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The Rift Uprising

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Acknowledgments (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)



an infinite realm of being or potential being of which the universe is regarded as a part or instance.

CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_35629056-5035-50b8-b1ff-1fdb9dd4d51b)

“Command Center, this is Gamma Team in Nest four. There is no visual. Over.” The voice crackles in my earpiece. I tap the small device without thinking. It’s not a hardware issue, not with the kind of equipment we use. More than likely it’s interference. We are the closest team to The Rift. I wait for the other teams to check in, but it’s protocol at this point. They aren’t going to see anything before we do. We hear from Lambda, Phi, Rho, and Omega. The reserves are farther back, in the denser part of the forest, waiting in case something really bad comes through, like a column of Karekins. Karekins are the most dangerous enemy we face in The Rift game. They are humanoid but proportionally much, much bigger—at least eight feet tall. Whenever I see one, I think of the Titans from Greek mythology. Maybe the big shots at ARC thought the same thing when they divided us all into groups using the Greek alphabet.

The scientists at The Allied Rift Coalition created sophisticated machines that spike and beep whenever The Rift is about to dump something out.

We don’t need them.

Citadels are in tune with the opening. I don’t even think it’s our heightened senses. We just spend so much time around the damn thing that we’ve grown accustomed to its habits. I am Beta Team’s leader. I was surprised at first when I got the rank. I am not the fastest or strongest among us. When we first deployed, it didn’t take long to see that I think quickly on my feet. I’m a natural tactician and I don’t make sentimental decisions. In the beginning of all this, I would never have volunteered for a command. After so much time on active duty, however, it’s clear the rank is a good fit. The fact that ARC figured out my strengths before I did still pisses me off. It’s like swallowing one of those huge horse vitamins without water. The truth that they somehow know me better than I know myself will always burn right in my center.

I try not to think about how or why anymore. It’s pointless and distracting, and I need to focus. I’m here and in charge, responsible for my team. We are holding our positions. The four of us are crouched behind a large rock that sits just off to the left of The Rift. The rock was strategically placed here so that we can see what’s coming out, but they can’t see us.

No, we can’t actually see through solid rock or anything … though that would be cool. Instead, the rock has a couple holes bored through, covered and camouflaged on The Rift side with paint and sieved metal. It’s kind of like a two-way mirror. No one would notice the holes unless they got right up and put their face up to them, and by that point, well, more than likely they would have already been neutralized.

I study my three teammates for a moment. They look so badass they could be on the cover of a comic book. Three years ago, Christopher Seelye—the head of ARC—told us we had all been chosen because of our incredible “averageness.” He got that one wrong by a mile. Maybe it was bad math, or maybe it’s the chip they implanted us with to give us all these crazy superpowers. Either way, we are far from average. Citadels are striking. People look at us and can’t look away. We are sleek and dangerously fascinating, like any other large predator, which makes it impossible for any of us to fly under the radar. Am I pretty? No, not conventionally. But we all have a strange and complicated beauty that’s undeniable. We have become used to being watched and stared at. I wonder what our parents think sometimes. Do they notice, or are they just used to us? I wouldn’t dare ask them, and because of the role I am forced to play at home, they wouldn’t expect me to.

I am snapped back into the moment when Boone checks in on the mic, trying to sound all official. “Command, this is Brony Team. We still don’t have a visual.” He smirks beside me. I roll my eyes. Always the comedian.

“Repeat,” Command demands through our earpieces.

“This is Team Rainbow Sparkle and we have a negative on a visual.”

Violet gives Boone a smack, and per usual Henry says nothing at all. Henry has no sense of humor. He’s as immovable as the rock we are crouched behind.

Colonel Applebaum’s voice cuts through the static. “Cut the shit, Boone. After we’re done here today you can go home and play with all your little action figurines, but since we know something is about to come through, maybe you’d like to focus so that we can save some lives.”

