The Rift Uprising © Amy S. Foster
“Command Center, this is Gamma Team in Nest 4, 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 Lamda, 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 things 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. It didn’t take long though, once we were first deployed, before it became obvious that I think quickly on my feet, though. 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 at that point, well, more than likely they would have already been neutralized.
I study my three teammates for a moment. They look so bad-ass 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 to give us all these crazy super powers. 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.
Major 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 that 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 diffuse a tense situation. After we started associating Applebaum with a children’s cartoon, the Major seemed far less terrifying. “Ryn?” he asked.
“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 they made me Team Leader: I have a hyper sensitivity 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 distance where we are safe. 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 intensify.
“Command, this is Beta Team Leader, we have a visual. Stage 1. Repeat we have a visual Stage 1.” 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 towards the edges. “That’s Stage 2, 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 out 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 3, Command. Standby.” 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 booms happens.
It is an echo of a thing, started a million or a billion Earth’s away from our own Earth. The ground shakes ever so slightly.
“That’s it. Stage 4. 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 again and turns back into the neon green tower of energy that it is. It always closes with far less ceremony than it opens—a guest who’s over stayed 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’s fifty feet between us. He’s tall but a bit wiry, a swimmer’s build. He’s 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–that comes through The Rift. There are a few species like the Karekins who we simply attack because we know they are a threat and have shown no desire throughout the years to negotiate.
For the rest of what or whomever 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 turn ugly this morning. This young man is wearing a flannel, 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 or not, 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 sharp shooters 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 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 Ph.D quantum physics type of way, but this guy doesn’t look old enough to get that. Besides, even if he could wrap his mind around how this happened, there is no rhyme or reason to why it happened to him. It’s moot at this point, though.
The Five are up.