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17 - Ecklund the Younger

Ecklund was irritated. He looked at his idiot advisor sourly, having already decided it was his last day working here. The man must have suspected his masters mind as sweat poured from him, and his voice began to falter. He was outlining the search for the Warrens. It had been months since any new Intel, a year since the last raid. Ecklund was not listening, he was thinking of the hijack of the central Central Comms building in Old-England.

‘Who do these dogs think they are?’ The audacity boggled his mind, ‘How dare they!’

“Get out!” he barked at the advisor. The advisor flinched as if physically struck and turned tail for the door.

Ecklund hated the defilers, but up until now, they posed no real threat. Reports from the raid in Old-England suggested the presence of the synthetic, logs of security systems showed its fingerprint. The damn thing was able to crack their security with ease. It was in custody long enough to confirm how dangerous it was, now it was free. Where? God only knows. It must have allied with the defilers.

Ecklund got up peevishly from his chair and gazed out from the wall length window of his office. The city was buzzing with activity, transports flitted above him, and people wandered like ants below amongst the beautiful boulevards and cafes, galleries, museums and commerce centres. He shook his head, ‘he was damned if they would end all this.’

Ecklund had been a member of the Security Council since he came of age. As the leading officer of his house and of his company, it was his right, and he took his responsibilities very seriously. He had become the leader of the council and others would come to him before making any decision, such was his reputation, he was proud of that.

He found himself thinking of an incident that had piqued his interest recently. Local corps intelligence had captured a defiler, found working undercover at the trade enclave. A young man around mid-twenties. They were just about to start interrogation and rendition when he had swallowed one of their damn pills. They were getting clever at hiding them. This one embedded in the man’s jaw. Just enough pressure and he was gone.

They had gotten something of use from him. The man had a stronger will to live than most, and had initially been cooperative, hinting at some important information he would give in exchange for his life, some battle to end the conflict. The stupid major in charge of interrogation had begun rendition in spite of this, hoping to extract more without the messiness of bargaining. True it would have been distasteful to accommodate the scum, but he could always have killed him later. Ecklund of course had the officer court martialled.

‘It was this damn synthetic’ that worried him, and the access it gave, it could cut through their security like butter. It made any attack far more dangerous and unpredictable. He needed to find the synthetic urgently. Just the one raid he knew it had assisted with had caused serious instability throughout Old-England.

      Jenson, the head of his family and CEO of the Biofix company, and owner of Old-England was apoplectic. He had raged purple in the face, directly accusing Ecklund of incompetence. ‘The old fool’ Ecklund thought, all ‘he’ ever did was soak his face in wine and shag his maids, he took no responsibility for the security of his belongings. His envirodomes were a disaster waiting to happen. He had skimped on repairs and understaffed his corps battalion and local enforcers.

Jenson or Old Lambert as he was known, had always had been an old skinflint. Ecklund had told him as much, to which the old man spluttered and swore, and stormed from a meeting once. Ecklund grinned to himself at the memory. A thought then passed through his mind that left a shadow on his face.

‘Thank god, there was only one synthetic.’ He thought.

The technology did not exist anymore that had created this…thing. It was pre-war. The old labs were destroyed, the old knowledge lost. This thing was a relic from the past. Some freak chance had caused its reappearance in the world.

Even as Ecklund thought this, he searched on his console for the files from the capture of the synthetic. He had scanned it many times, but he could not shake the feeling that he had missed something.

 

18 - Jenna

Jenna was pushing her luck and she knew it. Around a month had passed since the incident with the guard and the kids. Yet here she was standing in the shadows of a doorway in the workers residential district. Since then she had ‘intervened’ a few more times, usually guards beating on kids, it did not sit right with her. The guards were getting more aggressive and she knew why, word had come down from on high,’ clamp down’. Rebellion was in the air and rumours were spreading of dissent on a larger scale than just this dome.

She looked abstractedly at the small pool on the pavement in front of her, at the random pattering of rain, if you could call it that. She knew it was mostly condensation drops from the age-old unrepaired dome roof way above.

“This place really is a shithole”, she thought

At that moment, two men walked along the other side of the street opposite her. They stopped and began talking in low tones. She recognised one of them. He was older than most, late-twenties she guessed. That was middle aged for the workers. None passed the age of forty-five. They did it to themselves. She shook her head. There was a time when she would have laughed vindictively at this fact…not anymore. The poor sods were conditioned from birth so that the vast majority of them ‘committed’ voluntarily. They killed themselves. Those that did not, tried to run. None got away; the company always caught them and committed them.

She had always marvelled at the power of conditioning but had always believed her kind would be immune to that kind of thing. Her genes were stronger ‘weren’t they’? She was not so sure anymore.

She roused from her thought and looked up at the two men still talking.

“Hey there” she called.

They both tensed immediately and looked about to bolt.

“It’s ok, it is Galeth right?”

She walked out from the shadows. A look of recognition spread across the man’s face and he relaxed slightly.

“Anna?” he said

She half smiled. They knew her by that name. She had talked to some of them. They had seen what she had done helping the worker kids and had even given her a name. ‘Woman of the hood’ Very original, she thought drily.

“Yes” she said

“It is not safe to be out Anna”, he looked closely at her face but she always kept it concealed in shadows, her hood pulled far over her face.

“For you too, the guards are beginning to hold people and interrogate them, some have been rendered, you should go home”

His face twisted into anger, “We will not go home. We meet someone tonight who will change all this.” He looked around at the greyness. “Come with us, the old warehouse district, route W4, Unit 3, tonight in one hour.”

She sighed. The information he had just given would be enough to get him killed if she had been an informer.

“Galeth, you must be careful what you say and to who you say it”

“I don’t care anymore” the young man spat defiantly.

“Come if you will, Nera will lead us to victory. I hope to see you there,” he said.

With that, they strode off.

“Nera?” Jenna thought. That had peaked her interest…but no, she should not go. The guards were already looking for her, ‘the woman of the hood’…but they were sooo inept, she grinned.

“Sod it.” She decided. Jenna headed for the warehouse district.

Forty minutes of walking saw her opposite a looming grey ramshackle building. She kept to the shadows. A few furtive people were entering, looking around them constantly. Jenna glanced to the side of the building there was an alleyway. She darted towards it and slipped into the shadows out of sight. It was as she thought, in the dim light she could make out a fire escape rising up the wall. The bottom of it was a little high to grab. She took a run and dived up for it, her fingertips struck home on the bottom rung of a rusted steel ladder.

In five minutes, she was inside and looking down on a crowd of around fifty people (a massive gathering here). She stood on a rickety walkway high up on the inner wall of the building, it moved worryingly as she walked but she needed to get closer. Metal girders crisscrossed the level she was on, what was left of an old first level floor she thought. She slowly walked out on to a beam towards the crowd until she was nearly above them and she sat and straddled the metal.

There were torches arranged around a raised platform at the far end of the room, illuminating it as if a stage, they all seemed to be looking at it expecting someone. Then a murmur ran through them, he was here.

A massive hulk of a man came lumbering onto the platform from the darkness at the back. He reminded Jenna of the Scavengers, brutal and unevolved looking; he glanced all around checking for signs of danger like a bodyguard. Then from behind him came striding lightly on to the platform…Erin!

Jenna strained her eyes to see, the light only just enough to make out features, no not Erin, but so alike as to be brothers or sisters (she never could decide). This boy-girl had brown hair, Erin’s had been golden.

It spoke, “I am Nera Amica”. It said clearly, “I am here to save you.” It raised its arms as if to embrace them and the audience began to chant

“Ne-ra, Ne-ra”

This had to be another synthetic Jenna thought.

Just then, suddenly the room flooded with light. Shouts rang out, seemingly from everywhere and out of the shadows ran guards, guns levelled.

“DOWN, DOWN ON THE FLOOR. HANDS SPREAD!”

“Shit!” she looked down desperately, then back at the walkway on her level. There were no guards up here at least, which was something she still had a chance. She looked back down at the platform. The synthetic and his hulking friend were gone.

Then she heard the sound of running to her left, they were on the walkway, the synthetic and the man. Jenna rose and ran back along the beam towards them. The synthetic seemed to know she was there.

“Go with Turk here” it said to her.

It held its arm out to indicate the brute. “I will stop them.”

Turk began to shake his massive head stubbornly,

“I stay with Nera Am’ica” he boomed.

“I am afraid I am with your friend, it would hardly do to leave you facing them alone.” Jenna said.

The synthetic probably sensing it was useless to argue, simply nodded and sprinted back the way it had come at an astonishing speed.

Guards began to pour onto the walkway, Nera leapt a good ten feet onto the wall and rebounded like a spring onto the guards, two dropped. Nera spun low and another went flat. Two more had time to level their weapons before Nera could lunge, Turk poleaxed the first, not even slowing his charge. Jenna got the second. There were no more for now.

The synthetic approached some sort of machinery attached to the wall. It prised it away with a tearing, screeching noise and rammed it across the doorway, blocking entrance.

“That will hold them long enough.” It stood and gazed at Jenna with that infuriating calmness.

 

“Well let’s go then” Jenna grinned. She was enjoying this far too much, it was the first time she had used her training in an age, and it felt good. Jenna led them to the fire escape and she looked down into the alley, no guards…amateurs, she thought.

Back on ground level, they ran for a long while before stopping. Nera turned to face her, “Jenna please join us”

“How do you know my name?” she said slightly out of breath.

“My parent Erin knows you”.

“Parent?” she said and shook her head in confusion.

“You say join ‘us’” Jenna said, “who is us”?

“There are people who live outside the domes, they are my friends.”

“Exenviro”? She said in disbelief.

“Yes that is what you call them”

Jenna looked at the man glowering at her and then back at Nera, and thought better than to say what was on her lips ‘They are animals’, she thought, what good will they be.

“Please come with us,” the synthetic said again. “This is a bad place.”

“It most definitely is”, she said, “but it is all I know, the corps is all I know.”

“Jena”, Nera said, “soon things will change and you will have to make choices, this, it looked around, needs to change.

“Jenna shook her head; my place is with the corps.”

“Please take this then”. The synthetic handed her a small metal box.

“What is this?”

“If you ever need me, use this, press the button on the device, it will lead you to me. I will come.”

Jenna nodded and the synthetic and its hulking companion vanished into the darkness.

Jenna snuck back to her lodgings without incident, and flung herself on her bed, worn out with the night’s exertions. She opened the drawer in her bedside cabinet and placed the box the synthetic had given her in it and stared at it for long seconds before shutting the draw.

 

19 - Ecklund the Younger

Ecklund sat in his garden outside his home on the south slope of the city. Long lines of tall slender trees bordered a large blue pool sat amongst sumptuous sculptures and meticulously trimmed greenery. He sipped wine and smiled as he watched his closest nephews and nieces playing in the pool. Artre his manservant came up.

“Sir I am sorry to disturb you but there is an errant here with important news. He informs me it cannot wait.”

The smile left Ecklunds face. He disliked work finding him at home.

“Bring him”, he snapped “and it better be important”.

Of course, sir, the servant bowed his head. He turned and waved the messenger forward from where he stood near the house.

“I have been told to hand you this directly eminence.”

“Who by?”

“Adviser Kalen,” The errant replied.

Ecklund rolled his eyes, had he not sacked him yet? He was sure that he had. Ecklund snatched the note, and read:

Biofix Envirodome E1. Large meeting of local resistance, fifty-two persons apprehended. Speaker an outsider, a leader named Nera. (not apprehended) Preaching insurrection, promising invasion from outside, unknown threat level.”

“Significance Level – Red.”

“Interrogation – ongoing.”

Ecklunds brows furrowed. This was not good. A plague on Old Lambert he was sick of clearing up his mess.

“Artre” he called “have the transport readied and my business clothes.”

“Yes sir,” said the servant.

Soon Ecklund sat at his desk, with advisor Kalen in front of him, the man sweated profusely.

“What has been done?” Ecklund demanded.

“Sir?” Kalen stuttered.

“Information, I need information, what is being done?”

“Standard procedure. Political interrogation and rendition.”

“And that note is all you have?”

