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The Healer

David Holmes

Cover

 

 

 

The second part of the Cure trilogy.

 

The family tradition was that one of you had to serve, be it Fleet, Ground Force or Guardian. Kiria was determined to serve yet surprised her family in choosing to be a Ground Force Officer, plus also compounded it by designating her specialist role to be that of a Healer. Not many Healers worked for Ground Force, they tended to work for Fleet in (mostly) complete safety. Yet Kiria knew that it was at the front where her services were needed… assuming she could qualify as a Healer Warrior in the unexpected war that sprang up from an alien invasion of the Empire.

 

A Novel by David Holmes.

 

Edited by David Harper.

 

Foreword.

 

Sometimes the stories just need to be written.

This one is for all those who wanted a sequel to The Cure.

Contents

 

Contents

Prologue)

Chapter 1)

Chapter 2)

Chapter 3)

Chapter 4)

Chapter 5)

Chapter 6)

Chapter 7)

Chapter 8)

Chapter 9)

Chapter 10)

Chapter 11)

Chapter 12)

Chapter 13)

Chapter 14)

Chapter 15)

Chapter 16)

Chapter 17)

Chapter 18)

Chapter 19)

Chapter 20)

Chapter 21)

Chapter 22)

Chapter 23)

Chapter 24)

Chapter 25)

Chapter 26)

Chapter 27)

Chapter 28)

Chapter 29)

Chapter 30)

Chapter 31)

Chapter 32)

Chapter 33)

Chapter 34)

Chapter 35)

Chapter 36)

Chapter 37)

Chapter 38)

Chapter 39)

Chapter 40)

Chapter 41)

Chapter 42)

Chapter 43)

Chapter 44)

Chapter 45)

Chapter 46)

Chapter 47)

Chapter 48)

Chapter 49)

Chapter 50)

Chapter 51)

Chapter 52)

Chapter 53)

Chapter 54)

Chapter 55)

Chapter 56)

Chapter 57)

Chapter 58)

Chapter 59)

Chapter 60)

Chapter 61)

Chapter 62)

Chapter 63)

Chapter 64)

Chapter 65)

Chapter 66)

Epilogue)

Appendices)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In rain storm or snow in our sun's brilliant light!
In day's scorching heat or in vacuum’s cold night!
Our helmets covered with stardust.
But hearts are filled joy (Yes filled with joy!),
Our armour like whirlwinds advance to the fight!

 

Prologue)

 

The trellec was doomed, though was only vaguely aware of it, being a relatively unintelligent avian. It had been hunting airborne insectoids, and in its excitement had misjudged distances and had crashed hard into a tree and broken a wing.

The young girl had been exploring the environs of the Imperial palace in the grounds of Lassos, a mostly uninhabited continent of the planet Vreekoos where only a few ornate palaces were constructed to house the very cream of Vreekoosian society along with a scant few Imperial funded research and training establishments which needed the use of a natural environment. A naturally inquisitive child she was very observant and constantly monitored by the AIs of the palace, as well as well as those currently in guardianship over her as both her parents were away on Imperial business in another Realm amongst the stars.

The girl was first alerted to the scrabbling of the trellec as it sought to avoid her as well as grab what few ground-based insectoids it could find to stave off starvation. Still, even with a broken wing, the trellec was both fast and capable of dodging wildly as the curious young girl approached.

Speed and agility, however, were not enough to keep the girl away from its wild dodging and she displayed an unusual tenacity for one so young, as well as a fair bit of agility herself as she relentlessly chased the bird down.

Finally it was done, the girl gazed at the now weakly fluttering trellec in her hands, observing with sympathy the injury to its wings until finally she smiled slightly and moved back towards where her aunt sat sunning herself and simply enjoying life away from the stresses of Vreekoos city.

“Aunt Cass, Aunt Cass, I caught a birdie!” the girl yelled as she got within earshot of her Aunt.

“Little one, we leave the wild animals alone. You know that,” Cass replied in puzzled tones.

“But it’s hurt!”

“Hurt? what do you mean?” Cass asked.

“Bones are sticking out of its wing.”

“Oh, well, let’s have a look.”

Cass soon discerned that the pitiful looking creature had a broken wing and wasn’t long for this world.

“I’m afraid the kindest thing we can do is put it out of its misery,” Cass offered, thinking this would appease the anxious looking youngling.

“Can’t you do anything?” the girl asked, almost in tears.

“I’m a human doctor, you know that. I’m not sure how…”

“Please, Aunt Cass, please!”

“Well… only if you can help,” Cass gave in to the demands… again.

“I can? Goody!”

“Take my wand and activate it with your open com channel, you’ll see it in the menu,” Cass advised.

“I… OK I found it. Er, how do I make it work?”

“Off or on? Do you see them?” Cass asked, trying not to laugh as she saw how serious her charge was.

“Ooh, yes, now what?”

“Switch it on.”

“OK, now what?”

“Patience, sweetie, bring up the subcutaneous display, it will be the bottom option.”

“Ah, OK.”

“Right, now look at the display it’s giving you,” Cass added with a smile.

“Yes, yes, yes! I see it… er, Aunt Cass, what do I see?”

“Look at the bulge in the muscle, where the bone pushes through,” Cass pointed out to the display now showing in both their eyes from the open com channel acting on their optic nerves to display what the wand was seeing.

“I see it, I see it! Er now what?”

“Let me. I’m going to relax the muscles and use grav to realign the bones,” Cass said softly.

“OK, Aunt Cass,” the girl replied with a smile of joy.

“See the slider bars down at the bottom of the screen?” Cass asked.

“Yes.”

“They control the grav settings from the fixed point I’m setting up. I want you to gently move the top one up a bar.”

“OK, ooh! The wing moved out.”

“Yes, see the bones are moving out to the right places?”

“I see, I see!”

Cass carefully manipulated the grav settings in the fine control matrix until all the bones were aligned correctly. Finally she was satisfied and turned to the girl.

“Now I want you to set the bones using the fuser. That’s the red dial at the top right.”

“Yes, Aunt Cass, how long?”

“Till the button turns green.”

“Oh, that didn’t take long.”

“It doesn’t for people too.”

“Is the birdie fixed now?”

“Just removing the bits and bobs I used to stop it going into shock as you probably scared it quite a bit.”

“I didn’t mean to,” the girl said, looking a little abashed.

“I know and it was a good, kind thing you did today. Your Mum and Dad will be so proud of you.”

“When are they coming back?”

“Your Aunt Manny was told they are on their way, so possibly tomorrow.”

“Goody!”

“Let the trellec go now, I’m all done.”

The girl carefully opened her hand and, in a shot, the trellec flew off soaring into the sky.

“I’m going to be a Healer too,” the girl declared.

“This before or after you become a professional grav-ball player?”

“I can be both!”

“That you can, Kiria, that you can. No doubt about it,” Cass laughed merrily.

 

Chapter 1)

 

“Catch it, Kir!” the point defence screamed as she flung the gravity-neutral ball to Kiria, who was the point attacker for the Hrunesh Block Dynamos Grav-Ball side.

“Got it,” Kiria yelled back as she stretched out to grab the spinning ball, using her open com channel built into her eye to adjust her speed, velocity and direction before throwing it on to the outer wing attack just as one of her opponents crashed into her, trying to strip the ball away and get her own side, the Silcom Block Slashers, back into the game as the Dynamos had torn back a three-goal lead to go one ahead with only five rotations (about 2 Earth minutes) to go.

Despite the tackle, Kiria remained stabilised and was rapidly moving herself away from the defender towards the current location of the mobile circular goal.

The Slashers were now rapidly streaming back to try and prevent the Dynamos from going further ahead and stop the match from going beyond their reach and hand the championship streamer to their closest and most hated rivals.

“Thread it, Calla!” Kiria yelled as she changed her axis rapidly in a spin, catching the Slashers off guard with her unorthodox, at this level of the game, manoeuvre.

Sure enough, Calla was able to throw the ball hard and fast through the gap created and straight into Kiria’s safe hands before she threw it directly into the still moving goal, putting the Dynamos two goals ahead. There was a huge roar of ‘Goal!’ from the watching crowd as almost half a dozen Slasher players ploughed into Kiria in a last desperate attempt to stop her.

***

 

There were no further goals in the match as the Hrunesh Block Dynamos took the streamer off their closest rivals and were crowned league champions for the first time in over an Imperial decade (28 years). Kiria herself was named top player due to the three goals she had claimed after coming on as a substitute for an injured colleague in the last twenty rotations (just under ten minutes).

“Wow, I’m so glad you’re still registered as a player for us, Kir,” her friend Calla, the outer wing attack, exulted as the girls ‘flew’ around the globular pitch in perfect formation as the Hrunesh Block supporters cheered like mad at the unexpected victory after being under the hammer for most of the match.

“Just glad I was free, though if Heny hadn’t been suspended for that stupid illegal tackle in the last match, I don’t think you’d have needed me as she’s as good if not better than I am,” I replied with a grin.

