Castle Roland


by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 1

Published: 8 Apr 14


Copyright © by
Kyle Aarons

Human History

Joel rolled his eyes as he read down the first few questions of his History final. The test would have been fairly tough for normal twelve year old kids, but none of the ten kids in the class were normal. Not only were they in the top 10% of their class in the Frame Command School section of the Military Academy run by Blood's Honor Mercenary Command, but also they all had traveled in space countless times and had been on scores of planets in their short lives. The very fact that all of them were currently on field study on a planet abandoned during the Machine Wars should have told this new teacher, Mister Jackson, something was different with his students. Yet Joel could not get it though this guy's head they were not just average sixth grade kids.

It would have surprised Joel, had he known his thoughts were being mirrored by his teacher. Much to Hank Jackson's credit, there was much about these students he knew he didn't know. He also realized it would take a great deal longer than twelve weeks for him to fully understand where any of them were truly coming from. Since he had signed on as a teacher for kids traveling away from the academy, he had seen some amazing things from each of his students.

All Blood's Honor cadets were extremely well disciplined. They were extraordinarily confident in themselves and those around them, and they had a hard edge even when they played which bordered on dangerous. Yet there was something more to this group of Blood's Honor cadets. Yes, he knew they were in the Command School which was extremely difficult to get into. Yes he knew they were power armored frame pilot cadets, which was just as hard to qualify for as the Command School, so he guessed they were among the best and brightest.

However, most of these kids came from royalty on Forest Garden and most of them had parents in Blood's Honor units so he came into this assignment thinking some of the highly vaunted Blood's Honor standards had been bent. Over the past six weeks since he had started really working with these students, he had come to realize his preconceived ideas had proven groundless. Every kid in this class was incredibly intelligent and physically gifted. Yet there was something he could not put his finger on and it had troubled him from the first day he set up this classroom.

Hank shook his head half smiling. What was a classroom to these youngsters would be looked at as a high tech lab by almost anyone else in the galaxy. He glanced around for about the hundredth time looking over the room with a degree of awe. The resources he had available to him would put any other school to shame and he had taught in a couple of the most expensive schools known. There were sixteen computer terminal desks which were tied into a server at his teaching station. This gave him the ability to link all the stations or to look at what each student was working on independently. Also tied into his teaching station, were two large holographic display consoles behind him which could bring up movies, historical data, or almost anything else held within the main server on the Planetary Landing Craft. At his fingertips, were historical news clips, expeditionary videos from hundred of worlds, scientific data, movies and books of all sort, plus presentations he made up on his own. He could monitor what each student was doing independently; tie in students to work with each other as a class or he could split them into groups divided however he wanted.

Yet Blood's Honor Junior Military Academy (BHJMA) was not just a school for the super rich, although they did have plenty of full tuition cadets and the price bordered on astronomical. BHJMA took in all sorts of students in all sections of potential military service from infantry, armor, superiority pilots (fighter pilots of air, space or more advanced capable of fighting in both space and in air), and of course the highly advanced powered armor known as frames.

All Blood's Honor cadets were placed according to a series of tests into one of four levels of training. Those with the least potential were assigned to Military School, those with average abilities were granted Military Academy level, those who scored above average were put in at the Military College and those with the greatest potential were placed in the Command College.

Hank took a moment to look over all ten of the Command College cadets he had been entrusted to teach and let out a silent sigh. Outwardly, they appeared to be nothing more than normal kids. Their faces were cute, all of them had the slenderness of physically fit youthful smiles showed adult teeth that looked a bit too big for their still growing faces and their bodies were only starting to really show a transition from childhood into adulthood. Only a couple of the boys had started to get a bit of hair on their upper lips while only one of the girls had really stated to show enlarging of breasts.

Yet, Hank knew appearances could be deceiving and in this case the outer shell of youthful looks was where almost all similarities between these ten cadets and the regular twelve year old on the streets of thousands of worlds ended. There was not a child currently working on his test who could not run fifteen kilometers, pick up and shoot over a hundred different types of weapons, or jump into a frame and take it into combat. In fact, all ten of them had done all of it and had come out even harder and more confident than they already had been.

The fact all ten had succeeded so wildly could be directly linked back to everything the academy stood for. Blood's Honor Junior Military Academy used a great deal or resources to make sure every child entering the prestigious halls were properly placed. Very seldom was the intense battery of physical and mental tests proven wrong. Most kids were challenged to their fullest extent wherever they were placed, although a full paying cadet could pay extra to get bumped up one level, with most of the extra money going toward tutoring to keep them up with the others in their classes. Even then, the cadre paid close attention and once in a great while a student was moved up to a higher level, while more often the pressure proved to be a bit much and a student was transferred down to a lower school.

As Hank glanced down at his computer terminal, he had to fight off the urge not to snort in some disgust. Most of the kids had gotten every question they had answered thus far correct. So much for a hard test, he chided himself, realizing yet once again he had under estimated the kids in the room. There was no question these ten had been placed in the highest level of BHJMA for a reason.

Having nothing else to focus on, and knowing in his heart none of the kids he was monitoring would even consider cheating, he let his mind wander a bit. His thoughts turned back to what made this academy so successful. The entry tests were only part of the academy's mystique. How they handled the kids right from the start was every bit as key as placing them in the right schools. Problems, when they happened, tended to show up early. More often than not it was a social status problem not an ability problem the cadre had to deal with. Blood's Honor Academy was part paid prep school, part reform school, part orphanage, and part offered partial scholarships depending on ability and need. The mixture of super rich to dirt poor to criminally inclined only worked because the academy was run by the best cadre Hank had ever worked under.

However, many kids came in thinking mom's and dad's money made them more important and they tended to act haughty toward those who didn't come from wealth and privilege. Many of them quickly found out those they mouthed off to had a different take on life, seeing themselves as tougher and rich kids as spoiled brats. Knowing this would take time to iron itself out; the academy had all new cadets attend a physically demanding three month basic training followed by six months as junior cadets. Junior cadets were each given time as leaders and times as low ranking squad members. Every six weeks the organization would switch completely.

This held multiple advantages for the cadre. First, all the kids got used to having to follow a rank and command structure where social status and even age gave them no advantages. Secondly, it allowed each kid to get a feel for having to take and give orders to and from others older and younger, richer and poorer than they were. Lastly, it allowed the cadre to see who had natural leadership abilities and who could not easily adapt to a military command structure.

From his first day at the academy, Hank had been astonished to see how the cadre treated the cadets. They always put the cadets first. In simple terms, they cared about the students, going so far as to take kids home for holidays. No child ever had to stay at the academy over spring, summer, or Christmas breaks. Instead, those who couldn't go home or didn't have homes to go to were "adopted" by Blood's Honor families. More than a few had actually been formally adopted by families they had stayed with while others might have well have been since they always got invited back to the same homes over and over again.

On the other hand, BHJMA had the most ridged guidelines Hank had ever come across. Hence, it became clear from almost his first day as an instructor, the concept of instilling discipline was just as high a priority as caring for and about the cadets. The baseline rules were never bent no matter what the situation. First and foremost was school work. In short, all school work had to be completed on time. Failure to do so resulted in a one rank grade demotion and a one week of lockdown. Only senor cadre of officer rank could approve a late assignment being accepted. Not even Hank could grant approval to a student in his own class to turn in late work.

