2 General Yalt

The wake-up call, instead of a loud reveille, was simply the lights coming on and a sequence of musical tones. Those who did not wake up were woken by their comrades. Like Dev had said, discipline was assumed. Loud, stressful alarms were reserved for when they were needed.

They dressed quickly. The morning routine was a point of familiarity in this unfamiliar world. Zeke saw the others go to their lockers and take toothbrushes and small containers with them to the bathing area. They put powder from the container on their toothbrushes, wetting it to brush their teeth. He followed suit and found the powder had a pleasant mint taste.

The uniforms they'd put away the day before came out of the drawers. They were a dark blue light blue trim that had a faint metallic sheen. He had to admit that they looked impressive now, compared to their appearance in civilian dress. In their uniforms, they were transformed from a random bunch of guys to a group of young men with a purpose.

Everyone finished their morning routine directly, but without appearing to rush. They were all ready by zero six thirty, when Yipt arrived to march them to the dining area.

This morning Zeke sat with three other recruits. They had heard the story of his trip here with Danil and wanted to hear it from him.

He begged off, "We will have a lot of time for me to tell you everything, but I have so much to learn that I'd rather hear your stories."

Geren had a slightly heavier build than the others, a broader face and darker complexion. P'len was from a city in the central mountains of one of the southern continents. Sephen, tall and good looking, lived in a mining community to the north. He didn't say it but from his behavior and that of the others, Zeke guessed he was a member of one of the upper social classes. Geren's family were researchers or scientists. The subtleties of classes and occupations remained a mystery to Zeke.

P'len seemed reluctant to speak. Zeke could tell that his accent was different from the others and his skin was the lightest tone of anyone in their flight. His family, he said, were just average workers. He had qualified for training by his score on tests administered in secondary school and by the recommendations of his teachers.

As Yipt marched them down the hall they passed other flights. These didn't have an instructor marching them; instead, one of the cadets was in command.

They stopped outside a classroom similar to the one the previous night.

Before dismissing them to go inside, he stopped to address them. "In a few days, you will know your way around the complex. One of you will, based on your evaluations, be selected to be the flight leader. That position may change during the training, should it be deemed best."

With that, they filed into the classroom where another man waited at the podium. Zeke noticed several insignias on his uniform sleeves. They were different and more numerous than he'd seen on Yipt's uniform. He waited quietly until they had all been seated.

"I am General Yalt," the man said with an air of formality and authority. "My purpose today is to complete the orientation that started last night."

From the expressions around the room, Zeke was not the only one to be surprised to find a general addressing them.

"In answer to the question I see on your faces--no, we do not have so many generals, nor are their schedules so empty, that they often have time to participate in the training of cadets. This orientation, though, is a tradition in the Service. I believe it is a good one.

"You will learn that everything we do in your training, and later in your service, is done with a purpose. You may not always understand it, but the traditions and structure of our service have evolved over hundreds of years.

"We now face a peril, an enemy that makes it imperative that we do our best. Even more than in the civilian society, success of the unit, the division, is what we must strive to achieve. Your success comes through the success of the group.

"You are expected to lead if leadership is called for, follow if it is not, speak if you have an idea or plan that improves the success of the mission, and work silently when that is needed.

"Our culture is civil and productive. That is useful when efficiency and harmony are important, as is normally true in civilian life. Maintaining discipline and cooperation between individuals and groups is not our problem. Finding those who can lead and take the initiative is a necessity--if we are to survive.

"I am here to impress upon you that you--each of you--are important to Anyar, and to the war effort. You have been selected because of your ability, and because, in our estimation, you have shown flexibility and creativity. These traits are uncommon in our society, yet necessary for our military success."

As he spoke, he shifted his focus to each recruit. When his gaze fell upon Zeke, it remained on him for a long time.

"You have in your group one who is new to our world and our ways. By the judgment of our leaders, and in my own judgment, too, he has earned a place here by his actions.

