Jindai High Athletic Field
Tuesday, September 26th, 200X
The track team members just kept running in their morning laps. It was an intensive training regimen, especially for the distance runners, most of whom had been on the practice grounds since the ungodly hour of 7 AM.
"Hey, who's that?" A track runner asked between quick breaths, running at pace with the ten other members of the hundred-meter dash squad.
"Dunno," a teammate responded in kind, as the tailing member of the squad moved a lane aside to dash to the front of the pack. "I'm next, be careful."
"Kid's been puffing every ten feet since he got here," the first team member remarked as his teammate made the dash, the entire pack still running swiftly around the large, sponge-turf oval. "He on a team?"
Shinji bent over, breathing heavily and rapidly, already feeling numbness run through his chest. "Just... huff... breathe... huff..." he half-spoke/half-coughed, forcing himself not to talk, just breathe. "Just breathe. Get it back." Get your breath back and keep going.
He checked his watch as the track team rounded the far curve, about seventy-five yards from him. The entire track team took the curve in a full-on sprint, keeping the same near-military pace.
A standard march is one hundred and twenty steps per minute. A jogging march is four hundred and eighty steps per minute, done to cadence calls. The Americans use songs for cadence, the JSDF uses calls and responses. Left, right, left right. Get back up and do it.
Shinji toweled the sweat off of his face, still panting in the cool autumn morning.
My legs already hurt. I might as well give up before I even really try. Just give up and keep going.
He set back off on the track, going straight into a fast jog.
Just give up and be a base secretary.
The hollow resonance of Shinji's rapid gait hearkened him, kept pushing him onward as the spongy track surface pushed his movements onward. My feet are the primary hydraulic propulsion platforms of a Type 96. My legs are the hydraulic systems themselves. Machines don't stop, dammit, and I can't either. I have to keep running. I have to get stronger.
The track team finished up their practice laps at 8:30, a half-hour before classes began at Jindai High. Shinji trailed a few yards behind the team members, chatting happily, trading shots about the upcoming metropolitan tournament, practicing, stretching, drinking copious amounts of water.
They've been at it their whole lives, too. They've been practicing for a really long time.
Call and response cadence. I wish I still had that old tape my dad found in the attic. They had training marches and running cadences from the War… hell, even the JSDF training tapes would come in handy…
The shower was comforting, cold, and intensive, forcing his blood to pump and his heart to keep beating. Shinji stood under the shower head for as long as he could before soaping and shampooing himself, eyes pinched closed against the needle sprays.
The tempo of his heartbeat didn't slow down until later in the day, keeping him alert during class. His lungs still ached from his exercise, an agonizing two-kilometer run for which he hadn't asked anyone for advice on warming up. His ankles throbbed painfully, and he couldn't settle upon a comfortable position as he paid half his attention to a lecture on Matsuo Basho. The other half went into filling out budget forms for the Student Council trip.
"What'd you do to Shinji?" Kaname poked Kyoko, raising an eyebrow in his direction. "He's not sneaking peeks at AS Fan during class for once."
"I told him he didn't have to do anything, but he just keeps taking stuff from the assignment folders for the trip. This morning, he took over flight and ground transportation booking, hotel and rental property comparison, budget requisitioning, discretionary budgeting… he's doing the work of two people."
"Wow, so he's coming in early to do all that?"
"That's the weird thing. I was here early to meet with the executive board, and he wasn't anywhere to be found."
"Geez. I doubt he's even got time to do this at home. Why's he doing so much work?"
"I wish I knew, Kana-chan. I mean, it's getting everything done for the trip, but after school, a car arrives for him from Narashino and he goes straight to the base. Points for dedication, but seriously…"
"Yeah, seriously."Narashino GSDF Base, Building 27
Physical Training (Indoor)
"Nine. Good. Keep going."
Shinji lowered himself down from the apex of the push-up, already feeling the strain in his thin biceps. He forced his legs to remain straight, in line with his spine, as he pushed downward, forcing himself back up.
"Ten. Twenty more."
He apexed the push-up, arms still aching.
"Eleven. Good. Keep going."
Push. Push, dammit. You'll never make it if you don't push.
His arms wobbled as he kept forcing himself upwards, raging against gravity, his own weight, his underdeveloped muscles, his skinny frame. He reached eleven only by locking his elbow muscles, then let himself tumble down to the floor.
"Eleven. Have you been lifting any weights at all?"
"No," Shinji admitted shyly, shaking his head.