“We think it likely that is all they know sir”

“Oh you do, do you?”

“And what is being done about punishment?”

“Well they are undergoing interrogation and rend…”

“That! Is not what I mean” Ecklund roared.

“An example needs to be made. This…this insurrection has gone on long enough. Our system has laws; they are breaking these laws, Owner’s laws. Our laws”

Ecklund pondered, stony faced and swung his chair round to gaze out of his office window.

“Ten of them, the youngest, public flogging and execution. The system mind you, it is the systems justice, let them know that. Broadcast it. They have endangered all. The system requires it.”

He paused, considering.

“Make that plain. They have a good caster there from what I can recall what was his name again?

“Berant sir.”

“Yes, yes, very persuasive, he will put the fear of the system into them”

Ecklund sat looking out the window and raised his hand to dismiss his advisor.

Kalen shifted his weight from one side to the other, unsure. He must say this.

“Sir may I advise caution.”

Ecklund spun round and pierced him with a glare.

“The youngest of them is around fifteen years of age, both male and female. It may be… err, unwise to provide a public display with ones so young.”

Ecklund sat for what seemed an eternity looking into Kalen’s eyes.

“You have my orders”, he repeated.

“Sir”, Kalen nodded and walked to the door.

Just as he reached it. Ecklund called.

“Oh as long as I am here have that man brought in, the agent…the scavenger agent.”

“Yes sir”

Eckund touched the screen on his desk and brought up the files on the man. He worked in the North West wild quadrant, in the Haretz scavenger clan. At Ecklunds request, intelligence personnel had been scanning archived records using key words related to synthetic human. A match emerged in a report sent by this man. His clan had found a boy lying in a capsule in the bottom of a ravine. Although the scavengers were always finding old tek, it was usually reported (as this was), but the boy was unusual and this was ‘not’ reported at the time, only the capsule.

It was only on further interrogation of the agent after the word ‘capsule’ matched with the keyword search that the man had admitted all. The scavengers had traded the boy for a large sum and hence found it wise to omit his existence. As the capsule was not deemed a weapon, it had not been listed as a priority find and had consequently gotten lost in the system. The dates matched too. The synthetic held at city camp 4.2 years ago. This event recorded 4.3 years ago.

The scavenger agent walked in and looking around warily. Ecklund nodded to Kalen. “That will be all”,

Kelen left them.

“You have been told why you have been brought here?”

“Yes sire, the boy. I am sorry...I” The man’s words tumbled out.

Ecklund held up his hand and smiled a cold smile.

“I understand, the boy was profitable, you didn’t want to lose him. You can redeem yourself by telling me everything you did at that time.”

“The man outlined the finding of the boy, the sale at the slave auction, and his ‘second hand’ knowledge of the attack that Jenna made enabling his escape.”

Ecklund knew all this and he frowned.

“What happened to the capsule?”

“We traded it sire”

“Who to?”

“The city folk in the valley. Old Tess’s lot. We got medicine, and supplies.”

“City folk”? Come here show me on this map.

Ecklund found a map of the North West wilds.

“There”, the man pointed. “The valley”.

Ecklund searched on his console and soon found who lived in the valley. The Elgin family of Etek. He remembered this now, or remembered having read about it, it had been a shock at that time. A group of lower ranking family members had asked permission to live in the wilds and renounce all tek. It was long before he was born. There must have been generations there now. They also lived close to where the capsule was found. He checked the records. The group was surveyed for tek once a month and it had been many months since they received the capsule. Ecklund stroked his jaw deep in thought, and noticed the agent standing there.

“Get out” he said.

“Am I free to leave here?” the man ventured.

“I should have you punished.” He mused.

“You could still be useful, go back to your clan and wait instruction”

The man nodded and hastily left.

Ecklund looked up who administered the monthly checks; it was as he thought, it was the local outpost. A captain Cherad was the ranking officer. Ecklund tapped his earpiece

“Put me through to captain Cherad posted at the North West wilds outpost.”

 

20 - Jenna

Jenna paced her room, it was late, and she could not sleep. They could not do this. They would not do this. She set her teeth as she thought about the jeering in the office as the news had spread. Ten to be flogged then executed in public, the youngest fifteen years of age and a girl. The flogging was at ten in the morning, in the cent square, and executions at seven in the evening, all of it broadcast. Even for the Owners, Jenna fumed; this was a new low, killing children. Not only that, it was stupid. It would rupture the society here.

They had begun to blitz the workers with propaganda. It would last for many days, the goggle and the corner audios blasted the same news.

‘ENEMIES OF THE SYSTEM!

‘ENEMIES OF EVERY WORKER!’

‘THE SYTEM DEMANDED IT! ‘

‘THE OWNERS CRY TEARS FOR THE FALLEN!’

‘THE SYSTEM MUST BE MAINTAINED!’

It was standard fair before defiler execution. ‘But these were not defilers’, she thought, they were worker children, angry idealistic worker children, trying to break free from their conditioning. She shook her head. She must ‘do’ something. ‘But what’?

Jenna dressed in her coat and hood and left for the city. This time her destination was not the workers areas but the industrial centre. She broke into a small industrial unit, and soon found what she was looking for. A hopper full of clothing. This was the west side laundry. She took out a few items and measured them against herself, this one would do, She could not make out the colour in the near darkness, but she knew it would be orange, Biofix orange.

Jenna made her way towards cent square, as its name suggested it was dead centre of the dome, official ceremonies often performed here. Today would be its first execution. As she got close, she noticed movement and stopped, there were already guards here, standing talking amongst themselves. In the dim light, she could make out the flogging posts, ten of them. She swallowed. Her mouth was dry of spit.

It looked like they had not posted guards at the buildings surrounding the square. She turned down a lane running parallel to the side of the square, her eyes straining up at the backs of the buildings. There it was. She spotted it, an unoccupied building. One of the windows smashed another boarded. She leaped at a wall enclosing a yard to the rear and was soon inside. She made her way to an upstairs window overlooking the square. It made for an even grimmer sight up here. She looked at her watch, 4am. It was time to wait.

She woke with a start, not recognizing where she was at first. It was light outside, she checked her watch, it was 9am, she glimpsed cautiously out of the window. There were more guards now and officials mingled amongst them. There was camera crews setting up gear, two of them that she could see, raised on special platforms. A large goggle screen stood in the centre of the square.

Jenna strained to see to the left and right, she could just make out orange figures. There were workers here. She made her way out of the derelict building, climbing out into the lane behind. She looked both ways, on her right there was a smattering of orange outfits. To the left a fair crowd seemed to be gathering. She headed left.

Jenna’s hair was long enough so that she could brush it forward and hide her features if she held her head down. She joined the silent crowd and slowly worked her way to the front.

There was now an unbroken line of guards circling the square, guns held in front and across their chests. She stood right next to one. He looked ahead impassively. She waited silently, her heart almost beating through her chest. She had decided that she would stop this, run forward in front of the live cameras and declare her identity, who knows, it might buy the kids some time.

Then she saw them processing across the square from opposite, the ten escorted by twice as many guards. Jenna shook her head, they had went all out on security, there was more than enough fire power here to decimate this crowd. She could hear some of the kids crying, one girl looked particularly distraught her eyes red as she sobbed loudly looking around desperately as if for help. The guards tied them to the posts facing away from Jenna. The goggle crackled on and a blue light filled the square. The face of Berant the head newscaster filled the screen.

“Good morning workers” his solemn face intoned.

“This is a sad day. A sad day for us all. Terror is among us. It seeks to destroy our holy system. It seeks to destroy you and me and all of us.”

“I have talked in person to the saintly Owners this morning, they grieve greatly that this must be done, but done it must be. Because if it is not, the peace we live in. The work we cherish, the food we eat, the credit we spend, will end.”

“Look at these faces.” He finished.

Images began to flash up on the screen. They were of the ten, the first a teenage boy, a snarl on his face, his teeth bared, The second howling as if deranged, and so on until the last, Jenna recognized her as the young girl who sobbed, her face filled with malice, spittle on the side of her mouth. A part of Jenna, the soldier in her, noticed detachedly ‘a nice touch’. They had obviously brought in talent from the city to retouch these digital images. The other more human side of her was appalled.

The caster continued, “Yes they are young, but what they have done is monstrous. Plotting to overthrow the holy system. Worshipping outsiders, worshipping sedition, overthrow of our beloved and saintly Owners.”

Usually at this point, the caster would have the crowd whipped up into a frenzy. Jenna looked around gauging the mood. There was only silence. The caster went on for some minutes; Jenna stopped listening and began looking around at the faces around her. Some looked angry she thought. None were nodding in agreement with the caster, or as usual, cheering him on. Had the mood tipped here? Had they misjudged the crowd?

The caster finished and drums began a low beat. Guards walked towards the ten from behind and pulled open their clothing from behind. The guards let the end of the lashes drop to the ground as one. Apart from the low drumbeat, it was eerily silent.

Jenna could hear the young girl clearly sobbing. “I want my mother, I want my mother”

The lashes came down. Screams rang out across the square. Jenna was just about to disable the guard nearest her when a shout rang out.

“STOP IT! LEAVE THEM ALONE”

The guards continued and the screams rang out again. More angry voices called out now, the crowd began to push against the guards and a rock flew past Jenna’s ear. It hit the guard near her on the visor of his helmet. He staggered back a step. Jenna saw her chance and quickly swept his feet from under him knocking him down and grabbing his gun. Almost simultaneously, the crowd roared and surged forward. One guard went down, then two. Orange clad figures were wrestling with guards on the ground. One worker stood up holding a weapon and shot at the nearest guard.

Everything happened so fast then. The captain of the guard barked orders at his men PULL BACK, They regrouped in front of the condemned kids, kneeling on one-knee “FIRE” shouted the captain, cracks fizzled, energy shots flashed, and many in the crowd fell. Some shots rang back from the crowd and a guard toppled. The captain looked around desperately EXECUTE THEM NOW.

“NO!” Jenna shouted.

She aimed at the captain and shot; He cried out and disappeared from view. The crowd carried her forward. A line of guards was standing behind the ten, energy weapons pointed at the back of their heads. The shots crackled, the smell of burning flesh filled the air. Jenna saw it through a gap in the fighting bodies, the black stump on the young shoulders.

She did not remember much after that; the crowd pulled her this way and that. The guards led a controlled retreat away from the square, shooting at will now, the ground littered with orange clad bodies. Jenna walked away from it dazed, not knowing which direction she went, she walked numbly through grey streets, anywhere away from the square.

Her face was visible now, passers-by stared at her face, and she did not care. Her hands were cold so she slipped them into her pockets. She felt the cool metal of the small box Nera had given her and took it out of her pocket; she looked at it, and pressed a button. A red light began to blink slowly, she turned a corner and it blinked a little faster. She followed the tracker until she arrived at the wall of the dome.

An alleyway, narrow and tall between workers tenements loomed ahead of her. Red lights shone high up on the walls, cameras she thought, this was a service entrance to outside. Soon the red lights began to blink out one by one and a slender figure emerged from the gloom of the alley.

“Welcome Jenna”, Nera said. “Please come with me.”

Jenna wanted to nod, wanted to speak. Nothing came. She was numb. She followed Nera into the darkness. At the end of the alley a pale light shone, a doorway and she stepped through it. A blast of cold wind brushed her check. The outside was always twilight, always cold. She looked up, a group of men sat saddled on horses looking at her impassively.

Nera led her to a horse. “You will ride Gen, she is a calm one”, Nera smiled.

Jenna had never seen a horse; well she had ‘seen’ a picture of one but never a real one. She patted its warm muzzle, breathed deeply of the horsehair and leather, and sobbed. Hot tears flooded down her face, she was angry with herself and brushed the tears away, large rain drops began pattering around her, a boom far off and a fork of lightning. She looked up

“I’m ready”

 

21 - Jack

It had been a year since the meeting. Plans were now well underway and the date was set. The attack would take place in early spring. Jack sat in a room inside the Warren, Gerrit’s Warren, as he always thought of it. Around the table were Sondra, Galen, Erin, and Sommat, a representative of the northern warrens. Galen represented the south, Sondra the central lands and Jack was here as Sondra’s second. Sondra spoke first.

