Continuing Nooj's personal account of his early days with the other three.
I am beginning to wish I had not started this journal or that I had not resolved to be open and honest whilst using it. I suppose it is always possible to stop these recordings or to erase all the entries. After all, nobody knows about it except me. I hope that is still true. It is appalling to think what the Al Bhed would do if he ever got hold of this gadget. The least I would expect of him is to print out my private musings and hand them out like so many broadsheets. Note to self - keep this thing close and hidden. I am still talking into this device so it looks as though I have automatically decided to continue with these confessions; I must explore my motives and see if they are valid - later.
I am finding it uncommonly difficult to describe what happened late yesterday. Once again Gippal and Baralai had gone off together to some place they have made their own retreat. Ixion knows there are enough crevices and splits in these rocks to afford a private closet for any couple hunting a place to take their pleasure of one another. Now that I am fairly confident they will eventually return and I won't have to start over with another raw team, I do not care what they do or where. Just so long as they clean themselves before rejoining the camp. Musk is not my favorite scent.
Paine and I made a small fire since the nights are getting cooler and sat by it to discuss tactics and other matters of military importance. She was sitting on the ground and I had found a suitably sized stone since it is difficult for me to haul myself to my feet and we were comfortably occupied. Somehow, her head was resting against my right leg and I was running my good hand through her hair. She leaned back and the firelight reflected in her eyes, making them golden red rather than the usual sepia. ... Without my volition, my hand slipped down to cup her breast and she placed her own hand over mine, pressing it close. I could feel her nipple hardening against my palm and a wave of desire swept through me almost robbing me of my breath. I was unable to move for a prolonged period; only the sound of the returning lovers broke the paralysis. We drew apart but not before we both knew what was likely to happen the next time we were alone together. Perhaps I should request another Recorder. It is not healthy for intimate relations to exist between fellow soldiers.
I know I will not put her away from me. Here, and nowhere else, I will confess I am lonely. I have been accustomed to certain pleasures and find it difficult to do without no matter how much I argue with myself and tell myself that is no longer a part of my life. She certainly seems amenable. I wonder how she will react when she sees what Sin did to my body? Perhaps I can find a very dark place and she will not have to see it all. No. I will not lie or conceal what is there. I have only my honor left and I must not compromise that last bastion. Maybe we will be shipped out before we are left alone again. It would not be appropriate to embrace in the presence of the other two. What will happen when we are all four living in one tent? Will the lovers still love? Will Paine still make herself available to me? I need to think. A brief wash down and then to work.
I wonder how she will react when we meet this morning? Come to that, I wonder how I will react. Huh!
Finally, word has come down that we are to assemble at a point on the Road where a make-shift set of docks has been set up and board ships which will carry us to an undisclosed training camp. The first groups, which do not include us, will set out in five days and the last should be aboard their respective vessels in another three. We will probably be amongst the last since I cannot imagine a less promising group than a cripple, a woman, a Cyclops and a priest. Never mind, within eight days we will be free of this dismal stinking camp and on our way to becoming ... whatever we are destined to become. I intend to do some foraging during the turmoil of packing and see if I cannot pick up a few side-arms to better supply us four. I don't like to think of Paine without a dagger to defend her honor if necessary. Note to self: Make sure she is aware that death is preferable to dishonor and that she knows the fastest and least painful way to kill herself.
I should probably take the same precautions with Baralai. It would be a pity to see him made a battle boy for a horde of fiends. Although, he might enjoy it. No. I must not permit my animus for the Al Bhed to affect my attitude toward the little priestling. I'll find him a knife for his boot top and show him how to use it. I am the leader, after all.
So, now I have only to avoid being alone with Paine for another few days and we will be in a situation where nothing further can develop. That should not be difficult; there is much to do. I need to show them how to properly roll their bedding and secure it, how to pack items so they don't rattle and betray one's position, how to pitch a tent in a way that won't let it collapse at the first wind gust ... there is so much to teach them. I won't have time to indulge in assignations. Though, would it be better to assuage this appetite before we ship out or risk being diverted when I can least spare the thought. Damn! Retaining one's capacity in this area is a two-sided blessing. I can do without distraction now that orders are finally being issued.
Another surprise. I called the team together to tell them about the latest announcement. No one seemed unduly alarmed at the prospect of beginning the real work of training. Not even Baralai. He and Paine kept exchanging tight little smiles when they thought my attention was elsewhere. I think I am becoming more paranoid as the days pass. I see plots and enemies all around me, most of them designed to humiliate me in some way. I must stop this line of thought. It leads to a loss of control and will make me unfit to lead even this bedraggled crew.
As I was saying, I told them about the orders to sail and suggested strongly that they see what they can pick up at the camp as the earlier groups ship out. I emphasized side arms but told them anything of use should be quietly collected and added to our store. They will report tomorrow morning to practice packing gear and the other mundane duties they must learn to perform. In the meantime, I shall go interview the commander of the base camp and try to find out our schedule and where we are bound for. I hope there is no sand. It plays havoc with my joints. The machina ones. Especially the knee and ankle.
Oh, the surprise. I almost forgot to mention it. After I had laid out the plans for the next day or so and dismissed them, Gippal - the Al Bhed - stayed behind. I was wary, of course. However it seems he had noticed my limp was worse than usual and wanted to offer his help. He claims to have some experience with the prostheses produced in the shops of his people and is sure he can adjust and thoroughly lubricate the leg I am using. He seems to mean it kindly and to have no ulterior motive. It's true, I am having more difficulty moving around the past day or so and will be badly handicapped in training if nothing is done. I had intended to bring it up to the commander, but I would rather not remind him of my inadequacies if it can be avoided. So, I told Gippal I would think about it and give him an answer later today. Now I must check the supplies which have been dropped off by one of the Maesters' servants.
Amazing. I had not thought this clumsy lump of metal and ceramic could work so easily and well. I'm not sure what Gippal did since his hands are quick and I was lying down with the leg stretched out below my line of sight, but the damn' thing is better than it has ever been. When I expressed my thanks, he volunteered to do a check-up and lubrication whenever it became necessary and went into complicated explanations about the joys of working on a device of such sophistication and with so many advanced components. I think he is slight insane on the topic of machina. As I am unbalanced on certain topics, myself.
Another thing, while he was doing his job we talked about preparing for war. I mentioned that the next step in training would involve encounters with real fiends and the use of live ammunition. With that in mind, I expressed a certain reservation about Baralai's skill with firearms and, to my complete astonishment, Gippal blushed! You might have thought I had brought up the topic of public display of affection.
When I am wrong about something, I am always ready to admit it. The pretense of infallibility is the surest way to failure. So, I freely admit here I was mistaken when I assumed the two men spent their days in dalliance. Well, only in dalliance. Gippal confessed he had been taking the priestling down the road to the old M'hen Highway and, in a secluded cul-de-sac, teaching him how to shoot. That's one less thing I'll have to do. The Al Bhed is acting more like a soldier now. Maybe tinkering with my leg has given him a feeling of solidarity with the team. Who can tell how one of that race thinks? I have promised him he can have a go at the arm tomorrow. And the four of us will go together to the improvised firing range in the afternoon to see which of us is the best shot. It should be interesting. I am eager to see how Paine is with a gun.
The commander was either unable or disinclined to give me any further information about when my team will embark and where we will be taken. Typical!