Introduction story

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The heaters of the classroom sparked to life and started to pipe out heat. The largest lecture hall of Aubert Hall was always the hardest to heat. Fall came early this year, coming with the incoming select people who were to be the freshman class of Gralgroth Merchant Academy, who slowly started to filter in to the classroom one by one as the morning progressed on, sunlight from the red star slowly filtering through the unwashed skylights above. The classroom was immense, large enough to accommodate a large percentage of the class, seats of all different sizes meant to somewhat create comfort for all species that may occupy them. Large seats for the more draconic creatures, smaller seats for the Humans and Cibosans, even series of perches for those that were of the avian persuasion, all lined up within a semi-circle in the amphitheater design.

“I can't believe that we have to be here first thing in the morning.” The anti-mirthful statement issued as the Cibosan addressed another, coming into the classroom side by side, the doors side enough to address the largest sized species of the local sector. Despite the fur, the companion Cibosan gave a shiver and a nod, removing his gloves, “Yeah. I knew that this place had a reputation to be cold, but I thought that it would be more of a problem for those without fur.”

“What's this class about anyway? I didn't see anything for a description but for the fact that it was required for all incoming classmates.”

The companion gave a shrug and motioned towards a more verbal response but not before solid booted feet interrupted them as a set of uniformed officers, noted to be similar to the Cadet uniforms that everyone in the room bore in some fashion or another wore, but having more shiny decorations and elaborate work woven into the cloth. One of which was a short Cibosan, at least, he appeared short, his fox like stature and body dwarfed by the large imposing saurian body of a Rshast, the strong winged body of the draconic Shyedarian, and even the black haired Human seemed to tower over the Cibosan, but his posture was proud and tall, imposed as he worked his way to the podium, activating a device that rose him to the microphone built into the stand.

The voice matched the confidence the body carried, “Good morning everyone. If I can have everyone in their seats, we can begin. We bring you all in here because we want to make sure that the classroom is warmed up enough for the junior and seniors later on in the day.”

A few groans came from the audience, but the proud Cibosan gave a smile of jest. “Seriously, I am sure that at least a few of you are wondering why you are here for this lecture series. A lecture series with no description but yet is tagged as required for all incoming freshmen. A class that you all have bought into, even though some of you will be working for a number of cycles to pay off.”

The Cibosan looked down long enough to open a folder on the podium, pulling out a pair of corrective glasses, and gave a smile. “I am Captain Tsogru of the Cibosan, and I, along with my assistants, Lieutenants Fnarg of the Shyedarians and Smarsh of the Rshast, will be telling you what exactly the average experience for those of you that wish to have a occupation in the Space Arts and Trade.” Each in turn, standing next to Tsogru, gave a bow and a facial acknowledgment to the class.”

A soft clearing of the throat echoed throughout the hallway before the Cibosan continued, “Space might be a bit misinterpreted from all the myths and stories that I am sure that you have heard, whether it comes from a respected elder of your family, someone embellishing a story on a street corner, weaving a thread to make his story more sympathetic so that he gets more money into his cup, or listening to the propaganda that your Government or other advisory boards send out telling you that if you come here and then serve with them to pay things off ... well, I need to have this talk with you so that you all can have a moment to reconsider what it is that you are about to do. Before you waste any money on further education and your time, I urge you all to consider what I am about to tell you.”

“Number one, space is big. Space is empty. Space, for many of you, is going to be BORING. You will find yourselves being put in some patrol to guard some mysterious object and wondering why you're doing that. Or on some slow freighter that is going to take 3 months longer to get to it's destination simply because the captain wishes to save a little bit of money on the fuel. If you're lucky, you'll get a endless supply of paperwork and forms to fill out because the Rshast require to have five copies of the receipts that you need for them and then it's discovered you didn't press hard enough to make the copies or the electronic pen had glitches as the consignment was transferred and only part of the signature was transmitted. So keep in mind that I did warn you about that as you stand stationed on some forsaken planet where your best friend is the sand that blows by and fills in the miles between you and any chance of other sentient life, or worse, if it's snow in some arctic planet that you'll wonder why anyone considers it a valuable, or worse, tactical posting.”

If the group of snoozing cadets or students simply doodling or playing with the electric pads bothered the lecturing Cibosan, it didn't appear anywhere in his voice or his narrative.

