-Book 1: Out of the Night-

In my beginning is my end. In succession

Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,

Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place

Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.

Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,

Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth

Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,

Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.

-T.S. Eliot, "Four Quartets: East Coker"-

-Chapter 1-

They were all there for different reasons. Different backgrounds, different skin tones, different accents. The only thing they all had in common was how old they were. As she looked around the room, Ashley saw many kids her own age but only two other girls. There were just under forty of them gathered in the circular shaped room, all huddled in a group in the center. Whispers and mumbles were amplified by the cement walls and floor, filling the room with white noise. They were surrounded by adults in various colors. She hadn't really wanted to come here; it was her father's idea. But this military school was better than being at home and going to public school-it was high school and college in one, so you came out with a degree. And there was a guaranteed job for you in the military if you wanted it. Besides, getting to know her new step-family was not exactly her idea of a fun time. She'd already been adverse to the idea of sharing her room with her new step-sister, who wasn't known for her purity. "All right, Lilies, listen up!" An older boy in a goldenrod colored suit of coveralls stood up in front of the group. "Today you'll be assigned your color which is also your House. When you get to your Houses, you'll be told where to bunk. Keep in mind, this is the last day you will use your worldly name for the duration of your time here; you will earn a new one. Whether that's right away or not until after your first battle is up to you. This place will become your home; your classmates will become your friends, your family, and sometimes even your enemies. In just a moment I will begin calling your worldly names; when you hear yours, come forward to receive your duffel. Inside are your new uniform, your books, and any and all supplies you will need until you are assigned a bunk. Everything else you will need to know will be told to you by your High Gods when you get to your House. The rules are very strict so make sure you listen carefully."

"Gods?" A boy near Ashley asked her quietly in disbelief.

"As in mythology," she whispered back. "That's where they get the names and places." He nodded that he understood.

"Percy Ackerman," the announcer called. "Green." From within the mass of seventeen-year-olds, a young man stepped forward and headed up to the row of tables at the front. He maneuvered over to the one that held a pile of emerald-colored duffels, and the woman standing behind it held one out to him. "Haley Attony," the young man in gold continued. "Red. Jason Baltar; Gold." Ashley sat wondering if she would be the only girl in her House from her Lily group. "Corey Ditter; Red. Michael Everly; Gold. Ashley Gardner." She perked up at the sound of her name. "Blue." Blue? she thought. Am I really good enough for the Greeks? Ashley had done her homework when she'd learned of her acceptance to the Academy. According to the reports, the Greeks had been Top House four years running. She stepped forward to receive her bag, thanking the woman dressed in blue as it dropped into her hands. She threw the strap up over her head, slinging the bag across her chest to rest on her hip. The woman behind the table pointed at the mouth of a hallway, and Ashley turned to look. Her gaze briefly found the woman again and nodded her thanks before she headed into the hall. It ended at a door, where outside waited a small, blue bus. Each color had their own facilities in the Simulated Terrestrial Environment (or SiTE), called a House; the Central Compound was only used for Lilies entering the system, meetings between the Houses, or if one needed severe medical attention that couldn't be provided at the House. It also housed the pulse of the Academy. Dozens of people performed various tasks to ensure the school ran smoothly, as well as provided intelligence about the school's activity to the world.

Though many of those who worked at the school were female, only a select few had ever been students or soldiers, so Ashley knew it would be a struggle right off the bat. She ducked in through the doorway of the bus and scanned the seats. She was the first one on, so she had her pick of anywhere. Choosing a place in the middle, she sat down and opened her duffel. She found a set of sapphire blue coveralls, two blue T-shirts, two pairs of blue shorts, and a blue pair of cargo-style pants; there were also several changes of light blue underwear. Beneath the clothes she discovered her books and began reading the titles: The Complete Works of Shakespeare, The Life of Mozart, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Jason and the Argonauts. How were these supposed to help with battle? There was also a toothbrush and an empty water bottle that would be used to hold an electrolyte-replenishing liquid supplement that the Greek cadets called "nectar." Others began climbing on the bus as well, and Ashley noted with a lack of surprise that they were all male. She would be alone among her Lily group.

As they chose seats, they seemed to be avoiding her. In fact, they left open a radius of three seats in all directions around her. She heaved a sigh, knowing this would probably only continue, and that it would be something she'd have to get used to. The last of the boys climbed onto the bus, but he was already dressed in the same blue coveralls she'd found in her bag and looked too big to be a Lily. Ashley was right; as he stepped on, he punched a button on the front console, and the door slid shut, setting the vehicle in motion. He held the top of the front seat as the bus lurched into drive, and then addressed the group. "Attention up here, Lilies." All side conversations stopped, and all eyes turned to the front. "Can anyone tell me who I am?" he asked with a whimsical smile. There was a long pause as though no one knew how to answer. Ashley rolled her eyes. She thought it was painfully evident, but either the boys she'd been grouped with weren't burdened with an overabundance of common sense, or they were horribly timid. "You," he finally called out, pointing at Ashley. Her eyes widened, unprepared for speaking in front of the group. "Yeah, the girl; do you have a guess?" Tentatively, she started to answer, but he cut her off. "Stand up so everyone can hear." Quickly glancing at the boys surrounding her, she rose to her feet.

"You're Hermes, right?"

"Very good," he praised. "How did you know?"

"Because you're the messenger," she shrugged as though it was obvious. He smiled and nodded at her, and she sat back down.

"In a few minutes we'll be pulling up to Blue House, more commonly referred to as Greece. It is a compound with five halls: one of classrooms, one of bathrooms, showers and locker rooms, one with the dining area, gym and game rooms, and two of bunks, all joined by a hub at the center." He held up an open hand to demonstrate the general structure, pointing to each finger as he named the contents of each wing. "You will get your bunk assignment immediately; you are expected to change into your uniform as soon as you get there. Your clothes will be collected in a plastic bag with your worldly name on it and will be sent home to your parents; though, your worldly clothes probably won't fit you when you get out of here, so don't get too attached to them. After that you will be assigned to your big brother or sister, and you will eat your first meal with them; they will be responsible for making sure you go to your classes and do your homework. And don't make them mad at you because they're also responsible for disciplining you. Believe me, I've seen some bad punishments. From now on, you will be referred to as 'Lily' until you earn your name. Often, it's also accompanied by a distinguishing factor. For example, the smart young lady who guessed my name will more than likely be called 'Lily-chick.'" Great, he's making an example of me. Now it's gonna be even harder than I thought. "All right, Lilies, we're coming up on the compound. Get ready to alight and head into the Hub." He turned around to face the door as the bus slowed to a stop.

The boys filed out one by one. Ashley tried to step out into the aisle and was pushed back down into the seat by one of them. Knowing that if she would never get respect if she didn't assert herself, she quickly stood back up and shoved him backward, stepping out into the aisle and making for the door. He shoved her forward into another boy, who spun around and pushed her off of him. They treated her like a human pinball as they walked to the front of the bus. Grabbing for the seats on either side of the aisle, she planted her feet and threw a hand up into each of their chins. Their heads jerked upward with a CLACK as their jaws clamped down hard. She stepped over the boy in front of her and got off the bus. Hermes offered her a hand and gently steadied her as she stepped out of the vehicle. "They'll be punished as soon as they get their siblings," he assured her.

"You don't think I punished them enough?" she asked with a coy smile.

"I knew there was a reason we chose you, Lily-chick," he smiled back, releasing her hand and turning back to the bus. She nodded thanks to him and continued into the building with the others. The two boys left on the bus had to be herded in by Hermes.