RIFT - Scene 27, 28 and 29

Here are the next three scenes from RIFT, still first draft material, meaning the finished novel will look quite different. But if you like to follow the process and see what happens between these scenes and the published novel, read on.

The manuscript is now with my editor, and we´ll probably be going back and forth as we use to, before it is ready to publish. As soon as it´s out, my newsletter subscribers (who haven´t heard from me for a while now- too busy writing) will be the first to know. And they will get a 75% discount. Want in? Click here!

So, here´s RIFT:

 

RIFT - Scene 27

The first thing Sue noticed was the clean sheets. Then it was the white walls and the spotless suits of the nurses milling about. She remembered being captured by the Northerners, and the cleanliness of this place surprised her. She had been taught the people beyond the north border was dirty savages, and even the thought of them having something resembling a hospital was so distant from everything she´d ever expected. For a moment she believed she had been saved by a janissary rescue squad and brought back to Camp Gustavson.

But the language spoken around her was neither English nor the strange words that the Moon people sometimes spoke among themselves. She instantly recognized the sounds, reminding her of the first time she had been in combat. Of a woman taken prisoner. A woman she had shot.

Sue lifted her head, and a headache forced her down again.

«Careful mademoiselle. You have lost much blood.» A man´s voice, in accented English. He bent over her, and she saw a man with features that could have belonged to a pure Moon blood if not for the words that came out of his mouth.

«You need rest, for now. Don´t worry… Atlas, is that it? Hmm English then, am I correct?» Sue nodded carefully, wondering how he knew her name. A nurse came over and checked a machine standing by her bedside. She spoke a few words to the man, and then walked off. Sue tried to raise her hand. Chained to the bed.

«We have to be careful, I´m Sure you understand. We will talk more later. Now rest.» he said, and turned his back on her. She coughed, and tried to speak.

«Did any…»

The man turned back again.

«Please, mademoiselle. You shouldn´t speak.»

She strained to get the words out.

«Did anyone else survive?» she whispered. The man´s brow furrowed, and he took a step closer.

«I assume you ask of your own people, yes? The janissaries.»

She mouthed a yes, soundlessly.

«Two more made it here. We lost one on the operating table.» Sue thought his eyes looked sad. Curious.

«The woman had lost too much blood. The man lives though. The rest I´m afraid are dead. As are so many of our people.» he finished, about to turn back again. Sue cut him off.

«You know my name.» she said. «What is yours?» The man smiled at her.

«You should not worry about that, mademoiselle Atlas.» he turned away, and walked away. As he stood by the doors, waiting for them to slide over, he turned around, reluctantly.

«I am only a doctor.» he said.

«Your… name…» Sue said, feeling herself sliding back into unconsciousness.

«Dr. Gregory Marsden Dubois.» the man said, his voice distant, as he disappeared before her eyes, along with the rest of the world.

 

RIFT - scene 28

She was feeling better, finally. She couldn´t remember much of the past few days, only that she had been sliding in and out of consciousness until she finally remained awake long enough to notice more of the people around her. There were six beds in her room. All empty save hers and one more. The person in the other bed was on the far side of the room, and was unconscious all the time. Sue remembered the doctor mentioning that a man had survived. She tried asking the nurses about him, but got no reply other than confused looks and gibberish in that strange language. None of them spoke any English, it seemed.

On the third day - it must have been three days - the doctor returned. This time a woman in a camouflage patterned uniform came with him. The two had the same angular features and the same sand- colored hair, but hers was cut shorter. And she had stars on her collar.

«Mademoiselle Atlas, meet colonel Renee Marsden Dubois.» he said. The woman remained standing, one step behind the man, Dr. Gregory. Sue cocked her head.

«Your wife?» she said without thinking. The two laughed in reply.

«No, mademoiselle,» the woman said, «he´s my twin brother. You are very perceptive.» Dr. Gregory motioned for one of the nurses to fetch chairs, and they both sat down. The doctor looked at his sister, before he spoke.

«So, your friend is still unconscious, I hear. I´m sorry. I am afraid he will not wake again.» Sue glanced over at the unmoving form.

«Can´t you do anything…» Dr. Gregory shook his head.

«If we had your technology… He has sustained severe damages to the head.»

«But what if you got him back? What if you could arrange for prisoner exchange or something?» she trailed off. What was she thinking? How many times had she heard the orders not to take prisoners?

«The Covenant seldom takes prisoners.» the woman said, a hoarseness in her voice. «And even if you did, he would never get the necessary treatment. Rory, that´s an English name, yes?» Sue nodded, stunned. So it was Rory, and he was dying. 

«Only Moon people get cryo treatment, unless he already earned his citizenship.» Sue looked at Rory´s unmoving shape. A second rate citizen, about to give his life for the Covenant. Even if she could somehow break them free, Rory would die. Simply because he was English. Expendable.

Dr Gregory got to his feet.

«I´m sorry about your loss, mademoiselle. But I have other patients to tend to. My sister would like a word with you though, so I will leave you two together.» He walked out, and Sue looked at Renee.

«Time for interrogation then.» she said drily. The colonel only smiled. Sue thought it must be a high rank, from the way the nurses looked at her, but then she hadn´t even known the northerners had ranks.

«I believe we should talk.» Renee just said.

 

RIFT - scene 29

«Hold your fire. Wait for my signal» Kirilov´s whisper was inaudible except for the ear bud that amplified the sound inside Dave´s ear, making the order clear and loud enough. Dave felt a shiver running down his spine, but his finger on the trigger was remarkably steady. He blinked. The flicker in the corner of his vision was a nuisance, and though he mostly managed to ignore it, he was afraid it could hinder his aim. Once they got home he would have to see if it could be fixed. Hasle might have some ideas.

The monsters moved slowly, but steadily toward them, and Dave took aim at one of the larger ones. They looked like a mix of images he´d seen in school books, of ancient beasts now extinct. Dinosaurs, elephants, dragons. Most walked on their hind legs, while others used all fours. He even noticed one being carried by a larger one. Probably its mother. Even the baby monster looked fearsome, like it could devour a grown man.

He looked over at the others. Scott aiming at the center, Greer at the one on the far left, and Baldwin at the one furthest to the right. Most seemed to mill about behind the large one in the middle though. Scott would probably cut down half their number within seconds.

«Listen up.» Kirilov´s voice cut his thoughts off. «Once we open fire, they will spread out. So cover the flanks while Scott does the heavy lifting. Wagner, you pick off anyone trying to move closer. I don´t want anyone getting away, so once we´re done, we move out and finish them off up close. Remember, they will kill you if yu show the slightest weakness. So be swift and ruthless. And whatever you do, do not remove your goggles.» A trickle of sweat reached the corner of Dave´s goggle, but he gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the itch. He certainly wouldn´t oppose Kirilov´s orders.

