Although the conversation went on for several minutes, the three men spoke in such a hushed tone that Alex could only catch small fragments of the conversation. After a while the talking ceased and all he could hear was the sound of footsteps. Realizing what was happening he raced down the hallway, and motioning to Sierra and Benjamin to follow him, they ran toward their dorm. Brother Martin was the first to enter the hallway, and as he did so he caught a glimpse of Alex just as he was disappearing into the dorm common room. Shaking his head he allowed himself a small smile. That young man was rather daring.
Entering the room Alex smiled at his two friends, as he joined them on the couches, “That was close, five seconds later and we would have been in a world of trouble.”
Looking over at Alex, Sierra grinned, “Yea yea, but we didn’t get caught. So what did you hear?”
That comment caused Benjamin to laugh, “You mean you would have been in trouble. We weren’t the ones eavesdropping in on two Fathers and a Brother.”
Alex grinned at that, “Well if you don’t want to know what they said I understand. I wouldn’t want you to get into trouble.”
After saying this, Alex got up and began to walk towards his room. He was half way there when Benjamin leapt up from the couch, “Wait, wait. Tell us everything.” As he stood there holding Alex’s arm he saw the grin on his face, and looking back at Sierra saw her grinning as well. Moving back over to the couch he sat down somewhat sheepishly, to the laughter of the other two.
Still grinning Alex sat down, “Well to be honest I couldn’t hear that much. There was something about shuttles proving a point, and a council listening. Then they were talking about something called the Redband.”
“Hang on a second, the Redband? Our history textbook talks about them.”
“Hold on Benjamin. Who is telling this story? You or me?”
Benjamin just raised his hands, “My bad. Please continue.”
“Thank you. Anyway as I was saying, they were talking about some group called the Redband attacking, and how they had to go to the council. Then there was some talk about it being useless, and having to prepare on their own. The last thing I could hear was that they were going to go meet with the patriarchs again, and how they can’t ignore the threat. Pretty wild stuff huh?”
“Hang on.” Was Sierra’s response, “That is more than pretty wild. The Patriarchs are the leaders of the Order. And Benjamin’s right the Redband is in our history books. They were the Master’s army.”
“Hold on Sierra; are you saying you actually believe that stuff? I mean it can’t really be the Redband.”
“Well, Alex, those three seem to believe it. And, they seem pretty rational. How about you Benjamin?”
“Well I don’t know. I mean it could be true, but it does seem far-fetched. But, what about the shuttles we saw earlier? Somebody had to do that; and last I read the Dieron Federation wasn’t at war with anyone. So it could be the Redband.”
Alex just sat there staring at his friends open-mouthed, “I cannot believe you two. You are honestly saying you believe it could be this Redband? Or that the Master really exists? I mean come on; how could anything come out of darkspace?”
“I don’t know Alex, it could be true. I mean it makes as much sense as other explanations about darkspace. Besides, who else could strike this deep in the Federation? Certainly not border pirates.”
“Well it doesn’t surprise me that you would believe it Ben, after all you’ve always acted kind of odd whenever the Redband comes up. But, what about you Sierra? You’ve never believed any of it before.”
“I know, I know. But, like Ben said, who else could it be?”
“I don’t know, but I wanna try and find out. My guess is whoever they are it’s probably the same people as from the Waystation and Calos.” Ben and Sierra both nodded their heads at that, and Sierra was about to respond, but instead clamped her mouth shut. Brother Martin had just walked in, and, as he walked to his office, said, “Alex, would you please come into my office?” Looking over at his companions, Alex gave a resigned shrug and then walked into the office as Brother Martin shut the door behind them both.
“You are upset at being assigned to the humanitarian services, aren’t you?” Standing there in front of the desk, Alex was a little taken aback by this question. It was not what he expected.
Recovering quickly he said, “Yes, Brother, I am. I had expected to be assigned to the agriculture division. After all, with my training and experience, I would be a great asset there.” Brother Martin smiled at that response.
“That is true, and after five years or so you would leave the Order and go settle somewhere as a private farmer. Then any hope or chance we would have to see you become a true servant of the Overlord would be gone.”
