The next day, Ossanlin woke up earlier than usual, donning his formal silver dress belt and formal white neck-collar. It would be a few hours before the graduation ceremony, but Ossanlin wanted time to think.
Dressed in his formals, he trotted out of the barracks and galloped to the observation spire, riding the lift up. The sun hadn’t crested the horizon yet when he reached the Reflection Room at the top. He stepped right up to the windows, ignoring the room’s height as he watched the colors shift on the eastern horizon.
One of the nice things about the Reflection Room was its relative seclusion. Despite being near the heart of the Academy, few Andalites had any desire to brave the Reflection Room’s heights. As such, it was usually fairly private, especially at this time of day. In the relative silence, the soft trickle of the fountain behind him seemed ridiculously loud to his ears.
The room sparked thoughts and memories of multiple conversations with Prince Raigar. Indeed, Ossanlin often became “reflective” in this room. The irony seemed somewhat absurd. Silver vehicles flashed through his vision, flitting over the airspace of Cendorus. Everyone was trying to beat the lockdown. Cyrenk was launching several large parts today, and airspace over the settlement would be heavily restricted. Ossanlin had glimpsed some of the parts scheduled for launch. They didn’t seem correct for a normal Mark II Dome Ship, nor were they parts for Interceptor or Destroyer-class ships. There was all sorts of conjecture about what sort of ship the parts were meant for. Everything from a new class of starship to a new Mark of Dome Ship of all things. Whatever the parts were for, the Electorate was keeping the information close.
<Like minds, eh?> Ossanlin wasn’t particularly startled when he heard a deep thought-speech voice resonate behind him. He’d heard the lift in that absolute quiet, though he’d deliberately kept his stalk eyes scanning the view before him.
<Prince, I suppose it’s only appropriate that you should come here.> Ossanlin kept his eyes toward the brightly-hued horizon. <It’s hardly a moment I’ve spent in this room without your company.>
<Ossanlin…you’ve grown. Matured. I can sense deep thoughts in you now. Would you care to share them?> Raigar walked up next to Ossanlin, directing all four of his eyes at the soon-to-be-rising sun as well.
<I do not know that it would be wise, Prince.>
<Ossanlin, you can share anything with me, I hope you know that. It is why I am here. You need not fear reprimand or reproval from me.> Raigar smiled a bit, Ossanlin could see the angle of his eyes with his own peripheral vision.
Suddenly, the first beams of sunlight lanced over the horizon, streaming across the silvery, crystalline structures of Cendorus. The light hit the Reflection Room first, being the highest point in the settlement. It was bright…almost blinding, but Ossanlin didn’t wince or squint. He stared at the first sun as if it would provide him with answers.
<Prince, I cannot give my life for Yeerks. I have thought it over time and again. I know they are not inherently evil, I know it, but the Empire is composed entirely of Yeerks. They have killed so many of ours…I do not think I can find it in my hearts to forgive even one of them.> Ossanlin finally looked away from the blinding light of the sunrise, deflecting his gaze downward at the floor. Raigar never got angry or upset, but Ossanlin found that the Prince’s disappointment was far more painful than any reprimand he’d ever received.