Second, was a rank structure within the cadet ranks which was unparalleled and was somewhat troubling. It stated, in plain language, "No cadet could order a lower ranking cadet to do anything illegal and no lower ranking cadet could disobey a non-illegal order of a higher ranking cadet." There were some built in protections, but in Hank's mind it left a lot in the hands of children. But, at least there were some safeties. First, all orders could be countermanded by any member of cadre. Also, once an order was followed it could be reported to a cadre member for review, but not before first obeying the order.

There were also titanium clad rules on combat training. It had to be supervised by cadre, even unarmed combat. Weapons had to be checked and cleared at the time of issue, before use on any range, after use on any range, and at turn in. This set of rules was followed even when weapons were only used in safe practice modes with no live ammunition being fired out of them.

Hank was very much disturbed by one aspect of BHJMA rules, however. All cadre and cadets had to carry a sonic stun weapon on them at all times and not be afraid to use it when things got out of hand. No junior cadet could become a full cadet without first qualifying with a sonic pistol and rifle then he or she also had to get shot with each just so they knew what it felt like. Then, once every six months, they had to undergo a refresher day, including getting shot again. The first time he saw this training he almost got sick after seeing a nine year old stagger back to his feet after a full minute being unconscious after being shot with a rifle. A bit of blood trickled out of his nose and his eyes were full of tears. Yet the kid stumbled to the line on the opposite side to get shot with the pistol without being ordered to do so.

The fact everyone was armed, even with non-lethal sonic weapons, seriously limited arguments and verbal squabbles almost never became fist fights. Still, more than once since Hank had come to the academy, he had seen cadets or cadre fire a sonic stun pistol on cadets who had let their tempers get the best of them. Battles between cadets happened only two times in the last six months. Hank had never seen it happen, but had seen the reports on kids who had shot at each other in anger. According to reports both events were brought to a quick halt by other cadets who fired on both kids. Hard labor was enforced by shock collars and cadre who didn't give a millimeter.

Only once, had Hank seen a cadet get mad enough to pull out her sonic pistol and shoot a member of cadre, but the girl had paid for it dearly. She had been shot by seven sonic weapons within moments of each other, six of them cadet weapons. So fast had reactions been Hank mind hadn't even processed the event before the return fire had left the young lady crumpled on the parade ground, blood leaking out of ears, eyes and mouth. She then had to undergo ear surgery to repair eardrums damaged by getting so badly blasted.

On the other hand, once out of the hospital she was sent for a full month in the cadet hard labor camp, and upon release got a demotion of four ranks. The fact she hadn't been outright expelled said a great deal about the philosophy of the whole school.

Other punishments were almost adult like, and it made no difference who had broken one or more of the core rules. Hank had seen a couple of high level royal kids assigned to a full week in the hard labor brig being literally forced to build a stone wall by hand for twelve hours a day. Their crime was playing with throwing knives without supervision.

All appeals were ignored and even when one of the parents demanded his child be release the child was not. Instead, the contract was shown to the parent reminding him of the waivers he had signed giving Blood's Honor Academy full guardianship from the beginning to the end of every semester. Only after the week was over, was the child offered a chance to go home with a dishonorable discharge or stay. He chose to stay, astonishing his parents, who found the contract so air tight they couldn't even withdraw their own son from the academy. It was his choice to stay and Blood's Honor backed him.

The whole matter got to the point where the parents took it to an off world court for arbitration and lost. Hank was very curious what would happen with the semester drawing to a close. Somehow, he guessed Blood's Honor would end up with the youngster next term because the boy wanted to stay, and there were plenty of rumors floating around about Blood's Honor cadre doing some arm twisting for their cadets. In fact, there were far too many for them all to be groundlessly founded.

Very few schools could have gotten away with such a stunt nor could many continue to succeed having so many dark rumors surrounding it. Yet BHJMA kept a sizable backlog of kids wanting to get in the doors. One of the driving factors behind this was the top notch instruction they provided. There was not a graduate of the academy who could not find a school of higher learning to accept him or her. Once there, they had the skills to do extremely well. Countless graduates became outstanding scientists, researchers, teachers, doctors, and engineers.

Higher education was only a part of the successfulness of the school, however. The second part was just as important to many of those who came to BHJMA. Every graduate from every class, had job offers waiting for them upon graduation from a whole host of military units looking for good young men and women. Blood's Honor graduates were the single most sought after junior military graduates outside of Earth Core. Had the Earth Core Alliance not forbade all planetary members from seeking outside graduates, some of the Earth Core worlds would certainly travel to the Great Hall on Forest Garden looking to hire as well.

Planetary militaries were only part of the overall picture of who hired Blood's Honor graduates. Mercenary units were always interested in hiring recruits, and Bloods Honor turned out exactly what any good mercenary commander was looking for. Graduates who were tough, well rounded and could handle the extra rigors of mercenary life. Anyone looking at just numbers would find more officers in mercenary units who got their start under instruction from Blood's Honor cadre than any other two academies combined. It was not unheard of, for a mercenary commander to offer a sixteen to eighteen year old graduate from the Command College an entry level officer slot.

Very few graduates of the Command College entered military service below the rank of warrant officer. Those of both the Command College and the Military College graduates could easily move on and sign up with any number of officer training schools for the price of serving anywhere from six to ten years in the military offering the additional adult training. Interestingly enough, however, more than a few planetary militaries skipped this step with Blood's Honor Command School graduates. They simply offered them officer slots right out the gate. This more than stood as a true testament to the school's ability to turn kids into professional military personal.

All the students got more advanced training on equipment than the other best most expensive schools in the galaxy by a wide margin. This was not speculation on Hank's part as he had worked in a few prior to signing on with Blood's Honor Academy. It was his resume' and his ability to work in hostile environments which landed him this prized job. Hank leaned back in his chair as he looked over the ecological tent which filtered the air. Even the tent, showed how many resources were channeled into the school. This was the second time since signing on with the school that he had worked out of an ecological tent. He knew those he was teaching this time didn't get special treatment just because they belonged to royalty and Blood's Honor parents and in three cases the parents were both royalty and very high ranking Bloods Honor officers.

As impressive as the teaching resources were, the physical location where he was currently teaching left much to be desired. The whole world was barely inhabitable, filled with dozens of poisonous creatures and more than two dozen animals large and dangerous enough to attack and kill a fully grown man. Making matters worse, the weather could turn violent within a matter of minutes. A calm sunny sky could be erased with winds so strong sandy soil was often times propelled with enough force to draw blood.

Then there was the air itself. Even with the constant drone of the air being pumped through a series of softly crackling laser filters there was a slight smell of sulfur to the air. The planet's atmosphere was not actually poisonous, but continued exposure could eventually make someone ill. Hank was sure the planet would have remained labeled uninhabitable except it had one thing corporations wanted, and it had it in abundance. Less than a day after an explorer team landed on Brile IV they found fossil fuels. Oil, coal, and natural gas were found in multiple locations in incredible quantities. Although the need for these fuels was not as great on more advanced worlds, it was still very much in demand on worlds with poor tech capabilities. Internal combustion engines were vastly easier to build and work on than magnetic or fusion vehicles. Even then, the fuel of choice was hydrogen on water rich worlds. The cost of producing hydrogen on water poor worlds was actually greater then cheap fossil fuels shipped in, especially since dozens of worlds had been discovered with huge petroleum based deposits.