Sergeant Major Kazuya Nakayama patted Shinji on the back, bringing the young man to his feet with swiftness. Shinji had to remind himself he didn't have to stand at attention or military stance, but part of him took over. He clasped his hands behind his back, shoulders squared, as if awaiting orders.
"You're making a real commitment, and that's something I don't see often at all," Nakayama commented. "I'll be backing you up on this, but are you willing to follow up on that commitment?"
"I've started running mornings at the track, and the sports teams have a weight room I can use. They owe the Photography Club a few favors, so it shouldn't be any problem."
Nakayama pulled out a sheet of paper. "Start on some crunches. I'll draw up a training regimen for you."
A two-kilometer run. Thirty push-ups. Fifty stomach crunches, forty if it's on the incline bench. Ten chin-ups. Two kilometers in nine minutes or less in running shoes.
"I want to focus on a cross-training program that'll develop you to a point where you can pass the physical requirements for the Defense Agency officer corps. It's commendable that you want to start from basic training, but I still think it's a waste for you not to go to the National Defense Academy, Shinji-kun."
"I know, sir," Shinji managed to grunt between stomach crunches. Ten. "But if I go into the GSDF, I want to pilot Arm Slaves, not command troops. If I get an officer's commission, I'll only be commanding and leading." Fifteen. "That's not what I want to do."
"Then we'll keep you aiming high. If you can't push yourself to pass officer requirements, you might stagnate in your training."
Twenty. "I want to push myself, sir."
"Just get the 'sir' out of your system," Nakayama chuckled. "NCOs get addressed by rank. Your politeness will do you in."
Twenty-five. "Yes, Sergeant Major!"
"I won't try to invoke your father's pride in you, Shinji-kun," Nakayama looked up as Shinji panted through his crunches. "It's not my place to say how he would feel, but I do want to tell you that I haven't seen anyone as dedicated as you come through my office since I started recruiting for the GSDF."
"I want to pilot Arm Slaves, Sergeant Major Nakayama!"
"It's what I want to do… for my own sake, and my friends… and my father."
"Shinji, remember that being a member of a team means you can't take all the glory, neither can you take all the ignominy. Don't let yourself be dragged down by all this."
Forty-one. Keep going.
"How is that big trip planning going for school?"
Forty-one… dammit, Shinji, pull!
"It's going well… I just finished up requisitioning a lot of things."I can't even break forty-one crunches…
"It's pretty difficult, but at least I'm able to help out."
"Before we last spoke, you said something about just helping with some minor budgetary things. Now you're doing all the work. I thought that the Arm Slave Club and Photo Club were taking up all your free time after school and coming here?"
"Nobody ever came to those anyway."
"Shinji, even soldiers get R&R. I feel your eagerness, and it's reflected through the very core of what you're doing. But earnesty doesn't always equate to thoroughness."
"I know. But I have to do this. If I can help, I really should."
Nakayama interlaced his fingers, resting his chin. "If you feel that's what you must do, I can't stop you. All I can say is that I hope you continue keeping an open mind not only to your training, but to your emotional training as well. The SDF doesn't take lone wolves. We want soldiers, Shinji. We want people who can really dedicate themselves not because of some temporal emotion, but someone who can fly underneath the radar and surprise us all with their patriotism and teamwork. It would do you well to learn one of those lessons, Shinji, and it's far easier to be a patriot than a team player."
Shinji bowed his head, half out of respect, half out of the recruiter's incisive words. What teams have I been on, anyway? How many victories have I supported? Even now that I'm training myself, it's solo…
"I can't tell you what to do, Shinji-kun," the recruiter reached out and patted Shinji's shoulder. "But if you don't understand how people can work together, you'd never move forward as an AS pilot." That's all about teamwork, about knowing your comrades."
"I think I understand, Sergeant Major."
"You're on the right track, Shinji. Stay involved with the trip committee. They could use your insight and knowledge. Learn to delegate authority. That's the first step."
It was a long walk from the Narashino training gym to the base hospital, punctuated by short, quiet winds that blew in Japanese red maple leaves from off the base. He tried his best to keep his hands out of his pockets, tried to walk more like a soldier would – proud, upright, strong – but couldn't help but bundle against the cool autumn wind.
It's easy for the Sergeant Major to say, Shinji grumbled to himself. But there's just so much to do… better than my father, better than myself, better than who I am right now… it isn't easy to know what I'm really supposed to do.
The cold wind blew past Shinji, spiraling into a vortex just at the brickface frontage of the base hospital. The guards recognized him, despite his downcast visage and his hands in his pockets, as he went inside to check up on his father.