3. Knight Protectorate
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With a puff of compressed air and the whiz of hydraulics the paneled door opened, revealing the long dark hallway that lay behind it. The hallway wasn’t dark in the traditional sense, in fact it had a quite a bit of light in it. Instead, this darkness was apparent since there was no artificial lighting. Instead, the right side of the hallway was being illuminated through a wall made of glass, allowing the observer to see through it and into the cosmos. There was no star present near the ship, but there was a multitude of stars in the very far distance, their light illuminating the hallway, yet leaving long and dark shadows within the hall.

Stepping through the doorway, Numa hesitated before turning to meet the gaze of the person standing just to the right of the door. They appeared to be massive, but it was difficult to tell if this stature was normal or if the suit was just built to fit their frame. There seemed to be an awkward pause, where both Numa and the person in the suit didn’t know what to say.

Numa didn’t recognize the person in the suit, and there was no insignia apparent just on the front facing bits of the suit. But the type of suit and prestige of the suit was not lost upon him. It was a Vindicator-class suit of armor. The attachments could vary, but it was generally a bulky suit of armor but with its dense steel plating it was very resistant to damage. It also included personal energy dispersal unit, meaning this suit could tank a direct hit from a fission cannon. Now, it probably couldn’t take more than one hit, and there was considerable kickback to tanking something like that, it was still considered the best meat shield within the military arm of humanity.

Vindicator suits and their users were referred to as one, and just as Vindicators at just that. Supposedly the name for Vindicators came from their rampant use as an apology. In other words, their partner would piss off the opposing force, and the Vindicator would be forced to “apologize” by face tanking the incoming fire. It was really a cynical outlook, but it seemed fitting for Numa. Vindicators were usually used to accompany slower and harder hitting troops when used in combat, or for security of important persons or locations. Their ability to protect came from the ability to block most things with their face, as such Vindicators that embraced this idea carried two wrist mounted deployable energy fields, allowing for most physical and nuclear damage to be blocked. This didn’t protect much from radiant and chemical damage, but the suit was filtered and plated to protect from both of those.

Numa didn’t know exactly how to react to this Vindicator. It was on his family’s ship, so it was probably here to protect him, but on the flip side he could have sorely miscalculated, and his father had simply deigned it better to just wash his hands of Numa. Numa slowly leaned back on his heels, ready to sprint away from them as quickly as humanly possible. Luckily for Numa, suits like these, while being basically walking fortresses, ran about as quickly as one. In other words, these things were about as fast a supermassive blackhole, they absorbed all types of energy and mass hurled at them—but they moved extremely slow.

Almost sensing his eagerness to bolt, the Vindicator just simply raised his hand as if the hand was telling him to stop. Watching the hand move up, it felt almost as slow motion to Numa, but whether this was because of the adrenaline coursing through his veins or if this Vindicator was just that slow, only time could tell.

With an audible click, the internal mic of the Vindicator suit patched into its suits speakers and just coldly asked, “Numa Tullis, I will be your Knight protectorate.” And with another audible click, the mic was disengaged from the speaker just like that. There wasn’t much to it, it was impossible to talk much about the owner of the voice, it was a quick sentence and the speakers sounded like they hadn’t been used in years. There wasn’t much to the sentence, and it was hard to tell if the Vindicator was being short because that’s who they were or if they simply didn’t like him.

To Numa it didn’t matter, the Vindicator had announced their intention to being his Knight protectorate, until this contract was verbally terminated this Vindicator wouldn’t hesitate to throw their life on the line for Numa. Well, in theory at least. Vindicators were big fans of honor and anything that would besmirch their good name was to be avoided like the plague. So, unless Numa went overboard, this Vindicator would act as a good shield for him.

Strangely, the Knight didn’t ask for his identifier code, a code being transmitted on a closed radon frequency which would allow anyone with the code to both identify who you were (as these codes were one of a kind) and secondly, they could be used to track the person if their signal was within the range of the tracking device. Frankly, this probably meant that this Knight Vindicator didn’t think too highly of him, and probably wouldn’t be laying their life down for his anytime soon.

Breaking off eye contact, if there was any in the first place, Numa looked through the viewport of his helmet and just well…chilled. Strangely, there was no sense of discomfort for the situation he was thrust into, and this created an uncomfortable feeling, not because of the feeling of dread, but instead the direct reverse. It was a feeling of absence as opposed to a feeling of presence. The feeling made his skin itch, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.