“We meet here to discuss the details of the attack. We will start with logistics. I have asked each representative to supply me with an inventory of food and equipment in the Warrens under their charge, all have done that, and I thank you for it”

Galen and Sommat nodded.

“We look to be in good shape gentlemen. We have five hundred and thirty four light flyers. Twelve medium airlift transports. Seven hundred and three ground vehicles. Our current food stock has surpassed the levels I requested, good work all.”

Erin would you like to update us on progress with the Exenviro clans.

Erin spoke; his startlingly clear and precise tones began to spell out the numbers, 500,000 active warriors, over 10 lands. Training was well underway. Erin stopped his delivery at this point and looked directly at Jack.

“We have had great fortune in Old-England. Nera has recruited an invaluable asset. Jack you know her, it is Jenna she has joined us”

Jack’s mouth opened, “Jenna? But she was corps down to her toes how?”

“She was stationed at your old dome. They have clamped down on worker resistance. Many tragic, monstrous incidents have occurred. Jenna saw this for herself. Her mind was changed. She is second now only to Nera. She has much information concerning corps and guards procedure. She will save many lives. She lives in Lassa’s hall with Nera. She trains the clan warriors daily. She has asked Nera to send her regards to you.”

Jack could hardly believe it. She would indeed be a massive asset. Jack smiled and nodded “That is good news”.

They talked of many things, much of it detail, and Jack’s mind drifted, thinking of Yenah and his baby boy, now three months old. He was lost in pleasant thoughts when Sondra looked at him

“Well Jack”?

“Sorry well what?” he said.

“What do think of Erin’s suggestion?”

They all looked at him.

Erin seemed amused.

“Jack is the right person to lead the attack on the city along with Galen.” stated Erin.

Jack shook his head, “Oh no, no. My combat leadership is not up to…”

“Nonsense” Sondra spoke. “You have proved yourself on several missions now, you are calm under fire and have consistently made wise decisions. I think you would be a good choice.”

Jack laughed, “Surely not”. They all looked serious, none burst out in laughter. Jack looked at Galen for support, always sombre and focused. “Galen?”

Galen said. “At first Jack when I heard this suggestion, I was unsure I will admit. However, the more I think on it. I can find no reason to object.”

Sondra spoke. “Of course Jack, this will not be forced on you. You must accept it. Do not give us your answer now. Sleep on it. Galen and Sommat are here for a few days, we will speak again before they leave.”

For the rest of the meeting Jack could not concentrate and caught little of what they said. When it ended, he headed back to his quarters. They were bigger now, a suite of three rooms. He opened the door to find the baby lying on some cushions, kicking happily. He could hear Yenah singing in the bedroom.

“Come here you” he smiled at the baby, picking him up gently.

They had called him Alf. Jack kissed the baby on the forehead. He loved the smell of him, clean and milky. Jack held him up high and made faces at him. Alf giggled as Yenah walked in.

“You will spoil him. You pick him up too much.” She smiled fondly.

“Yes I know I can’t help it. You shouldn’t have made such a cute baby,” he laughed.

“’We’ made a cute baby”, she said.

Jack gently put the baby back onto the pillows.

“We ‘could’ make another if you like” He grinned at her and grabbed her, wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her feet off the ground.

“Put me down brutish man, I have to feed the baby”

Jack rolled his eyes, “But I’m hungry too”.

“Mmm that hunger will have to wait,” she laughed.

Later that night, they both lay in bed. Jack had been thinking about what Sondra had said.

“They want me to lead the attack on the city with Galen,” he said abruptly.

She looked at him. “That is an honour”, she said.

She propped herself up on one arm. “And I can’t think of anyone better to do it than you”

Jack felt troubled. Although he had been here for years now and had proved himself many times, he still in secret thought of himself as an outsider, as a worker. The conditioning was so strong in him that even now he had days where guilt would overwhelm him. He often did not feel he deserved the good things life had given him. Yenah and he had talked of this many times; she would always support him and try to use logic to combat the insidious effects of the conditioning. He knew even now that it overshadowed every decision he made.

The next morning Jack knocked quietly on Sondra’s workroom door. “Come in”, she said.

“I will be honoured to lead the attack with Galen.”

Sondra smiled broadly. “Very good.”

 

22 - Johas

Johas sat looking down at the woman. Her figure was good. She had long silky black hair. He was not so sure about her face, it looked painted and angular to him, a little alien.

She began to cry as she took the horse that they had brought for her. He snorted quietly…’women’.

The ride home was uneventful. Johas rode behind the woman and Nera Am’ica. It soon began raining, large heavy drops. He groaned and pulled his hide closer. He thought of the first time he had seen Nera Am’ica fight. He watched as Nera threw mighty warriors about as if they were toys. ‘Gods’, he looked like a boy, he must be the descended from Cap’ain Am’ica of legend, he had no doubt, his strength and speed was not of this earth and he seemed to hold this woman in high regard.

Nera Am’ica had spoken to them as they left. They would bring back a new leader, second only to Nera Am’ica himself. Johas watched her buttocks move rhythmically with the movement of the horse, ‘humph’, he would see soon enough. She did have a fine figure though, he grinned to himself.

Johas was in his prime, dark haired, twenty-five, large and muscular. Not yet leader of a clan but he planned it for next year. He had trained hard, gained much weight. It had made him a little arrogant. He was he thought the best-looking man in his village, indeed in any village for leagues around, and probably the best fighter.

He considered something, if this woman was to be second to Nera Am’ica, an early challenge to her, and a victory would give the winner this prize. He sized up the woman again. She did look like she had some muscle, not like the women in the clans, they were soft and yielding, although they ‘were’ fierce, he grinned as he fingered a scar on his cheek.

This woman’s gaze met you and challenged you. She did not look down or away. Johas considered this, after all Nera himself looked like a boy that he should be able to blow over. However, he knew different.

Lassa’s village had grew massively in size. Encampments sprawled over the rolling hillsides, thousands now congregated here because of Nera Am’ica. Johas lived on the slope overlooking Lassa’s hall with five other men from his village in a turf hut they had built.

Nera united the clans over the past years, Johas first saw him as he strode into his village square and issuing a challenge to any that would take it. Many accepted thinking this an easy victory. Nera had defeated all takers easily, and displayed many feats of strength. Johas had not challenged as rumours had arrived of Nera Am’icas prowess before he himself arrived. The rumours had not been wrong.

As word began to spread of an all-clan attack on the dome of the wizards. All warriors worth their salt travelled here. In reward, they trained with Nera Am’ica himself and the best of them chosen as leaders, each given a troop of men to lead.

It was a few weeks after the arrival of the woman when Johas rose early; it was his first day of training. He kicked at a body under furs snoring loudly on the floor.

“Get up! Wakey Wakey!”

The man grunted, “To hell with you Johas it is not long after light.”

“We start soon sluggard I am ready, its training day…aaahh.”

He stepped to the door of their makeshift hut and breathed in deeply.

“It looks like the weather is kind to us, no rain and the wind is low, no ice on the ground. A good day for felling men”

Johas looked out onto the training field, a large flat area at the bottom of the slope close to the hall, they had fenced off sections of it, each assigned to different activities. Some men were already sparring with wooden swords. Johas wandered down the slope and stood at the fence watching the sparring men, judging them with an expert eye… “Hmm not bad.” he murmured. “Not as good as me of course.” He said with a grin.

Soon the time came and men began to fill the training area. It was not long before Lassa entered and barked “LINE UP”.

They jostled hastily for position. Johas elbowed a man in the ribs and took his place on the first row. He glanced behind him as the man glared at him whilst rubbing his side. Johas grinned and shrugged good-naturedly.

Lassa was speaking.

“Today you will not be trained by Nera Am’ica. You will be trained by his second in command Jenna Am’ica.”

There was rumblings of complaint.

“Do any have a problem with that, if so tell me now”

“This is the woman yes?” Johas spoke out. “The one we brought from the dome?”

“The same”, said Lassa flatly.

“She has been personally awarded this role by Nera Am’ica, I say again do any object?”

Just then, the woman strode into the training ground. She wore all white and stared straight at the assembled men. She ignored the glances from Johas and the other men, and stood in front of them and spoke.

“I am Jenna; I am trained by the wizards of the dome to fight. Do any here have a problem with my leadership?”

Johas eyed her carefully.

“I do…woman. I came here to be trained by Nera Am’ica you have not earned the title ‘Am’ica’. I challenge you here and now to combat. I fight for your leadership. Do you accept?” Johas demanded.

Jenna looked at him directly for the first time and smiled a cold smile. “I do…’man’.”

Lassa hastily intervened.

“Johas you understand this is a leadership challenge, it will be to the death. It is a waste of a warrior in time of war”

“I understand,” Johas said.

Lassa sighed and called Johas forward. The two combatants stood in the centre of the area. Lassa waved the other warriors back.

“Give them room. Choose your weapons”, Lassa indicated the large wooden benches on which lay a lethal array of hardware.

“I need none”. Jenna said looking directly into Johas’s eyes now.

Johas laughed, “Let’s begin.”

He held his hands out in front of him and crouched. Jenna lowered herself into fighting stance and waited. Johas weaved from side to side his hands constantly moving. He made a lunge and grabbed her shoulder readying a punch to her head. Jenna lowered and twisted under his grip, her hand lightning fast rose in an arc and struck him on the inside of the elbow, a red hot pain shot up Johas’s arm, it tingled strangely, he could not move it! The woman spun in close to him and rammed her hips under his. He found his feet began to raise as she pushed under him with her hips and pulled at the leather garment around his neck. The world tilted then, and he slammed on the ground, the breath whooshing out of him. The woman looked down close to his face, she jabbed with her fingers at the side of his neck, gods the pain, red-hot and tingling, he could not move.

“Do you yield?” she said quietly in his ear.

“Finish it woman you do me dishonour.” He grunted.

Jenna looked up and addressed those watching slack jawed.

“I will not kill this man even though he has been bested. Because it was an unfair match. The wizards who live in the domes have trained me in combat from childhood. I am here to teach ‘you all’ these skills.”

She swept her hand indicating them all.

“This, she pointed at Johas is a brave man and he is needed in the battles to come. I Jenna Am’ica spare him.”

The men murmured and nodded. Lassa stood in visible admiration of the woman.

Still sitting atop Johas. Jenna pushed her hips downward. She smiled down at him with an evil glint in her eye.

“In any case she said in low voice that only he could hear. I need men that are armed with admirable weapons.”

Had he heard her right? Did she just say what he thought she said? Gods what a woman. He wanted her badly. He staggered to his feet, most of the feeling having returned, and turned to the men watching, flashing his white teeth in a grin, he shrugged his shoulders.

“That, lads was worth it,” he said ruefully

The men roared with laughter.

 

23 - Ecklund the Younger

Ecklund had not slept in twenty-four hours. His nose had the scent now. When he got like this, his dogged determination was legendary.

“Start the mission as soon as possible; I want them all in custody by nightfall.”

Elkund listened as the voice in his earpiece replied.

“What would you like us to do with the settlement sir?”

“Burn it”, came the terse response.

“Yes Sir”.

Another voice came over the earpiece, his assistant, seated outside his office.

“Sir you have another call. It is guard captain Chellis from Biofix dome E3”

“Put him through”

Chellis, Ecklund said. “Your report on the troubles please.”

“Yes Sir. The executions were as you ordered. The youngest ten prisoners. There was unexpected resistance sir; the crowd was larger than expected and hostile. We began the flogging as you requested when the crowd overpowered some guards and gained their weapons. The captain in charge ‘Randall’ ordered the execution as a matter of urgency as the crowd advanced on his position.”

“I have never…” Ecklund stopped and took a breath. “I have never heard of such insolence. Those responsible for this rebellion have been apprehended I hope.”

“Sir we do have information on some of those at the forefront but I would advise waiting. The situation in E3 is very delicate sir; it lies on the edge of full-scale revolt. Sixty-three workers killed in the attack sir. Fifteen of our men and a further thirty with injuries.”