«Everyone get ready…» 

Dave saw one of the monsters stroking the back of a smaller one, that seemed to have a hard time keeping up. The small one let out a yelp, and the larger growled in response.

«Fire!»

A deafening sound erupted, yelps and growls forgotten. Scott´s machine gun rattled, the bangs indistinguishable from each other, Dave hesitated for a moment, enough for him to lose his aim. Where was that beast he´d been aiming at. From the right flank a series of bursts kicked in, decimating the monsters on Baldwin´s side. Dave still tried to find his aim, but gave up and fired wildly into the flock. The monsters fell, their blood spattering all over as they tried to run for cover. But there was no cover to be had, and one after another they fell, writhing, screeching, yelping. It was slaughter.

«What the hell is this?» The shout from his left made him look up. Greer was half way standing, and Dave saw he had put his weapon down. He looked around, and saw Kirilov and the other seniors had joined in, firing at whatever moved out there.

«What have you done to us? Why…» Greer screamed hysterically, until his chest erupted, and he fell to the ground, eyes and mouth wide open, goggles pushed up on top of his head like a second pair of eyes.

«Sniper!» he heard Kirilov shout, and he took aim again. The monsters were all down now, but he scanned the far side of the clearing, searching for the sniper.

«Damn it, why didn´t the rangers pick this up?» one of the seniors said, before Kirilov cut him off.

«Shut up Jan. You know the enemy sometimes trail the monsters. Everyone, we have to make sure they are all dead. Let´s move it. Seniors watch for the sniper, juniors watch the monsters.»

«What about Greer?» Scott said, and Kirilov sneered in response.

«He´s dead, and he brought it upon himself. Standing up like that… Now move!» The three remaining junior Wardens stood up, and walked toward the carnage, the seniors following a few steps behind.

«Shit.» Baldwin whispered. The silence was palpable, and only their breathing and a soft whisper of branches moving in the slight breeze broke the quiet.

«Remember, keep your goggles on at all times.» Kirilov spoke sternly. A movement in his peripheral vision made Dave flinch and half- turn, but it was just the irregular flicker.

«What is it, Wagner?» Kirilov said.

«Nothing, Sir. Just something interfering with my goggles.»

«Hold it, let me see.»  Kirilov walked up to him and put something, an electronic device Dave had never seen before, up in front of him.

«What do you see?» he said. Dave hunched his shoulders.

«Nothing, just that box or whatever it is.» Kirilov seemed to relax, and put the box away in his pocket.

«Good. Now, everyone, let´s get this done so we can go home.»

 

*****

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RIFT - Scene 25 and 26

RIFT is currently with my editor, so all we can do now is wait. I´ll keep you posted on the progress, and in the meantime, you can follow the process right here on the blog. Two scenes today, so grab a coffee and read on. Oh, and by the way, i´ll be giving my email subscribers a head start once it is out, meaning a 75% discount, like I did with the last book. So if you want, just go here and sign up.

Alright, here´s RIFT for ya!

 

RIFT - scene 25

SUE

The Quick Reaction Force ran first toward the outpost closest to where the artillery had been located. The tacticus in charge there seemed relieved to meet Sue and her team, and while the four man team blasted away into the forest beyond the perimeter, Rory received directions to a path that would take the QRF around and to the west of the enemy position. They wasted no more time, and snuck out to the left, leaving the outpost to continue firing at the unknown enemy.

«Won´t they ever run out of ammo?» Sue asked. Oystein, one of the Moon people from her team, grinned while clutching his own weapon.

«Sure they will. In about two days, if they keep firing like that.» He laughed at her surprise. «They have a stash beneath the outpost, loaded with ammo, spare weapons, food, you name it.Trust me, Susan, nobody gets past that, even if there´s only five of them.»

«So even if they´re not replenished, they can hold out, firing like crazy, for two days?» she said. Oystein nodded.

«That´s right. And there are outposts like that all along the perimeter. The Westfold brigade will stand its ground, don´t worry.»

They moved in silence once they passed the mine fields north of the outposts. It wasn´t far, but they moved carefully, since they were now officially inside enemy territory. Reaching the artillery position took them almost an hour, and it was getting dark by the time they discovered that the enemy force had moved.

«Shit.» someone in the back mumbled. Rory and Christine was studying the ground on the far side of the position, and after a moment they gathered everyone.

«They moved out less than half an hour ago. We can follow them or we can wait for them to get away. Either way, the attack on camp is over, so our main task is completed. Rory said.

«Fuck that,» Oystein spat. «They´ll just come back. I say let´s get them while they´re close. We won´t have an opportunity like this in a while.»

«There might be more of them.» Raymond said.

«We´re better than them, and we have better equipment. I say we crush them now.» Alexandra said. If Sue didn´t know better, she´d believed she was Moon blood as well, the way she spoke. She had a bad feeling about this, but being the fresh face around, she kept her quiet.

«Alright, we do it.» Rory said, determination apparent on his face. «Attack formation, half speed, fire at will.» They would overtake the enemy shortly, even at half speed, since the QRF was lightly equipped whereas the enemy would be carrying a heavy load. There were no tracks, which meant the artillery would have to be carried. Everyone spread out, and soon they were moving through the woods.

«Stay sharp. I want the first shot fired to be ours.» Rory´s voice whispered inside her helmet. He didn´t have to ask Sue twice. She knew she was walking into combat, and while she hadn´t really had time to be afraid the last time out, she did now. She could feel the adrenaline rushing through her veins, and her hands were shaking. She saw enemies in every shadow, and if it hadn´t been for the lessons taught by Tac Hordvik, she´d already been firing away, blasting those trees and brushes into oblivion. Scaring away whoever lay out there, she thought. She wished for the suit to help her calm her nerves, but the suit had a mind of its own. She had to stay sharp, and though the suit had all kinds of aids available, its main concern was her fighting ability. She had to remain alert, even if it meant clattering teeth, shaking hands and vision that tricked her into seeing things that wasn´t there.

It was Christine who fired the first shot, but not at the enemy. The janissary suits would alert them to explosives hidden in booby traps, but the one Christine stepped into was nothing but a hole, one square meter, hidden by foliage and thin branches. Her scream as she landed on the sharpened stakes pierced Sue´s ears even as the suit muffled the sound inside her helmet. Christine´s shots went all over and it was a miracle nobody was hit.

«Trap!» Rory shouted. «On me, baseline front.» 

Everyone rushed into position, but it was too late. Oystein and Alexandra both fell from the first rounds as enemy fire rained upon them. Sue still had no visual on the enemy. Nothing to fire at. She kept her rifle ready.

«Get back here!» she heard Raymond scream. Somebody was running. To help someone, to chase an enemy, to get away from it all? No way to tell.

