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"Ryn?" he asks.

"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 I was made team leader: I have a hypersensitivity 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 safe distance from The Rift. 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 intensifies.

"Command, this is Beta Team leader. We have a visual. Stage one. Repeat: We have a visual. Stage one." 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 toward the edges. "That's Stage two, 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 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 three, Command. Stand by." 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 boom happens.

It is an echo of a thing started a million or a billion Earths away from our own Earth. The ground shakes ever so slightly.

"That's it. Stage four. 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 and turns back into the neon green tower of energy that it is. It always closes with far less ceremony than it opens—like a guest who's overstayed 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 are fifty feet between us. He's tall but a bit wiry, a swimmer's build. He 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—who comes through The Rift. There are a few species we simply attack, like the Karekins, because we know they are a threat and have shown no desire throughout the years to negotiate.

For the rest of what or whoever 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.

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