Brile IV was probably the richest fossil fuel world ever discovered, so shortly after the reports of the explorer teams became public, major drilling and mining facilities started dotting the landscape. Some companies set up vast domes with powerful computers to monitor almost everything needed to run the facilities and filter the air to protect their drillers and miners while others set up small camps with just a few buildings fully protecting the workers from the elements.

This boom period lasted for over ninety years. It ended when it was widely believed, but never proven, that one of the corporate trinary computers on Brile IV linked up with one on a passing space craft and learned how to think. The Machine Wars came violently to Brile IV bringing death and destruction to the population.

The situation was finally brought under control with Bloods Honor troopers taking fierce losses to pacify the world. The last trinary ultra computer was destroyed thirty-two months after the first shots were fired on the planet. Unfortunately, Blood's Honor didn't find all the locations where the ultra computers produced their death machines. Somewhere on the central continent there was a facility still churning out wheeled rovers armed with dual light laser turrets with basic programming to kill humans. A similar situation plagued the southern continent. Another facility churned out a couple of hover tanks armed with an old tech sonic cannon every year. The nice thing was the hover tanks only lasted a few years before failing, so only ten to twenty were believed to be active at any one time. The mission to locate the complexes was finally abandoned when the last corporation decided to pull its people off world after the workers rebelled. Once it left, there was nothing left to fund Blood's Honor's mission and nothing for Blood's Honor to protect, so they pulled off world as well.

The aftermath left over four hundred and fifty abandoned sites with anywhere from a few buildings to large towns in size. It also left several uncontrolled killing machines roaming the planet which is why the corporations never came back. It was those machines; the cadets in this tent were here to hunt. Although their frames were more than a match for the older tech machines, it was still far from safe for them to do so. Already, the Cadre had lost a pair of infantry guards and had taken out two machines, just patrolling the 50 kilometer zone around the Planetary Landing Craft.

On the up side, being on Brile IV allowed Hank to provide some hands on history lessons not physically possible in normal classroom setting. The kids could see what the Machine Wars had done first hand and why technology was not the cure for all ills. Still it was not his idea of a great place to go for a field trip.

Hank glanced down, getting a quick reading where the students were on their tests. More than half were over a third done. He hid a smirk. He knew this was going to be a challenge when Blood's Honor first approached him about being one of the instructors for this trip. He had to go through 6 weeks of combat, weapon, and ecological suit training before even qualifying for the slot.

This almost caused him to pass on the opportunity. However, the very high hazard pay he was offered coupled with the fact the combat training would allow him to become a member of cadre and teach older kids who were more advanced in the academy made the chance too tempting to pass up. The last thing he wanted was to spend the rest of his career doing was to have to teach kids of ten to twelve years old. Although he liked working with younger kids sometimes, he really felt he was better suited to working with older kids, fourteen and fifteen year old young men and women, not kids who were happy to be seeing peach fuzz.

On the other hand, having spent the amount of time with these cadets, made him realize he really didn't quite understand the level of expectations being placed on him. The weird thing was it seemed to him it was the kids, even more so than the cadre, who expected more out of him and his teaching. As he watched the kids fly though what he thought would be a very difficult test, he wondered how hard he could push them before it become too difficult. All in all, this trip and working with these youngsters had made for a great learning experience for him, but there was much more he had to dial in before he was really ready to be a Blood's Honor instructor and he knew it.

Still, Hank hated it here. Just moving from secure tent to secure tent required him to call for an infantry guard to give him some protection was troubling. Hank hated the fact he had to wear a hazard suit and carry a laser rifle at the ready just to venture out of the basically secure five and half kilometer perimeter. Making matters even worse was the fact the kids were nowhere near as intimidated by this place as he was. He looked down at his computer again noting Joel was flying though his test. Hank clenched his fist in frustration. Six hours of work trying to make a challenging final didn't seem to do him much good. He shook his head and wished he was off this God forsaken rock.

On the other hand, Joel and his classmates were thrilled by this extended field study. The academy was pretty cool, but being in the field, often times with his parents, was great. However, getting to be away from parents and other cadets while training on Brile IV had been totally awesome. The extra training he was getting from cadre was the most intense thing he had ever undergone. All of the cadre were top notch special ops frame pilots and since there was only sixteen students and sixteen frame pilots, all of the cadets got one on one instruction daily. In short, it was incredible. The best part for Joel was doing all of this with his friends who were every bit as talented as he was. There were no slower students in any of his classes and the competition when in his frame was far better than going against most of the other cadets in the academy.

The problem was these classes along with his math class, also taught by Mister Jackson, were way too easy as they both bordered on being pointless. Truth be told, he could not think of a single thing he had actually learned from either class. Mister Jackson was a nice guy, but Joel was not used to nice guys as teachers. He was used to being pushed and pushed hard. Neither of Mister Jackson's classes had even nudged his abilities. Even as he started answering questions on the final, he wished the guy in the front of the room understood what being a Blood's Honor Command School cadet meant. He was part of the best of the best. Everyone in this tent felt he or she was the best and they all knew it.

But being in Blood's Honor Academy, they were never allowed to be lax about their abilities. When they got cocky they were quickly put in their place. One thing Joel learned almost as soon as he entered the academy was no matter how good he was at something there was always someone his age better. When he got too full of himself, the cadre had a unique way of finding the right cadet to remind him he was not as great as he had thought he was. This had taught him a great deal of humility while allowing him to still be proud of his accomplishments.

Of course, Joel had every right to be proud of himself. Just being a kid in a mercenary unit gave Joel lessons in life average kids could never hope compete with let alone comprehend. The very fact he was surrounded by military men and women from birth all but guaranteed he would pick up some basic combat skills. Learning how to safely handle a weapon and shoot began to be drummed into him from the minute he could handle a firearm. Unarmed combat was also something he was introduced to well before other kids of comparable ages knew there was any skill behind throwing a punch.

However, the life skills taught to Joel were not only in the arts of defense and combat. He grew up around frame pilots. His mother and father both took frames into combat and came back with combat damage often. Sometimes, wanting to spend a bit more time with mom or dad required him to learn basic mechanical repair and electronic skills. Before most parents were comfortable with their son or daughter cutting their own meat at the dinner table, Joel was pretty handy with a laser torch. By the time he was six, he could patch a spot of armor without any help, although the finishing work to keep it smooth and neat required some help from someone of more skill. Finally, even before he entered the academy as a cadet at age seven he could repair combat damage to basic electronic and hydraulic systems with only limited guidance from an adult.

The rough edges of life around combat troops also gave him some survival skills. He had gone on his first hunting trip at age four, he had learned how to gut and clean fish by age five and larger game by age six. The scouts in his father's unit had taught him how to find water, how to purify it, how to make shelter when he didn't have any and how to rig snares for small game with very limited equipment.

In Joel's opinion, school was really a waste of time except for learning reading, writing and basic science, since everything else could be learned far quicker in the real world and mistakes went far beyond getting a bad grade. He half wondered how any kid could stand to go to class day after day and come home to homework with no real life skills being learned such as his tri-weekly frame piloting classes, his bi-weekly firearms practice on one of the many combat ranges operated by Blood's Honor Academy or his frame repair classes where he got to get his hands dirty working on rebuilding an old frame from scratch.