A kick in her chest followed by another, and then a stabbing pain piercing her shoulder. Two shots, deflected by her suit and one penetrating her armor. She felt the local anesthetic as the nano bots went into action, stitching her up, minimizing blood loss. She realized she was on the ground, surprised at not having noticed her fall. Something moving by in her peripheral vision. Friend or foe? Probably friend, since the suit hadn´t done anything. She knew it had a dozen ways to kill anyone who got too close to her while she lay wounded.

Then all sounds inside her helmet went dead, and a red triangle appeared in front of her visor. Malfunction, low battery. How can that be? I charged it just yesterday - it should last weeks! She thought. Then she rolled over and saw the leak, the tiny darts that had pierced the battery compartment just below her neck. And she saw two others being dragged along, held at gunpoint, all suit defenses incapacitated. 

This was not some random attack, from which the enemy had fled now that the janissaries were counterattacking. They had been lured out here, so the enemy could capture at least some of them alive. Sue suddenly realized that the savages, the primitive people from the north that was a major nuisance but never considered a real threat, had just outmaneuvered the janissaries, captured a closely guarded technology, and were now holding Sue at their mercy.

 

RIFT - scene 26

DAVE

The airship ride was dizzying and confusing. It wasn´t so much the ride per se. Dave had never been up in the air before, but the ship was big and the seats comfortable. It was the drugs running through his veins that was beginning to affect his vision and his sense of balance.

«I thought it was a vaccine.» he said to Scott, who sat right next to him. Scott looked like he was about to throw up, and didn´t reply. Kirilov though, grinned at him.

«It is a vaccine.» he said. He didn´t look like he was affected at all, unlike Greer, who looked just as bad as Scott. As bad as Dave felt. He looked over at Baldwin, who sat with his eyes closed. That seemed to work better, so he closed his eyes as well, until they popped open two seconds later. Didn´t work at all, at least not for him.

«We are going to intercept a group of infected. If they get past the zone, they will spread all kinds of disease. The vaccine will protect you though. As will these.» Kirilov nodded toward the weapons crate secured between them.

«How do we know they are infected? What kind of infection is it anyway?» Dave asked. Kirilov looked amused from the question.

«You´ll know. It will take you but seconds, trust me.»

Scott suddenly grabbed at his emergency airsickness bag, and managed to throw up in it, instead of all over himself.

«Yuk!» Greer said, but Dave could see he was struggling not to do the exact same thing. Scott heaved, still holding the bag in front of his face.

«This is so bad.» he said, voice muffled. Dave exhaled, trying to think of something else. But thinking was growing increasingly difficult. His mind was all jumbled, and he couldn´t keep a straight thought no matter how hard he tried. He even missed the descent, so when the airship´s anchor hit the ground, making the ship rock a little, he was unprepared. The senior Wardens, all Moon blood, laughed at the rookies. Greer couldn´t hold it any more, and threw up in his bag, and even Baldwin, who had managed to hold it together for so long, stumbled as he tried to get on his feet.

«Everyone, be very careful. We disembark in thirty seconds.» Kirilov shouted, so that everyone stopped and paid attention. He produced goggles, one pair each, and handed them out.

«Put the goggles on, and press the switch on the right. They will adjust to your vision.» Dave put his on, and pushed the switch. It felt a bit different from training, but he´d get the hang of it soon enough. As long as you paid attention to where you put your feet, the goggles had a wide visual area, enough that he didn´t have to move his head all the time. It felt natural. Then he inserted a small bud into his ear, and heard Kirilov´s voice clearly. He focused on Kirilov.

«Never, I repeat, Never take the goggles off. They are part of your protection. And don´t forget; the infected are lethally dangerous, and should be treated as such. Don´t let anyone get too close. And look after each other. Right, let´s move out.» Kirilov stepped into the basket, taking Baldwin and Scott with him. The fourth man inside was one of the Moon blood seniors. Dave didn´t know his name.

The first team descended quickly, and the it was Dave´s turn. Kirilov had returned with the basket, and commanded them all on board. Dave went first. Greer came after, still struggling with the straps of his goggles, and trying not to stumble as he entered the basket. Another nameless Moon blood senior was last on board.

The basket descended so quickly, Dave thought they was going to crash. But in the last instant, the speed decreased, and landed them smoothly on the ground.

«Out, quickly.» Kirilov commanded. His voice, barely a whisper, was still loud enough to hear clearly, because of the ear bud. Dave lifted his rifle, searching through the optical sights for movement. He saw that Scott held something that resembled a machine gun, while one of the seniors assisted him. Kirilov held some sort of sniper rifle, and the rest had ordinary rifles like Dave. He looked up, and saw the airship was gone. Only then did he notice how silent it must have been.

«Light and sound discipline in effect,» Kirilov said quietly, «They are less than one k away, due north west. We move to that tree line and set up an ambush.» Dave concentrated on the words, and found he had no problem understanding and processing them. He could think again. And his vision and balance was beginning to feel better as well. In his peripheral vision he noticed little flickers, but he figured it had to be the lighting optimizer working to make use of every light source available.

Then he felt more than he heard, movement behind him, buzzing by.

«What…» he whispered, before Kirilov turned toward him, a hard look in his eyes.

«That´s the observation drone, you idiot. Now quiet.» he said. Dave flushed. Of course. The drone would be filming them, recording everything. This was not just a rite of passage; it was also a test. If someone didn´t pass, they might end up in the Corpus. Or so he´d heard.

They moved swiftly, but quietly, and within a few minutes they had reached the spot where they would set up the ambush. They were hidden a few meters inside the thick woods, with a clearing in front of them and an area of scattered brush on the far side, about two hundred meters away.

«Scott, in the middle here. Greer, left flank. Baldwin Right flank. Wagner, between Scott and Greer.» Kirilov directed them into position. Dave felt light headed, a mix of fear and euphoria. He almost didn´t notice that the seniors took up positions behind them. Probably so that they could support them whenever needed. He shook off a bout of dizziness, and focused on the task at hand. He looked through his sights.

They waited for a few more minutes, the only sound was their breathing and little directions from Kirilov in their ears. Watch your ammo count. Be ready. Look after your team mates.

The brush on the far side of the clearing moved.

«Hold it. Let them come all the way out.» Kirilov whispered. Dave felt his palms slick with sweat. He adjusted his grip, never taking his hands from the weapon though. He closed his left eye, and peered through the sights.

The monsters entering the clearing was the most fearsome sight he had ever seen.

 

******

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RIFT - Scene 23 and 24

Alright, I´ve got TWO scenes for you today! Got to post frequently, now that RIFT is almost ready to go... So today you get to meet both Sue and Dave.

