To Rule With Greatness--A Story of Into the Fray
The child squeezed his finger and the gun barked. His hands flew upwards with the power of the recoil and he squinted his eyes at the sudden noise.
"A miss," the adult said, clearly disappointed. The child looked at the target, a silhouette of a human. There was a bullet hole in the target's chest where a lung would be. Inches away from the heart. "Again," the adult said, and the child nodded.
He concentrated, placing his feet the way he had been taught. He took a deep breath and stared at the target. Then he lifted up his arms and pointed the pistol forward. His arms were trembling, so he took another breath until the shaking slowed down. Then, just after he exhaled, he pulled the trigger. The gun recoiled and he closed his eyes at the sound of the noise before opening them to sneak a glance at the target.
The other lung had a hole in it.
"A miss," the adult said, shaking his head. "Again."
The child felt tears welling up in his eyes, but he fought them down. Taking a ragged breath, he went through the process again. This time, he did not close his eyes as he shot. This time, he adjusted for the recoil. This time, the bullet hit the target dead center. Straight through the heart.
The adult grunted. "Not a headshot, but it'll do." He nudged forward a bucket of clips with his armored foot. "I expect this to be empty by the end of the day. Keep practicing." Then the knight walked off, discussing allocation of tax money with an aide.
Only then did the child sink to the floor in shame. But he did not let himself cry. Instead, he grabbed another clip, reloaded the pistol, and kept practicing. From then on out, he only aimed for the head.
The young man sat in a dark alcove, eyes pouring over a glowing datascroll. A pile of powered-off scrolls surrounded him, but he didn't seem to notice. A puff of breath pushed a too-long lock of hair out of his face.
"Vladimir!" called a voice. "You're late for dinner!"
The young man sat up, his spine cracking. He winced, glanced at his watch, then winced again. Swinging his legs around, he jumped out of the alcove and landed on the floor of the bright library. Shelf after shelf was filled with datascrolls containing books, scientific theories, medical treatises, programming guides, military history, and every other subject under the sun. There was even a section devoted to Flame Dawn poetry. His hiding place had been above and behind one of the shelves.
"There you are, young master," said a worried-looking servant in a suit. "I was looking all over for you. Your father is most displeased."
The young man scowled. "Let him be displeased."
"Don't be like that, young master," the servant began, but the young man cut him off.
"When has he ever been pleased with me, Stevens? Tell me that. Nothing I can do is ever good enough. I've given up on trying to please the man."
"Your father is just pushing you towards greatness, young master. He has your best interests at heart, I'm sure."
The young man spat. "That's what they always say, Stevens." He sighed. "Lead on."
The dining hall was massive, able to fit hundreds of dignitaries, plus the servants required to feed them all. Barring grand occasions, however, the governor kept most of it empty, with only one long table in the center. When the young man and Stevens arrived, the room was dark. The lights had been turned off and the only illumination came from a pair of tall candles.
One was at the head of the table, and it showed a most displeased figure. Wearing the golden armor and red cape of a knight-governor of the Flame Dawn, the young man's father sat in front of an empty plate. Next to it, his helmet lay on the table, the golden visor flickering in the candlelight.
At the exact opposite end of the table was another chair and another empty plate. The young man wordlessly took a seat.
"Since you decided that you were too good for dinner," the governor said after an eternity of silence, "I had your food given to the servants."
The young man nodded curtly, then took his glass in hand. After swirling it around for a moment to stir the mixture, he raised it. "A toast: to the Flame Dawn Empire, and all of the information in its libraries."
"To the Empire," the governor said, and the two drank.
The mixture had all of the essential nutrients to keep a man alive in the field. What it did not have was flavor. Determined not to gag, the young man put down his glass.
"So what fascinating subject did you study today, Vladimir?" the governor said tiredly after another eternity of silence.
He's just pretending to care, the young man thought, resentful of his parent the way only a teenager can be. "Linguistics, specifically the origin and meaning of names."
The governor raised an eyebrow. "Is that so?"
"Frightfully boring stuff, I'm afraid."
"Vladimir, 'stuff' is not an adequate word for your vocabulary."
The young man rolled his eyes. "Frightfully boring material. Not worth another day's study."
The governor glanced pointedly at the servant. "And Stevens, how is your hand?"
Stevens glanced nervously at the bandages around his left hand. "The doctors say it will be right as rain in a few weeks."
"Hmm," the governor intoned. "Very well. Dismissed." Then he stood up and walked out of the room. Simultaneously, the candles went out.
"War is coming with Genesis Industries," the father explained. "There is no denying it. Aberion cannot rest his war machine. He, and the Flame Dawn itself, doesn't know how to function without violence. When that war comes, you must be prepared."
The son nodded. "I understand."
"Then take your shot."
His feet were already in the proper places, his shoulder already set against the recoil. He inhaled and his eyes darted over the target. It was a mockup of a Genesis Industries drone. He fired after he exhaled, the bullet crashing into an optic sensor.
"That'll blind it, but it won't kill it," the father said, shaking his head. "Kill shots only."
The son ground his teeth. After his next breath, the bullet found its way into the target's central processing unit.
"Now," his father said, flipping a switch and powering up a machine, "we turn it into a moving target."
Another shot rang out and crashed into the target's kill spot, in spite of the movements. Then another, and another, and target after target was eliminated, no matter how fast or erratically they moved.
The father indulged in a small smile. "Good. Now tell me, what is the standard combat program on a defensive robot?"
"Sweep for five seconds. If a target is identified at long range, unleash suppressing fire for five seconds. If it is within a set range, close and fire until dead. Would you like to know the offensive program?"
The father shook his head. "No need. You'll never have to be on the defensive while in the Flame Dawn."
The son puffyed his pistol. "True enough. No retreat, only offense."
A servant rushed in with a datascroll. "I'm sorry to interrupt, governor, but it was marked as urgent. A message from Bromich."
"Is that so?" the father opened the scroll. "Looks like Pyr is recruiting Aspirants. Vladimir, pack your bags. You're signing on."
The son was outraged. "As an Aspirant? Are you ridiculous?" The father nodded wordlessly. "I have trained my whole life! I can tell you the history of Genesis Industries in a minute. I can give the logistical details of the Siege of Pallydium from memory. I can recite the programming of Genesis combat robots and down them in a single shot, and you want me to be an Aspirant?"
The father nodded again. "You'll work your way up through the ranks. The Flame Dawn way." He took a deep breath. "I knew this day would come, so I prepared you. And prepared you well, it would seem."
"I will not consent to being thoughtlessly tossed into the battle like those cannon fodder Aspirants!" the son yelled.
The father put his hand on the son's shoulder. "Vladimir, this is not a matter of debate. All enter the Dawn as Aspirants."
"But-- but you're a knight, a governor, you have influence."
"And I have ideals," the father countered. "I worked my way up from the ranks. So will you. Keep your eyes open and your wits about you. Survive, my son." He snapped his fingers. "Stevens!"
The servant emerged from the shadows, carrying a box. "I have what you requested, sir."
The father smiled. "Excellent. Thank you, Stevens." He took the box and handed it to the son. "Trust me when I tell you that the food they serve Aspirants is inedible. You'll want to stick to this instead, at least until you get promoted once or twice."
The son opened the box. Inside were a bunch of packets of drink mix. He cracked a smile. "Thank you, sir."
So I wrote this story about Vlad's origins a while back and never really got around to posting it. In it I try to address/justify some of the objections to his character being overpowered. Namely, ruthless training from an early age (with an emphasis on headshots).