Chapter 1: The Boys from Jenerth
“Welcome to Ruria,” the blonde woman on the first television said.
“Where will you be when the Eruten attack? Will you be ready? Will you be physically capable to protect your family? Try our new muscle enhancer!” The dark blue skinned man on the next television said.
It was two tall teenage boys that exited the “True Spear,” the fastest ship in the Andromeda Galaxy. The taller of the two had blue skin, much lighter than the man on the television, with large broad shoulders, shoulder-length black hair and a beard that extended down to his chest. The smaller boy, though above the average height of a normal Rurian, had peach skin with light brown hair that shined even brighter from the red rays of the Ruria sky.
“The same commercials with the same message. When are they going to give it a rest?” Bartan, as the taller boy was called, adjusted the tie of his suit as he scoffed.
“Probably after the Eruten attack here, I would imagine.” The smaller boy lifted a metal briefcase he was carrying, staring at it as he walked as if he could see through it. He shook it up and down to make sure he didn’t lose anything.
“You think they will attack here anytime soon, Straken?” Bartan barely tapped into a passerby as he was walking and nearly knocked the person over.
“It’s been five years since the last attack here. Who the hell knows?”
Straken and Bartan spent the rest of their brief walk in silence, taking in their surroundings. Neither boy had been to Ruria before and they were not here for a vacation so they had little time to enjoy the moment. Instead each of them made note of where each building was, what each person was wearing and what type of people were around.
The building landscape was the easy part, Ruria was far more advanced than any other planet in the Andromeda Galaxy. Skyscrapers were common and occupied majority of the landscape. Each skyscraper was connected to a chain of small businesses ranging from food vendors to weapons suppliers. Each building was fine-crafted with metal mined from the planet Prem, the first known planet in the Andromeda Galaxy.
The people of Ruria were unique, Ruria was a true melting pot of the galaxy. Green, purple, pink and blue were just some of the shades of skin that Bartan and Straken saw as they walked. Cyborgs, alien species they had never seen and creatures with multiple eyes and appendages. A small robot scurried past them with eight arms and Bartan lifted his hand as if he was going to say something, but Straken just met his eyes with a shrug and a shake of his head. Bartan laughed and was about to pass a comment when a soft voice interrupted them.
“You boys are late,” the voice said. They both came to a sudden halt and turned to face the short girl behind them.
“You were waiting for us?” Straken spoke first. He blushed when he saw the girl, she was much prettier than he expected after what they had just seen. She was of fair skin with long dirty blonde hair. She had dark make-up around her eyes and dark red lipstick on. She was dressed in a similar fashion to the boys, but she abandoned the dress pants for a plaid skirt.
“Escort the two transfer students from Jenerth. That was my order,” she said. “We’re like, totally super late. Just so you both know.”
“Yeah…” Bartan rubbed the back of his head. “Sorry about that.”
“I suppose we can stop for some introductions though, yeah?” She smiled. Bartan looked at Straken, but his fascination in her seemed to have died down.
“This idiot is Straken,” Bartan said pointing to his companion. “I’m Bartan, you can call me Bart for short.”
“Bart and Straken! Got it!” She looked behind her, people were boarding the True Spear and the doors were closing up. “Walk with me.”
She rushed past both of them, forcing them to match her pace.
“And your name?” Straken asked.
“Lara-Ann, just call me Lara.” She looked at Bartan as she said it and smiled. “You boys ever been to Ruria before?”
“No. First time.” Straken answered.
“Is it always so… Busy?” Bartan asked.
“Always.” Lara replied. “Moving like this through people on the streets is the norm. We should probably be moving faster because of how late we are, but I don’t want to tire you boys out before we even get started.”
“We just got here, shouldn’t you be showing us to our rooms?” Bartan was tired from the trip.
“Not quite, your first class is already happening.” Lara explained.
Lara picked up her pace and the boys matched it. There was a tall green metal building in the center of a square. It was the only building that the boys had seen that stood alone, separate from the others. A sign outside the building read: “Andro Academy.”
“Let’s hurry in, your class is on the eighth floor. We don’t want to keep Professor Teek waiting. He’s a very impatient man.” Lara said. She put a code into a small panel in front of the building and two large doors slid open. “Hurry up!”