Alex opened his mouth in protest. “Brother, I would never…”
He was stopped short by a raised hand from his instructor. “Do you think I am so naïve and stupid that I don’t realize why you joined the White Falcons? Oh, I know after five months you have finally come to the point where you are willing to acknowledge his existence. But you still do not believe in him. You joined to escape military service! I knew this from day one. I chose to allow you to stay because, while you are here, I have unlimited chances to see you come to believe in the Overlord. That is the same reason I recommended that you be assigned to the Humanitarian division. You have great potential as a leader of men; however, you are incredibly self-centered and are often incapable of seeing beyond your own desires or wishes. Perhaps by helping others you will learn to see beyond yourself. Do not worry. Your division does more than help with cleanup of natural and galactic disasters. They also do activities such as teaching farming techniques, hydroponics, locating wells, irrigation, and much more. You will get to use your skills and abilities, just not in the manner you expected.” Alex was rather shocked by this frank and open response from his training master but knew he could not argue against it.
Slumping back a little bit, he nodded his head. “I understand.” Brother Martin smiled at that. “Do not worry, Alex. You will find purpose in this division, provided you are open to the opportunities that knock at your door. Now go and enjoy yourself, because you know tomorrow is the start of the long weekend this month.”
Later that night, after Brother Martin had left and dinner had been finished, they all decided to watch a movie. As it was Sierra’s turn to pick one the others started to grab snacks and find seats on the couches. While still waiting for Sierra to make her choice Alex decided this would be a perfect time to ask the question that had been growing in his mind all day, “Does anyone know who it was that took Wulfric? He didn’t look like a Father at all?”
He was rather disappointed by the fact that everyone seemed to be shaking their heads. It seemed they had all been equally baffled by it. Except for Jonathon, who spoke up, “There have long been rumours that after the Shadow Wolves were defeated in combat the survivors took refuge with the White Falcon Order. Nobody has been able to prove it and the Order has always denied it; but, it has never been completely disproved either.”
Alex and the others just stared at Jonathon. “Are you seriously telling me that the White Falcons, this peaceful religious Order that we have all joined, actually harbours and protects one of the most notorious outlaw groups in all of known space?”
Jonathon just nodded his head at that. Sierra walking up with a movie in her hand commented, “That rumour has been flying around for years, I don’t think it’s actually true. I mean, come on, why would they? What do the Shadow Wolves and the White Falcons have in common?”
Alex nodded his head vigorously, “Right. It couldn’t have been the Shadow Wolves. The last of them were killed off at least thirty years ago.”
Seeing that everyone else was agreeing with Alex and Sierra, Jonathon simply shrugged his shoulders, “Like I said it’s just a rumour. But, we never knew that the White Falcons were such skilled soldiers either till a few months ago…” Seeing the concerned and worried looks on several of their faces he smiled. Turning around to look at Sierra, he asked, “So what movie are we watching?”
Sierra grinned broadly, “Something we will all love.” With that she held up Captain Spencer and the Light Horse Brigade. Everyone smiled at that. The adventures of Captain Spencer were the most popular romance/adventure series anywhere. Nobody ever turned down a chance to watch them, and this was the newest one.
As they activated the holotape Rebecca looked around at the others, “Let’s make sure to thank Brother Martin on Monday. He must have pulled some serious strings to get us this.” With that final comment the movie started and all talk of the Shadow Wolves was quickly forgotten.
By the time the movie ended it was almost eleven at night, and everyone quickly decided it was time for bed, it had been a long day. It wasn’t long before everyone had fallen asleep. At this point a small shadow slipped out of the doorway and into the courtyard. Sticking to the darkened areas, it glided noiselessly to a small side door and slipped through. Closing the door, Benjamin stood outside the chapterhouse looking decidedly uncomfortable but very determined. Taking a look at his paracompass and then at the orange light on his ring, he struck out to the west. He was heading toward the foothills of the Suphez Mountains. Around half past midnight, Benjamin reached a small clump of trees about six miles from the chapterhouse. Sitting down he took a drink from his canteen. He had left the dorms around quarter to eleven and walked all the way to this clump of trees, and he wasn’t even sure why. “Aaahhh, Mr. Hotspur. So nice of you to make it,” said an oily voice from within the clump of trees. Benjamin leapt to his feet. Spinning around he dropped the canteen. There, standing before him, was Prelate Marix of the Redband.
