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Robert L Wagoner

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Call of Destiny
by Robert L Wagoner   

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Books by Robert L Wagoner
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Category: 

Science Fiction

Publisher:  Beechstreet Publishing ISBN-10:  0982628501 Type: 
Pages: 

300

Copyright:  April 28, 2009 ISBN-13:  9780982628508
Fiction

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Call of Destiny is a coming-of-age story about four college-age students struggling to find themselves in a very traditional—almost conformist—culture.

 HE SET OUT TO FIND HIMSELF. FATE FOUND HIM INSTEAD.

 
High school senior Michael Gillen, living on Earth in the late twenty-fifth century, can’t wait to flee his wretched life. But when he sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream of exploring the stars at a military academy, things go from bad to worse. Will the stubborn, free-spirited, and idealistic young man wash out before realizing his dream? Will his family’s past get the best of him? Can he keep his mind off other, more enticing distractions? Will he get his chance to set off into the stars before a terrible war breaks out?
 
RECENT REVIEWS
“The book has lots of good twists and an interesting futuristic society.” --Reader review 
 
"The characters were well developed and the suspense kept me turning the pages!" -- Reader review
 
"As someone who generally isn't interested in science fiction, I liked this book because the people and their experiences were the focus rather than the science fiction...I enjoyed seeing the characters come into their own...I did not anticipate the ending - it was a great twist" -- Reader review
 
ABOUT THE SERIES
Call of Destiny is the first book of the science fiction series One Small Step out of the Garden of Eden. As seen through the eyes of four enthusiastic, young adults, the series looks at humanity and its struggles five centuries after the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. 

Click here to learn more about the Book . http://home.myfairpoint.net/vzeokk63/callofdestiny/ 

Excerpt
Chapter Two

Michael the Rook

Young Michael Gillen sat among the crowd of incoming freshmen, nervously waiting for orientation to begin. Just like all the other new cadets, he wore his mandatory rook arrival uniform: unflattering pale beige slacks, clean white dress shirt uncomfortably tucked in, and black tie hanging off his neck. He held a maroon ball cap clearly labeled rook in his hand, resting it on the orientation package sitting on his lap. The uniform was certainly hideous. The free-spirited lad knew the outfit was a harbinger of the structured military life he would inhabit for the next four years.

Despite having a gut full of butterflies, young Gillen was actually eager to start school. Matriculation into Earth States Military Academy offered the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to shed his past—Danny Fellinger and all—and start anew. Attending the university meant a chance to grow, a chance to find himself. His mind was aflutter with all the exciting possibilities his education could bring him. Perhaps one day, he might even realize his ultimate dream of becoming a deep space explorer.

He struggled to shake from his mind the many cobwebs, his only souvenir from the long, lazy days of summer. Oh, he had accomplished a little that past summer, such as taking his brother’s advice by getting off world for a while. Availing himself of programs set up by the university, Michael even toured Mid-Earth Station, the largest freestanding military and commercial space station in Terrae Solaris. However, he had spent most of his summer idling away. Part of him longed to return to those vapid days, where concerns of the oncoming and sometimes demeaning challenges awaiting him were still far off.

However, adulthood beckoned, so Michael commended himself to the rite of passage set before him.

The ear-curdling roar filling the large auditorium hushed when the first speaker came to the podium. An older woman named Harriet Benchley quickly went through the session’s agenda, making sure to stress the importance of paying attention. After reviewing the orientation package materials, she yielded the floor to the orientation’s keynote speaker.

The older man appeared from the side of the stage, dressed in a rear admirals’ uniform. His slender frame easily disappeared behind the podium as he stepped to the microphone.

“Good morning everyone,” the man called out with a smile that demanded recognition and respect. “I’m Doctor Abner Caffry, President of Earth States Military Academy. I’m also a retired rear admiral with over thirty years of military experience. I would like to welcome all of you, the incoming class of 2503.”

His expression became very determined. “You’ve taken your first step today into an exciting future. You follow in the footsteps of many great and accomplished leaders, who all started in the exact same manner as you have done.” He gestured to the main entrance at the rear of the stately old auditorium. “By coming through those doors.

