Breaking the Glass
Shelley Huntington was less than thrilled with Kailin University. It was an old, respected institution built on Earth before there were any other inhabited planets to talk about. Ostensibly, the sprawling campus of white stone buildings—likely laced with nanobots and other technology—still belonged in private hands, those of William Scheffer, heir to his grandfather however many times removed that had founded it. The buildings and grounds of manicured lawns and neatly cut road– and skyways likewise failed to impress Shelley. She was an Ybreteh girl. She liked her computers and small spacecraft Abi bought her for her sixteenth birthday and the higher-tech world she had been born on.
"Anywhere, anywhere but here," she muttered to herself under her breath. She had dumped off her things in the dorm room indicated by her room key, a tiny boxed-in affair occupied by three beds—more muttering ensued—and since then, taken to wandering disconsolately about the ridiculous maze of hallways (she didn't even know they still used drywall this extensively) in search of the vocational orientation auditorium marked deceptively on her campus map as just inside the building across from the dorms.
Hayley Lamar was defined by her teachers as a no-good, rebellious troublemaker—anything but a lady and certainly not a good student. Perhaps this should have bothered her. She was raised properly in the good southern Bible belt, after all, but truth was, the moniker didn't bother her at all.
So when her grades came through after secondary school and she saw just how much trouble she'd have hitting a regular college, she planned ahead and applied to every single Alliance priority one school on the world (there were twenty-four) and requested a scholarship. Officially, these schools went to the best of the best of the crop of young people coming up on Earth and, sometimes, throughout the entire twenty-two star systems. In reality, they went to the ones with the highest scores on aptitude tests, and Hayley knew how to score on one of those.
"So what is your specialty?" Jena asked as she carefully unlatched her cases to begin unpacking. "You're vocational?" Her father had told her that only married students or students from the same program roomed together.
Jena's father had wanted her to do the standard program, as he had when he attended Kailin University, but Jena had little patience for the supplementary and core classes required of semester students. She had requested an interview with her mother, then her mother had requested leniency for vocational. He grimly relented.
Hayley's muffled "Yes" drew Jena's attention back to current details.
It was one of those things people did not talk about. Earth had been around before the Alliance and the Human Alliance Council. It was not only one of the original twelve worlds after Kippler's was discovered, it was the original world, and all the outsourcing for resources could not change the fact that Earth was still populous and only renewable to a point.
Jack did not talk about it much either. Ever since Kailin acquired its priority one status with the Alliance, there were speech requirements concerning what could and could not be said around the students. Undermining HAC was impermissible. Jack usually could not care less, but he tried to show at least a little restraint. Especially around green eyes glimmering with shrewd interest.
Jack Kiligree was simply minding his own business, wandering down Kailin University hallways towards the main section of garages and workshops, when he ran into his own version of vocational trouble.
Now, just to keep things straight, Jack was a bit of rough-it-out loner type, former militancy, and impatient with anything that kept a man from cutting to the bottom line. He could even empathize a bit with Dr. Clark Gabrin, muttering as they passed in the hallway. The good doc had probably heard about Scheffer's plan to require vocationals on the Gabrin Habitat Project. Vocationals were not like the other students who came to Kailin with their academic record of excellence and dreams on their mind. Vocationals were the test-ins. They had aptitude, and that was all that was required. Not social skills (unless they claimed aptitude for diplomacy), not a proper understanding of subordination, not any understanding of their place under those who had already passed through the ranks, and apparently, not a single shred of respect for personal space.
A computer made a soft pinging sound, and a petite (read tiny) girl with dark hair and a smattering of freckles across her pert nose removed said nose from where she had buried it in one of those dry and ancient tomes on the permissible style, forms, and terms of privateering charters and what technological and weaponry limitations were permissable and/or enforcable in pre-Alliance precedent and general Alliance practice. The girl's name was Shelley Huntington, a sufficiently English-world name to mask her Ybreteh breeding and interests. She perked up when she realized the alert was the one she had set to Elysium incident reports.
Tome dropped and thunking off the hardwood floor in her bedroom, small kosher dinner abandoned, Shelley eagerly settled in at her slim, top-of-the-line computer and set to work hacking.
Trouble Will Do
Dr. Clark Gabrin shook out his newspaper to read the headline better. He adjusted his glasses for the upteemth time and furrowed his bushy brows as he read. Things were not doing well with the HAC-Elysium negotiations. Elysia had been on the outs with the Council for a while now, and the situation had deteriorated from bad to worse.
His large, rough hand reached out from behind the paper to tap on the tabletop in front of him uncertainly until he finally bumped with a clatter into the miniscule saucer he had placed there to hold his equally miniscule teacup, which held his daily draught of energizing tea, an intensely concentrated, drink-at-your-own-risk concoction only Clark was brave enough to try.
Stephanie hands off the disc in its solid state before she returns to her own ship and Tyreke. She did what she came to do: found Evan, got the disc from him, and gave it to the militancy. Now she can take a moment to breathe because she is Talon, and the Darkstation sensors have decided their Alliance ship is hers. The joys of being one thing by career and another by blood, she thinks darkly.
Tyreke stares at her injured knee, and all Stephanie can find the strength to do is glower back. Doesn't stop her from wanting to vent though. She warned their captain not to send them. Viciously, "Sergio is a—"
The Class-I speeder is typical Elysium: all dark glass and a heartbeat from the vastness of the cosmos, but it is still an I. More like manned guided missile than spaceship, it houses little more than Seara and a couple of engines.
She does not need more. She is a spacer and space is the one place she feels genuinely at home. The militancy is sending her to the heart of the space stations of the Talons and the Medes, but they are hybrids with their planet-born interests, squabbling over planetary resources and living in stable orbit on what might as well be moons or planets. She has lived on space ships her entire life. Flying is like breathing to her, the hull like her second skin.
Gnell is the diminutive secret weapon of the militancy station on Sellus, Motac's nearest, dinghy little grey moon, where to step outside is death by suffocation from the dust. Of course, one of the primary reasons Gnell is a secret is that she would never make such a mistake as to step outside into the thin, inadequate protection of the terraformed atmosphere. No, she stays holed up in her room, bent over her work with an enormous mug of chicory brew in one hand and a keenly intelligent gleam in her eye.
The room is small, to fit her, with no windows on the joyless view. The walls are dark blue panels, the furniture dark blue panels filled with array upon array of buttons and monitors and widgets and communication devices. One of the red lights is flashing now, a priority one signal from a priority one alert on a priority one planet about a situation she's already aware of.