It was an old hatred, although how old he could not be sure. He knew he had been young -- not younger, but young -- and new to his place. His travails at the desert's heart had come later. Before now, and before that, he had been sent over the wall.
Whoever had built the wall had built it well, to seal the enclave off from the hazards of the outside world. Not only was it too high for bugs and herding animals to scale, and too strong to be destroyed, it had neither gates nor doors nor apertures, no weak points in its sheer surface to allow an external enemy to gain access. Unfortunately, those master builders, whoever they had been, had not foreseen everything. Years earlier, before Petros' time, or so he was told, the machines which fed the enclave had failed. Wonderful devices they had been, he was told, able to create food and water from the light of the sun itself. But, he was told, the machines had failed, either through age or neglect, and the only food for the Pulmeks came from outside the walls.
He had been told many, many things by the old and by the dead, and most of it he dismissed as hazy memory, hopeful myth or some combination. But this had the ring of truth, if only because the machines still existed, still sat in the base of the great tower at the enclave's heart, silent and immobile. And, of course, because of excursions like this: the periodic sorties over the wall, into the realms of the enemy.
Petros was newly a Lefent, recently mere Agnant, and he had yet to be given a group of his own to command. For now, he was meant to watch and to learn, to see how Zdeti and Jary and Sten and Kuoni and Cene -- superiors all -- guided and guarded the Pulmeks, their enclave, and the hospice rooms of the dead. Even now, as he prepared at the top of the outer wall to drop down below, guided by his skinsuit's power and his own skill, he was not in command. Command was held by Genal Cene, friendly and genial and -- in Petros' opinion -- simply too weak to hold such a vital position. Commer Zdeti trusted her judgement, for some reason he couldn't begin to fathom, so the story went. And yet she was here, commanding a group far below her stature, readying them to foray out for food and water.
There were three others in the group besides Cene and himself, all Agnants. Swith he didn't know particularly well; she had been on an alternate rotation from his, thus he had only seen her from afar, during raids and other battles. She had been impressive, to be sure, but other than that, he knew little.
By contrast, Adir, standing off to his right and checking the straps on his pack, was an old -- well, what would you call him? Not a friend, as Adir seemed to have no friends at all, spending what little free time he had on his own, designing and planning improvements to the enclave's buildings. Not rival, for, as he had told Petros on numerous occasions, he really didn't care what others thought of him, not even Zdeti himself. Acquaintance, perhaps, or comrade. Certainly reliable, and a redoubtable fighter.
A frown crept over Petros' face. Now that he thought about it, this was quite an unusual group to send out foraging. He had never heard Swith described as possessing great ability as a hunter or gatherer, nor Adir, and certainly not Cene or himself. And the third Agnant, Jian, was more a thinker and strategist than someone who could venture past the walls and thrive.
Something else was going on here. He knew that Cene would never tell him what; was fairly certain that Cene would never reveal the reason she was leading rather than a Lefent like himself. But the others, assuming one of them had some clue, might be worth pressing for information. Jian, possibly. He seemed the weakest, in terms of personality, the one most likely to wither under sustained pressure. He was also, Petros knew from experience, the most intuitive and intelligent of the group, which suggested that he was likely to know almost as much as Genal Cene.
He brought himself up short, realizing that everyone else was looking at him expectantly. He cleared his throat. "Apologies, Genal. I was in thought."
Cene rolled her eyes at him and grinned. Petros considered both insincere, and clearly forced. "To repeat," Cene said, "we will proceed under Lefent Petros' command -- assuming he can keep his attention on our mission. It will be his responsibility to keep us safe in the deserts, and return us here with as much food and water as we can carry." She gestured to the canteens and packs they all carried. "In those, of course. Keep your arms free. It's never quite as safe out there as you might think. Whenever you believe that you can load yourself up and drop your guard -- that's when you're killed."
That shouldn't have been a surprise, Petros thought, as he nodded assent. What better way for Cene to do what she had been ordered to, in secret, than to keep him occupied with a group of unskilled Agnants, put their safety and success in his hands? He would want to prove himself, the Agnants would want to push him and see what he was made of, and the deserts themselves would throw challenge after challenge their way. It was a simple way to keep everyone from looking directly at Cene, distract their attention away from her actions.
He needed a better plan. He walked towards the edge of the wall, the Agnants and Cene trailing behind. He needed a way to get Cene to reveal herself, to make a mistake that would show him what her actual intentions were. He had no serious doubt as to whether her plans came from Zdeti; of course, they must. However, newly-promoted, he was still ambitious, still looking for more authority and power. What better way to impress the Commer than to outshine his hand-picked Genal, to prove himself capable of her position and responsibilities? But, to do it, he needed a plan. And now was not the time to think of one.
Raising his hand over his head, Petros paused at the edge of the wall, one foot braced on its lip. He dropped his hand sharply, and stepped out over the edge.