“Earth States Military Academy is a proud establishment with a proven track record of equipping its students with the discipline, integrity, confidence, critical thinking, adaptability, loyalty, and honor necessary to fill the challenging leadership roles so vital to Earth States in the twenty-sixth century. We will empower you to succeed far beyond anything you dare imagine.”

At this point in the forward address, Michael felt called by the man’s words.

Caffry continued, “Today, you step into this university as mere rooks, having no privileges or status—the lowest of the low! You will soon learn how easy you’ve had it until now. For a while, you will long for those easier days. That is a guarantee!

“But our intention is honorable. The first step in becoming a leader is to learn how to follow. As rooks, you will learn this vital skill step-by-step. Everything you accomplish will be earned, whether it is rank or academic success—nothing will be handed to you.” He paused, briefly glancing down at his notes. “As you progress, you will be given training and opportunities to demonstrate leadership, allowing you to aspire to the highest levels of achievement in this institution. When you leave here, you will find yourself prepared to handle any challenge, whether in military or civilian pursuits.

“Rest assured that we will not let you fail. As I said before, this institution has a proven record of accomplishment and excellence. That is why just this spring, the National Space Exploration Administration—a civilian organization—entered into partnership with us to train the next generation of deep space explorers, a program head and shoulders above anything found within the borders of Earth States. NSEA did this because they recognize our unique abilities to produce excellent contributors”—looking around the room as if eyeing up every new cadet in the auditorium—“you in just four short years!”

He paused, taking in the enthusiasm that radiated throughout the young audience. However, his face suddenly turned grave. “Now before you go letting your head get filled with all kinds of wild ideas, I want to give you a sober warning. I implore you to examine your motives today.

“As future leaders, you aren’t being called to fulfill a destiny of adventure and glory. No, you are being called to fulfill a destiny of service.

“For whatever reason, trouble is always lurking in the shadows, just waiting for an opportunity; crisis is no more than a day away. Moreover, it’s not just military risks. No, circumstances and events are always pulling at the fabric of our society, weakening that fabric. Social issues threaten the very core values that have made us who we are.”

He paused, waiting for the right moment. “Why am I telling you all this? Because rising to meet these challenges is hard. Success in the face of great adversity demands great sacrifice. So put your ideas of glory behind you. Pick up instead the mantle of duty to which you are being called; put your shoulder to the wheel; be willing to give yourself—your very life if necessary—to the service of something greater than yourself; to something that is enduring and honorable. Only in that will you find glory and honor.” He surveyed the audience beseechingly for a long moment. “Thank you, and good luck!”

After a thoughtful pause, Caffry yielded the podium to the orientation administrators.

__________________________________________________


The muffled sounds echoed subtly into the small, adjoining room just off the main auditorium. With the freshman orientation program still in full swing, the cadets gathered in the smaller room could hear tidbits of class registration instructions being given outside.

The small group of upperclassmen cadets, donning various rank insignias, stood in a semicircle around one ranking cadet officer. They faced away from the auditorium, listening as the leader systematically delivered his last minute instructions. While speaking, Gabriel Burke, the ranking cadet, paced before his subordinates commandingly. Occasionally, the young man would hand out one of the assignment packets tucked securely under his left arm.

These junior cadets were about to embark on their next, exciting assignment. Having completed two years of rigorous leadership training, the new team of freshman advisors was about to be turned loose.

One of the female cadets standing near the center of the group listened carefully, keeping her blue eyes trained squarely on the leader pacing before her. The attentiveness was not due to nervousness. Rather, the lively, twenty-one-year-old lass brimmed with anticipation. Had she radiated any more energy, her long, auburn hair tucked neatly beneath her military cap might have unfurled. She seemed to catch the leader’s attention sporadically while he continued his discourse.

“…So you’ve got about forty-five minutes to look over your group’s roster and bios before this auditorium turns into complete chaos,” Gabriel Burke exclaimed. He handed a single packet to one of the subordinates. “Read them carefully and be familiar with the names and faces of your rooks.”

