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we are pleased to announce that after reviewing your recommendations, you have been accepted for a probationary period of no less than three months.' Vance paused, soaking up the news. As he read further, a smile crossed his face. 'We are also pleased to note that your physical and mental test results were classed as "exemplary", and you are the youngest officer ever to be accepted to the regiment.' At this, Randell gave Vance a dig in his arm. 'Your official commencement as a member of the regiment will take place on the 14 March 2259. If you have any remaining leave with your current EarthForce unit, we suggest you take it before your training begins. You will most certainly need it! Yours, Major Kyle Winchester, EarthForce Special Operations Command.'

'Well, what do you know,' said Randell. Vance looked up to see him beaming with pride, as though Randell had just gained the promotion. 'Standards at the Razvedchiks must be dropping if you're an "exemplary" candidate.'

'They just know quality when they see it, my old friend.' With that he landed a punch on Randell's arm. The thick padding absorbed most of the blow, but the look on Randell's face suggested it was still painful. Vance ducked away as Randell made a wild swing. He backed off, beckoning his friend forward. Randell flung his padded helmet, but Vance easily avoided it as he ran toward the showers, grinning all the way.

At the packed dining hall, an endless procession of khaki uniforms queued, ate and chatted beneath the room's high ceiling. The smell of freshly hydrated freeze-dried rations wafted across the crowd, and Vance breathed deeply as he entered. Never one for gastronomy, he saw the food purely as a functional necessity, the more nutritious the better. The smell still excited him though, meaning
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