Staring at the ground, Benjamin mumbled, “I already sent you all the information you wanted on the location of the main chapterhouse. What more could you want?” Smiling coldly at him, Marix responded, “Remember our bargain! You do what we say and in return we will free your family from their slavery and misery.” Benjamin looked at the Prelate with hatred, but slumped back, knowing what he said was true, “What do you want me to do now?” Marix simply smiled. “Nothing too difficult. All you need to do is leave this small package in the main command room. Once that is done, we shall consider your end of the bargain fulfilled.” Benjamin grabbed the packet and stuffed it in his satchel. Turning around he began walking back to the chapterhouse when he heard the Prelate say, “One last thing. You will need this to get over the walls of the compound.”
Benjamin spun around to see his visitor holding a small grey cylinder, looking it over he asked, “What is it?”
The man merely smiled, “It is a grappling hook. Press this button here and a rope and hook will shoot out and latch onto the wall. Be careful though, it only has a range of around thirty yards; so you will need to be rather close to the wall in order to reach the top.” When he had finished looking over the device he shoved it into his satchel and looked up to ask another question. Only, he was gone. Benjamin looked around for a couple of minutes and when he could not find him, shouldered his pack and started off for home. He was rather grateful that it was almost all downhill in this direction. .
Alex awoke early on Saturday morning as was his custom and, getting dressed, walked out into the common area to grab some breakfast. Reaching the kitchenette section, he noticed that Rebecca, Jonathon, Michael, and Sebastian were already there. After grabbing some cereal, he joined them at the table. “Watcha guys doing up so early?”
Rebecca just laughed at that. “Look who’s talking? Have you ever slept in one weekend since you got here?”
Looking at Rebecca with a shocked look on his face, Alex responded, “What on Calos are you talking about? It’s almost eight in the morning. How much longer do I need to sleep in for?”
The seriousness with which Alex said that made all four of his friends start laughing with Jonathon saying, “The best part is that he actually means what he says.”
To which Michael responded, “Trust a farmer; who else would think eight in the morning is sleeping in?”
The joking continued in this manner for several more minutes until, recovering herself sufficiently to speak, Rebecca said, “Since we have today off, we figured we would hike over to the Suphez foothills. It’s only a couple of hours at most, and they apparently have some amazing caves there. Care to join us?”
Leaning back in his chair, Alex took a bite of his cereal. “Who else is going?”
To that Sebastian shrugged his shoulders. “Alexander and Sierra. We tried asking Benjamin but couldn’t find him last night.”
Alex just rolled his eyes at that. “Yea and good luck waking him up. That man could sleep through a nuclear explosion. But yes, I’ll join you. It sounds like fun. I’ll even try to wake up Benjamin.”
A few hours later the whole group was just reaching the Suphez foothills. Stopping at a cluster of trees, they broke out some sandwiches and Pino wine and sat down to a comfortable and leisurely lunch. Thirty minutes later, they were interrupted by a startled sound from Sierra. “Look over there! It’s a blood horse!” At that everyone looked round to where she was pointing. Blood animals were extremely rare in all of known space. The blood of these animals could cure or kill any sentient being, and it could eat through weapons-grade metal like it was paper. This ensured they were the most hunted creatures in all of known space. Sure enough, standing there on a hill about fifteen meters off was a magnificent blood horse. It was at least nineteen hands high, was colored dark red with a fiery yellow mane, and had dark black eyes that seemed to sparkle in the sunlight. It stood there on the hilltop looking as if it was posing for an unseen photographer, and then suddenly it spun around and walked off.
Alex looked over at his companions and, with a wicked grin on his face, said, “Let’s follow it.” Jonathon glanced uncertainly at everyone else. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea. After all his herd is bound to be close by and they can be rather dangerous animals.” Sierra smiled at him. “Aaahhh, come-on! That’s half the fun. Besides, when will you get another chance to a see a whole herd of blood horses?” Still looking uneasy, he responded, “It may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance, but I’d rather not end up in an early grave because you want a cool photo.” Sierra and Alex both laughed at that when Rebecca suddenly spoke up. “Well, why don’t those who want to follow the horse do so, and the rest of us can wait here? There is a nice stream over there, and we can cast our lines and wait for you nutjobs to come back.” Shrugging his shoulders at that suggestion, Alex responded, “Whatever. Anyone else want to come with us?” Looking around at the group, it seemed no one else wanted to come, so with a somewhat sarcastic tone, Sierra said, “Let’s go, Alex. It seems they would all rather go fishing.” With that the two of them set off in the direction the blood horse had gone.