“She’s still a bit of a hot-head, but was absolutely gutted when she got banned,” Calla nodded.

“Yeah, it was a bit harsh. I reckon it was an attempt by Silcom to try and stop you. Their President is on the disciplinary committee after all.”

“Possibly, but it’s not the only time Heny’s done it, though she’s getting better at keeping her cool.”

“She can have my streamer. It was her goals that got you here after all. I’m mostly too busy with my higher education these days.”

“Aw, you’re a good person, Kir,” Calla replied with a hug.

***

 

“Well done, Kiria,” my Dad congratulated me as I finally managed to get away from the changing room celebrations as well as a tearful Heny, who’d almost collapsed in gratitude when I handed over the small winner’s streamer I’d been given.

“Thanks, Dad. All that college grav-ball paid off, as they are way ahead of these local leagues in tactics and skills.”

My Dad is a Cure which means he can cure anything in anyone (though won’t tell me how, even if I actually do know because I’m nosey like that, but he’s so sweet that I haven’t the heart to tell him I know all about what he actually has to do). He works officially for the Empress, but also for the medical centre in section D of the lower levels in Hrunesh block, hence my connection to the Dynamos, despite having upper-level status. However as only men can be Cures, I’m studying to get the grades to be a Healer, which is not quite as good as a Cure, but has been an abiding passion in my life since my Aunt Cass let me use her medical wand to fix the wing of a bird. I also want to serve in the military as well, so I am aiming to get into Ground Force Command to help serve there.

“So, where do you want to celebrate?” he asked. “Oh, and your friends too.”

“Guess?”

“Mamma’s it is,” he chuckled as the other girls came out to meet their parents and then shrieked with joy at my Dad’s offer as they all sort of adore him as he always treats them when they win.

“Will Mum and Dayyev make it?” (Dayyev is my young brother).

“Yes, they’re finishing at his Expo now.”

“Are his shadows with him?” I asked with a grin, referring to Amanda and Victoria, the Royal Princesses, who simply adore my brother and always try to be with him when they can.

“AIs aren’t saying, but probably, those three are joined at the hip,” my Dad chuckled.

“Can’t wait until the fight starts over who is going to marry him,” I grinned.

“Could be interesting, although I think it’s Amanda who is infatuated. Victoria just sees him as her best male friend. I think she’s carrying a torch for Plenna.”

“Hmmm, probably right. So, no civil war then.”

“I’ve lived through one of them, Kiria. It’s not that funny when you do,” he replied with a frown, clearly remembering some of his history.

“Sorry, Dad.”

“No worries. I should be the one who apologises for spoiling your big day.”

“You didn’t. Ah, here we are.”

The lift disgorged what was essentially a gaggle of giggling schoolgirls right into the middle of the Hrunesh Block’s lower-level market. None of whom, despite their various class levels, batted an eyelid as they headed en-masse to a stall-cum-café not too far from the lift exit. They were followed a rotation later by a clump of parents, some of whom did look a little nervous about the surroundings, if gamely trying to hide it.

“Kiria, girls, what will it be?” Mamma asked us as we crowded around.

“Could we have enough Vertrucho dainty pastries to fill us up as well as some hrice juice please, Mamma. Dad’s paying,” I asked politely though with a grin all over my face as my Dad always pays when he’s there.

“You’re a real soft touch, Dave,” Mamma replied as she handed out the sweetmeats and sparkling juices.

“I know, but this one’s special. The girls here won the inter-block streamer,” he replied with a wide smile. “Oh, and whatever the Mums and Dads want as well.”

I suspect Dad had warned Mamma in advance as there were loads of treats waiting beneath her counter and soon, we were all tucking in as various people came over to congratulate us on winning the streamer. Even gang members, who, for all they looked a little fierce, joined in. After all, they made up a large part of our support base.

“Kir! Congratulations!” my brother hailed me as he came out of a lift with my Mum, Amanda and Victoria along with the girls bodyguard.

“Was a team effort. The girls did all the hard work through the year,” I replied as he hugged me.

“Yeah, they worked hard, I know. Just wish I could have been there to cheer them on.”

“I know. They were a bit disappointed that their mascot couldn’t be there,” I giggled, knowing fine well that despite being younger than a few of the team, my bro was very popular with all of them in the sense that a few wanted to date him, though were kept well at bay by Amanda and Victoria through various means.

“Had to do the Expo,” he shrugged. “They were displaying my work and some people wanted signatures on the ones they bought.”

“Wow, how much did you make?”

“Hundred and fifty royals.”

My brother is a rarity in the Empire; he’s an artist who actually works with his hands, drawing scenes and portraits with some sort of graphite sticks. They’re incredibly lifelike, but clearly not AI done. He actually sells them too! He’s got more money stashed away than anyone else I know of in his or my generation. He’s not into team sports (though is pretty damned athletic) and as I said, he has his shadows (and their shadow as well) in the form of Amanda and Victoria, the daughters of Amantil the Great, Empress of the far-flung Stars of the Imperium… or Aunt Manny to me and Dayyev. Their shadow today was Trusha, one of the Royal bodyguards hired from the Kilios Organisation (formerly the Kilios Cartel) to protect the girls as well as train them in various self-defence techniques.

“So what now, sis?” Dayyev asked as Amanda sort of leaned against him possessively whilst eyeing the other girls in my party.

“Get my exam results and, if good enough, take a Healer scholarship via Ground Force Officer training.”

“Still determined to serve?” he nodded sagely. (He knows me better than I know myself at times).

“Yes, don’t know why, just something I feel I have to do.”

“I suspect you get it from both Mum and Dad, as well as Grandad,” he chuckled.

“Well, they’re all warriors in their own way,” I nodded. “Dad was a soldier in his previous life, as was Grandad. Mum… well Mum is just about the best Investigator the Guardians have.”

“Yeah, though that doesn’t explain me so much,” he smiled, eyes twinkling.

“They’re all proud of you, bro, if a bit mystified at times,” I laughed, seeing Amanda chuckle as well.

“I blame Greea. She got me into drawing and it just went from there,” he nodded, mentioning his friend, a Guardian who also drew pretty good likenesses from verbal descriptions, though was nowhere near as talented as Dayyev was in capturing the essence of a subject as he called it.

“I like Greea,” Amanda piped up. “She said Dayyev and I can use her apartment if we want to explore some… possibilities” she finished with a grin that made Dayyev blush down to his hair roots.

“Doubt you could escape Trusha,” I giggled, setting Amanda off as well.

“I couldn’t, but I like teasing your bro.”

“I know, but as soon as you’re seven (19 ½ Earth years) you can do as you like in that way… technically…”

“One and a half years to go,” she grinned. (Amanda is 5 ½ Imperial years old or 15 Earth) “Plus that is something I won’t be sharing with Vicki.”

“Hey, don’t try to get me executed for deflowering the Royal Princess,” Dayyev jokingly protested.

“Oh, I’ll be alright,” she giggled.

“I might not be!”

“Oh, believe me, I’m worth going to the execution disintegrator for, Dayyev,” she informed him with a wickedly enticing grin.

“Er…”

“You love me, don’t you?” she asked with pleading eyes (it’s an act, but it gets my bro every time).

“Yes, Amanda. You know I do,” he admitted in public for the first time ever.

“Finally!” Amanda exulted.

“Took him long enough,” both Victoria and Trusha stated simultaneously.

“If you want time to explore… possibilities, just ask. Your Mum asks every so often if you have or not,” Trusha commented to Amanda. “Just not sex, not yet.”

“I know, everything must be legal, like it or not,” she giggled. “Not only no scandals, but not even a hint that anything scandalous might have happened.”

“You’re worth waiting for, Amanda,” Dayyev told her with a smouldering look of desire, one that I so hoped a man who loved me would send my way one day.

“You’d better believe it, Dayyev,” she replied, eyes full of promise.

“Correct,” Trusha nodded.

***

 

I guess a few explanations need to be made.

I’m Kiria, daughter of David and Kirim, sister of Dayyev. I’m six going on seven Imperial years old (that’s the equivalent of 19 Earth years old, an Imperial year being 2.8 Earth years making the age of 6 Imperial years go from 16.8 to 19.6 Earth years) and in my final year of neural education at Ala Imperial Upper-Level Academy. Neural education is how the rich and talented get educated whereby information is inserted directly into your brain and the teachers teach you how to access it and use it correctly. This is not available to the lower or median levels unless you’re bordering on genius. The Empire is very stratified by a class system where most levels simply don’t mix. There are exceptions of course, my family being one of them where we have upper-level status but live in the median levels.

I’ve had an odd… ish upbringing. All my life I’ve been surrounded by very talented, as well as important and powerful people. To me though, they are just people, aunts, uncles (though not blood related) as well as friends. Hence, I was very aware of how the Empire was guided by the decisions of these people, often working in the background to steer various committees and Courts into doing what was felt to be for the best. The best being decided by Aunt Manny’s Advisory Group which is made up of the same people I spent time around, oh, and Mum and Dad.

