This year, I will be posting a chapter of my new online exclusive novel every week. Galactic Division Heroes: Kat follows a new character, Katarine Rafalsdottir, through the timeline of the first three Galactic Division novels. You can read Chapter One here.
I appraised myself in the mirror. The bathroom mirror, of course. There had been no mirror in my bedroom for years, a casualty of one of my many reorganisation efforts. I hated spending time in my room. It was boring. It was less desirable, though, than hanging about the rest of the house with my Mother. As a result, any time I spent too much time in there, I tried to find new ways to rearrange the furniture. The room wasn’t very big, mind, and there wasn’t much that could be done with what little mismatched furniture I had in there. Not that it mattered much anymore.
A similar problem faced me as I studied my own reflection. I didn’t have much to work with. I didn’t really own any make-up, save for some horribly garish stuff I tried a year or so back, whilst going through some phase or another. I could do even less with my hair. It was still too short to hold any kind of style. It didn’t even feel spiky when I ran my hands through it, either. It was just… fluffy.
I sighed. Why did I even care? I never made any effort with my appearance, yet here I was, dressed in my ‘best’ clothes, the smart trousers and blouse my Mum had bought me for when we went to visit her friends, obsessing over my looks in the mirror. With the people I knew, it didn’t matter to me what I looked like, cos they accepted me for who I was. Even Mister Brava. Now, just because I was going to be in a room surrounded by thousands of other teenagers, I was suddenly self-conscious. Whatever I tried to do with myself, they were all going to be much better turned out than I was, so what was the point? Within a few weeks aboard the training ship I imagined we’d all be sweaty and smelly anyway. Once we got out onto the battlefield, it wouldn’t matter how we’d once dressed.
I stomped back in my bedroom, unbuttoning the blouse. If this was going to be the last day on this planet, my planet, then I would damn well dress like how I pleased. Then, I heard Mum coming down the hall, and I started popping the buttons back in again. I didn’t want another scene. Not today.
“Katarine? Ahh, you’re nearly ready?” She wore a beaming smile, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she’d just entered my room without so much as a knock. “I’ll walk you to the bus. The next one is due in a couple of minutes, so you’ll need to hurry.” As I had suspected, there was no sign of any worry on her face. No sense of unease in her demeanour. Taking a few moments to quell my rage, I took a look around my room. I guessed I’d probably miss it. I didn’t feel at all sentimental for it, but then you don’t realise what you have until it’s gone. When I got to the front hall, Mum was hovering about impatiently.
“Quick, quick,” she said, ushering me out. We marched down the road at the fastest speed she could manage, my own mother more preoccupied with making sure I caught the earlier bus than giving me a proper send off.
“Have you got your paperwork?” she asked me once she was finally sure we would get there on time.
“Yes, definitely,” I said, patting my pocket.
“Now are you remembering that we’re going over to Vivien’s for tea when you get back?” I clenched my fists, but merely nodded. “I want you to come straight back. Don’t go hanging around with those boys. I don’t want to be late, and I certainly don’t want you ruining those clothes. We can’t afford to replace them, you know.” I was only too aware of this fact.
We reached the bus stop, and she began bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet, looking down the road for the bus, as if that would compel it to arrive sooner. I tried to catch her eye, in hopes that I would get some kind of meaningful goodbye, some sign that she was at all concerned about me. What I got was nothing. It was like she was just putting me on the bus for a normal day at work.
“Mum?” She either didn’t hear me, or purposely blocked me out. “Mum?”
“I can’t see it,” she said. “Are you sure we have the right time.”
“Mum!” Louder, more insistent. She looked back at me, narrowing her eyes. I swallowed down the lump in my throat. She looked at me expectantly, but I struggled to get any words out. Just as she appeared to have give up, returning her attention to the road, I forced it out. “I’ll miss you.” I don’t know why those were the words that escaped. I wasn’t sure if it was a true statement. All I’d really meant to do was say goodbye. Just to know that I’d said it That I’d tried.