“Number two, space owes you nothing and can be thankless. It has a tendency to be quite cruel to a person who isn't careful. It's a harsh place and it can hurt and kill. The fact that you are most likely to be spending a lot of a time in a shell to protect you from the vacuum and therefore certain death is a indication on how dangerous it can be. One micrometeorite and malfunctioning deflection grid can be the end of you. There are a number of biological and environmental things out there that can take you down instantly. We all know that we are given Bio-Boost, thanks to the people of Letadmin Industries, which protects us against most hazards out there and it's handcrafted for each species, but it's not foolproof.”

More of the students decided to deliver expressions of boredom, idling drawing on tablets and at least half the class looked barely coherent. Tsogru gave a flip of a switch on the pedestal and the lights dimmed as a projected picture came up above the lecturing Cibosan, starting up a video of a montage of carefully crafted pictures and video.

“Third, the inhabitants of said space aren't always friendly. Don't get me wrong, some are, but there are some that will attack you on sight. If you make the slightest mistake of protocol, you could find yourself at the unpleasant end of a blaster. Some folk out there are so friendly that they'll want to find out about you. Some are so friendly that they want to know ALL about you, including taking you apart and keeping most of your insides in a petri dish and preservative jar. Something as simple as scratching your nose can mean in the mannerisms of an alien species of some grave insult. There is a reason that there is a specific specialty and a whole series of classes that involve first contact situations. You can find yourself injected with nanites and turned into a personal sex toy, sent to a prison charged with a crime that you didn't charge and find out that involves being bodily tattooed with prison stripes, enhanced with cybernetics, brainwashed into a cult ...”

The video was showing examples of such, timed very well with the Cibosan speech. A few people gave a gasp or two, jumping in their seats at the images of people being pulled through micro holes in starship hull followed up by a scene of a conference table with a Rshast guard scratching at his nose after a sneeze earning a blaster to the head obliterating it into atoms. The scene with a Human being sliced up, drawn and quartered, and robots collecting the pieces through the blood filled room being stuffed into small plastic bags got a jump out of a number of the cadets. A Cibosan wearing a uniform bearing patches of the CIS Firestorm and having pilot bars on his collar slowly was taken over by a strange black substance over his body until movement stopped – his body smoothed out and made shiny to the light, his features muted out. Pictures of the prison processing of Black Gazza, people becoming orange and black striped through extensive tattooing process, full body, played for people. A city scape with chaos, sirens, smoke and fire being shakily videotaped by a cameraman – until apparently dropping the camera at a strange angle. Even though the lens was cracked, three figures were clearly seen walking zombie like towards the assumed position of the camera, eyes red and pupiless -- almost as if the eyes themselves were made of a plastic, expressions blank before one of the stepped on the camera, ending the recording.

Tsogru flipped another switch on the pedestal and the lights came back up, gaining a groan from the audience. Most of the audience was still there, but like always, each and every year, a few seemed to get sick enough to purge in the isles. One or two passed out. This was the first year that one of these affected was a Rshast. Tsogru proceeded almost as if nothing had happened.

“This is just a mere small amount of what can happen to the unfortunate out there. It is critical that if you wish to do this, you must pay attention and be sure that this is what you want to do. And it can come out at any time, it's very important that are aware at all times and be ready for what is out there. You must be smart in your head, your heart, and your body. And it can even happen to seasoned professionals. Ensign Mura of the Firestorm didn't see that attack coming. He had no idea that it was a Hierarchy Agent he was seducing. He did survive the encounter thanks to a tactic that I feel is underplayed in the education of Space Faring Professionals called Trusting Teamwork, but we'll be covering that soon enough.”

“In your student folders you will find there is a document that is labeled with today's date and this class identification code. It is due at or before the next class period. There is a vitally important section in it that you need to check and it has two options ...”

Jumping several students, a loud screech came from a creature from the back, small but fast -- fast enough that most of the students weren't aware of the creature moving down the stairs at a rapid rate, rear legs propelling it towards a target. A few more students even caught the giant jump that it gave towards one of the Human students, attaching itself, ruddering tail turning to allow for a precise strike, the hands grabbing as two silver needles pushed out of it's hands and into the being into question, veins pumping in a unseen venom. The cybernetic legs and body made hissing sounds as it stabalized itself and kept itself and the brown haired human from falling over. The creature looked at the crowd and gave a loud screech from it's mouth filled with sharp teeth causing some of the students nearby to panic and start to run, others to pass out in surprise.

Not all students gave that reaction, a few Rshast standing and starting to charge the agile reptillian creature but only made a few steps before met with resistance from the strange attacking creature. The creature lifted up it's other arm while still latched onto the stiffening human, launching out strange black projectiles right from it's cybernetic arm, striking the Rshast and covering them with a familiar black ooze, solidifying them into shiny black smooth statues within seconds, causing more surprise within the class. A Shyedarian stood up in the back, wings spread, but was quickly stopped by a Rshast, large thick arms holding the draconid back.

