* * * ORDERS * * * ORDERS * * * ORDERS * * *


KOTTOROQ, HALLAR [ ID J85-002-451 ] [ COMM. HATCH. 50214-A ]

POLLARAY, OHINUQ [ ID P91-582-107 ] [ COMM. HATCH. 50214-D ]

UQSKYDNING, SIVOY [ ID J26-156-876 ] [ COMM. HATCH. 50214-A ]










* * * ORDERS * * * ORDERS * * * ORDERS * * *

“Attennnn-SHUN! ENFORCER ON DECK!” bellowed the battledress-clad Regulator who had been watching over us for the past dozen minutes. Our nervous chattering and joking ceased immediately, the final few echoed notes cut short by the scrambling and squeaking of a hundred new boots that had been issued mere hours prior.

The Enforcer in question took all of a second to spot coming down the stairs from the ops deck, even though I had to crane my head up over everyone else’s to see them properly. Covered from neck to toe in a navy-and-coal uniform with a royal black cape over their shoulder and a peaked cap perched between their horns, they looked exactly like what my caretakers described them as: imposing, regal, authoritative. Intimidating. I arrived at the last one all on my own.

They weren’t alone, but it would be unheard of for someone of their status to be, even in home space. On their four was a guy with big horns and a huge rifle, probably a guard. I paid little attention to them. On their eight was another figure, head and shoulders above the duo, in a uniform lacking the cape and blue of the commanding figure next to them.

A hard jab in the lumbar region and an angry hiss brought my head back down to normal levels and my attention away from the tall one. Guess I’d have to settle for just listening.

The four adults in front of us waited until the only noise in the cargo bay was the whir of ventilation fans before the Enforcer finally gave us the honour of being addressed.

“At ease. I prefer being stared at by people that don’t look like they have sticks up their asses.” The Enforcer smiled, and we all allowed ourselves a tense laugh that did nothing to change our moods. There was no doubt in my mind that this was the first time most in this room had ever heard a curse spoken aloud.

“My name is Sivalot Almaavar, Enforcer Second Class,” he started. The shoulder brushing up against mine stiffened again.

“Every cycle, a batch of two thousand is selected from the nurseries on Pegla to undergo the Advanced Military Aptitude and Selection Test. This opportunity-“ Giant’s tears, what a word. “-Is given to this group at the recommendation of teachers, caretakers, and supervising officers. Each of you has demonstrated something that would, with sufficient training, make you a valuable asset. Some of you have been registered as having IQs upwards of the ninety-fifth percentile of your age range. Others have demonstrated high levels of physical prowess, leadership capabilities, the ability to perform well under extreme duress, or simply have a superb genetic track record.”

My cheeks suddenly felt flushed; they must have drawn my name out of the wrong hat.

“I trust all of you have been assigned a number before coming aboard, yes?” The sudden shuffling of fur against fabric was my cue to finally spare another glance down at the slip of holopaper in my hand. The Cherenkov blue slip bore a single curved rune with two diagonal lines through it. Five. The crowd of kids mumbled out a collective ‘aye’, and the Enforcer smiled his too practiced to be genuine smile once more. “When your number is called, please see yourself and your gear through the door just to our left." The uniformed officer pointed to the door in question, which slid open right on cue. I couldn't see what was on the other side. "You’ll be given further instructions on the other side.”

“One,” announced the Regulator who had seen us aboard, and within thirty seconds, half the crowd was gone, leaving awkward gaps and holes in our rectangular formation. Still nobody moved to correct it as there was no standing order to. Then the next number was called, and once again our numbers dwindled until, after group four was called to action, only twenty of us remained.

We stood in silence for a minute or so. The Enforcer looked each of us over, from left to right. When his violet eyes met mine, I shuddered and involuntarily lowered my gaze to his boots. Thirty seconds later, a foreign voice belted “EYES FRONT!” and brought all of us back upright with an audible slap of palm hitting thigh. The massive figure that accompanied the Enforcer and his guard in, the one I hadn’t got a good look at yet, stepped forward to the Enforcer’s side. It didn’t register I was looking at a Peglaci for a few moments; this snaggletoothed figure regarded us all with a set of four grey eyes with purple pinpricks for pupils, recognizable even to little fifteen-year-old me as bionics only given to people who either desperately needed them or fought hard to earn them.

It felt like whiplash when the Enforcer’s easygoing voice addressed us next. “You all will be staying here under the watch of Regulator Valstøg,” he said. “She’ll be taking over for me from here. Valstøg?” He stepped aside to let her take his place, straightened up, and offered us all a salute farewell, then disappeared back up into the ops deck with the guard and the officer that brought us here. I never saw them again.

“At ease!” barked Valstøg the moment the final click of the door sounded out. I’d never felt less at ease, but my body moved before my brain could hesitate and get me in an all new world of shit.

“Pick up your gear and approach the bay window,” she commanded, arm seeming to flick from her side to the blackness of space beyond the glass instantly. When none of us moved in the two seconds after she’d given our order, she repeated it in a tone that promised a fate way worse than death if we continued to stand there. That time it worked, and all of us were soon peering out into the void, down at the swirling grey clouds of the crescent-lit planet below us. High above, a single pinprick of light slightly brighter than the rest shone down on us, the last vestige of home we’d see for a long time. None of us dared to look for it.

“The planet you’re looking at is Helvede's first moon,” came the deep, bone-chilling voice of the Regulator from behind us. When did she get there? “For the past seven hundred and fifty-one years, Helvede has served as the gauntlet every active serving member of the Peacekeeper’s armed forces division has been trained at. Everyone on this ship, from myself to Enforcer Almaavar, has been down there.” A barely noticeable thump ran through the railing I was gripping, and not a moment later a boxy shuttle passed by the window and rocketed off. I tried to lean over to see where it went, but it was gone as soon as it appeared.

“Each of you has been recommended for Standardized Basic Infantry Training. You're going planetside. EYES FRONT!” she roared again, bringing all of our attentions from the window to her in an instant. “What that means is you’re either physically capable or couldn’t fit into any other position, and it sure doesn’t look like any of you are the former!” A surge of hot tears began to sting my eyes, but I fought most of them off. Most. The Regulator let her words sink in for another few seconds, then spoke again. It really was impressive how she managed to make every word sound so charged with fury. On the far side of the room, a small, pressurized door hissed and slid into the floor.

“Shuttle’s departing in one minute. MOVE!” Didn’t take a genius to figure out where to go, and as we were ferried down onto Helvede minutes later, I finally started to get the feeling that I didn’t want to be here. Then we pulled a high-G turn and I blacked out for the rest of the ride.