1 The Academy

Of the twenty young men walking down the breezeway, one stood out. His skin was a shade lighter. His longer hair was not so neatly trimmed. They all looked around with wide eyes, but his were the widest of all.

His clothing marked him as a foreigner. Alone among strangers, he wondered if he would ever be among friends again.

Their soft shoes made no sound on the dark, polished stone floor. The walls, of similar but lighter stone, were punctuated on each side with large windows. To the right he could see a group of cadets drilling in the early evening light. On the left, an empty lawn extended out to low, tree covered hills. Far in the distance, the sun was setting.

Ahead of them, the breezeway ended at an intersection with a large hallway. A young man in uniform waited.

He directed them to the right and they continued down the hallway. On the left were doors to what he guessed were classrooms. Openings on the right revealed bays with neat rows of empty bunks. Each had stairs up to a second level.

They stopped in front of a small Anyari man who stood in one of the openings. He faced them with his back straight and feet apart. His hands were held comfortably behind his back. While they stood in silence, he surveyed the group impassively. No anger, no surprise, no boredom, nor any other emotion was visible on his face. His manner showed he was comfortable and confident in a role he wore like a set of well-fitting gloves.

The group exchanged glances and tried to stand in a way that appeared organized or military. No one spoke, except for a muffled cough that escaped from one of them.

"Can everyone hear me?" the man asked in a calm, measured voice.

He'd been told the tone of the training here would differ from what he expected. Still the quiet, composed tone surprised Zeke Taylor. He looked around at each of his companions. All were as nervous as he, but none showed surprise by this quiet introduction.

"I am Yipt. I will be your primary instructor during your training here. Your names and bunk assignments are posted on the wall," he said, indicating a sheet on the barracks wall behind him. "Your uniforms and other supplies are on the bunks. Stow them in the lockers. I will return in fifteen minutes."

With that he turned around and walked away.

After a moments hesitation, they all moved quickly into the barracks and crowded in front of the roster. Zeke could see that they would waste minutes while everyone tried to find themselves on the roster. Danil had told him that they would be evaluated on everything. This might be the beginning.

"It will be quicker if one person reads the names and assignments. Those who finish first can help him stow his gear," Zeke suggested.

"Then you should read it!" someone protested, tension breaking through the usual Anyari reserve.

"I don't read your language well," Zeke replied, "but I will help whoever takes the time to read the roster no matter when my name is read."

"Yes," said a tall cadet with an athletic build. "The names are not in order," he continued, then started reading.

"Bern, one-five." First row, fifth bunk.

"Geren, two-two."

As he listened to the names being read, Zeke looked around the barracks they would occupy. A line of bunks, made from tubular metal frames, extended down the center of each bay. The walls and ceiling looked like stone, similar to the exterior, but a lighter grey. This was one of the few things on Anyar that looked like something he expected. Each bunk had a neat stacks of clothing and small boxes.

Lockers with small wooden doors lined one side of each bay. Windows on the end looked out on the parade grounds. Behind him, near the entrance, were stairs leading to a second floor. Beneath them he saw a wooden door.

"Zik Tilor," he heard, "one-seven."

He found the bunk and opened the locker door. The inside of the compartment, about two feet wide and just as deep, was covered with dust and cobwebs.

In the background he heard someone complain, "I can't put my uniform in here!"

On a hunch he trotted to the door under the stairs. Opening it, he saw small brooms, cloths, and bins.

"In here!" he called. "First and sixth bunk in each row grab a broom. Second and seventh, hold a bin, clean as well as you can in one minute then pass the broom down. Wipe the locker out with a cloth before putting your clothes away. After you're done, move down to help those still working!"

He took a bin and cleaning cloths, handing a broom and cloth to the man in bunk six. A glance at his watch indicated five minutes had already passed. At six minutes he said, "A few more seconds, do what you can".

After he'd brushed the worst of the dirt into the bin, he handed both to the next cadet. Around the barracks each cadet worked calmly and quietly. The last four finished with the broom at the ten-minute mark. The cadet in the next bunk helped him sweep out his locker and put away his clothes and supplies. They quickly had everything off the bed and in the locker and moved to help the last three.

He looked for the cadet who had read the names and saw him at the lockers on the other side of the barracks being helped by others. He looked down the lines of bunks to see everyone busy. No one seemed in need of help.

At eleven minutes they'd all finished. All the beds were empty. Everyone looked to him.

Zeke made a quick decision, "I don't know where or if there is an expected place for our stuff, but we should use our last minutes to get all of our things hung and organized in the same way."

He continued, "All shirts facing right on the hangers. Socks in the top drawer on the left. Underclothes on the right. Leave them folded as they are. Everything else in the bottom drawer. Largest in the back left, smallest in the right front."