“What?” she asked me, genuine confusion on her face. I wanted to scream.
“I’ll miss you,” I said again, going for broke. “You know, if I have to go…” She started to wave me off, and anger flashed through me. “What if I don’t come back?” I snapped. “Will you care?” She stared at me, wide eyed. Then she screwed her face up in anger.
“What do you mean?” She asked. “What do you mean? Will I care? What kind of question is that to ask? Your own mother?”
I took a step back, genuinely shocked. I expected the apathy. I’d also hoped that she would display some sort of emotion. Some level of sadness that I might not be coming back. But anger? The sound of a vehicle drew her attention, and she turned to watch the bus pulling up. A large group of kids appeared around us as if from nowhere, pushing their way past us to get to the bus. I tried to take a step towards her, but we were both getting jostled, pushed further apart. I noticed other parents stood back on the street, waving their children off. Both mothers and fathers, many with moist eyes. I waited until most of the passengers had boarded, then skirted around the back of the queue to get to her.
“You’d better get on quickly. You don’t want him to go without you.”
“Bye, Mom,” I said, forcing back tears. I started to lift my arms to hug her, but she stepped back away from me.
“Quickly, quickly.” She shooed me on to the bus, leaving me in no doubt that a proper farewell wasn’t on offer.
Wiping away a tear, I reluctantly turned around and boarded. It was an unusually long bus, no doubt on loan from one of the larger cities, yet it was already full. Finding an area to stand where I could securely hold on, I tried to peer through the window, desperately hoping to catch an upset look on Mum’s face. As the bus moved off, though, I couldn’t see her through the crowd of parents frantically waving, and the sea of arms from the kids in the seats by the windows. Within seconds, we were gone, making our way slowly towards the central assembly centre, where we would be told our fates.
After a few minutes feeling sorry for myself, I paid attention to my fellow passengers for the first time. As suspected, they were all smartly dressed, well kept, for the most part, anyway. I felt out of place. I didn’t tend to hang around with people of my own age, aside from Seb and Ant. Even they were several years older than I was. I listened to the chatter around me. A lot of the kids were riding with friends. Some were laughing and joking, whilst others were already nervously discussing what would happen if their names were picked. My stomach churned. It was really happening. The event that I’d always know was coming, but that seemed a lifetime away had finally arrived.
I’m not sure exactly when it was that I resigned myself to my fate. Certainly, as a little girl, the idea of the Conscription terrified me. I’m not sure exactly how old I was when I first learnt of it, but I do remember going to my father in tears, telling him I didn’t want to go off to war. He’d offered me a sympathetic smile. He’d explained to me that the Conscription was a long way off, and that the war would probably be over before I reached the age of nineteen. At the time, I wasn’t aware that it was a war that had been raging on for hundreds of years. I’d accepted what he’d said, and largely forgotten about it, until I began at senior school, around the age of twelve. A lot of the kids in my classes had older siblings who were approaching the age, and it was then that I paid a bit more attention to the news about the war.
I looked into the history of it, what little I could find. There was nothing to explain how it had started, and very little information about what it actually consisted of, and who was winning. The main area of conflict was many sectors of space away from where our planet was located, and the fighting had never encroached anywhere near to us. As a result, aside from offering up a quarter of the population of nineteen year olds every year, the whole thing was mostly ignored. It was only the teenagers approaching their Conscription, and the parents of those children that ever cared about it. Until they came through the process unscathed, and then got on with their lives. Then only the parents of the unfortunate ones whose names were drawn that continued to be impacted by it. And then, even they had little choice but to try and just forget.
We stopped at the next town, and more nervous teenagers boarded the bus. I watched their parents waving us off with envy. Ultimately, I was the lucky one, of course. It would have been so much harder to be one of those kids. One whose parents loved them dearly, and who they would miss terribly. That must be truly heartbreaking.
Come back next Thursday for Chapter Five