Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Today I am going to share a little excerpt from the opening of Where the Heart Is, the first in a series of light novels I have been working on.

The sun cut small and unruly channels through the thin haze of cloud-cover and illuminated the dreary collection of gray buildings that was the Heart Military Academy. The grounds were still well-kept, with manicured lawns and carefully trimmed hedges. Planted gardens, with freshly-laid fertilizer and bright, blooming flowers added swatches of color here and there, set keenly along the weathered, cement paths that wound their way through the collection of structures.
The landscaping was imaginative and picturesque, and looked out of place beside the collection of completely uninspired structures. Seven hundred years, almost to the day, of weathering blanketed these buildings. They had been made to last, not to look pretty, built at a time when utility and longevity was much more important than architectural creativity.
A well-motivated maintenance staff kept them in good condition, of course, and aside from the basic re-enforced concrete, very little of the buildings could actually be said to be seven centuries old.
It should probably all have been torn down and rebuilt at least two or three times by now, but until recently, there had been much more pressing matters for the construction battalions to attend to.
Even in it’s prime, when Heart was still considered the most prestigious and important academy in the whole of the Gudersnipe Foundation—well, technically second most prestigious, as no school could surpass the School—even then, there had been far more important details than the shape of the building.
But now, the lengthy war that had created the demand for places like Heart was over, so there was certainly no reason to worry about the structures.
It was a time of great change. The war had been going on fully seven hundred fifteen years, from A.Y. 697 to 6812, according to the somehow needlessly complicated Alliance Year system. After so many years of fierce fighting, not one person was left alive who remembered a time before the war. It was now 6815, so the war was a fresh would and an open memory in everyone’s mind.
Now, in the aftermath, they faced a very tumultuous period. De-armament, that was the official name for it. It was a simple enough proposal: shut down the massive industrial military complex that, for seven centuries, had churned out weapons, equipment, vehicles, starships, and soldiers; and move all of the resources invested therein to more peaceful pursuits.
That meant factories built to make fighter planes and jeeps had to retool, to make luxury cars and passenger aircraft. Bomb factories would largely be shut down entirely, with their employees now moving to the all-important task of cleaning up the facility. Those workers would be kept on during the lengthy shutdown, while job-placement services worked to find other work for them.
The whole goal of de-armament was avoid a massive disruption in the economy. Keep people working, keep money flowing, all the while changing from war work to not war work.
There were few facilities for which the de-armament plan, proposed and maintained over many millennia, did not include a specific outline for. Even all throughout the war, every new war factory built was given a life expectancy and a post-war plan. It was intended, rather fully, that something would be done with them.
All accept, unfortunately, the poor old Heart Academy.
Heart was built in A.Y. 6115, just eighteen years after the beginning of the war. It is at this crucial juncture that the major flaw in the A.Y. calendar system becomes apparent: the war began in A.Y. 697, which by all logic should be 5,418 years before 6115, not 18 years.
The A.Y., or Alliance Year system is based around a series of Ages, with the first number always representing the age. So 697 was actually the 97th year of the Sixth Age, and 6115 was the 115th year of the same.
Created in A.Y. 1998(the 998h year of the First Age, for this keeping score at home), the Alliance Year system was the brainchild of Scott Sagen, a prominent figure some 4,700 years ago. At this time, the Alliance was already over 1,000 years. In short, it was a lot of history to digest.
But the Alliance wasn’t even a tangible thing around Heart, as the academy belonged very firmly to a region of space under the control of the Gudersnipe Foundation.
Explored space, frequently referred to as “the known worlds” was a remarkably massive area of incalculable size. Geographically by area, the Alliance controlled about 10% of it. Together with the Foundation, they controlled another 30%, and by itself, the Foundation controlled around 10%(11 by some conservative estimates). Thus, the Alliance and the Foundation, the two major super-powers, held roughly half of all of explored space.
At the edge of explored space lay a sort of grey area of charted star systems and stellar clusters that had yet to be visited by manned exploration missions, called the outer rim; and beyond that, the unimaginatively named Unknown.
Within a large patch of the 10 or 11%, on the outer rim, in a star system known only by the designation 10-4BUN, on the second planet in the system(the first rocky one), resided the Heart school.
This was by no means an isolated, backwater little dust ball, 10-4BUN-2 sported a population of nearly four billion, hundreds of major cities, and a fairly busy orbiting space port. The planet played host to thousands of war-time factories now in the process of re-tooling, with the spoils being sent all over the known worlds via the busy port. 10-4BUN wasn’t a quiet, backwater settlement on the edge of explored space; it was just the stop before you hit the Unknown.