They all obeyed in silence. Everyone had finished with just over a minute remaining. Again the group looked at him. He went out in the aisle between the beds and stood at the foot of his bunk with his feet apart and hands clasped behind him, as he'd seen Yipt do. The other recruits did the same without comment.

He took a deep breath and waited. Looking toward the end of the bay, out in the hallway, he could see their instructor standing in the shadows, well back from the entrance. He'd been watching them the entire time.

Yipt stepped forward and into the bay. He walked down each aisle between the beds and the lockers. Once or twice he stopped to open and look into lockers and drawers, but did not comment.

He finished his quick inspection, then went to stand in the hall. He indicated a spot beside him and instructed them, "Form two lines here."

"We go now for the evening meal," he said after they'd complied. "You are not to march, but try to stay in this formation."

With that, he started down the hallway. The group followed behind. It took several minutes to reach their destination.

They stopped in front of another opening into a large room with square tables and chairs. Other recruits in uniform were eating and talking quietly.

"When I release you, go stand in line to be served. Sit with those in your group. Quiet talking is allowed. I will return in thirty minutes. Be in the same formation, along the wall when I return."

Before releasing them, he concluded, "Meals are a time for relaxation and to get to know your comrades. Sit with different members of your group at each meal. Get to know each other. The courtesies of rank are relaxed during meals. Expect to be surprised at who might join you. They will get to know you, and you them."

With that, he turned and left. Zeke wondered if Yipt would ever join them at meals.

Everyone was silent as they stood in line. The plates and utensils were much like those on Earth. He was growing accustomed to the food: meat, fish, and vegetables--all strongly spiced.

One of the recruits at the table was in the bunk next to him, number six. He introduced himself as Dev. About Zeke's height and otherwise unremarkable, he could have been a student in Zeke's class back on Earth. His skin was darker than Zeke's--though it could have been a tan. Dev commented on how he thought they had all done an impressive job of getting the barracks clean and organized, and noted Zeke's role.

"I just spoke without thinking," Zeke said. "Luckily, I think, it didn't work out too badly."

"They evaluage everyon--everything we do. Training is a part of why we are here, but choosing those with the right skills and abilities is as important. We have made, I think, a good start--especially you."

"On Earth there seemed would be more discipline..."

Dev explained, "Discipline is presumed here. Would it have gone as smoothly if it had been a group on Earth? Social harmony is a basic part of what it is to be an Anyari. If you haven't learned why, I am sure you will."

"Some on Earth would envy a society like this. Others would resist it," Zeke said. He paused for a moment. "What are they looking for?"

"Aptitudes," he answered, "all the different qualities needed to fill the many positions that make up our armed forces. Mostly, I think, they seek those who can lead. It is the one skill that is not easily taught."

They finished their meal and returned to form up in the hall. Yipt--Sergeant Yipt?-- he thought, soon standing beside them.

"You will now attend an hour of orientation, then you will have an hour before lights-out."

They walked farther down the hallway. The sun had set and the fields outside the windows were dark, illuminated by lights on short poles. Presently they stopped and Yipt opened a door and motioned them inside. The room had about twice as many chairs as needed for the group. He noticed that everyone sat in the desks near the front, not randomly spaced throughout the room as he would expect back home. The desks were like those from school.

Yipt walked to the raised platform at the front of the room and stood behind a simple podium.

"Just by being assigned to this training, you have been recognized as being at the top of the many who applied."

Zeke was sure he would not have been selected for any prestigious training camp on Earth. The confidence he'd built started to crack.

Yipt went on, "You will learn about a vast array of our weapons and technology. You will be tested, in ways you cannot anticipate and may not even realize. Sometimes these tests will be simple and you will consider them easy. Sometimes they will seem impossible. Some of you will fail and be returned for another assignment. A few of you may not survive the training."

Zeke's blood ran cold at the last statement. He wondered if he'd need a way out.

Yipt looked down at Zeke, "Some of you, however, may lead thousands of men."

Zeke looked around at the other cadests. Everyone was listening intently. They had, it seemed, been aware of this. Danil hadn't mentioned anything about this.

Yipt concluded, "Do you have questions?".

"What if we decide that we don't wish to continue?" Zeke asked.

The slightest trace of surprise crossed Yipt's face, "You can come to me, or another training officer, and simply tell us that you wish to resign. Unless you are in the middle of an exercise, and it is not practical to discontinue it, you can elect to quit in this fashion at any time."

Zeke filed that away for a time when he might need it.

"You'll watch a short video." Video, though, was not the word, for it was more than a two-dimensional display, "which will prepare you for tomorrow and the first few weeks of training."

With that, he went to sit at one of the desks in the back of the class. The lights dimmed, and a large display filled the front of the room. The figures were three dimensional and clear as if they were looking through a window. The simple routine of their first day, the voice from the video told them, was unchanged from that experienced by cadets for more than a hundred years. Most all that they would do was based on long tradition. The routine had rarely changed.

