Four years ago — June 2012
One moment I was in the sky over Resh, trying to resist the urge to panic as the hypersleep chamber filled with liquid as my consciousness slowly drifted away and the next, I was was waking up covered in sticky residue, my entire body feeling numb and taking my first breath in only the ancestors knew how long.
In what had felt like a split second, I’d traversed hundreds of light years, a journey that had taken us half a Reshi year.
I tried to open my eyes but they were covered in the same filth as the rest of my body. It took forever to wipe it off, my limbs still being dull after having spent so long in hypersleep. As soon as I was done, the door of my chamber opened, producing a whistling sound as the pressure was relieved.
“It’s time to rise, apprentice.” Master Iren said, gripping the handle of the chamber to stabilize himself. The Hypersleep compartment didn’t feature gravity, it wasn’t like we needed it.
“Are we there?” I asked, my throat feeling dry.
“Almost. The armada will arrive in a few days. We’re now beginning the last stage of the mission.” My master gave me a hand, not that I needed it to get up in this weightlessness. Still I took it and got out of my chamber.
Around us in the cylindrical module, hundreds of other chambers were lined up on every bit of available surface. Technicians hurried about, waking up the other warriors.
In a few days, we’d arrive on the alien’s planet. It didn’t really have a name; the aliens had never unified and were still fragmented into thousands of people who conflicted with each other. The same had been true for the Tzari long ago. Until the immortal Raskhan had showed us the way and unified us, taught us the way of Ren-Ta, the way of unity, duty and honor.
It was our mission to bring the Ren-Ta to the aliens, show them a better way. Of course we knew they wouldn’t accept easily, their leader would never renege their power. And so we had come prepared to force them.
“How do you feel?” My master asked.
“Like I haven’t eaten in half a year.”
My comment made my Master let out a snorting laugh.
“We better feed you then. I can’t have my apprentice starve. What will the other lords think of me?”
He went toward the module’s exit and I followed him. Just like I’d been taught, I propelled myself across the microgravity module with my legs, arriving close enough to the exit I only had to climb a few handle to reach it. Changing from microgravity to Reshi gravity is an odd sensation. One second you are floating, the next something pushes you down and you fall. Master Iren however seemed amused at my less than graceful recovery. Together, we headed straight for the mess hall where the servants were already working hard to feed the crew. We entered the line and soon enough received our meal.
“Thank you for your service.” I said to the servant, putting a fist over my chest, much to Master Iren’s approval.
One of the first lesson he’d taught me was that a warrior was nothing without the farmer that feed him, the craftsman who forged his weapon or the servant who gave him the time to train.
“Do you believe yourself ready for the mission?” Master Iren said as we ate.
“Courage is remarkable, but remember not to get over yourself. Stay by my side at all time and only take an initiative of your own as a last resort. Glory is for the ancestors, not the living.”
I nodded, taking the lesson in.
“What’s the alien’s planet like?” I asked.
“It’s different. Much more hospitable than Resh. The years are much shorter, there’s so much more water, about seventy percent of their world is covered by it. But the seasons are strong, in many places, it snows during the cold season.”
Although Resh was our home, it was a harsh place to live; dry and hot with the cold season the only time when the outside was nice. Unlike the alien’s planet, on Resh it only snowed at the poles.
“The locals are also interesting…” He then mused. “They look rather like us in a way. Or like over grown newborns.”
I’d seen pictures of the aliens; they were tzarinoids; bipedal mammals with some hair. However unlike us, they had no plates to protect them, their skin being smooth all over.
“The information core showed us some of their entertainment, it was rather odd. It was a silent piece with music where an actor played tricks on passer-bys.”
I frowned. I didn’t get how harassing others was entertainment.
“Why do they still war with each other?”
“Because they haven’t learned a better way than the one they know now. Remember that it took the Tzari centuries to unify. I believe that given time, they would naturally unify.”
“But then why are we going?”
Master Iren went silent for a moment.
“Well, if we can show them a better way now, then we can avert the many years of horrors it would take for them to learn on their own.”
