The Alternian Empire was said by some to be infinitely big, it's expanses bordered only by constant war with other species. For millennia,The Empire expanded, growing to gargantuan size, swallowing up smaller, less advanced civilizations and destroying those which did not conform. The mass of the Empire was its great bragging right. Every radio address, every propogandistic film, portrayed the Empire as an unfathomably large juggernaut, unstoppable and unparalleled.
The mass of the Empire called for the creation of three zones by the Admiralty, the henchmen of the Empress herself. The three zones, massive in and of themselves, existed to divide and govern the almost unmanageable mass of worlds. The first was the Inner sphere, whose center lay in the world of Alternia itself - the homeworld. Most Inner Sphere worlds were harvested endlessly for resources, though some remained livable, if only just. The Middle Sphere was home to most of the population, numbering in the quadrillions. The Middle Sphere world Gaia was considered by many to be the production and economic capital of the Empire, smothered by the massive rings of orbital shipyards. Anywhere from one million to two million warships were produced in the entire Middle Sphere every Alternian month, fuel to the massive fires of interstellar wars. The Outer Sphere were the pristine worlds freshly taken by the Empire. Colonized, terraformed, wiped of all clues to any previous civilization. This was the home of the wealthy highblood elites and the Oligarchs which acted not with the Empress but as "business partners," as they insisted on saying. The Outer Sphere was the most heavily governed and pressured of the Spheres, with a large and extremely corrupt Military Police whose interests were strictly corporate.
The darker sides of the Empire were hidden by the triumphant bragging of the Admiralty and the Empress, as well as the silencing of nay - sayers by the mysterious and dreaded Subjugglators. Police brutality of the lowblood was not only tolerated, it was entirely expected. Some theorize that the lower life expectancy of the lowblood troll wasn't a result of nature but rather the brutal subjugation of an entire population.
Two large corporate entities controlled the flow of Alternian economy. Watchanea Corp., the largest producer of the Sopor drug, was the biggest of all of them. Their lawyers and lobbyists worked behind the scenes of their own accord, as did Yahana Enterprises, the inventors of the drug known as Browndust. The ties of this massive conspiracy, the cogs and blank faces who operated the war machine at the expense of the troll race, were largely unknown to almost all the population of the Empire.
High in the orbit of Alternia (and most worlds) lay a space station, five miles in diameter, which existed to train the teenage recruits of the Empire. To senselessly breed them into unforgiving and unmerciful killing machines. Firenz' dropship was gliding through the soundless space miles above Alternia itself, straight towards it. Vriska gazed balefully out the clear port window of the ship. None of the recruits spoke to one another the whole trip.
The landing pad stretched out, extending to accept the dropship. The station now loomed, as might an imposing castle, before the dropship and its occupants. A canopy folded over the dropship, enveloping it. The hiss of pressurizers was audible from even inside the thick walls of the ship. Vriska felt a (thankfully proverbial) pit in her stomach. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. The dropship's maw opened once again. Firenz and the pilot, trainees in tow, walked towards the center mass of the station, through a causeway from the landing pad.
As they walked through the dark hall, past the busy, grave faced officers and lowblood cleaning staff, dirty - faced and gaunt, Vriska was slowly realizing the gravity of her situation. She didn't dare speak, nor did the other trainees, but the feeling of unease intensified. She snuck a glance at the other teens, but they're anxiety, if present, was not visible. Not for the first time, Vriska felt the dire need to be vindicated.
Firenz led them into an entry hall in the center of the station. It was industrial looking, the walls made of naked metal panels and the ceilings lined with raw girders and wires and strong white lights. It was obvious that the design was not intended for aesthetics. The smell of must and blood and copper wafted throughout the stale air of the station. One of the recruits wrinkled his nose.
"You think the smell is bad?" Said Firenz, gloatingly. It it was part of a whole thought, he never finished it. He lead them up some simple stairs to a large door. He placed his hand on a black panel, and it opened immediately. He ushered the recruits through the door, holding it open. He seemed to stare at each of them with a great deal of either suspicion or disgust as they passed. Vriska was unsure if this was a facade to intimidate them or if he genuinely held some loathing for them. She didn't ask.