Sierra and Alex crested the hill in a few minutes and spotted the horse just seeming to disappear between two hills. As they moved over to the gap between the hills, they noticed a small cave entrance. Pointing at it, Alex said, “That must be where it went.” The two of them moved toward the cave and entering it they found themselves in a narrow corridor that wound off into the distance. “I don’t think this is where the horse went, Alex. It’s too narrow for a beast that big.” Looking over at his companion, Alex said, “True enough, but this cave is man-made. Let’s see where it goes and who it is that made it. Who knows? Perhaps we will find some smugglers or something.” Sierra nodded her head in agreement, and they both headed down the corridor, staying in the shadows as much as possible. A few minutes later, they reached the end of the tunnel. Ducking behind some rocks, they saw a scene that sent a chill down their spines. Standing in the middle of the room was a man garbed in a red uniform who was barking orders at the men scurrying around the cave.
“You there, hurry up and get those darkmatter guns ready! The Dark Lords will arrive in a few weeks, and everything needs to be ready or it will be your heads on their dinner plates.” With a voice made tinny from fear, the sergeant overseeing the guns snapped a quick “Yes, sir!” Shoving a hapless private out of the way, he bent over the stuck mechanism and seemed to be trying to hide inside the gun workings. The Prelate stood in the center of the room. All around him men in blood-red uniforms were stacking rifles, pistols, vibroswords, axes, daggers, and body armor in various piles. Other men were standing at machines watching readouts and, from time to time, bringing paper reports over to the Prelate for a signature or approval. Once or twice the Prelate gave an order to someone who would promptly disappear down a side tunnel or one of the other walkways on some unknown errand. Suddenly, the Prelate spun around and strode off down a corridor at the far end of the cavern. As he disappeared down the tunnel, Alex tapped Sierra on the shoulder and motioned for her to follow him. The two of them slipped silently back the way they had come. A few minutes later, they were back outside the cave in the sunlight again. Looking at Sierra in a very serious way, Alex said, “Let’s not tell the others about it. You know how they are, they will start freaking out and everything.”
Sierra nodded her head in agreement, “Let’s tell Brother Martin about it though. We have to tell someone, and he is the best person we know.”
Alex stood there for a second in thought, “Ok, I think you’re right, we will tell him first chance we get.” Sierra smiled at that, obviously relieved by his agreement, and the two of them headed back to where their companions were waiting. As they crested the last hill, Alex waved over to the small group clustered by the stream.
As they got closer to their friends, they heard Sebastian say, “And the intrepid hunters return. Did you get your photo?”
Sierra grimaced. “Nope, we couldn’t find the horse anywhere. You guys catch any fish?” Sebastian grinned broadly at that holding up six large grey and black striped fish.
“This can be our supper tonight.”
Rebecca laughed, “He is the only one to catch anything, perhaps you two will have more luck fishing than you did with the horse.” She handed both of them of a fishing pole; and they spent the rest of the afternoon fishing and relaxing by the stream until it was time to head back to the training house.
In the evening as they all entered the common room of their dorm; Alex saw Benjamin and said, “Aaahhh, he did wake up.” Benjamin looked up, and, seeing them all entering the room, grinned at them, “Where did you guys go? I spent at least an hour today looking for you all.”
Sebastian shrugged his shoulders. “Alex and I tried to wake you up. But you were sleeping like the dead this morning, so we left you when we went to the foothill caves.”
Benjamin just laughed, “That’s OK. I have no real desire to go to the caves, and I didn’t sleep well last night. I woke up around eleven or so. But the good news is I made enough food for all of us, so if some of you can set up the table, we can eat dinner.”
Michael who was holding the fish held them up, “But, what about these. I am not holdin them all night.”
That caused them all to laugh, wiping her eyes Rebecca said, “Put them in the freezer. We can cook them up tomorrow after service.” Still laughing, Sierra began to set the table as Michael bagged the fish up and placed them in the freezer.
Ten minutes later they all sat down to eat. Looking around as everyone started eating Benjamin asked, “So did you guys see anything cool at the caves?”
Looking up Sebastian said through a mouthful of food, “We saw a Blood horse, but inspite of the best efforts of Alex and Sierra we couldn’t get a photo. Other than that we just spent the day by the stream fishing and hanging out.”
“How about you Ben? You spent all day here?” Was Rebecca’s question as she handed a napkin to Sebastian.
“Well, pretty much.I just caught up on homework and recorded a holo message to my parents. Tomorrow, after the service I plan on going into town and getting a coffee and maybe just reading. Anyone wanna come?”
