The Rebellion Awakens by TC Marti

The Rebellion Awakens is the first book in what will be a three-part Sentrys of Terrene Series. If you read Wind Master, you will know that some of our main characters in the neighboring Elementals of Nordica Series visited the crumbling World of Terrene.

If you have not yet read Elementals of Nordica and would like to, you can catch the description of Wind Wielder (Elementals of Nordica: Book I) at this link. Keep in mind, however, you do not need to read Elementals of Nordica to understand Terrene. While a soldier speaks of the world’s current state in Wind Master, you get the full story here in The Rebellion Awakens. 

Keep in mind that since The Rebellion Awakens will be released in January 2023, what you will read below is not the final draft, but an uncorrected proof. However, the story itself will not change. So without further ado, enjoy the sample!

The Rebellion Awakens – Prologue: Tage’s Troubles

Sentrys of Terrene

Tage-Ras Svendson led his trusty team into the laboratory building located deep in the remote Fenix Desert, over two hundred miles from the nearest sign of civilization. It was one of those off-the-grid science labs the People’s Republic of Vranom ordered their military pawns, dubbed Reds and Rangers, to use lethal force against would-be trespassers. 

Though Tage threw a barrage of spear-like wood shards to force the Prims, the term they used to describe those who did not possess Sentry ability, into retreat, what or who awaited inside remained a mystery. 

Given his ability to control wood, knocking out Vranom’s Prims stationed around the lab took sheer minutes. 

He held an opal-hilted Sword of Wood in one hand and a wooden staff in the other. The latter was a lifeline when he had no direct access to wood. 

Well, unless a rare desert tree stood outside an open window, or if he worked his way to the basement, which would allow him to summon tree roots, buried logs, and such. There was always the possibility of wooden desks or furniture inside, but in this day and age, leather, glass, and metal comprised most furnishings.

“All clear,” Vic said, cocking his head to the open door on the left. 

“Good on my side,” Tuck said. 

“Alright, Bison Brigade, let’s move out.” Tage directed his team ahead. “Joki, keep an eye on the rear, and make sure no one breaks in behind us.” 

It took ten minutes to check each door as they snuck through the deserted hallway. Once Tage reached the end of the corridor, billowing smoke emerging outside the far side window met his eyes. 

Enemy contact,” he relayed to the team. 

“How long do you think we got?” Tuck said, catching up. 

“Knowing Vranom, they sent their most notorious Rangers stationed nearby at our people, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a few so-called Venns were also out there. There won’t be any survivors. Something our insurgents knew going into this battle, so keep your guns ready.”

“And your timetable is?”

“Minutes.” He led the crew down a set of metal stairs and onto the next level. Dim lighting provided enough brightness between flickers to confirm they had at least one more staircase to go. One look at the radar hologram on his watch stated Vranom’s soldiers probably weren’t on this floor. Though as dated Avarian War-era technology, he didn’t completely trust it. 

“Vic, take the left, Tuck, the right. Joki, stay in my tracks.”  

Another slow moving process, and Tage kept his ears peeled for movement on the top floor.

Bang! 

A nearby explosion rocked the lab, causing Vic to double-take. “Tage, if that was Vranom, they’re trapping us here in about thirty seconds.” 

“Not if we hurry. Ras already relayed me an escape route.” 

“Where is Ras, if you don’t mind me asking?” Tuck said. 

“Farther off the grid. He already did his job by dissecting this entire lab.”

“He dissected the place?”

“Distantly.”

“I’m guessing he used some tech intel intercepted near the Habs Base.”

“Not long before they tabbed us for this mission, yep.”

“And….”

“And he discovered a secret emergency exit under the basement that leads to a long passageway. Like I said, we fight our way through and grab that holopad, transfer the data to him, and destroy the sucker, we’ll be long gone.” 

“You really believe they’re not going to follow us?” Tuck said. 

“Not when we implode the place, they won’t.” Tage led his crew through the corridor and sprinted down another flight of stairs, closing the hologram on his watch once a dozen dots popped onto the screen. “There will be so much debris even their strongest Venns won’t catch us. Now shut up, we got company.”  

