4. The World in Where we see the Worth in Growing Older
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Turning around, Numa was quickly greeted by flashes of imperial purple and gold, it seemed that the imperial princess was here. In a strange turn of chance, marines were by far the strongest of the disposable branches of the military. It also was a mostly autonomous branch of the military, since their job was pretty much only to delay, there was no other use for them. Simply put, they were called in and they did their job and what remained would leave.  

Die hard loyalty to an ideal or dynasty was long dead, loyalty only existed to those leaders and generals who earned it. This caused a weird reaction with the marines, as those who lived past their first mission had already come to terms with their death. That meant you had basically suicidal trained fighters all willing to toss themselves on a grenade just to get it over with. If a noble wanted to revolt against the imperial family, then their best bet would rise in the ranks of the marines.

Then, they would have a bunch of well-trained fighters, who were basically wanting to die, plus a large network of shipping lanes and logistical support, not to mention plenty of time to prepare it all as there was basically no supervision of the marine high command.

Rumor had it that tens of thousands of years ago the current royal family overthrew the previous one using the same method, going through what would later become the marines to seize power for themselves.

However, you looked at it, the current royal family didn’t want to fall victim to their own trap. Occam’s razor held true, and the simplest method rung true. The Marines created a weird power dynamic because of their leader, but if their leader was also a royal, then it would only strengthen the power of the royal family.

It was usually the oldest who would inherit the royal throne, and as such it was the oldest who was sent off to lead the marines. Luckily or unluckily depending on how you looked at it, Numa was apparently the same age as the imperial heir and would be attending the academy with her.

While they would attend academy together, the imperial house of Damocles wasn’t exactly going to throw their heir into a suicide mission. As such, she would be attending the academy here on Martian with the rest of the cadets, and while she would be attending classes normally at Universal Command Military Academy (UCMA) she would only get the safest missions and a stealth based champion was most likely in charge of protecting her.

Looking at the princess march towards them flanked by at least twenty-five Vindicator class suits. What was even more surprising was there was a figure in a robe standing just a step behind her. The robe was a deep black but had a single purple patch right above their heart. This meant they were a Psion, someone who could affect the physical world with just their mind. Their face was obscured by the hood, which only seemed to add to the effect of them looking like a hooded specter, something that couldn’t wait to eat someone’s soul.

Rumors abounded about Psions, as they were a secretive bunch, almost considered a different race from us humans. They were a part of the military, but they could only be requested, and seemed to only take orders from those of imperial descent.

This Psion was probably one of the champions in charge of the princess’s defense. The heads-up display on Numa’s helmet could get a bead on the Vindicator suits and could even measure the approximate height and overall strength of the suits, but once pointed at the Psion, greats amount of static would appear around them and would get all fuzzy and incoherent.

Suddenly, the Psion who had their head down, suddenly looked up, and seemed to stare deep into Numa’s eyes. Numa didn’t blink, he didn’t avert his gaze. Instead, he simply paused and returned the gaze. To some this would be an intimidating task, to some this would be easy, others this would be a challenge. But to Numa, it meant nothing. Gazes and looks had lost their effect on him, even if he could see into the Psions eyes all he would see would be the reflection of his own. Equally emotionless, regardless of the intending meaning.

It was the Psion who looked away first, as the princess was apparently attempting trying to talk to them.

Turning back around, Numa once again faced the group. It still appeared silent, but that was most likely because an internal voice channel had been created and people were talking amongst themselves that way.

There seemed to be cliques forming, and they all seemed to being growing around Numa, trying to avoid him. This didn’t bother Numa, he simply noted it down, and after that simply ignored it. For these nobles, they wouldn’t get the same treatment as the princess. They would eventually be tossed into the frontlines and most likely meet their end there. They hadn’t come to gripes with their death yet, and they would attempt to avoid it with all they had.

At this point there were only three possibilities for survival. One was to be very, very lucky, and make it through their two-year deployment. The second still required luck but was somehow more feasible. If someone caught the princess’s eye, they could be added to the marine command staff. This meant just like the princess, after graduation they would report directly to the princess and work directly for her.

The third, and probably most unlikely one, but it required only skill. If someone showed great skill in something during their training, whether it be combat or science related, they could be poached by someone, removed from the marine program, and sent to wherever their next destination was.

Numa was aiming for the third option, and it would be a painful one. Closing his eyes, Numa waited on the outskirts of the crowd, going over the foreign thoughts in his mind and considered what to do next. Time flowed by, and Numa wasn’t sure how long had passed. But at some point, the princess had split up from her entourage and had begun to make her rounds within our group of nobles, introducing herself to each and everyone.

Slipping to the back of the crowd, Numa attempted to exit the group and make his way to the front section of the crowd. The princess had already greeted them, and as Numa didn’t want to have to pretend to speak for the Tullis family. Shuffling his way to the front, Numa suddenly stopped in his track.

