Excerpt: Into the Divide

“Who do you want me to kill?” Tarn asked as he strode into Izaak’s office, forcing his Commanding Officer to look up from his table. Izaak put his pen down and got to his feet gesturing for Tarn to sit down on one of the comfy chairs he kept for entertaining visitors.

Tarn ignored it, pulling the straight backed chair that faced Izaak and sat down in quick precise moves, which was his trademark. If Izaak was irritated by Tarn for intruding on him at the table he didn’t show it, but then again, Tarn thought wryly, Izaak didn’t show much emotion on his face.

Izaak hadn’t had much expression the first time they’d met. He’d been in his cell, waiting for a certain death and Izaak had walked in impossibly tall and good looking, the overhead light making his hair appear blond.

“So you’re our hardened criminal,” Izaak said looking at Tarn who’d still been in his costume. “Not exactly what I was expecting.” Tarn’s costume consisted of a small, skin colored shirt over which he wore a semi-transparent blue silk wrap that came mid-thigh with a few strategically placed leather straps across his chest.

“I get that a lot,” Tarn quipped back, trying for bravado and failing. “Are you… did my father hire you as my… lawyer?”

Izaak’s expression didn’t change but he reached forward and patted Tarn on the head, a little condescending but at the same time, reassuring. “No, your old man doesn’t want to get involved with you anymore.” Which really made sense but Tarn had been hoping for something. “But I’m going to take you out of here.”

“How… where…?”

“Ever heard of planets with Divide tech?”

Tarn, despite spending all his time either training or in the ring had heard of a series of planets, newly discovered, where a portion of it was closed by an energy field generated through unknown sources.

“Yeah, what about them?”

“Nothing high tech works inside these divides, no lasers, no fliers, no vehicles. Not even people with high nano-tech inside of them.”

Tarn could feel a prick of excitement at the idea. He wasn’t enhanced; it was a part of the package of being a fighter, even if it was mostly for show.

“There’re a lot of nasty things on the other side of these Divides and nothing against them. Nothing more than the most basic of guns make it through. Most of the time, it’s not enough, so we’re thinking of alternate weaponry.”

“Like swords?” Which was Tarn’s weapon of choice.

“Each Divide is controlled by a native species of the planet, and they choose what you can take with you to the Nullands—”

“What’s that?”

“That’s what the scientists are calling the area inside the Divide. As I was saying, if your sword passes the inspection, you’ll be escorting science teams through the Divide. The ISF calls us the Rehabilitation Unit but that’s a term you’ll never hear outside of official channels. They call us Field Fighters in polite company, we go with the science teams and we fight but they also refer to us as the First Fighters or the Death Squad. We’ll be their first line of defense and we’ll be… the first to die if it comes to that.”

He leaned forward and looked Tarn right in the eye.

“I can promise you a lot of travelling, you’ll see new planets and you’ll deal with a lot of scientists, who for the most part will be assholes. You’ll most likely be injured and or killed.”

Izaak sounded serious and earnest. But at least he was honest. Tarn had wanted to work under the command of someone like that.

“When do we start?”

That had been almost ten years ago and he’d seen enough new planets to last him a lifetime. The new one they were on, CS-1320 had only been settled a mere three years ago. He’d been on it a total of eight months, most of it on the Nullands. Things had changed, he’d started to be able to live with what he’d done, killed more exotic creatures than he’d ever imagined and seen good men die in the line of duty. He’d also taken care of enough ungrateful science teams to be sick of every single one of them.

Through it all, some things had stayed the same. Like his Commanding Officer who didn’t look a day older than the day he’d come to pick up Tarn from his prison cell.

Tarn watched Izaak reach over, pick up his pen which had rolled away and sit down.

“I don’t remember calling you.”

“You were going to.” Not quite an inquiry but not a statement either.

“I suppose,” Izaak sighed and pushed back his chair. “It’s not like I have much of a pool to pick from.” The last mission three weeks back had made a huge dent in their numbers and those who weren’t dead had to be shipped out for medical procedures that weren’t available camp side.

Tarn looked at Izaak intently. “So, the mission?”

“I’m not sure if we should take it on,” Izaak finally admitted as he pushed back his chair and stood up and then walked around the table.

“Why not?” Tarn turned around in his chair to follow Izaak’s movements.

“Because… first of all, how did you know I received orders for a new mission?” Izaak asked as he paced toward the centre of the room.

“You’re up late, on a new planet when there should be less paperwork,” Tarn pointed out. “You did mandatory field practices in the morning but you had the rest of the day for paper work so there’s no reason for you stay up late unless you’re thinking of something.” He wondered if Izaak was behind filling personal forms since his aunt had been killed in a freak accident several months ago.

“I could have been doing paperwork,” Izaak stopped and smiled at Tarn before continuing his pacing. “It’s a never ending process.”

“No one’s died and—” Tarn broke off as another thought struck him. “Unless it was something I didn’t know.”

“Hm,” said Izaak as he turned around perfectly on his heels such as a solider doing a march past would and continued to pace up the room. At times like that Tarn wondered about the rumours of Izaak having had a military past. They were the Death Squad, first to face death and first to die, they were almost always criminals given a second chance at life, like Tarn and almost never military. Most military personnel had deeply implanted tech upgrades in them, which meant most of the time they were unsuitable for Divide missions; Tarn had never asked Izaak whether he was in fact one of them.

“Hey,” said Tarn pushing back his own chair and standing up. “It’s not worth getting worked over. Whatever the mission is, you give it to me and I do it. It’s not a big deal.”

“I don’t like sending my men in blind,” Izaak said as he walked past Tarn, head down, studying the dark, bare floor. “There’s five dead Home Guards …” He looked at Tarn sharply before he could speak. “… yes, I know you don’t think much of them but they are trained professionals.”

“Which is why you have to tell me what this is about,” Tarn said, moving to stand in Izaak’s way, hands crossed over his chest, his face set in a scowl.

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