But first of all, I´d like you to have a look at the cover, by the very talented Yoly Cortez of Cormar Covers. Hope you like it as much as I do! :-)

RIFT Cover

 

RIFT - scene 23

Dave

Dave was deep in thought when the alarm sounded. He´d been trying to solve a particularly difficult problem, in which an algorithm meant do fool a secure folder into thinking he had pressed a correct password code didn´t perform as expected. Instead it made the folder initiate a self destruct sequence, which was about as far from what he wanted as he could get. He cursed silently, loosing his concentration. He got up from his chair and logged off the training interface. Then he got his jacket, and walked out. The sunlight blinded him for a moment and he squinted. He was expecting this to be like the last time, and was surprised when nobody stood by the door to hand out weapons and ammo. He kept walking, until he reached the square, where everyone was gathered. A Moon blood warden he knew as Kirilov was calling out names.

«Greer, Baldwin, Scott, Wagner.» Dave was certain he´d heard wrong, but Kirilov repeated the names until everyone was gathered around him.

«Let´s get you suited up. Follow me.» he said.

The four junior wardens walked after Kirilov, who stomped briskly over toward the building near the airpad, where he´d seen Liz enter when she returned from her first patrol. Kirilov ushered them inside.

The inside of the building looked nothing like he´d expected. The outside had the markings of a hospital, but this looked more like something of a cross between a lab and a warehouse. There were people he´d never seen before, in white coats. They looked like doctors. Or lab technicians. No way to tell the difference, since Dave had only been inside a hospital once, as a kid, when he´d contacted a particularly nasty strain of flu.

«Get moving, we don´t have all day.» Kirilov said. A female doctor led them through a long hallway until they reached the door at the end. She opened it and motioned without a word for them to enter. Inside a young man with distinct Moon people features stood preparing four syringes. The medical assistant turned, and Dave noticed the blood shot eyes and stubble on his cheek.

«Juri, thank you.» the woman said. «You can take the rest of the day off.» he mumbled an incomprehensible reply, and left the room. The doctor spread her hand apologetically.

«He´s been up for 48 hours straight, working.» she said. Dave shrugged it off. Poor sod.

The woman, Thorvaldsen, her name tag said, motioned for him to sit, and he took a seat while she took one of the syringes.

«Tilt your head.» she said. He complied, and she stuck the syringe into his neck with a steady hand. It hurt like hell, but only for a second, before the anesthetic numbed his skin. He´d had his share of shots in school, and only a couple of times had he got this kind of syringes. The difference was huge. This way, he didn´t feel a thing when she pressed the contents into his bloodstream.

«What is it, vaccine?» he asked. The woman just smiled, while Kirilov sneered.

«Did someone tell you to speak, Wagner?» he said. Dave didn´t reply, and Kirilov let it slide.

«Alright, you´re all set. You can continue through that door.» Thorvaldsen said, still smiling, and Dave got up. He saw Scott get ready for his shot, while he opened the door, and entered the next room. It was empty, with just a table and six chairs. He sat down, and touched his neck tentatively. The anesthetic was already wearing off, and it felt sore. He sat back and stared up at the ceiling, where a remote controlled camera hung, watching him. He leaned to his right. The camera followed. Then he did the same, this time to his left. The camera buzzed and followed him again. Then he got up, and moved to the other side of the room. The camera followed. He grinned at it. He didn´t look forward to whatever was coming, but damned if he´d show it.

A noise from the door opposite from where he´d come got his attention. A commotion, feet shuffling, something getting knocked over. Someone was fighting. He walked over to the door, acutely aware of the camera following his every movement. He grabbed the handle carefully. What could they do, really? It wasn´t as if he did something wrong. He opened the door, just a little. Enough to peer through the crack.

Three wardens was holding someone down, pushing someone against the floor, while a doctor struggled to find an opening for a syringe, careful not to hit the wardens. He watched, stunned, as the poor man got his head twisted so that the doctor could insert the syringe, and saw his face. It was Juri. Their eyes met. Juri´s eyes were wide open, and when he saw Dave he screamed.

«Ignorance is bliss! Bliss is ignorance! Don´t believe…» The tranquilizer worked astonishingly fast, and his head slumped while his eyes glazed over.

Dave shut the door as quietly as he could, and took a step back. What the hell just happened? 

He knew he shouldn´t have seen that. Had they noticed him? 

He looked up at the camera again, realizing again he´d been watched all the time. He half expected someone to burst through the doors at any time, to take him away, lock him up, or whatever they did to people who was too curious for their own good.

The door creaked.

He jumped.

Scott walked in, grinning.

«Shit man, you ready for this? Think we´ll get to see the Rift this…» he stopped, and Dave realized his face must give him away.

«What´s wrong man?» Scott said. Dave just shook his head, forcing a smile.

«Nothing, just… I guess it must be the syringe. I hate needles.» he said. Scott shrugged, and continued talking, but Dave couldn´t get his mind off Juri´s face. Those eyes had seen something. And whatever it was, it had driven him mad.

 

 

RIFT - scene 24

Sue

Sue began to familiarize herself with everything, from her new team mates, who mostly appeared reluctant to get to know new people. She understood. With the casualty rates of active Janissary units, it was to be expected that people would hold back. Nevertheless, she memorized their names; Rory, Henry, Christine, Alexandra, Raymond, Michail, Oystein. Three Moon people, five ordinary, including herself.

Although her rank warranted team command, her lack of experience meant she wouldn´t command anyone for a while yet, which suited her just fine. She never wanted command. But she noticed they all looked at her sideways, wondering. And perhaps there was a little envy as well, although nobody showed it openly.

She didn´t care. She would prove herself soon enough. She hoped.

Rory was the exception to the rule, and she became friends with him from day one. He had a dark sense of humor, which she shared, but he had a serious side as well, which showed whenever they were rehearsing tactics or cleaning weapons or talking about what lay beyond the border.

«Some of them speak English.» he said once. She had been surprised. The only one she had met had spoken a garbled tongue she didn´t understand. She shuddered at the memory.

«Most of them don´t, but I know it´s true. I´ve heard it myself, once.» He continued by telling her of one day almost two years ago, when the savages had attacked. They had almost overrun the camp, before the Janissaries regrouped, and struck back with everything they got. By the time the airships arrived, there were only scattered enemy pockets left. Rory had been there when one of these pockets surrendered. That was when he had heard the savage speak a heavily accented English.

«Where had he learned our language?» Sue asked.

«We´ll never know.» Rory said. «We executed them all. Orders.»

Sue thought about that story when she walked through camp on her way back from the shooting range. Strange to think that these people, the enemy, might be able to communicate with someone from the Covenant, had they not been trying to kill each other off every time they encountered one another. But she had learned- in school, in basic, and from experience - that the savages from the north would kill every one of them, if they ever got the chance. The janissaries were the only thing that stood between civilization and mass murder.

