Valor's Calling, page 1part #2 of Children of Valor Series
by Kal Spriggs
Copyright 2017 Sutek Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Books by Kal Spriggs
Kal’s Amazon Page
The Shadow Space Chronicles
The Fallen Race
The Shattered Empire
The Prodigal Emperor
The Sacred Stars
The Temple of Light
The Star Engine*
Renegades: Out of the Cold
Renegades: Out of Time
Renegades: Royal Pains*
The Star Portal Universe
The Eoriel Saga
Echo of the High Kings
Wrath of the Usurper
Fate of the Tyrant
Heir to the Fallen Duke*
Table of Contents
About the Author
Join the Century Military Academy!
Chapter One: I Should Have Known Better
While my parents had hardly been excited about me attending the Academy, I had expected a bit more enthusiasm from my best friend. After all, it would mean we'd be there together.
“You're what?” Ashiri Takenata stared at me through my datapad.
“I'm coming to the Academy,” I repeated, feeling stupid. I'd meant to tell her and Alexander Karmazin the news as soon as the Admiral had accepted my application. But Mom had sort of freaked out about it and with all the chaos after my misadventures at Champion Enterprises, I hadn't got around to it until now.
“But...” Ashiri shook her head. “I mean, the acceptance lists have already been posted, you weren't on them, so we assumed...”
“I had a letter of explanation that I put in with my application packet, I'm accepted,” I answered. The Admiral hadn't pulled any punches, either. Someone might assume that, being my grandmother and all, she would show me some favoritism. Of course, I'd say they were crazy. The Admiral had barely spoken a dozen words to me outside of what could be strictly viewed as professional terms. I hadn't even met her almost until my fourteenth birthday... and as far as I knew, my Mom only spoke to her around the holidays, and then only in a formally stilted video call.
What can I say, my family is a mess.
“Did you tell Alex?” Ashiri asked.
“Karmazin?” I replied. I didn't really think of him as an Alex. I mean, he was far too... imposing for that. Alexander Karmazin was almost two meters tall. With his olive complexion, curly dark hair, and handsome looks, he could have passed for an actor on one of those daytime shows. When I'd first met him, I'd instantly hated him, he'd seemed to be everything I wasn't: tall, confident, and his father was the richest man on the planet. Now I considered him a friend, maybe something more. He'd certainly hinted that he was interested in something more, the last time we'd talked in person, almost five months ago.
I flushed as I considered that, “No, I just had time to call you. I've been digging into all the course work. Did you see we have an entire research paper due on the first day of classes for Military Ethics?”
“What, yeah, I knocked that out a month ago. We... that is, Alex and I, we've had the past five months to do all that stuff,” Ashiri said, looking distracted. “You really should tell Alex.”
“Yeah, I'll do that,” I said. “The welcome packet mentioned we can select our roommates, do you have one, yet?”
Ashiri looked nervous, “Uh, yeah, we can talk about that later, after we get in. You might change your mind, you know. Oh, I'm hitting the limit on my bandwidth for the month, got to go, see you later!”
She cut the call and I stared at my home screen for a long, puzzled moment. I'd met Ashiri at the Century Military Academy. We'd been in the same squad of Sand Dragon. We'd slept on the ground together, been shot at together, and struggled through some really rough times together. I wasn't sure why she seemed nervous at being my roommate. It wasn't like I was anything like her old roommate, Rakewood. I wasn't going to dump on her or anything, I could pull my own weight.
For that matter, I had no idea why she was out of bandwidth. I sort of remembered that her family didn't have the best financial situation. They'd come here as refugees or something, back when the Guard had annexed their homeworld in the Ten Sisters system. But bandwidth for video calls was plentiful. She'd have to have been spending eight or ten hours a day to put a serious chink in even a basic bandwidth plan with the planetary network.
It was different out here at Basalt Mesa Outpost. It was an archeological and research station, with a permanent population of only thirty. The video call had used up a lot of my family's non-research bandwidth. In fact, I'd probably talked longer than I should have, but I'd wanted to see Ashiri. The past five months had been rough. I hadn't really had any friends... well, none besides Ted. He's dead now, I reminded myself. The accounting intern who'd been friendly to me had been kidnapped and probably killed by the smugglers who'd been buying stolen military equipment from rogue elements of Champion Enterprises.
Officially he was missing, but I'd talked with Ted's parents. They planned on holding a quiet funeral after all this blew over. I felt horrible for them. If I were them, I would have blamed me. But they hadn't. They'd actually thanked me for uncovering the corruption at Champion Enterprises... and for bringing their son's killers to justice.
That left me feeling adrift. I shouldn't have got Ted involved. I should have handled it all differently, should have gone straight to the Admiral when it all started, but I'd screwed it all up. I'd been kidnapped, nearly killed. Ted was vanished, as if he'd never been. I'd been able to fall back on my military training from the Academy Prep Course, which had saved my life... but I'd killed six men in the process.