Aunt Manny, or Her Serenissima Amantil when she has her working crown on, has got to be one of the hardest working people I know, though she always has time for Amanda and Vicki along with the other kids in her group of friends. She spends most of her day either in front of a tri-dee screen or in various Courts or High Tables where she runs the Empire from. It’s not even micromanaging; these are the big decisions where things critical to the Empire’s direction are decided. You can’t micromanage the Empire. You can’t even micromanage a planet or a city as she once told me. All you can do is guide it in the direction you want it to go and trust the systems and institutions you have in place will take over and keep it going that way. She’s seriously cool and I try to model my own behaviour on her and my Mum. The only time I’ve ever seen her disconcerted was when she caught us kids playing ‘frisbee’ with one of her Imperial Diadem crowns after a Security Group meeting. Apparently they’re worth over a million Royals each, though fortunately almost unbreakable. Still, the scolding we got from her really hit home and it was nearly a binary cycle (10 Imperial days of 50 Earth hours each) before we got up to any real mischief again.

The other two favourites I have are my Aunt Cass and my Aunt Hiqua. Aunt Cass is the Royal Healer, which means she’s Aunt Manny’s personal Healer for the Royal household. A lot of people find her personality to be cool and reserved, but that’s just an outer shell she has. According to my Dad, people in the past who were close to her managed to hurt her feelings badly. She has an adult son and daughter, I hardly know them, but do know her youngest son, Girol, who’s part of our group and tags along on our antics.

Aunt Hiqua is Aunt Cass’s personal retainer. She’s just one of those people that everyone seems to love, always bright and cheery. The only time I’ve ever seen her sad was after the death of her husband when he was attacked over an argument about gambling debts in the lower levels. She has two adult daughters, Ganla and Minno, both of whom are friends of mine. I see Ganla often as she’s a palace retainer and Minno helped me with some real-life applications for higher math as she’s the captain of an Imperial cruiser and knows that stuff inside out. The main one I see though is her son, Plenna, as he’s Dayyev’s best friend and generally the instigator of any trouble our group gets up to. Still, he’s harmless enough and Dayyev generally keeps him from going too far. He intends to join Ground Force as an Officer, which has upset Vicki as she has a secret crush on him but as there’s a year yet, I’m sure she’ll get her way to guide him towards Fleet as she’s the Princess who takes after her Mum as a schemer. Amanda is the classic fairy tale princess, all smiles for the newsies and taking on a few Royal ceremonial duties as she’s the heir to the throne and generally does as she’s told (occasionally grudgingly as she’s no bimbo, that’s for sure). But Vicki is the one who will argue and manoeuvre, if necessary, to get her own way, though not usually to anyone’s detriment.

The other Aunt I like is Janilla, though I haven’t seen her for over a year as she’s off with her husband, Uncle Rigg, training their two children to be bodyguards with the Kilios Organisation on the planet Marblos where they set up after some sort of argument with the Priests on the planet Shunik, their original base. Janilla’s Dad runs it and, as a favour to Amantil for some sort of tax break, has taken over the personal protection of the Royal family, as well as training the close protection details of Ground Force.

Of my Uncles, my favourite is Baltus, the husband of Aunt Vilgra. He’s a bit of a clown and keeps an eye on us kids when the others have their meetings as he isn’t part of the Advisory Group, though like my Mum he’s pretty smart as he’s also a senior Investigator for the Guardians. He was at work on the day of the diadem incident when we managed to lose our escorts in the palace grounds and slipped back into the throne room to play. Oddly enough since then he’s never been at work when the Advisory Group meets. Both his son and daughter, Herrok and Vanda, are part of our gang and get mixed up with all the mischief.

We (the kids) all attend the Ala Academy, even Plenna, despite his Mum, Hiqua, not being upper level. Though as I’m about to take my finals, I’ll shortly be leaving to pursue my career. I’ll be leaving a wonderful childhood behind.

***

 

It was a binary cycle later that I was admitted to the examination room. I spent the day there answering questions and occasionally writing down answers for the AI examiner. I was not even allowed to leave the room for a break though refreshments and toileting facilities were available, and I was confined there until the exams were finished. Everything that I’d been taught was covered. Finally the door opened and I was allowed to leave, clutching a pseudo-paper slip showing I’d attained the highest levels of passes and could take my chosen career path and begin life as an adult. Naturally there was a big family celebration the evening of that day at Aunt Manny’s dining room where we partied into the night and I was proclaimed an adult with no debt of service and now free to find my own way in the world.

***

 

The Ground Force Officer training office was situated in the upper median level complex of the central part of Vreekoos. For all the city itself covers the larger continent of the planet, it’s not wall to wall housing. Vreekoos is a smaller than average planet orbiting a hotter than normal star, hence is quite far out in its planetary orbit which explains its lengthy year. It also has virtually no axial tilt so doesn’t really experience seasons either. Because it’s a dense planet, it has a lot of precious and rare metals which are easily obtainable and its main industries are mining and manufacturing. Whilst most of this is automated, there are a few things which can’t be. Plus, the Great Balance that the Empire maintains for Amantil’s subjects means that anyone who wants a job can usually find one and be a lot better off than the few who remain unemployed (mostly the gangs, though they have their own counter-culture thing going on and can swap in or out of the mainstream as they desire). Hence, at the start of the working day I turned up at the office to sign up, escorted by Grandad Tivey who had asked for and been granted the privilege by my Mum and Dad. He’s my Mum’s Dad and ex-Ground Force himself, having served one term of five Imperial years before being discharged halfway through a second term owing to the death of his wife in an accident and the need to bring up Mum and Uncle Savan, who is still in Ground Force as a Senior Monitor somewhere as he signed up before I was even born.

“Tivey, you old reprobate! What brings you back to the grinder?” we were greeted as soon as we stepped through the door.

“Stalli? By damn, you got old,” Grandad retorted with a wide grin.

“Looked in a mirror lately, shlecker?” the man laughed as they embraced before parting and slamming their arms across their chests.

“I’m here to get my Granddaughter, Kiria, here signed up to Officer school on the Healer program,” Grandad added after they parted.

“She’s that good?”

“Damn straight!”

“Little Lady, you have my respect,” Stalli said to me. “Normally Healers go to Fleet, not GF.”

“So Grandad told me, but Ground Force needs them as well,” I replied politely.

“Officer training is hard and you have to do it and pass it as well, both the physical as well as the mental. That’s on top of the Healer training. Are you sure?” he asked more or less formally.

“I, Kiria, give my assent that I desire to join Ground Force as an Officer and have the necessary qualifications to join the Healer Training Regime,” I replied, repeating word for word the mantra that Grandad had taught me.

“AI?” Stalli asked.

“Cadet Kiria has freely joined Ground Force and will be enrolled as an Officer in the Healer Training Regime,” came a dull, toneless reply.

“Cadet Kiria, you will report to Stendoor Base at the start of the next working period,” Stalli ordered.

“Yes, Specialist Stalli!” I replied and slammed my hand across my chest, though not too hard as I did not want bruised boobs.

“Good, Cadet. Now relax and have a tuch whilst I chat to my old friend, Tivey, and catch up a while.”

“Specialist,” I acknowledged as only Officers got called Sir, female or not, unlike Fleet where female Officers got called Ma’am.

“You trained her well,” Stalli commented to Grandad.

“Was easy. The girl is eager to serve and wanted to know. She listened to all my stories as she sat on my knee when I babysat her and her brother.”

“Brother joining up?”

“No, he’s going to be a famous artist one day. Not sure where he got it from, but it would be a damned shame if he got killed in some stupid ambush out in the stars.”

“Famous?”

“AI, show him,” Grandad chuckled.

“Damn, you’re right. GF would just kill that off,” Stalli acknowledged with a low whistle as some of Dayyev’s public works were shown.

“He’s only just six as well,” (Dayyev is 16.9 Earth years old) I added.

“Don’t suppose you could ask him to sketch a family portrait of my kids and theirs?” Stalli asked Grandad.

“I’ll ask. For all he’s good, he’s also damned quick too and will do the odd favour for me,” Grandad replied.

Other than Grandad and Stalli going over old times and agreeing to meet up for a drink to continue their discussion, little else happened that working period and we returned to our homes, me an enlistee in Ground Force.

***

 

Dinner for the family that night was a quiet one, the conversation was mostly from my Mum who was worried that I wouldn’t have enough clothes and personal effects. For all she is a super duper (a phrase I got from Dad) Investigator, her major flaw is clothes. She takes ages deciding what to wear if she isn’t going to work, often pulling something on at the last second and often enough it’s the very first thing she’d tried on. Dad mostly just patiently waits as he enjoys watching her prance about in the nude, but occasionally steps in if it looks like she’s going into meltdown. None of us, including us kids once we got old enough, will go clothes shopping with her much to her chagrin, as we don’t want to waste a day doing nothing but getting mind-numbingly bored.

Fortunately, the AI supplied a list of every item I was allowed and I was using this as my shield as Mum attempted to get herself involved by arguing with the AI, something she often does though has never won yet.