I can’t see you”

An unsettling voice grated on the inside of Numa’s head. It wasn’t broadcasted through the internal speakers of his helmet; no, it was if someone had opened his head and was yelling into the very pits of his mind.

It was an uncomfortable feeling, but it had been a day of uncomfortable feelings, so it didn’t bother him that much. Slowly turning around, Numa stumbled back as right before his eyes was the looming figure of the Psion.

Once again, the voice spoke out, “Why Can’t I see you? What secrets have you hidden within your mind, little one?”

Seemingly checking something, the voice passed before continuing, “You aren’t one of us, the collective has never heard of you Numa Tullis. Tell me, can you hear the screaming? Or is that why I can’t see you?

Not knowing how to respond, Numa simply did nothing. Numa wasn’t sure how Psions saw, or what they even looked like underneath their robes. But he didn’t hear any screaming, and the way the Psion was positioned it seemed that they could see him. So, what the Psion meant by “not seeing” him confused him.

Seemingly satisfied, the Psion abruptly turned around and glided along the floor over to the group of Guards stationed by the second drop ship.

Numa turned back around and made his way to the front of the crowd, hoping that even with that intrusion he had gone unnoticed or at the very least allowed to escape.

Having made his way to the front of the crowd, and having successfully been ignored by the princess, Numa closed his eyes and attempted to stabilize his mental condition.

The last thing he needed was to rely on his family name. The worst-case scenario was that of abdication and ultimately enslavement. When a family wanted to disown someone but still wanted to keep their skills their first name was removed from them, but their last name remained. Core functions would be lobotomized, and they would become the guardians of their family, serving as stewards for generations to come.

In ten years, if these new memories spoke the truth, this would be the fate awarded to Numa. His first name stricken from the record, his frontal cortex and most of his limbic system would be removed, leaving nothing behind but an unfeeling vessel. He was interned into a golem, a type of suit that was used in manual labor. Due to the outlawing of AI after the treaty of Canis Major, a new form of automated workforce was needed. The solution? Using lobotomized citizens in place of AI. Removed certain parts of the brain removed any form of thought in their mind, meaning they couldn’t be used for much. But for labor intensive simply work like excavation or farming it was the perfect solution.

With a crackle, his internal speaker sparked to life.

“Departure in five minutes, cadets make your way into the dropship, further instructions will follow.”

Following which, his heads-up display flared back to life and showed the direction in which to go. Since he was in the front, Numa was one of the first cadets onto the ship. It was a box like ship, rectangular with a flat bottom yet wide sides, there were pods stationed on the inside of the ship, whose interior was lighted by a red emergency light. Stepping inside, Numa followed the blue line that his helmed provided, directing him towards his destination. It directed him into a pod that was stationed near the back of the ship. Stepping into the pod, he was automatically clamped down and the pod slid closed.

Numa now knew that this was a drop ship, and that the very first lessons were beginning. Drop ships were quick and efficient way of getting troops onto the ground fast. Instead of having to land, troops were literally just dropped from the sky before the pods would spring open and the troops within would be released.

This was the first time Numa had seen a dropship equipped with single drop pods. Maybe this was the “comfort” afforded to nobles within UCMA. Soon the pods whirred to light as they were prepped for the drop. The blast covers closed and soon with a hiss the pod was pressurized and sealed tightly. Almost as if on cue, a figure popped up on his screen. Only from their shoulders up was visible, but even that didn’t show much. It was a figure strapped in a suit that was blue and black, the traditional colors of the marines. Their faceplate was a smooth black, and while there were ridges on the sides of the helmet the faceplate was completely smooth.

Nodding their head, a male voice was soon heard within the confides of the pod.

“Welcome to the UCMA, your year and a half here will be eventful. We will train you; we will raise you; we will mold you into the warriors you were meant to be. Your purpose will be clarified, jobs will be assigned. We thought we would give you the marine tour, try and enjoy the view when you’re falling from orbit. Oh, and you can open the pod doors whenever you want, so try to do it sometime after you enter orbit.”

With that final sentence the man was replaced with a smiley face before the transmission faded away.  With a lurch, Numa felt the dropship take off, the rush of the acceleration making him lean his head sideways.

Only a few seconds afterwards the ship came to a lurching stop. Numa felt somewhat disoriented within the pod. With the shielding up, the pod was darkened with the only light coming from the console and the several lights on his armor. Glancing around, Numa decided to just enjoy the ride and not to worry too much with what was going on around him.

With an audible click, the pods detached from the ship and soon Numa could feel himself gaining speed as he fell downwards towards the surface of Martius.

He didn’t know how long he fell, it couldn’t have been long, maybe a minute or thirty seconds long, but before too long he felt an upward force that jolted him back to full attention. The drop pod had finally landed on the surface.