She passed Supply on her way, and Anna stuck her head out, grinning.

«Ah, Susan! You look like you´re getting settled in.» Sue smiled back. She liked the tacticus. Din´t understand her - but who understood Moon people, except the Moon people themselves - but liked her, definitely. Anna was an outcast, from what Rory had told her, but here, among brothers and sisters of arms, she had found her new home. There was a sadness about her, masked by a cheerful face and kissweed, but she seemed content with her life, somehow.

«Are Rory and the others treating you well?» Anna said. Sue nodded, smiling back at her.

«Yes, tacticus. Everything´s fine.» she replied. Of course, she didn´t have any new friends yet, and she didn´t see much of Keisha and Julian. Some of the QRF people might become friends, given time, but not yet.

«Good, good… And if you ever need anything, you know where to find me.» Anna said, as she usually did. Sue didn´s say anything as Anna´s head disappeared inside again.

She heard the whine a moment before Supply exploded.

One moment there was quiet, a nice winter day, with just a few wisps of snow in the air. The next, it was as if she had stepped into the fires of hell. Supply was a wreck, with everyone inside dead or dying. Anna…

Whines filled the air, and impacts turned the camp into a scene of random misery. Buildings exploded and burned, wounded lay screaming and dead littered the ground all over. Sue stood as if frozen, noticing the sounds had become muffled. It must have been one of the first blasts. What now? What to do?

«Hey, Atlas! Atlas!» Rory´s voice. She looked around. Rory was covering behind a corner, waving his hand at her.

«Sue! What are you doing?»

She realized she was standing up, in the middle of the street, while everyone else still able to walk had taken cover. She ran over to where Rory was standing. She clutched her rifle tightly, knuckles white. Rory grabbed a hold of her as she rounded the corner, pushing her toward the wall.

«Concrete,» he said, «better than nothing.» He looked around the corner again. Sue noticed the rest of the QRF was there with Rory. Raymond was holding a rocket launcher, but except for that they were all carrying only light weapons, rifles mostly.

«Shit, we aren´t prepared for this. Too many green initiates.»

«I´m not an initiate anym…» Sue protested, but he ignored her. She held her breath.

«We need to get to the barracks.» he said. He looked at her.

«How many rounds you got left, Sue?» She looked at him inquisitively, and he continued.

«Nevermind, it´s not enough anyhow. Like I said, we need to get to the barracks. Got everything we need over there.»

Christine was leaning around the corner now.

«It´s still standing.» she said. That meant Keisha and Julian would be alive, if they were inside. Sue felt a pang of regret for not being with them now.

«Alright then,» Rory said, «two lines, we move quickly. This is artillery- and I cannot for the life of me understand how those savages have got their hands on such weapons- but it means they can´t see us. So let´s just move as fast as we can. Don´t worry about cover.» The all nodded, gritting teeth, setting their jaws, bracing for what´s next.

«Now!» Rory shouted and jumped out into the carnage. Everyone followed, and Sue tried not to step on the wounded as they ran among the dead and the dying. Ten seconds, fifteen, twenty. She sprinted with everything she had, and her lungs already cried for air. Thirty, thirty five. It seemed an eternity, every second possibly her last. 

And then she slammed against the door, first one to reach the barracks, with Rory a split second behind. He grabbed the door handle, and flung the door open.

«Inside, quick!» he said. As they ran through the hallways, Rory spoke into a handheld device. She didn´t hear him through all the commotion. Through every door she saw people donning janissary suits, loading weapons, getting ready.

«Sue! You´re alright!» she heard a familiar voice. She turned toward the sound. It was Julian, and he smiled warmly at her. Sue almost choked up, and threw an arm around his neck, hugging him. She saw Keisha through the corner of her eye, zipping up her suit and checking her helmet before she lowered her visor.

«Atlas, get moving! No time for lover boy, we got work to do.» Rory shouted, and she let Julian go. She turned around without a word, and followed Rory into the QRF room. She sat down on her bunk, packing her escape pack on top of the larger long range pack, the way they usually packed for long range patrols.

«Leave the LR, we need to move quickly. Just the EP this time.» Rory said. She nodded and put the EP on, outside of her weapon straps and tac vest.

«You know, Julian and me, we´re just friends…» Sue said, and Rory stopped dead, eyes cold.

«Sub tacticus Atlas. Do I really look like I care?» he paused. The he turned away. 

«Just get ready. We move out in thirty seconds.»

Sue had time to check her sights one last time, a brief pat down to make sure all of her ammo pouches were secured, a quick swig of water from the sink, never touching her full canteen.

«Alright guys,» Rory said loud enough for everyone to hear. The sounds of destruction were muted by walls and windows, but Sue was glad he almost shouted, since her hearing still hadn´t fully returned from the first blasts. Rory stood broad legged in front of them. She was glad he took charge, even if he didn´t outrank anyone, he held a natural authority, and everyone followed his lead. 

«Listen up. Command have located the enemy artillery, but it´s too mobile and too close for them to strike back, unless they want to take out the entire camp here. So we do it. We go in hard, fast and without mercy. That means no prisoners.» Sue heard someone muttering behind her. Rory cut it off.

«Yes, I´d love to take prisoners too. We could learn a lot from that. But right now, our mission is to destroy that artillery. That´s it. Got it?» He spoke into his handheld again.

«This is the QRF, moving out.»

 

*******

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RIFT - Scene 22

First of all, EXODUS (ebook edition) is currently FREE, so if you know anyone who might be interested, you should tell them about it! Here´s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Exodus-Trilogy-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00AI9BMHS/

Alright, let´s turn back to RIFT. The final scene has been written, and in about a week it´s going off to my editor. But for now, you can follow the process here, first draft. Expect the final version to be very different, I´m just saying.

Now that Sue is no longer an initiate, she is about to transfer to another camp. So let´s see how that goes.

RIFT - Scene 22

The next day, while Tac Hordvik led them through contact drill, fine tuning their moves, making them act like a single organism, Sub Meridian Hoston came over. He stood there for a moment, watching them practice, before he waved them over. They lined up beside the tacticus.

«Tacticus Hordvik, it is time for the transfer.» Hordvik straightened, and the Sub Meridian continued to read their new placements from a computer pad/ tablet (select word- use throughout). Sue was to go to the Westfold Brigade with Julian and Keisha, while Quinn was being sent east to the coast, to join the Kosmopol Brigade.

They ended practice at lunchtime, and after eating, Sue went to pack her belongings. She was happy about the outcome. She got to stay with her friends, and although she got along well enough with Quinn these days, she wouldn´t consider him a friend. She would miss the tacticus though. After getting to know him better, and having listened to him at Survivor Night, she had grown to respect him even more. 

When she entered the barracks, she started. Tac Hordvik stood by her bunk, waiting.