“This must stop Chellis, do you understand? Is it a matter of resources? I can send guards from other domes if…”

“No sir, it’s just that we, the amount of casualties’ sir, is rising, escalating, things at the moment might not…”

“I am sending a contingent of guards from E4 and E5. I want you to apprehend all those identified from the attack. I want you to execute them. I want you to go to their homes and exile every person you find there to exenviro. Do you understand? I want this done publicly and loudly. I also want a domewide home search; turn their possessions out onto the street, search everywhere. This ‘will’ end now, do you understand?”

“Yes sir”, the captain replied.

“Oh one more thing sir. The corps officer Jenna, the one posted here. She is missing. Not only that we have video footage of her shooting at Captain Randall. We suspect that she has went exenviro sir.”

Ecklund had been reading the file on Jenna recently. From a good family, corps through and through. This was bad.

“How often do you check on the exenviro?”

“You mean the drone sweeps Sir?”

“Yes”, Ecklund returned impatiently.

“Once a month a sir, last one was one week ago.”

“Did you notice anything unusual?”

“Well yes sir they have gathered in unusual numbers at a location around thirty miles north west of the dome. It is a known clan location but the numbers there have been increasing over the last months.”

“What are they doing?”

“Well fighting each other it looks like. They do have times when they come together and have martial contests sir; it could well be one of these.”

“And tek?” Ecklund queried.

“The captain laughed, no, no tek sir. The have rudimentary smelting, can make basic weapons, axes, swords, bows and wooden shields. I remember that last year we lost a drone above one of their villages. When we sent a squad out to retrieve it. The men found them on their knees worshipping it like a god. They gave it bowls of fruit and ale if I recall correctly.”

“So if Jenna has taken refuge with one of the clans. She is without resources?”

“Yes sir, the clans do have warriors, but we estimate they number no more than a few hundred or so in each, they fight so much with one another, it tends to keep their numbers in check.”

“That is all”, Ecklund said

The assistant spoke again, “Sir you have one more call. It is Darnbridge the Elder from the Elgin family sir.”

“News travels fast, Ecklund thought”, put him through.

“Ecklund, just what is going on? I hear you have authorized a mission to apprehend everyone from our settlement in the North West sector. You are aware they live there under our protection. Moreover, Old Lambert Jenson is furious; you have taken it on yourself to order executions in one of his domes, they are close to insurrection. Explain yourself”

Ecklund responded, “We have information that your family members have dealt in illegal tek. Not only that, they have hidden it from the council surveys undertaken each month. We also believe that this tek supported the synthetic Erin and that these people colluded with him, probably still are. You understand this a priority security issue I hope and as such, as leader of the council my powers take precedence”

“You have proof of all this”, Darnbridge demanded.

“I do not need proof. I have sufficient grounds for suspicion, based on the evidence of multiple agents. You are aware of my powers.”

“And what of the incidents at the dome?”

Ecklunds temperature began to rise.

“Lamberts negligence at his domes has led to insurrection. It looks set to spread and is therefore a city security issue, of which ‘I’ am in charge. If you wish to challenge my leadership of the council then you are welcome to bring it up at the next meeting otherwise I will continue to do my job”

“You better be right about this Ecklund or heads will roll, starting with yours” The line went dead.

Ecklund rubbed at his brow. Damn Darnbridge and damn Lambert and all of them. They failed to monitor and control their own business, and when ‘he’ was forced to intervene, they threatened and blustered…damn them to hell.

 

24 - Jenna

Jenna got up off the man and tried to hide her amusement at the look on his face. He was not that bad, and he was her type, big, brave, muscular and stupid.

“Keep your mind on the job girl”, she though wryly.

Jenna had been here two weeks, and surprisingly felt more at home than she had in a long while. There were many similarities between life here and with the corps. Yes, in some ways they were worlds apart, but the attitudes, she recognised them. The testosterone charged world of the military, these people lived and breathed it. Even their religion, based on prowess in combat. She smirked as she looked at the hulking warriors before her. Just as in the corps, male dominated. Now they had a first in command who looked like a slight boy/girl and a second in command who was a woman. She relished the time ahead.

Jenna and Nera had talked at length over the past weeks and she had agreed to train these men. To be second in command only to Nera. She had been astonished at the numbers of exenviro, she had never guessed. They had been of little interest to the corps. As far as they were concerned they were savages without tek, what could ‘they’ do? However even she had to admit that at half a million strong, they could do much.

She rose to her feet, and smiled while the savage tried to save some pride, acting the fool. She gave them a short pep talk and they all seemed suitably impressed with her abilities. If they would accept the title that Nera had given her of Am’ica she should have no problems, they lived and breathed their martial religion.

At that point, Nera entered the training ground and walked up to her carrying an energy weapon. It was the one Jenna had wrested from the guard in the dome. It was a standard issue guard rifle. She and Nera had discussed how training should progress and had laid out a schedule. Today was energy weapon defence. Nera nodded at Jenna and handed her the weapon.

“This she said loudly at the assembled warriors is a weapon. A weapon used by the wizards of the dome.”

She pointed it at a sturdy fencepost to her right. A sizzling crack and a flash, and the top foot of the post was gone. Embers glowed on the blackened stump of what remained. Some of the men cowered on the ground others cried out in fear. Jenna noticed Johas was silent and did not move, even if he looked a little pale.

“Stand up! All of you” she shouted.

She waived at a man standing next to the equipment benches. He picked something large from it and brought it over. It was rectangular, around five feet in length, three feet across and curved. It was metallic with a dull grey–blue sheen to it. Padded material lined the inside and it had two vertical leather straps.

“I need a volunteer she said” looking at them. She glanced at Johas.

“Any takers, who is brave enough here”?

A smattering of hands went up at the challenge. Johas amongst them. She looked away from him and chose an older stocky man, who looked remarkably like a bear.

“Come forward”, she said.

“She demonstrated how she wanted the shield held, low to the ground with the body crouched behind it. Shoulder pressed into the padding.”

The man bear nodded and she walked thirty paces away, turned and levelled the weapon at him. His eyes grew like saucers and he began to back off.

“Stand your ground!” she roared and pulled the trigger.

The sizzling crack rang again, Sparks rained down from the impact with the shield. The man was lost from view as plumes of smoke rose. As they cleared, the man appeared, still standing eyes screwed tightly shut. The men cheered and the bear opened his eyes seemingly surprised he still lived. Jenna walked over and held her hand against the metal of the shield. It was hot but she could touch it, just. She looked over at Nera who had been standing watching. Nera nodded, turned, and headed out of the training ground.

“This shield will save you from the weapons of the wizards” Go to the table and take one each she ordered.”

Much of the rest of the day Jenna allowed the men to gain confidence in the use of the shields. She showed them how to use them in formation, creating an impenetrable shell. Showed them how they could advance and attack using long pikes.

That night at Lassa’s Hall Jenna ate dinner with Nera and Lassa’s family and they discussed tactics. Nera said:

“The fifty warriors you taught today, after training, they will travel back to their villages, they will be teachers to their own men and each man will receive a rank before leaving. We will hold a ceremony and it will entitle them each to lead one thousand men. They will act as units in our command. Each leader will assign ten men with rank to allow them in turn leadership of a hundred.”

Jenna nodded she understood this terminology well. In the corps, they also had organizational units, squads, battalions and legions.

Later that night when Lassa and his family had retired Jenna and Nera were alone. Jenna ventured a question.

“The companies have hundreds of domes between them spread over many lands. How will you...How will this work?”

“I have fifteen siblings. Each living with clans amongst the exenenviro. The organisation you see here, my siblings mirror in other lands. In addition, our parent Erin allies with the people of the Warrens.”

Jenna was astonished. Fifteen synthetics leaders of exenviro clans and Erin allied with the defilers. Since shooting the guard captain and joining with Nera, she had accepted that this would be the end of her career and likely her life. She never considered seriously that they could ever win. For the first time Jenna began to wonder.

 

25 - Tess

Tess sat on her veranda sleepily watching an insect fly around her flowers. The sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon when she heard it, quietly at first, the droning noise. ‘Inspection’ she immediately thought, but it was not time, were they trying to catch them out and spring a surprise search?

The droning noise got louder. More than one she judged, this was not an inspection. She stood and walked round to the front of the house and looked down at the settlement then at the horizon. She saw them, four dark smudges in the sky. As they approached closer, she could discern that there were three troop carriers and one a large bellied cargo transport. Her heart sank; she knew this time would come eventually. Others began appearing at their doors and a few wandered out.

It was not long before they landed. Men began filing out and lined up in neat rows. An officer barked some orders and they immediately dispersed heading towards the settlement. Two came towards her until they stood looking up at her.

“You must come with us”, one said aggressively.

“Under whose authority?” she asked evenly.

“Security Council leader Ecklund. Come with us now” he demanded.

“Can I at least get some things?”

“No” the man shook his head. “As you are now”

They men began to walk towards her.

“I am coming, be calm”, she stepped down from the veranda. They stepped either side of her and roughly held her arms and led her towards the flyers. She looked over her shoulder, some were struggling against the men, she heard cries of dismay and some shouts.

“Please do not resist,” she said under her breath.

It did not take them long to crowd them into the belly of the carrier like cattle. Tess could still see the settlement through the open cargo door. The men began blasting the thatched roof material. It instantly caught fire. Cries of dismay rang out from among them as thick black smoke rose above their homes.

During the flight, Tess considered what would happen next. They must have obtained some highly damning information against them; they burned their homes, so they could not return. She knew the likely outcome, they would be interrogated and rendered, but did not want to think of that. Not so much for herself, she looked around, saw the fearful faces, and felt a heavy sadness. Erin needed to know. How would she get information to him? They would all soon break under torture. They had information regarding the resistance, the location of the underground labs, the tek and Erin and his children. Tess considered what the Owners would do with this treasure trove and shuddered. She could see no light, no way out. They landed soon, and herded them roughly along the runway towards ground transports that awaited them.

They travelled a short distance and it was not long before they entered a large fortified complex that towered above them, she guessed this was Corps City Base. The transports stopped in front of a low flat building painted in white. They entered and each gave their names and ages, and were led to cubicles with running water from above and ordered to strip. Once washed they were given coarse grey jump suits and one by one they were assigned cells, bleak grey walled with cold black tiles on the floor.

By chance, Tess sat in the same cell Jack had occupied years before. They sat in the infamous interrogation wing of Corps City Base. She heard screams that night. It had started. The nightmare. She waited for her turn, but none came for her that night or the next. She almost wanted them to come, as she could not bear the screams anymore. Finally, they came and dragged her along the corridor, but she soon realized they were not taking her to the interrogation rooms. They loaded her into a transport and drove through city central, and up to the central security offices. Soon she stood before Ecklund the Younger. He smiled a wide grin and said jovially “Welcome Tess.”

 

26 - Jack

It was two weeks before the attack when Erin reported that his children were ready. A Hundred flyers took off that night from the Warrens destined for the company lands. Ten flyers sent to each of Erin’s children with a large enough exenviro following. They were armed to the teeth and deadly. They flew in low and were safely hidden in exenviro lands. The clans were trained and ready.

      Each of the Owner’s lands had between three and seven domes. Old-England had five, all close to the southern channel. The attacks on all domes needed synchronization, two flyers per dome to blast entry, the forces split into two thrusts per dome, one offensive the other defensive. The defensive attacking first as diversion.

The offensive units would target dome armouries along with air cover from a flyer. It was essential that they gained the armouries early in the battle. Without energy weapons they were doomed to fail.

Nera had ten thousand men for each of the five domes. Jenna had provided invaluable information on guard and corps numbers in the domes. They averaged five thousand per dome. They outnumbered them and the growing uprising of workers ensured that they would bolster their numbers once attacks began.

Back in Gerrit’s Warren Jack sat with Galen, Sommath, Sondra and Erin in the ‘war’ room. Galen spoke. “What of the city defence grid?”

Erin began:

“The defence grid comprises, as you know, of fifty automated guns spread throughout the city. The control feed lies in a server room five hundred metres below central city labs. I will lead a small unit to infiltrate this facility before the attack and disable it.”