“But what if you run out of underwear?” she finally wailed out.

“Mum, they provide underwear and do laundry when I’m on base,” I replied with a straight face. “Plus the armour is self-cleaning.”

“Armour?”

“Mum, it’s Ground Force. I’ll have to wear armour in combat zones and in training.”

“But you’ll be a Healer in a big base hospital.”

“Not part of my plans, at least not yet. I’m trying for the combat medic slot, supervising the Meditech units.”

“You never told me that!”

“Because I knew you’d freak out (another Dad term) and try to stop me.”

“Dave, did you know this?”

“Yes, Kirim, I did.”

“Why… why didn’t you stop her?”

“Because she’d wait until she was seven and do it anyway. I know Kiria well enough to know that. Plus it’s not an argument I suspect I’d win either. I can’t remember the last time we stopped her doing something she’d made her mind up to do,” Dad explained, deflating Mum a little. “The last thing I want is for my little girl to walk away angry and thinking she hasn’t our support.”

“She could be killed!” Mum stated in hushed tones.

“Yes, it’s a risk, but this is what Kiria wants.”

“Oh, Kiria, you will be careful, won’t you,” Mum asked, almost in tears, confirming why I hadn’t told her my true intent as I really do love her and didn’t want a year of tears and tantrums.

“Of course, Mum. I’ll not be in the direct front line for anything anyway,” I replied. “I’m not going to fight, but to heal.”

“Pretty sure the enemy will avoid her if they know she’s around,” Dayyev added with a big grin. “She’s notorious for giving it back harder than she gets it.”

“Yeah, remember all those teacher/parent heart to hearts,” Dad chuckled. “All simply because Kiria refused to back down to anyone if she thought she was right.”

“I usually was,” I giggled. “Didn’t get that many neural punishments.”

“Just be careful. Ground Force punishment pulses are a lot longer than school or civilian,” Dad warned.

“So Grandad said.”

“Are you sure you’re not allowed more clothes?” Mum asked.

“Mum!”

***

 

Stendoor base was on an island off the main coast of Vreekoos continent and was specifically for the basic training of Ground Force Officers. Hence, rather than a lift, I was at the GF shuttleport with my pseudo-slip nice and early to board an air-shuttle to the island along with a few other Officer candidates. Naturally the whole of my family and friends turned up to wave me off, including Aunt Manny, though not wearing her hologram disguise as very few people knew what she looked like without it.

I admit there were a fair few tears in my eyes as I finally escaped their clutches, along with a few others I noted, as the shuttle finally took off and my new life began.

 

Chapter 2)

 

I had been warned many times by Grandad Tivey that ‘basic’ was designed to break you down then build you up into something Ground Force could use. That started from the very second the shuttle touched down with a fully armoured Monitor ordering us off with various threats and imprecations and made us stand at attention, still holding our travel bags, to the side of the landing pad in a bit of a downpour. We were then left to stew as the Monitor ignored us to chat to the pilot. The one attempt by one of the Cadets to ask a question had ended with a punishment pulse and the Monitor telling us in no uncertain terms that we were to stand there and shut up. Also our open com channel was closed down, or unavailable.

Finally, after a hundred rotations (just under an hour), the shuttle took off and the Monitor deigned to give us his undivided attention. We were all pretty much soaked to the skin by then, some were shivering from the cool air and not really having been out in ‘weather’ and all of us were feeling damned uncomfortable.

“My name is Monitor Hakk,” he began, his voice carrying easily due to the speaker built into his opaque helmet. “You will address me at all times with Monitor. You will obey my commands at all times, otherwise you will be punished thusly…”

We then were dropped by a neural punishment pulse that seemed to go on for an age but was probably less than a tenth of a rotation (2 seconds), if that. Despite kind of expecting it, I still skinned my hands and knees as I fell gasping out silently in my agony. About the only good thing about it was that I knew the base AI monitored my vitals through my identi-bracelet and wouldn’t kill me.

“On your feet, Cadets!” Hakk ordered us when the pulse ended.

I quickly scrambled up, which was a good thing, as anyone the Monitor regarded as being tardy received another short pulse.

“You are Cadets, which, despite the fact that you outrank me, means you are the lowest of the low. Nor, as Cadets, can you give me orders. Is this understood?”

“Yes, Monitor!” I yelled out.

“Only one of you?” he asked sarcastically as the rest were pulsed again whilst he approached me.

I stared directly ahead, not focussing on Hakk, as my fallen comrades struggled swiftly to their feet… again.

“Cadet Kiria,” he stated coldly.

“Monitor?” I nervously replied.

“What brings you here? You’re rich, upper level and should be in Fleet with the rest of those preening rimphoks. Did you think Ground Force would be easier or that we’d go easier on you?”

“No, Monitor. My family serves. I came to serve!”

“I think you’re lying,” he replied and I could hear the sneer in his tone. “But you may think it’s the truth. One lap of the pad perimeter whilst I think about what punishment to give a posh little liar.”

“Monitor!” I yelled out my reply and set off at a fast jog towards a distant marker fence, realising I had picked up a shadow from one of two Junior Monitors who had approached silently and unnoticed by the rest of the Cadets.

“Faster Cadet!” she commanded and used some sort of flexible rod to swat my behind, painfully, making me yelp in surprise as I broke out into a run, easily being paced by the JM in her powered armour.

Fortunately I was quite fit due to the training regime I’d been put through, first by Janilla and Rigg, followed up by Truvia after they left to sort out family matters. Unfortunately, the JM knew, using AI monitoring, how fit I was and proceeded to push me to my limits with a swat on my behind every so often as I ended up racing around the perimeter rather than jogging. Hence I found myself back in front of Monitor Hakk, out of breath, muscles trembling and soaked to the skin from the rain and my own sweat.

Grandad Tivey had warned me only to speak when spoken to unless you wanted to take another punishment. I had noticed one of my colleagues missing and presumably was running around the perimeter.

“Well?” he asked sarcastically.

“Well what, Monitor?” I replied confused.

“Are you a liar, Cadet Kiria?”

“I never lie, Monitor.”

“You will, if I order you to, so that does make you a liar, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, Monitor!” I replied nervously.

The pulse was only a mild one and only dropped me to my knees as Hakk then ignored me to move on to another Cadet.

The entire point of the demonstration by Hakk, was not to abuse the Cadets. I knew this, it was to demonstrate just who was in charge and to put the fear of the gods into anyone who thought differently. Hence, until he decided we understood, he verbally abused us and punished any dissent (no matter how minor) with physical exercise. The only physical abuse though came from the JMs and that was only a swat to the backside, painful but not debilitating. Neural pulses were used with abandon, but nothing like the first one we all received. He then took us through a few basic instructions on standing in line, attention and rest positions.

Finally though, it was over, and the JMs escorted us to our barracks and told us to find the bunk with our name on it. I soon found mine, and placed my bag at the foot of it, then approached the JMs.

“JM?” I asked.

“Yes, Cadet?”

“Permission to dry off.”

“Granted. Shower and dryer are through the far door. You have ten rotations,” the female replied. I still wasn’t sure of the gender of the other.

It was a communal sonic shower, and toilet area, not even a privacy door on the toilet cubicles, something I had been warned about. There was also a sonic-grav drying area which rapidly removed all the excess moisture on my travelling outfit. I wasn’t worried about my bag as it was waterproof. Other Cadets wandered in behind me after the first to follow got zapped and they realised permission needed to be granted.

Outside, I simply stood by my bed and waited, happy at least to be dry.

“Attention!” the second JM began, proving he was a male at least. “I am Junior Monitor Kilto, this is Junior Monitor Valla,” he indicated his colleague. “Our job is to take you useless shleckers and turn you into something Ground Force might find useful. Is this understood?”

“Yes, JM!” I barked out, along with a few others, those that didn’t or were tardy getting a zap.

“The system is simple and works on a reward and punishment system. You do as you’re told and you don’t get a punishment pulse. You ask permission to do something or you get a punishment pulse. Only your thoughts are sacrosanct and only then if you do not voice them. Is this clear?”

“Yes, JM!”

“JM?” one of the Cadets asked.

“Yes, Cadet?”

“Um… what’s the reward?”

“You don’t get pulsed. The best reward ever. Got it?” he replied sarcastically.

“Yes, JM!”

“Now, fall in outside and let’s get you kitted for basic.”

We swiftly moved outside and lined up, some getting a swat on the backside for not getting the line straight.

“Tenshun!” JM Valla ordered and we all snapped to attention. “Right turn, quick march. Follow JM Kilto to the stores!”

