Alex sat on one of the couches in the common area talking with Wulfric, Rebecca, and Benjamin. For the last three days, they had been thrust into a never-ending stream of briefings and classes. These had been to prepare them for the first part of their training, along with physical training for two hours every other day. Now it was Thursday evening, and they had the next three days off before starting the first phase of their training on Monday. Sitting there listening to Benjamin tell them about his childhood, Alex found himself thinking about Wulfric and Rebecca. It was rather surprising that they were here, and even more so that they were joining the White Falcons. Wulfric and Rebecca were both from the Atrean Commonwealth, which was the sworn enemy of the Dieron Federation, and had been for the last thirty years ever since the collapse of the Golnar Federation and the formation of the three nations. Wulfric was a Savonite, which was the primary tribe of the Commonwealth. He was light haired and fair skinned like most of his people. Rebecca, on the other hand, was Bahatua; another human tribe located on a few planets, and they were descended from the Roma of Eastern Europe on Earth. They were well known for having dark hair and very dark eyes, both of which Rebecca had in sharp contrast to Wulfric. As Benjamin finished his story, Alex asked him how the two of them came to join the White Falcons.
For Rebecca the answer was very straightforward and simple. She had become an adherent of the True Path since around the age of eight and had wanted to join the Order since she was fifteen. Now that she was eighteen and legally allowed to make her own decisions, she was joining the Order. It was basically guaranteed that she would be joining the medical division of the Order once she finished the first phase of training.
For Wulfric the answer was slightly more complicated. He was a Savonite and had been raised in a house that very strongly believed in the Savon religion, with all the old gods and legends. His family were bards of the old ways, and as the oldest son it was expected that he would become a bard. This he had fully intended to do.
Looking somewhat confused, Alex asked “Hang on, whats a bard?”
Wulfric stared at both Benjamin and Alex for a few seconds and then smiled. “Sorry, I forgot most countries don’t have bards anymore. We are the history keepers of our people. We learn all of our history and pass it on to the next generation. We usually tell it in story format, hence the term bard.” After explaining what a bard was, Wulfric continued explaining how he come to join the Order.
However, when he was nineteen he had been mauled by a Locus Tiger and was saved by doctors from the White Falcons who had also told him about the Overlord. While he was recovering from his wounds, he had read the Book and decided to commit himself to the True Path. When he had told his parents about it, they had disowned him for abandoning the faith of his fathers and then told him that if he remained in the Commonwealth they would kill him. So he decided to join the Order both to keep himself alive and to serve the one who had saved him.
At the end of his story, Alex just stared at Wulfric while Benjamin asked, “Would they really have killed you?”
Wulfric just laughed at the shock and amazement on their faces and responded, “Yes, they would have. Faith is very important in the Commonwealth and has a lot of importance to the tribe you are from. As a bard in training, for me to abandon the faith of my tribe for the faith of our worst enemies is considered a huge dishonor to my family.”
Alex looked at the both of them for a few seconds and then asked, “What about you, Rebecca? How come your life wasn’t in danger?”
Rebecca smiled briefly at that and said, “I am a Bahatua. We don’t have any problem with the Federation and we are generally less attached to any one faith than most of the other tribes of the Commonwealth, human or alien.”
Benjamin asked, “So, if your tribe has no problem with the Federation, how come so many Bahatua serve in the Royal Atrean Commonwealth Military?”
Rebecca shrugged her shoulders at that, simply saying, “Well, we are still citizens of the Commonwealth, and, so we do our duty to our nation just like every other tribe.”
Alex just rolled his eyes, a gesture that was noticed by Wulfric, who then asked, “Do you not believe in service to one’s country?” All three of them turned and looked at Alex, to see what he would say in response to that.
He just shrugged his shoulders, saying, “I have no problem with anyone wanting to serve their country. I just think the idea that everyone has to ‘do their duty’ is outmoded and old-fashioned.”
Wulfric just said, “I see”, while Benjamin agreed with his sentiment wholeheartedly. Seeing the direction this conversation was headed, Rebecca decided to change the topic before a fight broke out.
She looked over at Wulfric and said, “So, can you tell us one of your stories?”
Wulfric smiled, knowing full well what she was doing, and said, “Very well. I shall tell you the story of Aethelstine Ironsides, the first lord of the Savonite tribe.” With that Wulfric began the story, and it continued until the curfew bell began to toll.
As everyone began to head towards their rooms Benjamin yelled out, “Hey tomorrow is the first day of our first long weekend together. Anybody feel like driving down to the Argrave forest?” Looking around he was happy to see everyone nod their heads in agreement and they agreed to be in the lounge ready to head out by ten am.
