unlock the door. They stepped inside.
"Yes. I wasn't the captain, I was just an extremely valuable kid, at the time. The problem with splitting up the crew of the ship is that all of the young and ambitious people want to go out and make a name for themselves, and all the experienced older people stay behind. Combine reckless ambition, relative inexperience, and valuable cargo, and you've got a recipe for disaster."
"What happened?" Kino asked.
"Since I was able to manufacture stardrives on a fairly regular basis, the bulk of our business was in selling them. Which mean that we immediately jumped up the priority list for Imperial intervention. Selling stardrives to pirates is pretty much the biggest bad idea you can have in the Empire." Halen said this as he led them into a side room where a bunch of targets were set up. He walked over to a closet and again used his power to unlock it.
"So you got caught?" Yan asked.
"Me? Not personally. I wasn't on the ship at the time. Like I said, I was pumping out stardrives as fast as the captain could collect payment for them, so I was off in the middle of fucking nowhere making a stardrive while all the shit went down."
Yan sucked in a breath. A true nightmare scenario was being stranded in deep space with no one knowing where you were and no way to get out.
"After a week with no contact I started to get pretty worried. After all my food ran out I got really worried."
"What did you do?" Yan asked.
"About the only thing that I could do. I strapped my newly minted stardrive onto my shuttle and tried to find my ship."
Yan laughed nervously. Shuttles were not meant to handle stardrives. Shuttles did not have the computational power to run a stardrive. Shuttles did not have the structural stability to house a working stardrive. Shuttles should not be capable of interstellar travel.
"I was a dumb kid at the time and it was a choice between a certain death of starvation and a probable death of fucking around with a stardrive. I did the best thing I could think of at the time."
"I guess it worked out," Kino said.
"Well I managed to get myself out of the middle of nowhere, that's true. But when I came limping into the first port I found out that being an unaccompanied shuttle off a pirate ship, desperate for supplies, that sent a lot of people chasing after me, specifically. I won't bore you with the details, but eventually, well. Aymon hunted me down."
"You were that high of a priority?" Sid asked, incredulous.
"He was an apprentice at the time, and yeah, I was. Indiscriminately supplying stardrives to anyone who would pay, is a really, really big deal." In the closet that Halen had unlocked, there were several handguns. He took three out and handed one each to the apprentices.
"Why didn't he just kill you on sight?" Yan asked.
"Oh, he came into our encounter thinking that he would," Halen said. "At the time, you gotta realize, I was a loose fucking cannon." He retrieved ammunition from a drawer inside the closet and started handing it out. "I knew my entire family and ship was dead, so I had no one to hold me back, I was powerful, smart, and could make a lot of money really quickly."
As Halen spoke, he was demonstrating how to load the ammunition into the handguns, doing it slowly so the three could follow along.
"All of that sounds like reasons to kill you," Yan said, loading her gun.
"Oh it absolutely is. I don't really understand why he changed his mind. If I had been him, I would have killed me without a second thought. I certainly tried to kill him. In the end, he figured that I was desperate and impressionable enough that I could become a valuable asset given the right manipulation."
"And so, what, he captured you instead of killing you outright?" Sid asked.
"Oh, no, if I hadn't wanted to be captured, there would have been no way to take me alive. That's not really how ships work. I surrendered."
"Why?" Yan asked.
"I could feel his intentions. I have no particular talent in making stardrives, my actual power specialty is in reading feelings. That and getting lucky every time, but that's not a talent."
"And you thought someone thinking 'this person is manipulable' is good enough for you?" Sid asked aloud.
"Again, I cannot stress this enough, if you're faced with a choice between death and not-death, pick the choice where you don't die. That's rule zero of living. Also I was dumb enough to think that if I knew someone was trying to manipulate me I could wiggle out of it."
Sid rolled his eyes, expressing what he thought of Halen escaping Sandreas’s brainwashing.
"I could have, probably, but I didn't want to, which is maybe more insidious. At this point I am here out of a genuine desire to be here, regardless of anything that happened in the past." Halen shrugged, a motion that moved his entire broad body. "Maybe someday you all can say the same."
"What are the guns for?" Kino asked, testing the feel of the now loaded weapon in her hand.
"First of all, not for doing that. Stop swinging it around." Halen said. Kino had the decency to look somewhat chagrined and stopped her nervous fiddling with the weapon. "What we are here for is to teach you the very first lesson about self defense."
"When you're defending yourself," Halen said, holding the gun up to point at one of the targets, "You need to be lucky every time." Halen fired at three of the targets and hit all of them dead center.