The first portion of the presentation described how to wear the uniform--how it was cleaned and maintained. Dress was expected to be neat, but the material didn't wrinkle. They were to place their uniforms in a large bin each evening. Each garment, down to the socks, was coded and would be returned to them, laundered, the next day.

Some of their training would be done at computerized consoles on an individual level; some would involve exercises in the forests away from the base. Much would take place in simulators and some in ground, aerial, and space vehicles.

Their unit was a "flight". The military service, it explained, was organized into larger groups, "squadrons", then "wings." The actual Anyari words were of course, different, but the meaning was the same.

They learned that they would choose a name for their flight, part way through their training. Until then, they were simply the first flight, the newest in the academy. When another started in a few weeks, they would become the second, and so on, until they chose a name.

The presentation ended, Yipt rose, "Please form up in the hall; we will march back to the barracks as explained in the video." Yipt gave the commands they'd seen. A few started off on the wrong foot but quickly got in step.

They returned to the barracks, where Yipt dismissed them, "You will have an hour of free time before lights out. You can use the consoles to send messages to your family or whomever you choose. These will be delivered immediately, but the reception of messages will be delayed by a few days. The delay will gradually decrease over the course of your training. This is done with a purpose."

He continued, "Change into the issued undergarments before bed. Lights out is at twenty two hundred, one hour from now. I will return in the morning. You will be woken at zero six hundred and are to be dressed in uniform and ready at zero six thirty when we will march to breakfast. This will be the normal routine for the day. Are there any questions?"

Everything they needed to know had been explained. After a hundred years of experience, nothing important had been omitted. No one had a question.

"All the facilities you will need for the night are in the barracks. You are not to leave it unless instructed to do so. You are dismissed for the day."

With that, he simply turned and left.

They were all strangers and, except for the few minutes during the meal, there had been little time to get to know each other.

Dev came up to Zeke and asked, "What do you think?"

"I don't know enough about your world. Most everything here is strange to me. What do you think?" Zeke responded.

A wry smile covered Dev's face as he thought for a moment, "We all knew that the training would, at times, be dangerous, but I didn't expect to be told that some might not survive. But being selected for flight training is a tremendous honor for us."

"It is possible," he added, "that it is just a psychological ploy. I know that part of this training is to assess, and improve, our reactions and behavior under stress."

Another recruit came up to him. "You are Zik Tilor." It was more of a statement than a question.

With barely a pause, he continued, "I do not see how you can succeed here with us. You have no Anyari education and no understanding of our technology. You are archaic."

"I will do the best I can. What happens will happen," Zeke countered, "You know my name. What is yours?"

"Rilt," he replied, "Rilt Gradon. You have heard of me?" he asked expectantly.

"No, but I haven't had time to learn much about anyone except Danil, and his friends and family."

"You will hear of me," he asserted. "My family is well known. They say you and the king's son saved the planet. It is hard to see how that is possible."

Zeke did not respond and Rilt left without saying anything else.

Dev explained, "We are from different social classes. Not all of us view the upper classes as superior. Rilt justifies that opinion."

"Rilt," he went on, "is from a wealthy family, but entrance into this training is by merit only, most of which was determined by the entrance test. No offense, but I would have thought that you would not have made it in without knowledge of our world."

Zeke answered, puzzled, "I did not take a test. Nor was I asked to be placed here. Danil simply told me that it was the thing to do. He and I went through a lot to get him back here. We came to trust each other, so here I am."

It was Dev's turn to be puzzled, "I did not know that such a thing was possible. We live by quite specific, and usually rigid, rules. I would not mention that to the others. Of course, we have all heard the story of how you came to be here. That was, no doubt, test enough."

Zeke looked over at the consoles that lined the back of the room. "Can you help me send a message to Danil? I am not familiar with the comm consoles."

"Yes, certainly," he replied as they made their way to an open console. Most were not in use as the other cadets were still talking amongst themselves.

"Hmm, "he said, "that's odd. These are only configured for textual input. No video or audio. Can you use the keyboard to enter your message?"

"Perhaps, " Zeke answered, "but it will be short and doesn't need to be private. Could you enter it for me?"

"Do you know Danil's address ID? The ID's of the ruler's family are not common knowledge. If you like, you can log on with your authorization. Perhaps you have the authority to search and find it."

Without a thought, Zeke placed a finger on the sensor in the console. He entered the sequence of Anyari characters he'd been told to memorize."

Dev's fingers moved over the keyboard quickly and accurately, like Zeke's might have on a familiar keyboard.

"No problem," Dev said, "here it is. What do you want to tell him?"

He thought for a moment and smiled, "First day of training. More confused than ever. Are you sure I'm supposed to be here?"