With a hiss the door to the pod slid open, to reveal that he had landed in a field, surrounded by massive buildings that littered the skyline. Stepping out, Numa could finally come to understand just how truly large the UCMA. Even on the ground, looking up Numa could see countless other drop pods, all of which were much larger than the personal drop pod granted to him. Looking even further past the drop pods he could see countless of ships in low orbit, traveling around the gigantic planet in mere minutes. Soon, Numa’s HUD lit back up, directing him a path around the other landing pods, directing him to enter the building in front of him.

Making his way through the field, Numa soon found himself at the entrance of the building. It was a sleek building, windowed from top to bottom with reflective glass. To put it simply, it seemed too simplistic to be considered an important building. Stepping through the entrance, Numa was greeted by a large room split into different cubicles.

Navigating this cubicle farm with directions from his HUD, he was soon led into his own cubicle.

Within the cubicle there was a single chair, a desk, and a monitor. Sitting in the chair, the monitor soon booted up, displaying a document. The document was seemingly unimportant, just more bureaucratic work to be done before his enrollment into UCMA was finalized.

Finishing his paperwork, his HUD soon led him to a back room, where he would meet his first instructor at UCMA. Standing at the entrance to the back room, the person glanced up at him. It was a man with a mask that covered the bottom half of his face. Glancing up at Numa, he simply stated

“Within the room there will be another instructor and some weapons, choose your weapon and show us what you got, do well and you will qualify for upgrades to your cybernetics”

With that, they looked back down at their data pad, returning to whatever they were doing before.

Stepping into the back room, it revealed a somewhat lengthy room, with a table displaying many different styles of weapons. Stepping up to the table, Numa glanced at the different weapons lining the table. On the far end there were the standard weapons, laser rifles, blaster pistols, sluggers. On the side closes to Numa there were the melee weapons. A sword and shield, spears, a couple different styles of sword. What drew Numa’s eye was two twin Kamas. With a short grip leading into a curved blade seemingly take straight off a scythe. Picking them up, Numa twirled and swung them around. While it was true that his movements were awkward, to Numa they felt natural, and it felt good to wield them.

Picking them up, Numa moved past the table and towards the instructor in the center of the room. To his surprise, it looked like the instructor from the transmission. Without speaking, a single word popped up on Numa’s HUD, “Attack”.

Taking a couple practice swings, Numa stepped back, causing the instructor to tilt their head. Numa spotted something that the instructor thought he would miss, the built-in sluggers in his wrist, ready to send molten titanium hurtling at his head, something that his Kamas wouldn’t be able to block.

Instead, Numa stepped back, cocking his hand and threw one of his Kamas at the instructor’s head. Without a single excess movement, the instructor simply brushed his hand, slapping the Kama, sending it clattering to the ground.

In the few seconds where the instructor’s vision was obscured by the first Kama, Numa sent the second one spinning horizontally at the instructor’s midriff. The instructor, having seen through Numa’s tricking simply caught the Kama with his other hand.

Glancing back at the Numa, the instructor simply tossed the Kama to the ground, and motioned for Numa to try something new. The instructor was very far from being impressed, it seemed to them that Numa picked an up-close weapon but was too scared to close the difference. Shaking their head, the instructor was about to knock the sense into this kid, when Numa did something surprised the instructor. Sprinting straight at the instructor, Numa had seemingly gotten over his fear of closing the difference.

Chuckling to themselves, the instructor raised his wrist, ready to knock the wind out of this scared cadet and put some lead in their spine. To their surprise, when he went to activate his slugger, nothing happened.

Not being fazed, the instructor raised both their hands, ready to grapple with Numa, but this is when the instructor was surprised for the second time. Instead of going in for a punch, Numa simply grabbed the instructors’ hands, and stopped. Their eyes widening, the instructor knew what was about to happen and tried to bail from the hold. Numa simply took a simpler step, activating the armor pack, he was forcibly ejected from the back of his armor, rolling on the ground in an uncomfortable display.

Unfortunately, the instruct was in no place to mock him as soon a wild surge of electricity shot out from Numa’s armor into the instructors. Both their armors were insulated against these low-level attacks, but a result in this defense is that the suit would harden and prevent movement during the electricity attack. Locked in that stance, the instructor was helpless when Numa picked up the second Kama and slammed it into the back of the instructor’s head.

With that, a whoosh signaled the opening to a door behind Numa. Stepping through, a person in a white lab coat stepped through and rushed towards the armor packs. With a second louder hiss, the instructor stepped out from their armor pack. Rubbing the back of their head, the instructor was revealed to be a young blonde man. Grinning, “Wow that was crazy! I really wasn’t expecting for you to do something that crazy. I guess for a noble like you these armor packs are a dime a dozen.” Chuckling to himself, the instructor stuck his hand out to the person in the lab coat. Handing him a packet, the instructor flipped through it.