<Ah, that. Ossanlin, there is a certain amount of give and take in anything. Your thoughts are already far more progressive than those of your brethren. Of course there will be anger, I did not say you should suppress it. The Empire has taken thousands of lives, and destroyed the freedom of hundreds of thousands more. You have always been a passionate Andalite, Ossanlin. Headstrong and willful, but also compassionate. Anger is an expression of passion.>
<As long as you can control it, keep it from affecting your decisions and behavior, then I believe that emotion is good. It helps you to keep perspective. I did not say that you should not feel, Ossanlin…I said that you needed to keep your feelings from controlling you.> Raigar continued to smile, looking over at Ossanlin. <I can feel it somewhere, Ossanlin, deep inside…there will come a time when a Yeerk shows you compassion. And I know that once that happens, you’ll see that there are Yeerks whom are worth dying for as well.>
Ossanlin looked up and met Raigar’s gaze, the warmth of the first sun bathing him. The whole thing felt surreal, and Ossanlin found himself doubting reality a moment…but only a moment. He looked away again. A Yeerk show compassion? About as likely as a kafit growing as large as a moon and stomping Cendorus flat, but Ossanlin trusted Raigar in most everything. <Alright, Prince…if a Yeerk shows me compassion, he will be my friend for life.>
Raigar smiled and chuckled, muttering <I know.> He paused, glancing downward before looking back up to meet Ossanlin’s gaze once again. <<Ossanlin…I have something I’ve wanted to speak with you about for awhile. I don’t know if you’re ready to hear this, but you need to…we’re out of time. Ossanlin, there is a group within the Andalite government known as Sector Seven.>>
Ossanlin furrowed his brow questioningly, noting Raigar’s shift to private thought-speech. <<The intelligence-gathering and analysis branch?>>
Raigar chuckled ruefully. <<That is what they’d have you and everyone else believe. Ossanlin, Sector Seven is much more than a simple intelligence entity. Sector Seven has ties to every facet of Andalite government. There are members of Sector Seven in the Electorate, in the Executive Military, on Dome Ships, in outposts, in Cyrenk, in Marin Lab, in the Academy…everywhere. Ossanlin, they can influence events however they see fit.>>
Ossanlin furrowed his brow further. <<What are you telling me, Prince?>>
<<Ossanlin, Sector Seven is the real power behind the Andalite people. The anti-Yeerk propaganda campaign was their idea. They exist above the government, Ossanlin…they do things that no one should do, all for their own vaunted ideals of what is “good and right” for the People. They have technologies unknown to the rest of the Andalite populous, they have weapons more-advanced than the Moonstrike Brigade…there’s no check on their power, Ossanlin. They control the People, and with them, they control the government, the military…everything.>>
Ossanlin turned his gaze back out the windows to look over Cendorus. He was actually quite proud of himself for not displaying even a hint of the aghast surprise or growing dread that filled him. Government had checks and balances for a reason…if this shadow agency actually influenced all the goings-on of the Electorate and Andalite life… <<Prince, I’ve not heard any of this from anyone before. It couldn’t possibly be common knowledge. If what you say is true, how could you possibly know all of this?>>
Raigar was silent for a long time before nodding to himself. <<Because, Ossanlin…I am a member of Sector Seven.>>
Ossanlin felt as if he’d been knocked on the head by a flat-side tailblade. He kept his composure, but just barely, allowing the information to sink in.
<<Before you say anything, Ossanlin…there are those of us within Sector Seven who are members in name only. We work from the inside to try and influence Sector Seven beneficially…we keep the façade of loyal members, but secretly work to counter the more nefarious goals of Sector Seven. I am one of those members.>>
<<A…double agent?>> Ossanlin shook his head, perplexed by the shock and convolution of everything involved in the discussion.
<<I suppose you could say that. Ossanlin, Sector Seven seeks out bright, high-achieving members for its ranks, and I must warn you that they are very interested in you. It is all but certain that they will make contact with you. When they do, Ossanlin, I would ask that you accept their offer. I would tell you to refuse, but Sector Seven will do everything they can to destroy your career if you do. They are very effective, and a young Warrior fresh off of his aristh bar is not difficult to crush under-hoof…especially with the resources that Sector Seven have at their disposal.>> Raigar placed a hand on Ossanlin’s shoulder, holding his eye-contact. <<I have faith in you, Ossanlin. If you do join, and prove yourself to them, they will do everything they can to help your career. If you endure long enough, you’ll reach a position from which you can act with some autonomy. If you make it that far, Ossanlin…you will make a tremendous difference for all of the People. You could become one of us.>> Raigar smiled a bit sadly, and Ossanlin could sense remorse and a touch of sadness in Raigar’s tone. <<Would that you could escape their grasp entirely, but as things stand now, that’s not possible.>>
<<I…would become one of you. A double-agent…there are others?>> Ossanlin controlled his features and tone of thought masterfully for one so young.
<<Yes, Ossanlin. There are several of us. I know a few myself, but of necessity, there are several of which I do not know. I am acquainted with one Andalite in particular…he’s not so different from yourself. I will not reveal to you when he graduated, again of necessity, but you remind me somewhat of him. He once told me jokingly that he’d create his own branch of Sector Seven called Sector Nine.>> Raigar smiled and chuckled. <<Quite the wry sense of humor in that one. He made good on his promise, too. Perhaps I should ask him if I could join.>> Raigar chuckled again.
