by W. Reid Emerson

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." - Corinthians I, 13:11

Hyuga Ricdeau, seventeen years old, watched the man behind the podium. It was hard for him to concentrate on what Krelian was saying, even though he was the High Commander of the Solaris forces. Hyuga's excitement was too great-his heart's blood pulsed too loudly in his ears to pay close attention.

" . . . And so you go forth from this place, no longer normal men and women. The Lambs shall tremble before you, as is fitting," Krelian was saying. After these years of training, it still felt . . . wrong, for lack of a better word, to call other humans "Lambs", even if they were lesser than the Solarians. Hyuga's military training could never quell those thoughts of doubt, no matter how much he tried to repress them.

Krelian continued. "You have all exceeded our expectations of you. You are the best, and that truly makes you our special guardians. You must steel yourself against all thoughts of kindness and pity. Those emotions are dangerous, and will prove fatal. But you have learned these things, and you will remember them, even in your darkest hours. So, would you all please rise?" All of those gathered stood. This is what they had been waiting to hear.

"Welcome, graduates, to the Gazel Military Forces!" Krelian smiled slightly. "Go forth, and let our enemies know the path of justice!"

Hyuga Ricdeau, twenty-two years old, smiled at his friend Sigurd's news. "It is hard to believe," he chuckled.

"Very, but we did it! We're Elements now! The elite!"

"Beyond that, Sigurd." Hyuga smiled slightly. "I don't see why the Elements need a medic."

"You're too hard on yourself, Hyu. You're a great fighter too, and even the Elements need patched up once in a while."

"I suppose so . . ."

"And hey, at least we won't have to stay in these god-awful barracks anymore. An actual apartment! Can you believe it?" Sigurd's face was alight with excitement.

"I'll miss this place." Citan looked around the barracks room from his chair at the desk. It was sparse, true, with bunkbeds, two chairs, and a pair of wall lockers, but Citan had always liked its simplicity. "Well, at any rate, it calls for a celebration."

Sigurd grinned. "I think that's already covered. Jesiah Black seems to have something planned for us."

"Isn't he one of the Elements as well?"

"Yeah." Sigurd's grin went a notch broader. "Rumor has it he's a heavy drinker and a hell of a partier."

Hyuga shook his head, smiling ruefully. "Just remember-you don't hold your liquor well."

"Hyu, always the mother hen. I'll handle myself."

"At least until I'm forced to."

"Give me a break. Let's just go!"

Hyuga stood from the chair, smiling brightly. "After you, Elements." He bowed deeply and gestured to the door.

"Oh, no, after you, Elements." Sigurd mimicked the bow. They both laughed as the walked out of the room, talking excitedly about their new assignment.

Hyuga Ricdeau, twenty-four years old, looked at the blood covering the walls of the apartment in which he stood. He glanced down at his katana, covered in the same blood. He could barely remember how it had gotten there; the past ten minutes had been a blur.

Sigurd rushed in through the doorway. "Dead. They're all dead. What happened? What happened to us?" He was frantic.

Hyuga had no answer for his friend. They had been ordered to assist in quelling a resistance movement in the 3rd Class Citizen's block of Solaris. Kahran Ramsus had ordered them to. Ramsus. He was supposed to have been different. He was supposed to have been their savior, the godsend of Solaris. But this . . . this . . .

Sigurd continued his hysterical raving. "Jesiah left! I haven't seen him! Oh, god, Hyuga . . . oh, god . . ."

Hyuga heard . . . it sounded like crying, from outside. He walked past Sigurd, who was repeating his plea to God like a mantra against the dead bodies at his feet.

Outside, a young woman sat hugging herself in the middle of the street, her eyes filled with tears. When she heard Hyuga's approach, she turned to face him. He reached a hand out to her, and she flinched away from him, staring at his katana, still dripping blood. He noticed her glance and sheathed the blade, once again extending a hand to her.

She stared at him, pain and rage in her eyes. "You killed them," she murmured quietly, then seemed to decide she hadn't been forceful enough and said louder, "They're all dead."

"I will not hurt you. Please, let me help you to somewhere safe."

"You killed them!" she shrieked.

"No . . . no, I did not. But I did not stop their killers until it was too late . . . I . . . didn't realize what was happening until . . ." The young woman began to sob uncontrollably. Hyuga had to get her away from here, from all this. "What . . . what is your name?" he asked, not even sure if she would grace him with it.

"Y-Yui . . ." she choked out between sobs.

"Please, Yui, my friend Sigurd is inside that apartment. Wait outside of it . . . You . . . you do not want to enter. We will take you somewhere. Please, trust me." He watched as she stood numbly and walked to the doorway of the residence.

Hyuga looked down over the nearby guardrail of the sidewalk. He looked down, though the spire that supported Solaris-he sought answers from the darkness below. When he did not get them, he pulled back his arm to hurl his katana over the side, then stopped himself short. Solaris had taught him to wield the sword. He would keep it, as a remembrance of this place, this time, of what had happened. But, so help him, he would never shed blood with the blade again. Tears formed at the corners of his eyes as he remembered all he had borne witness to-the Soylent system, the slaughter, Kahr's betrayal . . .

"It is too much," he said to himself, listening to the quiet wind whistle past. "One way or another, we will leave this place."

Hyuga Ricdeau, twenty-five years old, stood in the nothingness that was Emperor Cain's throneroom. Countless famous paintings spiraled past from below, from some out of sight place, and continued around him and the Emperor, up into the same sightlessness.

The Emperor himself, clad as always in his golden Death's Head armor, sat upon his throne. No part of his body could be seen, not even through the grinning mouth of his helmet-only impenetrable blackness.

"You wished to speak with me, my Emperor?" asked Hyuga.

A low baritone rumbled out of the golden helmet. "I know of your plans to leave Solaris. I know also of your new wife, Yui, and your baby daughter, Midori." Hyuga flinched, his eyes wide. "Don't be so surprised, Hyuga. Worry not-no harm will come to them."

Hyuga's eyes narrowed to slits, dangerously. "You will not stop us."

"I do not wish to, Hyuga, though know that I could keep you here if I so desired. Time is short, so I will be brief. As I know you suspect, I am the ruler of Solaris in name only. Krelian and the Gazel Ministry hold the true power here. However, I am not without my sources. I know that the Ministry seeks 'The Contact'. He is the one who will save humanity, defend it from