“I can offer you a couple of things, the standard upgrade of your cybernetics, maybe a couple of armor enhancements and a built-in set of Kamas with wrist mounted ray shields. What do you say?”

Numa tilted his head, like that was a ridiculous idea, “I want something else. You can pretend to be my friend, but I know your one of my fathers’ agents. Instead, I can do you one better, get me on the list for the gestalt upgrades.”

His eyes widening, the instructor only chuckled to himself, “That’s actually a perfect solution. And here I thought I was going to have to kill a kid.” Tossing a knew armor pack over, the instructor said one last thing before finally turning fully to the man in the lab coat, “That’s your upgraded armor pack, forget what you know. I’ll let your father know you’re out of the picture, don’t you forget it either, Dismissed.”

With a smile that didn’t reach his eyes, Numa slapped on the new armor pack and stepped through the automatic door the lab coat had stepped through. Following the winding hallway and guided by the blue line, Numa finally made his way through this massive expanse of rooms and hallways before finally entering a small waiting room.

Sitting down on the couch at the far end of the room, Numa opened the manual for this new armor pack and studied its features.

Silently reading, his isolation was ended when the door slid open, and someone walked in. Adorned in the same armor as him, the only difference was the color scheme. While his was blue and white like all the other cadets, this one was purple and blue. There was only one person who could wear this pattern on this planet—the imperial princess.

With a tap, her faceplate retracted revealing a soft face with bright green eyes. Smiling she stated, “You dodged me earlier!”

Numa could barely hear her, as soon as her face came into vision, he could feel vision swimming and his breathing growing ragged. Surprisingly, after being trapped in a state of emotionless, his eyes were now streaming with tears. Soon his vision began to narrow, and he was soon sucked into a memory that wasn’t his own.

It was a nice autumn day, the sun was shining bright, so bright. Looking down at himself, he could see that he was wearing khakis and a sweatshirt, the typical attire for him for years now. Glancing at the girl to his right, he could see her soft face, with those beautiful, bright, vibrant green eyes. Her mouth was smiling, and he could feel it, he could feel how happy it was. It was such a strong emotion, it felt visceral, and it felt strong enough to cut with a knife. He could feel the wicked grin on his face, reaching up with his hand he brushed the hair that was beginning to fall on her face. Even though she turned her head down, he could still see the adorable blush starting to form on her cheeks.

His vision began to swim again, and soon he was in a room. While there was light, it was a dark muted light. The light from the overhead hospital light was a gross, off-color yellow. It was luminescent, but it was also a sickly yellow. Glancing outside, he could see that the sun was nowhere to be seen, hidden by dark dreary, muted grey clouds.

Glancing back into the room, he saw her soft face once more. She was smiling at him, that same smile that he had fell in love with. But this time, he didn’t have the heart to smile back. Walking over to her, he patted her back before going to speak with the person on the hospital bed. She tried to say something to comfort him, but he just smiled with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes and responded with an empty feeling of thanks.

His vision swam once again, and he was transported to a grave. Tears streaming down his face, he once again turned to his side where she stood. Patting his back, she tried to smile too, but he couldn’t see it properly, his tears obscuring his vision. Her soft face was distorted, but he could still see her beautiful green eyes. She went to hug him, but he turned away.

With the swimming of his vision the scenery changed once more. This time he could see anything, instead it was just a voice on a phone, “Perfect things don’t need to stay perfect as they always were. If you can’t confront her death, then live the life you don’t deserve.” With the click of the phone, he knew that this was the last time he was ever going to talk to her.

His vision swimming for the last time. This time he was in a small apartment that could barely fit a bed and desk. Sitting on his bed he was looking at his phone, he was reading a news article, “A hit in run on Main Street leaves one dead.” His vision blurring from the tears, this deep, uncontrollable sadness and rage seemed to be building up in him, ready to burst out. But then suddenly, just like that all this pent-up emotion burst into nothing. Evaporating like the morning dew, he was left with nothing, nothing at all. Left with no emotion, no fear, no shock, no sadness, no anger, no happiness, nothing but just a bitter feeling of… nothing.

Putting down his phone, he simply turned on his computer and started typing. At first it was just gibberish, then it was a coherent sentence. But this sentence had no context, so he started writing down the context. But the context would have no meaning without attachments, and so he wrote those. Soon what started off as gibberish was a full-time project. Getting tired, he went back to his bed knowing this was probably one of the last times he would be able to see this world, the last time he would be him. But he knew there was nothing left for him here, he had spent up all his capital. Maybe with some luck he would be able to start anew, but he knew that the debts made in this world would follow his soul until they were fulfilled. Laying down in bed, he closed his eyes and…

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