Yes, Ground Force still did stuff like marching in time and parades as well. It was all about teaching us to be soldiers and to follow orders automatically and unthinkingly. That we were Officer candidates made no difference other than actually being harder than the basic that the ordinary Troopers got. The reasoning behind this being that we were expected to be better than them as well as an example… well, according to Grandad that is. He had retired as a Monitor. Ranks were simple: they went up from Trooper, to Specialist, Junior (or sub) Monitor, Monitor and then Senior Monitor, for the enlisted ranks. Officers began as Cadets (who were not allowed to order anyone around, not even a Trooper) then, after basic, progressed as Tribunes, Optios, Prefects, sub-Commanders (the rank where specialists usually resided), Commanders, Senior Commanders, Marshalls and High Marshall. Imperial Ground Forces tended to have the Junior Monitors and Monitors do a lot of the work and kept the Officer Class to a minimum. Hence it was rare for ordinary Troopers to run into Officers or be commanded by them. This gave the Officer Class somewhat of an air of mystery and fear about them, as generally it meant an individual Trooper was in trouble if they were summoned to face one.

At the stores we were fitted and kitted with various items including clothing (day wear and gym), mess kit, boots (indoor and gym) along with various other items whose use wasn’t obvious as yet. We were then marched back to our barracks and shown how the JMs had arranged their kit in the lockers beside their bed (a real bed, not a grav-bed).

“This is how you stow your gear,” Valla explained. “A place for everything and everything in its place. You will stow it this way and only this way. Understood?”

“Yes, JM,” we all barked out and headed off to our bunks to start putting our stuff away.

“Private bags are to be marked with a tag and can be collected again after basic. Personal items can be stowed in the footlocker. Ensure that your thumbprint is acknowledged by the barrack AI.” Valla informed us as Kilto walked up and down the bunks and corrected placements of various items.

Finally we had it done to his satisfaction and we were ordered to change into our fatigue uniform and assemble outside.

Once outside we were made to run in formation to the opposite end of the base and line up for a medical inspection where we were given a full genetic scan and all our medical details were registered and one or two defects for some were corrected. Once outside we were faced with Monitor Hakk again and received the ‘talk’.

“Cadets, you are now enlisted as Officers in Ground Force. At the moment this simply makes you slightly superior to a squashed pile of shleck. Everyone else at Stendoor Base is over and above you. Hence, if you step out of line, you will receive a punishment pulse; if you fail at a task, you will receive a punishment pulse; if anyone thinks you are slacking, you will receive a punishment pulse. Is this understood?

“Yes, Monitor!”

“At any time you can simply approach your Junior Monitors and ask to walk. The exit is over there and you will be escorted off base, which, having checked over your personal dossiers, is something I’d recommend for most of you as you have to be the sorriest bunch of Cadets it has ever been my misfortune to run across! Is this understood?”

“Yes, Monitor!”

“JM Kilto, run them once around the perimeter. Anyone who fails to manage this simple task is to be escorted off base. I will not abide physical failures on this base and in my presence.”

“Yes, Monitor!” Kilto replied to him. “Cadets, at the run, follow me!”

What the Monitor and JMs had failed to mention was that our new boots had been deliberately designed to be made by the base AI as uncomfortable as possible on request, hence within the first steps I realised that the JMs had ordered the Base AI to make the boots both heavier and tighter around my feet. What should have been a long but easy(ish) run for me now became a nightmare struggle to keep up with the JMs. You could almost feel the pall of fear extending around our group as we tried our best to keep going after the JMs with some of the females actually in tears after a while as they fell behind. It then occurred to me that I could take the boots off. After all, I had not been forbidden to and I quickly sat and touched the unlock tabs and dragged them and the undersocks off and got to my feet and began to run again, feeling far happier.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Cadet?” Kilto yelled at me.

“Adapting and overcoming, JM!”

“Carry on!”

It was soon noticeable that others, having seen no punishment coming my way (as yet) rapidly pulled their boots off and the rest of the run was completed in more or less comfort. Back at the start point, I rapidly pulled my undersocks and boots back on before we got the order to line up. We were then marched back to the mess hall for our first meal of the day.

“Hi, I’m Caffa,” one of the girls said as she plonked herself down next to me, her dinner plate full of some sort of savoury protein cubes mixed in a sauce.

“Kiria,” I acknowledged.

“How did you know you could take your boots off?”

“I didn’t. But it wasn’t expressly forbidden though, plus, as Officers we’re expected to overcome problems,” I replied. “Worst that could happen was a zap anyway.”

“That’s bad enough,” she sighed. “But it won’t kill us.”

“True,” I nodded. “What made you join up, Caffa?”

“Family tradition, at least one per generation in the main line. You?”

“The same, though neither Mum nor Dad served… well Dad didn’t serve in the Imperial Forces.”

“Where did he serve?” she asked with a puzzled frown.

“Not sure. He’s a Cure and gets rejuve.”

“A Cure? Wow!”

“Your Dad’s a Cure?” one of the guys asked. “Name’s Wahh, by the way.”

“Kiria, and yes, he is.”

“I didn’t think any of them acknowledged their kids.”

“He does. He’s married to my Mum after all,” I grinned.

“By the gods! You’re Cure David’s daughter!” he exclaimed.

“Er… yes,” I replied, a little confused. As, for all I sort of knew my Dad was famous, the people I had mixed with were all sons and daughters of famous or powerful people and hence it didn’t really mean a lot.

“What’s he like?”

“Er… he’s just Dad. He loves my Mum, cures people and isn’t anything special to look at. Your Dad is probably similar.”

Others had in the meantime crowded around and were listening politely.

“Did you grow up in a palace on Lassos?” Caffa asked.

“No, we live in a median level apartment in Hrunesh Block,” I replied, still a little confused.

“But he’s a Cure, they’re all loaded,” one of the others replied. “Oh, I’m Prill,” she added.

“Kiria, and yes, I guess he’s rich, but that’s where he and my Mum like living.”

“That’s what he’s said a few times on the Teelae Show,” Caffa added, mentioning the only media show my Dad volunteered to appear on.

“Oh right, we never watched that at my place… or I didn’t,” Prill replied.

“Neither did I,” I grinned. “My bro and I usually had far more fun things to do.”

“Yeah, same here,” Wahh chuckled.

“He is famous though,” Caffa added. “He’s met the Empress a few times too.”

“Yeah. Have you met the Empress, Kiria?” Wahh asked.

“Yes,” I nodded.

“What’s she like?”

“Um… I’m not that close to her, but Amanda and Victoria are my friends, so I know them a lot better. Aunt Manny spends most of her time running the Empire.”

“You’re friends with the Princesses?”

“Yes, though my bro is a bit closer to them.”

“Wow, all my Dad is, is a Bureaucrat, we’re nothing special.”

“Neither am I. My Dad’s famous, but I’m not. Yes, I know Amanda and Vicki, but to me they’re just friends, not Princesses.”

“Ah, I get you. When you’re mixed up in it you don’t see it as being anything but ordinary?”

“Pretty much it,” I nodded with a grin. “And here I’m just Cadet Kiria, nothing special at all and just as likely to get zapped as the rest of you.”

“Yeah, that sucks,” Caffa agreed, as did the rest of them as we swapped stories of who we were, the attention moving away from me.

This was pretty how the first binary cycle went. It was all basically about orientation and finding out how Ground Force did things. We weren’t issued armour, never saw a weapon and never had time to be bored. We all soon got used to the communal shower and toilets, the Empire… or at least Vreekoos where we were training, doesn’t have nudity taboos as the AI will zap you for predatory sexual behaviour in a public place or making a nuisance of yourself. Vreekoos is very much a monitored society in public. It’s also, to an extent, monitored in our homes, though different rules apply to what you can (and can’t) get up to. Hence Vreekoosians tend to be well behaved and polite with formal greetings between higher and lower… well, on the median and upper levels anyway. The lower levels have a looser interpretation of the rules and the monitoring stations are set further apart. Hence the gang culture amongst some of them. It’s not perfectly crime free of course, That’s why we need the Guardians, but generally everyone knows what is and isn’t allowed and the law-abiding tend to channel their energies in getting raised a couple of levels in their lifetime and giving their kids a better start.

***

 

The second binary cycle was where we started on the specialised stuff. We were issued arms and spent time on the range, as well as combat simulators. We spent the latter part of the working cycle in classrooms, learning stuff like tactics and logistics, shipboard operations, landing craft deployment and the minutiae of details involved with simply looking after ourselves in normal and hostile environments. We hadn’t been issued armour as yet, but the combat simulators enabled us to get a feel for it and our confidence grew each day as each ‘problem’ set up for us by our JMs was overcome. That said, there was usually a queue at the healing centre at the end of the day, mostly to deal with bruising, torn muscles and strained tendons as well as the occasional broken bone. Time off was spent doing ‘homework’ or just chatting with the new friends we’d made. Other than the combat simulators and the weapons we’d been issued, it was all very low-tech (for given values of low). This was mostly because if we were to go down to fight on a planet, or board a ship, the AIs there would be hostile or non-existent and we needed to know how to look after ourselves in those environments.

