Relia Foster grew up in a small town on Carpenter II, a rural planet in an unremarkable corner of the Hafner Duchy. The Carpenter System was nothing special. It lacked the industries that encouraged development.
Everyone who lived on Carpenter II knew their place. They worked in mundane jobs and paid their taxes to a noble House that they never had any hope of approaching.
When she was young, her parents taught her an important lesson.
"Little Relia. Whenever you meet a noble, never look at them in the eyes. Their might and wealth aren't something you can withstand."
"Because we are commoners?" The little girl asked.
"Because we are weak."
Over time, when Relia entered school, she learned what commoners truly represented. They owed their lives to the nobles and royals that ruled over them. It was not their place to question. They merely needed to obey.
"You are Hafners first, and Vesians second, never forget that!"
Her classes taught her that the Hafner Duchy shouldered the important duty of shielding the Vesia Kingdom against thieves and other bad men across the border. Even though the enemies dressed up in other identities, their true origin was the wicked Reinald Republic.
It was a state without morals. Their rejection of nobles had caused them to descend into anarchy and misery. Billions of people starved while the people at the top feasted with food that could have fed the entire state for a day.
"The depravity of the Reinaldans are only matched by the cruelty of the Roppongans and the zealotry of the Lisvians. Even our mortal enemies on the other side of the Kingdom cannot match the sheer evil that pours out of the Frozen Leaf Alliance."
Her teachers frequently emphasized the evilness of the trio of states across the border by showing the aftermath of their raids. Broken homes, fallen mechs, families torn apart, the Reinaldan pirates did not even let off children like Relia and her classmates!
"Sic semper pirata!"
Relia didn't know what that meant, but everyone repeated it for some reason, so she mindlessly yelled out the words in unison.
Most of the time, Relia was a precocious child who played whenever her classes ended. Her idyllic days in that small town came to an end when she reached her tenth birthday. Some Hafner men brought her family to a hospital at a nearby city and put her in some big machine.
Having heard about it from others, she knew that the machine tested something funny called genes. It was said that genes were long strips of strings, and if they wound up just the right way, you became a bigshot that other people called a potentate!
Occasionally, some boy or girl from her town would test positive for the right genes. Their entire family had cause to celebrate because Hafner bestowed them lots of money so that the newly-discovered potentate could attend a distant academy, which was like a school for fighting!
Still, this almost never happened, so Relia didn't think she was anything special.
She was so wrong.
The console in front of the doctor beeped in alarm. After a short analysis, the doctor grinned and whooped.
"What is wrong? Is there something wrong with our child?" Her mother asked with concern.
"Nothing of the sort! Your child is very likely to be a potentate, and not a weak one at that! Further testing is required!"
The excitement uprooted the entire hospital. Doctors and nurses kept prodding at her, taking out samples of blood and saliva. They even cut her brown locks of hair!
For some reason, the hospital couldn't come to a definite conclusion about the specialness of her genes. Only half a day later, a big and menacing shuttle arrived before the hospital and took away Relia and her parents. Little Relia thought that they would be taken to the capital city of Carpenter System.
She was wrong.
Despite the harsh military lines of the shuttle's interior, the journey went absolutely smooth, so much so that Relia only found out later that they had been brought into space!
"Wow! I'm actually in space! My friends will be so jealous of me!"
She didn't know that she would never return to Carpenter II at that time.
As Relia stared out of the porthole of the shuttle, admiring the globe that was her home, the vehicle slowly docked with a larger vessel that turned out to be a corvette. While the Fosters made themselves comfortable in the cramped ship, the corvette zipped to an entirely different star system!
"Wow! We're actually travelling faster than light! Mom, is light really fast?"
Her mother laughed awkwardly before trying to distract her daughter with some toys.
A few days later, the corvette arrived at a star system that Relia only heard from her teachers. "We're in the Beicham System!"
The Beicham System was the capital system of the Hafner Duchy! The Duke of Hafner himself resided in a massive palace on Beicham III! When the big men told Relia that she would be brought to a special facility on that same planet, Relia's eyes began to grow stars! What wonders would she see?
Once the corvette went through a number of security checks, another shuttle brought the Fosters to the surface of Beicham III. The shuttle touched down in an enclosed parking space, whereupon men armed with weapons that Relia had only seen in dramas firmly guided her family inside a massive research facility of some sorts.
The little girl oohed and aahed at every fancy machine in her sights, even though she recognized none of her functions. Their high-tech appearances alone served to ignite her curiosity.
Once deep inside the facility, Relia underwent a more expansive round of testing. The frequent prodding made her feel scared, but her parents were always by her side, so she managed to withheld her cries.
Fortunately, the Hafner doctors didn't disturb her for too long. They ended their testing after three days of testing and informed their family of some of the results.
"Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Foster, your daughter is a promising individual!" The senior doctor announced with a smile.
"Is she sick or anything!?"
"Oh, she is as healthy as she could be. Genetically, she's remarkably perfect! There are Fridaymen who would be envious of her genetics!"
