Here is an excerpt from "Tales of the Republic", a short story collection set in the Earth Republic, a possible future where appearances are deceiving. A school field trip is not as innocent as it seems.
Fiction copyright 2011 by A. Dameron.
A single shuttle came up the crest of the hill overlooking the Homeworld Senate. The three floors of durasteel and concrete curved around a plaza, and its spires towered over the nearby river. The reflections cast dark reflections on the expansive windows. Thirty children gazed upon the dazzling view below, chattered to each other and pointed to the marble spires of the Senate.
“Do the Senators really live there, Miss Nina?” asked Dulcie. Her eyes widened in shock. “But it’s so big!”
Nina Cabral made her way to Dulcie’s side. The movement of the shuttle only enhanced her natural dancer’s grace. She bent and laid a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “That’s the seat of government for the entire Republic,” she reminded Dulcie.
Dulcie nodded, but she was still dumbfounded at the sheer size of the Senate. “Someday I want a house like that.”
Nina laughed. “Maybe you will.” She straightened and raised her hands for attention. The noise dwindled as the older students whispered, “Sssh! Quiet! The teacher’s speaking!” Their eyes snapped towards the front, hands in their laps. Nina looked over them with a smile. Even at this young age, her Morality and Ethics class was well behaved. She paused and nodded at the green-garbed officer who sat at the back of the shuttle. The officer nodded back in approval.
“As you can see, we’re getting close to the Republic Honor Memorial. Take a good look and tell me what’s the first thing that comes to your mind.” Nina glanced over her shoulder as the entry ramp drew nearer. The charter ascended with a gentle bump and the warning lights flashed.
“It’s…scary-looking,” said Tom. The hint of doubt in his voice brought snickers from the others, and he blushed.
Nina shook her head once, and the titters ceased. Her gaze touched each of the students, and they murmured their apologies. Again, the officer smiled his approval of her handling of the situation. “It can be intimidating from the outside, Tom, but wait until you see the inside.”
The school shuttle stopped just inside the entrance gate. “Republic Honor Memorial,” announced the shuttle driver. “There are our tour guides.” He opened the doors to allow two Academy cadets onto the shuttle. One of them looked up from his datapad and smiled.
Nina went forward. “That’s us. I’m Nina Cabral. You must be Mister Davis.”
The cadet hid his surprise under a bright smile. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, madam. I hope you and your students will enjoy our tour.” He turned towards the students. “Did you all see the Senate on the way up?”
“Yes!” Their enthusiastic shouts were deafening, and Davis winced and covered his ears. Nina exchanged bemused glances with the blonde lady sitting in the middle of the shuttle.
“Well, someday, we’ll have to give you a tour of that too. Today we’re going to visit the Honor Memorial. Make sure you’ve got your datapads and recorders because we’re going to ask you plenty of questions.” Davis nodded at his companion. “I’m Senior Cadet Andrew Davis and this is Senior Cadet Michael O’Brien. Follow closely so we won’t lose you. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, sir!” the children thundered.
Davis winced again. Cadet O’Brien gave Nina a wry look. Unlike his outgoing companion, O’Brien’s voice was soft and low. “You’ve got them pretty well trained, madam. Looks like we’re going to have a new batch of Academy cadets in a few years.”
Nina grinned. She always tried to maintain some sort of discipline, but the children’s enthusiasm came out in other ways. She made sure to channel it into proper Republic behavior: courtesy, obedience and respect to their elders. As long as they weren’t disruptive, it was fine with her.
“Let’s go,” Nina said.
The group clambered out of the shuttle. Davis and O’Brien led the way; Nina and Gracie brought up the rear. Visitors from all over the Homeworld wandered across the marble courtyard. A ten-foot fountain sprayed water in the air; other children played in the shallows. The fall breeze came through and spun the golden leaves off their boughs. Elderly citizens spotted the children and waved; the students dutifully waved back.
The greenshirted officer drew close to Nina. “Very impressive, Mistress Cabral,” he said in a quiet tone, “but aren’t the children a bit too loud?”
“The children must use some of that energy, Lieutenant Carlyle, or they will be unruly. Better for it to come out in harmless ways, don’t you agree?”
Carlyle did not respond. He hurried off the shuttle and onto the platform. Gracie glared at his back, but Nina only shook her head. Politico Officers always tried to ruin things. It was her job not to let Carlyle destroy their trip. “Now, let’s get into line, children. Let’s show the cadets how well behaved we can be…”
The cadets led the school group through the security checkpoints. They were crammed with tourists and visitors, but the Security personnel swiftly got to their place in line. "Groups of five, please," called a sweet-faced, grandmotherly woman in gold. "Do we have any students with Triangles?"