“It is considered impregnable by the Owners as it sits surrounded by the granite of the land itself. A forceful attack will fail. The security to enter the facility is as advanced as they have but am certain I can access it and disable it”

Galen studied Erin closely.

“You are ‘sure’ you can access the room, do you ‘know’ you can access the room? The whole attack rests on this small detail”

Erin considered, “I know,” he said.

Galen continued, “And what of the company lands that are not taken?”

“Erin spoke again. Twenty of the lands will remain under corps control. However, we will have the Owners, the city, and ten lands. This will force them to talk terms.”

Galen looked worried. “’If’ we take the domes and ‘if’ we take the Owners, he said.

Erin answered, “Yes there are risks, and we all knew this. It is as such in any battle.”

Galen breathed deeply, “Yes” he said.

Jack spoke next and began to outline the team that would accompany Erin, when he noticed that Erin’s face had suddenly fallen, it had become blank and his gaze looked as if into the distance.

“Erin are you ok”? Jack said.

At first, Erin did not answer, and then suddenly he said. “We must attack now.”

They all looked alarmed at Erin.

“What?” Galen exclaimed.

“They have them,” Erin said quietly.

“They have who?” Jack asked, looking puzzled.

“Switch on the screen”. Erin indicated a large viewing screen on the wall. Jack got up and turned the screen on. Erin stared at the screen and a picture emerged. A severe looking man with cropped dark hair and the chiselled painted face of the autos appeared.

“Hello Erin” he began. “I have for so long wished to meet you, and as such I offer you an invite, well more of a demand actually” he smiled. The view zoomed out to show an old woman standing crouched by his side.

Jack inhaled sharply, that was Tess although he barely recognised her. Her cheeks looked hollow and her eyes sunken in their sockets.

“I am Ecklund leader of the Security Council in this fair city and I demand your presence”, he smiled

“Ask him Tess my dear,” Ecklund said. Tess looked up wearily. “Erin do not come”

Ecklund laughed, “Oh now then Erin you really must. You see we have ‘all’ of Tess’s people here, and if you do not come then who knows what will happen to them. I propose an exchange, you for them.”

There was a pause as if Ecklund awaited an answer.

“Well anyway I look forward to seeing you soon”, he grinned for a last time and the screen went blank.”

They all knew what this meant. Tess knew everything. Her people knew everything. The tek, the labs! Galen looked grey “Well that’s it then we must call all of this off, we must abandon our Warrens we…”

Erin spoke, “No, we must attack now, before they can take advantage of the information.”

Jack said to Erin, “They will be alert now. The element of surprise is lost; we will never reach the server room.”

“I will go alone; he wants me I will go.”

“But Erin that is suicide and what would it achieve?”

“I say to all of you, have I ever let you down, have I ever been wrong in matters of planning?”

They shook their heads.

“You must trust me in this; I will take down the defence grid. Prepare the attack as we have planned. Give me four hours at the city. I will give you a signal to begin the attack. If I do not, disperse and save what you can of the Warrens and my children will lead the clans into hiding.”

“What signal? How will we recognize it”? Jack said.

“You will know it when you see it”

Those assembled looked at each other greatly concerned.

“I will leave as soon as I can; I will get a flyer ready, with your permission?” Erin said.

“Erin we need to talk about this, can you give us a short while”? Sondra said.

Erin smiled at Sondra, “Yes Sondra but it must be short” with that Erin left the room.

Galen said. “I say no. Disperse now while we still can.”

Sommath looked unsure and looked between them.

Jack spoke:

“And go where? It would only be a matter of time until they track us down. We have come too far. Yes, the risks are great, but the rewards will be too, freedom for us all. We must take this leap of faith, I for one trust Erin with my life, we take this last step and we have nothing to lose save to die quickly having tried, rather than tortured slowly and die in grief.”

Sondra said, “Well-spoken Jack, I agree. I say we attack.”

“It would be hard to run at this time.” Sommath agreed. “Life would be hard, and likely short.” He sighed. “To hell, I agree lets attack”

Galen looked down.

Sondra spoke, “So it is agreed three to one, all say aye”.

“Aye” came the response.

 

27 - Erin

Erin sat in the cockpit of the flyer and the trees began to thin below him. It spoke into the headset.

“This is Erin. I have come to meet with Ecklund the Younger, leader of the Security Council.”

The headset crackled. “Roger that Erin we are expecting you and have you tracked, follow your course due north. We will escort you in.”

Soon two white fighters swooped in alongside it. Erin could see the helmets of the pilots.

“Follow us and do not deviate from our path or you will be shot down.” The earpiece crackled.

Erin spoke “I understand”

They flew for a while and soon Erin saw the landing lights of Corps City Base. Within ten minutes, it had landed and was sitting in a transport escorted at gunpoint. Soon they arrived at the Council buildings, four corps soldiers came out to meet the transport, weapons drawn. Erin walked in the midst of them through white glass doors and soon stood in front of Ekclund the Younger, and two other men he did not recognise. Armed men lined the wall behind him.

“Ah Erin” Ecklund smiled. “So good to finally meet you. You are indeed remarkable”, he looked Erin up and down. “Perfect even. We will need to see how you tick”

Erin said. “I am here, as you wished. Where is Tess and her people?”

“Yes…Tess”, Ecklund said lightly.

“You know she had a remarkable amount of information, a treasure trove even. Unfortunately, she did not fare well under…questioning.”

Ecklund spoke directly to the guards, “Show her in.”

The door opened and Tess shuffled in, her head bowed. She muttered something low under her breath repeatedly, and began wringing her hands. Erin went to walk to her; the guards levelled their weapons as one. Ecklund raised his hand “Its fine let it see her.”

Tess was the closest thing in the world Erin had to a mother. He gently cupped her chin with his hand and raised her head. Her eyes darted fearfully back and forth, they registered no recognition. She murmured the same phrase repeatedly, “they know, they know, they know.”

Erin felt something then it had never felt before. It looked up at the men behind the table, and for a quick second envisaged itself hurling them from the window. It only lasted for a fraction of a second before Erin controlled it and the feeling quickly replaced with sadness; it held onto Tess’s hand then held her in its arms.

“Alright that’s enough,” said Ecklund. He waved to the guards and they led Tess out of the room.

“It is true some have fared badly but they do provide riches he grinned. Unfortunately none will ever leave here”

“You gave your word they would be released if I came”

“Yes I did didn’t I”, he said. ”… I lied.”

“You may also notice you cannot talk to our comms tek anymore, do you notice the silence? The first of many wonders to come I am sure. The underground labs are a bounty”

He spoke to the guards again “Take this plastic man away”

The guards led Erin from the room and back to the transport.

As he sat in the vehicle, he asked a guard. “Where are you taking me?”

“Oh you are in for a real treat freak you are going to Central Labs. They can’t wait to get their hands on you. They will have your insides out by nightfall,” he laughed.

The other men joined in the laughter. They soon arrived at the Labs and Erin recognised the place. It had been here before. They had studied it, scanned it, it was unpleasant. They were about to disassemble it the next day when Jenna had released it.

It tried to talk to its children. It could not get past the first comm point. ‘ACCESS DENIED’. They had upgraded their encryption no doubt using tek from the underground labs. He could not say goodbye to his children.

They led him deep into the lab complex and brought him to a glass walled room with a large table; it had clamps for legs, arms and head and stood in the centre of the space. The soldiers secured him tightly to the table and then stood guard outside. Two people came in, a man and a woman. They began using instruments, taking measurements.

Erin said clearly. “Please leave this building. You must hurry.”

The man and woman stopped what they were doing and looked down at him. “And why would we do that?”

“Because you will die if you stay here.”

The woman looked warily at the man

He looked at her across Erin “We have a job to do, continue”.

She nodded.

“Please fetch me the cranium laser.”

The woman turned and walked out of view.

Erin began the sequence, felt the vibration begin. A low humming noise filled the room. The man looked down at Erin.

“What is that?” he demanded.

Erin closed his eyes. The heat began to pulse through him now. The vibration came in waves, stronger and stronger. Erin thought of his children and of his life and was grateful. He was content.

The explosion vaporised the room, the force and heat shot outwards taking much of the floor of the building with it. The whole place shook. From outside the building could be seen slowly rocking. It suddenly dropped down upon itself, with a horrendous noise. Smoke and dust billowed outwards covering everything in fine white dust for blocks around.

The building was destroyed, however, far below encased in granite the server rooms remained untouched and barely a vibration extended down to them, but a much more deadly force was about to do its work. A bank of radiation travelling at the speed of light, seared downwards, penetrating the granite rock as if it were not there. The silicon brains of the room fizzled and fused, the lights flickered out and soon the servers lay dead.

The lights above, across the city began to blink out, in a radius spreading from the lab. Flyers dropped from the sky, transports stopped dead in their tracks.

 

28 - Jack

Jack stood on the flight deck of a large flyer hovering low over the forests south of the city. To either side of him hundreds of flyers stood ready. Jack looked at a view on the main screen. It showed the city, everything looked normal.

Please Erin, make this work. Jack thought of Yennah and his baby and what would happen if it did not. He shook his head to dispel the thoughts, ‘stop it.’ Just then, a plume of smoke began to rise from the centre of the city, “Was that it! The signal? Then lights began to go out in the city spreading outward from the plume.

“THAT’S IT!” he shouted.

Jack dived forwards and pressed a comm button on the flyer console.

“All units, green for go, I repeat green for go.”

The flyers surged forward. Jack had designated a squadron to take out the gun towers and his flyer was lead, he swooped in towards the first gun, and destroyed it with the first shot, he noted others peeling off from the main force, and explosions began throughout the city. One of the pilots asked,

“Are we clear for the tower?”

Jack nodded and they banked sharply and headed for the gleaming Corps Tower. Jacks thoughts flashed back to when he first saw Gerrit. Sitting in his flyer gazing at him through the blasted wall of this same tower.

“Fire”, Jack said.

Explosions bloomed from the walls of the tower. Showers of glass and metal screeched downward, shattering and devastating the ground below. The top half of the tower began to tilt and in curious slow motion tipped down into the city. Jack found no satisfaction in it. He hoped there were no civilians below, he gritted his teeth and thought of Yenah and his baby boy and moved to the next target. A voice came over the comms.

“We have multiple airborne contacts, north-west 5.5 miles”.

Jack stooped and looked out of the cockpit; there they were, flying in formation. He had expected this, a squadron from the Corps City Base.

They had decided not to target the base early in the conflict, it bristled with defensive weaponry, and any attack would incur heavy losses. In addition, the corps squadrons sat far underground, released through acceleration tubes armoured from any attack from above. They had decided to wait. The defence grid and city were more pressing targets.

Jack said, “All units break off from ground attack, target incoming hostiles.”

In response, a swarm of ship rose from the city, gaining altitude. Jack new this battle would be critical. If they lost it, they lost everything. He had went over the plan so many times. The corps outmatched them with tek. They had the advantage in numbers. It would be a close thing.

 

29 - Jenna

It was dusk and it was freezing. Her breath billowed like smoke and the ground was white, hard underfoot. They sat under the trees at the edge of the clearing, five hundred steps from the wall of the dome. The call to arms had been sudden, rushed. Jenna did not like it; she had planned on the two remaining weeks to hone essential skills.

She breathed, nothing for it, here they were. Five thousand sat behind her spread over half a mile of forest. Another five sat at the opposite side of the dome. She knew this was happening across the five domes and across ten of the lands. She had trained some of the leaders personally, they were good men, nevertheless, they ‘were’ barbarians, she could only hope.

Johas had proved to be a talented leader, he was arrogant and brash it was true but he possessed a keen understanding of tactics and warfare and his men worshipped him. She had gotten to know him well and Jenna had assigned him to lead the defensive units now at the other side of the dome. It was too late to change anything now; she must stop worrying she thought. It was time to begin. Her earpiece crackled to life, it was Nera.

“It is time Jenna, Johas and his men are inside and the shields are holding, make the signal.”

