RIFT - Scene 18

Just a quick note to my newsletter subscribers before we continue: I was writing an email five minutes ago, but struggled with including a file that I want you to have exclusive access to (Don´t ask, it´s super secret - newsletter subscribers only!). But I fumbled it, and so it´ll just have to wait until tomorrow (it is 22:45 Central European Time as I write this). So I figured, while we wait, I´ll post another RIFT scene.

After following Sue through her first combat experience and her meeting Mark Novak, we´re now heading south again, to Warden territory. So let´s see what Dave is up to, because the Wardens have secrets. Big secrets.

 

RIFT - Scene 18

The alarm pierced his ears, and tore him out of sleep. Dave sat up, bewildered, and for a few seconds he was back in Charlestown, wondering what was happening. Then, as he realized where he was, a chill ran down his spine. Could this be the real thing?

He got up, and put on his pants. He pulled his shirt on, but managed to button his shirt skewed, so that one side of his loose shirt end hung lower than the other. He didn´t bother to redo it. His boots went on, and he slapped the velcro tight around his ankles. Lucky they didn´t use shoe laces, he thought, as he sprinted out of the dorm with the others.

Just outside, two senior stewards stood handing out handguns and rifles, to every initiate before passing them along. Dave got a pistol, and was ushered along to the next group of stewards, who were handing out ammunition. He got two boxes of cartridges, and opened the lid slightly to look inside. Live rounds. So, if this was a drill, it was damn realistic.

Most Wardens didn´t carry weapons in camp, just the ones who were on guard duty, or certain senior positions. And the rangers. He saw one of the rangers, Harald something - Moon blood, obviously - in full combat gear, toting a scoped rifle and night vision gear fastened to his helmet. Dave looked around at the other senior Wardens. Usually, they were a pretty cheerful lot, but now their faces were sombre, serious. This is it then, he thought, this is definitely no drill. He went on to the great sqare set in the middle of camp, where everyone had their gathering points in case of an alarm.

«Sidnell», he heard someone shout, and then he saw Liz sprint by. He hadn´t talked to her for a few days, since she began testing for ranger aptitude. Now she looked like she was being outfitted for combat, and Dave shuddered. He hadn´t chosen his specialization yet, but he had made no secret of wanting to enter tech or maybe teaching. He felt quite sure Liz would be chosen for the rangers though. As far as he knew, she was just the kind they were looking for, whereas he was more the kind of Warden to end up in the Cottage.

A Warden known to him only as Jared, and about one year older, came over and stood beside him, looking at the group preparing for combat.

«See that, Wagner? They are taking initiates already. Usually, initiates are only brought along after at least six months.» he said. Dave nodded. He´d heard.

«Looks like they are taking the ones singled out for ranger duty.» he answered. 

Jared got a faraway look.

«Yeah, thank the God, or whatever. I hardly remember anything from my stint out there, but I do remember the fear and the feeling afterward. You´ll see. 

Just… Just don´t let it get to you, Dave, and you´ll be fine.» he forced a smile, and Dave noticed Jared swallowed hard.

The rangers took off toward the airpad, taking Liz and at least five other initiates with them. The alarm stopped, and an older steward came over and told them they could go back to whatever they were doing. Jared wished him luck- tomorrow Dave would know which specialization he´d get- and took off. Dave walked slowly back to the barracks.

Although relieved, Dave wondered how Liz would fare. She was capable, no doubt, but something about the way nobody ever told him, or even seemed to remember any details, made him anxious.

The next morning, after a restless sleep, he went straight to the square again. This time it was no alarm though. The initiates were gathered in the middle, with spectators, people they had befriended, teachers, senior Wardens, standing in small clusters around. No rangers though, and none of the ranger initiates either.

The man standing in front of the initiates was the same man who had greeted them when they had arrived by train, not two months ago. He had a different shirt this time, still colorful though, and he didn´t seem like he´d had a haircut or a shave since the last time Dave saw him. His name was Gregor, and from what Dave had learned, he was head of everything around here, initiate training, operations and all. He still didn´t know his official title though. But even through the shaggy exterior and the half-smile that never seemed to leave his face, Dave could tell this man was Moon blood through and through, even if he hadn´t learned his name. He´d been surprised if it had been otherwise, of course; nobody not of the Moon people would have been put in charge of anything of this size.

«Alright, let´s get on with this, shall we?» Gregor said. Dave noticed Brian standing nearby, and took a couple of steps to stand beside him. It felt right, to have another kid from Charlestown here. Brian smiled as he noticed him, and then they both turned their attention to their superior.

«You should have noticed the absence of the rangers. That´s right, those selected to leave us last night have been accepted into ranger duty. Those of you who applied and didn´t go, what can I say? Sorry mates. We´ll find you something more suitable.» He grinned, while a couple of initiates standing among them shuffled, and looked down. 

The ranger initiates will receive most of their specialization out in the field, although they will be living here until they are fully trained. And of course, some of them might be selected for instructor duty later on, and those you will see again.» He paused for a moment, and though he seemed like he was thinking something funny, his eyes looked sharp as he eyed the initiates.

«As a matter of fact, they are on their way back now, and should be here any minute.» Dave felt his heart beat a little faster. He couldn´t tell whether it was fear of what could have happened to Liz and the others, or if it was the excitement of knowing that in a few moments, he would receive his invitation into one of the specializations. He desperately hoped he wouldn´t be picked for stewards or guards. That would be a complete waste. And now that the rangers were out of the question, his ambitions were stirring again.

«Garret, Heineman, Wilson, Johnson, Callan, Duval, Fredericks. You are to be trained stewards.

«Jefferson, Teller, Harrison, Billings, Ford, both Fords actually… we´ll have to work something out… Peterson, Lavalle, Desmond, Henderson, Bowers, Rollins. Guards for you guys, and sorry about that comment. You are all to be Wardens, no matter what.» Dave knew several of those chosen for guards had applied for rangers, and though he knew the rangers were extremely selective he´d thought at least one or two of them might make it. But like the commander said, they were all Wardens, first and foremost.

«Sawyer. You´ll be an assistant teacher.» Dave jumped. Brian to be a teacher? How could that be? Dave knew he was smarter, and worked harder than him. He didn´t have time to brood though, as Greger announced his name.

«Wagner. Tech for you.» So, he would be a techie. That wasn´t too bad, he thought.

He didn´t pay attention as Gregor announced the rest. A small group to engineers, which was essentially builders, and another group to medical. A group of six or seven who had to go through basic again, since their results weren´t good enough for specialization. He almost didn´t notice when Gregor congratulated them all and wished them luck. He´d learn every technology allowed, he would be sworn to secrecy and learn things nobody else were allowed to know. He´d have real career prospects. The brief envy over not being selected for teaching faded quickly; he´d learn so much more in tech, and once he´d served for a while, the Cottage would gladly welcome him. It would take a bit longer, but in the end nobody in the Wardens, except Cottage teachers, knew as much as those in tech.

He was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn´t notice the airship before it passed above him. Liz, he thought. He ran off toward the airpad, eager to tell her everything. When he approaced, there were several others already standing there, watching as the rangers and their initiates disembarked. They all looked tired, and their uniforms were grimy. He noticed one of the initiates limped, while another had dried blood all over his legs. None of them seemed to notice the crowd though.

Liz was one of the last to disembark. She seemed okay.

As she got closed though, he saw her face. Her eyes. Her features were slack, and her pupils dilated. She seemed to stare at nothing, and when he greeted her, it was as if she stared straight through him. She looked empty.

«Let them through guys. Come on, make room.» that was Harald, the Moon blood ranger. He didn´t have the faraway look. On the contrary, he seemed alert and aware as he sternly made sure nobody got in the way. Dave stood aside, and watched while Liz and the others walked toward the hospital. A steward and a doctor, both Moon blood he realized, let them in, and Harald closed the door briskly behind them.

«What happened?» Brian asked, as he came walking, a big smile still on his face. Dave just shook his head.

«I really have no idea.» he said. Something isn´t right, he thought, and he instinctively knew he had to keep such thoughts to himself. Something definitely isn´t right.

*****

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RIFT - Scene 17

In this scene, we´ll see what happens when Sue and her friends are gathered for what the Janissaries call "Survivor Night". In this scene there is a passage where we learn to know another character better, and although it´s not a POV- character, I think this character can show us a little more of who the Moon People are, and what it must be like to be among such an elite, born to rule and all that. We already know a lot about the regular folks, who among other things only live until the age of fifty, when they face mandatory euthanasia... Unless they are selected for Service - and survive.