There was an awkward silence, then a handful of children raised their hands. Silently, they fell out of line. The guard smiled and beckoned them to her. "Now, now, I won't eat you all. Come over here, and I'll make sure you're taken care of."
The tight knot of students shared a nervous giggle, but did as the guard asked. Nina gave them an encouraging smile as the guard checked their rucksacks. She also examined the emerald Triangle pin that each child wore on the collar of the school uniform.
Nina wore no such pin; only Colonials and Outworlders did so, to distinguish them from native Homeworlders. She didn't give the fact another thought, for it was for the Colonials' protection. Another guard extended a hand to Nina. “Your indenticard, madam,” he said. “Sorry for the extra security, but-“
“-It’s necessary. I know, Sergeant.” Nina sighed and handed him the card. He passed it into the slot and Nina watched the information scroll onto the screen.
Name: Nina Cabral. Age: 24. Profession: Morality and Ethics Teacher, McIntire Primary, McIntire Air Base. Parents: Eduardo Cabral and Mariela Quartez, deceased. Siblings: Three: Josephine Cabral. Senior Diplomat with Diplomatic Corps. Fernando Cabral, Security Consultant, Kaufman Limited. Iliana Cabral, Assistant Minister (Education Bureau)
A column of numbers followed it. The guard scrutinized it, then nodded. He swiped the card into his reader and another number appeared at the end of the column. Anyone who scanned her card could trace her whereabouts of the day. The guard handed the card back to her. “Info checks out okay, madam. Thanks.”
Nina pocketed the card without a single word. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the guard wave Lieutenant Carlyle through without hesitation.
The sunlight bounced off the white marble walls of the entrance chamber. Nina gazed at the elaborate designs on the friezes and the columns. Gracie pointed out the inscriptions on the walls, all taken from the Republic Charter, and the children noted them on their notepads. Large hi-vid screens occupied a prominent place in each corner of the room. They seemed out of place with the Memorial’s traditional appearance, but the screens flashed information about current events around the Republic. Nina frowned at the distraction, but her students’ eyes were glued to their tour guide.
“We’re now in the Entrance Forum,” announced Cadet Davis, as he smartly adjusted the white uniform hat under his arm. “Mistress Thompson’s class will follow Cadet O’Brien through the exhibits. I’ll take Mistress Cabral’s class. After the tour, we’ll meet in the Visitor’s Chamber for lunch and you’ll be able to visit the Gift Shop. All right?”
The children nodded and broke off into their assigned groups. Before she left, Gracie reached over and squeezed Nina’s wrist. “I’ll see you later,” she said with a wink. “Don’t let Carlyle get you down.”
Nina relaxed at her friend’s warmth. “Don’t worry. I’ve handled him before.” She ignored the Politico’s stony glare from the back of the Forum.
Davis cleared his throat and summoned up another smile. The children had to move up close to him to hear his voice over the chaos. “Take a look around you. Many of the Republic’s leaders have walked on this floor, from the most loyal soldiers to the Presidents themselves…”
Nina settled back to watch the young man conduct his tour. For the past four years, she had brought students to the Honor Memorial to learn about the Republic’s proud and noble history. Yet she never tired of the Memorial Tour, no matter which cadet conducted it. She smiled up at the image of the angel above the main entranceway. The statue’s inscription read “First in Peace, First in War. The Republic endures.”
“…Now let’s walk through the entranceway, and we’re going to see how the Republic has kept its strength for more than a hundred years.” Davis extended his arm. “This way.”
The children followed in a huge mass. Nina felt Carlyle’s disapproving stare even as she reminded them, “Groups of two, please. We’ll all get in.”
The exhibits were mounted on pedestals, locked away by triple layers of Plexiglas and security fields. there were cries of, “Don’t step on my feet!” and “Watch where you’re going!” as they tried to walk in the dim light. Bright spotlights focused their attention on the museum pieces. Time frame and branch of military service neatly arranged all of the articles. Cadet Davis talked about how all Republic citizens, both civilian and military, made the Republic strong.
“My daddy helps a lot,” piped up Micah. “He makes stuff for the airplanes.”
Davis glanced at Nina in askance. Nina explained, “Her father is a contractor for the Flight Forces, Cadet Davis.”
He laughed and nodded at the earnest young girl. “In that case, your father does help us quite a bit.”
Dulcie and Patrick tiptoed at the steel railing. “Why can’t we touch the pieces, Cadet Davis?” asked Dulcie.
