Lauren and Stephanie walked Ben to the door of his Intro to Tenacity Prime Elite Force class after lunch.
“You’ll have to tell us what class is like, I’ve heard it’s super intense,” Lauren said.
“This class really shouldn’t be intense, it’s mostly informational, I think,” Ben said.
He observed his fellow classmates as they trickled into the classroom. They all looked older than him.
Ben leaned in towards Lauren.“Do many sophomores take this class?”
“No,” Stephanie interjected.
“But not because it’s frowned upon or anything,” Lauren said. “I think most guys your age are just intimidated.”
“You in my class, kid?”
Ben turned around to see a bulky T-PEF officer in uniform towering over him.
“Uh – yes,” Ben started towards the door, but the officer put his hand up to stop him.
The officer looked behind Ben at Lauren and Stephanie. “I know you have somewhere to be, ladies, and it’s not here.”
Lauren and Stephanie left, whispering to each other as they hurried down the hallway.
The officer turned his attention back to Ben. “Westley, I know you don’t have a military background, and you’re one of the youngest kids in here, so I’m going to give you a break, this one time. First of all, you address me, and all your instructors in this program, as sir. Secondly, if you’re not at your desk by twelve fifty-nine, you’re late, and you’re on my shit list. I don’t think I have to explain why that’s bad, correct?”
“Come in and take a seat, Westley.”
Ben walked into the dead silent classroom and realized that everyone had been listening to him getting told off in the hallway. The only empty seat was in the front row. Ben fought the urge to run out of the room and sat down.
“Something funny, Brown?” The officer said to one of the boys.
“I didn’t think so.”
The officer took a moment to look over the class. “I’m Sergeant Rath, welcome to Intro to T-PEF. This isn’t boot camp, you’re just here to learn, but I do require the utmost respect and discipline out of each and every one of you. Not just for me, but for each other.
Out of the twenty-five of you in this room, about three might be accepted into boot camp. Maybe one will complete training and become a member of the organization. This class will give you an idea if you have what it takes to be that one.
When Tenacity Prime was founded, only the rich and powerful had access to space travel. The founders pooled their resources to create this intellectual safe haven. One founder knew that Tenacity couldn’t thrive on academia and commerce alone. We needed protection, and like everything on Tenacity, it had to be the best of the best. That founder’s name was David Davenport. With the support of Zachary Belafonte, he organized the Elite Force.
The other two founders and most of the first citizens railed against the idea of a Tenacian military. They had the naive mindset that this place would be some kind of space Eden, that having a military or police force would make us just like the inferior systems we left behind on Earth. Davenport and Belafonte knew better. They knew that our humanity would follow us into space, and that Tenacity Prime would need protection.
In the one hundred and fifty years since the founding of Tenacity Prime, space travel has become accessible and affordable. In the past fifty years alone, crime in space has increased by two hundred percent, but not on Tenacity Prime.
We’re in a formative stage in space colonization. War is inevitable, and Elite Force is ready. We might be the only people in space who are.”
By the end of class, Ben had forgotten about his embarrassment entirely and was captivated by the idea of becoming a member of Elite Force. He daydreamed through math, his final class of the day.
When he walked through the educational wing lobby, on his way to meet Henry by the elevators, Lauren was waiting for him near the entrance. Ben was relieved to see that Stephanie wasn’t with her.
“So? How was T-PEF class? Your teacher was…scary.”
Ben excitedly told Lauren about class as they walked to the elevators.
“Hey, Ben!” Henry approached.
“Lauren,” Henry said, nodding at Lauren and grinning widely. “You’re deck is pretty close to La Forge, you want to walk Ben home?”
“Oh, I don’t need to be walked home, I understand the map,” Ben said.
Lauren looked down at the floor. Henry raised his eyebrows at Ben.
“But! I’d like the company, especially if your deck is close to mine,” Ben said.
Henry’s grin returned. “Great. Hit me up any time, Ben.” With that Henry disappeared into the crowd of kids on their way home.
Ben followed Lauren into an elevator. As he found a place to stand, he caught a glimpse of long blonde braids in his peripheral. Ebony Belafonte was standing in front of him, staring down at her phone. A young boy with dark curly hair was standing close to her. The boy pulled Ebony’s arm down to get a closer look at her phone. She lowered her arms to let him look, and then reached over and gently twisted one of his thick brown ringlets between her fingers.
The two got off the elevator together. When the door opened two T-PEF officers stood guard at the entrance. Ben looked at the elevator screen. It read, “K2 – Nova – No Public Access.”