Placing her fork down, Rebecca smiled, “Sure, anyone else?” The others just shook their heads, they all knew they would have to spend the afternoon doing the homework they had been putting off.
Alex grimaced, “How do you always have time to just blow Rebecca, I swear you never seem to do anything, yet you always get it done, and usually get better grades than anyone but John here.”
Before Rebecca could respond Sierra just started laughing, “That’s only cause you don’t live with her, she is up for hours each night doing all that homework and studying.”
Seeing the looks the others gave her, Rebecca smiled, “Well why do you think I’m never out here for the nightly movie? Besides I would rather enjoy my weekends, and doing it this way enables me to.”
Later that night, as everyone was heading to bed, Sierra and Rebecca were talking to each other in their room about something that was bothering Rebecca.
“Sierra, did Ben seem like he was disturbed or anything tonight?”
“I don’t think so; he seemed like himself to me.”
“You sure? It seemed like his mind was somewhere else. And how on earth did he sleep till eleven? He went to bed at the same time as the rest of us.”
“I think he was just tired. Maybe he didn’t sleep well or ate something that didn’t sit well in his stomach. After all, he did try to have a G’mork wing-eating contest with Alex, Sebastian, and Jonathon.”
“I don’t know, I still think something is bothering him. I will have to talk to him tomorrow.”
Shaking her head at that last statement of Rebecca’s, Sierra said, “Well, if you want to, you might as well. Personally, though, I think you’re overreacting; but I am heading to bed now so sleep well.”
Rebecca replied, “Goodnight, Sierra.”
At the same time that Sierra and Rebecca were having their conversation, Benjamin lay in his bed listening to the sounds of the night and thinking about the conversation he had had the previous night. Holding the hated ring in his hand, he was tempted to toss it into the waste disposal unit and just forget everything. He couldn’t do that, though. One more job and his family would finally be free of their wage slavery. He rolled over in his bed and placed the ring on his nightstand, praying the light would never turn green.
The following morning, as all the trainees were heading toward the weekly meeting, Rebecca walked up to Benjamin and fell into step with him. “Hey, Benjamin. How you doing?”
Looking right at her, he shrugged his shoulders. “Not too bad; just waiting to become a novice.”
She looked at him. “Are you sure? You have seemed somewhat distracted the last couple of days.” At that Benjamin gave Rebecca a somewhat uncomfortable look.
“Just been looking forward to graduation and moving onto my division.”
Looking up at him with a concerned look on her face, she replied, “Well, if you say so, but just remember if you need to talk about anything, I’m here” Benjamin looked right at her with a look that seemed a little surprised and disconcerted, then opened his mouth as if he was about to say something. Suddenly he clamped it shut as Michael walked up and threw his arms around their shoulders.
“Hey, you two, how goes your morning?”
Rebecca glanced over at him, while Benjamin alternated between staring at the ground and straight ahead, saying, “Not too bad, just on our way to the weekly service.”
Michael laughed. “Hey, how about that? So am I.” With that the conversation between Benjamin and Rebecca ended. As they entered the Great Cathedral and began making their way over to the trainee section, they met up with Alex and Jonathon. Taking their seats with the rest of their group they waited for the three-hour service to begin.
Near the end of the service, Sierra found herself seated next to Benjamin. Thinking back to her conversation the previous night with Rebecca she grabbed her program sheet and wrote a small message on it. ‘Hey Benjamin, everything ok? You seemed out of it the other day.’ Handing it over to Benjamin she waited quietly while he read it. Benjamin then reached over and grabbed a pen, and seemed to spend several minutes writing his response. As one of the brothers strolled past his aisle he slipped it under his book; after the brother had gone several rows past he slipped it quietly into Sierra’s hand.
It read ‘everything is fine, why does everyone keep asking me that?’
Sierra read that quietly and then quickly scribbled a short response, ‘you’re a friend, just want to make sure you’re ok.’ As they stood up for the closing hymn Sierra quickly handed it to Benjamin, who after reading it quickly shoved it in the front flap of his copy of the book to prevent the same brother from seeing it. Looking over at Sierra he mouthed, “I’m fine.”
As they were leaving the service Sierra walked up to Benjamin saying, “Are you sure? If you need someone to talk to I’m here.”
Smiling slightly Benjamin shrugged his shoulders, “Don’t worry Sierra there is nothing you can help me with.” After that statement he jogged off to catch up to Alex and Jonathon.