Jenna pointed her energy weapon straight up and pulled the trigger, A glowing white ball shot upwards far above the trees. A roaring noise sounded above as a flyer flew up over them; it hovered for a short while and then released two missiles, they whistled away towards the lower dome. The impact was devastating, the heat and force of the shock blast pushed against them. Jenna waited, she needed to see the damage, be sure they could get through. The thick black smoke soon began to disperse. There it was, the gaping hole reaching all the way to ground level.

“Forward” she bellowed.

The front rows were on horseback, she spurred her mount and they charged towards the breach. Above, the flyer shot past them and flew through the still smoking hole into the dome.

They reached the wall without resistance, slowing as they dismounted. Jenna climbed over rubble into the dome and looked around; she soon spotted what she was looking for, the armoury. A long single story fortified building. It faced the wrecked wall of the dome. Jenna glanced up, the black flyer hovered waiting for her signal. She could see the face of the pilot looking down on her. She spoke into her comms. “Now” she said.

They had been careful in planning this particular strike. If they miscalculated and shot anywhere close to the hardware, the whole dome could go up. The pilot released a single concussion missile, no pyrotechnics. It was enough; the wall of the armoury blew inward with a deafening clatter. She indicated to her men forward. They roared and flooded into the armoury. She knew she would lose men here, a squad of corps soldiers always stationed here. Of the whole attack, she dreaded this moment the most, fighting her ex-soldiers in arms. She gritted her teeth and ran to join her men.

They were close to the energy weapons store. Jenna chose this point carefully as it enclosed adjacent offices.

Her men should be there now, some of them equipped with concussive wall mines; she hoped they remembered their training. She heard multiple muted booms and then a cheer. They were in. Jenna stood in the corridor that ran the inner length of the offices with a few dozen men. Only she and a handful of others had energy weapons. ‘C’mon’ she thought urgently, watching the corner at the end of the passage, expecting at any moment the footsteps of armoured men, they would be here soon.

A shout from behind her drew her attention, one of her men was holding a rifle up high, she spotted another, then another. They had them. Jenna smiled. Just then, the corridor lit up and the familiar crack of a weapon rang in her ears. A man cried out behind her and fell… they were here. She waved her men back to the offices, they began to stream out over the rubble and into the street where they began passing guns to the warriors outside.

She took position at an office doorway and others copied. Jenna knew this would be a bottleneck; most of her men were still outside, defenceless. They had to hold the breach in the armoury wall until the weapons were distributed. The firefight was intense. Both sides suffered casualties, the corridor was a staccato of white flashes, burn marks pocked every wall.

The fight went on for long minutes and Jenna began to worry, she could not wait much longer. They could not afford to be pinned down here; the corps would soon bring heavy guns, and grenades. A man tapped at her shoulder and shouted above the noise.

“We have weapons Jenna Am’ica.”

Jenna nodded and loosed a couple more shots into the corridor for luck. She waved her hand at others still at the doorways to fall back, Jenna ran after them to the breached armoury wall, climbing over debris. She looked around outside and quickly assessed the situation. The flyer was blasting away further down the street weaving back and forth. Streaks of energy seared around it. A company of guards had dug in at the top of the street.

Jenna indicated to her men to take up positions either side of the street and engage the guards. Those that were left of her personal unit stood close to her and waited for her signal, she waved her arm and they took up positions across the street away from the breach in the armoury wall.

Jenna pressed a button on her belt and it came away, a cluster of grenades hung from it. She pressed another button and hurled the belt at the opening. Jenna ran for cover. The explosion was massive; she covered her head with her hands as pieces of masonry littered down around her. Most of the side of the armoury was now a large mound of rubble. If there are any corps left, she thought. They would not get out that way.

 

30 - Ecklund the younger

It had been an hour since he had ordered Erin away. Ecklund was discussing the tek finds from the labs with Lambert the head of Biofix, and Darnbridge from Etek and he was feeling good; they would soon know everything, plans of the attack, and enough tek to bury any resistance for the last time, and best of all they had the synthetic.

Suddenly the windows began to rattle and the floor shook, at first Ecklund thought it was an earthquake, he looked at the other men concerned. The lights in the office flickered and went out. Ecklund rose from his chair and looked out over the city, it was dusk but he saw no lights in the city. Where central labs had stood, he saw a rising plume of smoke. What? What has happened? A sinking feeling ran though him.

Was this a rescue attempt? No, no, this was more. Only one thing could drop power to the whole city… Central servers.

A sickening cold fear rose up through Ecklund. The defence grid! Ecklund checked the comms from his desk. Nothing. “No it wasn’t possible… what had he done?”

Old Lambert was asking questions, angrily,

“Ecklund what is going on, what have you done?”

“Ecklund snapped, “What have ‘I’ done? You old fool. None of this would be happening if you had maintained security in your domes.”

Darnbridge spoke up. “How dare you speak to Lambert this way!”

Ecklund strode to the door. His assistant looked at him fearfully.

“Get a security detail down to the nearest defence gun. I need to know if it is operational.”

She replied, “Yes sir” and clicked her comms.

“No dammit, go run, go and tell them, use the stairs. And report back to me as soon as you have word.”

A flash lit up the office. Ecklund rushed to the window and was appalled at the sight below, flyers buzzed like insects over the city. Mushrooms of flame bloomed, like flowers amongst the fading light. ‘It’s the guns!’ he thought, ‘they are attacking the guns’. He had his answer, the defence grid ‘was’ down. An all-encompassing rage surged through Ecklund then, the veins on his neck stood out.

“The scum, the dogs”, he muttered, “how dare…” He could not find the words. They would pay.

Ecklund tried to calm himself, his mind raced. He looked to the horizon to the left. ‘Yes!’ he could see it, City Base, lights. It had its own generators, and servers. As did the outpost towers. Not all was lost. Ecklund shook his head, his brow knitted.

“But why are they doing this? They must know it is doomed to failure.” The company domes had more than enough firepower to retake the city.

Was this a hit and run, maximize the damage and then hide until the next time? Guerrilla warfare? It could be. It would be an extension of the tactics used so far. But no, that was not logical they must know that an attack on the city would deliver a response so devastating… They would throw everything at them and not stop until every one of them paid. Then it dawned on him, ‘Them!’ the Owners! Had they come for ‘them’ Hostages!

 

31 – Johas

Johas knew what to expect, had even seen the thing on the ground. When the signal went and the thing roared above them like some giant dark bird of prey, it took all his courage to stand straight. He looked back at his men; some did not manage it and cowered fearfully. The monstrous bird spat fire at the dome of the wizards. Destroying the wall, as he was told it would do. He howled and spurred his horse forward. His men roared and surged behind him. He dismounted near the destruction and released his shield from the horse. The men began to file into line forming rectangular blocks. They raised shields and marched into the still smoking opening and they progressed for a short while into the dome. Johas looked around with awe at the towers around him.

Orange clad people looked fearfully and ran away from them, scattering amongst the towering buildings. They pressed on and soon the buildings began to get lower and they emerged into a large clearing. Crack, Crack, two sizzling bolts hit against a shield amongst the throng.

“Tighten formation” Johas roared, “keep moving”. He could see armoured men like black beetles, crouching behind walls and buildings. Just then he heard a roaring noise above, it was the flyer. It spat at the crouching enemy and many of them fell, but more came flooding into the clearing and concentrated fire at the flyer, they hit it several times. Smoke and fire began to trail the machine as it rose and turned, flying back out of the opening in the dome.

More shots came. CLANG, one struck his shield, he could feel the warmth penetrating to his arm. They needed to get out of the clearing. Johas spotted an opening to the right and ordered his men to head for it. They formed ten large rectangles like great armoured beasts, their shields creating an impenetrable skin.

They progressed down the opening into a narrow street. More of the beetle like men shot at them from doorways ahead. His unit advanced filling the width of street. The intensity of the shots increased as they neared the men. One of his warriors cried out, his shield heated past that which he could bear and he lowered it. He took an energy bolt to the face. Johas saw him fall, he was close enough to the beetle man that shot him and thrust his spear out, targeting (as he had been taught) the neckline. His spear sunk into soft flesh. The man screamed and made a grotesque gurgling noise as he fell. Johas bent and quickly grabbed his energy weapon. He shouted, “Attack both sides.” His men spread, spears levelled and the guards in the doorways cried out and disappeared from view. His men stooped to acquire the weapons from the bodies.

“Pass the guns to the back,” he shouted.

The rear of the formation was beginning to take heavy casualties as the guards followed them blasting at will. Johas took the magic device from his pocket that Nera Am’ica had given him. A red light pulsed slowly on it. He shook his head they were still far from Jenna and her men. They reached the end of the narrow street and came into another open area of ground.

Johas swore, “Am’ica’s balls”

They would have to cross. He scanned the square for the beetle men, he could see none, and they began to advance. They reached the middle of the area and most of his formations had emerged onto the opening. Johas could still hear the cracking of the rear-guard battling with those following. As they came parallel to openings on both left and right his heart sank. Many beetle men sat behind lines of barriers either side of the opening, and worse they had bigger guns, standing on the ground with men behind them. Jenna had warned him of these. The shields would take only one or two hits.

He heard a shout from behind the guns.

“FIRE”

The large guns began repeated firing. Large swathes of his men began to drop; cries rang out on all sides.

“Damn” Johas swore. If they ran, they would break formation, if they stood, they would roast.

Just then, he spotted a flash of orange behind the black of the beetle men from both sides of the clearing. Dome workers, many of them, a sea of orange. He could hear them roaring. They swamped the guards from behind wrestling with them and beating at them with sticks.

“Thank Am’ica” Johas said.

He gave the order, “Attack!”

The formations evaporated, spreading, until men filled the clearing and fell upon the guards.

 

32 - Jack

Jack’s flyer shuddered and the cockpit lit up as a large energy bolt flashed past. That one was too close. The aerial battle had raged for over an hour now. His tactic were simple. The corps flew in tight formations, in predetermined attack patterns. His pilots would counter this with randomness true to their guerrilla roots. He ordered his pilots to attack, at will. They weaved amongst the formations of the white flyers, picking off a kill when the opportunity presented and fleeing at the first sign of danger.

The aerial battle lasted throughout the night. Jack could not really tell if they were winning, he thought that they were. Although his losses were at forty percent, the white flyers were definitely thinning in numbers. By first light, it became clearer. Jack looked down at the city and saw the smoke still rising from the ruined guns and buildings. He searched the skies there were few white flyers airborne, those that were, where harassed by his pilots.

It looked like some of them were heading back to City Base. His men knew better than to follow them. Jack and Galen had kept their flyers well away from the gun turrets surrounding the fort and the outpost towers. Some had accidently wandered into range and were quickly dispatched. Although the base guns were short range compared to the city grid they were lethal up to a range of five miles.

Galen’s voice came over the comms.

“Sommath has been lost” he began. “His flyer flew too close to the base. It is just you and me Jack. If you agree, I say we mop up what is left airborne, and begin the ground campaign.”

“I agree Galen we will meet at the designated spot”

“Galen answered, “Roger”

The guns of City Base were massive and primarily designed to combat airborne threats. Anything flying within range would be destroyed. They were nearly as deadly to enemies on the ground but not quite. Therefore, it was from the ground that they would attack.

The resistance brought four energy cannons, developed with help from Tess and her people. They out ranged the base guns by half a mile. Tess and technicians from across the Warrens had assembled the major parts over many months inside one of the larger hangers in Warren 3.

The resistance forces made camp exactly 5.5 miles from City Base in a beautiful square, white marble and a fountain stood at its centre with tree-clad avenues around all sides. It looked surreal to Jack; he could not have imagined, even yesterday, this scene.

It took most of the morning to mount the guns and make the camp secure and it had become eerily quiet, the city seemed abandoned. Jack and Galen were concerned about the lack of long-range comms. They had realised early on in the attack that they could no longer contact the company lands. They did not know how the attacks on the domes had fared. Had they all been successful, had any? What was worse, of the squads they had sent to secure the Owners, few had returned. The ones that did reported empty mansions. The Owners had moved. Jack guessed they were at City Base.

Did the base have long-range comms? Had they contacted the domes, were squadrons on their way here now? They did not know but Jack and Galen agreed on one thing. It was a priority to secure the Owners. If they had them as hostages. They had bargaining power. As long as they were alive and free, soldiers from the remaining domes would fight.

