Alex stretched quite contendely, it was the first time in years that he had been able to sleep in till seven am; and he felt quite refreshed. Turning off his alarm, he got up, showered, dressed; and went downstairs for breakfast, he had to admit he was extremely excited for the day to begin. It was his first visit to the capital, and it would be his first time on a starship. After getting ready, he went in to the living area where he met up with Sierra and Jonathon, both of whom looked rather bleary-eyed. Upon greeting them, he could not help but laugh while saying, “Looking at you two one might think we had to get up early or something.”
Taking a long drink of his coffee Jonathon looked up, saying, “Not all of us are used to waking up at the crack of dawn like you.”
Alex smiled. “Well, we should have plenty of time to sleep on the flight. How about you, Sierra, sleep well?” Sierra simply sniffed disgustedly, and grabbing her satchel she began walking towards the ground floor. Alex and Jonathon smiled at each other, both thinking the same thing: she could not be a more typical aristocrat if she tried.
All three of them met Sevas downstairs; however, before they left for the spaceport he had an unusual order for them. In a tone that brooked no room for argument, he told them, “Under no circumstances are you to talk about the events of yesterday with anyone.” They looked at each other rather confusedly but gave their assent to his order. With that the four of them moved out into the Priory courtyard where the roller sat waiting for them with the driver already at the wheel ready to take them to the spaceport.
Leaving the Priory, they edged onto Spaceport Road and reached the dockyards in just forty-five minutes. However, before they reached the main berthing bays, they turned onto a smaller road leading to a private dock owned by the White Falcon Order. As the three of them sat looking out the window, they could see a small craft tethered at one of the parking spots painted black with a white falcon on the port side. Sierra suddenly spoke up with the comment, “That’s hardly a standard surface shuttle. Looks almost like a jolly boat one would expect to find on a ship of the line or a frigate.”
The other two looked at her, somewhat surprised, with Alex asking, “How do you know so much about naval ships?” Sierra just shrugged her shoulders and said, “I’m the eldest daughter of the Earl of Skynar. You just pick that sort of stuff up.” At that point their conversation was cut short as the roller turned into a parking spot and was turned off. Sevas opened the connecting window and told them to grab their satchels and get out.
Sevas smiled inwardly. He felt sorry for the brothers responsible for the training of Alex and Sierra. Those two were quite stubborn and quite prone to disobey orders if they so choose to. He had no doubt that the only reason they were so compliant right now was because of the events of yesterday. Stepping out of his seat, he motioned for his three charges to follow him as he walked into the hangar. They stood around waiting for instructions, Alex looked around the place. It was a large building, quite large enough for two of the shuttles outside to be parked indoors. On the far left side of the hangar, Sevas stood talking to a young man in his mid-twenties, was a small collection of offices. Alex could see a large number of men sitting around a table in one of them, talking and laughing amongst each other. Sierra suddenly spoke up, “This is quite a large and well-equipped maintenance hangar. It would appear that despite having fewer and fewer adherents to the faith each year, the Order has been able to maintain a rather large bank account.”
Jonathon looked over at her and said, with a lot of curiosity in his voice, “How on Calos do you know so much about spacecraft and their maintenance? There isn’t even any equipment in the hangar.”
She simply smiled and said, “Well, it looks exactly like the hangars which house my family’s pleasure yacht and atmospheric shuttlecraft. Plus I recognize the rig and tackle equipment hanging from the roof.”
Alex looked at her rather amusedly and commented in a rather sardonic tone to Jonathon, “It appears our Ladyship has acquired a fair amount of knowledge on rather a wide range of subjects.”
Jonathon laughed at that and responded, “Yes, indeed.” Fortunately for Sierra, Sevas chose that moment to walk back over to them and told them, “This is where I leave you. This is Brother Hy’so. He will take you to the shuttle craft and then on to Portus. He is one of the best spacers we have with over two thousand hours flying shuttlecraft, so you are in safe hands.”
Brother Hy’so was about seven feet tall and covered in green and blue feathers from head to toe. Instead of a mouth, he had a beak that was wickedly curved and razor-sharp; his eyes were very narrow, pointed top to bottom instead of side to side, and were completely orange. He appeared to be wearing nothing but a utility belt and pilot’s vest. Jonathon and Alex, who had never seen an alien before, could not help but stare. Sierra, however, glancing at them somewhat smugly, smiled politely and said in Hy’so’s own language, “It is a pleasure to meet you, Brother Hy’so, and it is an honour to have such a skilled pilot.”
At that Brother Hy’so smiled as broadly as a giant bird with a giant razor-sharp beak could and responded, also in his native tongue, “It is a pleasure to be escorting such a distinguished guest all the way to Portus, and I give you my word you will be fully safe and sound.” With that Brother Hy’so strode off towards the shuttlecraft in order to prep it for launch.
Staring after him, Alex asked to no one in particular, “What is he?”
