This is the second story in my Faster Than Life series, and will be only loosely related to the others in the series.
Chapter One: New Recruits
The members of the Russo family gathered in the lair one afternoon for their wizard lesson. As usual, Alex brought up the rear.
"Nice of you to join us, Alex," admonished Jerry Russo, sarcastically.
"Yeah, it's raining, so I figured I may as well," Alex retorted wittily.
As was his custom, Jerry ignored Alex's backtalk and continued with the lesson.
"Now, today we're having a special guest speaker," announced Jerry. The kids groaned with contempt.
"I promise, this one will be exciting," assured Jerry. "Today, we're hearing from Captain Warren Schiller of Wizard Force."
"No offense, dad," interrupted Justin, "But there hasn't be a wizard war in over a century. Wizard Force are just a bunch of pompous stuffed-shirts who trot themselves out for parades."
"Mmm, sounds like you'd fit right in," insulted Alex.
"Hold it right there!" commanded Jerry. "I won't have my kids disrespecting servicemen and women. Wizard Force is a sophisticated, disciplined, and highly-trained military organization that stands ready at all times answer any threat to the wizard world. I'll have you know that before I met your mother, I myself was considering a career in Wizard Force."
"Fine, we'll hear him out," conceded Alex.
Just then, the wizard crisis alarm sounded. Without warning, the Russo's disappeared in a hue of light beams standing on end with a thump-foom sound. A moment later, they found themselves standing in a large, cavernous room, with Neo-Gothic architecture that clashed badly with the fluorescent light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. As the Russo's looked around, they were surprised to find their mother in the room as well.
"That's not like any wizard teleport I've ever experienced," noted Theresa, still startled and short of breath.
"That's because it's an Asgard beam," said a familiar voice behind them.
"Professor Crumbs," greeted Alex, turning to face the man.
"It would behoove you to note my rank insignia, young lady," admonished Crumbs. The old wizard had exchanged his hat and robes for the distinctive Asian-style red-trimmed black jacket of a Wizard Force officer's uniform.
"Admiral Crumbs came out of retirement to help us deal with the current situation," elaborated another officer, a tall, broad-shouldered, squared-headed middle-aged fellow with recently-grayed hair and a warm smile. "Welcome aboard the wizard ship Gandalf. I'm Captain Warren Schiller, commander of this vessel."
"And just what situation would that be?" asked Jerry.
"We cannot tell you," replied Crumbs. "I can only say that at my recommendation, the Wizard Council has identified your two elder children as possessing skills useful to the success of this mission."
"Are you saying you want my kids to join Wizard Force?" deduced Theresa.
"That's affirmative, ma'am," confirmed Schiller.
"Absolutely not!" protested Theresa. "I won't have you making cannon fodder out of my children!"
"It's my understanding that it's not up to you," argued Alex.
"The young lady is correct," confirmed Schiller. "Section 72841, paragraph 23 of the Wizard code states that 'Any wizard aged sixteen years or older may, of his or her own free will, enlist for a term of service in Wizard Force, with or without parental consent.'"
"Okay, so I can't stop you," conceded Jerry. "But I still think you should wait until after the wizards' contest."
"Mr. Russo," admonished Crumbs. "I see you failed to inform your children of paragraph 24, or as it has come to be known, the 'Robert Heinlein clause.'"
"Robert Heinlein?" echoed Justin, hearing the name of one of his favorite authors.
"I see we have fan here," observed Schiller. "Then I'm sure you're familiar with the phrase 'Service guarantees citizenship.'"
"It's from the novel Starship Troopers," elaborated Justin. "It's about a society where the privileges of citizenship are earned through military service."
"Excellent," approved Schiller. "Paragraph 24 states that upon completion of basic military training, all enlistees in Wizard Force will be granted full wizard status, and in the event of an honorable discharge, will be exempt from the family wizard rule and thus allowed to retain said status."
"So if we join up, we don't have to compete in this stupid wizards' contest?" reiterated Alex.
"Quite right," confirmed Crumbs.
"Sweet," said Alex. "Sign me up!"
"You really shouldn't be so rash about this, Alex," cautioned Jerry.
"Indeed," agreed Crumbs. "A term of service in Wizard Force is a life of honor, dignity, and hard work."
"Exactly," argued Alex. "So instead of working hard for a chance to be a wizard, I can work hard at actually becoming a wizard."
"Much as I hate to admit it," added Justin, "I'm with Alex on this one."
"I still don't like it," protested Theresa.
"I can't say too much," assured Schiller, "But Wizard Force is mostly just coordinating this mission. It's highly unlikely your kids will actually see any combat."
"I don't know," doubted Theresa. "Jerry, what do you think?"