Davis’s smile was frozen. “Some of them are pretty old, Mistress Dulcie. We don’t want them to fall apart.” He quickly directed their attention to the military pilots’ exhibit. His gloved hand pointed at the names inscribed in gold.
“My daddy’s a pilot,” said Julia Greer. The brown-haired girl smiled up at Davis. “He’s with Task Force Thirteen.”
Davis whistled. “He’s in an important group, then. I’m sure you’re very proud of him.”
He addressed the rest of the students. “How many of you want to be pilots?” Many hands shot up. He chuckled and continued, “Well, you’d have to go through a lot of training. Not everyone makes it through, but the ones who do have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders.”
He proceeded to describe some of that training. The class was riveted by his calm and steady tone. Davis made no attempt to deny the triumphs and the dangers, but he still made it sound easy. Nina heard the pride in the young man’s tone and raised her hand.
“You’re a pilot candidate, aren’t you, Mister Davis? I saw the gold wings on your uniform.”
He grinned and pointed to the wings on his collar. The children oohed and aahed. “I hope to add my name to the ones who served, madam. Every name on this exhibit carried out that tradition in all of Earth’s military campaigns. Maybe some of your students will be here someday too.”
The tour went on. True to his word, Cadet Davis asked plenty of questions about Republic history and ethics. Nina smiled with pride as her students gave a correct answer every time. She was content to let Davis run the tour and only had the rare comment or question.
Nina felt eyes watching her. She glanced out of the corner of her eye to find a pair of Security officers behind them. Their attention sent chills down her spine, and she fought to keep from trembling. Was she doing anything wrong? Did they notice the students’ unruliness in the Visitors’ Chamber? Did she forget some obscure detail in the Rules and Procedures vidbook? She told herself, I have done nothing wrong, and the children are the models of good behavior. There is nothing to worry about, Nina. Pretend you don’t see them, or you’ll alarm your students. Of course, it was easier said than done.
They came to a huge board depicting the various military campaigns in the Republic’s history, and the shadows followed them. This time, Cadet Davis gave her a questioning look. She glanced at the reflection of the Securitymen in his uniform visor and returned a slight nod. Davis continued his lecture as Nina helped her students work the touchpads. Every serviceperson’s record was listed, which included their campaigns and awards. A few of the children proudly pointed out the names of their illustrious ancestors.
Davis talked about the Confederation Wars that helped give birth to the Republic up to the Vidirian campaign in the beginning of the twenty-first century. Micah’s eyes glowed. “My great-grandpa fought in that! He said it helped us be what we are now!”
“You’re right. It was a turning point in Republic history.” Davis motioned the group forward. “We honor all of our servicemen and women, past and present.”
Julia Greer raised her hand. “Yes, Julia?” Nina said.
“I wanted to ask Cadet Davis if he’s ever seen any battles,” Julia replied. She dropped her eyes to her datapad. “I didn’t want to be rude.”
Lieutenant Carlyle’s head snapped up at the girl’s words. Nina saw the gesture and flashed a warning to the cadet. He gave her another small nod.
“A few small ones,” he said. “Nothing very interesting, Mistress Julia.” Davis turned towards the lightened corridor. “The next room is the Room of Infamy.”
Nina took a deep breath as he led the class past the marble wall. Etched in bronze were the names of all the known traitors to the Republic. The children were silent as they walked past. They knew what that monument meant; it was a warning to every citizen. None of the children wanted their names engraved on it. Many of those names were marked with the green Triangles. A Colonial name, an Outworlder name. The few Colonial students shuffled past with lowered eyes.
“Our next stop will be the Visitors Chamber, where you can rest and eat. I’ll answer any other questions you may have.” Davis glanced over his shoulder. “Let me warn you…the light’s bright outside, so be prepared.”
As the group crossed into the Visitors Chamber, Gracie’s class sat in the afternoon glare and munched on their sandwiches. Cadet O’Brien looked up from the small group gathered around him. “Cadet Davis is our flight expert,” he said. “Maybe you can ask him.” O’Brien grinned and said, “Andy, you’ve got a bunch of questions waiting for you over here.”
“I’m all ears.” He looked over at Nina and nodded, then joined O’Brien’s group. Nina gathered her group around her to assign lunch partners. Gracie came up to her when she was finished.
“The cadets are very informative,” Gracie said, nodding in O’Brien’s direction. He was talking with Lieutenant Carlyle. “I guess the Academy’s making sure their people know their stuff.”
“ It wouldn’t be good if they didn’t know their own history.” Nina squinted in the sunlight. The huge windows led directly to the shuttle ramp, and the New Fairfax shuttles arrived and departed according to schedule. The bright blue sky had no clouds, and was clear. The perfect day for a school trip.