It’s an inside joke, years old, that Boone never gets tired of. When we first met Applebaum we were so intimidated that it was difficult for most of us to even speak, let alone answer one of the dozens of questions he would scream in our faces during basic training. It was Boone who came up with the idea that his last name sounded like a My Little Pony character. Boone can be a smart-ass, but he can always defuse a tense situation. After we started associating Applebaum with a children’s cartoon, the colonel seemed far less terrifying.

“Ryn?” he asks.

“I’m on it, sir.” I shoot Boone a look. A look that says everything without me having to use any actual words. And then I feel the hair on my arms begin to stand up. I know that I am the first one to sense that The Rift is about to open. I always am. I think that’s another reason I was made team leader: I have a hypersensitivity to it. I hold my hand up and make a fist. It’s a gesture that means business, and my team knows me well enough to stop the nonsense and follow my lead. I keep my head down and close my eyes. I can feel the tug of The Rift’s giant mouth in my belly. I know we won’t be sucked in, because all the mathematicians have calculated the exact safe distance from The Rift. It’s one of the few things ARC has told us that I believe absolutely, because we haven’t yet lost a Citadel that way.

But it doesn’t mean the pull doesn’t bother me every time.

My heart begins to beat a little faster, the adrenaline starts to course through my veins. The Rift’s rippling intensifies.

“Command, this is Beta Team leader. We have a visual. Stage one. Repeat: We have a visual. Stage one.” Through the rock I can see the shimmering air undulate like a hummingbird’s wings and then, from The Rift’s center, a purple dot begins to bleed out toward the edges. “That’s Stage two, Command. Copy,” I say swiftly.

“We copy, Team Leader. Hold your position.”

I grit my teeth. They don’t need to tell me what to do. I know exactly what needs to happen next. I’m about to put my life on the line and they are safely sitting on their asses a mile away, watching this all on a bunch of camera feeds. I take a breath. Irritation won’t help me if things turn ugly. I have to empty myself of every emotion. I have to become a thing instead of a person if I want to survive the next ten minutes. It’s why we’re called Citadels and not soldiers. Solid, immovable objects, not malleable beings.

Ready to withstand anything.

The purple in The Rift begins to darken until it is pure black. It’s not a normal black but the darkest color my eyes can register. It is the inky night of the universe. I look at my team. They are ready. Focused. Intense.

“Stage three, Command. Stand by.” We all wait for the sound. The Rift always opens with a muffled sonic boom. It’s not ear piercing. It’s not even all that unpleasant. In fact it comes as sort of a relief. No more waiting. No more guessing. It’s time.

The boom happens.

It is an echo of a thing started a million or a billion Earths away from our own Earth. The ground shakes ever so slightly.

“That’s it. Stage four. Weapons ready,” I say calmly. I peer through the rock. The view isn’t perfect through the tiny holes perforated in the metal on the other side, but it’s enough. The Rift opens completely and a person comes tumbling out. Just as quickly, The Rift closes and turns back into the neon green tower of energy that it is. It always closes with far less ceremony than it opens—like a guest who’s overstayed his welcome and hustles to get out of there before things get awkward.

“It looks like we have a solo passenger, Command. I repeat: a lone individual, a man or possibly …” I peer through the grate in the rock. It’s ten a.m., so he’s pretty easy to see from my clumsy vantage point, even though there are fifty feet between us. He’s tall but a bit wiry, a swimmer’s build. He looks pretty young, maybe my age or a bit older. “A youth. Not a child, though,” I add hastily.

“Roger that, Team Leader. Let’s give him The Five,” Applebaum says cautiously.

“Yes, sir, going silent,” I say softly. The Five is what we give every Immigrant—human or otherwise—who comes through The Rift. There are a few species we simply attack, like the Karekins, because we know they are a threat and have shown no desire throughout the years to negotiate.

For the rest of what or whoever ends up here, we have a pretty decent method of threat assessment: We watch them for five minutes. It becomes clear almost right away what we are dealing with. They are all afraid. How that fear manifests itself is the key. Some get panicked and desperate. Some cry. Some wail. Some simply sit down and look at The Rift, staring into its sickly green abyss, clearly in shock over what has just happened to them. Some get very, very, violent.

