Thursday, 21 July 2016

3. Natural Selection

'The Young Blood' By Matt Murdoc

The role call siren rang out across the dining hall. Approximately three hundred apprentice Acolytes had just broken their fasts. The sun had only just risen over the Ishtar science academy and already the students had been hurried out of their beds, through the showers and into the food service line with military precision.
The educational year had begun a mere two weeks previously for these new intakes. The new initiates were barely acquainted with each other and even less so with the codes of conduct and the strictly regimented daily expectations of the Ishtar base.
All the new initiates were a uniform age of twenty years, and they were all of mixed gender and social background. All of them were orphans from different home worlds, and all had passed the Pada-kwinshae, - The higher level aptitude examination, devised by the three sovereign mothers and sat by every entered apprentice for the last eleven thousand years.
Although the home worlds of the initiates were varied and scattered throughout the galaxy, all of them spoke the standard Telspek tongue and no other language was used in the education system.
All of the new initiates wore the same plain white first level robes that had been worn by Initiate Acolytes for over a thousand generations and all of them, male and female, had shaven heads to signify their beginners status and “poor state of darkness.” - The uninitiated.

Leon and his two fellow apprentices, Jachin and Ki'entha, had rushed their food down far quicker than they would have chosen to. Had they not done so, they would have been concentrating more on hunger than learning in a matter of hours.
If any of them failed more than three tests in this first term, it would mean an immediate expulsion with no prospect of returning to the esoteric colleges in the future.
A feeling of anxious competition hung in the air and the new initiates had already begun to form into their own small social groups rather than face the daily pressures of the academy alone.
“Primordial life Sciences for our first lecture?” moaned Leon, “How do they ever expect us to retain anything we’re taught if we’re constantly exhausted and suffering with indigestion!”
Ki'entha smiled as she patted him on the shoulder. “Leon, you are meant to be a man.” She grinned, “Look around this mess hall, I see all of the men forlorn and missing their homes like lost children and yet I see all of the women smiling and alert, ready for new challenges.”
Leon's lips stiffened at the jibe and he looked at his feet as the three of them stood to leave their table.
“And what of me Ki'en?” said Jachin with a grin, “Do you find me miserable and pining for home like some lost infant?”
“No Jach, I don't.” she said as they joined the line filing out of the mess into the corridor.
“You, little Brother, are quite the enigma. I have the deep sight, as did my mother before me. There is not a single apprentice here that I have not observed and found the measure of in these last two weeks. - None but you.”
Leon bristled, taking issue with Ki’entha’s comment and cutting his way rudely back into the conversation.
Ki'entha wondered if Leon even realised what this mere act of interruption said about his character as he barked bitterly at Jachin.
“Well is there any wonder?” Leon pointed at Jachin accusingly, “He barely ever speaks unless spoken to, he is the first in the dorm to wake every day and he answers every damned question that the Masters ask of him without error! - He's more like a Bot than a man!”
Jachin grinned and made a theatrical bow as Ki'entha rolled her eyes.
“He who knows does not speak Leon, he who speaks does not know.” Ki'entha said with a wry smile. “You would do well to remember that sometimes!”
Both Ki'entha and Jachin erupted with laughter.
“I'm glad some of us can laugh!” muttered Leon as he shoved his way past Jachin and out into the mezanine.
The three companions left the mess building with the other first years, and after palm scanning their exits, walked across the recreation square to the lecture house.

The sun shone brightly and the air was fresh. The remaining Initiates had split into smaller groups and made for their group lecture rooms as they entered the portico of the imposing black stone building on the western edge of the quad.
Leon, Ki'entha and Jachin, entered the building and climbed the ornate golden staircase turning left at the top into the “Life Sciences” department.
“Lab eleven.” Jachin pointed to the right as they reached the top of a second stair well.
As the trio turned the corner, they found themselves facing three Acolytes and a Master, stood lined up outside the small laboratory awaiting the Professor.