We were out running to our next class (they never told us what we were going out to learn) and the JMs were also out running with us, without armour, which was unusual, though both looked extremely fit, despite the fact that the armour itself had assisted with their movement. Both of them had their own room in the barracks and both clearly had a ‘thing’ going on with each other. Sex between equal or equivalent ranks was not forbidden in Ground Force, just between higher and lower in the chain of command and a couple of my fellow Cadets had paired up and used the ‘entertainment room’ (basically a room with a double bunk) mostly for stress relief as no long-term relationships developed. Personally I felt no need to as yet, as, basically, I was a good girl and was looking for someone as good as my Dad in looks and personality, having seen just how good such a relationship could be… plus my sex life is my business.

“Today, Cadets, we will be learning unarmed combat,” Kilto informed us, making my ears prick up. “This is why Meditech Harrat is in attendance, because, believe me, you’ll be glad of it soon that she is,” he indicated another watching Monitor in armour.

“JM?” I asked raising my hand.

“Yes, Cadet?”

“I do know some unarmed combat,” I replied.

“Oh? Think you’re better than us?” he asked sarcastically.

“No, JM. Just giving fair warning.”

“Cadet Kiria, step onto the training mat and prepare for a demonstration.”

“Yes, JM!”

I pulled my boots off and moved onto the large mat, clearly set out for us to practice on, and faced Kilto. I also moved into the ‘zone’ as Janilla had called it, becoming hyper aware of all things around me.

“Attack me!” he ordered.

I flowed forward, discarding all of the killing moves Janilla had taught me but keenly observing how Kilto reacted to each move. I avoided any attempt to grapple with him, he clearly out-massed me and kept his centre of balance well so I wasn’t about to throw him anywhere. It was also clear that he now knew he was sparring with someone who knew what they were doing.

We both moved back and forth, occasionally jabbing and deflecting blows for the first ten rotations. We were both looking for an opening, until I saw one and slashed an extended arm towards it only to pull back at the last moment as I saw the counter coming at me. That though exposed another opening for me and I used my other hand to jab him hard in a nerve cluster at his elbow causing him to fall back, his left arm now hanging uselessly at his side.

“Hold!” he ordered. “Well done, Cadet. Seems you weren’t boasting after all.”

“JM,” I replied with a nod.

“Stand and observe the techniques we are going to train in. We will then split the unit into three and you will train a group, but only in the method shown. Is that clear, Cadet?”

“Yes, JM!”

The training went as planned, though I now saw a little of how Janilla and Truvia must have viewed me in just how slow the other Cadets were to my eyes. Afterwards though, the rest were taken back to the Barracks whilst I was run with Kilto to the Administration centre of the base. I was then ordered to sit outside an office before Kilto pressed a small button on a panel to cause the wall to dilate open and allow him access. Five rotations later the wall opened again and I was summoned in to face Monitor Hakk, with Kilto standing at ease at the side of Hakk’s desk.

“So, Cadet Kiria, you have unarmed combat skills, but, there’s nothing down on your records about it,” he stated. “Care to enlighten us why?”

“I was a minor and the training was off the books, Monitor.”

“Why off the books?”

“My trainer was the Empress’ bodyguard, Monitor. All things to do with her are off the books.”

“What?”

“Just as no one knows where the Empress is or what she’s doing outside of a public event, it’s the same with her Personal Protection team, Monitor.”

“Ah,” he nodded. “Kilto also noted you were holding back as well, why was that?”

“I didn’t want to kill him, Monitor.”

“You’re that good?”

“I’ve never killed anyone, Monitor. JM Kilto is skilled at hand to hand, and most of the moves I know for dealing with someone involve either killing or crippling them. Janilla, my trainer, didn’t really believe in disabling someone as it permitted them to get up and start hunting her again. But she did know and teach me a few, as did Guardian Rigg, another trainer of mine.”

Both of the men were nodding at my explanation. As far as they were concerned, hand-to-hand combat was the last resort and the whole point of it was to put your opponent down permanently. To them it wasn’t a sport.

“What else did they teach you?” Hakk asked.

“Knife fighting and throwing; situational awareness with regards to potential threats; viewing anything I could heft as a weapon; and running away as fast as I could from anyone toting a gun,” I replied with a slight smile.

“Pretty much what we teach, Monitor,” Kilto noted.

“Yep, only she’s better at it than us, according to your observations.”

“You could request one of the Imperial bodyguards to come and upgrade your training, Monitor,” I suggested diffidently.

“I could?” Hakk replied with a frown.

“Yes, Monitor. Place the request via the AI to the Close Protection Training Detail on Marblos.”

“Ealla and I would appreciate it if you could swing it, Monitor.”

“You aren’t the only one,” he nodded. “Cadet Kiria, thank you for your information. It’s a little early but consider yourself the Senior Cadet of your Barracks and assistant trainer in hand-to-hand. As for anything else, you’re still only slightly higher than a pile of steaming shleck so don’t let it go to your head. Understand?”

“Yes, Monitor,” I replied, slamming my arm across my chest.

***

 

Being Senior Cadet is frankly not worth the effort or pain. It’s actually a lot of hard work, as you suddenly become the focus for all the activities of your fellow Cadets during training exercises as well as being responsible for ensuring they are where they are supposed to be. All without AI access. Add to this a series of exercises deliberately designed to be near impossible and you end up being the focus of the JMs’ ire when you inevitably fail to adapt and overcome a situation because you simply don’t have the experience to know the alternatives.

I lasted less than a binary cycle before it was stripped from me and given to Caffa, who didn’t even last a day as she got us hopelessly lost on a route march after (unbeknown to us) the JMs removed marker signs. Wahh got it next and held it for a few days, followed by Prill who managed the same length as me. Yes, it was frustrating as hell at times and we had two Cadets take the walk, but, it was all designed to teach us to rely on each other as well as ourselves and bond as a team. This we eventually did as the mistakes and errors became fewer and fewer as we approached the final days of training at the camp and passed on to our specialist training.

***

 

The final day did arrive. We paraded with the other graduating Cadets in front of Monitor Hakk as well as Prefect Jinnt and the few Officers who actually ran the camp, most of whom we’d never even seen before.

“Cadets!” Jinnt announced loudly, though nothing like what Hakk could do. He’d once made Prill faint when berating her for her total cluelessness and lack of a basic sense of direction (she got really better and more observant after the tirade though). “From today you will pass from our hands to advanced training as Officers of Ground Force. You have done well to get this far and we hope you will have learned some lessons on just what you are capable of, even without advanced technology. You will also now be able to command Troopers and I hope the training you have been given will stand you in good stead as you will know what they have been through and excelled and exceeded at the standards, the standards they are held to. You still have much to learn and much to experience, but the foundations have been laid. Leave this place as Tribunes in Ground Force and enjoy five days leave. The AIs will deliver your travel instructions to your next assignments. Well done!”

We all slammed our arms across our chests in salute and marched in perfect time away from the parade square and into something new.

 

 

Chapter 3)

 

Mum and Dad were waiting for me at the air-shuttle port when we stepped off the shuttle and they greeted me warmly and, in the case of my Mum, emotionally.

Tough as you thought it would be?” Dad asked.

“Tougher. Grandad Tivey sugar-coated it quite a bit,” I grinned.

“He did the normal Ground Trooper training, Officers are supposed to be better,” he nodded. “You’ve lost weight too.”

“Just a bit of padding,” I giggled. “I’ll visit a sculpt shop and get the shape back whilst I’m here.”

“Cass will do it for you for nothing, just pop in at the medical centre. She’d be delighted to see you, as will Hiqua.”

“Yeah, I will. Thanks, Dad.”

“Let your friends know too, if they’re interested.”

“Prill and Caffa might be, thanks.”

“Let Cass know and I’ll cover their costs, if necessary.”

“Aw, thanks, Dad. You’re the best!”

I then introduced Mum and Dad to Prill, Caffa and Wahh and they did the same with their parents. Dad did his usual offer of feeding us all, though they all had other family things planned, but we all agreed to meet up soon, before we scattered to the winds to the various bases where we would do our specialist training before we’d be let loose in Ground Force proper.

***

 

The big surprise for me was all the gang as well as my Aunts and Uncles waiting for me in one of my Mum’s (and mine) favourite restaurants on the upper median levels. Everyone was there to congratulate me on qualifying basic, including Aunt Manny and Uncle Herrick, as well as Amanda and Vicki. I have to admit I got a little emotional at seeing them all and had a little blub until Dayyev told me to pull myself together like a proper Trooper and I felt obliged to elbow him in the ribs for spoiling my moment. All this did was make him burst out laughing and brighten my mood, as I found myself laughing too.

“Git!” I chided him, using one of Dad’s weird words.

“You’re supposed to be having fun,” he replied with a grin. “Besides, you don’t normally do girly stuff.”

“True, but it just got a little overwhelming, seeing you all.”

“That’s OK, that’s why you have me,” he laughed.

“Ignore him,” Amanda giggled. “I’ll pop his balloon later.”

“You get him, girl,” I grinned.

“Hey, don’t gang up on me,” Dayyev protested. “I just wanted sis to not come across on the tri-dee with puffy eyes.”

“Tri-dee?” I asked.

“Mum,” he grinned.

“Sneaky,” I grinned. “OK, bro. You’re forgiven.”