I breathe out slowly. There is an unlikely chance things will turn ugly this morning. This young man is wearing a flannel shirt and jeans, and sporting a backpack that makes him look like he’s from a version of Earth very similar to our own. Obviously we’ve seen more benign-looking beings step through and wreak havoc, but my gut says he’s not about to go on a rampage. And yet I’m troubled.

He is also standing just a little too close to The Rift.

Regardless of whether their five minutes are up, we can’t ever let them go back through. Who knows where they would end up? The chances of making it back to their exact same Earth of origin are almost nonexistent. Anything that has the misfortune of stumbling through becomes our responsibility, and we wouldn’t want them jumping back in and ending up God knows where—an Earth without an atmosphere? A Karekin Earth? The sharpshooters are ready with a tranq gun up in one of the tree towers, or Nests, just in case.

“He’s awfully close,” Applebaum says, as if reading my mind, but I know he’s just looking at one of the video feeds back at Command Center.

“Just give him a second,” I whisper. The young man cups his hands over his eyes and steps back, as if he’s trying to get a better view. He’s taking it in.

He looks around. All he will be able to see is forest. He looks back at The Rift. “What the hell?” he asks in plain English. He reaches around for his backpack and then stops, bites his lip and slips it over his shoulder once again. “Oh my God.” His voice is just barely loud enough for me to hear. My hearing is enhanced, so he must have almost whispered it. The minutes tick by. He scratches his head and begins to pace. He’s trying to figure it out. He’s trying to analyze. I recognize this approach. I’ve seen it in others. There is no real logic to what’s happened to him, though. Well, there is—in a “PhD in quantum physics” type of way—but this guy doesn’t look old enough to have that. Besides, even if he could wrap his mind around how this happened, there is no rhyme or reason for why it happened to him. It’s moot at this point, though.

The Five are up.

“Command, this is Beta Team leader. I’m going in.” My team begins to stand up, and I immediately stop them. “I’m going in alone,” I say with finality. I register their looks of annoyance. I don’t care. This guy is not a threat and he doesn’t need to be scared half to death by a bunch of commandos jumping out from behind a rock.

“Not a good idea, Ryn,” I hear Applebaum say with authority. “What if there is a weapon in that backpack of his?”

Applebaum doesn’t care about me personally one way or another. What he does care about is losing any Citadel—probably because of the expense that goes into training us. It’s hard to think of Applebaum caring about an actual person.

“I don’t think there is,” I say. “I’m making the call, but it’s sweet that you’re worried about me.” I put my gun down and stand up. I try to imagine what this guy is going to think when he sees me pop out of nowhere. We wear a uniform, of course. A long-sleeved unitard in forest green. The suit was designed by the Roones—one of the first groups that came through The Rift, and the creators of a lot of the tech we use. In terms of the uniform, our outfits are made of a polymer titanium, and spandex for movement. The titanium is spun so lightly and so deftly that it weighs practically nothing, but it is in effect like chain mail, kind of like wearing a bulletproof vest on your whole body. They must have added another compound to the suits, to compensate for the impact of melee weapons, but the Roones don’t like to answer questions about exactly how things work. Since the suit has saved me more than a few times, it seems rude to keep asking.

Attached to the bodysuit are strategically placed lengths of quilted black leather. Our knees, shoulders, elbows, and torsos are covered for added heat and protection in hand-to-hand combat. We wear boots, too, though they aren’t standard military issue. They look more like motocross meets Mad Max. I wish I could wear them outside of work, but we aren’t allowed to take any of these provisions home. How would we explain them to our parents? Especially the utility and weapons holsters? The guys generally choose to put khakis over the suit. I understand why. Tights are a pretty hard sell to a teenage boy. The girls have no such qualms. The suit helps us fight better and stay alive. I see no reason to alter it, even though we are all acutely aware that our uniform hugs every curve.

I walk around the rock with my hands up. I have taken my holster off. I have no type of weapon on me at all. Granted, every Citadel is basically a living weapon—and yes, Boone loves to make that joke over and over.
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