Rebecca who had observed the whole thing walked up to Sierra, “So you do care?” Looking over at her roommate and seeing her smiling smiled back, “Just don’t let people know. It would ruin my reputation.” Laughing at that response Rebecca grabbed Sierra’s hand and forced her to run to keep up with her as they joined up with Michael and Sebastian.
That afternoon as the other’s scattered to their various rooms or the computers to catch up on homework and studying, Ben grabbed his coat, and looking over at Rebecca asked, “You still want to come grab a coffee with me?”
Rebecca responded, “Sure” and grabbing her coat followed him out the door.
As the two of them left the dorms Alex grinned wolfishly over at Jonathon, “Those two are getting along quite well.” Jonathon grinned back at him and plugging his data stick into the computer console opened his mouth when Sierra spoke first.
“Lay off them. You know it is possible for a guy and a girl to be just friends.” Clamping his mouth shut Jonathon simply turned back to his computer and opening up his report on interreligious relations started typing away.
While Alex waited for his report to open up he just laughed, “Yea whatever, doesn’t mean we can’t joke about it, princess.”
At that Sierra just looked down, and grabbing her bag went into her room shutting the door behind her.
Looking up from where he was reading his textbook Michael glanced over at Alex, “So something I don’t get; why are you so mean to her sometimes? I mean she has been trying to leave her past in the past.”
Alex shrugged his shoulders, “She’s alright, most of the time. It just gets annoying when she gets all high and mighty like that; like she’s better than us or something.”
“Whatever man; we all know you like her.” Jonathon had to duck quickly as a paper ball went sailing through the air, where his head had been moments before.
That caused all three of them to crack up laughing as Jonathon threw the missile back at Alex. “Seriously though, you should probably apologize to her. The princess dig was rather mean.”
Alex waved his hand at the two of them in response, “Yea yea I know, I will later.” Seeing the look on both their faces he raised his hands, “Ok ok, I’ll do it now.”
Getting up from his computer Alex knocked on Sierra’s door. He was rather surprised at how quickly she answered it, almost as if she had been waiting for him, “Yes, Alex. What is it?”
Looking around nervously, and not really wanting to be there he stammered for a few minutes, before finally just blurting out, “Look I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings with the princess comment.”
Sierra smiled at that, “Ok. I know to you I am just the daughter of the Earl of Calos II, but I am trying to leave that in the past. I’m a trainee now, just like you. I left all that behind me when I came here, same as everyone else.”
Alex smiled at that, “You will never be just like me. But ok, I will quit with the princess jokes. What do you say, gonna come join us?”
“Sure, this paper is rough isn’t it?”
“Probably the roughest one to date, well unless your name is Ben or Rebecca. We need all the help we can get though.” Turning around Alex missed the sad smile Sierra gave as her mind briefly flashed back to her maidservant. However, by the time she had joined the others any trace of sadness was gone.
Rebecca and Benjamin strolled into his favorite café, The Golden Lion. Once seated the two of them ordered some food and drinks and just passed the time talking about their classes, where Wulfric had gone and other random topics. After ten minutes or so the food arrived, and once the server had left, Rebecca looked over at Benjamin quite seriously, “So earlier today on the way to service you seemed about to say something before Michael came up.” Benjamin took a long drink of his coffee, and appeared somewhat hesitant to answer.
The silence went on for several minutes, but eventually he began to open up. “You know my parents are wage slaves?” As Rebecca nodded her head he continued, “Well I can’t get them off my mind. We have a law in this country called generational punishment. If someone commits a particularly grievous crime the punishment can be carried over to the following generations. Well my great grandfather was convicted of several murders and was punished under that law to seven lifetimes of wage slavery. My parents are the third generation of that punishment and my siblings will be the fourth. That’s why I joined the Order; to escape that punishment. But, my family is still within it and since it was a punishment, they can’t buy their way out.”
Rebecca sat their silently just drinking her coffee and thinking about what he had just said. “Can’t the Order do anything to help them out?”
“I don’t think so. They have a lot of influence but not that much. Besides even if they could, I doubt they would. It’s our punishment for a crime committed.”
Putting down her coffee Rebecca looked directly at Benjamin, “No. It’s a punishment for a crime your great grandfather committed. Your parents weren’t even alive when the crime was committed and neither were you. Look, I’m your friend and won’t tell anyone this; but, I think you should tell someone about it. Maybe go talk to Brother Martin and see what he says.”