He knelt and tapped his staff off the floor, which broke it into over a hundred shards. Raising his sword, Tage levitated the pieces, before directing them forward with one swipe, aiming low. 

“Tag the rest of ‘em,” he said, as pained screams met his ears, prompting Vic and Tuck to scramble past while Joki manned the landing behind him. From his belt, Tage retrieved a set of explosives and placed them at the staircase before he grabbed Joki’s royal blue cloak and dragged him forward. 

As Tage reached the other end of the corridor, multiple explosions collapsed the lab’s upper floors before raven-like, celebratory howls met his ears. 

“I think our side just won,” Joki said, looking at the smoke and debris behind them. 

“Yeah, unfortunately, we can’t join in the festivities,” Tage said, as around him, the soldiers he downed made feeble movements. “Though I wouldn’t mind hearing the tale about how they upended a brigade full of Rangers and potential Venns.”

Joki pointed to the wounded soldiers. “What should we do with them?” 

“Spare them. They got no will to fight and you know I don’t condone killing if I can help it. Come on.” 

As Tage descended the next set of stairs, panicked yells from Vic and Tuck stopped him so fast, Joki ran into his backside. He swore and twirled his sword, allowing the shards to re-manifest his trusty staff. “Come on.” 

Tage led Joki into the basement before a dozen assault rifles entered his line of sight. To his left, Vic and Tuck knelt, hands zip-tied. Despite the situation, Tuck winked, implying he got to the holopad, relayed the data information to Ras, deleted the files, and destroyed it before Reds in the Vranom Imperial Military got there. 

Tage could always tell they were Reds by the red accents running down the sides of their white uniforms. At least they weren’t Rangers or—

Mechanical breathing met Tage’s ears. The trademark wheeze of Venn Rhine. Well, Venn Rhine was a pseudo that consumed a once-respected Sentry Master standing before him. 

“Tage,” Venn Rhine said, voice echoing throughout what remained of the basement from behind a visor covering his eyes and full-face mask, while white chainmail-like armor obscured his head. In one hand, he held a silver-hilted sword that let him control the earth element. In another, a speaker that he held to his throat. “Did you really think you’d outsmart me?”

“Dad,” Tage said, “you weren’t quick enough this time.”

“I was quick enough to intercept word that you and your Bison Brigade located the whereabouts of my Fusion Bomb data. I assume you seek to disable it.” 

“We already relayed the plans to Ras in a place you would never think to look.” He nodded to the busted holopad on the adjacent desk. “Don’t bother looking for the file. Your plans will not go through as smoothly as you would have wished.” 

Venn Rhine stared. 

“I was also able to locate your old boss after three years of searching. Another punch I beat you to, and maybe he will confront you for all the havoc you’ve wreaked since the Purge.” 

Behind Venn Rhine, the Reds pointed their rifles, fingers resting on their triggers. 

“Going to order them to kill your own son?” Tage said. “Is there nothing left of your old life after all?”

“You don’t understand, boy, the greater good of Vranom and the influence that I have held to secure that greater good. And the influence you can hold too if you ever come to your senses.” 

“You were lied to.” Tage dropped his sword and staff before raising his arms. “Go ahead and arrest me. Kill me if you must. But if Ren Elk-Jaer shows his face again, any Sentry who survived your Purge sixteen years ago and refused to join the Venn Order will come out of hiding.”

The Reds stepped forward, but Rhine held up a white-gloved hand. The glove covered the true nature of steel-armored prosthetic limbs he wore. Rhine was more cyborg than human. A head and torso remained of his real body. At least according to those who knew his former identity. 

“Load them into the trucks and send them to the Habs Base,” Rhine said. 

“Trucks?” Tage said, jerking his head to the ceiling. “Our side won this round. How do you even expect to get through all that debris and mangled sheet metal that’s left of this place.” 

“Don’t lie to me. You know all about that little passageway.”