“Sir,” one of the male juniors in the back row called out, “Are the recruits being given instructions to meet us somewhere?”

“No, they’ll be busy trying to figure out how to register for classes,” Burke replied, pausing to let the seasoned juniors have a laugh at the freshmen’s expense. “This is an informal introduction. However, you should arrange a group session sometime before the rest of the upperclassmen arrive on campus.”

The young officer passed out a couple more packets. “Now remember, this is a new program. Since all of you are supplementary to your rooks’ commanding superiors, your job is simply to make them feel welcome now. As you get to know them, you should fully expect to transform into a mentor. Don’t take your assignment lightly, because you are responsible for each cadet’s success.”

Still pacing, Burke looked down at the last packet in his hand, pausing as if deep in thought. Then coming to stand directly in front of the female cadet with auburn hair, he held out the packet for her to take, abruptly withdrawing it before she could take hold—not in jest, but rather in concern.

“Cadet Ricci,” he began in hushed tones so that only she could hear, “You’ve got quite the balancing act this year, given your dual medical and exploration majors. You sure you want to do this?”

Kara Ricci blushed at being singled out, and some of her uncontainable energy faded as self-consciousness crept into her expression. So in the same subdued tone, Kara replied, “Off course, Sir. I can handle it.”

“Kara,” Burke replied in a whisper, bringing his face as close to hers as was respectfully possible, “Most of these exploration cadets aren’t coming here for the corp. You’re bound to have problems, and you’re already loaded up. Why don’t you take the medical group?”

“No, Burke,” she sharply retorted in a whisper, her blue eyes clearly conveying her frustration. “I’ll take the exploration cadets, just like I requested.”

After eyeing her up for a long moment, Burke begrudgingly handed her the packet. Shooting one last look her way, he resumed his pacing and continued giving final instructions to the group.

With her roster and bios securely in hand, Kara Ricci quickly surveyed the data. She pored over the packet’s contents, slowly losing attention to Burke’s ongoing instructions.

Coming upon a particular bio, the young female cadet lingered on it. She gazed at the picture for quite a long time, glancing only occasionally at the bio data to the left. She could tell just from the picture that the young man, crowned with a mop of longer, brown hair, had a rebellious streak. He would certainly be trouble. Yet, she couldn’t move to the next bio either.

“He’s a little scruffy, but he’s cute,” Kara heard herself say loud enough that most of the group heard her too. Immediately, she cupped her hand over her mouth as if to force the words back down her throat, and her eyes grew wide in embarrassment over the blunder. However, discretion came too late; her peers had a good laugh at her expense while watching her blush.

Gabriel Burke looked less than pleased at the interruption. “Cadet Ricci, work on your MRS degree on your own time.”

Once again, the group had a good laugh at Kara’s expense.


______________________________________________


Another wave of fellow freshman cadets buffeted Michael Gillen, who desperately tried to stand his ground against the swell.

Having heard all orientation speeches and instructions, the rooks went about completing various assigned objectives: registering for classes, completing a myriad of personal and medical forms, fulfilling financial aid obligations, and getting squad assignments and itineraries for the upcoming drill camp. The frenzy of activity in the crowded auditorium created a churning and chaotic storm within the structure. The swell threatened the many support booths and tables lining the hall’s perimeter, as the tide of rooks began shifting toward them. Michael found himself in the center of that storm.

Young Gillen had no time for the confusion transpiring around him. Having fruitlessly gone from one table to the next and always finding he was in the wrong place, Michael wanted to surrender—not an option. Not to give up, the aspiring rook stared down at the orientation instructions, though feeling as if a thick, impenetrable fog covered his mind.

His trepidation mounted with each passing minute. Though the objectives were clear and the instructions seemingly simple, he had made no progress. However, the young man took comfort that the crowd of rooks around him emanated a similar discontent. Eventually determining to find someone more informed, Michael decided to look for such an astute person among the crowd.

As he lifted his head to begin his search, the swarm of cadets encompassing him slowly parted. The task immediately became irrelevant, for across the hall, about twenty meters away, stood a fetching, young female cadet.