But what must it be to be born into a privileged class, expected to live off the toil of others like it was the most natural thing in the world, and not for a second have even the slightest problem with it? I´m not so sure it´s always as easy as you might think.

So let´s get to it, shall we?

RIFT- Scene 17

Ever since she first arrived at Camp Sharpe, Sue had heard talk of Survivor Night. Indeed, every Janissary who had passed their final test for their JJ bar, whether that was actual combat or not, had been through this. And now it was her turn. She was marching slowly beside Tac Hordvik. Behind her, Keisha and Julian followed. It was more of a leisurely walk than a march, she thought, but such was the custom on Survivor Night.

There were other patrols as well, and she recognized Laurie limping in the back of one of the patrols. He was one of those who would enter true Janissary status with combat experience. Others, who clearly hadn´t seen combat, were staring at them, big eyed and curious, although they looked weary as well. The officers made sure no one got it the easy way.

Sue was acutely conscious that she must smell awfully. No one was allowed to shower before Survivior Night- another Janissary tradition. They would wear their battle dress, complete with sweat, dirt, even blood, making the contrast to all the luxury even starker. The mess, usually nice enough but nothing lavish, would be decorated for the occasion.

Sub Meridian Hoston received them at the entrance. Although dirty from being out in the field with one of the patrols, he still looked like he had groomed himself, just a little. He had dark blonde hair, short in the neck and on the sides, while the top had grown long enough to fall down on one side. He was probably around thirty, sporting a short purple dyed goatee that emphasized his grey eyes. Sue had seen him around camp, mostly just talking to the tacticus, passing down orders. Initiates never spoke to officers, and officers rarely bothered with initiates. Come to think of it, Sue had never seen him smile before, but now he did, a wide grin, ear to ear. He nodded to Tac Hordvik, who moved aside while Hoston opened a dark wooden box. Sue strained to see. 

The box contained at least twenty small gold bars. The single bar of a Junior Janissary. The sub meridian pinned a gold bar to the lapel of her shirt first.

«Welcome, Janissary Atlas. May you reap honor.» he said, right fist to the heart, Janissary style. Sue repeated the salute.

«We reap what we sow. Service to the State.» she replied.

As soon as every member of her patrol had received their gold bar, they were let inside.

Sue stopped just inside, jaw agape. The mess was barely recognizable, and if she hadn´t known better she would have believed this was one of those fine restaurants she had heard of, one of those found only in the big cities, or even just in Legacy itself.

Cloth draped the walls, the black and white of the Covenant, while the floors were all covered in read carpets. She felt guilty for stepping on such fine fabric, with her muddy boots. There were candelabras  lining the walls, and the tables were set with delicate white tablecloth, with a long black cloth dividing it along the middle. In front of every chair the table was set with fine silverware, and thick candles burning. And the smell! She noticed the servants lined up by the far wall holding large covered trays. She didn´t even know they had servants here in Camp Sharpe, but these looked like they had never done anything else their entire lives.

The head waiter stepped forward, and motioned for them to sit down, and Sue hesitantly took a seat beside Keisha, who was quick to pick her place. Tac Hordvik- Even, she reminded herself- sat down on on the other side. The servants began to serve the first course, a fish of some kind. It was red and cold and salty, and melted on the tongue. The fruit laid beside it was something she had never seen before. It tasted heavenly though.It was far too little, and her stomach growled as soon as she finished off the last bite.

A door on the far side of the room opened, and when she saw who entered she laid down her silverware, swallowing hard. Conselor Novak smiled as he sat down opposite her. A servant offered to serve the fish, salmon he called it, but the counselor declined. How could anyone decline such food? He took some wine instead, smelling it thoroughly before he sipped.

«So, Atlas. I´m looking forward to hear your story.» he said, before turning toward Tac Hordvik.

«But first, tacticus, I must say I´m curious about you. I´ve heard very good things about you. The Sub Strategos tells me you have declined advancement more than once.» Hordvik didn´t say anything, and the counselor took another sip. He did something curious, which to Sue sounded like a gurgle. Then he swallowed, closing his eyes for a moment.

«Very nice…» he murmured, giving the head waiter an approving nod. Then he looked back at the tacticus.

«Even Hordvik, a tacticus in the Janissaries, risking his neck again and again, instead of taking command like his father would expect of him. Declined a placement with the Strategos personal staff two years ago, refused to go the the Military Academy one year ago - again, since you had the opportunity three years ago as well. Made your father very angry when you decided to stay with the Janissaries even after he got you a placement with the Luna brigade. Now that was one choice I never did understand. Some people, myself included, who believed you had an urge to be in the best combat unit, expected you to embrace that placement. I thought perhaps the challenge would tease you. Even you would have struggled to be accepted through their selection process.» Sue didn´t understand half of this, but she did understand that Hordvik had had several opportunities that most wouldn´t even dream of, and yet, he had chosen to remain with the Janissaries, a mere tacticus, while he could have been an officer a long time ago.

Sue almost didn´t notice the servants placing the next course before her, until the smell woke her. The deer steak - from the preserve, obviously - with carrots, potato puree and a creamy sauce, made her mouth water, and she had a hard time restraining herself. The counselor noticed though, and smiled as he motioned for her to eat.

«Go on, Janissary, eat. You have deserved this.» She didn´t wait for him to repeat, and took a bite. The meat was like nothing she had had back home. So tender.

«So, Hordvik. Why would someone of the Moon people, especially someone from a prominent family like the Hordviks, choose to serve with the Janissaries? And to continue serving for years. You know what you are risking. It´s not like these kids from Charlestown or Holstonhead or Nevayrk. They don´t have as much to loose. Thirty more years, against the possibility to live forever, what´s that really, in the great scheme of things? But you are a Hordvik. So why?» Sue noticed the tacticus eyes narrowed. It was as if she saw two equals speaking, making her acutely aware of her own status.

«You mean, why I choose to serve?» Horvik said. Novak nodded.

«Why should´t I serve? Why shouldn´t I?» The counselor cocked his head, just a little. Sue remembered seeing his face on television, years ago. She couldn´t have been more that five or six years old. He looked exactly the same, except for the intensity of his eyes, never blinking. Television really didn´t convey every detail.

«Okay, I get it. You choose to serve. But what about command? A strategos serves just as a tacticus does. But you choose to remain a footsoldier. Why?» Sue took another bite, but even the savory food couldn´t distract her from the intensity of the conversation. Tac Hordvik eyed her, as if wondering whether to speak with an audience, but got a hard look as he turned his gaze back to the counselor.

«Service to the State. What does it really mean, counselor?» He shook his head. «it has become empty words among my people. Why are we born citizens? Why are we automatically chosen for command? Those not of the Moon people, I´ve seen so many Janissaries from those small towns you mentioned, capable, intelligent people. Some of them are dead now. Others have chosen to extend their Service. Others again, are citizens today. They have earned it.» his voice was ice now, but Sue noticed a slight movement, as if the counselor was nodding. Curious, she thought. Horvik didn´t seem to notice though.

«I was lucky.» he continued. «I was born to rule… But here´d the thing, counselor; I think it corrupts us.» he paused, only to speak again when counselor Novak didn´t say anything. «It corrupts the people, the state, everything. And if we don´t change, the Moon people will fall. The Covenant will fall. Make no mistake, counselor, I love my people, and I love the Covenant. I cannot stand idly by and watch the corruption eat away everything we have created since Descent.» he exhaled, and seemed to notice those nearby staring at him. He took his glass, and took a deep swallow. Then the tacticus grinned, whille setting his glass back down. 

«So, in my small way, I choose to do what everyone should be doing. I serve.» 

Sue hadn´t been wrong, the counselor was indeed nodding. The conversation between the two was clearly over though, and the counselor turned his attention to her.

«Janissary Atlas, I would love to hear your story, and maybe the rest of you can help out as well. Please, tell me what happened out there.»

«I assume you´ve read the file, Counselor.» she replied. Novak nodded affirmatively.

«Still, I´d like to year your version of it. All of you.» Sue took a deep breath - where to begin?

«Well, sir, let´s begin with the first contact. I think Keisha was the first one to notice the ambush…» she continued by telling the story as thouroghly as possible. They all filled in whenever she became stuck, and Keisha gave a vivid description of how she had stormed forward, fearlessly, while the enemy was firing all over them. Too vivid for Sue´s taste, and she´d never been fearless. Still the story told was mostly accurate, more than she would have been able to tell all by herself. She even told him about the woman, the prisoner. Julian took over when she began to speculate how she could have avoided killing her, for which she was grateful. Sometimes Counselor Novak had a question, and she tried to answer as well as she could. In the end, Tac Hordvik told of their return, and how the airship took them away, He repeated his claim that none of them would be alive if not for her actions.