«Susan.» he said, and she walked in. She didn´t know what to say, so she just waited for him to speak.

«The Westfold Brigade is a good unit. And you will do well there.» he said.

«Sure.» she said. She had no idea whether the Westfold Brigade was a good unit or not. «Actually, I´m not even sure where it is, Westfold.»

He smiled.

«Westfold is the westernmost part of the northern borderlands of the Covenant. In fact, if you go south from Westfold, you will reach Warden territory. As far as I know our people don´t have much to do with them though, even out in Westfold. But I´m sure I don´t know half of what happens out there.» He said. Then he looked at his watch.

«I have to go now. Counselor Novak made me realize something, and I have accepted a placement with the Strategos Command back in Legacy. I might be back later though, if it gets too boring.» Sue smiled back at him, and realized this might be the last time she saw him. Tac Hordvik had taught her everything she knew, and now they were both going in their separate directions. She straightened, and slammed her fist to chest.

«It´s been an honor, Sir.» she said. He did the same, a bit more slowly, before he spoke.

«The honor is all mine, Atlas.» Then he smiled again, before he turned and walked away.

Sue didn´t waste much time packing. She didn´t have much to pack anyway.

Five minutes later she was on her way to the train platform with Julian and Keisha. It was strange, the last time she had gone by train had been with a friend as well, but this time there was none of the uncertainty. Sure, she felt the excitement, and wondered how her new unit would be, what kind of commander she would get and what sort of tasks she would get. And there was always the uncertainty of knowing that at any time, she could be sent on a mission that ended badly. Janissary casualty rates was known to be high, that´s why nobody expected janissaries to serve beyond their mandatory three years. But she had done well at Camp Sharpe, and she had been to combat, where she had done even better. She still felt a pang of regret thinking of the woman she had shot, but everyone kept telling her she wasn´t to blame, and that there was nothing she could have done differently. So she tried not to think too much about it.

The train ride was much faster than the last time too. The maglev lines going from east to west was designed to carry troops and supplies quickly to wherever they were needed. So after two hours, the train came to a stop and everyone walked off and stepped out onto the platform.

«Over here, Janissaries.» a tacticus shouted from behind the platform proper. They walked over. Sue wondered whether to come to attention or salute. Regulation said they should, but there was something about the woman, a casual style and a somewhat relaxed smile, that made her hesitate. Julian did though, and the tacticus laughed.

«Yeah yeah,» she said, «you can quit that now. This ain´t Camp Sharpe. Here we do things a bit differently.» Sue cocked her head, noticing the smell. Sweet. She had another look at the woman, and noticed the look on her face. It wasn´t just her being relaxed or a more laid back attitued around camp. Her pupils were slightly dilated, and the she had a dumb smile on her face. She was affected by something, Sue realized.

«So welcome to Camp Gustavson. Let´s get you bunked up, shall we?» the tacticus said. «Follow me.»

The three of them followed the tacticus to a building toward the center of camp. Inside, she noticed the no smoking signs.

«See that?» the tacticus said. «No smoking.» She giggled.

«So keep it outside, alright? And if you need anything, and I mean anything, I´m right over there, in Supply. Just ask for Anna.» She pointed at a nearby building, where a stack of crates were being carried inside by a group of janissaries.

«Alright then…» she continued, looking down at her pad, searching with her finger until she found what she was looking for.

«We go by first names here, okay?» she looked down again.

«Keisha and Julian, you are housed in here. Just grab a free bunk, there should be plenty. Most of the guys in this room got caught up in an ambush last week. Those who made it won´t be coming back here, so just make yourselves at home.» Sue saw the stunned looks on her friends before they went inside. Anna didn´t wait for them, and continued walking. They reached a room at the back of the building, and went inside.

A lean fellow got up from his chair, and extended his hand.

«Rory Sanders.» he said. Sue took his hand and shook it.

«Susan Atlas.» she said.

Although not very muscular, he looked wiry and strong, with a firm jaw and a mustache that made him similar to Tac Hordvik, in an odd way. From his looks she could have sworn he was Moon people, but the name gave him up as just a regular guy from some small town, like her.

«So, I trust you take good care of her, Rory. Let her know what´s what and who´s who.» The tacticus turned to Sue.

«And don´t let him be too strict. He´s a third year vet, but you still outrank him. If you wanna come smoke, you do that, no matter what he tells you. You may need it, even if he don´t.» Sue nodded at her, before Anna turned and walked away.

Rory motioned toward one of the bunks.

«Get yourself situated, Sub Tacticus. The rest of the guys are having dinner so they´ll be back in about an hour.» Sue walked over and put her pack on a bunk that seemed unoccupied. She noticed Rory watching her, and turned toward him.

«So when do I meet my unit? Is this it? This room, I mean.» He nodded.

«We don´t usually get the green ones.» he said, looking her up and down.

«Green as grass, but already a Sub Tacticus. And assigned here, to the QRF. You must be special.» He looked honestly surprised, now that Sue noticed. So he hadn´t seen the show then, thankfully.

«QRF?» she asked. Rory smiled.

«Quick Reaction Force. If something happens, we´re the first to go. And something does happen around here.» He motioned toward the door.

«The Westfold Brigade is a pretty good unit, and we see our share of action. You might have got the wrong impression though, from her. It´s the kissweed from down south that messes people up. Look at Anna, Moon blood and all, she could have had anything. Instead, she choose to stay, doing a shit job, high more often than not. Probably disowned by her family, I mean, she´s been her for as long as anyone can remember. But for some reason the officers never crack down on it. Seems they think it´s alright for some reason. Shit.» he shook his head, but didn´t say anything more.

Sue hadn´t seen anything like kissweed at Camp Sharpe, but then again, that was a training unit. These guys saw combat all the time. She could figure some of them needed to unwind, although she wondered if there wasn´t better ways than by smoking kissweed. She changed the subject.

«So I´m supposed to be part of this QRF then. Is there some kind of training or something I have to go through first?» Rory grinned.

«Sure. As soon as we can get you suited up and get us a mission, we´ll go out there and train. And you´d better learn, Sub Tacticus. Else you die.» Sue nodded slowly. She had figured as much, but she had to ask.

«Ever wondered why us janissaries got the highest casualty rates?» Rory said. «We have a pretty straightforward selection routine, that´s what it is. You get through Camp Sharpe, you get thrown into the water. Sink or swim, live or die. A lot of people die.» He leaned back, rocking back and forth on two of the chair´s legs.

«You´re lucky though. The QRF got the toughest assignments, but we´re also the best unit in camp. And that´s not just something I´m saying. If you´re going swimming in the deep waters, having competent people around you can make all the difference. We´re pretty serious, you´ll see. And none of us smoke either.» Sue finally smiled. She found she liked the man.