Then there was his absolute favorite time when once a week for four hours he got to frame up and go into a combat course. Sometimes, fighting scenarios were set up by the cadre and the objectives were anything from a rescue of a civilian to locating and neutralizing a sniper. Other times, he found himself fighting other cadets. Since he had made first squad then unit leader the time spent inside his frame had taught him tactics, leadership, and how teamwork was far more important than any class on the subject could hope to teach.

In addition to these skills, Joel didn't need to read about space travel. He not only had firsthand knowledge of the problems of space flight and the faster than light space folding, but also of the countless problems encountered adjusting to each new world. There were the required vaccines, the lessons of poisonous creatures, and what wildlife and often time's plant life needed to be avoided. Then there were always the holographic videos at every planet's point of entry. Even the poorest and least technologically advanced worlds required visitors to watch and take a ridiculously easy test over the information before being allowed to step foot off the grounds of the space port. In addition to telling visitors of local laws it provided some of the history, hardships, and glories of the settling of the planet in question. Joel always enjoyed them even though the worst were extremely boring while the best were incredibly very cool.

The day he turned five happened to be the same day he landed on the planet New Bavaria IV for the first time, unfortunately it had not been his last. However, the event had started a love for history for the young boy. It had been his mother's idea to start a planetary arrival disk collection, and it had become one of his greatest prides. Since his first collected planetary initiation he had gathered thirty-three more, all from actually going to the worlds in question. Along with this collection, he filed each along with the age appropriate tests he had taken upon arrival. Yet, traveling to and living on various planets was only part of the overall knowledge gained in the travels.

Beyond the normal advantages all the travel gave Joel and the others in the small environmentally filtered tent, they all had additional real life lessons of needing to learn how to operate in zero G environments. Many of them, including Joel, got to take the stick of small spacecraft fighters known a Space Superiority Craft (SSC's) and fighters designed to fly in the atmospheres of planets known as Atmospheric Superiority Craft (ASC's). Recently, Joel had been given some basic instructions in piloting fighters designed to fly and fight in space and in planetary atmospheres known as Inner-planetary Superiority Craft (ISC's). Flying these was far more dangerous than the other two. Entering an atmosphere was dangerous and required a great deal of skill, doing so in a combat craft which needed to continue to fight during a re-entry was something far worse. The very fact Joel understood the Mathematics behind getting the proper angles to do an entry into an atmosphere, adjust for atmospheric densities, and further fine-tune for gravitational pulls of different planets while in space was math far beyond most high school students capabilities. Yet Joel was only one of ten in the tent capable of doing so and he was far from the best at it.

Other real life experiences saturated Joel's life. Simply traveling through the mysterious alien fold gates discovered one hundred and seventy-five years prior was one such thing most children could only dream about. For Joel and the other kids taking this history final, it was something they had all done several times. Every kid in the tent had been through at least three of the twenty-two known gates Joel and Gabriel were tied for the most, each having been through nine of them. Had their instructor known this, he would have been a bit astonished, as he had only been through two, was almost triple their age, and considered himself well traveled.

Joel and those with him had seen more and had been part of more than simply having a wide diversity of knowledge and skills. For they had gotten to know the darker side of life which also gave them far more insights into life in general than most adults let alone kids had. All of them had seen the effects of combat on civilians and military men and women alike. Joel's mother had been killed less than five months prior when a coup shattered the Avalon Breakaway Republic, the first power to stand up to and beat back the mighty Earth Core Alliance with the help of Blood's Honor.

The fact the history of Blood's Honor hand gone back to the days before any other power than the Earth Core Government existed permeated the lives of all ten students. They had all had visited the Great Hall on Forest Garden numerous times. More than a few times, academy field trips to one or more of the great halls were followed by long reports on what they had seen and learned.

Forest Garden, the home world of Blood's Honor, had one of the greatest museums outside of Earth Core, and many said it was one of the top five Museums in the galaxy. It held history dating back to the days when Blood's Honor was formed to hire out to protect small mining colonies from raiders and other corporations all the way to the Second Earth Core War. Since Joel's father was royalty on Forest Garden, he lived on the grounds and often times went home by taking a shortcut through the museum. The very fact he knew most of the six thousand plus displays, had seen every movie at least once, and had written about a dozen reports on what he had learned on field trips to the Great Hall of Forest Garden, his knowledge of human history was probably better than his current instructor.

Joel answered the first fifty questions doing more daydreaming of piloting his cadet frame than anything. A couple of tougher questions made him refer back to historical video of the first faster than light fold ships held within the Great Hall. It showed footage taken as the first earth atmosphere like planets were discovered less than two years after the first successful space fold and it told of how humanity was almost wiped out because of never before seen viruses being taken from these worlds and spread throughout the human population. Within fifty years human kind was in decline. The age of adulthood was lowered to sixteen then all the way down to fourteen as the need for healthy workers was stretched to the limits.

Joel allowed his mind to wander through the displays as he continued to answer questions which required almost no thought or effort on his part. The questions followed a sequence of events set out well in the first hall. Joel smiled as he realized some of the questions were almost too simple and if one really knew history, none of the multiple choice answers were fully correct.

Joel's thoughts tuned to the timeline taught within the first hall. Even as humanity struggled to survive the release of the "Great Blood Plagues", exploration of the stars continued. The government established careful quarantine protocols and multi level decontamination procedures were developed to prevent even more bacteria and viruses from accidentally being introduced into a declining human population.

To combat a sudden manpower shortage, huge "human farms" were started on Mars and the earth's moon. Since these areas were easy to maintain in a closed environment, they made perfect places to raise humans free of the disease outbreaks. These massive complexes combined sperm and egg of healthy donors and put them in "Birthing Chambers". Kids developed in basically normal ways but in artificial wombs and then rose in massive "families". Almost the second they were old enough to start producing for the host corporation, they were put to work, often times having to do a full time job and go to school seven days a week. While many of these "farms" held high standards and were carefully supervised by the governments of Earth, others were kept hidden by the corporations and were nothing more than manufacturing installations for cheaply produced slave labor or experimental guinea pigs used to first infect then test new vaccines on.

As word of a few of these secret "farms" came to light, there was massive backlash against the whole project from many, but others saw the farms as a necessary evil. First riots, then outright wars broke out as corporations and even countries took sides on the need for such "Testing Farms". The "Human Farming" projects were eventually put under laws guaranteeing those "born" within some rights including education, proper healthcare, and their freedom but the other side also bent giving the corporations the right to demand the "product" work for the company it was produced by from the age of sixteen to twenty-five, as long as the human in question was paid a "fair wage". The words "fair wage" were never spelled out and abuses still ran rampant.

This set of laws lasted for almost seventy years. During this time the human population slowly started to rebound as the "Human Farms" started to produce more then what was being killed by the alien viruses. The whole situation came to a close as several corporations started developing super anti-viral agents which stemmed the tide of the onslaught of the worst sicknesses. This allowed governments to once again raise the age of an adult, but attempts to put it back to eighteen or twenty-one were met with large amount resistance from corporations and a population with a very young average age thanks in no small part to the "Human Farm" Project.

Sixteen was finally settled on universally as the age where a child was considered an adult, could enter into contracts, and could join the military. This age was "deemed reasonable" after many powerful companies pointed to the laws passed saying those born in the "Human Farms" had to work for the corporations that raised them starting at age sixteen.

Joel sighed as he answered the questions on how the adult age finally became universally established at sixteen. Once again, the test wasn't really accurate as the only reasonable choice for who was responsible turned out to be "the young population".