«So, Susan, you relieved your superior of command. Didn´t you. One of the Moon blood.» There it was. The counselor hadn´t missed that one point, that one fact that would be considered a serious crime, whatever else she had done. She felt her cheeks grow hot, but she dind ´t say anything.

«Sir, Counselor. She did what she had to do to keep us all alive.» Hordvik protested. The counselor looked into her eyes, considering. Then he rose abruptly.

«Let´s change that bit, shall we?» he said.

«Sir?»

«Let´s not spread that part beyond this group. I´ll fix the report, don´t worry. And none of you tell that particular bit to anyone, got it?» He extended his hand, and she took it. His grip was firm, surprisingly so.

«We all know this was the only option, so let´s just say that the tacticus gave the order, alright?» he said. Tac Hordvik grinned, and Novak grinned back.

« We all know that sometimes you have to break a few rules to set things straight.» he said. Then he let go of her hand, turned, and walked out, leaving them all in silence. At last, Keisha broke the silence.

«Where is everyone? I thought Survivior Night was for everyone.» Julian motioned for them all to look over to the entrance from which they had come. The next patrol were entering, led by Sub Meridian Hoston. Sue sat down again, hoping there was some warmth in her food still. Curious. The counselor must have made sure nobody else was around to hear her story. It was the only explanation she could think of. But why would he even care?

****

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RIFT - Scene 16

RIFT is coming along nicely, and I have my editor scheduled for December. For new readers, let me just repeat that here on the blog, I post every scene of my upcoming novel, RIFT, raw and unedited, first draft. As always, skip these posts if you don´t like reading unedited material. For those of you following the process, let me just repeat that the finished novel will look quite different. I tend to make a lot of changes from first draft to finished novel. So, it´s time to meet Mark Novak again, the oldest man on the planet. In this scene, a chance encounter foreshadows future events. Well I guess that´s the only spoiler you´ll get today...

 

RIFT - scene 16

Every time he visited in an official capacity, he tried not to wince when the locals tried to impress him. To be honest, he wasn´t an easy man to impress. After all, if he hadn´t seen it all, no one had. So he smiled and nodded as he exited the great airship and stepped onto solid ground. The flags and fanfare, the ranking officers, the honor guard, was all background noise to him. To be endured, so that he could do what he had come for. To get an impression of the state of the northern defenses, to see for himself how things were, unpolished and rough, and so much more reliable than the reports they received back in Legacy.

He´d been to Camp Sharpe once before, and even once before the Fall. Back then, a memory that was so old it was hard to distinguish from fantasy, he´d been with his girlfriend at the time. He chuckled. There had been a few, back when her was quite the eligible bachelor. But he´d really believed in that relationship, for a while, and taken her to this place, which had been known to be a romantic hotspot. The waterfalls had impressed him, and it was sad to know that none of these youngsters would ever see what he´d seen. Everything about the landscape looked different. But some things hadn´t changed. This was still the border of this country. And even if it wasn´t the same country as it had been, it was his country.

The small group approaching consisted of three newly minted janissaries and one non- commisioned officer, all sworn to protect this northern border, and his way of life. He could see their commander, a tacticus of Moon blood, walked with a limp, although he seemed to try not to. Another wore an oversize bandage on his right hand. Two girls. Women, he corrected himself. Unharmed, from the looks of them.

The last one, lay on a stretcher, carried off by medics, to be taken to the camp hospital. Too bad, Mark thought. He would have liked to shake his hand.

Sub Strategos Janev, commander of Camp Sharpe, and twenty year veteran of janissary training beamed as the small group stopped in front of them, coming to attention as one.

«Tacticus Hordvik. I see you brought these fine young janissaries safely back from quite a skirmish.» He looked over at the one leaving the platform. «And from what I heard that one over there will be just fine in a few weeks also. Well done.» He shook the younger man´s hand. The Tacticus hesitated, and Mark though he wanted to say something.

«Speak up son, what is it?» he said. The Tacticus, Hordvik, looked at him, and his eyes widened. Mark almost sighed. It was the same every time people realized who he was. The young man didn´t hesitate for long though.

«I don´t deserve this, sir.» he said. The Sub Strategos laughed, about to wave it all of as modesty, but the Tacticus spoke again.

«This woman deserves the credit, sir. When pinned down and under fire, she single-handedly took out five enemies and a tactical rocket launcher. That was after she and this man incapacitated a nest of enemies that was about to slaughter us all. If not for her, none of us would be alive now.» Mark looked at the young woman, who were blushing from the praise. She had close cropped dark blonde hair, ice blue eyes, and a look about her that told him this wasn´t any ordinary youngster, picked up to serve and die. This woman was leadership material, and there was something there that he recognized instantly. A willingness to do the right thing, no matter the cost. He cocked his head slightly.

Sub Strategos Janev grinned.

«I promise I´ll read the report, Hordvik, and if it is as you claim, I believe we have a distinguished merit under fire coming, don´t you?»  He laughed, and turned to Mark.

«Not bad for a green initiate on her first combat patrol. I told you we´re training some fine young janissaries up here, Counselor.» Mark smiled back, eyeing the young woman sideways.

«You can say that again, Janev. I´m impressed.» he hesitated for a moment. «I´m told you have a tradition here, when initiates turn full jannisaries…»

«Oh, yes, the dinner. Well, it´s not much to someone like you...» Janev said. Mark pressed on.

«I would very much like to join these fine young men and women. In fact, I was planning to ask you for a favor, but I understand it is custom that a high ranking officer attends.» Janev looked puzzled. Mark smiled. In order to get footsoldiers talking he usually tried to get the officers out of the way.

«Now though, while you gather the information I need, I could take your place at dinner. I would love to get a chance to speak to them, and this way, you get the work done faster.» He didn´t wait for a reply. Whatever Mark Novak decided, a mere Sub Strategos would obey. Even if the blustering Janev was Moon people and he was not. Mark motioned for his attendees to follow, as he walked toward the suites prepared for him. Sub Strategos Janev remained standing for a moment before following. 

Obedient dog, Mark thought. Born to rule and all that. He wondered what it would take, for someone with the power to make some real decisions, to see that the system needed reform, or it would fall. The way things were heading, the Covenant wasn´t sustainable. It reminded him too much of the systems he´d read about in history books, back in the old world. Systems that exploited the many for the gain of the few. A part of him wished for reforms, while another part secretly wished for the system to come crashing down. The one thing that frightened him though, every time these thoughts came to him, was that if the latter happened, he would certainly be among the first to fall.

 

**** 

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RIFT - Scene 15

Things are really picking up now, and so far, I think Sue has been holding up pretty well. Now, let´s step right into where we left off, and see whether Sue and Julian can deal with what lays ahead of them.

 

RIFT - Scene 15

After about five minutes, Julian stopped, raised his left fist, and took a knee, weapon raised and ready to fire.

«Twelve o´clock» Sue heard his voice, an amplified whisper. She took a knee, and waited. After a few seconds that seemed to last an eternity, Julian lowered his hand, palm down and out to his left. Although even the barest whisper would be heard inside the helmets, using hand signs for when they preferred quiet was something Tac Hordvik had emphasized time and again. You never knew what the enemy heard, or what equipment they might have got their hands on. Sue crept carefully forward, taking up position two meters left of Julian. They were almost ready.

They looked at each other, and Sue held up five fingers. Both checked that their spare magazine was within easy reach and pointed the right way. Everything to make time spent changing as short as possible. Four. Sue glanced through the sights, and made a small adjustment for distance. The enemy were no more than  sixty or seventy meters in front of them, dragging the heavy rocket launcher between them. One looked injured. Three. There seemed to be six or seven enemies. With the element of surprise, Sue and Julian should be able to take them out swiftly. Sue was acutely aware that these would probably be hardened veterans though. Two. She was green. So green. But training did count for something, and there was no better training than that of the Janissaries. One.

They fired simultaneously, and two enemies fell at once. Sue moved the barrel slightly and fired again. One more down. She heard Julian fire two quick bursts, and followed up with one of her own. Missed. One of the savages managed to get a burst off in their direction, and she heard a scream both through her helmet and from the outside.

«Shit shit shit!» Julian screamed as he dropped his weapon. Sue fired another burst, and the shooter fell to the ground. She looked at Julian, who had taken cover. He was clutching his hand, bleeding. The medics would fix that back in camp. Painful, obviously, but nothing serious. His weapon was done for though. Now she was on her own. She focused, leaving Julian with her injury. How many left?

