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.
«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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