The test's next section dealt with something Joel and every other kid new more about than the instructor could hope to. Space travel and exploration was something all of them had almost been born doing. Folding through the alien gates was something all of them had done countless times. This was especially true since one of the gates was within "double bounce" range of Forest Garden. The term double bounce was a term used by commanders of Space Fold Craft. In simple terms, it meant the SFC didn't need to use a full charge to get there. Instead, an SFC could fold to a place and then fold to another place, or back where it just came from without having to spend a full twelve days recharging its massive magnetic field capacitors.

Up to one-hundred-seventy-five year ago space travel had been dangerous. The technology of creating a rift in space then shooting across it to end up light years away instantaneously was just a few steps above suicidal. The slightest miscalculation could cause miss-fold, sending a craft in the wrong direction, getting it lost. Worse yet, a miss-fold often times created a major malfunction, crippling the SFC, leaving it stranded in a spot no one could locate. If repairs could not be made, everyone on the craft was doomed unless there happened to be a planet or moon with a suitable atmosphere close enough to evacuate to. More than a few poor quality worlds ended up being accidentally colonized in such a manner. There was also the problem of creating a stable rift, the power flows had to be perfect and the output to fold nine light years was pushing the ability to keep a stable field long enough to shoot through the created rift.

Eight light years was about the limit the best captains would try for while five to six was about as far as most captains with average skill would attempt.

However, one miss-fold forever changed how humans thought of themselves and their place within the galaxy. The Space Fold Craft, Crimson Star, lost one of its capacitors in mid fold causing the rift it created to take it to a star system with no planets. Up till then, no one tried to go to a system with no planets, simply because the aim of going to other systems was to find planets to colonize or ones with high mineral content. However, this particular miss-fold put the crippled Crimson Star where they had no hope of being found. The captain scanned the area and got a hit. At first, he thought it was nothing more than a large cluster of meteors, but with nothing else on long range radar he decided to set out toward them.

What the captain found was almost terrifying. A series of twenty-five spheres, each exactly seven point six two kilometers in diameter circled a central point. As the Crimson Star got closer, the computers were taken over and the ship was piloted into the center point. Moments later the Crimson Star appeared exactly where it had folded from before its capacitor had blown.

Days later, a military ship folded into the system. Once again, the massive spinning structure took control of the space craft, but unlike the crippled Crimson Star, it communicated automatically with computers of the military explorer ship and downloaded a vast amount of data. It then allowed the stunned crew to plot a new destination anywhere within a fifty-five light year radius from the central point.

The Earth military ship folded directly back to Earth. The computer information was then dumped and examined by scientists worldwide. The term "alien fold gate" was coined by the media. It stuck.

Meanwhile, the alien fold gate information was quickly deciphered. The information revolutionized space travel. The alien fold gate allowed advancements which tripled the distances a single fold charge allowed. In addition to this advantage, it sent information on how to make the powerful magnetic fields surrounding Space Fold Crafts (SFC's) more stable and reliable. The modifications meant the SFC needed to have a vastly different configuration which prevented the greater distance folding craft to keep a design which allowed them to land on planets. To use the giant leap in technology a new class of space craft were developed known as a Planetary Landing Craft (PLC). These smaller ships were needed to travel between the planet and the SFC.

In addition to the technological leap, the alien fold gate allowed a non-folding space craft to fold through it. This meant any planet within a double bounce range could send out an SFC drop off the PLCs then return home within hours, while the PLCs simply went through the gate to their destination without the need to piggyback on an SFC the whole way.

This discovery sparked a new race into deeper space as companies of all sizes tried to find "alien technology". Although no trace of whom or what built the gate had ever been found, other alien fold gates were located. With each new find, the exodus of humanity to the stars increased as the ease of doing so made it almost too painless.

Expansion to far reaching worlds reached a fever pitch and once again the human race got careless. A new disease was introduced into the population. Estimates ranged from a few billion to over twenty-five billion people being infected, but no matter the numbers who died before a new vaccine was found were staggering. This once again slowed human expansion and several Human Farms were once again brought on line to make up for the shortfalls of people on scores of colonized planets hit by the latest outbreak.

Joel once again paused and took a drink. The questions surrounding the finding of the alien gate were really silly in his opinion. Yeah, he knew the name of the first ship to find the first gate, yeah he knew it made it possible to go further more safely and yes each gate had twenty-five spheres each seven point six two kilometers in diameter, the five sets of five spun in different directions and were perfectly timed to never collide with one another.

Furthermore, he knew the few recorded attempts to destroy one of the gates always met with disaster and failure. The gate absorbed any attack then folded it back on the attacking craft meaning anything fired at it ended up folding out of space and striking the attacker. Un-armed ramming ships also folded, usually appearing in a busy shipping lane of whoever sent it causing serious damage.

None of Mister Jackson's questions were really important in Joel's opinion. What should have been asked is what finding the gate meant to humanity. For the first time, Humans found proof some other intelligent life form was out there. The gates' ability to communicate with the computers of an alien race showed astounding technological superiority. Finally, Joel was disappointed to find no questions on the vast expansion of humans as treasure seekers and corporations scattered to distant points looking for alien technology creating the greatest human expansion in history.

Furthermore, there was nothing in the test on what other information the alien fold gate sent back to the human race. The knowledge it divulged allowed humans to design and build SFC's and PLC's, but the technology which allowed for these new craft was not just limited to space travel. It gave a giant leap forward to other areas of human knowledge. This boom lead scientists in new directions never thought of before. Doors to some spectacular areas of research suddenly opened and others closed as the alien fold gate debunked theories in almost every area of science.

Joel turned his attention back to the test with a light shrug. Easy tests were rare in the Command College so he figured he might as well enjoy this one. The second wave of Human Farming was not as great as the first wave had been. The reasons were two fold. First, the new plague was discovered before it reached many worlds. Because of this, not all of humanity was put in jeopardy. Second, the need for manpower was no longer paramount.

Some worlds turned to technology and advancements in artificial intelligence to make up for the lack of manpower. A new breed of super computer was developed with a whole new way of looking at computers. Instead of a binary way of looking at things with a zero or one, on or off, yes or no, the new breed of computer had trinary ways of computation. These "Ultra-Computers" had a "yes" a "no" and a "maybe" setting. Although this allowed for fantastic research and the ability to better test inventions before they were built, it also gave the computer something no one counted on. This single advancement in computer technology caused more death and destruction than all the plagues and viruses found on every explored world combined.

The second hall of history on Forest Garden dealt with the after effects of the "trinary computer". Over a square kilometer of building space devoted over fifteen hundred displays of horror from of the time when several trinary ultra-computers became self-aware and reprogrammed robotic machines to fight the very beings who made them. This became known as the great Machine Wars.

This was when Blood's Honor went from being just another mercenary unit into being the elite of the elite. Blood's Honor mercenaries fought on over fifty planets, destroying over seven dozen ultra-computers, often times putting themselves in the line of fire allowing countless civilians to escape robotic armies. It was also during this war, when miners using powered space suits to fight machines on an asteroid colony gave Blood's Honor leaders an idea. The days of power armor with built in weapons called Combat Frames or Frames for short had been born and the primary combat infantry vehicle had been forever changed.