After the brief pause in his gate due to the interruption of the Vindicator, Numa simply kept on walking. Staring out into the night sky, was a breath-taking view of the vastness and the expanse of space, yet again there was this disconnect between what he was thinking and the feeling. Numa recognized it was breathtaking, and almost as if expecting to feel amazed or shocked, Numa simply didn’t feel what he was expecting. This lack of feeling made his skin crawl, but at the same time it wasn’t registered on an emotional level. Instead, he simply brushed past it like a piece of trash left on the side of the road.

Quickly making his way past the windowed hallway, Numa passed out of the private quarters (usually reserved for foreign dignitaries or visiting nobles) and into the main compartment of the ships. Not having to look behind him, Numa could hear the lurching vindicator walking slowly yet efficiently behind him. Almost immediately after leaving the private section of the ship and onto the main portion, Numa was immediately bombarded with so many different noises and the rush of bodies.

It seemed that they were about to dock with station orbiting Martius. Martius was a planet in the Sol sector, the fourth planet from the star. At one point in time, it was a red planet, but now only the vestiges of this red existed. Instead, there hundreds of thousands of ships in its orbit with countless space stations in orbit, both in charge of protecting the planet and processing new recruits to the Universal Command Military Academy, as this academy occupied the entire surface and underground of the planet. In fact, only cadets and related staff lived on the planet, it was a military planet through and through.

Walking through a crowd of people heading towards the docking bay of the ship, Numa headed in the opposite direction, a faceless cadet amidst a sea of equally faceless cadets. While most cadets would be processed at the docking bay and would then be escorted to the planet’s surface through a dropship, special consideration needed to be considered for Numa. In theory, he was still a Tullis so due consideration would still need to be maintained to not tarnish the family’s name. Secondly, the vindicator was too bulky to fit into the ship dropping off the cadets, and as such a larger drop ship would need to be used.

Traditionally in live combat, vindicators would be dropped from low orbit and allowed to free fall to the ground just like that, but this wasn’t exactly feasible in friendly territory as the damage would be extensive. As such, a larger drop ship was being called and other exiled noblemen’s children (read: other bastards) would be shipped with him. To his knowledge, they were mostly fourth or fifth children just like him

 

 and as such weren’t entitled to much. They were most likely the dredges being cast away, and this was the best and most feasible way of disposal. They were mostly minor nobleman’s children though, and he was by far the one (technically) highest ranked. Frankly though, this would probably not be true for much longer as it was an open secret onto how much his family despised him.

While it was true there was an established hierarchy when it came to rank and seniority between the noble children, but this came with a caveat. At this age their prestige and political clout came from their families, so if their families weren’t supporting them how would it be any different from just being a nameless nobody. So, for someone like Numa whose family was simply just waiting for his death, there wasn’t much force he could apply to the group.

At first, with the uncertainty of it all and the vindicator behind him they would probably at worst leave him alone, but once it was confirmed this vindicator was basically just for show and parts of his family were actively plotting his downfall, they would move to distance themselves from him or worse.

It was going to be an isolated and lonely five years at the academy, but hopefully his time would be well spent. Loneliness wasn’t something that was foreign to him, before he hated it, but now it seemed like he enjoyed it. It seemed like he was not only ok with it, but it seemed to provide this strange comfort to him. It was relaxing and comforting to him.

Numa reasoned that this was probably because it meant that he wouldn’t need to be so alert and pay attention to so much.

Numa soon reached the center hub of the ship, the main elevator system which would take him to the top deck of the ship and the large hangar bay situated at the top of the ship which was meant for the storage and loading of attack crafts and the modified drop pods which would take the vindicators to low orbit.

Reaching the elevator, Numa was surprised by how large it truly was. The doorway to the elevator stood twelve feet tall and about eight feet wide, the elevator was truly meant to transport behemoths. The main hub was crowded, with cadets and soldiers rushing about and to the sides of the hub where smaller elevator shoots transported people around the ship, but the main massive elevator in the center of the hub remained open, and no one seemed to dare approach too close to the doorway, instead clumping to the edges of the hub. Whether this was a matter of convenience or simply fear, it was simply too hard to tell.

Making his way to the elevator, somehow the vindicator had been able to keep pace with Numa, even though its bulky size must have made it difficult to maneuver through the crowd. Shaking off his doubt, Numa placed a plated hand on the panel to the right of the doorway. Scanning his suit, it confirmed his identity and allowed for the elevator to be activated. Stepping onto the elevator the Vindicator followed quickly behind. To his surprise the elevator seemed to not mind his weight, and without further direction the elevator hummed to life, carrying them to the top of this mothership.

