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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