Tage fought not to wince. If Ras stayed put, Venn Rhine and his team of Reds would have run right into him. 

“I will use all means necessary to torture you into revealing the location of this Ras and the holopad’s data if we don’t find them first.” 

Tage’s chest unclenched. “You may as well kill me, because I ain’t talking.” 

“Then in that case, I’ll have an unpleasant surprise waiting for you at the base that will maim that Sentry soul of yours.” 

“Keeping me alive then, huh?” Tage said, while three soldiers forced both hands behind his back. “You know, if you were as hard as you claim you are, you’d have me killed. Keeping me alive proves what Mom always knew about you.” 

Venn Rhine turned on his boots and walked toward the metal wall that concealed the passage. 

Tage bit his upper lip. If Ras was smart, he’d retreat to Banditland, formerly known as Niagara, the largest stronghold the Insurgency held, give those Fusion Bomb plans to JR, and dismantle their biggest threat. 

 

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Chapter One: Sabre Kjaergaard

One Month Ago…

Sabre! What are you doing?

Sabre Kjaergaard shot her best friend a sinister smirk. “Just testing something out. That’s not a crime, is it?”

“You’re already routinely staying up past lights out. Do you really need to risk anything else?” 

“I’m going to clock in a few seconds late. I doubt they’ll yell at me for it.” 

Lynne Jackson pursed her lips and stepped through the doorway of their assigned workplace, The People’s Fast Food Outlet 486. More of a health food outlet than anything else. 

“Thirty seconds,” Sabre said, holding up her holographic watch. 

After a few weeks of overthinking and refraining from conducting this little experiment, curiosity won out since Sabre convinced herself she technically wasn’t questioning anything, just experimenting. 

Her watch, which provided a schedule that outlined her daily activities from the time she awoke until the lights automatically turned off in her bedroom, would clock her into work the moment she crossed into the outlet. 

A half-hour ago, the watch reminded her to be here by four in the afternoon, where she would toil in the glorious fast food life until ten. So much for the Department of Societal Planning caring about school nights. Once again, it meant homework after lights-out at eleven. The last month’s worth, and therefore most important pieces of homework in her high school career before she attended college for her assigned major.  

While Sabre did her homework hours after lights-out and the DSP expected her bodily functions to lapse into a sleeping state via information shared on the watch she wore, she’d broken their rules to finish mounds of homework since senior year began. And the DSP’s Reds never said anything, despite her encountering them each day. 

So what was the big deal if she crossed into her place of work a few seconds late? 

“You’re going to get in so much more trouble,” Lynne said, turning on her heel. “You realize this is going to eventually catch up with you, right?”

“For running a few seconds behind?”

Lynne whipped around. “You aren’t running behind.”

Three…two…one…beep, beep, beep

Sabre’s grin widened and she walked through the doorway, with one co-worker, Lucic, tossing her a dirty look as he cleaned off two nearby tables. She acknowledged her boss, Krueger, with a nod before another series of beeps forced her eyes back to her watch. 

Sabre Kjaergaard: Grill: Four until seven-thirty. Break: Seven thirty until eight. Lot Check and Maintenance: Eight until ten. Walk Home: Ten until ten-fifteen. Lights Out: Eleven until seven. 

Except she had to complete that research paper waiting for her, due by the beginning of first period history at nine in the morning. 

Sabre grilled hundreds of frozen lean seafood and poultry meals, and she also worked the steamer in passing when Lucic disappeared for his allotted meal time. 

Lynne handled the front counter, serving a steady flow of customers scheduled to eat out that day during the dinner rush that started at five and ended at seven. 

As the dinner hour ceased and snack hours began, two women entered who Sabre swore stared at her longer than two random people should. Each wore an expression that morphed between a knowing look and a grin, which made her glance back at them every few seconds. 

Beautiful women, too. They were in top physical condition as white-blonde hair rested beyond their shoulders. Their looks stated they came from another portion of Sunrise, Vranom, since everyone in Sabre’s district had brown hair and brown eyes. 

