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.
When we finally arrived at Centre, the bus was so full I couldn’t even see the windows, much less look out. We remained jammed inside for an age, and when the doors did finally open, it took just as long for us all to file out. As I stepped out into the daylight, I was dazzled not by the sun, but by the shear quantity of people queueing up at the doors to the grand old building. I had been inside just once, many years ago. They sometimes used it for what they called ‘exclusive’ shows. My father had taken me to see a show once, his having known one of the stars during his youth. Ordinarily, my father wouldn’t have been able to afford tickets to such a show, and we never returned.
We were ushered to join one of the queues, and we fell into a column, four or five wide. Everyone around me seemed to know someone. The fact that I didn’t made me feel even more out of place. After we hadn’t moved at all for ten minutes, I started to get irritated. A few minutes later, we seemed to have started moving at a much more reasonable pace. Despite how far back I was in the queue once it started, it only took about a half hour to get inside.
Once in, though, the queue continued. Every couple of minutes, one of the ushers would walk through our section, yelling at us to have our paperwork ready. I had gotten mine straight out on the first time of being told, and had been clutching it ever since. By the time I made the decision to put it back into my pocket, I realised I was only a few kids back from a registration desk. I looked up at the double doors ahead, trying to get a glimpse inside every time another teenager made their way through. My stomach was doing somersaults. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d be this nervous, and I didn’t like it. I was used to being afraid of nothing, which suited me. Travelling up to a giant spaceship, living and training amongst thousands of strangers. It scared me. For the first time in a long time I felt like a little girl again. When my father had died, I’d been forced to grow up. I’d eventually had to drop out of school to get a job. Even though my mother had constantly branded me as irresponsible, I’d had a heavy burden on my shoulders for years. There had been many times I’d felt it was unfair, but it was far preferable to this feeling.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped up to the registration desk. The man behind it processed me in less than a minute, and without looking at me once. He fastened a metallic band around my left wrist, and pointed a bored finger towards the doors.
I’d thought the scene inside would take my breath away, and I was right. Though the arena was only around two thirds full, there seemed to be thousands of kids inside. It actually looked much bigger inside than I’d remembered whereas I’d have thought it would be the other way around. I had never seen so many people in one place. I was pointed towards the next empty seat, and I went and sat down. A lot of the kids around me were standing, which was probably a good idea. We would be sat for hours, listening to the names being called out one by one. Stretching out would have been a wise idea. My legs were like jelly, though. Looking along my row, then, the next few down, there seemed to be about four common reactions to the situation. There were the terrified kids. Fair enough. They face being torn away from their homes and families, forced into a career they never chose. There were the ones who looked steely eyed and determined. Whether they had resolved to do what was necessary to defend their race, or just to not burst into tears in front of thousands of people, I couldn’t say. There were many that actually looked excited. Keen to be there, pumped up for the experience. I found that odd, but not as odd as the last type. They were standing around in groups, for the most part, laughing and joking. Showing no signs of fear, upset, or anger. It was just like another day waiting for school assembly to start, it seemed like. How could anyone enter this situation with no real emotion whatsoever? Sure, for some, it was probably mere bravado. Still, though. Weird.
Once people had finished filing in, and the doors had slammed shut, a few adults made their way onto the stage at the front. There were a couple who looked to be in their late thirties to early forties. The rest, though, were grey hared and decrepit. All in dress uniform, though there was no way they’d seen any action for decades. The group stood deep in conversation in the middle of the stage, until finally one of them stepped up to a podium. She had brown hair with streaks of grey. She held herself with an air of authority, and despite her small, delicate looking frame, she had an aura that demanded attention. When she spoke, her voice wasn’t a raspy drone as I had expected, but a strong, booming voice.
“Welcome. Welcome to you all. Once a year, the nineteen year olds of our planet, and other planets just like it, collect together in great halls like this, to make a very important decision. Who will defend our people? Who will fight to ensure the continued safety of the human race.”
She called it a decision, but that didn’t seem like the right word to me. No-one was deciding our fates but fate itself.
“It will be a long day, I appreciate that, and I know you’re all keen to get started. In a few minutes, I will start drawing the names. First, though, I want to tell you a little bit about my Galactic Division experience.”
I didn’t listen. I couldn’t. It was all propaganda nonsense designed to instill in us a sense of pride and duty. Basically, it was an attempt to stop us from rioting when our names got called. There had been trouble in the past, from what I’d heard, but it had never gotten out of control. There was no escape from the Conscription once you entered this room. The doors were locked, and there was only one way out during the process. Through the doors behind the stage, which lead out to a lot which was usually used for the parking of staff vehicles. Today, though, it would be a very different form of transport that would be parked out there. I had seen the odd small transport flying through the skies over the years, but we didn’t live anywhere close to the planet’s main spaceports.
Once she had finally finished with her story, which had taken far longer than the promised couple of minutes, the air inside the arena grew tense. The time had come. They rolled a machine onto the stage, parking it next to the officer. They fiddled with it for a couple of minutes, pointing things out to her, presumably reminding the old girl how it worked. Eventually she shooed them away, and turned back to regard us all.
“Here we go,” she announced. “When I press this button, the slips bearing the names of every potential conscriptee in this arena will be fed around the inner workings, and dispensed completely at random one by one.” With a flourish, she pressed a button, then shot an excited grin across at the other officers standing at the back corner of the stage. I couldn’t hear the machine from where I was sat. In fact, considering how many teenagers were grouped together inside the building, I hadn’t known silence like it. The officer pulled a white slip from the machine, flicked some kind of hand device over it, then drew it up to her face.
“2,341, Jakobs, Marin.”
It had begun.
Everyone’s gazes shot frantically around the arena, trying to pick out the poor sap whose name had been drawn first. How would Marin Jakobs react? Would he cry? Try to run? As it turned out, he would do none of these things. He would just carefully pick his way down the stairs, studying the floor in front of him as he went. I had worried there would be laughs or jeers when names were called out, but there was very little sound. Just the intense scrutiny of thousands of your peers.
“0,079, Afrey, Rich.”
Again, we all strained our necks, trying to get a look at the chosen one. Rich Afrey followed Marin Jakobs’ lead, and made his way down with dignity. The officer calling the names was waiting for the person called to be spotted making his way down before pulling the next name. That was fine for now, whilst everyone was still curious to see who had been picked. It would make the whole thing a pretty slow affair, though.
“2,391, Marie, Annalise.”
I slumped down in my seat. It was going to take absolutely hours. Probably the most stressful experience of my life, and I was going to be stuck in a cramped seat in a stuffy arena listening to name after name being called out. This would be the absolute longest day of my life.
“4,230, Rafalsdottir, Katerine.”
OK. Maybe not then…
You can read Chapter Six here