I wasn’t really convinced but I didn’t get the chance to question it as a messenger arrived, telling us we were needed in the war-room soon. We quickly finished our meals and then hurried to our quarters.
Being on a ship, we didn’t have the usual accommodations, our quarters being minimal. Most of it was intended for my master’s use, with only a small nook for me to sleep in. Still, I didn’t mind, before I’d been selected as Master Iren’s apprentice, I’d lived with my family in sector 22-7, in a tiny lodging above my parent’s workshop along with my siblings.
My master’s armor awaited him in it’s display, still clean and intact like I’d last seen it. Just like I’d been taught, I helped him don his armor. A lord’s armor was their only true possession; wonders of technology that were passed down from master to apprentice, begin retrofitted every generation so they would remain the best one could have. With it and the genetic enhancements given to a Lord, they could fight a small army and prevail.
It wasn’t that the armor was hard to put on, but it was an apprentice’s duty to help their master don it as well as clean their quarters. An old tradition remaining from even before the time of the Supreme Lord Raskhan, which was meant to teach humility. Once he was armored, it was my turn to get dressed. As an apprentice, my equipment was far less complex; a simple gray protective suit that symbolized my position.
“How do I look?” I asked, turning around so he could see.
“Your hair is a mess.” He said seriously. “I can’t have my apprentice look unkempt.”
I let out an annoyed growl but sat down on the nearest chair. My master combing my hair before tying it into a thick braid that reached the middle of my back. Master Iren was very pointy on the importance of appearances, sometimes spending hours grooming, time I would have preferred spent training, but he was my master and I had to obey him. When that was done, we hurried about to the command deck.
The war-room was tense, all officers gathered up there. I recognized several of the lords; such as Kiorga, Ruathan, Vitak, Krenru and high lord Kuthal along with a few others I didn’t recognize. Some of them even had apprentices, standing at the ready just behind them. It was our job to help our masters however they required us to and in exchange they taught us the way of Ren-Ta and of command, so we would one day be lords ourselves.
“Finally lord Iren, you’ve done us the pleasure of your presence.” Lord Vitak said, snarling his displeasure.
“Apologies, my apprentice and I had urgent matters to attend to.”
“More urgent than our mission?”
“Enough.” High Lord Kuthal snapped, calling everyone to order. “Let’s proceed with the briefing. There have been some last minute changes we have to discuss.”
The meeting went on for quite a while, detailing which lord was responsible for what, what the troop allocation were, strategic targets and the opposition we’d face. The aliens were strange; some of them possessing powers beyond our understanding, which would make them dangerous foes, but worthy allies once they assimilated into the Tzari empire.
“Force Xa will be commanded by Lord Iren and will land here.” High Lord Kuthal said, pointing at a peninsula surrounded by the ocean on most side. “The locals call it ‘España’ you will be in charge of pressing the assault north-east through this nation.” He then pointed at the nearby nation, called France which held several key military targets we had to disable.
The briefing eventually came to an end and we were dismissed. My master taking me to train for the coming days like he’d done for half a year before we’d begun the journey. We were heading to war and I’d have to handle myself to survive…
And so, eight days later, I was in a dropship heading to the ground. The whole thing shook at it hit the planet’s atmosphere and my heart beat like crazy. I tried my best not to show fear, It wasn’t proper for someone of my station to do so…
Still, I was terrified of going in and out of space. Of being powerless while another had your life in their hand.
I felt Master Iren’s hand grab mine, holding on strongly so I’d knew he was there. Inside, I felt ashamed that he’d seen my fear.
“May your ancestors watch over you.” He said, reciting the traditional warrior’s blessing.
“May yours do as well.” I answered, feeling the dread building up in my guts.
I closed my eyes and muttered every prayer I’d ever memorized, pleading the ancestors to watch over me during my baptism of blood. A few minutes later, the ship stopped, producing a loud ‘thunk’ as it did. The ramp lowered and the first of the troopers sprang to action.
That was it; we were on another world.