Vranom barred blonde-haired, blue-eyed people from entering this part of town. Reds stationed between Maple Street (Sabre’s side of town) and Leaf Street (blondes’ side of town) kindly turned them away. The same held true for those of different skin colors, and even ethnicities of former republics Vranom annexed after Sabre turned one year old. 

They claimed segregation prevented conflict between those of different backgrounds, like racial infighting that was common before the People’s Republic of Vranom’s founding. 

Strangely, these women ordered nothing. They sat in an open booth and continued to throw Sabre glances as she tried to focus on her last half-hour at the grill before break. Every time one threw her a look, they whispered in the other’s ear. 

Yet for some strange reason, neither Krueger nor anyone approached and told these women to leave. They must be undercover Reds, as they or anyone working in Vranom’s governmental departments were allowed to cross into other portions of town regardless of their genetic makeup. 

When Sabre stepped away from the grill and walked down the small hallway to the breakroom, the women left. 

“Did you see that?” she said to Lynne. 

“See what? A couple hundred familiar faces over the past hour?”

“No, did you see those two women? They kept throwing me glances.”

Yeah, Sabre, I people watch while I’m trying to work. They’re probably undercover Reds assigned to track you since I’m sure someone checked a database and saw you weren’t where you were supposed to be at four on the dot.” 

Sabre grimaced. “It crossed my mind.”  

She grabbed the dinner her father prepared before she left for school earlier today. Her assigned meal? Four ounces of plain chicken with a side of brown rice and broccoli. 

Bland, but after eating the same dinner three times a week since her assigned nutritional needs changed last year, it didn’t take long to grow used to the dry texture. 

“Getting paranoid?” Lynne said, eyes flashing. 

Sabre bit her lower lip. “Why would clocking in a few seconds late or staying up another hour or so be such a big deal?”

“I dunno, I don’t make the rules. I gladly follow them like a model citizen should. Just expect those Red girls to pay you a visit.” 

“Okay, and I will kindly tell them to elaborate on how I’ve stepped out of line by walking into work three seconds after four.”

“They pre-plan our days for a reason, you know? To ensure Vranom thrives at max capacity. But it’s up to us, the commune, to fulfill our civic duties to make that happen. You’re falling short of that expectation.” 

⚔⚔⚔⚔

As she passed through the designated employee exit following her shift, Sabre couldn’t help but stop every few seconds to look about the area for those women. She’d be lying if she claimed Lynne didn’t get her thinking. 

It was a few seconds. she could have tripped, or something. Or, she could have hung back to talk with a friend and lost track of time. How would that qualify as a crime?

Then again, Vranom situated cameras at every angle on every street. Reds would know she was lying if they pulled the clips. And these cameras saved everything they recorded. 

She passed a dozen Rangers, who stood a rung higher than the Reds, patrolling the streets with high-powered rifles. The Rangers, Reds, and their control of all the weaponry, her Educators claimed, were the reason neither violent crime nor war existed anymore in the World of Terrene.

Sabre drew a breath and quickened her pace. If those girls watching her were Reds, it also meant Rangers may know her name too.

 

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Chapter Two: Sunrise, Vranom

The Office for Civilian Assignment placed every member of its society into a career path. They also assigned jobs to high school kids pertaining to that career path when they turned sixteen.

Since they assigned Sabre into food service, she would work in fast food until August when the OCA slated her to begin a college career and eventual internship in the culinary arts.

The internship would assign Sabre to cook for families living in one of Sunrise’s residential areas. Three meals per day, with allied healthcare professionals determining a macronutrient count for each individual’s needs. And of course, two meals per week of allotted nutrient-rich fast food and dining out.

In preparation, Sabre’s high school’s elective classes comprised culinary study. Of course, she also had mandatory history, mathematics, language arts, political science, and science classes. 

And it’s where Sabre found herself, fighting to stifle a yawn in history as she learned the same thing since her kindergarten days: That the Sentrys were evil people bent on becoming a ruling minority over the working common men and women, all of whom they sought to exploit. 