I wasn't fifteen Century years old yet and I was a killer. That was one more reason I'd chosen to attend the Academy. Someone should have been there to protect me, to protect Ted. Maybe I could prevent someone else's family from having to hold a quiet funeral for their child.
For just a moment I felt the urge to call Alexander Karmazin. Of anyone, I felt he'd understand. He'd had to fight for his life, too. But some measure of Ashiri's nervousness made me hesitate. Why had she been so insistent that I call him?
It can wait, I told myself. In a couple more days, I'd fly to Duncan City, and I could meet him and Ashiri there. I could talk to them in person and figure out any problems. Besides, I'd already used too much bandwidth and I had a full ethics research paper to knock out.
I flipped my datapad
“Jiden, how's the coursework going?” Dad asked as I came into the dining room.
“Good,” I replied. Of my parents, Dad took my decision to go back to the Academy the best. My mom adopted a pinch-faced expression that I knew only too well. It was her you're-making-a-terrible-decison-but-one-day-you'll-realize-it-and-wish-you'd-listened-to-me expression. “Lots to do, still, but I've got a few more days.”
The prep work was supposed to take around three months. Since I'd been accepted less than a week ago and classes started in a week, which meant I had around two weeks to do it all. Thankfully there was a lot of crossover to coursework I'd done for my Champion Enterprises internship. I just hoped this worked out better.
“I saw some navigational data in your last download, are you going to be taking pilot classes?” Will asked. My little brother sounded annoyingly eager.
I gave him a glare, “You've been checking my downloads?” Still my glare faded as I saw his enthusiasm. I suppose it wasn't his fault. We both had to share data from the family network access. Mom and Dad used the university research access for the most part, so they hadn't bothered to install any kinds of privacy filters or anything
“Yeah,” I admitted after he looked a little sheepish. “It's one of the first courses. We'll do a first year of navigation and simulation, and then next year I'll start actual piloting.”
“Assuming you don't decide to take up a more reasonable career,” Mom sniffed.
I rolled my eyes at that. Mom was the one whose mother was the war-hero and all that. Of anyone, you'd think she'd actually support my decision. Strangely enough, it was Dad, whose family had been in archeology for generations, who seemed to accept my choice.
“That's so cool,” Will said, ignoring what my mom had said. “Do you think you could teach me some things?” Will had always sort of followed me around, but this level of interest in something I was doing surprised me.
Then again, I remembered when our cousins, Mel and Rawn had last showed up. Will had been very interested in their ship and what it took to be a pilot. I wondered if he'd already made his mind up about flying and my attending the Academy simply looked like the best route. “We'll see,” I hedged, “I don't know how much time I'll have to hang out or how complicated it all is.” Judging from my initial course work, piloting in atmosphere was pretty difficult... and that was child's play compared to piloting a ship with a warp drive.
For that matter, my one attempt at piloting a skimmer had ended up with me crashing. Of course, I'd been shot down, technically speaking, but that didn't change the fact that I wasn't exactly a stellar pilot.
“That would be great!” Will said.
Dad gave me a smile, the one he hadn't given me in a long time. It was the one of thanks, for making his job as a parent easier. It was the one he used to give me when I helped watch Will when we were both younger, the one I hadn't really seen since I'd started hanging out with Tony Champion.
Of course, now Tony was in jail. So was Tony's father. Both of them were there because of me.
“Well,” Mom said, “I went to the effort of making Christmas Dinner, the least everyone could do is eat it.” I rolled my eyes at that too. Mom had made this dinner about as much as I'd landed the skimmer I'd crashed. It was pre-cooked; lab grown meat with hydroponics-grown vegetables, all cooked, packaged, and shipped to our desolate little outpost. It used to be that I'd enjoyed the meal, it was far better than the simple protein cubes that we'd mostly made do with.
But I'd had real food at the Admiral's house and then again at the Academy. I picked at the food, too polite to complain, even as Will and my parents dug in. It was weird how some things had gone back to the way they'd been... and how others would never be the way they once were.
For a second I flashed back to the pain and terror as the thugs sent by Tony's father had come to kill me. My heart raced and my breath came quickly. The moment passed and I was back at home. Everything was alright. Nothing ever changed here at Black Mesa Outpost.
Just yesterday I’d spent most of the morning down in the catacombs, I’d practically grown up in that warren of tunnels. The excavations were the life’s work of my parents. The million-year-old ruins below the huge basalt outcropping jutted out of the desert sands, a looming, familiar presence, as full of wonder to my parents as the day they’d first moved here, before I was even born. Black Mesa Outpost was the closest settlement to the equator, hotter and less hospitable than any other place on my dusty, barren homeworld… but it was home. It was a constant in my life that hadn’t changed and I was grateful for that.