Jerry took his wife's hand. "Honey, I know it's dangerous, but being a wizard always is. I've taken them about as far as I can. This could be the best chance they ever have to spread their wings and really excel in their wizardry."
"What about me?" interjected Max, whose contentment with being ignored had finally reached its limit.
"This is good news for you too, Max," explained Jerry. "With your siblings out of the competition, as long as you can pass your final test, you're in."
Jerry looked at his wife, who with a certain sadness in her eyes, nodded her consent.
"Guys," said Jerry, turning to face Justin, Alex, and the two officers. "If this is what you really want to do, I won't stand in your way."
"Thanks dad," said Justin and Alex in unison as they ran up to hug their father. Theresa and Max joined in the embrace a moment later.
"When do we start?" asked Alex as the group hug broke up.
"We leave orbit in twelve hours," answered Schiller. "You can use that time to say goodbye to family and friends. We don't allow very many personal affects, but you can beam them up, as well."
The Russo family took the opportunity to visit the Gandalf's observation deck. As they arrived, Harper and Juliet joined them by Asgard beam.
"That was so cool!" exclaimed Harper.
"Harper, you've been teleported lots of times," noted Alex with a chuckle.
"Yeah, but that one was different," replied Harper, who then turned her attention to the view of Earth below. "Oh my gosh! That is so amazing!"
"You've been in space, too. Remember when I told you I was a wizard?"
"True," acknowledged Harper. "But I've never been on a spaceship."
Alex smiled. "It is pretty cool when you think about it."
Harper's wonder turned to sorrow. "So you're leaving me behind and joining the military."
"Don't be sad, Harper," assured Alex. "It's only a two month tour. Once we've completed it, we're done. It's a piece of cake. I'll be back before you know it."
"You'd better be," pouted Harper. "It's going to be really boring only doing my own homework."
"I'm sure you'll managed," said Alex, drawing Harper in for a hug. "I'm really gonna miss you."
"I'm really gonna miss you, too," replied Harper, letting loose the tears, which prompted Alex to do the same.
"Juliet, I'm really sorry I didn't consult you about this," apologized Justin to his vampire girlfriend on the other side of the observation deck.
"Well, I'd be lying if I said I were happy about that," admitted Juliet. "But it wouldn't be right of me to stand in the way of an opportunity like this."
Justin embraced his girlfriend tightly. "I love you, Juliet."
"I love you, too, Justin," she replied, beginning to cry. "You come home safe to me, you hear."
"You bet," replied Justin, himself beginning to mist up.
The time to say final goodbyes arrived, with Theresa and Jerry embracing their children in a final hug.
"I'm still not sure about this," confessed Theresa. "But I'm happy to see both of you growing up and taking on new responsibilities."
"We love you guys," said Alex on behalf of her and Justin.
"We love you, too," said Jerry on behalf of him and his wife.
Jerry, Theresa, and Max took their place beside Harper and Juliet, where Captain Schiller came to see them off.
"Don't worry," assured Schiller, shaking their hands in turn. "Your loved ones are in good hands."
"Thank you, Captain," said Theresa.
With that, the five of them beamed back to Earth.
Shortly thereafter, Schiller and the two Russo's were joined by another officer, a faun (which, in the wizard world, resembled a cross between a deer and an armadillo.)
"This Lieutenant Commander Hemeryn, my First Officer," introduced Schiller.
"Pleasure you have you aboard," greeted Hemeryn. "Are you prepared to take the oath?"
Justin and Alex nodded. Hemeryn administered the oath, after which he cast a spell that clad Justin and Alex in Wizard Force cadet uniforms.
"Welcome to Wizard Force," congratulated the Captain.
"Thank you, sir," they replied in unison, with Justin snapping a perfect salute, and Alex giving a less-than-wholehearted effort.
"We'll work on that," reacted Hemeryn with a sour look on his face.
"Commander, if you wouldn't mind showing them to their cabins," instructed Schiller.
"Aye, aye, sir," replied Hemeryn.
"Russo's, I will see you at the mission briefing."
As Schiller proceeded toward the bridge, Admiral Crumbs joined him in the corridor.
"You appear troubled, Captain," observed Crumbs.
"With all due respect, sir," explained Schiller. "I really didn't like having to lie to their parents."
"You did not deceive them," assured Crumbs. "As Mr. Russo so aptly observed, there are certain risks inherent to all wizardly activities."
"Very true, sir," agreed Schiller, "But I couldn't tell any of them just how dangerous this mission could be if it goes south."
"Then it would behoove you to see to it that the mission does not 'go south,'" admonished Crumbs. "Besides, I have known the Russo clan for centuries. A more resourceful lot, I've never met."
"I hope you're right, sir."
End of Chapter One
I attempted to base Captain Schiller's appearance and personality on Bruce Boxleitner's portrayal of Captain John Sheridan of Babylon 5.