“The Sentry Order’s roots could be traced back to at least two-thousand years before the common era,” Educator Stein said in his monotone voice. “The Sentrys initially started off as a religious organization who lived by teachings of a book we know as the Sacred Texts, also referred to as the Sacred Sentry Texts, lost to history upon the Venn Order’s burning of the Sentry Pantheon. 

“The Sentry Order was initially responsible for protecting peace throughout the World of Terrene, not just in Avarice. During the Avarian Wars, as we know them today, the Sentry Order claimed they were their Goddess Trinity’s and their God Stoicheia’s chosen people to manifest a militaristic sphere of influence in every corner of Terrene, using the Avarian Military as their proxy. 

“They encouraged and led Avarian war crimes with no accountability to their name, believing the Sacred Texts granted them the right to do so. And anyone challenging their worldview ended up dead, which eventually included the United Alliance of Dissident States, a coalition that sought to end Sentry-led Avarian influence in their region of the world. 

“Therefore, the Venn Order, in what was then the Republic of Vranom, laid out a plan to exterminate the Sentry Order and allied Avarian leaders. Today, anyone showing characteristics reminiscent of the Sentry Order are recruited into Vranom’s military ranks and are subject to the Venn Order’s strict oversight.” 

Sabre raised her hand. One thing that itched at her regarding the Sentry Order since her middle school days journeyed to the forefront of her mind. And if anyone knew the answer, it was the man leading this class.  

Stein, both Educator Aides, and the other two hundred heads in the senior class looked her way. Next to Sabre, Lynne’s jaw hung open, a mixture of surprise and confusion on her face. 

“Student 1991?” Educator Stein said, eyes flashing behind his glasses. 

Student. The generic term Educators referred to Sabre and her peers. 1991 was a number that, upon Sabre’s graduation, would go to an incoming freshman student next school year. 

The People’s Republic of Vranom’s government-approved educational curriculum taught individuality was synonymous with self-serving greed, gluttony, selfishness, and ignorance. To strip their students of everything that made them who they were, Vranom’s Imperial Department of Education claimed erasing one’s uniqueness was the first step in teaching its youth selfless, altruistic behavior, so they would proudly serve their assigned civic duty. 

Because carrying out their assigned duty kept the People’s Republic thriving. And if one person engaged in individualistic, self-serving acts instead of that civic duty, they put the entire society at risk of collapse. 

“Student 1991?” Educator Stein said. “Do you or do you not have something to say?”

All eyes remained glued to Sabre, who stood. “S-sir, could you please tell us what exactly a Sentry’s special characteristics were?”

Educator Stein and the rest of the class glared at Sabre as though she shouted a derogatory word. 

“I-I mean, you taught us everything about the Sentrys. But what characteristics made them Sentrys?”

“The characteristics of what made a Sentry a Sentry is beyond the scope of these lessons,” Educator Stein said, tone snippy. “You should know by now, as your classmates do, that everything from my lesson plans to my tests come straight from the IDE. To even imply you have a question that goes beyond the scope of this discussion is to question the IDE.”

Red in the face, Sabre slid into her seat. It was fruitless to claim she did not realize it was an inappropriate question. 

The IDE stamped everyone’s syllabi at the start of every school year. And in bold-faced lettering, it stated questions must remain within a lesson’s scope of discussion. 

Problem was, the IDE never clearly defined scope of discussion. In other words, how Educator Stein defined the phrase could be different to that of other Educators. Or, the IDE’s scope of discussion phrase could just act as a deterrent to asking questions in the first place. 

“What were you thinking?” Lynne said, disbelief still etched on her face, when Sabre exited the classroom after the bell rang. 

“I just wanted to know what makes a Sentry a Sentry. I mean, think about it, we’ve been going to school for thirteen years and they’ve always been abstract about them.” 

“We don’t need to know about them then.” 

“But why?”

“How would knowing more about a Sentry’s special traits better prepare us for culinary school?” 

“It’s just having the knowledge.” 

Lynne sighed and nodded at Sabre’s watch. 