Galen said. “We have to make a decision Jack and soon. If City Base refuses to surrender, do we destroy it and all those in it? If we do not, we will lose. I find it distasteful, but I can see no other way. “

Jack hesitated. “I…we, they must surrender. I will speak to them. We will broadcast on all frequencies. They must receive it at this range; the power to the fort was not compromised.”

Jack ordered a tek crew sent to him with video equipment. Soon, they were broadcasting.

“This is a message from the resistance, or as you call us defilers. I am a leader here, my name is Jack and I have authority to pass these terms to you. We have many long-range guns with advanced tek. They are capable of reducing your base to rubble. We have also taken ten of the thirty lands under your control. (Jack did know this for sure, as he spoke).”

“The city, he waved his hand around him, is neutralised, the defences shattered. It is time to talk terms. You have our promise that if you surrender the base and yourselves to our charge, you will be treated with fairness.”

“If you do not, you will leave us with no alternative and we will open fire. We give you ninety minutes to answer and comply with these terms. Please do not die needlessly”

 

33 - Ecklund the younger

Ekclund sat with the heads of the thirty families in the operations room of City Base. Early in the attack, the base commander had sent transports to the mansions and brought the families to the safety of the base. Ecklund as leader of the council sat at the head of the table. There were angry voices, “How could this happen?”, “It was a disgrace”.

Darnbridge spoke up. “Well Ecklund explain yourself, how did this happen”

“I will speak of that in time. Firstly, we need to discuss matters that are more pressing. An assessment of our current situation seems in order. The defence grid is destroyed.”

Cries of dismay and anger filled the room.

Ecklund held up his hands and waited for the noise to subside.

“Our flyer squadron is down to thirty flyers they are grounded to prevent further loss. Corps Tower is destroyed as is Central Labs. The base remains untouched, as do our outpost towers. The garrison here is also fully manned with a battalion of corps soldiers”

“What of the company domes?” Said old Lambert coldly.

“We have reports from twenty of the thirty domes. The others have not responded. We must assume that ten have been taken or under attack and unable to respond”

Noise rose in the chamber again.

“And what have ‘you’ done Ecklund? Darnbridge asked

“Ecklund thought for a moment he was being accused. Did they know about the destruction of the servers?”

“What have ‘I’ done?” Ecklund repeated.

“Yes have you ordered reinforcements, or a counter attack? When will they arrive?”

“I have requested reinforcements from all domes one hour ago. The first should arrive here in three hours. I have held back any counter attack until the force arrives. We are safe here. This base is impregnable to their guns”

This seemed to placate some of those sat around the table.

“Lambert harrumphed angrily, “Should never have happened. When this ‘mess’ is all over. I for one will call an emergency session of the council.”

Others around the table nodded in ascent.

Ecklund looked coldy at those seated. ‘The ungrateful wretches’ he thought. If not for their incompetence, none of this would be happening.

A corps officer entered the room and strode to where Ecklund sat, and spoke quietly in his ear.

“It looks like the rabble wish to talk”, he announced.

Ecklund pointed at the large screen on the far wall. It lit up with static, before a face appeared. Ecklund recognised it, he had poured over many interrogation files recently, those of the Biofix worker Jack, were among them. Ecklund listened intently until mention of ‘long-range guns built with new tek’ acquired from the traitorous Tess. His blood ran cold. The room was silent when Jack finished speaking, if what this worker said was true, they all knew what that meant. They turned to face Ecklund.

“He is obviously bluffing.” Ecklund began. “Are we fools that we should turn ourselves over to them when victory is so close at hand. I say defend, hold until help arrives, we have a strong position here”

A woman spoke up. One of the few female leaders of the great companies. ‘Roseln the Daughter’. Her company Barrat supplied building materials and services.

“What if the man speaks truth? If he has these guns then we are finished. He has given us ninety minutes; our forces will not begin to arrive until three hours. Do you intend for us to die here?”

Ecklund had had enough.

“I WILL NOT BOW TO THESE DEFILER SCUM!” he roared and banged down on the table with both hands. Glaring at the gathering.

 

34 - Jenna

It was heavy going, gruelling stuff. Jenna’s men were falling around her. When one fell, another took his weapon and place. They were no corps soldiers, but gods they were brave.

The plan was to meet with the forces led by Johas on the central ring route. A road that encircled the industrial centre of the dome. She doubted Johas could find it, but he did have the tracker device, it would bring him to her.

Jenna had sent the flyer to find Johas and his men. It had been a massive help early on engaging troops while they assaulted the armoury but it had been taking heavy fire and fearing she would lose it, she ordered it to gain altitude. Jenna looked at her tracker. She estimated they were around one mile away.

Guards had dug in stubbornly shooting from windows of a narrow building directly ahead. Two roads led off into the city on either side. They could not progress any further without dislodging this resistance. She sighed; it was so hard giving orders to the clansmen. To them this whole place was magical, the powerful realm of wizards. You could see it in their eyes, the awe and sometimes the fear; they were out of their depth. She needed to send units either side of this building, flank it, and take it out. If these were corps soldiers, it would take a few hand signals and it would be done.

Her headset crackled. It was the pilot he was back in range.

“Come in Jenna” the pilot said

“Yes, yes, I’m here, what’s the report?”

“Good news, some defensive units still stand. They are at mid-western square. It looks like the locals have come out in numbers, even greater than we thought. They have taken out a battalion of guards. Looks like they have the area secured. You are five blocks from their location.”

Jenna could feel the relief wash over her. They would make it.

“Great news. We are bogged down here, taking heavy fire from the building ahead of us. Do you have any missiles left?”

“Roger that.” The answer came.

She heard the roar of the flyer as it swooped in for the attack. The building exploded, spewing bricks and masonry over the street. Jenna covered her head with her hands, and crouched low behind the wall that gave her cover. It took a while for the dust to settle before she cautiously looked over at the building; it was rubble. Her men cheered as they poured onto the street.

They moved slowly forward through city blocks looking warily up at windows when they began to hear what sounded like a crowd of people, talking loudly and cheering. As they emerged into a large square what met them was one of the sweetest sights Jenna had ever seen. Thousands of men and women, some wearing the browns and animal skins of the exenviro some wearing Biofix orange. They were in jubilant mood. Jenna soon spotted Johas, and walked to him, her weariness forgotten. He saw her and a massive grin broke out on his face, he ran to her, bent down, circled his arms low under her, and lifted her high, spinning her round. She laughed in spite of herself.

“We did it,” he roared.

People all around looked toward them and cheered.

 

35 - Ecklund the Younger

Ecklund shouted at the officer. Can I get a live feed on this frequency?

The man said. “Yes they are broadcasting on all frequencies.”

“I want to talk to this worker”, he spat.

Soon Ecklund stood looking at the Workers image on the screen.

“You have given me ninety minutes. I give you ten seconds. Surrender to me here and now and you will receive a quick and painless death. As will all of your leaders. If you do not I will personally see to it that all of your families, your friends, your colleagues are subjected to the most lingering painful death you can imagine. What say you?”

Someone seemed to speak to the worker and his head turned. He held up his hand as if to quieten them. He said,

“You have eighty minutes left of your time. Please consider our terms seriously, you are staking the lives of all those in the base. There is no need. We are willing to talk terms.”

Ecklund replied, “You claim you have won yet you wish to talk terms? That is the voice of the defeated. If you could destroy this base then you already would have done so”

The worker sighed a deep breath. “Please observe the hill on the far side of the base”

A booming noise almost instantly came over the screen comms. A second passed and they heard it, a thrumming, then an explosion that shook the base, vibrations ran through the chairs on which they sat. Ecklund looked at those assembled. They exchanged fearful glances.

Ecklund ordered the officer, “Go check!” The man left. Soon he re-entered looking pale in the face.

He whispered in Ecklunds ear. “The hillside has been incinerated sir.”

Ecklund looked back at the screen, his face twisted in malice.

“You think you have won here. You have won nothing. I have heard reports of more of these synthetic men, leaders of savages they say. Do you know what you have done? They are reproducing. Do you think they will live alongside you or accept your rule? They will not. They are not us. They are different. Do you see their children? Are they innocent? Do they play? They have no children, they have no need of the things we need. They will wipe us from the face of the earth. You have doomed us all. I will not make ‘deals’ with you, he spat the last.

Ecklund called for the screen to be shut off. A clamour rose from the table and he raised his arms trying to quieten them.

“We are safe here, we are safe, our forces will arrive soon, and I have made provision for our families to be moved to the lower levels. No bombardment will reach there. When our men arrive, we will emerge triumphant and deal with this rabble.”

“Please everyone follow the men I have posted at the doorway they will lead you to your families on the lower levels. Be quick now, he gestured for them to leave.”

 

36 - Commander Stefford

Stefford stood against the wall and watched the screen. Watched the ultimatum and watched Ecklund refuse it. He had commanded City Base for five years and was responsible for all those that lived within its walls. The base was many things, a barracks, an airbase, and a town, as well as a defensive behemoth. His family were quartered here, as were those of his officers and his men. He watched as they filed out, these preened dainties. To think their ancestors had once been great generals. They were about to save themselves and their loved ones. Cocooned below in the only safe space available. It had not even registered with them that in doing so they were also condemning the rest of them to death.

Stefford thought of his granddaughter, Blond curls and sweet smile, she would often throw her hands around his neck and kiss his cheek. She sat now in his family’s compound within the base walls, the base that would soon be no more. This would not be, he decided. He still had time. The lower level held five hundred at maximum capacity. Encased in steel and reinforced concrete many feet thick, inside of granite bedrock. The company families would take all of the available space. Stefford shook his head, ‘They must be evicted’

He strode quickly to the command room. The others were already there. He had arranged this meeting even before the defilers issued their ultimatum.

“You all watched”, he said simply. “Those guns will level this base long before any help arrives. My family, all our families live here. The only safe space is below, filled with the families of the Owners. “I say no”, he looked around trying to gauge them.

His second in command Edre, spoke up. “I have a wife and two children, I agree with the commander. Why should our families die for them?”

Most of those present nodded in assent.

One officer spoke up. “When reinforcements arrive, they will want to know what happened to them”

“Stefford replied. “The Owners requested evacuation to the North Western Outpost Tower; the defilers intercepted them. If any of us survive, that is the story; I have told my family the same. Only we know the truth”

“A raise of hands please” he said “I propose taking the lower level for our families.”

Staff officer Sherad spoke up. “What of the families of our men?”

“You all know the capacity below; we have to make hard choices”. Stefford said.

“This must be decided now, raise hands all those in favour”

All hands raised.

“The attack is due to begin in fifty minutes. We still have most of the ground battalion at stand-by, and twenty-five serviceable flyers. I will order an attack on the guns. They outnumber us significantly, and they have far superior numbers in the air. I hold little hope for success, but it will delay them. Time to get our people to safety”

There was silence in the room and some looked down shamefully. Some nodded.

Stefford spoke into the comms on the command table. “Begin the counterattack.”

“Yes sir”, crackled the response.

“Go get your loved ones; we assemble here in thirty minutes. Those not here at that time will be left.”

Five young officers stayed seated. They had no children. Stefford nodded to them and they rose and followed him from the room. As he walked Stefford went through it all again in his mind. He had considered surrendering the base to the defilers, if he did so it would be treason. Stefford had no doubt that when reinforcements arrived they would disperse this rabble. He and his fellow officers would be executed, their families disgraced. This was the only way. After it was done he planned to join the attack on the guns, at least ‘some’ salve for his conscience.

They gathered some items from the locker room and progressed downward to the lower levels. As they entered the corridor leading to the safe room, they saw the personal bodyguards of the families stationed outside the huge gleaming metal door. Stefford saluted them; the door was still ajar. They were loading supplies, it would be sealed soon from inside.

“I need to speak with Ecklund urgently, family security”

One of the men replied “Family security?”

“Yes” he said, “it is classified, for the ears of Ecklund only.”

The man nodded and said, “Wait here”

He returned quickly and waved Stefford forward.

“You alone”, he said.

