Chapter 1

Chapter 1- Of Teachers and Students

It was just past noon. The winter sun was starting to finish its trek across the horizon bringing the cold winter night. The pure stillness in the air was common around the northern continent. The only visitors that airspace ever saw was the occasional scout missions of various SSAF squads. Such was the group that was about to cut through the silence.

"Yea-ha!" was the shout heard over the communications wavelength as three sleek fighter ships streaked across the sky at about mach three.

"Jack," came another voice, "don't be so loud"

"Common' Sean, can't you get excited for once!" The first voice snapped back. "These new Gunstars just handle great!"

"Sarah, be his voice of reason, please." Came the second voice again in a tired out manner.

"I'll handle it," said a third, female, voice. "Jack McKlane, listen to Sean," came the voice in a motherly manner.

"Oh, so you gotta sick Sarah on me, huh? Not fair." Jack made a grunt as he banked his ship off to the right. "Okay, I apologize, just don't be such a hard-ass Sean."

"Like it or not, I'm still your commanding officer." Sean banked his ship to follow Jack's with Sarah quickly following.

"Well, I don't think that's gonna be for much longer. I think I've got that promotion to captain coming up." Jack was trying his best not to sound arrogant but he wasn't doing a good job. "I don't want to worry about that though."

"Yeah right you don't!" Sarah broke into the conversation. "You've been looking forward to that promotion since as long as I can remember."

"The both of you quiet!" Sean took on the parental role as their commander. "Let's just get back to finish up today's training. Meet at TR-20 by three o'clock."

"Okay, whatever." Jack said reaching for his throttle. "Last one back gets KP duty!" Jack gunned his jet toward the landing zone outside of Trann Dome, hoping not to get the butt end of his own bet.

"If you think I'm taking KP, your outta your mind," Sarah mumbled and sped off after him." Sean was far behind at this point but he didn't speed up.

"Ah, youth. But what's one chore going to matter at this point. It's only a matter of weeks now," Sean said to himself as he leaned back in his chair and turned toward home.

It was only about a five-minute trip to get back. The three Gunstars were being rolled along by trucks while their pilots were walking towards the hanger lockers. The tallest of the three took off his helmet first. Sean Koren was about 6'1" with jet-black hair. He was the leader of the three. Sarah removed her helmet next, letting down her long flowing blonde hair. She along with Jack were trained soldiers who were being further trained under Sean. Jack was the last to take off his helmet, but doing so revealed unkempt hair with a just past shoulder length ponytail in the back, it was a dark shade of blue.

They made their way to the back of a large hanger building and entered a locker room. The three had lockers together, being that the lockers were arranged by squad. They weren't just pilots though, they were members of SSAF, and that meant that they did just about everything. Jack started to take off his flight equipment and pile it into his locker in the unsorted manner that 18 year-olds have. Sarah seemed to be an exception as her locker was surprisingly neat for someone of the same age. Jack had commonly deemed it a 'girl thing' and made fun of her about it frequently. The locker room was filled with steam from the showers in adjacent rooms for men and women. Sarah grabbed a towel from grabbed a towel from her locker and started to head to the showers.

"I'm gonna shower off before TAG practice." She flung the towel over her shoulder. "I'll meet you guys there." She walked off. Jack caught himself staring but Sean quickly snapped him out of it.

"My God, she's got a nice butt," Jack said, almost in a whisper as Sarah walked off.

"Turn those god damn hormones off for a change." Sean was looking down on Jack in that fatherly manner he spoke in before.

"Yeah, okay. Let's go, I wanna warm up before we start." Jack reached into his locker and grabbed a small rod with a few buttons on it. He headed for a door that led to a larger hallway, that hallway led to various training rooms. He was followed quickly by Sean. Upon walking a rather long way considering the amount of training rooms that were probably available, Jack and Sean finally made it to Training Room 20. It was one of the few training rooms used exclusively for TAG sparring. The teaming would end up being Jack and Sarah versus Sean, that was what it always was and Jack and Sarah always lost.

Jack walked into the room and tossed his leather pilot jacket in a corner of the room revealing a skintight white tee shirt. Sean simple did the same, but he was wearing a green army fatigue tank top underneath. Jack started to stretch out his leg muscles.

"So you think anything important's gonna happen at the awards banquet tomorrow night?" Jack had to bend his neck oddly to speak to Sean as he was bent over at the waist at the time.

"Well," Sean started jogging in place. "While it's supposed to be classified, I know someone who might be getting a promotion," he started to look around the room and whistle.

"Oh yeah?" Jack stopped stretching. He immediately thought Sean was talking about him.

"Yup. Sarah's gonna make captain, but don't tell her." He had mockery in his voice.

"You jack ass," Jack put his hands on his hips. "I only hope you're kidding and you actually mean me."

"Just wait 'till tomorrow." Sean turned his back to Jack and started to stretch. Sarah walked into the room at this moment, hair still wet from her shower.