«Sounds good.» she said. «Just one thing, and let me assure you, this is just because I´m curious, not because I´m planning to be the first smoker in the QRF. That kissweed, you said it comes from the south. You mean Covenant south? I´m from the south, Charlestown, and I´ve just barely heard of it. Or did you mean Corpus lands?» Rory shook his head.

«No no, not that far. I meant Warden territory. They bring in supplies all the time, Weapons, ammo, high tech gadgets of every kind. Kissweed. Other stuff.» Sue raised her eyebrows. She had no idea. She thought of Dave, from back home, who had gone to the Wardens after she talked his way out from being sent to the Corpus. What on Earth was going on down there?

******

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RIFT - Scene 21

Things are moving quickly, and I´m currently writing faster than I can post on the blog. I have my editor scheduled for December, and I´m shooting for a Christmas launch. I´ll keep posting the scenes throughout the editing phase, so if you are following these posts, you will be able to read all of them before I launch the book properly.

So, today it´s time to head north again, to Camp Sharpe, where Sue has impressed both Janissary leadership and Counselor Mark Novak, advisor to the Head Servant. Sue is about to become something of a poster girl for the Janissaries, to be shown off as a hero, the embodiment of the ideas of what Service is all about.

In my previous scene I mentioned that I thought Sue needs to have more to lose. And the keep reader will notice that in this scene I´m referring to her family back home and her late father (died of mandatory euthanasia at the age of fifty). I originally envisioned her an orphan, but I figure that as the story progresses, having something more to lose can only heighten the tension.

So let´s see what´s happening up north.

RIFT- Scene 21

The ceremony was impressive. There were no other words to describe it. For a week, the janissaries of Camp Sharpe had been busily preparing; setting up a great stage, creating a show of fireworks and laser effects, advanced stage lighting, sound effects, music and a huge screen in the background. There were flowers, banners Covenant flags everywhere. Everyone knew their place and everything had been rehearsed over and over again. The honor guard surrounded the stage, and all along the walk up to it, all the way back to the airpad. The cameras were everywhere, while behind the scenes, electronic defense systems would prevent any unexpected interference, and every armed man and woman not attending the ceremony were manning positions covering every entrance. Above, the airships, brandishing all kinds of weapons from machine cannons to rockets to laser defense systems, patrolled the air.

It was all too much, Sue thought, but it was out of her hands. She had done what she thought was best, and somehow the story had reached all the way back Legacy. When she had spoken to Counselor Novak, she´d had no idea it would lead to this. Nevertheless, she didn´t see how she could have done anything differently. It had never been up to her anyway.

Head servant Lunde stood before her, beaming. She avoided his eyes. The medal he held up before her looked heavy. It was white gold, brandishing the Covenant symbol in black. The Exceptional Deed of Bravery Medal. It had only been awarded to Janissaries four times before, and never to one still considered an initiate. Granted, she was no longer an initiate, but she had been when she did what had lead to her nomination.

«…And here you have her,» the Head servant said to the camera in front of them, «Susan Atlas.» Everyone cheered, and the screen showed the flapping flag of the Covenant morphed with her face. The music, a patriotic hymn everyone knew, was loud. The Head servant´s words were louder still.

«A young woman, saving her friends and exhibiting exceptional bravery under fire. An example for future generations, of what Service to the State means.» Sue cringed, but kept up appearances. For the previous week, since the announcement, she had been interviewed so many times she had lost count. She was being portrayed as the young woman from smalltown, doing her duty, serving bravely in the most dangerous environment. Nobody mentioned that she hadn´t seen combat at all since coming back from the mission where they lost Brad. Nobody mentioned Brad at all. It was all about her, a woman on her way to the responsibility of citizenship, an example to every young man and woman out there.

The cameras broadcast everything into mandatory viewings in every home in the Covenant. She should have been thinking of her mother. Of little (brother/ sister). Of her father, who would have been so proud to see her like this. So relieved that his daughter would have a different life than he had. A longer life, possibly.

But all she could think of was the young woman she had killed. The one she had taken prisoner, and then shot as the woman pulled a hidden gun at her. That wasn't bravery, it was sloppiness.

She looked at the audience, and saw at least one man here who didn´t think of here as a hero. First Janissary Ivanov had come, and he was fuming. She realized she had deeply offended him when she stood up for Dave on Initiation Day, and he didn´t seem like the type to forget easily. It was a wonder really, that he hadn´t stopped the whole thing, but she guessed that spoke volumes of the influence of Counselor Novak. This was his doing, although Head Servant Lunde seemed to enjoy the occasion immensely.

She saw Tac Hordvik standing to attention just below the stage, beaming like a proud big brother. Sub Strategos Janev looked equally proud, standing just as stiff beside the tacticus. As if this was his doing somehow. Her eyes darted around, finding her team. There was Keisha, brandishing a big grin, ear to ear, winking as their eyes met. Quinn, surprisingly cheerful and finally out of hospital. They would never be friends, but she thought she sensed a certain respect, and she could live with that. Julian stood there as well, smiling at her. She looked away. Ever since they got back there had been a tension between them. And it wasn't uncomfortable. She felt her cheeks go hot, and tried to think of something else, turning her attention to the Head Servant, who looked like he was ready to finish.

«Thank you, thank you all.» he said, and turned toward her.

«But most of all, Sub Tacticus Atlas, thank you.» He extended his hand, and her startlement seemed to amuse him greatly. Sub Tacticus? She had been an initiate just a few weeks ago. It was unheard of. She took his hand, and shook it, head spinning. Then Head Servant Lunde took off her single Junior Janissary bar from her lapel, and pinned the triple bar of her new rank in place. He turned, gave a big smile to the camera, and waved all around, making sure the camera got it from every angle, before walking off, followed by his aides and guards from Legacy.

Sue watched his back as he disappeared. As the cameras were switched off, people rushed in to greet her. 

«Congratulations, Sub Tacticus.» Tac Hordvik said, shaking her hand.

Keisha slapped her back.

«You´re famous now, girl,» she said, «you´re a heroine! A few more years, and you´ll be government material. I´m telling you, you´re set for life now. And a long life!» Sue smiled, relieved that this was finally over. Back in Legacy, and in every town all over the Covenant, people would watch the broadcast and the reruns, over and over. But here, tomorrow was a new day. This would all blow over, and people would forget about all of this. She would be a bit young for a SubTac, but that would be it. Soon everything would be back to normal.

*****

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RIFT - Scene 20

So, I have another RIFT scene for you. After thinking long and hard, I figured Sue just don´t have enough to loose. I also wanted to show a bit more of the ugly parts of the Covenant early on. And lastly, I wanted a more action- oriented introduction, instead of the "looking in the mirror, thinking of what is about to happen" start that I originally envisioned. So here´s what I came up with, a new first scene.