Yes, Mum was having the whole party tri-deed and had failed to mention it to anyone… though I expect Aunt Manny knew, along with her security… oh, and Uncle Herrick and Aunt Vilgra too…. Come to think of it, probably the only one who didn’t know was me.

“So, how was it, Kir?” Plenna asked me with Vicki in tow.

“Damned hard. They do their best to try and test you to your limits and then some as you learn you can overcome them. Some can’t cope and drop out, but there was no way I was.”

“Still planning on joining up?” Vicki asked Plenna.

“Yeah,” he nodded.

“Would you wait for me until I can do it too?”

“Er…,” was all he could say as Vicki popped one of his bubbles in his not seeing her as girlfriend material.

“Come on, Plen, you must have noticed she likes you?” Dayyev chimed in.

“I… I guess I could wait a year, find something to do…” he finally stumbled out, looking a little like a plumbech caught in a speeding flyer’s landing lights.

“Good,” Vicki nodded. “Now all I have to do is get Mum to agree to me being a Ground Force Officer.”

“Do it anonymously, Vicki,” I suggested. “Sooner or later a newsie will find out and accuse you of getting preferential treatment.”

“Yeah, I don’t want that at all,” she nodded.

“Plenna can take a meditech course while he waits and work in the centre,” Aunt Hiqua suggested, as she had been eavesdropping.

“It’ll get you extra credits,” Aunt Cass added as she also joined in.

“OK, sounds like a plan,” Plenna nodded as Vicki took his hand and gave it a squeeze and him a glowing smile.

“So you’ll be doing your Healer training now?” Aunt Cass asked me.

“Yes. Because it’s fast tracked by Ground Force, it’s all neural emplaced and the rest is practice,” I replied.

“Not the best way of doing it, but it does work,” she replied with a slight frown.

“I can catch up with the more technical stuff once I’m out of training. Mostly what they’re after are trauma specialists to put the Troopers back in one piece during and after combat.”

“Yes, I’ve done it on board medical carriers,” she nodded. “Good Meditechs will always help there with triage. Make sure you ride herd on them though, until they perform the way you want them to.”

“I don’t understand why Meditechs can’t do the stuff Healers do. It’s all done mostly by AIs,” Plenna commented.

“It’s not that easy,” Aunt Cass replied. “Anyone with a bit of training can use a wand to close wounds and do a few basic repairs. However, anything more technical requires skills, as well as knowledge. You can’t fix broken bones without ensuring they are in the right position to fuse for one. That requires using the wand’s gravitic capabilities to move them as well as keeping the nerves from activating and killing the patient from shock. Same with DNA re-sequencing and viral eradication. It’s an art form in a sense and it’s not something the AIs are good at.”

“I hear Meditechs can repair a girl’s virginity,” Plenna said with a grin at Vicki.

“Yes, but they can’t re-attach your balls if you try to take my virginity before I’m seven (Earth 19),” she replied, straight faced.

“Ouch! Vicki, I thought you liked me?”

“I do, just not that way, not yet and if you keep that sort of talk up, not ever.”

“I was joking, I was joking!”

“You’d better hope you were,” she replied with a frosty look.

“He was,” Aunt Cass commented as well. “He’s actually a pretty good boy with regards to his behaviour, just not his mouth.”

“I just like winding people up,” he grinned. “Just didn’t work this time.”

“True,” I added. “Normally Dayyev stops him inserting his foot into his mouth, but he’s over there with Amanda talking to her Mum.”

“Some things to do with the Royal Princesses shouldn’t be joked about, my boy,” Aunt Hiqua stated. “Their reputations matter a great deal more than yours.”

“Yes, Mum. Sorry, Vicki,” he replied contritely (for once).

“Just don’t ever do it again,” Vicki replied seriously. “I like you a lot, Plenna, but as your Mum says, I have to maintain a reputation for being a good girl and talk like that won’t be tolerated, not so much by me, but by ImpSec, my bodyguards and my Mum.”

“This is true,” Trusha stated from directly behind me, making me start slightly at her silent approach. “You need to discipline your mouth, Plenna, before you lose something precious by it.”

“OK, OK, I get it,” he nodded, looking very embarrassed now. “I’m truly sorry, Vicki. What I said and implied was uncalled for.”

“Thank you,” she replied then gave him a kiss on his cheek and a grin.

“Wow!” he exhaled. “Did I ever get put in my place.”

“What we say and do in private will be something else again,” Vicki replied with sparkling eyes. “Just not that, the reputation comes first, always.”

“Yes, Vicki.”

I moved on from that group who were still ‘advising’ Plenna on how to behave or rather, Vicki had begun training him to behave, at least in public when with her or talking about her. I was hoping to catch up with Aunt Manny, but she was still busy with Dayyev and Amanda and a slight shake of the head from Trusha, her bodyguard, made me move on to Uncle Herrick.

“Uncle Herrick?” I asked.

“Yes, Kiria?”

“Do you know if Ground Force Officer Training requested someone from Kilios… or from Close Protection, to train their staff?”

“Yes, they did,” he replied after a few seconds, presumably having been informed so by the AIs. “I take it they learned a few things from you?”

“Just a little. Aunt Janilla and Uncle Rigg then Truvia and Trusha taught me well,” I replied with a grin.

“They did. Not one of the Royal ‘bratpack’ is someone I’d care to take on hand-to-hand at any time,” he nodded with a slight smile.

“I suspect the bodyguards enjoyed training us,” I grinned.

“All too much.”

“I’m glad they did make the contact. I was never too sure just how seriously they took me,” I added, returning to the original subject.

“Apparently very seriously indeed, if Monitor Hack’s report is anything to go by. He did not like the fact that a Cadet could take down one of his trainers with ease. Though in no way was disparaging about your ability to do it.”

“At least if Plenna and Vicki go down that route they’ll be in better company, training-wise.”

“So she’s going to follow him?” he asked with a slight frown.

“Only if she can’t persuade him otherwise. She’s already got him to wait a year till she catches up to him.”

“Smart girl,” he chuckled.

“They both are. Just Vicki is better at manipulation.”

“Yes, she’d be far better off in Fleet as an Admiral. Ground Force rarely get to fight on a planetary scale.”

“Yes, so I expect Plenna will change his mind now Vicki has marked him as hers. Though she’ll do it in a way that will make him think it was his idea,” I giggled.

“Yes, she’s her mother’s daughter all right.”

***

 

The following working period, after a good night’s sleep in a proper grav-bed, a lift deposited me near the medical centre where my Dad, Aunt Cass and Aunt Hiqua worked. With me were Caffa and Prill who were looking around at the market with some curiosity, neither ever having been down in the lower levels before. That said, whilst they’d probably have been nervous in times past, neither were nervous now. They’d survived Officer basic and picked up both situational awareness as well as the ability to look after themselves physically, including the use of extreme violence if necessary.

“Seriously, the Royal Healer works here in her time off?” Prill asked as she viewed the centre.

“Yes, as does my Dad,” I replied with a chuckle.

“I’m surprised they’re allowed,” Caffa added, alluding to the general view most Imperial subjects had about the level boundaries and some of the myths about them.

“It’s all charity based, giving some of the folk here decent medical aid that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford elsewhere,” I replied as we walked towards and into the centre.

“Including free cures?”

“Only for the terminally ill, there’s only one of my Dad after all.”

“How does a Cure do it?” Prill asked.

“Sorry, you aren’t cleared to know. The only reason I know is because he’s my Dad.”

“Kiria!” Aunt Hiqua greeted me when we stepped inside. “These must be your friends?”

“Yes, Aunty, this is Caffa and this is Prill,” I indicated.

“Welcome, both of you,” she nodded with a beaming smile that had both my friends smiling too and feeling welcome, something which I wish I had the ability to do at times, but my Aunt is just special that way. “Healer Cassire will be out in a moment to sort you, so just sit and relax.”

“It’s incredibly clean,” Prill commented quietly. “I was kind of expecting a bit more… well lower-level.”

“Oh, my Dad and a guy called Rennert keep it clean and looking like a nice place to get fixed,” I explained.

“Looks a damned sight better than my centre and it’s upper-median,” Caffa commented as Aunt Cass came out and greetings were exchanged.

“So, you just want your curves back?” she asked.

“Yes, Aunt. We need the muscle growth as we still have a lot of training yet to do, but we would kind of like our boobs back.”

“In proportion?”

“Gods, yes! Definitely not top heavy, please,” Caffa giggled.

“Just want the boys to know we have them,” Prill grinned.

“No problem. Will be good to practice that skill again as there’s no call for it down here, though we can arrange cosmetic surgery,” Aunt Cass nodded. “Come through here.”

A hundred and fifty rotations later we all left after some enthusiastic and heartfelt goodbyes to my Aunts with loads of thanks to Aunt Cass who had done a superb job on our figures.

“Wow, Kir! A free body-sculpt and from the Royal Healer too!” Prill exulted.

“Just not in the most likely of places,” Caffa grinned.

“Got your assignments?” I asked, having received mine this morning.