Michael Gillen was completely mesmerized.

She didn’t notice him gazing at her from across the room, nor did she notice anything else. No, the vixen was similarly distraught and confused, desperately studying her orientation materials. Michael was more than content with her preoccupation, for he could scarcely avert his eyes.

Even from a distance, the young woman was strikingly beautiful. Her face was that of a goddess, radiating an uncommon allure even among her youthful peers. Long, brown hair flowed down elegantly over sculpted shoulders. The rook arrival uniform she wore, unflattering and drab on everyone else, draped itself adoringly over her slender but feminine form. More than anything, the nubile lass had an elegance and grace about her that Michael found intoxicating.

After quite the long gaze upon the damsel in distress, young Gillen could help himself no more. He began toward her, determined to put her mind at ease.

The lass’ eyes remained trained on the orientation materials in hand. However, upon coming within a few steps, Michael caught her pouty expression changing ever so slightly. She was aware of his presence, and her shields were up!

“I see you’re just as confused as I am,” Michael exclaimed confidently, brushing off the cold shoulder she was giving him. When she continued studying the packet in her hand, he added, “It’s so confusing. You think they could have made this easier.”

“I’ll get by,” the young woman replied matter-of-factly, glancing at him just briefly.

Michael Gillen found himself caught completely off guard, almost stumbling over himself. Her striking deep brown eyes, trained on him for the briefest moment, took him captive. He didn’t know why, for the glance was almost reproachful. Nevertheless, his thoughts jumbled in her presence—an unprecedented response. Even when she looked away, Michael remained captive. He struggled to recover. “I—I can help you if you want.”

“Thanks, but I’m fine.”

Not to be cowed, Michael became more determined than ever. “Can you believe these clothes they gave us? I look completely ridiculous. The uniform seems to work for you, though.”—upon realizing what he had just said—“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that.”

However, the fetching, young female continued ignoring him, becoming somewhat irritated at Michael’s obvious intentions.

“I’m not looking forward to getting my hair cut,” he commented, not to give up. “I kind of like it long. How ‘bout you? It would be a shame if you had to cut your hair short.”

She looked up briefly, watching him run a hand through his mop of long, brown hair. “Actually, all I have to do is wear it up when I’m out.” She paused, particularly noting the attention the lad paid to his locks. Her eyes narrowed mockingly. “But good luck with the haircut. I hope it isn’t too traumatic.” Then she abruptly added, “Hey, I’d like to continue this … but I’ve gotta go.”

Eager to leave, the young woman turned and began walking away.

“I’ll walk with you,” Michael implored, turning and matching her gate. “I’m Michael, Michael Gillen. But you can call me Mike.”

“I don’t think so,” she replied dismissively, crinkling her nose and turning her head side to side.

“So can I have your name?” Michael asked.

“Why? Don’t you like yours, Mike?” she said and then laughed cynically.

She has spunk! Michael thought, not used to such an unwavering rebuff. Sparring was normally just part of the game, and Michael could play it better than anyone. Ironically, the more aloof she became, the more enchanting she became too. So he stared her down, just as determined to get an answer.
The female cadet kept walking, trying to ignore her adversary. However, when Michael remained unrelenting, she abruptly stopped in mid-stride. Sighing in frustration and turning toward him, she put her hand on her hip disapprovingly. “It’s Kate … DeCarreau.”

“See, that wasn’t so bad, Kate DeCarreau,” Michael smiled, reaching out and shaking her hand. “Nice to meet you, Kate.” He smiled again; surprisingly, she reciprocated. Finally having her attention, the young man briefly indulged himself in just admiring her gaze. “So, maybe we can get together sometime. How ‘bout after drill camp?”

“Sorry, but I don’t think so. I’m going to be pretty busy.”

“I can work around your schedule, and it’ll be my treat.”

DeCarreau sighed once more. “Look, you seem like a nice guy … but—”

“I think you’re only saying that to get rid of me,” Michael filibustered.

“True,” DeCarreau replied, irritated that Gillen was ignoring her obvious desire to be left alone. “So why don’t you do me a favor and just walk away?”