“What’s on that deck?” Ben whispered to Lauren.
“That’s where all the important people live – judges, the ambassador, the commander-in-chief.”
When the elevator stopped at La Forge, Lauren got off with Ben and walked him to his door.
“So, what did you think of your first day of school?”
“It was exhausting, but good. Thanks for inviting me to lunch and everything.”
Lauren blushed and smiled. “It was no problem. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’m not ready to go to the dining hall, Dean,” Alicia said. She was sitting on the couch next to Molly, browsing the order-in menu.
“What do you mean, ready? It’s not a big deal, you just sit down and eat,” Dean said.
“I’m not ready to meet people. I’ve been unpacking and cleaning all day, I have ship lag, I’m just not settled.”
“Well, I’m going. Kids, you want to come?”
“I’m exhausted, Dad,” Ben said.
“I’ll go,” Molly said as she lifted herself off the couch.
Dean stared at Ben expectantly.
“I’ll go tomorrow!”
Dean shook his head and sighed. After he and Molly left for the dining hall, Ben divulged every detail of his first day of school to his mother.
“War? I hope he was just being dramatic.” Alicia crossed her arms.
“I don’t think so, Mom. There are more pirate attacks all the time.”
“Pirates rob crappy ships and trash party stations. I don’t see how that’s going to lead to war.”
“I don’t either, but I’m sure Sergeant Rath will explain it.”
Alicia gave Ben an uneasy look. “I haven’t seen you this excited about anything in a long time. I wish you were interested in something a little…safer.”
“T-PEF is probably the safest place I could be, when you think about it.”
“Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. You can’t apply for boot camp until you’re eighteen, and it’s extremely hard to get in, not to mention all the training after boot camp.”
“I know, I know.”
Ben was in his room doing homework when Dean and Molly returned from the dining hall. Ben froze and raised his eyes to his closed bedroom door as he heard Dean’s footsteps approaching.
After two loud, staccato knocks, the door slid open.
Ben never bothered to say “come in” when Dean knocked.
Dean stood in the doorway. “Hey, Benjamin. Doing homework?”
“How was school?” Dean entered the room and leaned on the edge of Ben’s desk.
“Did you have that Elite Force class today?”
Dean took a sharp breath, looked up at the ceiling, then back at Ben. “Did they hand out the guns today, or do you have to do a certain number of push ups first?”
Ben scrolled through the tablet in front of him, pretending to be engrossed in its contents. “If you’re going to be sarcastic, I’m not talking to you.”
“If you’re going to be curt and moody, I’m going to be sarcastic. Anyway, never mind. My first day of work was great, thanks for asking.”
Ben scribbled in his notebook.
“Robert invited us over for dinner Saturday night. Just you and me, with him and his son. His son is a biologist. You like biology, right? That used to be one of your favorite classes.”
“In fifth grade. Why does he want to have us over for dinner? That’s weird.” The last thing Ben wanted to do on his first Saturday night in Tenacity Prime was have dinner with their snobby neighbor, Robert.
“It’s not weird to get to know your neighbors, Ben. You’re going. Don’t argue with me.”
Ben glanced up at Dean and smirked. “We’ll see.”
“Okay.” Dean took a step closer to Ben and bent down slightly. “How would you like to be pulled out of your military class? I’d be happy to arrange that.”
“Fine, I’ll go to the stupid dinner.”
“And you’re going to eat in the dining hall tomorrow and for the rest of the week. I had several people ask me where my wife and son were, and I’m not making excuses for you two again.”
“How are you going to blackmail mom into going?”
Dean glared. “Keep it up, Ben, and I’ll make sure you never get into Elite Force.”
Dean left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Ben took his rage out on his notebook, pressing his pen onto the page and scribbling jagged lines.
There was another knock at the door.
Molly opened the door and stuck her head inside the room.
“How’s it going, goober?”
“Come in and close the door.”
“What happened?” Molly plopped down on Ben’s bed.
“He’s threatening to pull me out of my T-PEF classes if I don’t do all the social crap he wants me to.” Ben tossed his pen on the desk and joined Molly on the bed.
Molly hugged a pillow to her chest and thought for a moment. “I guess you just gotta appease him. It’s only three years, it’ll go by fast. And he’s so wrapped up in his work, he won’t have time to bug you too much.”
“He only needs a few minutes a day, he’s got plenty of time to bug me.”
“You want to be in Elite Force more than anything, Ben. Isn’t it worth a few boring dinners?”
“You’re right. I’ll figure it out. I just have to keep my mouth shut.”