“Why are there full Acolytes and a Master here?” whispered Leon nervously to Ki'entha, “This is our class, just the three of us! What does this mean?”
“Quiet you idiot!” she spoke curtly, “Don't you think I too have the same questions? I am attempting to work the problem – hold your tongue!” A look of indignation swept across her face as she moved her mind into the deeper function.
The master, stood nearest to the door, was an older man (probably around two hundred years) with greying shoulder length black hair, beard and dark facial features. He was wearing a regular red and grey Masters single suit – plain enough, but he also wore a silver broken star pin on his left collar. The meaning of this insignia was unmistakable. He had served in the “Order of the Root.” A formidable Master – no doubt.
The Acolytes were all second year accepted academy fellows, wearing light blue and white robes with short cropped hair. Two males and one female. They stood to attention with their hands at their sides, their backs against the hallway wall, and their glassy eyes staring unflinchingly forwards.
The old man turned to face the Initiates and Acolytes.
“I'm sure you have questions.” he eyed Ki'entha in particular, “All will soon become clear.”
At that moment the lab door slid open and Professor Brocka stepped out into the hallway. She was a civillian but well respected in the faculty. A plain looking woman with straight mousey hair and piercing blue eyes. She had been teaching the three initiates since their arrival two weeks previously.
“Good morning class, Master Hassan,” she said as she gestured toward the lab door, “Please come in and be seated.”
Ki'entha drew her conciousness back into formal flow. Any answers she might have found in the deeper sight trance were now irrelevant. They would find the answers to their questions in due course.
As they entered the lab, it was clear that this would be no ordinary lesson. All the window shutters were closed and the room was in darkness apart from the small blue guide lights set in the floor around the benches and the walkways. The large view screen was on standby and showed the illuminated sigil of the Ishtar base, a winged godess with a knife in one hand  and a pair of compasses in the other.
The three Initiates and three Acolytes seated themselves on the first two rows of benches and drew out their data frames from their robes. The Master clapped his hands once and spoke with an authoritative air,
“There will be no data recording today. Please put those away.”
The students did as they were told while Professor Brocka took to the lectern and turned to address them.
“The six of you have been selected for removal from the academy.” She stated calmly.
The younger students looked at each other with faces of shock and confusion.
“Please remain focused!” Her voice was louder, the command almost a shout. The students faced the front of the room once more, the three initiates looking pale. Leon, in particular, looked scared.
“This will be a short class, the remainder of which will be given by our honoured guest, Master Thorin Hassan, he is one of our most distinguished graduates and is here representing the Order of the Root.”
The Master made his way to the lectern and pressed a button on the small control pad strapped to his left wrist. The front view screen lit up and began to run a detailed animation of a solar cycle.

“Everything you are about to be told is to be treated with the strictest of confidence.” Hassan said, overlooking them all with a serious expression. “On pain of death - make no mistake, you are about to be briefed on what is perhaps the most sensitive and important project in our galaxy at this time.”
The students stared silently as the master continued. He focused specifically on the new initiates.
“You three, may have already realised within your separate group, that each of you have come here from planets that were planted with a Primostem. You all have ancestory directly resulting from these plantations.” The students glanced at each other, with the exception of Ki'entha who merely nodded at the Master.
“Each of your respective planets are new to our galactic community and all of them took around one hundred thousand generations to become globally aware. That is to say, that your respective civilisations have each put aside their petty arguments and primitive plough burning in order to unite themselves in the quest for a higher understanding of the universe.
Each of your home planets are of a similar size and social construct and it is for these reasons, that each of you have been specifically chosen to leave the academy and travel with me to the Sol sector.”
He gestured at the view screen which instantaneously macroed the solar model into the middle of the room by way of a holloprojection.
“It will be the blue planet here, Gia, to which we will soon be travelling, - there, the final great yield primostem will be planted.” The students stared at the Master, dumbstruck and wide eyed.
Master Hassan then side stepped the lectern and sat down to face the Initiates.
“Now, these three Acolytes here,” he gestured to the three second years as he spoke, “are already briefed and will be assigned to each of you. - Leon, you will partner with Welsen here.” The Acolyte on the far right stood and walked across to Leon, shaking his hand and offering a slight smile as he joined him on the bench. Master Hassan then gestured to the acolyte sitting in the second row, “Jachin, please go and join Ibenjin.” Jachin moved to take a seat next to the second acolyte who shook him firmly by the hand. “Finally, Ki'entha, you will be placed with Althea here.” Said the Master gesturing towards the remaining acolyte who was already seated next to her. She leant forwards and silently planted a small kiss on Ki'entha's cheek.
Professor Brocka then stood and took her place back at the lectern.
“The six of you will be rehoused together at the Temple of the Knife immediately for further briefing and training. You have one month before you depart for planet Gia and you have a great deal to learn in that time.”
Master Hassan stood and walked to the door panel where he pressed a button and brought the lab into regular illumination.
“I only hope that your personal files are correct about your abilities!” he said. “Now go and fetch your belongings. I want you all in lock down at the temple within the hour. The rest of the students will be told that you have failed and been sent home.”
The six of them stood and made for the door.
“Quickly now!” Said the Master. “Time is a factor!”

Twenty minutes later, the six newly acquainted students and their Master found themselves seated in a speeder on a straight desert road. The imposing outline of the Tomb of the Ancients was creeping in to view on the horizon, a massive black pyramid complex inside which, each of the esoteric orders and the Temple of the Knife were to be found.
Silence stretched between the occupants for the duration of the forty minute journey from the academy. None of them had ever expected to see the tomb up close, much less enter the temple complex. This place was at least a thousand generations old and only the highest Initiates and most promising students were ever granted access.
As the temple Guardbots stood down their positions to allow the speeder to pass through the tomb's imposing gates, Master Hassan looked over his shoulder at his new students.
“Welcome to the temple.” he said. “From today, until the day that you leave, you will each pay for any mistakes you make with blood.”

If you haven't already, head over to the page 'The Young Blood' where you can find the previous chapters.

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