A stray bullet almost got her, but the defense bots deflected it. The suit was designed to deflect or stop bullets, but it didn´t always work, and some parts of the body was more difficult to cover than others. The helmet though, had some of the best defensive capacities, including nano bots that within a microsecond could merge into an almost invisible shield in the air, a centimeter or so outside the helmet itself, and deflect the incoming bullet. It would destroy the bots, but could save her life. It just had, and she gave a quick thanks to the now wrecked little invisible fellows that would have to be replaced once they got back. If they got back.

She moved a meter to her left, in order to make for a less obvious target. In a split second, she saw movement , and she raised her weapon and fired a long burst almost even as the weapon was moving. She heard a scream, and another voice shouted something. A female voice.

Sue edged forward, to have a closer look. There, pinned down in a small depression, Sue could see one leg sticking out. Careless, she thought, taking aim. A single shot, and a scream (repetition?). She got to her feet, and ran toward the enemy, hunched low, aware that she might be wrong, there might be others.

She stood above the woman, covering her with the rifle. The woman rolled over, wincing from the injury.

«Me tuer, meurtrier!» the woman said. She couldn´t be older than Sue, but the wide eyes and scruffy hair did nothing to hide her contempt. Sue didn´t know what to do. Clearly, they couldn´t let her go. But they had strict rules that taking prisoners were to be avoided. But here she was, holding her weapon at a girl that could have been her sister or a friend, back in Charlestown, and she couldn´t simply shoot her. She had no idea what those words meant, but it didn´t matter. She glanced over at Julian as he came walking toward them, hoping that he would come up with a solution.

It all happened in an instant.

The woman drew the sidearm from underneath her, and pulled the trigger. Had she been steadier, more experienced perhaps, Sue would be dead. Instead, the shot went off a split second before the gun actually pointed at her, and Sue reacted instinctively. Three round burst. The woman shook a couple of times, before she fell silent, eyes still wide from the shock.

«Shit, that was close» Julian said. «Are you okay?» 

Sue nodded, dazed. She had just killed five people. That was in addition to the five or so killed back by the treeline. And the last one was a woman her own age. A prisoner. Nausea was quickly building up.

«Hey!» she heard Julian, distant at first. «Hey! Don´t break down on me now, Sue. You did what you had to do. Let´s just do what we came here for, and get the hell out of here.» 

Sue could feel a calm coming, that didn´t seem completely natural. The AI, she thought, as her mind began to focus on the task at hand. She breathed deeply, and exhaled, the nausea gone, and composure regained.

«You got a charge ready?» she said. Julian nodded, and tried to reach his a pocket on his left side with his good hand. He fumbled a little, and Sue reached over.

«Let me.» she said. Their eyes met, and she noticed his half- smile behind his visor. She looked away, and reached into his pocket, grabbing the multi charge. She walked over to the rocket launcher, which looked intact still, with just a few small dents from the small arms fire. She placed the charge beside the firing mechanism, so that it would inflict the most damage.

«Let´s go.» she said, keeping her eyes away from Julian´s.

They walked for a couple of minutes, Sue in front with her weapon ready. Just in case. Once Sue thought they were far enough away, they stopped. Sue took out a small controller unit, and pressed a button. After a moment, a red light turned green, and she pressed the button again.

The blast wasn´t as powerful as she remembered from training. But here, in these woods, all sounds were muffled by foliage. They waited for half a minute, before resuming their walk. None of them spoke. Instead, Sue switched to team frequency.

«Two-One-Bravo, this is Two-Four-Bravo.»

«This is Two-One-Bravo. You guys done yet?» Tac Hordvik answered.

«Affirmative. Any news on exfil?» Sue hoped the medevac would be there in time to save Quinn. And get them out before the enemy realized they had wounded Janissaries that would be an easy target if they came in force. The tacticus remained silent for a few seconds, before returning.

«We have a go for exfil. So get your butts over here A.S.A.P., before the big shots decide to leave without you.»

«Don´t worry about us. We´ll be there. Two-Four-Bravo out.»

«You hear that?» she said to Julian.

«Yeah. Let´s get a move on.»

They ran as quickly as they could, and Sue worried that if an enemy spotted them, they would be defenseless. But there were no more enemies around, and soon they reached the clearing where the others were waiting, just as the airship arrived. Keisha ran a few meters off and began directing the airship, as it lowered toward them. Once it hung just five meters or so above ground, something that looked like a cross between a basked and an elevator was lowered. Two heavily armored airmen, sporting some fancy weaponry Sue didn´t recognize, leapt out and covered the janissaries while they embarked. Two medics lifted Quinn onto a stretcher, and carried him on board. Julian followed right behind, clutching his damaged hand.

«Shouldn´t we pick up Brad?» she said to Tac Hordvik, who looked like he was about to fall over from blood loss. He just shook his head.

«He´s gone, either way, Atlas. Care for the living.» Keisha came running, and Sue followed her on board. Once everyone else was inside, Tac Hordvik ushered the airmen on board, while he embarked last. The basked / elevator quickly rose up inside an opening in the belly of the airship. The doors underneath them banged shut, and they exited the basket and strapped themselves into seats in the back.

Once the airship picked up speed, Sue finally let herself relax. She took off her helmet, and laid her head back. She was restless though, and she could feel her hands begin to shake. No magic injections from the AI this time, now that she wasn´t in any immediate danger.

Her mind was racing. Could she have done anything different? How would the tacticus feel about her taking charge back there? Why did that woman have to draw that gun at her? What if she had disarmed her properly in the first place, would the woman be alive now? She had killed at least five people, probably more…

Tac Hordvik scoted over to sit beside her. She could see he was in pain, and wondered why he hadn´t received any painkiller meds yet. They sat quiet for a moment, and she was the first to break the silence between them.

«I´m sorry, Tac. I shouldn´t have run off like that. Injury or no injury, you are still my superior…»

He waved her off.

«You did good out there Atlas. If not for your swift action, we´d still be down there, and Quinn would be dead for sure. For an initiate, you sure did raise hell today.» He grinned, as she blushed.

«Okay… Are you sure, I mean, Tac…» He shook his head.

«What you did out there today takes a lot of courage. You did the right thing, even if it would have cost you, had you done that to someone else. Me, I don´t care about any of that.» He smiled again, and offered his hand. She took it, and returned his firm grip.

«Oh, and Sue, my first name isn´t Tac. It´s Even. Even Hordvik» Sue laughed softly. The day had been so full of loss and hardship, but in the end, she had gained a new friend.

 ****

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RIft - Scene 14

So I have another RIFT scene for you guys. But first of all, if you haven´t already got it, Aurora, the second book in the Exodus Trilogy, is on sale in the US and the UK for $0.99 / £0.99 for a couple more days. It´s a Kindle Countdown Deal, so if you check out the book page, you´ll see how long until the price goes back to normal. Here are the links:

US: http://www.amazon.com/Aurora-Exodus-Trilogy-Book-2-ebook/dp/B00EQGJYEC/

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Or you could just read all the Exodus Trilogy books for FREE if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited... 

Alright then, let´s get on with RIFT, shall we? The last we saw of Sue was her and her team mates out beyond the northern border of the Covenant, on their first combat patrol. And the last scene ended on a cliffhanger, so let´s not waste any more time. Here it is!

 

RIFT - Scene 14

Sue shook her head and wiped dirt from the outside of her visor. A scream pierced her ears from the helmet comms system, before it was muted. Brad. She glimpsed the enemy in front of her withdrawing, and turned half way around. Brad was lying on the ground, cut almost in half by the explosion. Dead or dying, it didn´t matter. Even the fabled Janissary suit couldn´t save him from such a blast. Quinn was also down, and lay motionless. She noticed Tac Hordvik crawling toward him, firing short bursts every few seconds. She couldn´t see what he was aiming for, but she threw her weapon around and fired a long burst in the general direction he was firing at, before getting up. She ran over to him, followed by Julian, while Keisha stayed back, covering their backs. There was a low dip in the terrain, where they would be safe from direct fire. At least for a little while.

«I´ve already called for backup.» the tacticus said. «But unless we take out that rocket launcher, the airship will not come. They´re not risking an airship for a bunch of green initiates.» Sue could see he was gritting his teeth, and for a moment she thought it was anger at their superiors who would sacrifice them so easily. But then she saw where the suit had been penetrated. The nano bots were already covering the hole in the suit, just above the knee, but there was no hiding the blood soaking through.