“What’s your problem?” Michael sharply asked, attempting a new tactic. “I just came over because you looked like you needed help. That’s all.”

“I doubt that,” Kate replied, staring him down. “But just so I’m not guilty of jumping to conclusions”—holding up her orientation packet—“What part of this orientation do you consider yourself an expert in?”

Michael thought for a moment, trying not to get lost in her gaze. Even irritated, Kate remained completely alluring. Her curtness with him, though formidable, seemed less mean-spirited—more desperate than anything. Nevertheless, she still waited for an answer.

Eventually, he shrugged his shoulders. “Well, none…. We’re both new here. I just thought we could help each other out. You know, esprit de corps?”

“I don’t think so,” Kate cynically laughed, her eyes turning sharp. “Please go away. I don’t need this now—or ever.”

Michael smiled and looked her square in the eye, meeting her frosty expression. He watched her gaze abruptly turn hollow, as if she had flinched. “I don’t believe that.”

“Go away!” Kate pleaded, unnerved at his penetrating and unrelenting gaze. Her heart leapt into her throat, and the breath in her chest went strangely cold. Realizing that one moment longer might become unbearable, she let out the most indignant huff she could muster. “Fine!” With one last cold stare, the young woman turned and walked away.

Michael Gillen stood alone in the middle of the auditorium, shot down and embarrassed. A few onlookers who had heard the end of the exchange snickered as they passed. Michael paid the mocking no mind. All he could think about was the beautiful, young siren he had just met.

Watching his future love interest—at least that’s what he considered her—fume away, the enamored, young man felt a tap on his right shoulder. Another female cadet appeared from around the same side, smiling warmly and intently at him.

Had he been in any other circumstance, Michael would have reveled in his turn of fortune. One rejection, another opportunity, he would have thought. Yet he didn’t. Not that the female upperclassman cadet standing before him wasn’t attractive. In fact, she was quite attractive: auburn hair, bright blue eyes, a great figure, and a high-spiritedness that just wouldn’t quit—everything.

Instead, Michael remained more than preoccupied and smitten by his rejecter.

“Michael Gillen?” the female cadet asked, still smiling.

“Yes?” he replied while turning toward her, though glancing occasionally in the direction Kate DeCarreau was heading.

“Hi, Michael, I’m Kara Ricci,” Kara said, extending a warm hand to him. The two began to shake hands. “I’m a third-year student. Welcome to Earth States Military Academy.”

However, Michael’s attention had trailed off while Kara spoke. Ricci uncomfortably took note of this, bringing him back with an abrupt, vice-like grip on his fingers—for just a second. Michael quickly withdrew his fingers like a hurt puppy.

“Ahhh … thanks. Call me Mike.”

“Today is your lucky day, Mike!” Kara smiled with uncontainable energy. “You’ve been given the rare opportunity to be assigned to me. I’ll be your cadet advisor for the next two years.”

Once again, she watched Michael’s attention turn elsewhere. This somewhat irritated the young woman, who began to smart at gushing over his picture earlier. Determined not to give up, she gently turned his chin in her direction with her fingers, smiling at him. “Hey, Ace, I’m over here.”

“Sorry. What were you saying?”

Kara began to repeat herself, explaining the mentor program. Michael, in turn, made a fair effort to listen. Yet the attempt was to no avail. Eventually, he was gazing in the same direction once more.

Seeing his preoccupation, Kara laughed. “Forget about it, Sport. You’re wasting your time with her.”

“What?”

“Sorry, but I was … kind of … standing behind you at the end of your conversation. She shot you down, Ace; you’re swimmin’ in the drink. She’s clearly not interested.”

Michael paused thoughtfully for a long moment. “Do you really think she wasn’t interested? Because I didn’t get that impression.”

“Great!” Kara laughed as her eyes lit up. “An idealist! I love that. It’s going to be a great year.”

Michael took in the cadet’s overwhelming personality, not sure how to react. Though making fun of him, her intention didn’t seam cruel. Kara Ricci just seemed to embody a unique liveliness, a trait he found quite endearing.

