Planet Foxtrot-435 aka Fountain.
Gorbol Training Academy.
Figaro returned to his room and changed into the one-piece outfit that had been left on his bed even though he had locked the door. The security system was clearly designed to keep out other trainees, not the guild.
Grey overalls were the academy’s standard uniform. They were made of a light, shiny material that felt like it would rip easily. In reality, it was incredibly tough and hard to damage. Figaro gave it a try and couldn’t even cut it with the scissors in his utility kit. The shaver and the nail-cutter made no impression either. Figaro had seen various types of protective garments but nothing quite as thin and light as this. He wondered why it wasn’t more widespread if it was this effective.
Then again, he imagined it wasn’t very effective against electric shocks. The drone defence mechanism would have been redundant if that were the case.
He put it on and tried to adjust the baggy fit. He felt like he was jiggling around inside and the straps that were supposed to bring in the waist, thighs and shoulders didn’t seem to do much. It wasn’t particularly comfortable but it would make Figaro look like everyone else, which was a good thing. The FVG were doing everything they could to set him apart from his peers, most likely under instructions from his father but hopefully, this would help him blend in a little. All he wanted was a chance to show them what he could do before they made up their minds about him.
He understood why people might find it hard to accept him as someone they should listen to. It was a natural human reaction to treat younger people as less knowledgeable and less competent. It threatened their ego to have to take orders or advice from someone they thought of as a child.
Figaro wasn’t in a position where he could wait until he was older. He would have to overcome their prejudices.
He wasn’t satisfied with how things were going so far. If he was meant to learn from experience, so far he had only learned what not to do. He hadn’t succeeded in making any headway with the people he’d spoken to. Deep down, he had hoped others would take to him naturally, gravitate towards him as a sign that he really was deserving of the role of leader. The truth was, he wanted them to convince him he was suitable when it should have been the other way around.
When he watched the old recordings of Aurelias Ollo, there was no doubt the man demanded respect and obedience. It was just his immense power, it was in the way he carried himself. Queen Lyra also projected a magnetic quality, even as a young woman. Younger than Figaro was now.
There was a knock on his door and Figaro went to answer it. The door was made of wood and had a handle you had to turn. Even if the high-tech security had been properly effective, a simple axe would override it. The entire building was like a museum exhibit.
A drone hovered in the hallway. It was the same as the one he’d seen downstairs earlier, but with a ‘C’ symbol on the front of its casing. It didn’t have any hands so Figaro wasn’t sure how it had knocked on the door. By bumping into it, presumably.
“Trainee Matton, you are expected in Medical Bay 1 in ten minutes. Please follow me.” The ‘C’ spun around to face away from him and the drone floated off.
The generic outfit might have made him one of the crowd but the personal drone countered the effect.
He followed the drone as it led him to the medical bay, which was a large room full of heavy machinery, equipment that looked like it should have been in a gym, and the rest of Group B already in attendance. They watched him enter, curiosity and suspicion present in their faces.
Different. Not one of us. Take him down a peg.
There really was no way to win them over purely on a personal level. They were already united against him rather than for him. It wasn’t overt, they weren’t going to confront him, but the half-step away from him they each carried in their minds was very clear to him.
“Good, everyone’s here,” said a white-haired man in a white coat, with an eyepatch over his left eye. “I am Dr Libstein, I am the director of the medical facilities here. Tomorrow you begin your training proper but first, we will take a broad range of readings from you. We will be thorough, we will be invasive, we will be intimate, but we will be gentle. Nothing too traumatic, but it will help give us an idea of where you currently stand and give us a baseline against which we will be able to compare your progress.”
The doctor spoke in a lilting voice, a slight accent Figaro couldn’t place. Was the eyepatch for effect? Whatever the injury, a replacement for the damaged organ wouldn’t cost much.
“But first,” continued the doctor. “Your supervisor will speak.” He turned to Lombard Uvavo, who was standing next to him.
“Gentlemen,” said Uvavo as he stepped forward, speaking loud and clear like they were already on the training ground, “some basic requirements. You will wear the grey at all times. This is compulsory. They are light, comfortable and easy to clean — if you get yours dirty, wipe it down with a wet sponge. Sensors in the material take readings and provide us with data when you are active inside the sim-u. At the end of each day, you are to turn in your grey, shower, and put on a new grey that will be provided to you. They are disposable and will be destroyed. When you leave this facility, your personal data will not be stored and will not be passed onto any third party for commercial purposes.” He stepped back behind Dr Libstein.