"You guys ready?" she asked, dropping a bag she was carrying on the floor and reaching into it to grab a rod thing almost just like Jack's.

"Ready to beat his sorry ass today," Jack picked his rod off the floor. He hit a button and a blue beam of energy about three and a half feet shot out of the handle, forming a blade. "But the question is," he looked at Sean. "Are ya' ready to lose?"

"Not quite yet," he turned his blade on, revealing a green blade. The blades were color coded by rank. Captains had green blades; lower ranks had blue, yellow, and orange blades, in descending order.

"Then let's get going." Sarah turned her blade on as well; it was blue just like Jack's. All three soldiers drew their blades into a fighting stance and waited for Sean to give the signal.

"And go" Sean said quickly, starting to rush at Jack, but instead kicking off the ground and jumping over Sarah, landing behind her. She quickly parried the following blow and riposted to the legs, but that was also blocked. Sarah jumped back and Jack did a series of backflips, maneuvering behind Sean.

"Show off," Sarah said abruptly.

"You know it." Jack leaped at Sean at the same time as Sarah made a top cut, but Sean made a quick parry to Sarah's attack and then batted away Jack's oncoming blade. They weren't trying to actually hurt each other. The goal of the training was to get your blade past the others defense, holding them helpless with your blade at their neck or heart, or anything else that might prove fatal. In truth, though, their blades had the power levels toned far down, inhibiting them from doing any serious damage save for some minor irritation.

"You know something?" Sean began to trash talk. "I don't even need one finger to count the number of times you two have beaten me. To be honest, I don't know why I even bother. It's obvious that neither of you have any real skill." Jack came at him with a quick high, low, middle, three cut attack. Sean blocked the first two and jumped away from the third.

"Yeah," Jack began to counter. "Well there's a first time for everything." He jumped at Sean but then outstretched his hand and stopped mid air. Sarah then leaped at Sean from the behind, but Sean caught her blade with a spinning parry.

"Nice use of Force Tech as a diversion, but it's better used in different ways." Sean outstretched both his hands and leapt at Jack firing off more than a dozen mid-air slashes before landing behind him. Jack was off balance, but still alive, lucky to have dodged or blocked most of the shots. "Like that," Sean finished, his back turned to Jack and Sarah.

"We're not done yet!" Sarah leapt at Sean, Force Teching to double jump behind him. Sean was caught off guard, but blocked her flying chop. Jack ran up and started to attack as well. Sean was able to block attacks from the both of them at once, but little to his notice, they were forcing him into the middle of the room. Once Sean was dead center in the square room with Jack and Sarah on each side the two both took a quick hop backwards. They gave each other a nod and readied their blades.

"Ni-set-su-ryu-hi!" They both screamed as they jumped backwards and high, still facing Sean, spinning their blades around their heads. Then, as quickly as they went up, they came down slashing their blades at Sean's head. Unfortunately, at that moment, a flash of blue filled the room and Sean appeared about five feet from where he was before. Jack and Sarah filled his original standing point, their blades held tentatively at each other's necks. Sean began to clap.

"Bravo," he turned his blade off and put it on his belt. "Excellent trick, it just comes off too slow."

"Damn!" Jack switched his blade off and threw it to the floor "I could have sworn we had him that time."

"So did I." Sarah sat down on the floor. "I'm exhausted now though. It took too much energy to Force Tech that last move. We gotta work on that Duel Tech some more."

"Agreed," Jack was still angry, but getting over it. Losing came too quickly when fighting against Sean. "Let's just get something to drink now, I'm tired too."

"Very well, young pad-e-wans. You are getting better," Sean said in his best goofy teacher voice.

"Shut up Yoda," Jack mocked. "Your buying drinks though. Winner always buys."

"It amazes me that I'm not broke at this point." Sean reached down to pick up his jacket. "Okay, let's go. Drinks are on me."

.

Jack drove silently down the streets of the Trann Dome City. The bubble encasing the vast city always bothered him, for some reason, he always had the feeling it was going to fall from the sky. It was about 8:30, and after a long day of school followed by SSAF scouting missions and the like Jack was exhausted, to say the least. He had gotten used to it, that was what every weekday was like ever since he started to train for SSAF when he was ten. He was heading for one of the suburban bubbles on the outside of the main city dome. That was where he lived with his parents in a split-level house. He liked the suburbs, but he had been fascinated by the city since he was little. He wanted to eventually get an apartment there, but that was for the future.

"Wonder what's on the Radio?" Jack asked himself as he flicked on a switch and filled the car with blaring noise from the speakers. "Sucks...sucks...sucks...sucks..." he said, pausing after each word as he changed the station looking for something good. Without actually finding a song he wanted to listen to, he pulled into his driveway ten minutes latter going from 60 mph to a full stop with a screech and four skid marks left on the street caused by his braked turn. He opened the door to the car and grabbed the duffel bag with his stuff out of the back seat. He walked up to the door and gave it three good knocks.