They were now in a massive courtyard. A skylight hung above them, resembling a huge eye, through it shone many, many stars and lights from the depths of space. Many of them moved, not being stars but rather ships, polluting the black sea of space. All of them stared through it with awe. Vriska was beginning to understand the scope and scale of space and the Empire. The reality of her situation had finally hit her. Floating on a great metal plate, with only a bad - mouthing sergeant and a bunch of aloof teens who have probably killed as many as she had and more for company. Her first trip to space, and she was here. In this destitute station, in this hellhole. It took every ounce of her reserve to not panic then and there. Even if she stayed with her lusus, there was nothing she could do to prepare Vriska for this.
She realized she was fidgeting. She looked around. One of the recruits, the gaunt faced boy from before, was giving her a strange look. His eyes, still yellow with youth, had the smallest tinge of bright blue in them. His hair was medium-long, straight, curving slightly inwards, his nose a hook - shape. His face looked as hard as a statue. He looked like he'd been through hell. Maybe, thought Vriska, he had.
They stared at each other for a second. Her stare was curious, but his was analyzing, computing, almost sinister in his attention to detail. Vriska looked away quickly, unnerved.
"Quit dilly - dallying," Said Firenz. "The term starts tomorrow, and you scrubs still haven't had your physicals."
A sharp - faced girl spoke up. "If we're in such a hurry, why didn't you pick us up sooner?"
The recruits boggled at her. Who would think to say such a thing at a tender time like this? Firenz, however, didn't even miss a step. "Because I'm lazy," was all he said to her. The girl seemed dissatisfied.
"There's always the one lil' grub," Said Firenz, leading them through a small door on the "East" wall. "The one who thinks they're the bomb. The one who cant resist the opportunity to be a sassy little shit on the first day. I deal with that bullshit every time." He didn't even turn to the girl as he berated her, only kept walking through the halls. "Come on! Quit bein' slowpokes. My point is, I'm forgiving on the first day. But I suggest in the future you keep your damn mouth shut. We're going to drill those seven Virtues in your head if it kills you, because all of you are the future of the empire. At least, allegedly." He opened a door the letters 'A-DFA' on a placard above it, leading to a large room stacked high with recuperacoons. He ushered them in again.
"What are we doing?" Said someone,"We don't have any possessions."
"I fucking know that. Hang out here until the docs call," Said Firenz shortly. "I have to get you checked out so your dumb asses don't die of gangrene in the middle of training." He left, shutting the door behind him.
The ten of the teens were afraid to say a word. It was a broad - jawed boy who spoke up first. "Hard - ass, much?"
Everyone laughed a little too much at this. Everyone except the boy with the hook - nose, who seemed to be thinking. Or brooding.
Vriska was stuck in her head for much of the evening. Kids were called up, left, came back, kept chatting with new friends. Vriska felt like she was on death row. How long would she wait? 'How long will I last here' seemed like a better question to her. She got bad vibes from all the teens here. These were teens she'd feed to her lusus, or who would feed her to theirs. She didn't feel like fraternizing with any of them, but she figured she'd be screwed if she didn't.
The broad jawed boy walked up to Vriska and sat down beside her on the rim of the recuperacoon. She was taken aback by this. "Hey," she said.
"Hey," said the boy. He had a soft voice, but wasn't timid. She could tell. "My name's Tempus," He reached out his hand. Vriska shook it.
"You wasted no time introducing yourself," noted Vriska.
"Well, my lusus always told me to start at the beginning," Tempus chuckled at this, though he hadn't said anything particularly funny. Vriska humored him with a smile. His eyes were a bit green, and he smelled like manure. Vriska hoped it wasn't his own manure. Her first thought was that he was a loser. He had a scar over his left eye. "So, what's your name?" He asked.
"Oh! I'm sorry," Said Vriska, not sounding extremely sorry, "I'm Vriska," She went for a handshake, then realized she'd already done that and put her hand down.
"Nice name. Sounds exotic," said Tempus. Vriska's fangs itched at this. "Do you have vision Eightfold?" He asked, suddenly awestruck.
"Used to," She said, bashfully. "Accident."
"Aah," said Tempus. Quit being so fucking curious, she thought, venomously. She was used to being able to say things like that, but these people were new territory. She couldn't boss them around with mind control or her sword or a whack to the face with her metal arm. Interacting with them was going to be a minefield for her. She decided it'd serve her interests more to get as many connections as possible.
