Back in the private room, we all just sort of slumped. I found myself sitting next to Sashi, who still hadn’t said anything. I could see her thinking, but I wasn’t really sure what was running through her head. I’d always had a problem reading her, even when she’d been my roommate.
“You okay?” I asked quietly.
“What do you think?” Sashi shot me a look. I didn’t really have a response for that. I’d been at odds with my parents once before, but not with my whole family. Even then, it hadn’t been like what Sashi was going through. With me, they’d shipped me off to my mom’s mother, the Admiral, who had enrolled me in the Academy Prep School. “They think I’m going to fail out,” Sashi said in a miserable voice.
“Well, sorry, but I think your brothers are jerks,” I replied.
She snorted, “Yeah, they’re my brothers, it kind of goes with the territory.” She wiped at her eyes. “It’s just so frustrating, you know? They think they know what’s best for me and for the family. They’re angry because I’m not doing what they tell me.” Her brow furrowed, “I am worried that they are right.”
“You’ll be fine,” I assured her.
She shot me a look, one part grateful and one part angry. “You don’t know what it was like,” she hissed. “Last year, I had no help. I had no support. I was tolerated by Ogre Company, but that was it. I’m coming back to Sand Dragon. Do you think it will be a warm welcome? Who will want to room with me? Who will want to study with me?”
I hadn’t really thought about that. I’d talked with Sara Salter, this year’s Company Commander for Sand Dragon, and she’d approved Sashi’s transfer back. But that didn’t mean there would necessarily be a place for her. Sashi and I had roomed together during Academy Prep School. She’d gone over to Ogre for our plebe year. I’d probably been the closest thing she had to a friend in Sand Dragon… and she’d very publicly betrayed me during the final exercise.
“You can be my roommate,” I said on impulse.
I saw Ashiri look over at me as I said it. From the way her expression shifted, I knew that she wanted to say something, but she didn’t. I thought about what I’d overheard between her and her mother. Maybe if I’m not her roommate any more, it’ll take some pressure off of her, too.
“Are you sure about that?” Sashi asked.
“Yeah,” I said. I’d had her stay at my parent’s house with me for two weeks. How much worse could it be?
“Well, thanks,” Sashi said. She seemed taken aback. “I really hope this all works out.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, clapping her on the shoulder impulsively, “I’ve got a good feeling about this year.” I should have kept my stupid mouth shut.
We arrived at the Academy without any further trouble and after the initial formation, I knocked out my in-processing checklist and found myself in the large amphitheater where it seemed like so many of my life’s major events had occurred. This was where they held the first in-briefing from the Admiral. This was where they had held my Academy Prep School Final Exercise. It had been here that Sashi had betrayed me. It was here that the psychotic Commander Scarpitti had tried to kill me.
Despite the dim lights and the quiet, I found my heart starting to race in anticipation.
“Attention on Deck!” Someone bellowed.
As one, the entire Regiment of Cadets rose to their feet. Again, the central platform lit up, and the Admiral, my grandmother, stepped forward, her khaki uniform crisp, her expression stern. “Cadets, welcome back to the Academy. Today begins the one-hundred and seventy first year of this institution. I welcome our new Plebe Class, Class Two Ninety One. I also welcome our First Class, Class Two Eighty Eight. You Cadets First Class will graduate this year and go on to your follow-on assignments in our Planetary Militia.”
Her already stern voice hardened. “Last year we suffered a number of unfortunate incidents. As a result, we will all of us, Cadets and Instructors, be under additional monitoring. All of you will be under constant supervision. We will not tolerate violations of the school’s Honor Code, nor will we tolerate ethical or legal violations. You are one day to be Officers within Century’s Planetary Militia, and you are expected to set the example. Any of you who cannot do so will be removed.”
“That said, honest mistakes are a part of your learning experience. We do not expect you all to be perfect. Leadership and command are skills that must be learned. Take the opportunities you are given to excel. Accept risks. Show your instructors that you are able to recover from failure, and you will do well.”
“Now then,” the Admiral said, “We’ve had some turn-over of personnel. Commander Weisfeldt joins us as one of our new Engineering instructors.” The short, stocky, and dark-haired officer stepped forward, his expression stern. “Commander Weisfeldt has just completed a tour at Century Station, where he managed the station’s military prototyping department.”
“Additionally, joining our staff is Commander Stirling,” the Admiral went on. A heavy-set officer stepped forward. He had a pleasant smile and gave a slight wave. “Commander Stirling has just finished a tour with the Guard Fleet as an officer observer at their shipyards at Harlequin Station.”
I perked up a bit at that. Getting a slot like that would be impressive, the Guard rarely allowed non-signatory nations any access to their shipyards. He would have had a chance to watch ship construction across a huge range of ship classes and sizes.
“Also joining the Academy Staff at this time is Lieutenant General Corgan, of Century’s Enforcer Service,” the Admiral said. “Lieutenant Commander Corgan will not be teaching any classes, but she will be observing how we conduct our training and our overall operations.”
The way that the Admiral said that and the polite yet cool tone in her voice gave me a shiver. That wasn’t the way I would have expected her to welcome someone. It felt more like a warning, to all of us. What was a senior member of Century’s national police service doing at the school? As far as I knew, they had no connection to the Planetary Militia. They operated entirely planet-side and they answered to the Security Director and Charter Council.
“Now, then, I’ll remind you all that companies, sections, and individual cadets are ranked on a points system. As always, your grades, your performance in training, your punishments and successes, are all counted towards your totals. Last year, Sand Dragon Company managed to win again, for a second year, by a slim margin. The Honor Graduates, Mackenzie, Ingvald, and Attabera, were ahead by a few percentage points. Those who graduate in the top ranks are often given the choice positions upon graduation.”
She gave a wintry smile, “Failure early on can be overcome. Becoming overconfident early on can lead to a drop in your ranking. Ambition and hard work are rewarded, complacency is your enemy, far more than anything else. Good luck, Cadets, let’s have a good year.”