"We cannot know how difficult it will be for him to adapt. Each of you is expected to aid him, however you can, in learning the many things he must know.

"Cadet Tilor," he addressed Zeke directly, "we have allocated time for instruction suited to your specific needs. This will occur in addition to, and sometimes instead of, your regular training assignments."

"You will be excused from less critical tasks and assignments, in order to receive this extra training."

"You should not," and he turned to look at the rest of the flight, "and your comrades should not, interpret this as favoritism."

"We make decisions based on utility and merit. You should know that favoritism is not our way, within or outside the service. We seldom make exceptions to the training regimen for any reason. In this case, however, it is clearly necessary to give you a chance to overcome the greater obstacles you face.

He began to describe Ara's history. Images and videos were displayed on screens behind and beside him. "The Service began as the air branch of the military of Ara, two hundred and seventy years ago. That nation also had a naval service and a large army.

Ara was one of many nations then, unique in that it had a non-hereditary monarchy with a constitution and democratically elected representatives.

"The king had, and retains to this day, two powers defined in the constitution. First, he could veto any decision by the elected government. Second, he was the head of the military. He couldn't levy taxes to fund the army, and the army couldn't be used within the nation for any reason but natural disasters.

"Officially, the king had only these two powers. The most important aspect of a king's rule, though, is one that is centuries old--the trust and respect of the nation's--and later the planet's--citizens. This respect has continued," and he paused for a moment, "almost without fail for hundreds of years. It has allowed each of them to guide our world with their influence---much more than with their constitutional power."

The word "almost" was uttered with a hint of pain, or perhaps anger.

"Occasionally the king used the military as peacekeepers in countries during conflicts to avoid atrocities. Often, he was able to gain considerable cooperation from other countries which allowed him to minimize Ara's involvement and expense. The wise and thoughtful use of this influence is the primary reason that Ara grew to become the largest and most powerful nation on the planet."

He looked for a moment at Zeke and added. "Yes, you could say that Ara used its power and influence to control and manipulate the other nations. Depending upon your perspective, that might seem morally questionable. Ara had established a level of personal freedom, and an accompanying unity of purpose. These were, in part, the result of consistent, written rules of morals and behavior. Though no man--no nation--can avoid making mistakes, I believe, and I hope those of you native to Anyar believe, that we've done our best to admit and correct them.

"Then," he paused, "as you know, the Rogue came."

Everyone else in the room knew the rest of the story. Zeke waited eagerly for the General to continue.

"Fortunately, the initial force was small. Ara had the best technology and was able to defend itself fairly well. The Rogue focused on those who could not defend themselves as well. Losses among some nations were extreme.

"The machines had their vulnerabilities, as we found. The Rogue force, the first one, was eventually destroyed.

"When they had been defeated, two things were clear.

"First, we had to assume that other Rogue existed and they would eventually be back.

"Second, our only hope was to unify the planet and to improve our technology as fast as possible. No room remained for separate nations and inefficient governments if we were to survive.

"Ara offered to annex the ravaged smaller nations and give them aid to rebuild. A few of the larger nations saw the wisdom of becoming a part of the growing country and petitioned the king to be included.

"Over that first one hundred years, all the other nations, but one, joined the unified Ara and became known as Anyar. The leader of the sole holdout was a fanatical dictator who ruled by fear. He knew he would lose all political power if his country was annexed because the king would never have allowed him to continue in any position of authority.

"Many in that country would have emigrated to the Ara Union, but the country was geographically isolated. The border with the one adjacent nation was short and the nation's leader was able to limit emigrants, or more properly escapees, successfully."

"Meanwhile, Ara was able to learn from the Rogue technology. The increasing use of automated devices, copied from the Rogue machines we studied, allowed us to build our own intelligent machines. Production of automated devices increased, but fear of the consequences slowed their development and use.

"Eventually the army and navy were merged with the space service. The need for an army was much reduced. The navy's role was reduced even more.