“Exactly so,” said the doctor. “It may not seem it, but the clothes you are now wearing are a vital piece of equipment. Now, moving on, let me give you some important information about organics. You are all high CQ individuals, you all have a rough idea what that means, let me assure you here and now that you know nothing.”
He paused to let his words sink in.
“The actual function and process of implanting and maintaining an organic are not widely known by the public, and much of what you might have learned from the net and other sources is deliberate disinformation. Those of you who graduate from this academy will be given a thorough briefing on the realities of organic augmentation, but until then, here’s what you boys need to know. There are three attributes you are going to need. Strength, for the obvious reason. You need to be able to withstand the burden the organic will place on your system. The instructors here will push you to reach your full potential, although what that is will depend on your personal genetic limitations.
“Stamina, because there is a special benefit to being able to push yourself beyond those limits. You will find out what those benefits are if and when you graduate.
“And intellect. The organics respond better to high intelligence. Not just the cranial implants — all organics. There is a mental connection required to fully activate an organic and maintain full control. No, you don’t have to be a genius, but an ability to process logical thought at speed is essential. Some people have an instinct for this sort of thing, they can see the angles and work out the correct trajectory, but it is possible to learn how to sharpen up that part of the mind, if you are willing to apply the strain where it’s needed.
“We will measure these attributes and log your improvements as you develop your skills. In addition, those same attributes will help you when your organics fail.”
There was a murmur of surprise from the trainees at the mention of such a repugnant word.
“Yes, they can fail, usually intentionally. The Antecessors created these devices, so it stands to reason they had ways of neutralising them. There will be times when you enter an Antecessor site and lose all functionality in your organics.”
Figaro knew this already. His father’s ability to deactivate organics was a mobile form of this effect, but the others were taken by surprise by this knowledge. The whole point of delving Antecessor sites was to find powerful organics which would enable you to go deeper into the site and find even more powerful organics. What was the point if they just stopped working?
“You will then have to rely on your own abilities,” continued Dr Libstein. “This is one of the reasons you will be going into these simulations without augmentations. You need to be ready to go in naked when necessary. Your worst case scenario will also have to be your best case scenario. Which is why I can’t impress enough how important it is you follow our highly refined, trademarked training regimen. You won’t find this program anywhere else, and you are forbidden from sharing it with anyone outside of the guild. Not only will you get a personalised, data-driven development plan tailored to your needs, you will also have your dietary needs taken care of.” He turned to Uvavo again, who stepped forward.
“You will be provided with two meals a day. They will be specifically structured for each of you. Eat all of it, every last crumb. Do not swap desserts. There will be no desserts. Do not ask for more, There will be no second servings. Do not eat outside of meal times. There will be no snacking. The food you consume will be monitored. Your waste will be analysed and indexed. We will know everything that enters or leaves your body. Everything.” He stepped back.
“As you can probably tell by now, we take this very seriously,” said Dr Libstein. “We have many years of experience in this area, we know what we’re doing. You do not. Please remember that. We have lost too many promising trainees to casual arrogance, to young bucks thinking they knew better, who thought their bodies could handle the extremes of our testing procedures without taking due care. They are now dead. Do not make their mistakes. The rewards are massive, yes, but the path to them is fraught with pain and suffering. Now, please, open the fronts of your greys and line up in front of the testicular resonance imager. It will be cold and it will burn, but you are now men of the FVG. Grin and bear it, as they say on my home planet.”
He pointed at the large machine in the corner.
“Trainee Matton,” said Dr Libstein. “You may go. We already have your readings on file.”
There were more looks of wariness in Figaro’s direction, the distrust growing. They were really making this as difficult as possible for him. He turned and left, the drone following him.
Once outside the room, he said, “Drone C, take me to Group A’s barracks.”
The drone’s ‘C’ symbol spun all the way around and then stopped facing the opposite way before setting off. Figaro followed. He might as well see if he’d get a better reception than his current team. It couldn’t be any worse.