Friday morning dawned bright and cool and found most of Brother Martin’s training group in the lounge. They were putting on coats and hats in preparation for the trip to the Argrave forest. Everyone was there except for Perrin, who had vanished earlier that morning, which the group had discovered was quite normal. Checking out one of the larger ground rollers they were on the road by half past ten and were listening to another of Wulfric’s stories. This particular story was about how the Savonites had managed to displace the Atreans as the dominant tribe of the Atrean Commonwealth. It had been sparked by Michael asking why their nation wasn’t called the Savonite Commonwealth. It appeared that the Savonites and Atreans had fought back and forth for several years; although, the Atreans were superb fighters, they relied mostly on speed and mobility and in the end had lacked the heavy weaponry required to defeat the Savonites. As a result the Atreans were generally insular and bitter and didn’t often take part in the Commonwealth. They maintained their own force and protected their region but wouldn’t lift a finger for the rest of the Commonwealth.
The story was a long one and took the entire three hour ride to tell; Wulfric was just finishing up the story as they pulled into the parking lot. Heading down one of the several hiking trails, Jonathon asked. “So with all the classes we are gonna be taking over the next six months, which one are you looking forward to the most?”
Everyone looked around at each other, waiting to see what each person would say. After a couple of minutes of thinking Rebecca was the first to answer, “Well personally I am looking forward to the applied theology class. Learning how some of the deep theology can actually apply to the real world will be nice.”
Alex laughed, “Yea. Because knowing about how to properly sing always has a lot of real world application.”
Frowning at that response Sierra looked over at Alex, “Well then what about you? What class are you looking forward to?”
Alex looked right at Sierra, “That’s simple. Either the Ancient War class or the Faith in Action class; after all what good is belief in anything if you don’t do something with it.” Everyone just stared at Alex, who, getting somewhat uncomfortable with the stares shrugged his shoulders, “What?”
Smiling broadly Sebastian decided to take the attention of him, “I don’t think anyone expected that response from you. You don’t always seem to be overly concerned with helping others.” Alex just shrugged his shoulders again and kept on walking.
Watching Alex walk away Jonathon commented so quietly that only Rebecca could hear, “He never ceases to confuse me” causing Rebecca to nod her head in agreement.
All conversation came to a temporary stop as they entered the clearing and began setting up the picnic that Bethany and Sierra had packed. As they ate Benjamin, with his mouth half full said, “This is really good Bethany, what is it?”
Bethany just starting laughing at that, “I don’t actually know. Sierra said it was some sort of dish from the edge. In fact most everything we are eating was made by Sierra.”
As everyone starting congratulating Sierra on the food, she could not help but beam with pride. She had done nothing but argue with her classmates, and so had approached Bethany with this idea to try and get along with them better. “Well it’s just some normal border foods.” That statement caused Alex and Jonathon to nod their heads in agreement.
Grabbing his fourth salfish roll Benjamin smile, “Well whatever they are, they are great. Thanks for them Sierra, This food makes the day perfect.”
Wulfric who had been just listening spoke up, “So back to the earlier conversation; I think my favorite class will be either life of the Commander, or freedom theology.”
That statement caused Christopher to ask, “What is freedom theology?”
Putting down his drink Wulfric said, “Well most groups adhere to sovereignty theology, which states that nothing happens apart from what the Overlord decrees. Freedom theology states that while nothing happens without His permission, not everything is what He wants. We can go against Him. The White Falcons are one of the few groups that adhere to it.”
For a few minutes everyone just sat looking at each other as they digested that information. They all knew Wulfric knew more than most of them, they just hadn’t realized how much more till now. Looking around at their faces Christopher suddenly grinned, “Who wants to join the trainee soccer tournament?”
With that the conversation quickly focused on their team. In the end Jonathon decided he would be better off helping them with their training schedule, as he was rather unatheltic, and all the other boys apart from Perrin chose to be members of the team. None of the girls wanted to join, although they did agree to help create their uniforms and team name. As they decided on who would play what position Christopher asked, “Anybody think we should ask Perrin when we next see him?”
Jonathon just laughed, “Why bother? He will just say no. He wants nothing to do with us.”
“As much as I hate to admit it, I agree with you. He wants nothing at all to do with us, or anybody for that matter.” Rebecca said, as several of the others nodded their heads in agreement.
Shrugging his shoulders Christopher grinned impishly, “Well I thought maybe it would be worth a try. I guess not.”
As they wrapped up their lunch Sebastian looked around, “Anybody want to go down to the falls? It could be fun.”
As several of them began saying yes Sierra glanced at her timepiece, “It would be fun, but it will take us three hours to get back and curfew is in four.
Alex just snickered at that, “So we miss curfew one time, big deal.”
That statement caused Bethany to slap him upside the back of the head, “Yea real smart. Let’s miss curfew on our first weekend in training.”
As Alex rubbed the back of his head, they clambered up the hill towards their van, and making their way to the main road headed home.