“Yes, I’m off to Trentar base to study military logistics and battle prep,” Caffa replied as we reached Mamma’s café and ordered some drinks.

“Holgen for me, advanced ground assault leadership,” Prill answered.

“All got your way then,” I grinned. “Gevase Starbase for me and the Healer course at the base there.” Gevase being the headquarters of Ground Force Medical.

“We’ll keep in touch I hope,” Caffa nodded.

“Hope so. Depends on what the future brings,” Prill replied.

“Well, the Empire has no real enemies at the moment so Ground Force mostly trains or deals with the odd outbreak of guerrilla insurgencies on Asha and Sanctify,” I explained. “That’s where the old Republican separatists try to take back their planet from our takeover after the Diadem Republic’s treachery that led to the Genocide on Pillin and Trarr,” I added. “But you’re right, you never know.”

“Yeah, it’s not exactly a safe profession, even during peacetime,” Caffa sighed. “That said, you’re invited to a party tonight at the Trenna Bowl nightclub.”

“Oh wow! I’ve heard it’s superb there,” I gasped as I now realised I didn’t need permission to go anywhere like that anymore.

“Yeah, we can party the night away and enjoy our leave before we go back to the grindstone,” Prill exulted.

“How did you get tickets for there?” I asked.

“My Uncle works for the managing company. He got them for me,” Caffa replied.

“Woohoo! Lucky girl,” I replied as we spotted Wahh approaching.

“Boy, you weren’t kidding with the body sculpt,” he noted after the greetings.

“Muscles are still there, just returned a few curves to all the right places,” Prill giggled.

“Looks good on you all,” he grinned, boosting our egos.

“Coming to the Trenna Bowl with us tonight?” Caffa asked.

“Yep, only so much time for fun on this planet before we’re off to the stars,” he nodded.

“Did you get your wanted assignment?” I asked.

“I wasn’t after anything specific, so just got a general command posting in Stellar Area Eight on the Assault Carrier Mattock, Twelfth Fleet. So, I’ll be joining Prill on Holgen but doing the Boarding Assault course.”

You got assigned a ship already?” Prill asked.

“Yes, that’s how Fleet do things,” he nodded.

“And Ground Force just put up with it?” I asked.

“Yes. We may be Ground Force, but really we’re the Armoured Combat Regiments of the Empire, fighting wherever the Empress commands, on land or in space,” he shrugged with a wry smile.

“Never thought of it like that…” I began. “Really should have though,” I finished with a nod.

“Not many do. Ground Force is like the little sister to Fleet, dependent on it for transport hence sub-ordinate to it.”

“Guess so, seems unfair, but I can’t see it changing,” I sighed.

“Does mean that they have to be polite as we’re the ones with guns and the knowledge of taking over ships though,” he grinned.

“So, the little sister with the knockout punch?”

“Yep, they just assign ships and move us about. They don’t tell us how to fight.”

“Yeah, I can see how awkward that could be for them,” I grinned.

“So, all coming tonight?” Prill asked.

“Hell, yes!” we all replied.

***

 

The party was an absolute blast. It was the first time I’d ever been to a nightclub along with Prill and we ended up just dancing the night away and turning down a few offers to partner up with other groups, offers that were rejected graciously. The Trenna Bowl being very well regulated as well as popular amongst the lower-upper and the upper-median clientele it set out to cater for. It was clearly aimed at seven-to eight-year-olds (19 to 25 Earth) as a place to safely party without the sleaze-pit mentality that a few of the more notorious entertainment centres who catered to the upper-upper levels had.

Not that I really knew that much about them as yet, but there was a grapevine of sorts amongst my group and word got around on places to avoid from incidents we were informed of by Amanda and Vicki’s bodyguards in their self-defence training of us. Particularly the situational awareness bits where they’d set up a tri-dee image of what happened and how for us.

Hence we all had a lot of fun and easily avoided the few predatory types who were there looking for fresh meat as it were.

Afterwards Prill and I headed for home, whilst Caffa and Wahh took advantage of the ‘rent a room’ function of the nightclub to enjoy their on/off intimacy sessions whilst they still could see each other.

***

 

“Have fun?” my Mum asked me the following morning when I finally emerged from a deep and long sleep.

“Yes, Mum. It was awesome,” I replied as my breakfast platter arrived.

“No nice young men?” she enquired.

“Mum!” I exclaimed, both in exasperation as well as embarrassment, as she’s been trying to marry me off for nearly a year now.

“What? I can hope my little girl will meet Mr Right, can’t I?”

“It was full of guys, but none caught my eye. Happy now?”

“You do like guys? Only I can’t recall you having a boyfriend… ever.”

“By the gods, Mum!” I began before spotting the sly grin she was trying to hide. “I like boys fine, prefer them in fact. Just Dad has set the bar impossibly high. Happy now?”

“You’re getting harder to tease,” she giggled.

“I’m just a bit fussy, Mum,” I grinned.

“That’s my beautiful girl,” she nodded with a smile. “The best ones are worth waiting for.”

“Did you wait for Dad?”

“Er… no, but I didn’t know there was anyone like him out there to find,” she admitted with a slight blush.

“Well I do, just hope I can find him.”

“You will, just don’t forget to have some fun finding him as well.”

“Well, I’m seven now,” I teased.

“That’s not important. Girls in the lower levels generally start at between five and six as there’s no stigma down there for having sex,” she shrugged. “If you’d found someone nice, your Dad and I wouldn’t have objected.”

“I know, but for all I was around boys, none of them excited me enough to even consider sex.”

“Wonder if your upbringing hasn’t put you off? Janilla for instance…” she answered thoughtfully.

“Heh, yes. No second best for me, having been around her for training.”

“It was the same for your Uncle Rigg. He wanted the best. Janilla for him was the best of the best.”

“Yes, he often speaks about her in awe.”

“She adores him as well, don’t forget that.”

“Yes, it was obvious from their first fight,” I laughed.

“True, she beat him, but he lasted longer than most.”

“Twice as long. She then trained alongside him and now there are few people, other than the Kilios people, who could face him and win,” I nodded.

“Yes my Kiria. Which shows there’s someone out there who will be perfect for you, though as I said, there’s no real reason not to have some fun on the way to finding him.”

“Meh. I’ll give it a shot if or when someone worth enjoying comes along.”

“It’s often the only way to find out for sure,” Mum giggled. “But you’re right, there has to be more to a relationship than sex.”

“So, it’s the icing on the cake… so to speak?”

“Well, for me it is. But your Dad’s naturally talented that way, as he’s a Cure. That said, if that was all we’d had, it wouldn’t have lasted.”

“Right…”

“Yes. It makes me sound shallow; I know. But your Dad and I did actually date for two binary cycles before we fell knowingly into bed together,” she answered, a reminiscing smile on her face.

“Yes, Mum,” I nodded, knowing Dad had ‘cured’ Mum before they dated, whilst she was unconscious. “But how do you know when it’s love?”

“You just do. If you have doubts or they’re pressuring you, it’s not love.”

“I’ll think on it.”

“You do that, my Kiria.”

***

 

Other than that weird conversation with my Mum, the rest of the days flew past and I found myself along with my Dad at the Starport waiting for a shuttle to take me up to the Fleet Supply Tender Hoppern where I had a cabin waiting for me.

“Your Mum says not to forget to message us,” Dad chuckled.

“I won’t, now I’m allowed to communicate,” I nodded.

“She also says to ‘have fun’ if you get a chance, whatever that means.”

“You probably don’t want to have that conversation with me, Dad,” I replied with a smile.

“Ah, she was hinting again, was she?”

“Yes, wants me married off and happy,” I giggled.

“Take your time,” he nodded with a slight smile. “Just make sure he’s worth it.”

“That’s pretty much what I told Mum.”

“Good. I know she can be downright embarrassing when talking sex or relationships, but she does love you and wants you to be happy.”

“I know she does, Dad,” I nodded. “It’s just I’m not her… or anyone else I know of.”

“I know. I’m so proud of you for being you my girl,” he replied giving me a spontaneous hug.

I hugged him back, just loving being close to the best man I know, before the announcement came to board my shuttle and set off to the stars.

 

Chapter 4)

 

The Hoppern was a typical Fleet Supply Tender, squat, bulky and not terribly fast. It was also not flying directly to Gevase, my destination, and hence I had time on my hands in a ship that didn’t really cater for Ground Force passengers… or indeed passengers of any type.

I was assigned a cabin by an Ensign whose actual rank and duties were a mystery to me though the ships AI gave him seniority if only because he was Fleet and crew of the Hoppern.

“It will take a binary cycle to reach Gevase and we’ll be making three re-supply stops en-route,” he informed me cheerfully. “You’re free to go ashore on the stations, but do not fail to be back on board when it’s time to leave. We won’t wait. Please be in your cabin thirty rotations before we set off as it will lock and if you’re found wandering outside it will be registered as a disciplinary matter and you’ll end up being pain pulsed. The cabin will open once we’re under way and the crew move from full duty status to standby.”

 

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