We planned for four hundred years to do what we did. Four hundred years is a very long time to wait, a very long time to plan. But we did, and we waited, and we planned. We picked the right moment, and then we left them all behind when we found the right place, the right world. I pray every day that the sacrifices of yesterday will not be for naught.
— Anthony Shaw, Rose Foundation, circa 5210 PD
5 Octem, 5249 PD
The eighth month on E-557 saw the fading days of summer and saw the second summer harvest, of the early cereals and yet another round of fresh fruits, some of which hadn’t been cultivated anywhere else in the five thousand years since Earth died. In a few weeks would come autumn, with leaves of trees that once grew on Old Earth changing their colors, dropping to the ground to tumble and roll in the winds that came off the waters and fields or down through the mountain passes.
By the time summer turned fully to autumn, another cadet cadre would have completed basic training and would move on to more specialized, advanced training. They would become the problem of a mix of full-time and part-time instructors, away from the watchful eyes of their drill sergeants.
They would fill the chairs in the small lecture hall where Brendan Cho was standing, mulling over what he’d make for dinner when he got home. He only had one more lecture to give before that happened. This one had gone smoothly enough.
Better than the last one. No one fell asleep this time. He scrubbed a hand roughly over his eyes, glancing down at his notes, now strewn haphazardly across the lectern. Must be finally getting the hang of this. It had only taken several years.
This batch of students wouldn’t be his problem anymore in another six weeks—not that they had been a problem thus far. It was only week four, though. Things didn’t tend to get dicey until he started teaching advanced combat maneuvers, which came during week five. It didn’t help that most of these kids—and most of them were kids, sixteen or seventeen years old—god, that was a lifetime ago—didn’t think they would ever need to use the maneuvers he taught them outside of the simulators. He glanced at his watch, then eyed the dozen of them that were still loitering, chatting amongst themselves. They had to be in the simulators in twenty minutes. Let Rymer yell. They’ll figure it out soon enough.
His gaze jerked toward the source of the voice. She was maybe seventeen—probably barely that, unless he missed his guess—with dark hair cropped short, her eyes large and green. Her uniform was crisp and starched, unlike that of many of her fellows. She was serious about what she was doing there, training. It was a calling for her, and it showed in her appearance, how she carried herself. She’ll do well, he thought. She blushed a little.
“I’m glad you think so, sir. It’d be thanks to you.”
“Pardon?” He looked at her uniform again. There it is. Next to her flight bars was a smaller bar, about the size of his pinkie nail, blue and green enamel swirled together in a distinctive pattern. Guard stock. Psychic.
She smiled a little, almost shyly. “Your simulations, sir. The ones that you put together? I wouldn’t have been able to pass basic flight without those.” She fidgeted a little, scuffing an immaculately polished boot against the stubby carpeting of the lecture hall. “Truth be told, sir, most of us wouldn’t have made it through basic flight without those simulations.”
And if they’d been born in the congloms, most of them would be dead. Brendan returned her smile, stacking his notes together and sliding them into the breast pocket of his flight jacket. “Good. They’re designed to help you learn. I’m glad that the hell I lived through did someone some good.”
He waved off the question. He kept forgetting that a lot of them were too young to remember when he rode a dropship into the shallows off the coast of Andalusia, what had happened in the minutes and hours after. Most of the refugees these days were Psychean Guard, after all, when refugees arrived at all. They weren’t common. Not anymore. The Foundation had been here for over one hundred and fifty years now. Anyone they’d left behind in New Earth territory was long dead. The Psychean Guard, however, still had thousands of men and women out there, and every so often they trickled to E-557, the only safe haven they had.
Brendan glanced toward the seats. Most were empty. Two cadets were deep in conversation up at the far corner. He looked back at the girl. “How are you finding Commander Rymer?”
“Permission to speak freely?”
This ought to be good. “Granted.”
“He’s a hardass, sir, and frankly I already don’t like him.” She scratched at the back of her neck, then winced, letting her hand drop away. “When do we get to start having our sim-time under you?”
“Next week. Implant still tender, Cadet…?”
She looked a little sheepish. “Tomasi, sir, and yes. How’d you know?”