Joel didn't really expect many questions about this, mainly because the vast majority of humans tried to ignore and or forget about the Machine wars. It was a sour note in history for everyone. However, of all the parts of the test, Joel found this section the most interesting and challenging. Mister Jackson clearly thought major mistakes of the past were important, and some of his questions showed his interest in this part of history. Unfortunately, this is where the hard questions ended. The rest of the test was pure fluff if anyone knew the basics of human history.

The next part of the test picked up right about where the third hall of history within Blood's Honor Palace showed and told of the greatest civil war ever fought. The seven years of the Earth Core War killed more men, women, and children than the twenty-five years of the Machine Wars did. The Earth Government tried to re-establish control over the one hundred and seventy plus far flung colonies it had lost control over during the great expansion following the finding of the alien fold gate and subsequent Machine Wars.

Earth Core tired to use shear power and economic might of Earth and the close by planets to force other worlds to follow harsh laws and even harsher taxes. Open revolts resulted in entire planets being cut off by massive space blockades and in some cases full scale planetary assaults. The power of Earth Core seemed almost too much to overcome, but a small group of planets formed a counter alliance and changed the tide and scope of the war.

The Avalon Breakaway Republic (ABR) was born out of nine planets on the edge of Earth Core controlled space. Each planet was owned and operated by a corporation. These nine wealthy planets united, merging into the Avalon Corporation and secretly hired every mercenary unit they could find, including Blood's Honor. With a massive military force in place, they declared their independence. Earth Core forces responded predictably and were wiped out. It took almost a year for word to get back to Earth Core of this staggering defeat and as the news spread it gave other planets hope.

Quickly formations of multi-planet coalitions emerged. They used ABR tactics of hiring mercenaries, brutal space battles to break blockades, and outright piracy directed against Earth Core shipping and military supply lines to cause enough economic damage to make continued fighting too costly to continue. Earth Core vacated their claim on all settled planets outside of forty-five light years from Earth exactly seven years after their force captured the first independent planet, but for billions it was too late. The after effects left many worlds without needed supplies because shipping companies were destroyed and pirates ruled the shipping lines. Whole planet populations starved or went without fresh water. Millions upon millions died. This horrible sliver of human history progressed into the fourth hall.

Blood's Honor once again took the lead, returning to their roots. They accepted contracts from corporations and independent planets for protection and to hunt bandits. Blood's Honor found and destroyed several pirate groups while guarding vital supply ships trying to get to colonies before it was too late to save them. It was during these years, the ways of government turned back the clock to a time long thought forgotten.

Powerful families, often those who controlled the richest corporations, took control of whole planets; many coming to the rescue of starving masses by sending in entire fleets of merchants heavily protected by mercenaries. More often than not, the families were not even on the worlds they ended up taking over, money and well timed supplies alone catapulted them from unknowns to high positions of leadership. Once there, they used the economic might of their companies to quickly take control over all major areas of government. The heads of these families then set themselves up of as rulers. As soon as they had the seat of power, the family made laws guaranteeing the power would stay with their heirs. A new system of monarchies unraveled elected governments, dictatorships, and theocracies. Within a decade only a few elected planetary governments were left.

Blood's Honor was not immune to this. Their years of fighting for others were thanked in the form of a massive land grant given to the commander of the unit. The multi-planetary government of the Frontiers Coalition based on Forest Garden broke into a civil war after a massive earthquake destroyed the capitol city, killing most of the elected officials including the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor. The two most powerful corporations used this as a chance to grab power. Civilians and former government officials caught in the crossfire sought help from the outside and they found it in the form of Blood's Honor. They secretly offered the only thing they could to restore the peace. Commander McCurdy was given ruler ship of Forest Garden in exchange for ending the fighting as long as the Mercenary unit did everything it could to cut civilian suffering.

Blood's Honor once again entered combat, but with a new set of rules of warfare established by Commander McCurdy. These rules included doing everything possible not to kill even if it meant extra danger for the Blood's Honor mercenary. It forbade any large scale bombardment except for purely military targets like military bases. This unique set of combat rules became the backbone of Blood's Honor rules of conduct. The new rules of warfare, set in place over one hundred and twenty-five years prior, still governed every member of the mercenary unit to this day.

Fighting was violent and spanned seven worlds. Commander McCurdy fought a three sided war using deception and well placed strikes to set up far more battles between the other two powers then he involved his own forces in. Then in a massive fight on Forest Garden, he waited until both sides were fully engaged before he committed everything he had, wiping out both forces and coming out with a vast quantity of supplies and captured hardware. Neither corporation was able to fully recover. The war dragged on for three more years, but Blood's Honor never lost a fight after the battle on Forest Garden.

Peace was short lived. Shortly after Blood's Honor had secured a peace for the Frontiers Coalition, Earth Core once again tried to gain control over many independent planets. In a series of assaults, Earth Core forces attempted landing on all seven worlds of the Frontiers Coalition. Blood's Honor entered the Second Earth Core War on the defensive, but within a couple of months Forest Garden was firmly in their hands again. They wasted no time in turning the tables on Earth Core, making five landings on the same day on five different worlds with small heavy hitting units.

Predictably, Earth Core bit on the deception. They sent units from the one remaining Frontiers Coalition world not under attack to bolster units on the other five worlds. Commander McCurdy was ready. Blood's Honor forces first captured Earth Core SFC's then did the same to the PLCs as they hooked up with the SFC's. Blood's Honor used the captured craft, pretending to be "reinforcements". They landed behind Earth Core lines on the other five worlds. Before Earth Core commanders realized what had happened all five worlds had been taken back by Blood's Honor and the relatively weak Earth Core forces left on the remaining Frontiers Coalition world threw down their weapons without a shot being fired when Blood Honor consolidated its entire force and folded into system with a demand to surrender.

This major defeat of an entire Earth Core Army emboldened others. Blood's Honor wasted no time sending units to help from then defend several more major alliances including the Mining Federation and the Euro-League Republic. Once Earth Core retreated back close to pre-war boarders things calmed slightly.

This lull in fighting gave the seven worlds of the Frontiers Coalition some time to look over their options. It was decided, after a short conference, to break apart and join more powerful alliances for their own safety. It took some careful thought, but Commander McCurdy decided to join with their first allies, the Avalon Breakaway Republic.

Even though Blood's Honor was now part of a larger republic, it kept its Mercenary roots, it also grew to become three full independently commanded regiments; each capable of defending anything up to and including a single planet which is exactly what Blood's Honor hired out to do over and over. Usually, this meant they ended up going against Earth Core or Earth Core hired mercenaries. As Blood's Honor victories mounted, the corporations controlling Earth Core became sick of the money and prestige being lost. They demanded action.

Earth Core responded. It consolidated forces from dozens of recent loses and augmented it with scores of Mercenary units. Five years after the invasion of Forest Garden signaled the start of the 2nd Earth Core War, Forest Garden once again had to deal with a massive assault. Two full armies were dispatched to Forest Garden with orders to destroy the McCurdy line and wipe out all traces of Blood's Honor.

Unfortunately for Earth Core, Blood's Honor was warned of the assault by multiple sources within the Earth Core Military. Blood's Honor forces, with the help of several ABR units, organized and were ready. They crushed four multi regimental landings and seriously crippled the other three. Fighting was still quite heavy on Forest Garden, but Earth Core quickly ran into a nasty surprise in the form of a supply problem.