Ossanlin merely nodded, forcing a small smile for the Prince’s benefit. Ossanlin had come to the Reflection Room for a clear mind…instead his thoughts had been scattered even further by Raigar’s revelations. The information was almost too much, and it was certainly too much to filter through now. Ossanlin used a trick he’d learned in command training…in order to prioritize, one had to take non-time-sensitive information and file it away in one’s memory if necessary. It could be withdrawn later much like a computer file for a full perusal.
Ossanlin took a deep breath before clasping his hands and bowing in front of Prince Raigar. <Thank you Prince, for all of the assistance you have rendered to me over the entirety of my time here. There is no way I can repay you.>
<Nonsense, Ossanlin. You were an excellent student, and I expect I’ll be calling you “Prince” in a few years instead of “cadet.” Now you’d best make your way to the graduation ceremony. They’ll want you there before the proceedings begin.> Raigar smiled genuinely this time and nodded.
Ossanlin nodded in return and headed to the lift, taking it down to the Academy proper. The place was beginning to fill up as Andalites woke and tended to their morning ablutions and duties. Ossanlin could feel an almost palpable sense of excitement in the air. Graduation days always had that sort of effect. Ossanlin found himself regarding every Andalite he passed in the halls and out on the grounds with suspicion and doubt. Instead of the safe haven of freedom and enlightenment that Ossanlin had always seen before, the Homeworld now felt like a foreign place full of unknown dangers and precipitous pitfalls. If Sector Seven’s grasp was really so tight as Raigar believed, at least some of these Andalites would belong to the organization.
Of course, nothing but what Ossanlin already knew of Raigar said that he was right. Perhaps the Prince had exaggerated Sector Seven’s influence, or wasn’t completely familiar with the organization’s true power. But Raigar had never been prone to misrepresentation before, and this was certainly no time for him to break his mode of operation. It would be safest to assume that Raigar had told the unadulterated truth until Ossanlin had enough information to formulate his own opinion of the situation.
For now, Ossanlin merely filed the information away. He was able to cultivate a middle-ground in his mind’s eye. Not everyone belonged to Sector Seven after all. And the Homeworld was still a haven, if not quite so safe as Ossanlin had once thought. The smiles and nods, the congratulations and well-wishes…all became friendly again. But Ossanlin knew he’d never see the Homeworld the same way as he had before.
The Grand Green was really little more than a large, round field bordered by evenly-spaced fluted, cloudy-crystal columns twenty feet high. There was a raised plinth at one end with a wide podium facing the open portion of the Green. Ossanlin joined the semi-organized group of graduating students gathered to the side of the Green, and raised his chin as one of the graduation attendants pinned the honors double-crescent on the front-left of his formal dress-collar. Normally the honors recipient would give a speech at the ceremony, but this was a special circumstance. There were two honors recipients with this graduating class. Since Ossanlin was graduating early, a second honors recipient was named from the actual class that was graduating today. He would be the one giving the speech, and Ossanlin was perfectly fine with that.
Things went fairly quickly after the ceremony finally started. Of course there was an address by the Academy’s Patriarch, Metran, and then by Prince Raigar. Prince Alar, Second-Commander of the Andalite military also gave an address, followed by the honors recipient from the graduating class. Ossanlin listened and watched as each person spoke. Which ones belonged to Sector Seven? Which ones did not? Did it matter at this point? Ossanlin put on an expression of restrained pride as he walked up to the Academy Patriarch. He lifted his chin and smiled as the Metran pinned the aristh bar to the front right of his formal collar. Raigar beamed as he handed Ossanlin the padded box that contained his insignia belt-clasp…his badge of office. He returned Prince Alar’s tail-salute and returned to his spot for the conclusion of the ceremony.
He endured the congratulations and well-wishes of his former instructors, and the other Andalites present before finally managing to extricate himself. Ossanlin returned to his barracks for the last time, most of his personal effects had already been moved out. He’d prepared a small bag the day before to carry with him on the shuttle. He took the time only to change from his formal belt to his utilities belt. He donned the silver aristh belt badge and the new swords that Siruvan had given him. He also removed his formal collar with the pins still attached, and carefully packed it away with his dress belt.
He made his way across the Academy grounds for what could possibly be the final time, mentally bidding everything and everyone farewell. The absence of air-traffic overhead was actually somewhat off-putting. With the multiple Cyrenk launches and the shuttle departures today, it made perfect sense, but the lack of blue and silver flashes overhead was still odd. The Sky Garden was hidden by the daylight, of course, but Ossanlin looked in its direction anyway. His final night on the Homeworld would actually be spent above it, aboard the massive space-station.