While the trainees were enjoying a weekend of stories and general relaxation, the first dominoes toward war, were beginning to be knocked over. In the space docks of Calos II, the RDMS Invincible headed out for a routine space patrol, commanded by Captain Argus Steddard. Shortly after beginning their route they received a distress call from a three-thousand capacity passenger ship which was without power and drifting toward darkspace. Captain Steddard ordered the Invincible to change course and head out to intercept and rescue the ship before it was lost to darkspace. He then ordered his communications officer to inform headquarters that they were diverting from their scheduled patrol to rescue this vessel. With that they moved off toward the darkspace border where the ship was located. As the signal was about four hours away, the crew settled in for the trip and began taking care of initial flight inspections.
As the Invincible cruised off to assist the stranded ship, a small four-man shuttle craft popped into orbit around Calos II and began descending through the atmosphere towards the planet’s surface. Leveling off a thousand feet above the surface, it skimmed over the Northern Oaks looking for a place to land. After about an hour of searching it located a small clearing five miles from the main roadway, activating its stealth systems in order to avoid detection. Five minutes later the entry ramp lowered to the ground, and a dark blue, medium-sized roller came down the ramp with two men in red robes in the front seats. Hitting the ground, they headed eastward, and ten minutes later they rolled onto a side road, driving south toward the closest on-ramp for the main road. Sitting in the driver seat of this vehicle was Commander Tumak’s aide, while Tumak himself sat in the passenger seat. As they drove along, the aide was listening to his superior outline the main points of his plan and his role in it. In short he was to drop his commander off at the Tierzen shopping plaza just outside the capital city and then drive into the city to wait at the Merriot shopping center for further orders.
At the first shopping center, Tumak got out of the roller, and, standing at the entrance to the plaza, he waited until his aide was out of sight. Then turning around, he walked southward toward the Monastery. Reaching the outer walls in five minutes, he walked around to the rear of the building. After checking to make sure the alley was empty, he located a certain brick and, pushing it, he activated a hidden door which slid open. Quickly walking through the doorway, he pulled a lever which caused the door to slide shut again, momentarily plunging him into absolute darkness. Pulling out a darklight wand, he pressed a small stud at the bottom, activating it, and began striding down the corridor. Ten minutes later, he reached another wall and, activating a small catch release, walked into the private quarters of Father Michelson. Looking around at the quarters, Commander Tumak could not help but smile. He was thinking inwardly that it was no wonder they managed to get this individual to agree to be an undercover agent for them. Unlike most White Falcon quarters, his had very opulent furniture and were so richly decorated they could rival the interiors of the Red Heart Brothel at the pleasure dome on Mars in sheer decadence and opulence. Switching off his darklight wand, he chose a green silken chair with oak carved armrests, which was not visible from the door, and waited for Father Superior Michelson to arrive.
While Commander Tumak waited, the Invincible cruised through deep space, heading right up to the darkspace border in order to rescue the stranded passenger ship. Being this close to darkspace put everyone on edge; they went about their duties quietly, looking like they were all ready to shoot anything that even coughed too loudly. At the end of four hours, they arrived at the coordinates of the distress call, and, sure enough, there was a large civilian passenger liner drifting dead in space. After looking at it for a few seconds through the primary viewscreen, Captain Steddard ordered his weapons and radar officer to run a scan of the ship to see if there were any life signs.
Turning his attention back to the ship on the viewscreen, he wondered what could have caused so much damage to a long-range passenger ship. They were designed to be able to fight off anything smaller than a heavy corvette which meant that raiders and marauders left them alone as it was too much work. Whatever could do this much damage to the ship had Captain Steddard worried because it meant that he would be dealing with a large and well-equipped band of pirates. Or, even worse, there might be a new power that could be invisible to any radar or was based in darkspace. At that moment his weapons officer spoke up, saying, “Sir, that ship was on the receiving end of enough firepower to take down a full ship of the line. There are plasma burns, laser score marks, missile craters, and high explosive shell damage.” As he continued, Steddard noted a slight change in his tone; he sounded almost afraid. “There are life signs, about thirty of them, in fact, but they register as ranklers. Sir, that ship’s flight log showed it went no-where near infected space. So how did they get aboard?”
Captain Steddard shuddered inwardly. Ranklers were the most hated life forms in known space. They were leftover genetic experiments from the age of warfare, and they had an intense hatred of any living creature that was not one of them. Their hobbies included torture, rape, mayhem, and murder and they were very good at them all. Turning to his weapons officer, he ordered, “Blow that ship into as many atoms as you possibly can. Then do it again just to make sure!” Then turning to his bridge crew, he said, “Under no circumstances are you to say anything of what was on that ship to anyone. We are going to turn every rankler into atomized stardust, and that will be the end of it!” Captain Steddard could not help but smile slightly. His crew simply nodded their heads in acknowledgement of the orders and went about their duty with a professionalism that showed how well trained they were.