«You´re hurt.» she said. He nodded.

«Yes, but the bots are stitching me up as we speak. Hurts as hell though. AI won´t drug me either. Have to stay alert.» She nodded, thought for a second, before she spoke.

«Tac, you stay here with Quinn and Keisha. Me and Julian will take out the launcher.» the tacticus stared at her, and seemed about to say something. She cut him off, a bit too harsh.

«Tacticus, sir We have no choice. You are incapacitated whether you like it or not. This is the only way.» She didn´t wait for an answer as she motioned for Julian to follow her.

«Now.» she said, her voice calm, though her thoughts raced. She had just relieved her superior of command. If they survived, which was anything but certain, she could face dire consequences. Nevertheless, this was their only chance, and looking at the remains of Brad, she didn´t think they´d get another.

Sue and Julian leapt from cover simultaneously, firing everything they had while they ran. The ammo in the magazine would only last for a few more steps. When she estimated they were down to the last twenty rounds, she shouted, a little too loud, for Julian to take cover. As soon as they hit the ground she turned a switch on the side of her weapon, lifted it to point up in a 45 degree angle, and fired. A blast of heat passed to the side of her helmet. The heat seeking missile should search out their attackers within seconds. She craned her neck to see, knowing that she was exposed, waiting to see where the missile hit.

A blast just to the right of where she had expected it told her the location of their attackers. Both she and Julian took a knee, fresh magazines clipped onto their weapons, and blasted away. Fifty rounds each, give or take, before they stood up, and moved forward, firing short bursts with every step. As they reached the tree line, she knew she would soon be out again. They booth took a knee as soon as they stepped within the shade of the forest.

«Keep firing, I´ll switch first.» she said. Julian just nodded. Once she was done, Julian did the same, while she covered. Once they were done, they moved forward again, slower now. After  twenty or thirty meters they came upon the remains of the enemy position taken out by the heat seeker. The dead lay strewn, and some sort of tracked vehicle still burned.

«Let´s hurry. They can´t be far away.» she said. «The launcher must be slowing them down. See the mount?» she pointed at the burning vehicle. It had clearly been fitted with a weapon.

«Those weapons are powerful, but cumbersome. I can´t believe they plan to carry it off.» Julian said.

«Yeah, I guess they would have a hard time replacing it though.» Sue answered, knowing well that the savages didn´t have nearly the resources of the Covenant.

They ran through the forest, knowing that they could be running into an ambush at any time. But if they didn´t take out the launcher soon, Quinn would be dead. And though she was no friend of his, they were still a team, and team mates looked out for each other.

The air was crisp, and outside of a few rays of light coming through the canopy, shadow covered the ground. The visors adjusted swiftly between light and dark though, so Sue had no problem seeing.

«Careful» she heard Julian whisper inside her helmet, as something snapped. She cursed quietly, and pulled her foot from the broken branch. The enemy didn´t have the equipment of the Janissaries, but they still  had ears. She took a moment to look around. Nothing. Then they kept walking, a quick pace, but more careful with where they put their feet down. Julian took the front, while Sue tried to cover both sides. They needed to move fast, but if they came upon the enemy without the element of surprise, it would be two against who knew how many. And not even Janissary suits or their superior weapons could be relied upon to keep them alive through that. 

 ******

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RIFT - Scene 13

I have another RIFT scene for you guys, and today we join Sue on her first patrol in enemy territory.

Before we head out with the Janissaries of the Covenant, I just want to mention that I had a friend over in Oxford, England do a little fact- checking for me for a scene from my Super Secret Project. The SSP is (naturally) a book, and it will be released sometime in 2015. I hope to have it ready by Spring, but I can´t promise anything. But anyway, this scene that I´ve named "One last walk in The Parks" will be one of the "Secret files" that I plan to include as a bonus in the upcoming omnibus edition of the Exodus Trilogy. It is a long scene, and could probably be rewritten into a short story, and published on Amazon for $0.99. I might still do that, but more likely it won´t be available outside of The Exodus Omnibus edition and of course as part of the SSP.

There is one exception though. Before I release it anywhere else, I´ll send it as a free gift to all my newsletter subscribers. So if you haven´t already subscribed, you can do so here, and make sure you get yours too!

Alright, so let´s head out north, to the no man´s land north of the Covenant border, where Sue is about to face combat for the first time.

 

RIFT - Scene 13:

She was breathing heavily, every breath misting in front of her, fogging up the visor for a split second, before the the nano bots cleared it again. It was freezing cold outside, but within the battle dress she was comfortable. The AI regulated the temperature and let moisture out through vents, keeping her warm and dry. A few hours ago, she had felt a jolt of energy as the suit had injected a small dose of caffeine into her system, but the effect was long gone by now. The adrenaline of being out on her first patrol had worn off as well. For three days they had been walking, with just two hours of sleep. And not a sign of the savages, except a few run down huts that Tac Hordvik had explained was the remains of an enemy settlement that had to be terminated years ago. «Too close to our borders» he had said, and continued to explain that no settlements south of the river were allowed. That would be too risky. Not that he had needed to tell any of them. It was all part of basic training, learning about their enemy and the rules of engagement. 

Now she was beginning to look forward to returning to camp. She had expected combat, but the Tac had explained beforehand that the savages often fled instead of fighting them, especially since the patrol would never penetrate the deep woods. In a couple of hours they would reach the exfiltration point, where they would be picked up by an armored airship. Once they returned to camp they would march through camp, still wearing the battle dress, to be treated with a lavish dinner. On such occasions it was not uncommon that one of the Strategoi or some other high official would come and join them, share the meal with them, and talk to them almost as equals. It was one of the traditions of the Janissaries, a rite of passage of sorts. Whether shots had been fired or not, they would then be full Janissaries, no longer mere initiates.

Sue was jolted from her thoughts by a whisper inside her helmet. It was Keisha, who covered the left flank with Brad. She looked over and saw they had already raised their weapons, ready to fire at anything. Sue, on the opposite end, raised hers as well, covering the right flank, with Quinn. She didn´t like him, but they were team mates and whatever personal issues they had disappeared as they worked together as limbs of the same body. Julian, the front man had taken a knee, and held a hand up to his helmet, signaling activity in front of them as well. Tac Hordvik, positioned a little to the back, centered, looked over his shoulder and gave a signal for Sue to leave the right flank and strengthen the front with Julian. They had trained for this, and Sue noticed the movements came naturally to her as she quietly slipped behind Quinn´s firing zone, to take up positions with Julian. The six man patrol, though green, was a cohesive fighting unit now, ready to move against whatever came their way, and Sue felt the rush of adrenaline as the AI injected a stimulant into her veins. Her breath became deeper, her focus clearer and all signs of fatigue disappeared in an instant. Even her vision improved, the contrasts became more clear, and her eyes seemed to receive more light, enabling her to see things that normally would be hidden in shade.

«Contact, ten o clock, two hundred meters» she heard Keisha´s voice say in her helmet. The voice was steady and calm. She looked over and saw what had previously been hidden. A camouflaged blanket, probably heat resistant so the AI wouldn´t notice, hid several shapes, stirring.

«Three seconds.» Tac Hordvik said, just as calmly. Sue moved her weapon slightly, so not to alert the enemy.

«Two.» She tensed.

«One.» She threw her weapon up to her shoulder, not bothering to aim at first. It was all about overwhelming the enemy at first.

«Engage.» The deafening roar of automatic weapons, the explosions of smart rounds, one in every ten, the screams of their enemy as they realized they were under attack. It only took a second before the sound was adjusted to comfortable levels by the AI, and she wondered what it must be like for the savages.

«Baseline left.» she heard Tac Hordvik say, louder, but still calm and systematic. He had been under fire before, and she was glad to have someone like him lead her now. Sue and Julian stepped just as they had trained for so many times, while Quinn on the right flank would move behind them all and take up positions to the left of Tac Hordvik. She was relieved that fear didn´t stop her from doing everything just as they had trained. Then again, it might be something the AI gave her.

Seconds later, the team was lined up, side by side, space two meters between them, still firing at where the enemy had shown itself. So far, so good.

«One forward.» The Tacticus´ voice said. She moved forward, while counting. One, two, three, four, five. Down on one knee, firing in bursts. Julian, to her right, fitted another hundred shot magazine into his weapon. She still had sixty left in hers, so she waited. Keisha, on her left didn´t change hers either.

«One covering.» Keisha said.

«Two forward.» Tac Hordvik said. It was all just as they had practiced, everything moving smoothly, taking the battle to their enemy within seconds. Sue fired everything she had, while Quinn, Hordvik and Brad moved forward.