The elevator was closer to a lift, as it opened towards the back of a massive hangar. This hangar was on top of the ship yet was situated just below the observation deck and command center of the mothership. Inside this hangar was a group of people who numbered around sixty. Strangely, they were split into odd proportions.

One group held around ten people, and the other was made up of the vast majority of around fifty people. This second group was much harder to count, as there were many different people, some short, some tall, and almost all of them were in either suits or some form of armor. The difference between suits and armor is that armor simply covered the body (just like the armor pack being worn by the cadets) and suits were large enough to be considered extensions of the body. The biggest rule of thumb was that armor could be moved in without power, and suits could not.

Even more surprising to Numa was that behind one of the dropships he spotted the leg to a seismic class suit. Seismic class suits were especially large and weighed heavily. They were the largest class of suit and varied on tools but united with purpose.

Seismic class suits specialized in infantry and large-scale damage. They were fearsome in singe combat for sure, but they really were the gurus of unarmored and just mass destruction. Some versions of these suits were equipped for long range combat, with motors on their back capable of launching nuclear shells into the enemy ranks, others had massive flamethrowers. But the most iconic loadout was also where the name of the class of suit came from. This loadout was indiscriminate in its destruction, often if miss deployed would cause as much friendly fire to your troops as would create mayhem to the enemy combatants. Equipped with deployable drills on the soles of their feet, they would burry into the ground before latching onto the tectonic plates of the planet’s crust. They would then vibrate using the plates on their feet, sending shockwaves strong enough to stimulate movement in the planets crust.

Numa doubted they were equipped with this loadout, as they were very far into friendly territory, but it was expensive to both raise a pilot and to buy and maintain the suit. Frankly, this was probably just a show of strength for whoever sent off their child with this monstrosity.

The marine life was a tough one, and one that many wouldn’t be able to escape. But it was an important job, and it was sort of an unwritten rule that most noble families would send at least one of their children to serve in this prestigious core. Never one that was important, but a child of noble blood, nevertheless. While it was a dead end for most, if you managed to last the two years of active deployment and out of the marines and into the main strategic command, then you were pretty set.

It was readily known and understood a marine couldn’t last much on luck, so either they were the luckiest person alive, or very, very skilled. Either way, they were someone you wanted to have around when things got tough, and as such could have their pick of jobs. Bare minimum would be a captain position in charge of a squad of elite shock troops, but honestly the sky was the roof for how far you ran away with this.

As such, it was common for children of nobility who either wanted to break free of their family or who were walking dead (Numa fell into this last category) to join the marines as a last-ditch effort to free themselves from whatever shackles plagued them. The only benefits commoners got from joining the marines was two-fold, one was that the marines were always recruiting. Finally, and most importantly it was the only job who would continue to pay your family after death. It was a last-ditch effort for sure, but it guaranteed that even in your death your family would be taken care of.

 Numa walked steadily over to the small group of ten, and his vindicator walked over to the much larger crowd without a word. Making his way to the group, there wasn’t much of a reaction from anyone, and to be fair there wouldn’t be much. A seismic class suit was present, so a dinky vindicator suit wasn’t going to provoke much of a reaction, and they were all wearing identical armor packs, the uniform of freshman marine cadets.

Outside of stature, there wasn’t much difference between anyone here, but Numa knew, could see it in the way their stood there. Some were confident, some were fearful, and some were almost taunting. None of this, the indifference, the open hostility, nothing really elicited a reaction from Numa. All of this was once again a data point, something to be noted, features to be recorded, profiles “created” and “recorded” but nothing really reacted at an emotional level for Numa.

This feeling, or lack thereof, was starting to annoy Numa. It was like waiting for a surprise that never came, it was a startling incongruity. It was a sickening feeling, yet if one could see his face, they would notice nothing seemed to reflect in his eyes. His eyes were like mirrors, reflecting whatever emotion was directed into them.

Numa didn’t know how long he had waited there, it seemed today was a day for getting lost in thought, but soon there was the sound of a rhythmic marching coming from somewhere turning around to greet the noise, Numa…

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And that's chapter 3 of the Economics of Emotion, thank you so much for checking it out! If you want to see me write these live, I stream writing and other things on Twitch!
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