"The role of the king as the leader of the military became critical and his wisdom became an essential part of the military's success. Since that time, small changes in the process of the royal succession have been made. Except for our expansion to other planets, and the effects of more sophisticated technology, we have changed slowly---perhaps too slowly.

"The rapid advancement of technology was not without problems. Some, as you know, gained power and wealth while others lived at little more than a subsistence level. Such an inequity could not continue. The upper classes did not recognize the impending revolution. Even the king, for once, isolated from the general population, was caught unaware.

"Dissatisfaction, then anger, extended from the populace to include many members of the military. The new tools and weapons were controlled by the military and most of its members were from the lower and middle classes. When they realized that they controlled the technology, the discontent became intolerable. Protests by the masses increased, but were ignored by the elite.

"The king, whose selection was strongly influenced by the elite, ignored the impending danger. The result, as you know, was armed conflict, with the numerical, and eventually the technological advantage of the military favoring the revolt. The elite were desperate. Fearing the loss of the way of life they'd come to expect, the ruling class committed acts of violence against unarmed civilians."

The General's face turned dark. "Few of the elite survived. The king survived, but was replaced with changes made to the succession process to stop any small group from exerting undue influence. It took a generation for the wounds to heal, if indeed they yet have. The delays to our technological advancement were an even heavier price."

"Soon after Anyar saw a renaissance of learning and expansion. We explored nearby solar systems, seeking more natural resources. One hundred years ago we had a few outposts on other habitable planets with several thousands of people.

Then, we encountered the Rogue again. After the Berhlende encounter, which you will hear about tomorrow, we retreated back to Anyar, and here, until now, we have remained."

He stopped, his story complete. Zeke assumed the others had heard all this before, but from the looks on their faces, it was as if they'd heard it for the first time.

"You will soon learn more about our organization's structure, ranks, promotion, and military regulations."

"Today, you will be issued the first part of your Communications Console, your 'comm.' In the coming days it will be integrated with you, becoming a central part of your training and your ability to fight the Rogue when they return again."

With that Yipt brought up a tray of metallic bands. The General began calling names, one at a time, shaking the hand of each recruit as they came forward to receive their comm, as if they were being awarded a diploma.

"Zik Tilor," he finally called after all the others had received theirs.

"Welcome to our Service," he said quietly as he shook Zeke's hand. The General held the grip, looking him in the eye for a moment, assessing him. Zeke held his arm out and the General clasped the bracelet around his wrist.

It was soft, almost rubbery in spite of its metallic sheen. It covered much of his left forearm. The seam where it had opened disappeared.

"Now, we will be able to locate or communicate with you whenever it is needed. Soon you will be able to communicate with any other service member or access any information for which you have the authority."

He went on to explain the different ranks of the officer corps. It was comprised, essentially, of only three ranks. Anyari ranks were different than on Earth, but Zeke equated them with lieutenant, captain, and general. Each had three levels---third through first.

"It is possible there will be situations where there are two or more officers of the same rank in the same group. Leadership is not determined based on seniority unless there is no assignment made by a superior officer.

"On infrequent occasions, a lower ranking officer will command one of higher rank. Should this ever occur, this is done based upon what is expedient in a particular, and usually urgent, situation. It does not reflect on the ability of either officer. As I said, we emphasize doing what will be most successful, not individual status or glory. And none of us are so foolish as to believe this always happens when it should. Those who lead are not always without ego and that can cloud the minds of the best of men."

"That is all I have to say. Do you have any questions?"

This time, Dev indicated that he had a question by raising his arm slightly and turning his hand palm up. Zeke later learned that this was the preferred method to make an inquiry when in a small group. In larger groups, it was only practical to raise a hand, just like Zeke would have done.

The General nodded at him and Dev asked, "How will our assignments be determined after graduation? Do we have any choice?"