But it was not at the academy proper, rather above it, that the story begins.
Actually, this time of year, not so much ‘above’ as to the left and down a whole lot, depending on the time of day.
10-4BUN-1 was a vapor-like, hot gas giant in a very tight orbit around the main-sequence star. It blocked or absorbed enough heat from 10-4BUN itself to allow 10-4BUN-2 a fairly close orbit as well. Another, larger and this time colder gas giant designated 10-4BUN-3 kept everything in equilibrium, and acted as the system’s planetary shield. Two more gas giants, 10-4BUN-4 and 10-4BUN-5 rounded out the system, and it was beyond the orbit of 10-4BUN-5 that the small space station lay.
Itself two thousand years old, the station had begun it’s life as an unmanned observation post and supply depot, back while 10-4BUN-2 was still undergoing the tedious process of terraforming. 10-4BUN-2 is a Generation Three, System Two world for anyone who cares about that sort of thing, and if you aren’t a terraformer, you probably don’t. The planet is just a planet, really; but the station’s history was far more interesting.
First constructed on a drifting lump of rock in A.Y. 4710(there goes that pesky A.Y. system again), the station was intended to help monitor the 500-year-long terraforming process going on in the inner solar system. It had to be built to last practically forever, so the designers excavated tunnels deep into the rock and built an elaborate, well-constructed system.
Following the completion of terraforming, the station sat abandoned for nearly 800 years, until the Succession Wars began in A.Y. 697. The old station was immediately reopened, refurbished, and went into service as an early-warning sensor-grid and orbital weapon’s platform.
For the next two hundred years, a crack team of Crimson Blade space marines manned the station around the clock, constantly scanning the skies for any sign of invasion. They ran drills, carried out sophisticated maneuvers, and in general made ready for that perilous day when they would have to defend the solar system against an enemy onslaught.
Then, somebody pointed out that since the fighting was literally on the other side of the Foundation, with countless other inhabited, better-defended, and more strategically-valuable targets between them and the front lines, it was probably not going to happen anytime soon. 10-4BUN was like a land-locked naval base expecting an attack from the sea, anyone trying would have to build a canal, and someone was going to notice that well before it got in sight of the guard tower.
So the station was repurposed slightly, becoming an extension of the Heart Academy. The crack team of experienced soldiers was replaced by a slightly more relaxed team of substantially more experienced soldiers, specifically lifers on their way to retirement, enjoying a cushy assignment before their pensions fully matured.
The crew was reduced from 400 to just 50, with more emphasis placed on automation in the event of an actual attack. Barracks, mess halls, and rec-rooms were replaced with classrooms, training simulators, and barracks with slightly smaller beds. Youth from the Academy now roamed the rock-cut halls, practicing the same drills as had the seasoned soldiers, but this time in an effort to learn the trade.
Heart Academy was different from traditional Crimson Blade academies. Most academies required completion of primary school education, and only took recruits who were at least 18 years old. Heart incorporated the primary school into its facility, taking students as young as 8. Between 8 and 16, the youth carried out typical schooling, learning math and language, reading and history, all the various subjects kids typically learned in school. Their extra-curricular activities included close-order drill, marksmanship, and participating in a variety of military training exercises.
Any student who could complete the standard school education by the age of 16(2 years ahead of the standard expectations) was granted immediate acceptance to the real Academy, with the opportunity to enroll in a three-year accelerated command-school program. This program, if successfully completed, earned them a commission at the rank of Lieutenant, and usually a combat assignment near the front lines. Given that this could be accomplished by the age of 19, a time when other young people entering different academies would still be worrying about their first-year finals, and looking forward to maybe graduated at 22 with the rank of Ensign, it was a pretty spectacular thing.
Only the best of the best made it into Heart Academy’s command school, only those young people who were going somewhere, who would one day captain the big capital ships that stormed into battle against the enemy like a rain of swords—only they could claim to be graduates of the Heart Military Academy.
This is not a story about those people.
The primary school portion of the Heart Academy, while difficult to gain admittance, functioned like any other military school, which is to say it’s primary selling point was taking bad little boys and girls, giving them matching haircuts, and turning them into good little boys and girls with matching haircuts. That was what the school did. The academy made excellent command-level officers, the school made good little boys and girls with matching haircuts.
This story concerns the school.

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