Lucas stared at her, mouth agape. Not surprised by his loss for words, Portia allowed him all the time he needed to process.
“Terran division,” Lucas whispered his eyes alight with awe. Silently his mouth worked as countless questions ran through his mind, unable to decide on which one to ask first. “How many divisions are there?”
Amusement flashed across Portia’s features. His question was not in the list of common first questions.
“It’s a big galaxy Lucas.”
Again, his mouth worked like a carp violently pulled from its environment, but before he could ask any more questions, Portia took his arm, leading him towards the single chair she was sitting in when he came out of the bathroom.
“Let’s take a step back,” she started as she tapped another one of those display panels found by the doors. This one was at eye level, about midway between the room’s main door, and the bathroom door. Touching it seemed to bring it to life and several images appeared. She tapped one that appeared to look like the rooms basic floor plan. Doing so generated a holographic display of the room. Within the lower left corner of the display was another collection of symbols.
“What do those symbols mean?” Lucas asked, finding his voice.
“Symbols?” Portia responded, and then realized what he was asking, “we call those icons. A term that applies to most touch technology, something you have not yet adopted on Terra, and are a decade away from…maybe more.
“Those icons, like the one on the touch screens next to each door represent tasks or options that are available to the user. The icons change based on the user interface presented.”
She turned to Lucas, “that is why I said, ‘Let’s take a step back’, because we are going to go back to the beginning. I will give you a brief orientation, and deal with questions as we go forward.
“You figured out the touch panels for the doors. That panel there controls the room as a whole. It is dark, or asleep until needed. Touching it wakes it up, and presents icons based on what functions are available to you. I tapped the layout icon, and it presented this holographic display of the room.”
Lucas stepped up to the slowly rotating three-dimensional representation of his room. It was about the size of a pair of shoe boxes placed side by side. He passed his hand timidly through the image, not sure what to expect. In response, it wavered in close proximity of his hand, while the remainder of the image remained unfazed.
“Yes, neat,” Portia responded, before continuing.
“You cannot change the dimensions of your room. However, you can add or remove furniture.” She demonstrated by poking at an icon that looked like tables. It expanded to a group of icons, one of which was a basic table with a single pole supporting it from below. That icon received a poke, and a table with two chairs on opposite side from each other replaced the single chair.
It is not as though the chair just vanished, but more like it collapsed into the wall adjacent to it. Then, before the chair was completely gone, the table, and two chairs seemed to grow from the same material that composed the floor. Rapidly multiplying cubes started as a bump, which grew into a column, and finally the rough jagged outline of a table and chairs. With the basic shape complete, the tiny cubes appeared to melt into the surface smoothing it into soft round curves and clean edges.
“Please, have a seat.” Portia said, indicating the new furniture as though it was always there.
Lucas looked with eyes wide to the holographic image, to Portia, then the table and chairs, and then back through the collection one more time before stating.
“What the hell.”
Cautiously he approached the chair furthest from the room’s main door and patted the seat. He then grabbed the edge of the table and gave it a good shake. It offered no give. Then, as one final test, he ran his hand along the table surface, doing the same with the chair. Very lightly at first for fear of cutting his hands on the jagged edges that were there just moments ago, then more firmly as his tactile senses assured him of what his eyes are telling him.
He looked back over at Portia, before gingerly lowering himself into the seat. “Wow, how did you do that?”
“I didn’t do that,” Portia said as she sat the other seat, “It’s nanotech, and too difficult to explain at this juncture. Besides, you will get more education on Galactic Defense Force tech in the coming months than you will ever want.”
“Cool,” he shot back.
Portia stood back up, and tapped another icon on the flat panel, which then generated another holographic display above the table, and returned to her seat.
“Ignore that for a moment,” Portia said indicating the display, “as I said, you can change many aspects of this room. There is a tutorial within the control panel. Just poke the question mark icon, and it will give you a list of topics. You can also search by calling up the keyboard, and typing in key phrase.”
“Man, we need all this technology. This is so far ahead of where we are at.”
“Your planet is on the cusp of some of this technology. You have computers, rockets, and supersonic flight, now they just need to progress. However, in your training, you will run across a lot of tech that is decades, if not centuries out of humanities reach.”
“Why not share it with Earth?”
“Because, it is against the Sapient Species Interference Doctrine,” Portia paused, and focused her gaze at some point outside the room. “Each sapient planet within the galaxy must evolve at its own pace. We must not interfere.”
Lucas offered a bemused look, before firing back with, “Then what is the Galactic Defense Force doing snatching young boys…”
“…off of Earth’s surface for training in high-tech spacecraft?”
Portia looked deeply into Lucas’s eyes, sizing him up, attempting to judge his courage, and his resolve before continuing.
“Because if we don’t, then the Dark Empire will swallow Terra up with no concern for you, or your species,” Portia broke off eye contact, “the Dark Empire does not care about the fate of a planets inhabitants.
“No more questions,” she said, cutting Lucas off as he opened his mouth, “that dovetails into what I want to show you now.”
She tapped a series of icons in the display that hovered above the table. Each tap taking her through a series of menus or screens. As she did so, she narrated what it was she was doing.
“This is your learning terminal. The icon on your room display looks like one of your old school houses back on Terra. Most of your work will be in classroom. However, if your instructor assigns homework, or you want to study on your free time, you will use this terminal. I am calling up the history of the Galactic Defense force.
“Let’s start with the Sapient Species Interference Doctrine.” Portia pulls up a picture; it is of a beautiful planet, with vast oceans and only a narrow line of islands slanting across the visible hemisphere.