"You can apply for any position you choose, and I would suggest applying for several. Unless you choose only one or two positions, the chances are good you will be assigned to one of them. Allowing you to perform in role you desire is not something we lightly ignore."

"Of course, the needs of the service and of Anyar are the most important consideration. Be aware that good performance in an assignment out of your chosen areas, like any difficult assignment, reflects well on you.

When their questions has been answered, he continued, "Now, you know that the majority of our forces are patrolling the system. You know that after the second attack, we stopped exploration and brought back any colonists. Mecran will be the first system to which we return."

The General concluded, "Welcome to the Service. I expect to be able to speak with each of you at a meal sometime during your training."

Zeke noticed that no one called "Attention" as he left the room. Military courtesies were simpler, and usually more informal than he'd seen in the movies.

Yipt announced from the podium, "Form up in the hall."

A female officer awaited them outside. Her light complexion and long, blonde hair, contrasted sharply---and pleasantly--with the dark shoulders of her uniform. Zeke hadn't seen anyone like her since he'd come to Anyar. Her uniform was similar to theirs, though cut differently to suit her feminine figure. The insignia on her sleeves marked her as a lieutenant. She was as attractive as anyone he'd met, the kind of girl you sneak looks at when you can.

"I am Ereine," she said, not indicating her rank. Except for the general, that seemed to be the custom.

"I will conduct you on a tour of this facility which will last until the noon meal. After that, you will have your first real training session."

"The first stop on the tour will be one of our recess areas. There you can get something to drink or eat, relax, and take care of any other needs you might have. Follow me, we will not need to march."

It was a short distance to the break area, a large open area with tables and small automated dispensers which contained fruit, beverages, and other small food items. Doors, just as on Earth, were marked with male and female figures almost identical with those on Earth. Ereine quickly dismissed them. "Please be back and formed up in fifteen minutes."

Zeke saw what was obviously a drinking fountain and went to get a drink. When he turned around, Ereine was standing by a table near him, obviously waiting for him.

"I was fortunate to be assigned the duty of conducting the tour for your group," she said. "I am honored to be able to meet you."

"Thank you," Zeke replied with a touch of discomfort, "but you'll find I'm a pretty average guy."

"That is not the story that is told about you," she said.

"An unremarkable guy in remarkable circumstances. I did the things I had to do. Barely, and was scared nearly out of my wits the whole time."

"We are taught," she said, "that bravery is the act of doing what is needed in spite of your fear. You were able to act."

"I appreciate your compliment, and the opportunity to talk to you. If I am portrayed as some kind of hero, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed.

"Regardless of what you say, your actions were those of a hero. It is the actions that confirm the title, not your opinion. Don't be concerned, though. Although we respect you for what you did, you will not be treated preferentially here. Not even--very much--by the women," she said with a smile.

With that, she stepped away, putting a finger to her ear and her attention shifted as if listening to someone.

Dev came up to him, noting the confusion on his face. "She's communicating with someone via her comm. She has a small device, or perhaps an implant, in her ear. It is considered courteous to put your hand or finger to your ear when you are contacted, so others are aware."

Although determined to keep the attention he occasionally received in perspective, he was aware that she was attractive, and certainly pleasant to talk to. In high school, he hadn't captured the interest of the cheerleaders, or really any girls for that matter. Ereine was more attractive than any of his high school's cheerleaders. He wouldn't let it go to his head nor use this new found fame deliberately, but perhaps it wasn't all bad.

In a moment, Ereine was back in the hallway and the group of cadets moved to join her.

"This will be informal; you can ask questions whenever you like."

Her manner shifted seamlessly from that of a girl flirting with a guy to an intelligent and efficient officer. Her personality didn't change, but he saw there was more to her than he'd realized.

"You know that the facility is laid out in the shape of a 'T' with the landing field at the bottom. The long breezeway is only to transport people and supplies to the main part of the facility, the top of the 'T'. It is wide enough for vehicles, a lower level is used for larger vehicles, primarily carrying cargo."