«Two covering.» she heard Tac Hordvik say as they took a knee to their left, keeping the perfect line intact. She quickly ejected the almost empty magazine, sticking it to the suit, where magnets would keep it in place for later. A fresh magazine went into her weapon and she was ready. Keisha was eyeing her, having done the same.

«One forward.» Tac Hordvik said. She leaped up and moved forward. One, two, three, four. 

A loud blast from the back made her stumble and fall.

 

********

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RiFT - Scene 12

So I have another RIFT scene for you folks. No long intro this time. This is a scene which I think foreshadows some of what Dave is soon about to experience. I won´t keep you, so here we go.

RIFT - Scene 12

Dave had loved the days at the Cottage. He felt like he had stuffed his head with knowledge, everything from economics and history to math and science. And still he craved more. He was delighted by the fresh perspectives, and noticed that rather than rote learning, the Warden teachers encouraged curiosity and free thinking. They encouraged initiates questioning the truth and what the teachers taught. There were limits, such as whenever someone questioned by which right the Moon People ruled, or what lay beyond the Rift, but except for the obvious anathema/ tabus, every day the discussions tended to be enlightening.

Back at the camp, the learning centered more around practicalities, such as learning to live off the land, handling personal weapons, maintaining their electronic equipment, and physical exercise. He liked it as well, but often found himself longing to return to the Cottage. He had begun to consider his specialization, and knew that he had a decent chance of becoming an assistant teacher or maybe a techie, both specializations that given time and hard work could lead to Teacher positions at the Cottage. He lifted his gaze from the textbook, «Intermediate materials technology», and looked out at the quiet part of camp where he had sat down next to a thick tree trunk to study. A couple of initiates were studying nearby, engaged in hushed discussion over something on their tablet (maybe change word?). A Warden, a few years older than him, telling a small group of initiates a tall tale, with the initiates staring wide eyed at him. Two young Wardens, probably no more than a couple of years older than him, if that, smoking, their futile attempts to suppress their giggles only making them look all the more stupid. Kissweed, he thought.

Discipline among the Wardens was generally lax, completely different from what he had expected. Compared to school back in Charlestown even. It normally suited him just fine. He couldn´t imagine himself surviving the strictness of Janissary life, or the back breaking Corpus serfdom. He had a hard time understanding why the Covenant needed such an institution as the Corpus, but every time he mentioned it, the teachers would tell him it was necessary to preserve the integrity of the Covenant. And though he didn´t fully agree, he understood their reasoning. Also, he knew there were things he wasn´t told, and that only as a full citizen would he be privy to some of the secrets that the Moon people held back from the ordinary people, and that everything would make sense to him one day. Once he learned the truth.

There were some aspects of the lax discipline he didn´t like as much though. He had noticed already on his first day in camp that Wardens openly smoked kissweed. Few initiates did, but as far as he could tell almost every seasoned Warden did from time to time. He shook his head. He couldn´t imagine how otherwise bright young people, citizen prospects, with an eternity of discovery ahead of them, would consume something that would dull the senses, and over time make you as dim as the neighborhood drunk.

He turned his eyes away, trying to concentrate on the subject at hand. Intermediate materials technology. He enjoyed the lectures, usually. And he had a knack for learning, something the Teachers were already noticing, he knew. But as he sat there, focus seemed to elude him. He kept thinking about what was soon to happen. The Wardens were tasked with protecting the Covenant from what lay beyond the Rift. As much as it was the reason for their existence, it was something no one discussed in detail. Whenever a discussion touched upon this, the final words were something along the lines of «you´ll see» or «give it time, you will learn soon enough». Dave had a hard time settling for that, but he knew he´d get no answers. 

He had a few ideas though.  He´d heard of the infected. And the skirmishes and the patrols. And some of the older Wardens had a particular stare. As if they had seen things that were impossible to put into words. He knew there were some things you couldn´t «un-see». And even if he got his choice of specialization, which would be far from physically demanding, front line duty, he knew that every Teacher, every steward had been out there at least once, had seen whatever it was no one would talk about. That was the way of the Wardens. No one was to remain innocent. Everyone shared whatever burden they had to carry. Though he often wondered what it all meant, he thought it sounded like a nice idea. And still, there was something unsettling about it. As if, once he crossed some particular line, there would be no going back.

******

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RIFT - Scene 11

Alright, I´ve got more RIFT material for you guys. As always, first draft, unedited and completely un- spell-checked! ;-)  If you´d rather wait for the fully edited novel, just skip this post. If you want to follow the process, read on!

So far, we´ve been following Sue and Dave on their journeys, and now it´s time to introduce another POV character. This is someone you may have briefly met before (you may or may not remember though), but as I´ve pondered the plot for RIFT, it has become more and more clear to me that this is one POV I´d love to see more of.

So, with no more chatter, let me just introduce the oldest man on the planet, Mark Novak.

 

 

RIFT- Scene 11:

 

He was late for his meeting with Head Servant Lunde, and he should have been in a hurry. Instead he took his time dressing after a long and invigorating shower. He figured the Head Servant would put up with it; after all, if not for Counselor Mark Novak´s mind, Lunde would be long dead, along with his wife and all of his mistresses, his children and his children´s children. Come to think of it, the Head Servant´s children´s children´s children´s would probably be long gone as well. He chuckled without mirth.

No, Moon people or not, everyone waited for Mark Novak.

He turned toward the mirror and looked at his face. Once it had been a young man´s face, and one women tended to fall for. Although it rarely changed much these days, it was a long time since his face had the features of a young successful scientist and womanizer. His ice blue eyes still had that particular twinkle, and his hair, long, blond, slicked back, showed not a single grey hair. Still, he could see where youth had lost, not to age, but rather agelessness.

He looked closer, put a finger up near his right eye. A wrinkle forming. Crow´s feet if he let it. He exhaled deeply. It would be time for another treatment soon. Another year of isolation, cryo sleep for weeks at a time, while the doctors worked their magic.

His magic.

He had long abandoned performing procedures himself, but he still worked on perfecting small parts, little details, whenever he felt like doing a little work. Not that he needed to, it was just something he liked doing now and them, whenever his need to feel useful threatened to overwhelm him.

He wondered for a moment if he should call for a pleasure lady and some stimulants for after the meeting, but decided against it. He usually felt more tired afterward, and with another treatment coming up, he knew he needed all the energy he could muster. Besides, it just made him feel more empty, the kind of empty that only someone as privileged as he would ever experience.

He looked away, and put on his slippers. He should be grateful. The Moon people had given him everything in return for the treatments and his advice. He was a trusted citizen, a hero respected by everyone. The one who witnessed the Fall. The one who cleared the way and helped the Moon people come into their right. The one who gave every citizen the chance to live forever. Or as close to it as anyone could possibly know, given that he was the oldest man in the world. The one who enabled the reign of the Moon people through the power of life itself.

Something gnawed at him though; this constant feeling of… wrong.

That everything about this was so very, very wrong.

He had been a rebel once. He even brought his best friend into it, and look where that got him. His friend died, a broken man fallen from grace, held captive in a prison cell somewhere. And though Mark eventually got his revenge, in hindsight it all looked pointless.

No, he was done rebelling.

Leaving his luxurious apartment felt good. It was but a few minutes walk to the Palace, but he enjoyed the vigor and bustle of Legacy. Although most people here, at least those visible to him, never had to work, they still seemed busy with some thing or another. If he managed to suspend disbelief for a few moments it felt almost like walking through a prosperous city in the old world. 

Almost.

He hardly noticed as he walked straight through the gates and up the walk to the palace entrance. The Moon Palace Guard officer on duty saluted him, but Mark hardly acknowledged his presence. As the doors entered he strode through the great reception hall. Everyone he met knew him by sight, and moved out of his way. He ignored everyone as he walked to the elevator leading up to the apartments occupied by the current Head Servant.

Once the elevator stopped, he exited, and entered the Head Servant´s office, which took up the outer part of his apartments. The room was lavishly decorated, with gilded ornaments everywhere, in addition to the white and black of the Moon people covering the walls and ceiling. The carpet, oddly, was a deep crimson, and only a few people knew the symbolism. All of them Moon people, except Mark Novak. Earth history from before the Fall was banned from non-citizen schools, and nothing of Moon history before Descent was taught to them either. And while most Moon people children learned of the Youth Revolution already in first grade, the grisly details was a long forgotten chapter. But he knew.