“To the natives, this planet is called Triancial. The sapient species on this planet called themselves Redloh’s. They had technology, but only to the level of your industrial age. Centuries’ ago, before the formation of the Galactic Confederation, a space faring race calling themselves Chak’truk, discovered Triancial, and the Redloh’s. The Chak’truk’s was, and still is a peaceful race and meant the Redloh’s no harm. It’s just that the Redloh’s were the first sapient species the Chak’truk’s ever encountered in their two hundred cycles of space exploration.”
As Portia narrated, images of Redloh’s and the Chak’truk’s flashed across the holographic display. Lucas decided that the Redloh’s looked more like Earth’s Dolphins, but instead of fins, the short legs and arms ended in thickly webbed hands and feet. The Chak’truk’s looked like nothing Lucas ever encountered before. They were just plain ugly, with a large head that seemed to rest on their shoulders, with no neck in between. They moved on thick tentacles, which protruded from mid abdomen. Their arms were somewhat human, but with only single opposing digits. Lucas decided that these beasts would be tough to beat in the god-awful ugly department. Their spaceships looked menacing, offering no sleek lines and protrusions that made no sense in Lucas’s mind.
“They thought the right thing to do would be to help the Redloh’s move along technologically speaking. Things went very well at first.”
Portia’s features changed, and a look of deep sorrow replaced her teacher’s demeanor.
“We learned later that not every species will attain space travel. Some speculate that it was just too soon, but there are species out there in our galaxy that we have monitored for centuries, and they have not progressed beyond a certain point. Even though they are intelligent enough, as a species, the curiosity, or adventurous spirit is not there.
“The Redloh’s were excited at first to learn new tech, but as they moved forward, the Chak’truk’s noticed that they were become more…um…anxious or agitated.
“Shortly after they launched their first rockets, a collective psychosis set in, and they started to drown themselves. What the Chak’truk’s did not realize until it was too late is that the Redloh’s were all deeply connected, whether it was spiritual or psychological, we never learned. Whatever the connection, as a collective, they rejected their premature accomplishment, and within a quarter cycle, the Redloh’s were all gone.
“Only individual journals and diaries offered any clue as to why they did what they did.”
Again, the sadness washed across her features, “The Chak’truk’s still carry that guilt with them. They adopted the Sapient Species Interference Doctrine, and later lobbied hard to make it part of the Articles of Confederation.”
“Wow, that sucks!”
“Research has shown that not all sapient species progress to the same levels. Some reach a plateau, or annihilate themselves when they reach a technological level that makes it possible. We have tried to stop the self-destruction of a species on a couple of occasions, and all it did was prolong the inevitable.
Therefore, our only allowable interference is to provide the means for a planet to defend itself from the Dark Empire.”
“What is the Dark Empire?”
Portia sighed with irritation at Lucas’s interruption. “That will be part of your training; I am only to orientate you to your room, this facility, and your reason for being here.”
“Sorry,” Lucas said, looking down at his Target brand tennis shoes.
“When a system comes into the Dark Empires influence, the Galactic Confederacy sends agents to scout out the system. They look for the species that is most capable of mounting a defense. For Terra, you have only one sapient species, humans. Then it was a matter of studying and evaluating what segment of that species is most likely trainable in our tech.
“You are part of that group.”
Portia studied Lucas for a moment as she formulated an answer. Having decided on a response, she took a deep breath and explained.
“Your species is centuries behind the spacefaring part of the Galactic Confederacy. Our techs so far advanced that your adult population will have a great deal of effort just accepting what their eyes are seeing, much less adjusting. You, as a young adult are more…umm…imaginative. Your minds are more willing to embrace the unknown. We don’t have to spend weeks and months just un-training you.”
“Un-training?” Lucas interrupted.
“In our studies, we have learned that humans develop biases as they age. Your minds close to new ideas and concepts. It’s as though the imagination dies long before the body does.”
“How long have you been studying us?” Lucas again interrupted.
Portia shot him a look of disapproval before letting out a sigh, “Casually, for a couple of your centuries. Then, as the Dark Empire became a threat to your system, we put agents on the ground, and collected specimens. That activity stepped up about forty cycles ago.”
“So all those sightings and abductions were real.”
“Not every agent understood the meaning of the word discrete,” Portia responded, then change back to her original instruction.
“Not only do you offer the best mindset for this training, but between the ages of fourteen cycles, and nineteen cycles, your reflexes are at their peak.”
“The military would not take me at my age,” Lucas interjected.
“You humans have set this arbitrary number for adulthood, but not across the board. Some societies on Terra have a much lower threshold. Yet, you yourself are showing adult physical qualities. You may still grow a couple of inches, but you are capable of procreating. For some cultures, both Terran or in other systems within the galaxy, procreation is a sign of adulthood.”
“Yeah, tell that to my mom,” Lucas said trying to hide his embarrassment at Portia’s comments about his maturity.
“You or any of the other candidates cannot tell anyone. That is another, less important reason we chose the younger adults of your species. If you talk about your role in the Galactic Defense Force to other humans, it will be easier to discredit you. Everything about the Terran division is of the utmost secrecy.”
“Judging by the number of times your activities show up in the tabloids, you are not very good at keeping your own secrets.”
“If you tell anyone who is not a member of the Galactic Defense Force, you will be discharged from service, and any memories of your experiences here wiped from memory. If you are planet side, and we cannot immediately reach you, then we will do everything in our power to discredit your claims.
“We will make sure you make the tabloids.”
“So let me get this straight. You are recruiting a bunch of kids to fight an enemy we have never seen. You are going to train us in equipment so advanced that most adults cannot grasp it. All the while we cannot tell anyone what we are doing, or who we are doing it for, even though there is a chance we can die at any time.”
“That is correct.”
Lucas studied Portia for several seconds, then looked about the room before meeting Portia’s gaze and saying, “sign me up.”