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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RIFT - Scene 15

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

 

RIFT - Scene 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It all happened in an instant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

«You hear that?» she said to Julian.

«Yeah. Let´s get a move on.»

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He waved her off.

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

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

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

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

 ****

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RIft - Scene 14

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

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

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Aurora-Exodus-Trilogy-Book-2-ebook/dp/B00EQGJYEC/

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

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

 

RIFT - Scene 14

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

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

«You´re hurt.» she said. He nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ******

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RIFT - Scene 13

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

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

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

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

 

RIFT - Scene 13:

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

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

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

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

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

«Two.» She tensed.

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

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

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

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

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

«One covering.» Keisha said.

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

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

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

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

 

********

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