"If you ever get unlucky, you will die. So, to be lucky every time, you need to stack the odds in your favor as much as physically possible," Halen said. "Quick question, if you were in a room and someone was trying to kill you, and you didn't have a weapon on you, what would your first instinct be to do?"
"Get behind something," Yan said.
"Incapacitate him," Kino said.
"Use the power to try to kill him. Crush his skull." Sid said.
"Bad answers," Halen said. "Yan, taking cover is not necessarily a bad idea, but in a dangerous situation, you're just as likely to pick bad cover as good cover. Even if you shelter behind something that will protect you, that could mean you've just entrenched yourself and will be unable to escape."
Halen looked at Kino, who was clearly struggling to not mess with the weapon she was holding. "Kino, you haven't given any specifics of how to do that. In an emergency, you won't have time to devise any good strategies. You need to have a practiced plan that you can use."
"Sid. Not necessarily a bad idea, but it is bad PR. Aside from dying, making yourself look like the bad guy in any situation is a poor choice. If the person attacking you is a sensitive, they'll be able to protect themselves from that type of attack, and if they're not... It looks bad. It's also, and I speak from experience here, more difficult to put into practice than you might hope."
"And guns are glamorous?" Yan asked. Careful to avoid the reprimand that Kino had received, she gestured to the gun in her hand without waving it around.
"No, but they are fair, or at least they appear that way." Halen said that sounding like he intended guns to be the opposite of fair.
"So what are we supposed to do?" Sid asked, scowling.
"Simple. From now on, you are never, ever, ever going to be unarmed. You are going to carry a weapon on you at all times, and you are going to know how to use it. You are also going to cheat, as hard as you can."
"What do you mean cheat?" Kino asked.
"Let's have a little demonstration," Halen said. "Yan, could you fire at that target, please."
Yan had no marksmanship training. She could use the guns on the Iron Dreams' dogfighters, and she had training in grappling, in case the Iron Dreams was ever boarded by pirates, but guns were not typically worth the risk of having and using aboard a ship. She had never fired one before, but she gave it a try. She raised up the handgun and shot at the target directly across the room. The bullet went far wide and hit the padded wall to the left of the target, the recoil startled her, and she almost dropped the gun.
"Thank you, Yan," Halen said. "Kino, you- no, don't fire-" Kino was already lifting the gun. "Actually, Kino, you are making me nervous, can you put that over here." He pointed back to the closet where the guns had come from. Kino shrugged and laid the gun down there.
"What I actually wanted you to do, Kino, was take just this," Halen pulled a small rock out of his pocket and handed it to Kino, "Try accelerating this at the target, get it as close to a bullet speed as possible."
"Ok," Kino said, holding up the rock for a second. She tossed it up into the air, and then, faster than the eye could follow, it sped towards the target. It hit it dead center, but didn't penetrate at all, merely bouncing off and falling to the floor.
"So," Halen started, "Here are the two problems you have right now. Both of these problems could be solved with time, training, and practice, but we don't have that luxury. You're all terrible shots because you've had absolutely no practice. Kino, you are downright dangerous to have around a weapon because you have no sense of how to safely handle it. The second problem is that you don't actually have the ability to use the power as a substitute for a weapon. Sure, you can accurately throw rocks all day long, but you have no intuition for how fast a bullet travels, or what it does upon impact with a target. When you're controlling something with the power directly, you are much, much more likely to pull your punches."
Halen summoned the rock back from the area near the targets. He sent it sailing, again faster than eyes could follow, but this time it crashed through the target, destroying a big chunk of it.
"With a lot of practice, you could fix this, just like you could fix your aim. But we do not have the luxury of time because you need to be able to defend yourselves immediately. So, what we're going to do is try to combine your two assets to cancel out two of your weaknesses. You can't shoot for shit, but you can aim with the power. You lack the intuition of how to be truly dangerous with the power, but guns don't have that issue."
"Sid, your turn, come here." Halen gestured for Sid to stand next to him.
"What do you want me to do?" Sid asked.
"I want you to fire at the target, but while you fire it, imagine a tunnel that connects the tip of the gun to the target. Set up the conditions in your mind so that if the bullet touches the wall of that tunnel, it's redirected back on the right course. Set up that power structure before you fire, because that bullet travels faster than you can react."
Sid obeyed, thinking for a second about how he exactly he should reach out with the power, then firing the gun. He struck the target dead on, just below the place where Halen's rock had ripped out a chunk.
"Excellent," Halen said. "Now you just need to be able to do that every single time, very, very quickly."
"Easy every time," Sid said, though in his voice the saying felt flat rather than assured.
"Doesn't have to be easy," Halen said. "You just gotta stay lucky. And that is what we are going to be practicing all day today."