“You winced, that’s all. I remember what it felt like, back when they put mine in. I wore a bandage over it for as long as I could so I wouldn’t pick at it.” He shuddered at a memory that floated up unbidden, of one of the boys in his cadre who had scratched himself bloody, almost down to the bone. That boy had disappeared one day and he’d never seen him again. “Trainers didn’t like it, but they didn’t say much. I was near the top of the curve.”
Tomasi smiled again, nodding. “Got it put in last week. There was a hold-up.”
Brendan nodded knowingly. “Testing and background checks. How are you adjusting?”
She shrugged. “No buzzing. I still pick up stray thoughts—I’m sorry, by the way, for reading you like that. I’m usually not that sensitive to surface thoughts.” A flicker of fear passed through her eyes. “…could that be because of the implant?”
“Not to my knowledge. Last I checked, that wasn’t a side effect to the wetware. I was probably just thinking too loud.” He smiled wryly. “I was distracted. I don’t usually think that loudly, but it happens sometimes. Usually when I feel something strongly.”
“I’m glad you did, sir. Thinking loudly, I mean. It’s been…rough. The past few weeks. I was afraid that they weren’t going to clear me to get the implant. You can’t be a pilot without it.”
Brendan winced. Is that what they’re telling them these days, or is that just what they think? “That’s not entirely true.” He leaned against the lectern. “You can still be a pilot without the implant, it’s just harder. But if your genetics bar you from having wetware implanted, then usually you’re pointed toward other pursuits as a matter of course. You’ll end up less frustrated with the whole enterprise with an implant.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. “Not all of your instructors or your future commanders will have the piloting implants. Some of us elected to have them removed.”
It took a moment for what he was saying to really sink in. He tried not to smile as realization began to dawn in her eyes. Hard to believe, sometimes, that as smart as they all are, they don’t realize that just because something is common doesn’t mean that it’s a universal truth.
“You don’t have an implant, sir?”
He shook his head slightly. “Not for the last eleven years, no.”
“Eleven years?” Her eyes widened a little. “Did you react badly to it?”
He chuckled. “You could say that.” He glanced at his watch. “Don’t you have to be in a simulator pod in five?”
“Shit.” She slapped a hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry, sir.”
Brendan stifled more laughter, shaking his head. “I’ve heard far worse, Cadet.” Hell, I’ve said far worse. “Go on, get out of here.”
She snapped off a quick salute and was gone.
“Don’t let that hero worship go to your head, Cho.”
Brendan glanced toward the tall, slender woman standing in the shadows near the back of the lecture hall, shaking his head slightly. “What do you want, Alana?”
From a distance, Alana Chase might have been beautiful. Once upon a time, in another world, another life, she might have been beautiful close-up, too. She wore her white-blonde hair longer since she’d retired from the colony’s small cadre of commandos, and it cascaded down to her shoulders in a line curved slightly inward at her chin. She hid a lean, athletic form in baggy clothing—better to hide a few extra weapons, she’d once told him with a feral smile. Her eyes were like blue ice and colder than the poles. The nearer you got to the woman, the more frightening, almost disturbing she became. Mostly, it was her eyes, and the cold expression on her face.
Here was a trained killer, as sharp as any razor.
She didn’t straighten from her lean, just watched him as he walked toward the exit. “She sent me to get you.”
His heart froze in his chest. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong.” Alana straightened, raking a metal-sheathed hand back through her hair.
I thought Ezra had convinced her to get that removed. Guess she changed her mind. Again. “Then what did she send you for?”
“The Rose Council summoned her.”
Alana’s brow furrowed. “Are you deliberately trying to annoy me, Brendan?”
He barely prevented himself from pinching the bridge of his nose. I’ve got some kind of headache coming on, I just know it. “No, I’m trying to understand what you’re telling me. The Rose Council summoned Lindsay and she sent you to come find me? Did she say why?” It has to be about what she’s been seeing. Rachel must have slipped and told someone. That must be it.
“She wants you with her.” Alana shrugged. “She seemed nervous. Wouldn’t say why. She just kept telling me to come get your sorry arse.”
He exhaled. Great. Just great. Because we need this. They’re just nightmares, right? Right. And now the Council’s involved. “Do you have a skimmer?”
“Ready and waiting.”
He nodded. “Good. I’ll leave a note with the commandant about my afternoon lecture. Then we’ll go.”
“Make it quick.”
His voice dripped sarcasm she’d make him pay for later. “Yes ma’am.”