Just then, Kara reached out, abruptly grabbing a rather disoriented rook walking by. Obviously, she was looking for him too. “Tom Andrews?”

“Yes?” the startled rook answered, readjusting his gangly frame to face her.

“Hi, I’m Kara Ricci,” she smiled. “I’m your cadet advisor for the next two years.” Then she gestured toward Michael and partially laughed. “This is Mike Gillen. He just came back from his first combat mission.” When Andrews obviously didn’t understand the inside joke, she added in a more serious tone, “You two are in the Deep Space Exploration Prep Concentration together.”

“Mike, nice to meet you,” Tom Andrews warmly exclaimed as the two shook hands.

“You two should get acquainted,” Ricci suggested. “You’ll be spending a lot of time together.” Then she looked around the auditorium. “Hey, I need to go find the other cadets in my group, but I’ll be in contact with you. I want to get our group together in the next several days.”

In a flash, Ricci left the two rooks—gone like some sort of super hero.


_____________________________________________


Michael Gillen sat at his desk in his Solar History and Politics classroom, fighting the urge to slump in his chair. Today was the first official day of classes for the fall term, and yet he already felt exhausted.

The weeklong freshmen drill camp, having started the day after orientation, was finally behind him. He had survived long days of five-thirty AM wake-up calls, grueling physical training, squad drills, uniform care instructions, inspections, and academic placement tests. However, the start of classes heaped even more requirements onto an already-loaded schedule. Moreover, five-thirty in the morning was just too early to get up.

The young cadet felt completely uncomfortable too, finding the required Class-B uniform far more restricting than the rook arrival uniform. Worse, having too many buttons, epaulets, and the like—all of which required exact placement, the uniform required continual pressing and polishing! The stubble on his chin was sadly gone, as he was required to maintain a clean-shaven face. And his hair—cut off as if having been some sort of nuisance; he couldn’t even see it without looking in the mirror! Everything was just unbearable.

Nevertheless, Michael realized a wonderful opportunity lay before him. Graduating from the academy afforded him limitless opportunities, including his lifelong dream of exploring the stars. So he put aside his consternation—and the temptations of the beautiful, late-summer day just outside the classroom windows—and hunkered down.

Michael looked around the classroom, sizing up his competition. The students were a mix of freshmen rooks and upperclassman, which the young cadet found quite odd. He would come to learn that the university tended to mix classes, as part of its leadership development program. This ensured that seasoned upperclassmen interacted with less-experienced cadets.

The long-faced professor, an older man with grey hair and an unkempt beard, stood pacing in front of the class of thirty cadets. He was the only one in the room not garbed in military dress, choosing instead a mismatched combination of slacks and shirt with an overly large sweater. His hands went nervously in and out of the sweater pockets while he reviewed the course syllabus and objectives. At this point, the man transitioned into discussing the course material.

“This class is designed to not only teach you history,” Professor Rhydderch began, “but to help you see how current events are being shaped by historic events. We want to empower you with the ability to dissect both components into their critical elements, thereby understanding how to address the problems fueling current dilemmas.” Then he paused, looking around. “So for the remainder of the class, let’s experiment with this objective. Here’s the question: What do you consider to be the historic event having the greatest impact on the twenty-fifth century?”

The old man waited, surveying the class for the first participant. After enduring several long moments of silence, he exclaimed with a smile, “Do we have any future leaders here?”

“Space travel,” one of the male cadets near the back offered.

“A little bit of an obvious answer,” Rhydderch replied, scratching his beard. Then he smiled. “I see a future for you in politics.” The professor paused as a low chuckle rippled through the classroom. “True, you wouldn’t have people living throughout the solar system without space travel. Can you please elaborate on your point, Mister…?”

The cadet nervously cleared his throat. “Bowen. Well, the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries continued experiencing a rise in socialism, as people demanded higher standards of living as a right. This caused economic stagnation as the policies normalized individual achievement. However, when space travel by individuals and private organizations became possible, the achievers eventually left Earth, hoping to make a life not constrained by these economic policies. Yet they also found life off world very difficult. The need to survive forced them to become even more resilient, even causing them to return to conservative social values. As a result, those developing nations thrived and prospered—thus, Terrae Solaris.”