«Ah, there you are, Counselor.» Head Servant Alexej Lunde said, rising from his chair behind the enormous oak desk. He motioned for Mark to follow him over to the lounge chairs in front of the ancient fireplace, an artifact salvaged from the ruins of the house of the last president before the Fall. Mark thought it fit right in here, although, he mused, Lunde probably didn´t even know that president´s name. He held back a chuckle. Mark knew.

«You look tired, friend. Is it time again?» Mark nodded.

«No way around it.»

«Well, don´t hold off for too long. Everyone depends on you, Novak.»

«Yeah… Although I guess there would be plenty of people ready to take my place if I didn´t take it this time.»

«Don´t speak like that.» Alexej said, a frown interfering with his otherwise perfect features. Movie star face, Mark thought. Too perfect. He half- smiled.

«Don´t worry, it´s just an old man´s grumbling.» he said.

«Well, you are old.» The Head Servant´s frown disappeared into a grin.

«I guess you are entitled to grumble.» He snapped his fingers, and a hologram appeared before them, showing a model of the continent. Still so strange, Mark though, to know that most people, citizens or not, would never see that image. They would only see the smaller version, the one showing less than a fourth of this.

«The Covenant,» Head Lunde said, as the model morphed into a three dimensional map seen from a birds point of view, with the Covenant in white, the border in black and everything else a dull brown.

«Surrounded by enemies. The coast held clean for the last century, but the land border…» he shook his head.

«We control the northern border, as we have for so long, although who knows what is brewing up there. The savages are a nuisance, but no threat. Can´t even speak properly.»

«French,» Mark said, «or rather what used to be French. Evolved.»

«I know, and you know that I know,» the Head Servant snapped, «but it´s a brute´s language. Primitive.» he sat back, and moved his fingers to enhance the westernmost part of the Covenant on the map.

«The Rift, though. There´s been more than a few episodes lately.» Mark nodded. He´d seen this coming.

«Four years ago, it was the aircraft. Luckily, we had an orbital platform nearby, and took it down before it reached visible airspace. Then, for the last two years, the number of incursions, both hostile and civilian have increased. Warden rangers consume twice the amount of Bliss now, compared to five years ago. The labs are hard pressed to keep up with demand. Some self-medicate though, but kissweed or whatever they do these days doesn´t fix their perception. Dulls it a little, I guess, but without Bliss, everything would unravel.» Mark nodded, impatiently.

«So what should we do about it, Alexej? Can we hold the Rift?» he said.

«We need to ramp up production. More Corpus initiates, more labs, longer hours. No way around it.» the Head Servant paused, before he stared back at Mark, jaw set.

«We´ll hold the Rift for a thousand years, Counselor. A thousand years.» Mark saw the legacy in his eyes then. The will to rule, the determination to use any means to achieve their goals. The legacy of the Moon people, born in the Moon dust, a force that had led them back to Earth, and one day would make them rulers of the entire planet. He saw, and shuddered. And yet, he was part of it, for better or worse. He had chosen sides a long time ago, and he meant to see it through.

 

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RIFT - Scene 10

First of all, thanks to everyone who shared, bought, recommended or otherwise helped spread word of the Exodus sale earlier this month! And to everyone who has reviewed Genesis, a huge thanks. With the Exodus Trilogy complete, it is great fun to go all in with Rift, which is set on Earth a few centuries after the events in Exodus.

If you´re not familiar with Rift, let me just mention that I blog every scene, raw, unedited, and if you like following the process, you are welcome to do so here on the blog. If you prefer to save yourself for the final edited novel, just skip these posts. Either way, expect the novel to be quite different, as I tend to change everything a lot throughout the editing process.

Alright then, some background for this scene. After writing the scene in which Dave had gone to the Cottage, and discussing the economic/political system of the Covenant, I realized I needed to flesh out the background for the Covenant a bit. What kind of place is this? How did it become what it is? Who are the Moon people? Why do they wield such power? What does the Wardens do? And what is the Rift?

That, and many other questions will, to some degree, be answered in the next scene. So here it is!

 

RIFT - Scene 10:

 

Dave was struggling to find a comfortable position, sitting with the other initiates, while a Warden, probably not more than a couple years older than him, lectured.

"You all know the story, or at least the parts taught in schools, and I expect you to know the basics already. Yesterday we covered the Fall, where humanity descended into darkness. The Fall is where the history books all begin, so let´s just leave it at that for now. The Dark Age lasted for almost half a century, and there was no hope in sight, just a scattering of surviving groups, soon only descendants of those who survived the actual impact, which killed most of humanity." The Warden intoned, clearly bored from having told the same story too many times. Dave was finally finding a good position, and tried to pay more attention. He´d never been that interested in history, so occasionally there were nuggets that he´d never heard before.

"Then came the Descent, in which the Moon People brought salvation. Shortly after landing, they began gathering the scattered groups and communities, one by one. In the beginning, the people were simply cared for; sheltered, fed, protected. Then, as more joined in, this started to become increasingly difficult. So, just a few years after the Descent, the Moon People made one demand. In order to receive help, a number of people had to make a contribution. For seven years, those selected would serve obediently, in order to feed, shelter and protect the others. Thus, the first Covenant was born. The first service was the Corpus, and it was back breaking work. Cleaning rubble, clearing fields, road building, sowing and plowing, building, constructing. Hard manual labor. Many didn´t make the seven years, but the Moon People demanded that everyone stayed until their term was up. And through those hard years, the form and shape of the Corpus that we know today, was created. Eventually, the need arose for different kinds of services, and the Janissaries were created. Enemies were trying to capture revived lands, both in the north and the south, and the Janissaries became the most powerful fighting force on the ground. Supported by Moon People air and sea power, the Janissaries swept south and subdued all enemies all the way down to the Floral Sea. With the south conquered, it quickly became apparent that there was no way the Moon People could control such large areas of land unless the conquered peoples became part of the growing nation. And so, twenty years after the Descent, the second Covenant was formed, in which the southern peoples committed to the same allegiance to the common good as those that had gone before them. They would be eligible for Service, the first years only in the Corpus and then later in the Janissaries, and in return the families of those serving would receive enough food and goods to live out the life of the serving family member. Eventually, most of the fertile lands of the south became State property, run by the Corpus, although some parts became ordinary towns and villages as well, such as Charlestown and Stonehaven." The Warden paused and Dave thought of how he´d never realized there had been more than one Covenant. The pact that bound them all together, must have been revised several times over. In school, he´d always thought the Covenant to be something that had always been there. Now, as he listened intently, despite the lecturer´s obvious boredom, he found that he was learning something new with every sentence.

"So now there was peace in the south, and the second Covenant lasted for thirty years. In the north, the wars lasted for months and years at a time, but there were no clear winners. The nortern enemies never managed to capture land for more than brief periods, while Legacy never wanted the barren lands of the north, simply because they are worthless, and the cost of making a final push north would be too high. Also, another threat appeared, that not even the Janissaries could contain alone." Dave cocked his head. He´d never heard of this.

"Far to the west, even further than we are now, lies the Rift. A deep depression, created by the Fall, that separate the furthest reaches of the Covenant from a wasteland far more dangerous than anything found up north. A poisonous river runs through the Rift, creating a natural barrier, and sheer cliffs rise on both sides of this depression. Beyond the Rift there are people, descendants of other survivors of the Fall, but very different. Disease and radiation have changed them into aggressive predators, fighting amongst themselves, scavenging. Some of the tribes are cannibals, others have turned to some sort of twisted religion, and human sacrifice are common." Dave shuddered.

"A zone was created, two hundred kilometers wide, between the Rift and the Covenant. A forbidden zone, where only a few select people, in Service to the State, would be allowed. These people would be rangers, soldiers, scientists, independent thinkers, who knew when to act and how. They would be sworn to secrecy, because the sights they would see out there, and the things necessary to do to protect, was something Legacy decided to spare the people of the Covenant. These were the first Wardens, and this camp is located in the forbidden zone." Dave jumped a heartbeat, and looked around. Others seemed surprised as well, even Liz, who always seemed to take everything in stride, never letting anything faze her.

"When the first Wardens began patrolling the zone, there were still only Moon people officers in the Services. Eventually though, non- Moon people had to be put in charge as well, because the Moon people, even though they have multiplied since the Descent, were only so many. And when disloyal Janissary and Wardens revolted, it was non- Moon people commanders who put down the revolt. In recognition of their Service, Legacy decided to extend the privilege of citizenship to all who serve honorably to their term´s end. Also, because of the mortality rates among the Janissaries, their term was reduced to three years instead of the usual seven. A good many other laws were passed in the final year of the second Covenant. So many that by the turn of the century, the third Covenant was proclaimed. Among the new laws were the creation of the Students, the service where the University and the Academy would select the very brightest young men and women to be groomed into scholars." It still stung. Dave knew he should have been among the Students, although he´d fit in just fine here in the Wardens. But still, the way the lecturer had just described Warden service, he now felt a pang of regret, for not being up in Legacy, with Chas and Felicia.

