Ellesandis, a moon circling one of the outermost Jovian planets of the Rival System. Out of the way enough to make a fine home for the Ray Project back when it was first under control of the Stellar Armed Forces. Since then much of the settlement, factory, and anything remotely human has been overrun by the moon's aggressive terraforming. The factory where the Rays were built made the place ideal for Ray pilots to live, as any necessary repairs could be easily made. The fact that it was out of the way suited many of the established pilots also, though it was proving a bit problematic today. Max Fouxet just saw the whole area as one big training ground. Well, he was trying to. That was the job the other pilots had let fall into his hands. None of them wanted to teach the new recruits. Some of the other pilots thought they were completely unnecessary. Get kids together they thought the dormant Rays might accept? But then, they were all at least ten years older than him. Fouxet was 43, and looked rather good for his age. No grey streaked its way into his slicked-back black hair or in his pencil-thin mustache. His wrinkles were few and complimentary. It did sort of fall apart around his neck, which he kept wrapped in a red scarf. His jacket held a knife, a copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by French Science Fiction master Jules Verne, and the odd tidbit here and there of other things in his pockets. One of these days he resolved to finish the book. He had his boots placed firmly on top of his ship, Idlaide, and was currently munching on an apple as the shuttle lowered itself into the large grassy field he'd told them to drop off in. "Remember, that these kids rely on you now, Max," his favorite Ray captain, Oswin Juenva Jones, reminded him. Even with the grey seeping into her hair, Max still found her to be a real looker. "Some of them are around the age you were when you got your Ray. Some even younger." "Got?" Max repeated with a quirky grin. "I thought I stole it. Isn't that what all of you always said? I'm the 'Ray Thief.'" Jones smiled back. "She chose you, Max. And for good reason, we eventually learned. Still...Try not to make them all like you." As soon as she and Cerberus were gone Max slid off his ship. He personally considered his ship one of the most beautiful ever made. It had the blues, greens, and violets of Ellesandis, separated by a swirling pattern of foamy white lines, so the whole thing liked ethereal sea waves. As he got off her wing, he gave Idlaide a tender pat. Someone apparently hadn't gotten the memo to collect twelve pilots, because he saw only ten people standing there before him. One, a very young girl, seemed to be there more for support than anything else, as she didn't seem to make many motions towards the twelve currently steel grey little ships sitting on the pale blue-green grass. "Hello, new recruits," he said to them. "Let's see if I can't get this out of the way quick. I'm here to teach you how to fly your Rays, but it's a lot deeper than that. These Rays - their AIs are so advanced they surpass human intelligence much like...a star surpasses a planet. Even these little ones here, waiting for you to choose them. But they're unrefined. Think of them at the moment, like a super genius with the maturity of a four-year-old. They'll adjust fast, when they bond to you. "Which brings me to the second part." Max rolled up his right sleeve, showing everyone the interactive wristband fused to his forearm. "This is not jewelry. It's more than a weapon. It's more than a tool. It is your life. If you go to a Ray, and it chooses you, and you get this, there is no going back. You and your Ray are together forever, and you are a pilot, a soldier of fortune, forever. This is your last chance to walk away, all of you. If you're certain as to why you're here, then step up and put your hands in the holes provided. If the Ray chooses you, it will put this on your wrist. Fair warning - it stings like hell. "And don't get discouraged," he added. "It might take a couple tries for you to pick the right one."