Dev smiled as he entered and sent it. "A message is here for you. "I thought all messages were delayed. No, I guess it was sent a few days ago. Do you read Anyari?"

"Some, but I doubt it has anything private, go ahead and read it."

I know this world is still strange to you and it will be difficult to adapt as quickly as you've been asked. We faced far bigger obstacles, though, and I have no doubt in your ability to succeed now.


"I wish I were so confident," Zeke said after a moment.

The cadets nearby had overheard and whispered to each other.

Dev explained, "You know that those who rule are selected, not elected as on your world. His father has been a good leader and is greatly respected. It is likely that he has some of that wisdom and ability."

This did little to quiet Zeke's concerns, but he left it for now.

He changed the subject, "You know a about me, but I know nothing about you or where you're from."

Dev looked at his watch, "Lights out will be in about twenty minutes, I can tell you as we prepare for bed."

They took the undergarments from the drawers in their lockers and went to showers just off the main room of the barracks. It was much like those in the locker room at school. Soap dispensers were built into the shower posts.

"I am from a small town, on the coast, far to the north," he said as he turned on his shower. "The climate is very cool, much cooler than here. It is almost summer here and will be much warmer. I hope I don't have trouble with any outdoor training."

"Have you graduated from –college---?," Zeke used the English word, he didn't know the Anyari equivalent.

Dev was puzzled, so Zeke explained, "college on Earth is the first level of optional education. People usually start attending, if they choose, when they are about eighteen."

"Ah, optional is not used nearly as often among us," he explained. "We do many things because we are called to do them. I don't know that I can explain it well. From what I know of your society, it seems chaotic and disorganized, too many choices to make, too many ways to cause problems."

"Maybe," Zeke said. "You value duty and social harmony. We value individual freedom--at least in my country. There are different countries on Earth, different societies with their own rulers, sometimes elected, sometimes not. Do you have countries here?"

"No, not anymore. It is a long story which I think we'll review, or they will cover for you."

After they finished showering, Zeke looked around for a towel. He saw Dev grab a small towel from a dispenser. He grabbed one. It was soft and warm, but half the size he'd expected.

He was soon dry, although he'd have been more comfortable with a larger towel. They put on the grey undergarments: grey shorts and a t-shirt. The undershirt was cut in a way that seemed familiar, and even though it felt like cotton, somehow it looked different. It took a moment before he realized that it had no seams. The material was undisturbed except for subtle borders at the openings for the neck, arms, and waist.

When they reached their lockers, he saw Dev take out a comb and Zeke did likewise. Most of the other recruits had short hair, whereas Zeke's had grown longer and had not been cut during his adventures with Danil. He parted it as he had always done, thinking he would keep his appearance as he was accustomed, rather than conform, assuming he was given the choice.

Most of the other recruits were in their grey underclothes. He and Dev sat on their bunks, facing each other, and continued their conversation.

"You said you lived up north?" Zeke asked.

"Yes, there are two industries in my town: fishing and agriculture. My family has a large farm. We raised several kinds of fruit and vegetables."

"A lot of work...running a farm like that?"

"No, most things are automated. The equipment, I think you would call them robots, do most of the work. People just solve problems. Even most of the repairs are done by specialized robots."

"What do you do?"

"That is a good question--and one of our problems. With many occupations replaced by machines, people have less to do. It has caused problems and we haven't solved them all yet. Not all are suited for the professions that are still needed. Many live on a small government stipend."

"What do they do?"

"Since the second Rogue attack we've slowly begun to rely on machines. I don't know if it was an issue a generation ago. I think it is gradually getting worse. Some don't mind if they have nothing to do all day but watch videos or play games, I guess."

"What about Rilt? Are there many like him?"

Dev answered carefully, "We still have social classes. Some wield greater influence, like Rilt and his family The working class, although that is not
a good description, does not mix much with the 'educated' class. I am oversimplifying, but I think you get the idea."

"Yes," Zeke replied, "I guess it would be hard for me to explain the way Earth culture works."

The lights dimmed for a second, indicating lights out would be in a few minutes.

"One last question, if you don't mind my asking, " Zeke said. "Are you afraid? I mean of what will happen here, what we will face?"

"To fail and be rejected, to have to accept a lower ranking, lower status position in the Service? Yes. Status and success are a big part of our culture. Machines do most things and a big part of what is left to us is education and advancement in the military."

"What about being hurt? Or dying? " Zeke asked.

"I guess I don't think about it much. This training is my task and completing it my goal. Fear and worry are low on the list."

The lights dimmed. He could just see well enough to make his way around if he needed.

Zeke got into his bunk and heard the last few in the flight doing the same. He'd been away from Earth for only a few weeks, but it seemed more had happened in that time than in all of his previous life. He could believe it was all a dream and he'd wake up back in his bed at home.