But since we jump around in the first draft, let´s just call it scene 20, shall we? ;-)

RIFT - Scene 20

She moved quietly through the streets. It was after dark, and she wasn´t supposed to be out this late. Her mother would be furious, anger fueled with fear. Sue knew all too well what happened if you were caught outside at this hour. She had almost been caught once before, about a year ago, and though she escaped to safety, Laurie hadn´t been so lucky. When he returned from a night in prison, he´d been quiet for days, and she knew better to be caught herself. And they all mostly avoided being outdoors at this time.

But it was the night before initiation, and everyone from school had gathered outside the gymnasium, for a final night together. Tomorrow some of them would be chosen for Service, risking their lives while gaining the opportunity for a better life for themselves or their family. Others would not be chosen, and would remain in Charlestown, doomed to a life of limits and boundaries.

Her father had turned fifty last year.

She missed him intensely. 

Though they were all taught that the Covenant depended on its rules, and that only the Covenant protected them from the world outside, she wondered why father couldn´t be with them tomorrow. However hard she tried to understand, it never made sense to her. She had been taught the system depended on the limit of fifty to be sustainable, but she couldn´t understand why. Her father had been healthy, a merchant and a productive member of society.

Her father had turned fifty, and now he was gone.

She wanted a different life.

She wanted to serve.

A noise from a side street caught her attention. Shuffling feet, sobs, heavy grunts. She stepped closer to the street entrance. In the faint light she saw three officers and something between them. A man, struggling to remain on his feet. One of the officers shoved his knee into the man´s belly, and he doubled over. This couldn´t just be someone breaking the curfew.

The man´s face came up, and when the light lit up his swollen face and shaven head, she saw the electronic tattoo across his scalp. Corpus.

What was one of the Corpus doing here, she thought, but she knew the answer right away.

A fugitive.

The Corpus lands lay just south of here, but the border was so tight, she had never heard of someone actually escaping. She could understand why someone would try, but with in the Corpus, you served until you died, or for a lucky few, until your seven years was up. There was no way out of Service, and with the Corpus the only way for most was death.

His face had a resigned look, as if he didn´t care what happened to him anymore. Even with blood running from his nose and broken teeth, and a gash in his head, a wan smile crossed his bloody lips. She realized she was looking at a man who saw death as a way out. A man free at last. She shuddered, and withdrew, afraid that the officers would notice her. But none of them moved away from the fugitive.

Instead, one of them drew his nightstick, and adjusted the voltage. She had seen how they did that, depending on whether they just planned to bash someone or stun them enough to arrest them. She had heard the voltage could be set to kill though.

«You sure about this, Mike?» she heard one of the officers say. The one with the nightstick grinned, teeth showing in the street light.

«This one´s done for. He´d be useless anyway. Let´s just get this done, and file the damn report.» When no one protested, he set the nightstick against the fugitive´s neck.

«Move away Trace, this will hurt.» he said. He pressed something, and the fugitive began to shake violently. After a moment, the officer withdrew the stick, and the body slumped to the ground. The one called Mike kicked the dead man lightly to make sure.

«Alright, let´s get this one out of here.» he said.

Sue withdrew further, shocked at what she had seen. This man had toiled in the Corpus lands, and whatever the officers did to him before they killed him, his expression had told her everything she needed to know. 

Tomorrow was Initiation day, and she might face the same fate that this man had run away from. A chill ran down her spine as she realized this was the last night of her former life, and that whatever tomorrow would bring, nothing would ever be the same again.

 

****

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RIFT - Scene 19

A short scene today. Dave is still learning tons among the Wardens, and he´s now begun his specialization in Tech. It´s becoming more and more clear to him that there are secrets abound, and in Tech he´s going to learn many of them- job requirement. And then there are secrets that not even those protecting the secrets are allowed to learn. The plot thickens...

RIFT - scene 19

Dave loved it in Tech. He had never been able to learn so much before. He took apart night vision goggles and rocket sighting systems. He learned how to repair communications systems. He began to study programming and electronics. He learned to file electronic folders in ways that made them invisible to everyone except those he chose to give access, and he learned to retrieve hidden files, and crack secure systems. He even got to test it on their own systems.

«If we can break it, someone else could. This way, we stay on top of the development. Although, in reality electronic warfare is a race which no one ever wins. The best you can do is stay one step ahead of your enemy.» That was Senior Technician Hasle, his instructor and superior, around sixty and probably one of the oldest Wardens around. Come to think of it, he was one of the oldest people Dave had ever met. He was Moon people of course, but you wouldn´t know it, except for his name. He looked nothing like the others, dark skinned and curly hair. Dave wondered if it would be alright to ask him about it, but deemed it inappropriate, so he let it go. Hasle treated him well from the first day. He let him take his time to get everything right, and whenever Dave had a question, Hasle would explain in a way that made him really understand what he was talking about.

He quickly understood there was areas of the system where even Hasle wouldn´t let him test his skills though. Once, when he suggested it, the older man had just laughed.

«I know you are talented, Wagner, but no matter how hard you tried, that door remains closed. Best not to think of it.» he´d said. 

When Dave brought up the subject a few weeks later, Hasle surprised him, by banging his fist on the table.

«I said let it go. You won´t be able to do it. And even if you managed to, you´d regret it. Trust me.» That was the only time he saw Hasle angry, and except for that one occasion, they got along fine.

While he was busy learning his new skills, he didn´t have much contact with the others. He once saw Brian with Teacher Hughes, walking trough camp, and then there was Liz.

She seemed changed, he thought. She wasn´t around much, being out with the rangers most of the time, but she always made sure to check in with him whenever she wasn´t out. Dave considered her his best friend here. Something was different about her though. She was more irritable, and she seemed constantly restless. He even saw her smoking kissweed with some others, even though she´d been vocal about the stupidity of it.

They spoke from time to time, but he began to wonder whether she even listened to him. But she didn´t speak much, so he did most of the talking anyway. He tried asking about what had happened - he knew it must have been something - but she just changed the subject. It was the usual «you´ll see» and «just wait, it will be your turn soon enough» answers, which irked Dave something fiercely. He had begun to hate those words. He wanted to know. If it was bad, he´d handle it. He even said as much, and Liz just laughed.

«If I could tell you, I might. But I can´t.» And that was the end of it.

After a few weeks, Liz came over and told him she would be gone for a long time, something to do with the Rift. He just nodded quietly, understanding he´d get no answers to any of his questions. Instead he buried himself in his own specialization. For a few more weeks he managed to fool himself that if he buried himself deep enough in electronics, computers and advanced technology, the alarm would never wake him again, he wouldn´t have to go out and face whatever it was that Liz had seen. Maybe he would be… changed, like she was.

***

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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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