At that Sevas laughed loudly, “He is an Algorian Blue, from the planet Seriat. It is a small planet with almost no landmasses at all, and the seas are toxic. So the inhabitants live in cities that float in the air above the fumes that rise from the sea. Because of this, they are some of the best pilots in the known universe and probably beyond.”
Looking over at Sierra, he said in a somewhat more serious tone, “I would suggest you wipe that smug look off your face, madam, as you are aware that when you enter the Order, any rank of nobility is left behind. So attempting to appear better than your fellow trainees will make life most unpleasant for you. And now I suggest the three of you go over to the shuttlecraft and board it, Hy’so will not wait forever.”
At that all three of them ran off towards the waiting shuttlecraft and, reaching the boarding ramp, they headed up into the shuttle. Upon entering the passenger compartment, they were greeted by the steward, a young man in his mid-twenties with brown hair and wearing the uniform of a novice. Smiling broadly he introduced himself as Alquin and motioned for them to follow him. Taking them through the airlock, he instructed them to take their seats in the middle rows of the shuttle, gave them some headsets, and told them he would be back in a few minutes to help them strap in and prepare for takeoff. Looking at her two companions Sierra asked, “Have either of you ever flown in a shuttle before?”
Jonathon and Alex looked at each other momentarily before they both shook their heads “no”.
“Well, in that case, I would suggest you follow my lead and sit as far back in the seat as possible. Take-off is never pleasant.” Both of them looked at her, with Jonathon leaning back straight away. Alex contemplated not following her advice, mostly out of his personal dislike of her. But as he felt the vibrations from the engines, he decided to follow her advice rather than risk losing his breakfast. As the engines came to life, it became apparent that this shuttle was not built for comfort but practicality. The noise of the engines inside the cabin was overpowering, and Alex, who had left off his headset figuring he would not really need it, quickly put them on.
Once the crew chiefs had cast off the moorings that tethered the shuttle to the dock, Hy’so quickly took the craft up five miles. Leveling it off, he shot off toward the ship waiting in orbit. After about five minutes, the shuttle broke through the atmosphere. When that happened, Alquin the novice came back into the passenger compartment, and with another broad grin, asked them if they were quite alright. Sierra simply smiled up at him and said she was. However Jonathon and Alex only managed to nod rather weakly. They had never been in any spacecraft, much less one designed for six passengers and three crewmen, and to them it felt like going on a roller coaster after having just consumed a rather large meal and drinking too much. Alquin laughed at that and said, “Well, here is something to keep your mind off the vibrations and noise,” and motioned them over to the portside windows. The three of them looked out, and what they saw quite took their breath away.
Looking out the window, they could see their planet. Alex thought it looked like a giant blue-and-green jewel hanging in air. He could see two of the three continents that made up Calos II. He also thought he could make out what appeared to be the Keenen Mountain Range on the Northern continent where he lived. Turning around he asked Alquin, “Is that the Keenen Mountains?”
Alquin looked out the window at where Alex was pointing and, smiling, said, “I believe they are. Is that where you are from?” Nodding his head in the affirmative, Alex continued to look out the window at his home world passing by beneath him. It was about quarter to nine, and he knew his sisters would be milking the dairy G’morks, while his parents fed the others; getting them as large as possible for the slaughterhouse. He was quite glad he didn’t have to do that anymore.
While these thoughts were running through Alex’s mind, Jonathon sat there also watching the planet, absorbed in his own thoughts. He couldn’t help but agree with Alex that it looked like a jewel suspended in space. However, he also thought that the darklight dancing around the planet gave it a rather eerie and sinister look. And as he watched the strange purplish light that streamed out from the void of darkspace, he could not help but shiver slightly from the cold chill running down his spine at the sudden sense of foreboding he had. As he sat there staring at Calos II, his mind went back to the events leading up to his joining the Order.
He was eighteen and, although he had believed in the True Path since he was about eight, devotion to the faith was not the primary reason he had joined. Six days ago, he had been turned down by the draft board for a health condition known as Kierans Syndrome. Although it was a medical condition affecting about five percent of the darkspace border, most people viewed it as a curse inflicted for some evil act. Basically, he was one of the few people who could actually see darklight. A side effect was that his eyes were particularly weak, and he had to wear specialized sunshades even indoors because anything stronger than moonlight could cause him to go blind. His father had informed him that he had better find a way to leave the house because he had no time for a cursed son. With that ultimatum, he had begun looking for a job in one of the research facilities. But even though he was well qualified for a research job, the stigma associated with his condition made most people unwilling to hire him. So, as a last resort, he had decided to join the White Falcon Order. They would not reject him due to any medical condition; they would, in fact, provide for all his medical needs at no charge to him and give him a purpose and something to do with his life.