"Where are you from," asked Vriska.
Tempus looked like he'd just won the lottery. Oh shit, I've done it now, Vriska thought. "I'm so glad you asked!" said Tempus, "I'm from Arath -- You know, the rural province of Alternia? Anyways, so I was born in some urban province somewhere but the Youth Provincial Government evicted us or something? Anyway, so I lived in some backwater..." Vriska zoned out immediately.
A lowblood woman opened the door to the quarters. It was the lady who'd been taking kids to to see the medical staff. "Serket, Vriska?" She said, shortly. Vriska got up, cutting off Tempus' long - winded origin story. "Right here," She said.
"Damnit Firenz," Said Doctor Mikall, scowling. "This is why we wanted to avoid recruiting cyborgs."
The two of them stood behind a plate of one - way glass, looking right into the operating room. On it lay Vriska, tied down and sedated. A group of surgeons and nurses were crowded around her. Firenz always thought their medical equipment looked like torture devices. To be honest with himself, he had always had a fear of doctors.
"Well shit, she was on the roster. I'm not the one in charge of that. Go get pissed at the Admiralty or whoever," Said Firenz.
Mikall sighed wearily. "This surgery is going to take at least five hours. That arm was built by a complete asshat. Or a child. The point is, if we keep that shit on there she's going to get gangrene."
"Huh," said Firenz.
"What," said Mikall flatly
"Nothing." Firenz crossed his arms. "Better late than never?"
"You better hope we have an arm in stock that fits her," said Mikall. He tapped his clipboard angrily. "But first thing's first, that shit's coming off."
"You sure like swearing at me," Said Firenz. He shot Mikall a glare.
Mikall scoffed. "Shut the fuck up," He said, walking out the door and into the operating room.
The first thing she saw was synthetic sunlight, the simulation of daylight employed to lull the homesick trolls to a comfortable sleep. Vriska started. She was in an operating room somewhere. The place smelled like soap and blood and soot. Her arm felt... strange. in fact, her arm felt. That alone was a marvel. She inspected it. It was new alright. It looked almost sculpted, and resembled less a claw like her last one was and more like a real arm. Vriska was caught between ecstasy and sheer panic. She spotted her clothes on a chair next to the table, so she got up and put her clothes on hurriedly.
"Hey," came a voice from behind her. Vriska jumped a mile with her pants around her knees. "Sorry to interrupt," said a tall, hunched man, nonchalant of Vriska's partial nudity.
"Were - were - were you watching me?" asked Vriska incredulously.
"I don't give a shit. I've seen enough naked kids to get investigated by the Ministry of Decency. It's my job, kiddo." His voice was harsh and deep. "I'm Doctor Mikall. I specialize in cybernetics and prosthetics, so you have me to thank for the new arm." He offered his hand. She shook it. It seemed like a lot of people were offering her their hands.
"Is.. is Doctor your name?" Asked Vriska.
"I'll forgive that stupid question on the grounds that your high off your ass on painkillers." Said Mikall. "Come with me. You need to rest."
"Is there some kinda' orientation I should be at?" Asked Vriska, clutching her forehead.
"Ya missed it, kid. It was a five hour surgery to replace that piece of shit." He lead her through the bowels of the station, the corridors just as bleak and metallic and soulless as the ones she'd seen before. "You're in block A-DFA, right?"
"I.. I don't remember." Said Vriska.
"Don't worry. It was basically a rhetorical question," Said Mikall. He opened a door, and they were back at the hallway to her quarters. "You're gonna have some catching up to do, but for now, sleep of that shit we pumped into you and get ready, because tomorrow's gonna be a long night."
She walked into her quarters. The room was lit brightly, and everyone was sound asleep save for some boy who was trying to stifle obvious laughter at something his friend said. "Get undressed and hop in a coon. I hope I see you never," Said Mikall. He started to leave, then popped back in and added, "For, for your sake, of course."
"Wait!" said Vriska.
Mikall shushed her.
"I have to get undressed in here?" She whisper - screamed.
"Everyone else is ass naked. You have, like, two hours to sleep. Get on with it." He left, finally.
Vriska sighed, undressed herself, wary of any lingering eyes, and hopped in her (or a) 'coon and tried to sleep.
Tempus suddenly bust out laughing. "Shut up!" Someone shouted. Tempus shut up.