"For thirty years there was peace, and then the first Corpus revolt happened. It was put down hard, and ever since, life in the Corpus has remained… well, let´s just keep it at that. Corpus service is a sacrifice, something that someone must do for the common good of all the rest of us. Those who manage three years in the Corpus are usually transferred from mining and farming to factory work, which is a bit better. Still hard work, but those working the factories have earned the right to better conditions. I´ll put it this way, in the factories there are foremen instead of whippers." The Warden seemed to have eased into his lecture a bit more, and it seemed less of a recital, now that he was approaching modern times. The initiates also seemed a bit more eager. Now and then a question would arise, and the Warden would try to answer as best he could.

"Why do those people on the other side of the Rift try to come here?" someone asked.

"Well, there may be several reasons, but I suspect life out there can be pretty unbearable. Unfortunately, disease and radiation has mutated their genes so badly we cannot allow them to pass the zone. Sometimes it shows, and those we have to fight, and put down the hard way. Other times the damage is invisible. Then we stop them and help them return to where they came from. Next question?"

"Does anyone ever go the other way?"

"No, or at least, they won´t get too far. We have motion detectors and sensors all over the zone, and if someone should enter from the east, they will be turned back. The zone is forbidden. The Rift is something only a Warden should see. And the wastelands beyond, well, I wouldn´t want anyone to go there. Crossing the Rift is death. Next!"

"What caused the Rift?"

"The Fall. Or rather, the thing that caused the Fall. Next."

"What caused the Fall?"

"A disaster. Only the Moon people knows. Only the Moon people are allowed to know. Next."

"The Moon People come from the Moon, right? What were they doing there?"

"I am not privileged to that information, and neither are you." Dave noticed the questions were taking a turn away from the history lession, and the lecturer seemed to tighten up by it, like he wasn´t supposed to talk about some of these issues. Warden initiates all seemed to be like him; curious, and although this line of questioning was interesting enough, Dave wanted to know more of the history.

"What happened after the first Corpus revolt?" Dave said. The lecturer looked almost relieved at the question, and eager to answer.

"Well, when the Corpus first revolted, the third Covenant was deemed to have come to an end. After that, Legacy decided there would only be "the Covenant", where new laws and orders could simply be incorporated into the old system." He paused for a moment, thinking hard.

"Since the first revolt was put down hard, you should expect there to be a long period of peace. But the opposite happened. The third Covenant ended almost seventy years ago, and in the first twenty years, there were three major uprisings. Now, this is classified information, not to leave Warden territory, you got that?" He waited until everyone either nodded or answered yes, before continuing.

"All evidence point towards outside involvement. And not just towns and regions in the Covenant. No, there were insurgents, terrorists, from outside the Covenant as well."

"From the north?" someone asked. The lecturer made a gesture.

"Who knows. Could be that, or someone from the less damaged populations out west. They do have weapons out there, you know. Either way, the last revolt was fifty years ago, and the Covenant has been very prosperous since then. Nowadays, I don´t see an uprising as a likely thing to happen. The economy is good, The Corpus seem quiet, the Janissaries are in control of the northern borderlands, and we have noticed nothing unusual out here. A few intrusions now and then, but they are swiftly deal with, and it doesn´t seem organized in any fashion. No, I´d say this is a good time to serve, and hopefully you´ll all earn your citizenship in a time of peace and prosperity." Dave couldn´t agree more. As long as there was peace he would deal with the challenges his Service would throw at him. But as the lecture ended he wondered if his time of Service would be as quiet and uneventful as the lecturer had expected, or if the last fifty years had just been the quiet before the storm.

 

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RIFT - Scene 9

I have another RIFT scene for you all today. As you probably know, this is first draft material, and once it´s done it will be published as a novel. And being a first draft, there will be A LOT of changes as we go. Today you will notice I changed the name of one of the Services, the Guardians, into the more fitting Janissaries. Inspired by Ottoman Turkish slave soldiers, I find the idea to be more in line with how I envision the Guardian status. Slaves that will always be "inferior"to their masters , and yet, able to gain status and power. Well, I haven´t thought it all through- sometimes I just write and let the ideas come as they please, and the result of such a writing method can actually be quite good.

And then, if you haven´t heard already, or figured it out yourself, let me tell you this. RIFT takes place on Earth, centuries after the destruction caused by Devastator in Exodus. So RIFT is actually connected to the Exodus Trilogy, although it can also be a good starting point for new readers. I think that could become something pretty cool, don´t you? 

Alright, here we go.

RIFT- Scene 9.

A mannequin stood before the initiates, empty eyes staring straight through them, arms hanging motionless. The black suit covering it from neck to toes was unlike anything Sue had ever seen. It was a Janissary battle dress. Unlike the formal parade uniforms she had seen so many times, which was tight fitting and made of some shiny fabric, this one seemed bulky. It was matte, and the black looked almost gray because of thousands of tiny sensors covering its entire surface. Beside the mannequin lay a visored helmet, with tubes and wires obviously meant to connect it to the suit when worn.

«Looks impressive, doesn’t it? « Tac Hordvik said, grinning. 
«Not some parade uniform, but the real thing, built for fighting.»  Sue looked at the tacticus. He was of the Moon People, with distinct, angular features and the bearing of a man whose heritage was something he always measured himself up against.
«Some of you may come to love the battle dress, those of you who get a chance to wear it in combat, for it will save your life.» He looked at every one of them, taking his time. There were nine left from her initiate squadron. From her team, all except Brad was still there, meaning that the other teams had taken harder losses. Sue was glad to still have Julian and Keisha though, but she would have been even happier if she didn´t have to deal with Quinn. 
«In the Janissaries, you should expect injuries. You may stand too close to a blast, get caught up in a chemical attack, or get sprayed by a hail from a machine gun, storming an enemy position. And the battle dress will be the only thing standing between you and glory.» Meaning death, Sue thought.

«A Janissary and his suit are as one single organism. It´s like a symbiosis, where if you treat your suit well, it will keep you alive. Sensors all over, both on the outside and inside, will notice subtle changes in you and your environment. The powerful AI knows your needs even before you do, and acts accordingly.»The tacticus walked slowly from side to side, and Sue listened intently as he explained some of the battle suit´s functionality. 
«Of course, it protects you from most small arms fire, blast and fragments. But it can do so much more. Say you´re dead tired from days of fighting, or laying surrounded, enemies all around, and yet you struggle to keep awake. If you fall asleep, you may not be able to get out of a sticky situation. And all the while, your eyes keep sliding shut, and you have trouble keeping a clear thought. Well, the suit will notice, and when you reach a certain level of fatigue, the suit will inject stimulants directly into your blood stream. Enough to keep you from falling asleep, if you need to lay still, or enough to give you a real adrenaline boost if the situation demands it.» Sue looked at the suit again. An AI to make life or death decisions almost frightened her. But she also knew there were situations where you needed to act quickly, and one day the suit´s abilities might save her life.
«Sometime though, even Janissaries need to sleep. The suit can fix that too. Just tell the AI, and it will help you find the rest you need, through chemical and electric stimuli of certain parts of your brain. Heck, you can even set the timer.» Tac Hordvik chuckled, and a few of the initiates smiled as well. The tacticus stopped and looked at them. His ice blue eyes sometimes unnerved her. Moon people eyes.
«Imagine being alone out there. Near the coast, the fog can get as thick as soup, and your line of sight stretches no more than a few meters in front of you. The suit though, can warn you, long before your eyes can see them, and give you an early warning, pinpointing your enemy´s location. And if you´re incapacitated, the suit can eject a poisonous gas that kills up to fifteen meters away. Of course, you won’t be harmed, as you will be injected with an antidote.»

«Everybody think they know a Janissary. People all over the Covenant have seen proud Janissaries parading in their uniforms. This though, is the true color of our Service. The battle dress is what sets us apart from our enemies. We have powerful weapons, just as they do. They have just as much conviction and determination as we do, just as much of a purpose and faith and fervor. They have amazing fighting skills and their soldiers are just as well trained as ours. But our suits keeps us alive, and helps us win, even outnumbered ten to one. Without a functional suit, we´re just as vulnerable as they are. But with the suit powered and active, we are close to invincible.»

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