They rushed in and the boys were immediately shocked. From the outside, Andro Academy seemed extremely narrow, but once entering the entire place opened up. The first floor was large with two long, wide staircases leading up to the main floor. Numerous counters were set up at the top with green carpets used to help form lines.
“Do we have to wait on those?” Asked Bartan.
“Normally, yes. But that’s why I’m here!” Lara grabbed both of them by the arms and dragged them over to an elevator. Lara removed a key card from her dress shirt and swiped it in a small slot beside the elevator. “You guys don’t get teleporter sickness, right?”
“Tele-what-now?” Responded Straken, looking at Bartan instead of Lara.
“This could get messy.” She sighed as she pushed them both into the elevator. “I’ll meet you boys on the eighth floor.” She hit a button inside the elevator then backed away.
The large metal doors of the elevator in front of them began to appear hazy. Straken looked down at his arms and noticed them begin to pull apart. He didn’t feel any pain so he figured this was just a side effect of the teleportation and that his arms weren’t actually pulling apart. He went to turn to his companion but the sudden movement of his own head made everything extremely blurry and he began to feel sick. Before he could open his mouth, everything turned pitch black then a bright blue. He closed his eyes before hearing a “ding” sound. When he opened his eyes everything was back to normal and the elevator doors reopened.
“You’re lucky it was a short distance.” Lara was speaking to Bartan who was throwing up in a nearby trash can.
“You can’t just use regular elevators?” Straken asked.
“Less maintenance with these.” Lara said with a smile. “You alright, big guy?”
“I’ll live.” Bartan replied, wiping the side of his mouth.
“Great, let’s go!”
Lara lead the way, but it wasn’t far to go from the elevator. There was only one class room on the eighth floor. Lara made her way to another panel on the wall and showed her face to it. A facial recognition system began to scan her face, it scanned multiple times back and forth before confirming who she was.
“Lara-Ann Scoria, 18 years old, Human, Seat 10.” The device said.
“Go ahead,” Lara said. “It should recognize you.”
Straken went first, to give Bartan some time to gather himself after the elevator ride.
“Straken Warne, 19 years old, Human, Seat 11.”
“Well at least we get to sit close to each other.” Straken said with a smile.
Bartan was next.
“Bartan Grate, 17 years old, L’Uruan, Seat 12.”
“Bart is younger than you? I didn’t expect that.” Lara said, fascinated.
“L’Uruan’s mature faster than humans.” Bart explained.
“And live longer, something wrong with that.” Straken added.
“Indeed.” Lara laughed as the doors slowly opened.
The classroom was brighter than they expected. Large glass windows replaced the outer wall of the room and the red sky was only partially blocked by them. Some of the students wore dark glasses to block the distraction. There was a large screen at the front of the room. At the head of the class was a very tall man with grey hair and a grey beard. He had a long brown coat and regular grey slacks on with dress shoes. Under the coat he had a metal vest on. Straken immediately noticed that the right sleeve of the coat was missing, as was the professors right arm. His arm had been replaced by a metal one with wires that emerged from his shoulder and stuck into the vest and his neck.
Straken’s interest in the Professor was nothing in comparison to the rest of the classes interest in them. Each and every one of them were staring as if all three of them had just entered into the room with no clothes on. Straken moved his eyes from the professor and surveyed the room, he was shocked to see that majority of the class was human.
“The new blood has arrived.” Professor Teek said, putting his regular arm out as if he was presenting them to an audience. “Please, take your seats.”
Seat 10, 11 and 12 were in the middle of the room. Lara took seat 10 and Straken took the one beside her. Seat 12 was designed much larger.
“They’ve done their homework on my race,” Bartan whispered.
“Looks that way.” Straken replied as he admired the large seat beside his.
“So who will catch these boys up?” Professor Teek looked around the room. “Brynn? If you would, please.”
A short girl with red hair began to stand up, Straken’s voice stopped her.
“No need, professor.” He stood up. “I think I already know what was discussed.”
“Oh? Then perhaps you would like to come up here and teach the rest of the class.” The rest of the students laughed.
“Do you mind?” Straken smiled but the rest of the class grew quiet.
“By all means.” Professor Teek leaned back on his desk and folded his arms.
Straken looked around the room. Some of the students were curious and some of them were angry. “Who does this boy from another planet think he is?” was written on some of their faces.