"Why is the breezeway so long?" someone asked.

"The main part of the complex is located some distance from the landing field in case of an accident, the breezeway is for convenience and efficiency.

"The Center has three levels. The top level is this long corridor. Dormitories, or barracks, are located along the south side. Along the north side are classrooms, break areas, dining facilities, and of course, exits to the outside."

"The other two levels," she continued as they walked down the hallway, "are underground, directly below the hallway, although they have other corridors extending off of the main corridor."

"The second level, which will be the focus of our tour, contains training labs with robotics and simulators including most of the technological facilities.

"The third level is storage and is approximately as large as the other levels. It also contains classified areas, which you will not likely be involved with during your training.

"We don't have much to keep secret and our enemy is unlikely to have spies," she said, looking at Zeke. "We don't have a great deal of classified material, here or anywhere else. Support for the military is strong, but it is not absolute, so a few secrets must be kept."

They reached a door in the wall which opened automatically as they approached. It was, it appeared, an elevator, easily large enough to hold them all. When the door closed behind them, he noticed the back of the chamber had a slit along the center just as the front did.

The car dropped at a steady and predictable pace. It seemed to be going down several times farther than Zeke expected, but it soon stopped and both of the doors, front and rear, opened.

They exited from the front door and walked down the hallway that looked as long as the top floor. The floor here tended toward a brighter red than the dull brown of the top floor.

Soon Ereine led them into a large room. It was probably thirty meters square and contained a number of stations that resembled the top portion of a fighter. They looked real enough to have been made by cutting a real one in two. They were large, but they were set together closely, with only a narrow aisle on each side and no room between them in front or back. Along the far wall was what looked like a console equipped with several display screens.

"Flight training will, for most of you, be a large part of your training. The simulators here can allow you to train in any of a number of virtual ships. They accurately simulate everything from the controls and displays to g-forces. They can, when needed, simulate other things like loss of air pressure."

"Most of our aerial vehicles are space capable. We have simulators for larger ships. Most of them are as realistic as these, except for the simulation of acceleration. That is much more difficult on a large scale and only a single simulator here is equipped with that level of realism.

"One of our traditional tests is to give you a taste of spaceflight in a simulator such as these. You will receive training on these this afternoon; tomorrow you will be assigned your first 'mission.'

They continued the tour in another open large room that reminded Zeke of the bridge of the Redun.

"There are bunks nearby and you will simulate missions of up to a week here. Initially, the senior cadets will occupy the senior posts, but as you progress, you will man all the stations."

They were able to stand outside another simulator and watch, on display screens, a group of cadets in a simulated battle. They were able to see the bridge--it had arrays of screens showing data from individual sensors as well as a three-dimensional map with merged data from all inputs.

At another door Ereine announced, "This is the robotics lab. It is not really a simulation, but more a place where you will work with the various mobile robot platforms that we have. Research is done by specialists at other sites, but familiarity with this type of technology is an important part of your training."

She continued, "Other, larger, devices are housed in other buildings outside. Some of these, under controlled circumstances, have live weapons with which you will become proficient."

Within the room were a variety of robots. Some moved by tracks, others stood upright on two or four legs. They ranged in size from that of a dog to something as large as a small elephant. These were, to Zeke's eyes, impressive. Zeke wondered how much larger the ones outside were.

The room was large, larger than a gymnasium, but smaller than an indoor stadium. Some cadets were manning consoles that controlled the larger robots. Others had portable devices which included smaller view screens.

One of the robots had a large side panel open, and a portable work platform next to it. A cadet, aided by a small robot with thin, dexterous arms, had his head and arms inside the opening, clearly doing repairs or maintenance.

"This is a fourteenth week group. The focus on robotics comes after other training, particularly flight training.

"Some groups have classroom training in the morning and are down on the second level in the afternoon, others have the reverse schedule. I'm not aware of what your initial schedule will be. It will not remain constant throughout your entire training period."