Sabre changed the subject to the spring thrashball game the University of Sunrise held. At any time, the Imperial Intelligence Agency could hack into and access the microphone in her watch, which would allow them to listen in on her conversations with Lynne. 

The IIA claimed access was necessary to further ensure safety. To catch people speaking what they called detrimental thoughts. The thing is, what classified as detrimental?

Once, the IIA responded to a kid named Bas Sowell, who questioned the righteousness of Vranom redistributing produced goods and services. The boy stated forced redistribution does not motivate one to innovate, enhance services, or produce more since “their backbreaking efforts are going to someone else.”  

Under IIA representatives’ supervision, the school held an assembly the following day. During the two-hour meeting, economic Educators reasserted the notion that without the Office for Civilian Welfare’s collection and equal redistribution, those providing goods and services without strict oversight would price-gouge and dangle them over the masses’ heads. 

“So, I’ll see you tonight then?” Sabre said. 

“Meet me at the East Gates. And Sabre, don’t be surprised if you get some dirty looks thrown at you.”

⚔⚔⚔⚔

Three Weeks Ago…

On Saturday morning, Sabre’s watch beeped, telling her she had five minutes to shower and to be in the kitchen for breakfast. Following the Sentry Purge, Vranom mandated caps on all resources, water included. They allowed each member of the household six minutes worth of showering. Three minutes in the morning and three in the evening. 

As she ate, another scheduled event emerged on Sabre’s watch and she cringed upon reading it. Bi-annual physical, mental health examination, noon. She huffed. But at least she didn’t have to go through this thing alone. Lynne was in Sabre’s cohort, so they would both step into Sunrise’s District 12 Med Center at the same time. 

Sabre met her best friend in the waiting room, along with another dozen girls. She nodded to the holographic e-Pad in Lynne’s hands. “What’s that for?”

“If I’m spending twenty-four hours in the recovery ward, I’m going to need some reading material.” 

Sabre tossed Lynne a half-smile, though she knew it didn’t meet her eyes. 

“I don’t know why you’re always so uneasy about these things,” Lynne said. 

“Well, they put us under and we wake up with pain in places I’d rather not feel pain.” Which progressively grew worse over the years

“They need to make sure we’re healthy.” 

“Yeah, by poking, prodding, and invading our bodies every six months?” 

“So you’re saying you’d rather the way things be when the Sentrys were in control and people died from all sorts of preventable illnesses?” Lynne whispered.

“People still die, Lynne,” Sabre said, lowering her voice and covering her watch. “The government can’t conquer death, you know?”

Lynne’s eyes darted to the other girls in the waiting room. “Sabre, people our age were sick all the time back then. You saw the studies comparing how unhealthy people were thanks to the Sentrys too greedy to invest their riches into healthcare compared to now. 

“That’s why they make us go to these things. Why they allocated so many funds into healthcare. Vranom and their establishment care about our health and well-being. Can’t you see how much society’s advanced with them in charge?” 

I’m actually starting to value personal choice,” Sabre said, eyes on the gray-carpeted floor.

“Wanna know who else valued personal choice? The Sentry Order. Their selfishness and societal-killing gluttony led to their and nearly our collapse and they almost took Avarice with them if the Venn Order didn’t step in.” 

“And that personal choice extends to me making the decision of what happens to my body,” Sabre said, choosing to state her take on the matter rather than engage in a debate with Lynne.  

“They mandate this because it’s in our best interests. It keeps us safe from getting sick and dying horrific deaths. That’s why people are living longer now than ever before and dying peacefully when they reach age eighty-five.”

Over the next two hours, the room emptied, leaving Sabre to dwell in her usual horrific thoughts of what doctors and surgeons would put her through while she lay unconscious on an exam table as Lynne engrossed herself in whatever new state-approved book she downloaded. 

“Sabre Kjaergaard,” a stoic woman’s voice said. 

“See you on the other side then,” Lynne said, grabbing Sabre’s wrist. “And stop worrying so much. Remember, it’s for your own and the greater good that they make you do this. Because if you’re healthy, you’re not carrying any contagious viruses that run the risk of spreading and disrupting progress.”  