Benjamin just shook his head, “I don’t know. If they knew why I joined, and that I was from a criminal family they might kick me out.”
Rebecca interrupted in a tone that would brook no argument, “Don’t be stupid Ben. We both know the Order has come out very publically condemning all forms of wage slavery. Including as a form of punishment, they are not going to kick you out. Chances are they already know your background anyway.”
That caused Ben to nod his head, although a little shocked by her tone, he continued, “Maybe, I don’t know. Either way I will have to think about it. It’s not something I like talking about to anyone. I know Alex and the others who are from here would shun me if they knew.” Raising his hands to forestall the comment Rebecca was about to make he continued, “Look I will think about what you said and decide on what to do. But, for now let’s just drop it ok?”
Rebecca just nodded her head and glancing over at the clock on the wall said, “Look it’s getting late. Why don’t we head back? I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
As the two of them were walking back to the training compound Rebecca smiled suddenly, “So what did you think of the game last week?”
At that reminder Benjamin just shook his head, “That was ridiculous, I never even touched that guy. And, I’m pretty sure they had to be cheating somehow. We had already beaten them twice before, and now they suddenly get that good just in time for the final match. It’s just not possible.” At this point in his rant he happened to glance down at Rebecca, who was quite obviously working at not laughing, and just clamped his mouth shut, “It’s not funny.”
Rebecca just started laughing so hard that she had to stop walking and lean against a wall to catch her breath, “I have never seen you guys get so competitive before, or that upset at losing. If it wasn’t for us getting our division ribbons you would probably still be talking about it.” As she finished saying this the two of them crossed through the gate and hearing the belltower strike nine ran all the way up to their dorm, arriving there just before the last gong.
As they ran in they could see one of the novices in charge of curfew enforcement shake his head in mock annoyance, “Well I will let it slide this time as you technically beat the curfew bell.” And they could just catch a glimpse of his amused smile as he shut the door behind them.
The following afternoon as everyone was enjoying a relaxing day inside the common area due to a massive rainstorm, Alex noticed Brother Martin walk into his office. As he left the door open, Alex figured now would be as good a time as any to tell him what they had seen. Catching Sierra’s eye, they both went over to the office, and, knocking on the door, waited until they were acknowledged. Seated at his desk, Martin looked up at the sudden interruption and, seeing both Alex and Sierra standing there, motioned for them to come in which they proceeded to do with Alex shutting the door behind them. As they stood there, Brother Martin asked, “What appears to be the problem?” Waiting for a couple of seconds, Alex suddenly spoke up and, with only a few interjections from Sierra, proceeded to relate everything the two of them had seen the other day while exploring the cave. Upon finishing the story, Alex lapsed back into silence while waiting for some sort of response. Brother Martin, who had been leaning back in his chair, suddenly smiled at both the trainees and, standing up, walked over to the door. Opening it he motioned for them both to leave. Looking somewhat confused, they began to head out. However, just as they reached the door, they heard Brother Martin say in a low voice, “Thank you both for informing me of this. I want you to tell no one what you saw or have told me. And don’t worry; you are in no danger.”
With that he shut the door, signaling an end to their meeting. Looking over at Sierra, Alex simply shrugged his shoulders. “Well, I guess that’s that.”
Sierra just looked at him wide-eyed, “Are you serious? Don’t you want to know who those guys are? Not to mention, why they keep popping up everywhere we are, and why they all want it kept so quiet?”
At those questions Alex nodded his head, “Of course I do. I’ve been dying to know more about them since the first time We saw them back on Calos.”
“Let me finish. I want to know who they are. But, what can we do? Every time we ask someone about it, we get shut down. There is nothing we can do, no-one we can talk to about it, and nothing I know we can read about it. So for now we have to let it go.”
Frowning at that Sierra just nodded her head, “Yea I know, but still, I want to know what’s going on.”
“Me too, Sierra, me too, but we can’t.” As they walked back over to the couch spied the chess set on one of the tables, tapping Sierra on the shoulder he grinned broadly, “Feel like losing at chess again?”
Sierra just grimaced, “This time I will beat you.”
Alex, who had won the previous eight games just laughed, “Yea whatever you say.” As the two of them set up the game, joking back and forth, Alex thought to himself, ’I am going to find out what’s going on. That’s three times now I have seen those guys and they always tell me to keep it quiet. I am going to find out what is going on!”