"How long will we train at this facility, and what comes after?" Zeke asked.

"The initial part of the training, where you will be a part of this group, will last for four months. After that, depending upon additional needs you have, or special training you have been selected for, you could remain for up to another two months. You might be sent for some training at one of our other primary officer training centers, which have the same basic curriculum as we do, but each has slightly different specialized training."

"Are the other training centers like this?" someone asked.

"The others are similar, but not identical. Each has a secure third level like this one. You may have noticed that this level is somewhat below the top level, almost twenty meters to be exact. The third level is constructed even farther underground and contains facilities to house the entire complement here, if necessary. Still, even it could be destroyed in an attack.

"We don't know how much the Rogue know about us. Their attacks before were indiscriminate. They focused on population centers and structures, but we don't know if those tactics will change, so there are duplicate facilities."

With no more questions, they continued the tour. The next stop was in another simulator of some kind. However, the room contained only consoles, some of which were similar to the those they'd seen earlier, while others consisted of little more than a keyboard and display screen.

"This is an engineering simulator. These consoles control a ship's systems: fusion bottle, life support, main and gravity drive, weapons, and sensors. This simulator, and one other, can be linked to those on the bridge to simulate the major control stations of a capital ship."

"There is one more stop on the tour," she said as the entered the elevator again. They descended even farther this time.

Where there had been a number of cadets visible in the hallway on the second floor, only a few could be seen making their way up and down the hallway here. Down to the left, the hallway ended in a heavy wall with a formidable-looking door.

"The area beyond that door is the classified portion of the facility. I don't have access. It is unlikely any of you will, before you graduate, unless a need to use the bunker occurs."

A few doors down on the right they entered into another large room. The door opened into a viewing balcony for a large area below, the size of several football fields. It contained what appeared to be a natural outdoor scene with grass, trees, and even a large pond in one corner.

Two groups of highly maneuverable robots appeared to be battling each other. They moved quickly and appeared to be using lasers as weapons. They were composed of a variety of shapes. None were at all human-like.

"This is a research test lab. These machines use lasers as weapons, although that is not the only weapon with which they can be fitted. It is the only weapon, when the intensity is reduced, that can be tested practically indoors."

Zeke saw the machines. Their shapes were different from the others he'd seen. Their bodies were slimmer and they moved as easily on all fours as they did two. Their colors matched the simulated terrain and even their movements were smooth, although sometimes blindingly fast.

They were only allowed to stay for a few minutes and there wasn't much to see. The tactics seemed to be long periods of slow stealthy movements followed by lightning-fast attacks.

Ereine led them out of the room and back to the elevator.

"Mr. Tilor," she asked, "do you think our training methods differ from what you have on Earth?" she asked.

"I guess so," Zeke replied, "although I only know from videos and books. Training on my world emphasizes obedience and changing the soldier's mindset from harsh treatment, although that may be more for enlisted men and less true for officers. Is the training for enlisted personnel different from what we will experience?"

"In the past it was," she replied, "but there are no common soldiers now. Everyone must be proficient with using automated systems and robots. Training for non-officers has a different focus with more emphasis on robotics and automated systems than what we have here."

Ereine took them back to the dining area and instructed them to form up in the hall after they'd finished. As they left, she touched Zeke's arm.

She held out her arm, the one with the comm. "If you touch your comm to mine, I'll have your ID and can-- more easily--contact you... later," she said.

The others were already in line for their meal. Zeke held out his hand uncertainly, and Ereine tapped their comms together. He looked up at her to see a smile on her face. The smile still on her face, she leaned forward to touch his sleeve, then quickly excused herself and left.

They ate the meal quickly and quietly as they considered this first test.

Yipt was there to march them to their next class. He had little to say. When they stopped at one of the countless doors, different from the others only by the small number on a placard beside the door, he left without a word.