Being pre-warned, Commander McCurdy had dozens of Special Forces space units in craft equipped with the best Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) produced by the highly advanced ABR corporations waiting at likely fold points. Using this computer and radar jamming equipment, they waited for the invasion craft to descend toward Forest Garden then closed in on lightly defended space craft. They boarded dozens of SFC's. With power armored troops spilling aboard their ships, the unarmored space Marines defending the craft were quickly overwhelmed and the PLCs loaded with vast quantities of supplies were not only captured but their supplies then used against those they were meant to provide for.

This surprise tactic left thousands of Earth Core troops without food and ammunition needed to carry the fight further while those they fought had more than what they could possibly need. The commander of Earth Core surrendered a week into the fighting.

Over a dozen towns were reduced to ruins, but the end result was to leave Earth Core with a seventh of its expeditionary forces shattered and much of what was left in the way of ships, equipment and supplies in the hands of Blood's Honor. Further adding insult to injury, the Blood's Honor's code of trying to prevent loses of life, even the life of the enemy, caused many of the Earth Core troops requesting to switch sides. Before Earth Core could even blink, Blood's Honor had grown from three to five regiments thanks in large part to the supplies captured during the battle to purge the galaxy of Blood's Honor.

Within five years of this staggering defeat, Earth Core found itself fighting just to maintain prewar boarders as a new power calling themselves the Free Planets Association (FPA) decided to "free" all the planets of Earth Core. The guns of the Second Earth Core War fell silent once and for all when Blood's Honor's help was requested by a mineral rich and water poor planet New Israel II. The people found their planet being fought over and on by two uninvited powers. Bloods Honor units comprised of many former Earth Core troopers landed between Earth Core and FPA units. The powerful force drew a line in the sand, demanding a cease fire. Within days it became clear whatever side broke the demand paid dearly for it. A month later all units from EC and FPA left the system and went home. An uneasy calm once again settled over humanity.

Blood's Honor also settled down some, but remained a mercenary unit. It hired out to whoever needed a military force as long as the cause was basically just. More often than hard fighting contracts were to quell riots, eliminate bandits, or provide security after a natural disaster.

Unfortunately, war just seemed to be part of human nature, only this time it was not of super powers but super corporations. It started in the Free Planets Association, when an Earth Core company Earth-Co, operating on an uninhabitable world close to FPA space came under assault. At first, everyone thought this was the start of a new war between the two empires, but FPA had not fully recovered from the last war and were having problems with the Euro-League. The last thing they needed was another full fledged shooting war.

To show their good faith they not only denounced the attack, the FPA paid reparations to the company in question. Things looked like they had calmed down, but evidence surfaced showing the attack was actually carried out by a large company, Swift Wind Inc., based in the Great Outback Republic. As more substantial proof came out, the FPA demanded the money they paid out be re-reimbursed. Swift Wind Inc. ignored the demands.

FPA corporations, which had bore the brunt of the taxes to pay off the Earth-Co debt, decided to react. Mercenaries were paid a premium to attack several different offices and manufacturing plants owned by Swift Wind.

Several other corporations depended on Swift Wind for high tech parts suddenly found production lines slowed down or halted altogether due to lack of parts. They came to Swift Wind's aid. Offices of dozens of FPA companies were assaulted as were scores of plants and assembly lines. Many other companies used the spreading conflict to take out competitors hoping it would just blend in with the fighting.

Within two years, a single assault became the backdrop to the Corporation Wars. Mercenaries were in high demand both for protecting facilities and for assaulting them. Money was good and Blood's Honor was not afraid to take protection contracts, but refused money for assaults on other companies. However, it would and did take assault assignments against the bases of offending mercenaries if the money was good enough. Often times, the price was so far beyond good it bordered on absurd. Blood's Honor became extremely wealthy.

The McCurdy family didn't just sit back and enjoy the sudden increase in cash flow. They used the money they earned wisely, secretly starting a company called Brave Humanities. This corporation, based on New Israel IV, became a leader in Frame Technology and weapons research.

As the corporate wars ground to a halt, more because of financial ruin than desire to stop fighting, Brave Humanities started filling the void left from so many companies going bankrupt. Often times, this meant the money some of those same companies had spent to hire Blood's Honor ended up allowing the McCurdy family to buy them out only a few years later. It took only fifteen years for Brave Humanities to expand to be one of the five largest companies outside of Earth Core and it remained the largest privately held company known to this day.

Brave Humanities expended to dozens of worlds and thousands of high tech products, making everything from military hardware to mining equipment to water purification systems. While this gave Blood's Honor a vast income, it also guaranteed Blood's Honor forces were always on the cutting edge of technology.

These years of basic peace and prosperity where shattered only five months ago when a ruthless monarch, Lord Talborne of the planet Ulysses IV, organized a bloody coup. He managed to take over ruler ship of the Avalon Breakaway Republic after masterminding the mass murder of many ABR rulers at an assembly of all ABR Planetary Rulers. Blood's Honor's Shadow Brigade managed to secure many of the lower rulers of individual planets and get them off world, taking fierce losses against an assembly of mercenary and Lord Talborne units. The battle claimed Joel's mother and set the stage for a new interplanetary union lead by the McCurdy family.

It was this blood bath, on Andar IX, that lead to Joel and those with him being on this special field study on the abandoned planet Brile IV. Unfortunately for all the cadets in the tent, they had been on Andar IX. Because of their ties to Forest Garden and to the rulers of the world many of them had also been kidnap or murder targets of Lord Talborne.

Since Joel's father was a noble on Forest Garden and his father was also commander of Shadow Brigade Joel and his younger brother had both come close to being killed or captured by Lord Talborne forces. Only the fact both boys were cadets in Blood's Honor Junior Military Academy and had their frames with them, allowed them and countless others to escape. It had been Joel's mother who noticed suspicious activity and sounded the alert. With the help of some of the Cadre, she got the kids into their frames and put one of the senior cadets in command of getting them out of the palace while she took her team of frames into combat. The combination of her quick action coupled with the standing order that all Blood's Honor frames, even cadet frames, always have a full ammo load saved the lives of almost all of the royal children of Forest Garden.

Every one of the cadets now in the ecological tent had been there as Lord Talbone's mercenaries began their assault. They had all heard the cries of panic and the shots as countless people were gunned down. The other nine in the tent had all taken a role in evacuation of the other cadets and unarmed royal members and their advisors from the kill zone. The other six cadets on Brile IV with them were all cadets from other academies who helped organize their own cadets and those from other academies.

Joel, however, had come through in a huge way. The senior cadet his mother had put in command of the cadets took a nasty hit and fell as he tried to get all the cadets out of the palace grounds. Joel quickly realized the other four cadet officers were either not in position or already down. Without much thought, he deferred back to what the academy had taught him. As the highest ranking cadet in a position to lead, he took command just as he had practiced countless times back at the academy on Forest Garden.

Using his cadet rank, as Cadet Master Sergeant, he got in touch with team and squad leaders from all of the Blood's Honor cadets he could contact and had them organize their squads. The top notch training and discipline provided by instructors over the years paid off. Most cadets responded the way they had been trained. Others fell into line as they were prodded into action by those around them.

Joel, shouting out orders through his radio, got the attention of most of the other cadets and had them fall in line and follow the rank structure set in place just like they had been taught in the academy. He then reminded all of the panicked cadets of the training they had received. First, by team leaders then by squad leaders he got them into the mind set of reacting the same way as they did during surprise alerts back in the academy. With the help of the other cadets in this tent, he got the stragglers hooked up with other squads and other leaders. They then organized a simple yet effective retreat pulling everyone back in a standard cover and fall back by squad tactical formation.