Only a few noticed the instructors didn't move one inch. Not even blinking.

The Cibosan slowly went towards the panicked class, stepping down from the podium. Even though he was now away from all sources of amplification, his voice still carried volume and weight within the room.

“SILENCE. SIT DOWN.”

The class as a collection just gave a few surprised stares.

Tsogru went up the stairs, the only sound in the room now the human who was starting to spasm, the flesh of the human starting to take on a strange color and metal components starting to disappear – as well as several chairs surrounding the area around the enwrapped duo.

A hand from the Cibosan indicated the Rshast in the back, “You, Cadet. Why did you stop that Shyedarian from attacking? What made you decide to keep him from defending this human.”

The Rshast gulped and in a rare moment of nervousness from the large topsian, “Sir?”

“You heard me. Why did you stop your fellow cadet?”

The Rshast shivered nervously, “Well, it was a reaction. I don't think we would have succeeded.” Several members of the class were completely oblivious to what was going on, eyes and attention fully focused on the changing human as more cybernetics start to flush with the body, the left eye being replaced with a metallic looking one.

“Why? Why didn't you think you'd succeed? What do you know?”

“Sir,” the Rshast said, clearing his voice, “That's a Dein. Dein just don't attack and do ... that freaky absorbsion thing that they do unless it's open conflict or ... invited.”

Tsogru came up a few steps to where the Dein was. The Dein gave a hiss as he looked at the Cibosan, but did nothing aggressive towards the small Cibosan. “So, what is it that you're saying, Cadet?”

The Rshast gave a moment or two of thought, then looked up brightly, “Sir, I charge that this Dein wasn't attacking us and that this is just another scare tactic of this class to show us what can happen. I charge that this was staged.”

“You think we staged this with a Dein?”

“Yes, sir.”

The Cibosan looked about, seeing that most of the class was still frozen in place, most eyes wide open as the adrenaline caught up with them. “Then you would be correct.” The Captain smiled a bit, pulling out a round metal disk and tossing it to the Rshast with a flick of the wrist. “You earn an A for the day.” A rubber stamp from the pocket of Tsogru was quickly applied to the foreheads of the statues with an F.

The Captain gave a pose towards the Dein, “This is 8615-Alpha. Alpha, could you please explain what is going on?”

The Dein lifted his green head, left eye giving a red glow as the other shone in pride, “I am 8615-Alpha. And the person that I am with here is Neil Mikeson, a human who is a senior and is well versed with alien cultures and with system programming. We have asked and he has accepted a position with us in a cultural exchange and part of the agreement was his acceptance of our technology in his body so that he could interact with us better. The other classmates that are in the black substance are only in suspended animation and will make a ... full physical recovery.” The Dein carried a voice similar to the Cibosan although the sound seemed amplified within the creature's cybernetics itself.

The Captain gave a big smile, “This was all staged, Cadets. And this attack was done consentually. However, this may not always be the case. However, this is the first class that I have taught in my ten year tenure that someone in this class has demonstrated knowledge in a quick and expedient way. Good work.”

A few of the students during this speech dislodged themselves from the shock enough to leave, a few more choosing to take a seat, sliding in with a general stupor, most electing to continue to stand as the Captain made his way back to the podium.

“Anyway, where was I?” The Cibosan scratched his head and then he gave a smile, “Ah yes. About the document. It will have two options on it. The first option is that you recognize the dangers that you face in this possible career choice – despite the fact that with such dangers it is quite possible you will be compensated well. The second option is a formal request for withdrawing from the Academy. Do not see that as a failure but more of a realization of all the facts and upon receiving them ... you have re-evaluated your life goals. There will be a box outside of my office where these can be placed. Not turning it in indicates you not wanting to continue your education here, but the difference is that we will not refund for a no-answer.”

The Cibosan smiled a bit, giving a pause to his speech and taking the opportunity to take a sip of water. “Even though not all of us can become Sufurs of Melatarin, Defanu Tanaka's, or even Defanu Tsoami's, space DOES offer opportunities like none you have ever seen. Just realize that risk equals opportunity. If you are willing to go on with this class and accept our teachings – we will teach you the ways to minimize these risks to yourself and other people who will be depending and looking to you. And that is what I want you to think on for next time.”

It took a moment or two for the class to realize that they were dismissed.

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