"Mom!" He looked around. "Dad!" He walked over to the garage and looked inside to see his parent's car not there. "Damn," he mumbled. "Okay, computer, open door, voice recognition: McKlane, Jack."

"Access granted." The computer spoke through a small speaker on the right of the door as the door unlocked and opened. "How was your training today Jack?"

"Ah, bite me." Jack dismissed having conversation with a machine and walked tiredly through the door. He threw his duffel bag in the corner of the entry hall and looked around briefly to find a note written in his mom's handwriting. "Your father and I are at the movies and then dinner," he read aloud, "Fix yourself some dinner, we'll be back late. Love, Mom." Jack crumpled up the note in his hand and walked into the kitchen one flight of stairs up. "Looks like it's frozen food tonight…" he mumbled to himself as he opened up the door to the refrigerator and grabbed a frozen Macaroni and Cheese and tore open the box. He threw the black carton unceremoniously in the microwave and hit a few buttons.

Jack had never been the most patient person in the world, but he never really got angry. Sure, he had little fits of rage, but he never got really angry. He was mad, however, that his pampering mother wasn't here to make him dinner. He was hardly dependent on his family, but he didn't like it when the little things that he had grown accustomed to taking for granted weren't around. The whole pampering thing was probably related to the fact that Jack was adopted and his mother always wanted to please him, but he never really analyzed it much. He was more of the kind of person that accepted things the way they are and tried not to think about them too much.

He walked downstairs to the family room and jumped on the couch, grabbing the remote as he fell. "Wonder what's on the tube?" He hit the power button and started to watch "Just Kill Me" as his food heated up. He didn't watch long, as a double 'ping' from upstairs signaled that his food was done. He clambered up the stairs and took the black carton out of the microwave and started to eat. Jack downed the meal in about thirty seconds then went back downstairs and turned the TV back on. He always been a fast eater, never really tasting his food, he just engulfed it, almost like a dog does.

"Wonder what Sarah's doing right now?" Jack had secretly hidden his crush on Sarah since he was seven. They had been friends just as long, Jack just never had the guts to see if they meant more to each other. It was hard, but he ended up settling for friendship, as his girl skills weren't really up to par with the rest of the world. It was only by chance that they trained together under the same commander. Sean had hand picked them, but Jack never really knew why he got to train under the great Sean Koren. He was only 24, but he was still SSAF's greatest prodigy. Jack could only hope to ever be as good as Sean. That was the funny part though. Jack was never worried about being accidentally sliced if he missed a parry against the worlds strongest TAG fighter, but he couldn't bring himself to ask a girl out. It was an ironic world.

After jumping on the couch, he ending up staring at the TV for about an hour, then he passed out where he lay.

.

"Man these head aches are getting out of control lately." Sarah stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in a towel before reaching into the medicine cabinet and grabbed some Advil off a shelf. "Hope I'm not getting sick…" she took a paper dixie cup from next to the sink and filled it with water before using it to down the Advil. Sarah stepped out of her bathroom into her bedroom and stretched her entire body, catching her towel when it almost fell off. There was a knock at her door.

"Honey, can I come in?" It was the voice of her mother. Sarah had always been very close to her mother ever since her father passed away. The two of them lived together and looked to each other for comfort.

"Yeah Mom, come in." She said as she pulled on a white tee shirt and a pair of sweat pants that she slept in. Her mom opened the door and sat down on Sarah's bed.

"Sarah," her mom looked at her in that worried mother fashion that mothers tend to have. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Yeah, sure, go ahead." She really didn't know what this was about; contrary to her normal ability to pick up when something was wrong.

"Are you feeling okay?"

"Yeah Mom, why would you ask?"

"You just seem to be really tense this last week. Is something going on that I should know about?" Sarah was still completely puzzled.

"I've been having some bad head aches, but that's about it."

"Oh. It's just that you haven't been acting yourself lately." Sarah was one of those people that was always an optimist, always making the best of a situation. Truth be told though, she had been feeling bothered throughout the past days and even weeks. She was having headaches and re-occurring nightmares that were waking her up covered in sweat. She passed it off as nothing serious and figured that it wasn't important to make a big deal about.

"I'm okay Mom." Her mom started to talk. "No Mom, I'm not doing any drugs."

"I believe you." she answered as she got up off the bed, looking slightly insulted. "Anyway, good night, sweetie."

"Night Mom." Her mom left the room and she lied down on her bed. For a moment she cringed as another headache rushed through her, then it passed and she fell asleep.

.

Sean Koren leaned on a dresser in his Trann City apartment. He shook his head and looked down. "It's almost time. I can feel it…" He opened the bottom drawer of the dresser and fished through some clothes and pulled out a rod similar to the one he used earlier that day, except that it looked more ancient and the outer shell gleamed a dull red. "It's almost time old friend." He looked at the rod. "It's almost time to see if anything I've done has paid off…"