As he moved the cadets away from the burning palace grounds he started to lose control as several of the youngest ones came under live fire and panicked, but the other nine in the tent Joel now sat in became his little Command Team. Together they helped to calm the younger cadets and remind them of what military training they had received.

As they got to the edge of the palace grounds, Cadet Senior Sergeant Candice O' Meyers realized other cadets from other non Blood's Honor Academies were also being targeted. Joel didn't hesitate. Since they had full ammo loads, Joel split the cadet force giving command of the greenest and youngest cadets to Candice while taking the more experienced ones back into the palace grounds. Joel got to the barracks of the other military schools and helped terrified cadets get in their own frames. Meanwhile, the cadets with him commanded by his best friend Cadet Sergeant Gabriel McCurdy set a defensive line and poured live fire into a totally unprepared mercenary unit assigned to capture as many of the cadets as possible.

Joel ordered some of his makeshift Command Team to continue to help the cadets from over four dozen other schools into their small cadet and even smaller micro frames while he moved over to another set of buildings and secured transport vehicles from the palace motor pool. He then got as many adults as he could and had them drive anyone he could find away from the palace grounds, all the while being covered by other cadets of Blood's Honor Junior Military Academy.

Another member of Joel's hastily organized command group got an idea of his own. Cadet Sergeant Chip Beck, with the help of a pair of cadets from other academies, broke into the practice range command center. He used his powered cadet frame to break open the safe. He then quickly found the weapon release codes for each academy participating what was to have been an academy championship competition. Once he secured the codes he and the two cadets from the other academies sent out signals releasing all cadet weapons to be used at full power. Although most of the other academies didn't require their cadet frames to carry full ammo loads, and most of them were empty or only had rubber practice rounds, almost all of them had a few energy weapons.

Suddenly, the now frame reinforced mercenary unit moving on the cadets found scores of other frames capable of doing damage. The tables which had been turning against the cadets switched radically back to the favor of the kids as unprepared mercenaries and frame pilots got caught in the open with extremely heavy laser fire cutting into them from almost every direction. The commander of Talborne's kidnap force was one of the first to fall, causing chaos and actual retreat away from those they were supposed to secure or kill. This gave Cory and Beth along with another cadet leader who joined them from the Andar academy extra time. With the help of the Andar cadet, Lawson O'Malley, who knew the grounds and where to go, they broke into the armory. They then set up a place to re-arm Blood's Honor frames with expended ammunition and loaded frames from other academies with live ammo.

This increased the firepower the cadets were able to pour into newly arriving re-enforcements and caused a second retreat from the cadet areas by Talborne units. It also gave Joel and Gabriel the needed time to find almost all the straggling cadets and over a hundred more adult leaders and advisors. By the time heavier Talborne forces figured out what had happened and moved in, all they found was a deserted barracks, hundreds of destroyed armored vehicles and over 90 downed frames belonging to the forces who were supposed to take the area with little or no fighting.

The rest of the kids now with Joel on Brile IV helped lead all of the adults and cadets to an evacuation point where a Shadow Brigade PLC took them off world and back to the Blood's Honor SFC. The last sixteen frames to retreat into the safety of the Planetary Landing Craft belonged to the sixteen kids currently on Brile IV. Ten were Blood's Honor Junior Military Academy, three from New Bravaria Junior Military Academy, one from Andar Junior Military Academy, one from New Israel Junior Military Academy, and one from Black Jungle. Joel and Gabriel were last to back into the overloaded Planetary Landing Craft, making sure everyone who managed to pull back with them got into the PLC.

It was only once they were on the huge Space Fold Craft did Joel realize his mother had not made it off planet. Yet he was not alone. Many of the cadets had lost loved ones while many of the cadets from other academies had lost almost everything. The two folds back to Forest Garden were the worst month of Joel's life. He had cried on the shoulder of and had his shoulder cried on by kids of not only Blood's Honor Academy but also a multitude of other academies.

However, unseen by his tear filled eyes, the effects of Blood's Honor rescuing so many members of royalty and the cadets of Blood's Honor Academy saving so many cadets and advisors of those same members of royalty became the backbone of trust which allowed the formation of a new alliance. In no small part, the leadership skills and bravery demonstrated by Joel and his friends had contributed to a new union of planets devoted to destroying Lord Talborne and freeing the ABR from his tyrannical grip.

Going back to the early alliance of planets Blood's Honor had fought to preserve, Ariel McCurdy, the current ruler of Blood's Honor and Forest Garden came up with the idea of the New Frontiers Coalition. The name was adopted by a quick vote. The NFC was born. Many of the planets joining the fledging coalition were lead by those saved under the quick actions of Shadow Brigade and the cadets commanded by Joel and assisted by the other cadets in the tent. Thirteen planets joined together to form the core of the coalition including the other six from the original Frontiers Coalition. Within days, a dozen other planets jumped on board once they realized their leaders or kids of their leaders were not being held hostage by Lord Talborne but were instead safely on Forest Garden.

Joel, of course, didn't really know or understand just how important his role in this had been. All he and his friends knew was they had been reassigned and promoted. Then, within a few weeks of settling back into the academy life, he and his makeshift Command Team had been given orders to go on a special field study with the six kids who had done the most to help them get everyone safely off Andar IX.

Now here he sat staring at one of the easiest tests he had ever seen. He almost giggled at the stupidity of the multiple choice questions. Forty-seven minutes into the three hour test time allotted for the final Joel punched the send button on his computer causing the instructor's computer to chime out an alert. Mister Jackson shook his head and made a soft grunting noise as looked at the test as the computer showed a perfect score.

Within minutes, the computer chirped again followed shortly after by a whole series of alerts. Forty-one minutes later, he dismissed all ten kids with congratulations for getting an A in his class. His clear aggravation caused several grins and a few outright giggles as they exited the classroom area of the tent.

As Gabriel slipped on his light ecological suit he glanced over at Joel. "You beat us all again."

"Not by much. And I will never touch Brandon on our next test." Joel snickered as he also slid into his own ecological suit, "This one was even easier than our math final, which you and Karen kicked my butt in as normal. The only one we have left is English, and then we get to see why the cadre really brought us here to Brile. I just hope the others are having such an easy day."

Candice shook her head, "Unlikely. They are supposed to graduate the junior cadet training today. Remember our graduation day?"

Joel secured his filter mask before turning to face all the other cadets in the dressing area. When he started speaking again, his voice became metallic sounding as it was distorted by the laser filter, "Candice is right. They will all need a bit of a break. Not only do they get shot with sonic stun weapons today, they have had to get ready for physical test in less than three months when most take six months to get ready for it. I'm all for pitching in and doing their barracks duties then going straight to our last final so we can get on with what we are really here for, how about the rest of you?"

Chip half groaned, but after a second nodded. "Yea, we probably should be nice to them since they were the only ones who helped us back on Andar."

"You're not being fair," Jennifer stated firmly, "There were hundreds of others who helped us."

"Yeah, but only a handful helped organize the cadets from the other academies and only Jason and his Command Team really stepped up and took some command roles for us." Terrin countered."

One by one the others agreed with Joel's idea. Securing their sonic stun rifles and laser pistols, the ten cadets moved out into the hot Brile sun. They saluted one of the cadre keeping watch in his heavy sentinel frame before heading to the barracks.

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