Sabre’s lips formed a pained smile before she followed the nurse into an operating room, which comprised an exam table in the center and medical devices lining the walls. 

“You’re to change into the provided clothing.” The nurse nodded to a disposable blue gown sitting on the table, one that said, Vranom Property on the front. “And await your team of physicians.

“Obey their commands at all times, and when you are fully alert following your list of procedures, they will provide upgrades to your custom prescription regimen.”

“Ma’am,” Sabre said, as she removed her royal blue jacket, the only piece of clothing her mother left her before disappearing following the Sentry Purge, “could you provide me with a list of procedures they’re putting me through?”

The nurse shot Sabre a look akin to the one Educator Stein and her classmates gave her the other day. “Why do you need a list of procedures?”

Sabre hung her jacket onto the coat rack. “I’m just curious as to what kind of tests they put us through. I-I mean, wouldn’t you agree that we have a right to know what they do with our bodies?”

“They perform procedures compliant with the Center of Public Health. Each procedure is individualized to maintain and even improve your current health status based on the health-monitoring data displayed on your watch, if that answers your question.” 

“Are you able to be more specific? Like, c-could you tell me the actual procedures?

“You only need to know that you can expect to feel better and more energetic with higher mental clarity following this appointment from now until your next appointment. And you will feel even better following that appointment.

“Your duty as a civilian of Vranom is to ensure you operate at maximum capacity to perform your assigned tasks to further augment the People’s Republic’s survival. Now, I suggest you finish changing.” 

“W-why do you need to be in here while I change?”

“It is a policy that is not to be questioned.” 

As always, Sabre tried not to wince or to go red with embarrassment while she changed out of her street clothes, feeling exposed. The nurse put her through prelim tests before leaving to fetch the exam team. 

Sabre shivered and hugged herself as puffs of breath escaped her mouth while she waited another half-hour before a murmur of voices filled the space outside the door, one calm, two frantic. 

“It happens every year. One always dies during seemingly routine procedures. We will inform the parents their child’s aether count displayed delayed-onset Sentry ability and claim they were immediately transported to the Flyer Base to train with the Venn Order.” 

Sentry ability?

“Are the Senate’s claims true Dr. Keynes?” another said, his shaking voice hushed. “About another perceived Insurgency attack?”

“Ah, so your brother leaked the truth to you, Dr. Maynard?”

“As your sister told you, and Dr. Johnson’s cousin told them.”

“And the Insurgency put up a fight. Few more of those, and the People’s Media is going to be forced to come clean that war is still every bit as commonplace as it was during the High Avarian Era.”

Sabre raised her eyebrows. She long since learned in history class that war no longer existed after the Venns Purged the Sentry Order and liberated Avarice. The only reason they kept a military was to deter any potential rebellion that may spew within the People’s Republic of Vranom. 

Not that rebellion would occur, Chancellor Venn Rhine assured them. The military’s presence was just a precaution. 

Before the team entered, Sabre positioned herself to lay supine on the table, as the nurse ordered, so they could get to work prepping her. She always experienced memory loss upon waking up from this anesthetic, but she was determined to retain everything she heard and mull it over while in recovery. 

The team remained silent as they attached an array of contraptions to Sabre before another placed a black mask over her face and the world blinked out of existence. 

⚔⚔⚔⚔

Unlike Lynne, Sabre needed the rest of her weekend to recover. Debilitating pain hit her throat, stomach, and pelvic regions. And her latest prescription doses made the room sway, meaning physicians could prescribe more meds to ward off this new side-effect. 

If that didn’t fix the issue, she would have no choice but to file an appeal, requiring another round of procedures. The side-effect could always evaporate, but Sabre wasn’t betting on it. 

“Feeling alright?” her dad said, walking into the living room. 

Sabre groaned, turned onto her back, and placed a forearm over her eyes. Despite the pain, she accomplished her mission and retained full memory of the doctors’ conversation the previous day. 