Almost immediately, another male cadet raised his hand. “But didn’t the reemergence of western religions like Christianity also have a significant impact on these new nations?”

“Yes they did,” the professor replied. “And all these factors dynamically changed the solar system forever.” He paused, extending his hands out reflectively. “So here we are, the descendents of those slackers who never left or feared venturing beyond the Moon. We’ve readopted those conservative morals, making them part of our culture for over two centuries. So how did that happen?”

“It was forced upon us,” a female cadet near the front replied.

“How so?”

“While conducting business with the developing Inner Rim—Mars and Mercury—we found ourselves unable to compete economically, despite having fewer basic survival problems than non-Terran settlements. The gap between our standard of living and the non-Terrans’ increased. We saw ourselves beginning to die out. So by complete necessity, we readopted those values.”

“Right!” Rhydderch exclaimed, looking around the class. “And that is significant. Purely voluntarily, we turned back the clock. Not just in our governments, but in our families as well: divorce rates plummeted; sexual promiscuity became frowned upon rather than celebrated; out-of-wedlock childbirth became almost unheard of; social decorum became the norm. Once we saw the benefits and realized that personal conduct was the key to success, we continued to reinforce those values in the public forum.”

Rhydderch, who was pacing back and forth while talking, stopped and turned toward the whole class, smiling. “A planet of hedonists transformed itself into a nation of prudes.” The old man laughed as he surveyed the class. “And because of that, an entire class of young, brazen future leaders blushes at the slightest mention of sexual issues and events.”

“But Sir,” one of the cadets interjected again. “Can’t we also attribute much of this to the reemergence of religion? Historic data suggests that these old-world values emerged first among families identifying themselves with Christianity. In addition, the regions first readopting those values were highly correlated with where missionaries from other planets and moons settled. Perhaps this change occurred because people began believing in those values.”

Michael recognized the male cadet as the one having given the religion answer earlier. Oh good, Michael thought cynically. Another David.

“But we’ve recently experienced declines in ‘good’ behavior,” Rhydderch countered, “even though the population remains fairly religious.”

“That’s because the culture is abandoning the acceptance of those views as supreme,” the male cadet replied. “Recent data suggests that belief in those religious tenets, especially Christianity, have softened over the last generation.”

“We’re not here to argue the truth of those beliefs—just their impact on society,” the old man politely exclaimed. “Save that for Professor Beitel’s philosophy class.” He paused for a moment. “You seem to have a flair for religion. Perhaps your calling is to a chaplain post.”

Another and stronger wave of laughter rippled through the classroom.

“That wasn’t a dig,” Rhydderch warned the entire class. “I was very serious. We need men and women brave enough to examine the integrity of our social norms—to challenge us.”

The aging educator began pacing the front of the room again. “For on this very campus, we have found that the number of cadets engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage has risen to nine percent, fifty percent higher than ten years ago! Out of wedlock births, though rare, have doubled. No, it’s a very serious problem.” He looked around the class and smiled. “And I see that all of you are blushing again. So I will drop this topic for now—but be prepared to revisit it in the future.”

“Okay,” Rhydderch continued. “We’ve proven that events can have very positive impacts. Let’s examine some key problems we can solve. Keeping on point, what were the most significant downsides to space travel?”

“It’s like we’re living in the old world again,” another female cadet said. “Maybe worse….”—the professor prompted her to continue—“With millions of kilometers between the planets and moons, the amount of effort and time required to traverse the distance has caused a schism. All of these places have their own cultures. We find ourselves very different from those other cultures, and we don’t trust them. They don’t trust us either. The Ceres Skirmishes was the best example of that.”

Rhydderch’s face lit up. “Correct. Even after thirty years, the Pallas Treaty has yet to resolve the many problems on those small Jupiter moons. That is a big discussion that we will get into next week.” He looked at his watch. “We’ve got limited time, so let’s continue on. Who can articulate a current problem for us to solve?”

