Gudersnipe Assassin’s School.
Knowing nothing more than the name, the very words would instill one with a primal fear. Gudersnipe Assassin’s School. Once you’d heard that, basically everything else didn’t matter. The true nature, purpose, and functions of the school were overshadowed by the power of the name.
The fact that the overwhelming majority of students never carried out an assassination didn’t really matter. The real truth, when you dug beyond the name, was quite simple: Gudersnipe was one of only three schools in the entire Multi-Verse accredited by the Assassin’s Guild.
In order to join or even work for the guild, a person had to have a diploma from an accredited school. While it was true that most active assassins did graduate from Gudersnipe, it was only because the ones that came from there happened to be the very best. There were actually far fewer assassin-for-hire jobs available annually than the three schools produced graduates, so many graduates, especially of the lesser schools, went on to administrative work for the guild.
The vast majority of Gudersnipe graduates, though, did what the Guild was really there to do. Its roots in the Mage Wars were more closely aligned with its name, the Assassin’s Guild was, by and large, a protection racket. It was quite the lucrative setup: the only way anyone could be legally assassinated was by contracting an assassin through the guild. If someone wished not to be assassinated, they merely had to contract an assassin as a bodyguard. Once you had an assassin watching your back, the guild would never put out a contract against you, you were safe.
So more than ninety percent of ‘assassins’ never took a life in their careers. Most of them simply worked as protectors, the very strength of what they were—the strength of the name—ensuring that they would never have to fear.
But Gudersnipe Students endured far too much training to push papers, or work posh jobs for royal fat-cats. No, the Gudersnipe Assassin’s School also served as the military academy for the Crimson Blade Mercenary Corps.
Gudersnipe Graduates never went in as junior officers. They usually started as at least admirals, so the training in school was quite arduous. ‘Gudersnipe Student Ships’ as they were known by the G.S.S. prefix, held a difficult dynamic. Everyone onboard was technically an officer and a specialist, and crews were usually kept small. The Saratoga, for example was supposed to have a crew complement of three hundred, but carried only half that. She carried the weight well, though, cruising along at FTL through the gentle back waters of the known-worlds.
* * *
The port-side bridge door opened and Cloud entered carrying one of the portable consoles. Hunter and Cindy had set up a ping-pong table in the large open area between the captain’s chair and the pilot’s seat, and began a rousing game.
“Hey, captain,” Cloud said politely as he watched the little white ball bounce back and forth. “I found something weird in the COM system.”
“The COM system?” Hunter replied. “What is it?”
“It’s this thing we use to communicate with ships, planets, and space stations,” Cloud scratched his head. “But that’s not important right now. I found a… well a distress signal.”
“You’ll find a lot of those here,” Hunter nodded, skillfully defending his side of the table. “We’re passing through the Danielle Sector.”
The game stopped rather abruptly as the mood on the bridge fell into a deep shade of somber. Officers stepped back from the workstations and all parties concerned hung their heads in a moment of silence.
“The graveyard of the Sixth Fleet,” Cindy whispered.
“I’m afraid I’m not up on my military history,” Cloud admitted. “Either that or my geography, either way I got no clue.”
“Back during the Kamian Succession Wars, the Gudersnipe Sixth Fleet was pinned down in this region,” Hunter explained. “A hundred-and-fifty battle groups, over seven thousand ships. The Kamians had managed to knock them off a standard retreat path, so Admiral Commodore Francis gave the order to turn and fight. There were no inhabited systems, few Charlie-Class planets, it wasn’t worth fighting over.
“But there was nowhere else to run, so they died like Lancers. The entire fleet was lost, many with all hands aboard, but it cost the Kamians over thirty thousand ships and God knows how many men to do it.
“Anyway, the Kamians had a pretty good hold on the area, and while rescuers might have reached the system in as little as two years, they waited until the war was nearly over—more than fifty years, I think. There were few survivors by then. This stellar cluster is littered with transponders. Nobody’s really interested in coming all the way out here and shutting them off.”
“Ok, I lived a very sheltered life,” Cloud commented. “But didn’t the Kamian Succession Wars end like ninety years ago?”
“Eighty seven,” Hunter corrected. “But the Battle of Danielle happened long before the war was over. Probably… a hundred and seventy-seven years ago. GS transponders are designed to work for as long as they have power. Some of the ships still had fully-charged buffers and nothing else running, so those things will probably keep transmitting for another half-century at least.”
“So there’s just hundreds of emergency beacons blinking away out there?” Cloud said, eyeing the view screen. “Well, that could make it harder.”
“Make what harder?” Hunter asked.
“The signal we picked up,” Cloud explained. “It sent up a flag on the computer, so I deconstructed it to find out why. The registry number buried in the code… it was N-eight-zero-eight-B-zero-zero-one.”
“The what now?” Rian asked from tactical.
“The registry number,” Cloud scratched his head. “It’s the Glorious Heritage.”