“C-could you keep a secret if I told you something?” she said, voice low in case they pinged her watch. 

“That depends, Sabre,” he said, sitting at her feet on the couch. “Is what you’re about to tell me going to threaten the safety and security of Vranom?”

“No, i-it’s just something I overheard outside my door before I went under. T-they said someone died on the table yesterday, but they spun it to tell the parents that the girl showed something called Sentry ability. I mean, I thought early deaths didn’t happen here. That’s what I learned in science and health class. That everyone dies at eighty-five during the annual Narbild Ceremony.” 

“Sabre, even perfect societies by design, which is what Vranom is, cannot completely prevent early deaths.” 

“That means they’re not perfect then.”

“They’re more perfect than any society before them.” 

“B-but why wouldn’t they just admit their imperfections?”

“Because lying is sometimes a necessary evil. You see, if the public knew about the tiny amount of flaws even the brightest appointed minds in Vranom aren’t immune to, it might motivate some people to think and act in ways that could threaten its survival, or at least stagnate it.”

“B-but they ping our watches. They would know if someone’s acting out of line.” 

“They can’t ping everyone’s watch at once, it’s impossible. That’s why we still have a military to protect us from such people.” 

“Okay, but here’s the second piece of information I overheard that I want to share with you. One of the surgeons said there is an army of people called the Insurgency fighting Vranom. And they sounded as though this conflict has been going on for quite some time. Why wouldn’t they tell us this in school?”

“Because doing so would strike fear in people, and one of the New Freedoms passed during the Great Transformation from the Constitutional Republics to the People’s Republic of Vranom was…?” 

“Freedom from fear.”

“Freedom from fear ensures a happy population. So does the freedom of employment, which is why we all have jobs. Freedom to adequate food, recreation, and healthcare to further ensure and advance a healthy and happy society.”

Sabre smiled, a true smile this time. When curiosity arose these days, her dad praised the New Freedoms. Freedoms that also included decent housing, freedom to medicine and security, free education, and her dad’s favorite, freedom from want. Because according to him, Vranom gave them everything they could want. 

And although his words made her smile, the uneasy feeling in Sabre’s stomach churned. A girl her age died during this procedure. A group of insurgents were fighting a war against Vranom, seemingly holding their own, and no one in Sunrise knew about either. 

Her dad went to work that evening after ensuring Sabre recovered enough to take care of herself. She demonstrated this by getting up off the couch and retrieving an e-Pad from her bedroom. And best yet, the room never swayed.  

An hour after her dad left, Sabre went to the kitchen when her watch beeped, alerting her it was time for dinner. And okay, she’d give the CPH credit. It’s like they knew exactly when she’d feel one hundred percent better. 

Before opening the refrigerator door, however, something caught her eye. Looking up, an object protruded from the top. It looked rather box-shaped, but thinner. She reached for it, and her eyes widened. It was a physical copy of a book. 

“What the…Dad?” 

Her father was a stickler for upholding public policy. Like, more of a stickler than the Educators. And physical copies of books were on the list of forbidden items because the Venn Order identified these books’ messages as containing dangerous ideas that could spark unrest. 

She flipped the cover over, where the title Nineteen-Eighty-Four by George Orwell – A warning from the World of Terra, displayed itself. 

Sabre narrowed her eyes. World of Terra. Did that mean different worlds existed than what remained of Terrene? Her science teachers claimed Terrenian scientists never found intelligent life on other planets. 

Sabre thanked fate the IIA’s Reds couldn’t see what she (or presumably her dad) was up to. Though they’d probably try to gain a visual of their daily lives sooner or later once they had the technology. Sabre wolfed her dinner so her watch logged the calories and macronutrients she ingested before taking the book into the living room. By the time her dad was due to be home, she learned Oceania sounded eerily similar to Vranom. 

And all those big agencies that supposedly protected the people of Vranom’s health, happiness, and equal access to all commodities were no different than the Four Ministries that controlled Winston Smith’s nation. Or empire. 

Especially that notorious Ministry of Truth.

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