The upperclassman directly to Michael’s right raised his hand. The male cadet, donning a majors’ rank insignia, wore such a serious expression. “Artificial gravity generators and its impact on the Weightless—and us too.”

Michael cringed.

The most peculiar and humorous expression came over the professor’s face, causing several cadets to chuckle while the man comically stared down the cadet. “Mr. Burke, as an upper classman, you should know better.” Then he smiled. “Didn’t I ask for a problem we could solve?”

The whole class erupted into laughter. Michael, however, more than wanted to crawl under his desk. Burke also remained straight-faced and determined, his brown eyes radiating an unchanneled indignation.

“At least we can pinpoint the exact problem,” Cadet Burke countered. “Jonathan Gillen. He rashly introduced the device into the Mid-Earth settlement, despite being warned of its consequences.”

Michael took a long, hard look at the Cadet. Burke was clearly someone not to take for granted. His strong chin and cut frame gave him a natural confidence and arrogance that seemed insuppressible. His majors’ rank screamed success. Worse, he wore an additional insignia indicating he was part of the DSEP program.

Burke was also one of those people who despised him. Burke just didn’t know it yet.

“It’s interesting that you should bring that up, Mr. Burke,” Professor Rhydderch mused. “We are privileged to have someone in class who can shed some light on this issue. I think he has a much different opinion. Right, Mr. Gillen?”

Michael cringed once again; his worst nightmare was coming true. Crawling under his desk was no longer enough. Perhaps a premature death might provide an escape from Burke’s cold stare.

“My great grandfather’s invention is why Solaris is successful,” Michael exclaimed, feigning confidence before a dubious audience. “Its benefits were desperately needed, because not everyone wanted to be a Weightless. The invention merely let people decide freely whether to accept genetic alteration. All those other problems you allude to would have happened anyway.”

Burke remained dissatisfied. “My great grandmother and great grandfather were Weightless! That’s not—”

“So was Jonathan Gillen at first. People forget that.”

“My great grandmother wanted her family to undergo genetic re-alteration,” Gabriel Burke retorted. “My great grandfather refused. So they split up.”

“Would you have rather been a Weightless?” Michael countered, suppressing his nervousness.

“No.”

“Then I don’t understand your problem,” Michael exclaimed. “The gravitational fields let your family revert back to being completely human.”

Burke didn’t back down. “The time wasn’t right for such decisions. My great grandmother struggled her whole life because her husband left her, and my family never rebounded from it. Jonathan Gillen could have started his project somewhere in the Outer Rim—that’s where he was advised to go. He should have left Mid-Earth Station alone.”

“There were a lot of families impacted,” Professor Rhydderch softly interjected, putting his hand up to stave off the increasing tension. “Let’s face it: Preferences over genetic make-up were a heated debate at many family dinner tables at that time…. Some Weightless wanted to return to an unaltered state while others wanted to remain as they were. Even many unaltered families living in space argued over becoming Weightless—before everything worked out as it did…. So I think we’ve all been affected by this.” He looked around the room. “In fact, how many of you have a Weightless ancestor or relative somewhere in your family tree?”

A few hands raised, one after the other and very hesitantly. So Rhydderch added, “Okay, how many aren’t afraid to admit they have a Weightless ancestor?”

Over a very long moment, about two-thirds of the hands eventually raised.

“See, this is a widespread issue,” Rhydderch offered, looking at his watch. “And it’s clear that we won’t solve it today. We’ll discuss it more in the future. I guarantee it.”

At this, the hour bell rang outside in the hall, indicating the end of the class. At once, the cadets began to spring from their chairs, heading toward the door.

“By Wednesday,” the old man exclaimed over the din of rushing cadets while holding up his reader, “Make sure you read Aurelian Galerius’ The Europan Experiment”—but when no one acknowledged him—“Anyone know who Aurelian Galerius is?”

Within the herd of rushing cadets, Michael Gillen made a beeline to the door, hoping to find a nice rock outside under which to hide himself. He remembered David’s warnings, realizing he was in for a very long year—no, four years!


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Tales From The Universe by Peter Jessop

An anthology of short stories...  
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