Jabari Atherholt looked at the stars around him, at the slowly expanding moon above, and finally down at the curved Earthscape beneath, and he felt an overwhelming sense of wonder coupled with a vomit-inducing feeling of vertigo. Man, he decided, was not meant to rise above the world in transparent elevator cars. The ride lasted for nearly thirty minutes, however, and he soon grew accustomed to the unfathomable distance to the ground below, and now he turned his attention upward, where a sprawling orbital complex was now distinctly visible against the star-spangled vacuum. Many before him had viewed the sight with gnawing anticipation, and many after him would undoubtedly feel the same; he, however, watched the ever-approaching United States Navy Spacedock One (and currently only) with a marked sense of dismay.

This wasn't supposed to happen. He hadn't joined the Naval Reserve to fight, but here he was, on his way to fight. Yet he knew, as he shifted uncomfortably in the crowded elevator car, that he had only himself to blame, joining the Reserve with the signs of an upcoming war so obvious. But he was no political analyst, and his foresight hadn't been as sharp as his hindsight. So now he stood in a space elevator, leaving Earth for the first time in his life, with nothing but a single duffel bag containing his uniforms and toiletries. Based on that alone, he wasn't incredibly optimistic about the quality of Navy life.

The spacedock now dominated the view above, and as the car slid into its station and Jabari stole one last glimpse of the receding world, he wondered if it was the last time he would see his home planet. Oh, now you're just being dramatic.

Jabari had never seen so many warships in one place; he had, in fact, never seen a warship in person at all, having undergone all his Reserve training in a simulator. They were beautiful, in a vicious sort of way, like a sword, exquisitely carved but never letting the viewer forget the purpose for which it was created. Gleaming steel and blue in the sunlight, their names and registries printed proudly on their hulls, their weapons displayed unabashedly, they would never be mistaken for just any starship. They also contained, Jabari noted, other features characteristic of warships, such as the nacelle-like engines protruding from either side, which could accelerate the ship forward or backward. The military had pioneered that technology, and it had been an enormous help to combat maneuverability, eliminating the need to physically flip the ship over to decelerate.

They were all beautiful, from the proportionally wider, flatter frigates to the long, slender destroyers and the massive cruisers. As he walked down the corridor, watching the ships through huge windows, Jabari wondered which one he would be assigned to.

He approached what looked like a reception desk, where an officer sat waiting. "I've been ordered…"

"Name?"

"Atherholt. Jabari."

The officer typed at his computer terminal, then said, "You'll be staying in Barrack 17 until your reacquaintance course is complete. You'll report to training room two."

"Thank you, sir." Jabari walked in what he hoped was the correct direction, than saw directional signs and followed them to Barrack 17. It was 0740, twenty minutes before he was ordered to report for duty, and he supposed he should don his uniform. As he entered the barracks, a cacophony of conversation assaulted him. He ignored the clamor and walked down the row, reading the digital nameplates at the foot of each bed, until he found one reading, "Atherholt, J." He set his bag on the bed and sat down, and tried to ignore the conversation going on from the next bed as he pulled his uniform out.

"…said he set up a camera in the women's barracks."

"Naw way, man."

"That's what I said. But he had pictures."

"Yeah? So he wasn't lyin'?"

"Oh, he was. The photos were from some porn flick."

The other nodded appreciatively. "Military porno. Sounds hot."

"Hey Frankie, see the fresh meat over there?"

Jabari stood and undressed, then paused as he sensed a presence behind him.

"What's yer name, recruit?" the man asked in a mockery of a drill instructor's voice.

"Atherholt," he replied as he pulled his uniform pants on.

A short, harsh laugh rang out. "C'mon, man, don't be all formal."

He pulled his tunic on and sighed. "Jabari."

"All right, Jeb, that's better. I'm Hag, and this is Frankie." Hag was presumably pointing at his companion as he introduced him, but Jabari wasn't watching. He buttoned his tunic and took a quick glance in a full-length mirror on the wall by the bed; he liked how he looked in the deep-blue uniform, his shoulders adorned with the single gold stripe of an ensign.

Now fully dressed, he sat on his bed, facing Hag and Frankie, who were now grinning at him. "The quintessential fresh meat, right here," Hag said.

"Whose meat?" Jabari asked, wondering if he was about to get canned. It was a ridiculous thought, he supposed, being six years out of high school, away from such immaturity, but he had heard stories about the navy….

"The Navy's meat, of course," Hag laughed. "They send us newbies into combat, and they get ground beef back. Not the easiest form of food processing, but it works."

Jabari shook his head. "We're just a regular Catch-22 crew, aren't we?"

"Whassthat?"

"A bunch of zany characters in the lower end of the military hierarchy. It's like we're in a bad war story."

"Naw, you've got some serious work before you can call yourself zany," Frankie said.

The chronometer now read 0756, and Jabari rose, following several other fellow Reserve officers as they made their way to the training room. If this were a bad war story, he reflected, that meant he wasn't going to die. What makes you say that? a voice sang in his head. Who says you're the main character here?