“What the hell are you doing, man?” Bartan’s question was ignored as Straken made his way to the front of the class.
“While my companion and I were running late, I’m sure many things were discussed.” He put his hands into his pockets as he walked back and forth in front of Professor Teek. “According to the panel just outside the classroom, this class was supposed to start roughly twenty minutes ago.” Lara was shocked that he noticed what was on the panel. She didn’t notice him acknowledge it. “Assuming the good professor waited some time for my companion and miss Lara to arrive, let’s just say it started ten minutes ago for arguments sake. In those ten minutes I doubt Professor Teek had much time to explain what this class is about, but I believe I already know.”
“It’s about the war.” A boy in the class called out.
“Yes, the war. The inevitable war,” Straken removed his right hand from his pocket and brought his hand up to his chin. “How many of you remember five years ago?” The room fell silent. “Five years ago, the Erus, then known as the Eru-five completely destroyed Ruria. You were all old enough to feel its effects but you couldn’t possibly comprehend the actual war itself.”
“We all suffered. We experienced the war itself.” Lara was next to call out.
“Suffered, yes. But how many of you took up arms and fought in that war? What do you think the Eru have done in the meantime, while they were evolving into what we now call the Eruten?”
“Hiding,” the boy from earlier answered.
“Hiding,” Straken repeated. “What else?”
“Waiting.” This time Brynn answered.
“Waiting… For?” Straken turned his attention towards her.
“Waiting until they get stronger.” She answered again.
“Or waiting for the right time to attack.” Another student called out.
“All of these answers are wrong,” Straken’s words confused the class. “Bartan, stand up.”
Bartan rose, almost taking his entire desk with him.
“What have the Eruten been doing since they last attacked Ruria?” Asked Straken.
“Consuming.” Answered Bartan.
“Can you elaborate, Bart?” Straken was now sitting on the desk beside Professor Teek, his arms also folded.
“Consuming everything they can from other planets. Growing stronger and stronger each day,” Bartan’s anger was apparent in each word and seemed to be growing as he spoke. The students around him began to inch their desks away from him. “Expanding their technology, expanding their knowledge of firearms and other weapons. Destroying everything that gets in their way and everything they want to dissect or examine.”
“Thank you, Bart. Take a seat and don’t break anything.” Straken began to walk back and forth again as Bartan sat back down. “You see… The Eruten are not waiting, they are not hiding. They are being active.”
“How do you know all of this?” Brynn asked
“Bartan and I are from your sister planet, Jenerth. While it is true that we were scheduled to transfer here over a month ago, it is also true that we are two of the only survivors to make it out of Jenerth.”
“Survivors?” Lara asked among the gasps in the room. “Jenerth was attacked?”
“The Eruten are on Jenerth as we speak.” The students began to talk amongst themselves but immediately stopped when Straken continued. “They are consuming… They are destroying… And when they are done where do you think they are heading?” Straken looked around the room, anticipating the students to panic.
“That will be enough, Straken. Thank you for your contribution. Please, have a seat.” Straken looked at the Professor and nodded before taking his seat. “Please, do not panic. These are important details that I was going to share with the class but Straken has sped up the process for me.”
“How can we not panic?” Brynn interrupted. “The Eruten could be here in a matter of days. Ruria is not prepared for an assault so soon.”
“Five long years is not soon, Brynn.” Professor Teek said. “Yes, buildings that were destroyed five years ago have just finished being rebuilt recently. But those same five long years have brought us time to strengthen our armies. Improve on our technologies. Advance our weaponry. Build better spaceships. Teach even our teenage students how to fight back. We will be ready for them.”
Professor Teek walked around his desk and began to write on the screen behind him with his metal fingers. He began outlining war strategies, creating them in mere seconds with the advanced speed of his robotic arm.
“Galen, what is this formation here?”
“The angel formation,” the boy who spoke out when Straken was talking answered. He was short with dark green skin and black hair.
“Correct. And this one, Hayden?”
“The Arnland Wall,” a blonde haired girl next to Brynn answered.
“Correct.” Professor Teek drew a few more formations on the screen before stopping to face the class. “Now, you are all familiar with these formations. You have studied them for years and all have experience executing them. Children are born with guns and swords in their hands in this day and age. But, ever since the Eru came five years ago there has been something missing from all of these formations. What is it?” Lara-Ann raised her hand. “Lara?”