Sierra sat there also watching the planet drift by beneath. It was a sight she had seen many times, but never really grew tired of seeing. She was only seventeen years old and, although she believed in the True path, she was not exactly the most devoted of adherents. She was not really joining the Order out of a desire to serve the Overlord or anyone else. She was, after all, the eldest daughter of the Earl of Skynar. However, her father had recently agreed to a marriage between herself and the oldest son of Baron Iris. The only problem for her was that Michael Iris was about five feet two inches tall and weighed close to three hundred pounds; she had no intention of marrying anyone who looked like they belonged in the frozen poultry section of a grocery store. So with the help of a maidservant, she had sneaked out of her family’s manor and made her way to the local White Falcon monastery where she managed to convince the father in charge that she wanted to join the Order. She had spent three days living in the monastery until Sevas had come for her. Now she was on a shuttle bound for a ship that would take her away from this planet and a marriage she really wanted to avoid.
She couldn’t help but feel sorry for her maidservant. Narra had been her only friend, and had been with her for as long as she could remember. The girl had begged to come with her to the monastery, as they both knew what the Earl would do to her when Sierra’s flight became known. However, she had refused to bring her in with her. The Order would not allow her a servant, and she could not imagine Narra becoming her equal. It was bad enough that she had to play nice to these two peasants; but, letting her servant become her equal would have been impossible. So she had forbidden her from coming in, and in doing so, signed her death warrant. As she thought on what her father would do to the girl, she could not help but feel some regret. The girl had helped her escape, and had only asked to come with her; but no, servants couldn’t become their masters equal, it just wasn’t done. Shaking her head to hide the tears, she had to admit she missed Narra.
Her movement caught Jonathon’s eye, who tapping Alex’s shoulder, pointed over to Sierra, “What’s this? Is our royal highness crying?” Glancing over at Alex he continued with a wicked grin, “The seat belt must be the wrong material, or perhaps it’s too rough.”
Feeling somewhat protective while thinking about his sisters Alex snapped, “Shut up man!” Turning to Sierra, Alex continued, “Don’t let him get to you; we all have things in our life that hurt, that’s why we are here.”
Sierra, shocked by this unexpected support, didn’t really like feeling indebted to a mere peasant. “I can look after myself. I really don’t need you to stand up for me.” This came out of Sierra’s mouth before she could think. Seeing the hurt look on Alex’s face she instantly regretted saying it; but, she couldn’t take it back, not without looking weak in front of them.
Staring at Sierra, he shut his mouth in surprise. He had just stood up for her and that was her only possible reaction? “Well fine then. I hope the seat belt doesn’t rub you too raw!” With that he slumped back in his chair saying, “Guess you were right Jonathon.”
Jonathon sat back in his chair smiling slightly. At first he had been somewhat stunned by Alex’s unexpected support for Sierra. However, Sierra’s snappy response had set everything right again. He felt very content as he went back to looking out the window. He could always rely on Sierra, even when others proved unpredicatable.
All of a sudden, the three of them were interrupted by Alquin suddenly directing their attention to windows on the starboard side of the shuttle. As they looked out, they saw a rather large spacecraft which Alquin informed them would be their ride to training on Portis. Sitting there looking at it, Sierra commented on the fact that it did not look like any other ship she had seen before, military or civilian. Alquin smiled at that and began telling them about the vessel. “Her name is the Ever Victorious, and she is the largest ship in the White Falcon fleet. She has twenty levels and is one-and-a-half miles long with a crew of eighteen hundred personnel.” Sierra then asked about the appearance of the ship. One could generally follow a straight line from the bow of any human ship all the way to the furthest point of the aft section. However, while the fore- and mid-sections of this ship were designed like that, the aft sections curved out into wings that ended in points about a quarter of the way up the ship. Alquin shrugged his shoulders, stating, “We had engineers from the planet Zanos design her, and that’s just the design they came up with. As you can see, there are two shuttle bays per wing, and they also house the ship’s engines and life-support sections. But now the three of you need to take your seats and strap in as we are about to land,” and with that Alquin moved off onto the flight deck.
Entering the left wing dock, their shuttle settled down into a holding bay, and, as Alex looked out the window, he could see men dressed in maintenance overalls bearing the white falcon insignia hooking mooring cables through rings on the outboard runners of their craft. When this was done, they rolled a ramp up to the airlock, and he could hear the clicking of locks as it was locked in place. At that point, Alquin and Brother Hy’so came down from the flight deck and, motioning for them to follow; they departed from the shuttle followed closely by their three charges. After they had departed the shuttle, the three of them stood in a small huddle unsure of what to do while Hy’so talked to the dock master, about what they had no clue. When they were done talking, Hy’so turned to the three of them and, talking to them in his strange clicking accent, he told them, “Come with me, I will show you to your quarters.” With that he turned and strode off, Alquin following straight away. After a few seconds, the three of them ran after Brother Hy’so, catching up to him as he reached the tube lifts which would take them to their quarters for the next six to ten days.