"Then... what is all this about? Why isn't Relia like the other potentates from our town?"
The doctor took on a serious expression. "Potentates are rare among our population, but they emerge frequently enough for Hafner to treat them according to long-standing policies. However, there are some cases which merit a closer look. Young Relia is exactly such a special case. The preliminary results from the clinic from your rural planet were so astounding that we didn't hesitate to bring you to the capital of the Hafner Duchy. What our state-of-the-art machines have determined has only verified those amazing results!"
"So is this something good for little Relia?"
"It is more than good!" The senior doctor proclaimed, then turned to Relia with a gentle smile. "Relia Foster, your potential has been tested, and not found wanting at all. From this day onward, you may now bear the status of potentate with pride!"
Relia already thought about the extra allowance the Hafners would pay to the family members of a potentate, but the doctor wasn't finished.
"It is our pleasure to announce to you an additional blessing! Through rigorous investigation, we have determined that your genetic aptitude has reached one of the most uppermost percentiles of all potentates! In normal parlance, your genetic aptitude falls squarely into A grade!"
A grade genetic aptitude!
Even though the Foster parents didn't know the full weight of that grade, they knew that little Relia was much more special than they thought!
"Then... will she be attending an academy at Carpenter II?"
"No! Absolutely not! Why would Hafner want to waste uncut gem like Relia? Those hillbilly teachers at your podunk academy won't be able to bring out more than a tenth of her potential! Ah, forgive my excitement. This is good news for you! Though the paperwork will come later, I can already tell you that Hafner will sponsor your new lives on Beicham III! Your daughter will enter one of the most prestigious mech academies on our capital planet and receive the highest level of tutoring! Come twenty years later, your daughter will definitely become one of Hafner's heroes!"
From that day onwards, Relia said goodbye to her pleasant and tranquil life on Carpenter II. The Hafner administration whisked the Fosters away to a villa ten times larger than their old home. While her father and mother received easy jobs on the capital planet, Relia was pushed into attending a fancy academy.
All of the changes scared her if she was being honest. She was scared out of her wits when she found out that a lot of noble sons and daughters attended their elite academy!
Fortunately, the Hafner people did their best to welcome her in their midst. After her much more wealthy cadets found out that she possessed an A grade aptitude, her noble cadets bumped away her fellow commoners in the academy and tried to befriend her as much as possible.
It was a wild ride for Relia, though she could always depend on her tutors to set her straight. She only found out later that the Hafners paid a lot of attention to the nurturing of each A grade potentate. In the circle of mech pilots, everyone else were commoners while an A grade potentate like her received treatment akin to a noble!
It was like the galaxy had been turned upside down!
Her time at the academy quickly proved her talent. She breezed through the classes to the point where she mastered the lessons two to four times faster than her fellow cadets! Each time she learned something new, she absorbed the knowledge and skills like a sponge and displayed them with perfect accuracy when she hopped into a training mech!
She quickly distinguished herself at the academy. Besides a handful of other A grade potentates in other year groups, nobody could best her in a fair duel. Relia quickly became accustomed to fighting under handicaps whenever she needed to duel her fellow cadets.
"Your progress is excellent, Cadet Foster."
"I aim to please." She nodded demurely.
Besides learning how to fight, she also learned a lot of etiquette and how to speak words without offending someone important. Just because she was an A grade potentate didn't mean the Duke of Hafner would stay his hand if she called him a bastard.
"Since you require less time to master your lessons, your supervisor has decided to supplement your lesson plan with officer training."
"Officer training, sir?"
"The moment you graduate, you will immediately become a commissioned officer in the Hafner mech legions. This is a rare privilege that will kickstart your career, so don't treat this opportunity lightly!"
From then on, Relia not only trained to become a mech pilot, she was also being groomed into a mech officer. Though the former came naturally to her, the latter provided her with much more challenges. Leadership had nothing to do with genetic aptitude, so she needed the learn the ropes the old fashioned way.
If not for the help of her tutors, Relia would have never made it through officer training. As part of her training to become a mech officer, she found herself being challenged to lead her fellow cadets during classes. Since everyone was still young, it was exceptionally hard to get them to adhere to her orders.
The young but growing woman managed somehow. Though some people envied her genetic aptitude and despised her commoner status, the academy teachers made it clear that she was destined for greater things! Knighthood was within her grasp!
Once most cadets knew that she was a knight in the making, they stopped regarding her as a lucky commoner and treated her as if she was already part of the lowest peerage. After passing through this hurdle, Relia smoothly graduated from the junior academy and effortlessly graduated from the advanced academy as well.
The Mech Legion commissioned her as a mech lieutenant when she was fresh out of training.
Though she wanted to spend more time with her parents, the newly christened Lieutenant Foster knew that her family's privileges could only be sustained by fulfilling her obligations. She followed the arrangements of the Mech Legion and joined a Hafner mech regiment called the Hostland Warriors.