It must be obvious by now that different timescales apply to different parts of our story. If nothing else, for the sake of clarity – always an important thing, clarity! – let’s try and identify them.
First comes what we should probably call the geological, or maybe evolutionary, timescale. We are talking here of events taking place eons ago, and over millions of years, when life, both on Earth and on Mars, was in its infancy.
Then is the historical period, where we leave the domain of speculation to the more dubious reality of recorded facts, for instance the arrival of Man on Mars, the establishment of the Empire and its eventual demise. All that.
This should not be confused with our latest, and shortest, timescale which, for want of a better word, we will dub personal. Accounts found there should be treated with the highest scepticism, for they originate mainly from personal memories. But as untrustworthy as these are, we must perforce dwell in them: it is there that perhaps some explanation may be found.
Honesty compels me to add, before we can carry on, that things, alas, are not that simple. Our timescales, as scales are wont to do, overlap quite a bit. What was still geological time on Earth was already history on Mars and there is no doubt that, for Sains at least, the personal is also historical. But maybe we should try not to overcomplicate things.
All this to explain that, when I tell you that we need to travel deep into the past, it would be probably a good idea to precise which past I am talking about. This is personal time: we are going back to the days of Richard E. Sains, C.C. (second class).
In this case, early days means: seven years old. Give or take. More or less. You see, the children in the Breihat, do not customarily celebrate their birthday. At the foremost military academy of Earth, such individualism is not encouraged. Each year, there takes place a graduation ceremony, a rite of passage if you will, marking the beginning of a new level. This would have to do.
Nevertheless, Sains is today, by our estimates, a bit more than seven years old. He looks older, as you can expect. And today is going to be a very remarkable day indeed. So remarkable in fact, so memorable, that he will actually remember it in the years to come. One bright day, shining out of the grey, the dullness of more than two decades at the Academy.
Because today he will learn why he is so special.
Still, this is the Breihat. As we said: the foremost military academy on Earth. We can be confident they will find a way to spoil it.