The planet-side Academy hangar was a bustle of activity when Ossanlin arrived. No surprises there…there were multiple shuttles being readied for orbital transport. With the war-effort in full swing and a shortage of able bodies, fresh-minted arisths weren’t given even a moment’s rest. Academy graduates shipped to the Sky Garden the very same day they were awarded their bar.
Ossanlin followed the appropriate glowing blue lines on the floor to lead him to his assigned shuttle. Not surprisingly, Siruvan was waiting near its entrance. Ossanlin smiled a bit to himself and approached his shorm. The two grasped forearms and struck their tailblades together in friendly greeting before pulling back. <I thought I should come see you off. I guess I wasn’t the only one with that idea.> Siruvan smiled again and glanced over further with his stalk-eyes.
For the first time, Ossanlin noticed his mother standing near the shuttle as well. <Mother!> Ossanlin moved toward her and gave her a firm embrace. <I thought you would be too busy!>
<Too busy to see my only son off into the Galaxy? Ossanlin, I thought you knew me better than that.> His mother smiled gently and placed her right hand on Ossanlin’s left cheek. He returned the gesture. <Look at you, so strong already. The military suits you, firi.>
Ossanlin felt a blush rising beneath his fur...his mother hadn’t used that endearment on him in years. <Mother…> He paused, changing what he was going to say. <Thank you, mother. For your love and for everything else.> He smiled and embraced her again. Such public displays of affection were not common, and he’d likely catch some flak for it later, he knew, but he’d decided it was a small price to pay.
<Of course. You’re an adult in your own right, but you’ll always be my firi. Mothers have special priveleges.> She smiled again before continuing. <Your father…>
<I know, mother. He has a busy schedule, I understand.> Ossanlin smiled and nodded. <It’s alright, I’m glad I got to see you once more at least.>
His mother fell silent, smiling secretively. <Indeed, he is a busy Andalite. But I’m sure you’ll see him again. And you’d better make sure to see me again too. I’m not about to lose my only son to an Imperial lackey.>
<Of course, mother.> Ossanlin smiled.
<Good. I’m glad that’s settled. Just remember who you are out there. Never lose who you are.> Ossanlin’s mother smiled back and gave him one last embrace before stepping back.
Siruvan had been standing back to give Ossanlin the moment with his mother, but he stepped forward now. <Ossanlin, your friendship has meant the world to me. I’ll carry on Ken’Kara, but I’ll make sure that everyone who learns it knows who the form’s true master is. You’d better come back and visit me too.>
<Of course, Siruvan. I’ll carry your blades with me every waking moment, my shorm. And you will be the first person I visit when I come back, aside from my parents of course.> Ossanlin smiled and embraced his friend.
<Good. Life will be difficult without you here, but I’ll find you in Ken’Kara. Now go make the People proud.> Siruvan smiled and pushed Ossanlin gently toward his shuttle.
Ossanlin nodded, and with a final glance at Siruvan and his mother, he boarded the craft. The ship seemed cramped after the wide open hangar, but Ossanlin tried not to think about it. Aboard the Dome Ship, his quarters would be abysmally tiny. Best to imagine the wide-open spaces.
Ossanlin entered one of the restraint stalls. These shuttles were built for capacity, not comfort. He felt the gentle pressure of the inertial field settle over him, and glanced out the window. Of course the ship’s computer checked the identities of every individual who boarded. Ossanlin noted that he appeared to be the last arrival. The lights around the shuttle’s landing pad turned red before it lifted off and started to glide smoothly toward the hangar’s exit. Thankfully the shuttles were fully-equipped with inertial dampers despite being built for economy, but Ossanlin could still feel the motion of the ship somewhat. Only a portion of the inertia was actually cancelled out.
After the shuttle left the hangar, he felt the EV thrusters kick in and the ship began to rocket into the sky. Ossanlin hadn’t been in orbit for a few months, and he’d only been to the Sky Garden once before, but he could feel both excitement and trepidation creeping into his mind. He did his best to keep them under control, but there was good cause for both.
Cendorus looked so much smaller from ten kilometers up, and it only continued to dwindle. Suddenly space seemed a massive, endless ocean too large even to comprehend. Ossanlin found himself wondering if he’d ever return from this black abyss to his beautiful home. Of course…he’d come back, and he’d do all the things he’d said he’d do. Of course he would.