As my dad told a goofy story about one of Mom and his fellow archeologists, my gaze went to the rifle over the mantle. It was a hunting rifle, from when my dad's grandfather had first come to Century, but it had also seen use when the Culmor had invaded. It was a battered and old testament to rougher times.
My parents had chosen a life of research, of quiet, uneventful days and little personal risk. They enjoyed ferreting out secrets of a long-dead alien civilization. I had been called to a different path.
Dad was the one who flew me back to civilization. He'd raised an eyebrow when I'd asked him to drop me at the Enclave, but he hadn't questioned it. He talked as he flew. Dad wasn't as good a pilot as mom, so the skimmer bobbed a lot, but Dad's stories were interesting enough to keep me distracted. It sounded like they'd found a lot of interesting stuff in this next level down of the old alien ruins under Black Mesa.
I was glad for the distraction, because I'd started to feel nervous. I'd messaged Alexander Karmazin to let him know I'd be coming by on my way to the Admiral's house. He hadn't responded other than to say he'd meet me at the Enclave's landing terminal. Most towns on Century just had landing pads in residential areas. With almost all of Century's surface being land mass, it wasn't like we didn't have enough room to spread things out a bit.
The Enclave, though, was supposed to be different. Karmazin had told me that they were refugees of some type, military refugees if you could believe that. His grandfather was the Enclave's leader, his mom was some kind of important official there too, so Alexander should know.
The terminal we set down in looked like a military base. Most of it was underground, with a few buildings with sensor masts and what looked like weapon emplacements above-ground. Off to the side, past a few big cargo and personnel transports, I actually saw a row of military skimmers and beyond them I saw the big, sleek forms of Mark V Firebolt warp-drive fighters.
Okay, I thought, maybe there's a reserve unit doing drill here or something.
Dad talked with traffic control and then settled us down near one of the personnel transports. As he dropped the ramp, I looked over to see Alexander Karmazin and Ashiri Takenata come out of the nearby terminal building.
I unstrapped quickly and hurried to the ramp. I felt a smile growing on my face, it felt good to see them in person. Alexander Karmazin stood tall, almost two meters, with dark brown hair and olive skin. Ashiri stood next to him, her short black hair tossed in the hot dry wind. I opened my mouth to shout a welcome... and then I saw them standing close to each other, holding hands.
I forced myself to smile, “Hey, guys, good to see you.” My voice sounded robotic and I felt like an idiot.
“Yeah,” Ashiri smiled back, her expression was wooden, “good to see you too.” She sounded nervous.
“So, these are your friends?” Dad asked from behind me.
All I wanted to do was turn around and run back up the ramp. I felt so embarrassed. Of course they were together. It wasn't like Alexander Karmazin had showed any real interest in me. We'd been friends... and the one time he'd even hinted at wanting to be anything more, I'd thrown it back in his face by telling him I was leaving the Academy.
Instead I forced my face into something between a smile and a grimace and turned to my dad, “Yeah, these are my fr
“Great, well, I commed the Admiral, she's covered your ticket from here back to Duncan City, so I guess I should get back home,” my dad said cheerfully. On impulse, I stepped forward and gave him a hug, burying my face in his shoulder. I wanted to cry, but I told myself that was silly.
He patted me on the back and gave me a last squeeze, then turned away and walked up the ramp.
I turned back to face my friends, they still held hands. It hurt, like my whole chest constricted around my heart... but at this point, I should be used to pain. “Let's get out of his way, right?” I said as casually as I could manage. I shouldered my duffel bags and moved out of the way of the skimmer.
I was thankful for the sound of the turbines. It meant I had some time where I didn't have to talk. Carrying the weight of my bags meant I had an excuse not to look at my friends. As the hot air blasted over us, I could pretend that the tears in my eyes were from the turbine wash.
“So...” Ashiri said a few minutes later as she and I stood by the curb, waiting while Alexander Karmazin brought up a ground vehicle. “We didn't know you were going to be coming back. Alex and I started spending a lot of time together and...”
I realized with horror that she was going to explain how she and Karmazin had hooked up. The last thing I wanted was to hear any details. “Ashiri, it's fine. Really, you don't need to explain.” I swallowed, “It wasn't like Karmazin or I were dating. We're just friends, like you and me.” I said the words with as much sincerity as I could manage.
Ashiri shot me a look. I forced myself to meet her brown eyes. “You mean that... I mean, I thought you two...”
“There was nothing between us,” I interrupted before she could finish. “And clearly, you two are together. It's fine. I'm happy for you both.”
Other author's books:
- Lost ValorFenris UnchainedJormungandr's VenomRenegades: OriginsFate of the Tyrant (The Eoriel Saga Book 3)Ghost Star (The Shadow Space Chronicles Book 6)The Shattered Empire (The Shadow Space Chronicles Book 2)Valor's Child (Valor's Children Book 1)
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