“Leaders.” She said.
Professor Teek once again leaned back on his desk with his arms folded.
“Leaders.” He repeated it. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back. The room fell completely silent. To some students it seemed like Professor Teek had fallen asleep, but Straken knew the truth. Professor Teek was recalling his horrifying experiences from five years ago. He assumed the Professor was reliving the moment he lost that arm of his. The moment he lost those closest to him, those that were considered leaders. “Why?” His eyes opened as he asked the question.
“The Eru are smart.” Straken said, not necessarily answering the question, just stating a fact to help Professor Teek along.
“Very smart,” Professor Teek replied. “They don’t attack planets without a strategy and that strategy often involves seeking out the leaders of a squad and eliminating them. Five years ago I watched as they pinpointed the leader of each squad we threw at them. We relied too heavily on those leaders to execute our strategies and without them, Ruria fell.”
“Then we fight with no designated leaders?” Brynn asked.
“Yes… And no.” Professor Teek walked over to Brynn’s desk. She was sitting in the front. “Jenerth is currently being destroyed by the Eruten. Straken is not lying when he says they will be coming here next. To completely train leaders in that time would be impossible, training someone to lead is hard enough as it is. Most people will tell you that those who end up leading are born leaders. It’s not something you can easily teach. So the true question is: why did Jenerth fall?” Professor Teek made his way over to Straken’s desk. He stood in between Straken and Bartan. “Why did your planet fall?”
“Because of what Brynn said.” Straken said it with his head down. “We fought without leaders.”
“You fought on Jenerth?” Lara asked as if she and Straken were the only two in the room.
“Bartan and I fought on Jenerth, just a few days ago.” Straken said.
“And what did you see, Straken?” Professor Teek asked.
“An alien race that has evolved.” He answered. “Stronger, faster, bigger… More advanced. More ruthless.”
“Yet, you survived.” Professor Teek added.
“We were assigned with preserving the memories of Jenerth.” Bartan explained. “If the Eruten completely destroy Jenerth, who is to say that years from now people will even remember its existence?”
The room once again fell silent. Professor Teek wanted this to sink in for the rest of the students. He wanted them to realize that in those same years people could forget about Ruria if the Eruten destroyed it. He made his way back to the front of the class. Every student had their eyes on him. He approached the screen where he had drawn the angel formation and lifted his metal index finger up to the screen. Each point of the formation he wrote in a name. Brynn, Hayden and Galen in the back. Lara and a boy named Jaa, who Straken assumed was the boy sitting next to Lara. At the top of the formation, to the surprised reaction of the class, he wrote “Straken.”
“I know what you’re all thinking,” Professor Teek moved over to his drawing of the Arnland Wall formation as he spoke. “These boys just transferred here from another planet.” He filled in the rest of the class in the Arnland Wall formation and wrote “Bartan” at the top. “Why would we make them leaders? You will see for yourself in the coming days. But, what have we been working on for the last five years?”
“Training soldiers. Even training children to become soldiers.” Answered Lara.
“Soldiers. Not leaders. We have been afraid to train leaders because of the Eruten’s tactics. Brynn, you can execute a phalanx formation with your eyes closed, but could you lead a squad? Would you be able to recognize when to change to an angel formation and give the order to do so? Do you command that respect from your peers?”
“I’ve never tried.” Answered Brynn.
“Jaa,” Professor Teek turned to the boy next to Lara, confirming Straken’s suspicions. “If Lara were to be stabbed by an Eruten’s piercer in her leg and then suffer another wound from an Eruten’s plasma gun, could you make the call to leave her behind? Could you judge the situation and decide if she is saveable?”
“I would never leave Lara or any other soldier behind.” Answered Jaa.
“That is not always an option, I’m afraid. I’ve done my research on the inhabitants of Jenerth. I am the one who sent for their transfer months ago. I did not think the Eruten were coming so soon, but it is obvious to everyone on Ruria that our army lacks leaders. But Jenerth breeds them. Jenerth is known for training and seasoning leaders. That is where Straken and Bartan come in. That is--”
Before Professor Teek could continue, a steady ringing interrupted him. The students began to close their notebooks and fill their bags and briefcases.“Class is dismissed for now, we will continue this tomorrow. Meet me out in the field behind the school. Don’t be late.”