Stefford entered the room. It was a single large chamber, but temporary dividers stood, arranged for the discretion of the families. Ecklund stood near the entrance

“Yes?” he said tersely.

“I have information that the life support controls may have been sabotaged for this room”

“What”! Ecklund exclaimed “How?”

“Defiler infiltration we think. It is simple to test, I need to close the outer door and start the fans from the control box on the wall over there”, he pointed at a red box about the size of a suitcase attached to the wall at head height.

“Do it man”, and quickly.

Ecklund called for a bodyguard. One came in, ready for trouble.

“Close the door, you know the sequence?” He asked.

“Yes sir but…”

“Do as I say” Ecklund snapped.

The man closed the massive door and turned a metal wheel in the centre back and forth, it clicked and a green light illuminated above it.

“He nodded to Ecklund”

Stefford walked over to the panel, and opened it. He reached down to a satchel he had at his side and pulled out a black face mask and without turning around placed it quickly over his face.

Ecklund exclaimed, “What is going on?”

The bodyguard began to reach for his weapon but it was too late Stefford had already retrieved the canisters from the satchel and released them. They hissed violently as they skittered across the floor. Green smoke surged out of them; soon the room filled, so you could not see the hand in front of your face. Cries of alarm ran out for a short time, then silence.

Stefford waited for a minute and pushed a button on the panel. Large fans whirred into life and the room quickly began to clear. He walked to the door stepping over prone bodies and turned the wheel in precise sequence. Outside his men stood over the still figures of the bodyguards. He had not looked down, not looked around the room. Some had not deserved what had just happened to them. He strode past his men.

“Take them to the incinerator, I want nothing left”

 

37 - Jack

Jack stood in the square looking up at the huge structure. One of the four guns. It stood on a great tripod, the whole thing painted ominously in black. Jack wished fervently he did not have to use them. There was ten minutes before he would have to give the order. Galen stood alongside him and spoke quietly. “We have no choice you know. If that base is still standing with the Owners inside when they come. They will fight, they will not bargain.”

Jack knew this and nodded.

“Sir” A man walked up to them. “Transports are leaving the base and are heading this way and they have released what is left of the squadron; we count twenty-five attack flyers. “

Galen murmured. “Well we have our answer. Jack we need to start the bombardment now.”

“The time is not up,” Jack said firmly.

“They are attacking!” Galen answered. “They will target the guns.”

“We wait until the time is up”

“Galen shook his head and said to the man “Get all flyers off the ground. Forty on the squadron the rest to take out those transports.”

Jack wished Erin were here. He suspected Erin had sacrificed himself to take out the defence grid, but did not know for sure. He cursed the lack of long-range comms. They had piggybacked on the Owners tek infrastructure thanks to the encryption breaking skills of Erin and his children. All had been silent since Erin surrendered himself.

He looked at his watch and it was time. The sergeant of the guns stood at the ready.

“Well sir?”

“Begin” Jack said with a heavy heart.

The guns began, a barely audible buzzing noise. The intensity rose rapidly to a screeching roar, then an almighty crack and sizzle as the huge mass-energy bolt seared into the sky.

A moment later and the sergeant said

“A hit sir. The control centre.”

Jack saw the smoke rise on the horizon above the city buildings.

“Continue until the base is levelled” Jack said and walked away.

 

38 - Nera

Nera stood on a hill overlooking the eastern southern domes. It was a good view of two of the domes, another three lay over the horizon. It talked, constantly giving directions, flicking from one channel to another. They had taken all five of the domes in old England.

Nera had led the attack on the nearest, looming below. A flyer swooped in low overhead. It landed close and Nera boarded it. It was worried about the lost communication with both its siblings and with the city attack. It reasoned that the Owners had likely begun to access advanced tek from the underground labs. Encryption would be quick to apply to their existing tek.

Nera had to assume that the attacks led by her siblings all had similar success, and they would come to the same conclusions that it did. The city attack would need help. It was logical that the city under siege would call for reinforcements from the domes. At least fifteen domes could respond. Nera and her siblings had studied the domes over the years they had been here. They had noticed the state of disrepair, the under manned guard regiments, the dire state of defence infrastructure. In all of the five domes, there existed around twenty thousand guards and five thousand of the elite corps units. In all lands, they had one hundred and twenty of the massive trade flyers and only two hundred operational flyers (none for use within the domes). They evidently assessed the risk at low. They had fatally disregarded the exenviro.

Nera and its siblings had spotted a flaw in the much-vaunted ‘system’ of the Owners. The culture essentially centred on commerce. It therefore sought to maximise profit. This deep-rooted foundation was also its greatest weakness. The drive to reduce outlay would always occur in such a system. It would seek to maximise production at the lowest possible outlay.

This had resulted in ramshackle infrastructure and defence. Nera calculated that of the remaining twenty lands only fifteen could respond significantly, they could muster only around a hundred flyers, carrying a maximum of four thousand men. However, this may be enough. Nera did not know how the city attack forces fared. It knew one thing and that was they likely needed help.

Nera held on as the flyer rose into the clouds. Seven other flyers waited above. Nera joined them and all eight headed at full speed for the Owners city.

 

39 - Captain Renat

After three hours flying they were nearing the coast, they would reach the city soon. Renat spoke to his second in command.

“How close are the others?”

“The next to arrive will be Lieutenant Davis from Eras sir. He will arrive in twenty minutes. The rest will arrive staggered over the next two hours.” Said the man.

“How many flyers does Davis have?”

“Twelve sir”

“Dammit twelve!” He had fifteen and thought that a low number.

“I told them the cuts would be the end of us. Damn vultures, cost cutting.”

“Do they have any carriers?”

“They have five hundred men sir.”

“Well we have six” Renat rubbed his chin.

“Halt the squadron here, we wait for the others. Send a scout to the city I want a full report on the situation”

“The reports had suddenly stopped from city base around an hour ago.” There had been intermittent contacts from the outposts and the scant information they could give was not promising. Smoke rose over much of the city.”

Half an hour passed and the scout returned. It was not good news. The city defences were destroyed and City Base was gone, only smoking rubble remained. Corps Tower also lay in ruins, as did Central Labs.

Worse than that, the defilers had installed huge guns in the central square. The scout had been unable to identify them. However, two of them looked damaged. There were signs of battle near the guns. Bodies of soldiers still lay on the ground and destroyed corps transports, still smoking, littered the area. He could not give an exact count of enemy flyers and troops but at least one hundred flyers and thousands of troops. Davis shook his head this was a disaster, even if they emptied all remaining domes, it would still be a close fight.

The last communication from the base had informed them that the Owners had arrived safely. Even under the ruins, there was still a chance they survived in the vaults below

Davis arrived, as had a few other squadrons. They now numbered thirty flyers and fifteen hundred men.

“Open comms, all frequencies.” Renat commanded.

“I am speaking to the defilers. This is Captain Renat of the company forces, surrender yourselves now and we will be lenient with your families and men. If you do not we will attack and every last defiler will be killed.”

A voice replied.

“Greetings captain Renat. I am Jack, a leader of the resistance. Your city has fallen the Owners are dead. We have taken a third of your lands. Your position is not one of strength and your demands ring hollow. I suggest a meeting to talk terms. We have no wish for further bloodshed and seek to avoid it if we can.”

Renat frowned, the thought of dealing with this rabble was…distasteful. He must delay; allow time for his full force to arrive.

Renat said. “You have one hour to consider our terms then we attack.”

Renat closed the comms. “How many have arrived?” he said to his second

“Three more sir. We have sixty flyers and two thousand men.”

“Sir the defilers have responded. The have given us thirty minutes and ‘they’ will attack.

Renat mopped at the sweat beading his brow.

“Send the smallest flyer we have to the ruins of the base. Search for the Owners” he said.

“The rest initiate attack formations,” he ordered.

“Yes sir”

The white flyers spread into a line hovering above the thick forests. Time ticked down with frightening speed when eventually Renats’ second in command approached him.

“Good news sir, the rest of the force has arrived.”

“Good, numbers please?”

“One hundred and fifty flyers. Three thousand men sir”

“How many fighters?” one hundred and forty sir, ten carriers.”

Well Renat thought, nothing for it, they would approach the city in attack formation.

“Have them join the formation”

The wall of flyers began to move forward, the troop carriers brushing the tops of the trees below. Soon they saw it. The city! In spite of himself Renats jaw dropped, the once gleaming metropolis lay bathed in smoke and ruin. He looked ahead at the black wall of flyers, anger rising in him. Their formation mirrored his. The scouts count had been close; just over one hundred flyers faced them. Renat looked down worriedly at the guns if they could track aircraft he was in trouble.

A voice came over the comms.

“Sir we have not found the Owners, the lower chambers were occupied with the families of the base officers. They say the defilers have the Owners”

Renat took a deep breath and just then, his second spoke urgently.

“Sir! Incoming flyers dozens of them.”

“Ours?” he said

“Negative sir” they are defilers.

 

40 - Nera

      Nera arrived to see the two sides lined up above the city.

“Take us between them”

The pilot looked around in alarm. “Between?”

“Yes in the centre there”, it pointed.

“But…” The pilot began

“Please trust me” Nera looked directly into the pilot’s eyes.

The pilot shook his head, but did as he was asked.

“Open comms please, send visual as well”

Nera looked directly into the screen to the side of the pilot’s console. A few seconds later a face appeared, a thin severe looking man with a pallid complexion.

“You wish to talk?” he said

Nera said. “I am a synthetic human. My name is Nera. You may have heard rumours of my kind, Nera smiled. I have fourteen siblings. We have lived five years on average. In that time, we have lived in the company lands. We have gathered five hundred thousand soldiers with more joining us every day. You know them as the exenviro. Together we have taken ten of your lands. Your domes are ours. The resistance has taken your city. You could do battle here, but even if you win today the age of the Owners is over, you must see that. We have a choice here today, continue fighting, destroying much of what is left of humanity or come to an agreement. Let us work out a system that works for all of us. Join us and make this a better place to live.

 

41 - Captain Renat

Renault listened to the synthetic. He looked down at what was left of the city. Then up at the steady stream of flyers joined the forces arrayed against them.

“We can talk,” he said finally.

 

42 - Jack

It was a sunny afternoon one month after the battle of the city. Jack and his family sat on a grassy bank in the southern suburbs. He smiled as he watched their son trying to climb up Yenah seated beside him, pulling at her hair.

They were taking a break from the negotiations. Jack thought of himself out of his depth here. Nera, Galen, Sondra and Jenna spoke for the resistance, but he had to be here of course.

This morning had been particularly sticky. They discussed the fate of the Owners. Jack had assumed they had died in the base with the others. Renat had informed them of the families found in the lower chamber, those of the base officers. The officers themselves died during the attack on the guns. No trace of the Owners or any of their nearest family members were found. Renat all but accused the resistance of executing them. Nera argued that if they had captured the Owners there was a powerful motive to keep them alive. They would make very valuable hostages, giving advantage in these very negotiations. Renat and his team had found it hard to counter that one.

Nera stood on the grass with his siblings not far away from Jack. They were motionless and silent but Jack knew they were talking, he still found it eerie. A memory unbidden came back to him. It was Ecklund speaking to him.

“They are not us. They are different. Do you see their children? Are they innocent? Do they play?They will wipe us from the face of the earth.”

Jack looked down at his boy and back to the silent synthetics, this time Nera looked at him and smiled. He reminded Jack so much of Erin, and Erin had been good, and Ecklund, however he started life ended up bad.

Jenna walked up to him, at her side stood a towering man, with bushy hair and clothes that looked two sizes too small for him. He gawked constantly around him.

“Hi Jack”, she smiled.

“Hey” he answered, “Who’s your friend?”

“This” she said, “is Johas hero of the clans and all round stallion I might add” she smirked.

Yenah laughed and stood up with the baby and hugged Jenna. She shook Johas by the hand “Welcome Johas”

Jack held out his hand and received a crushing handshake.

“Nice to…be…here”, Johas said in halting tones.

Jenna slapped him good-naturedly on the arm.

Jack looked at Jenna and said seriously. “Do you think we did the right thing Jenna, so many have suffered”?

Jenna gazed hard and long at him.

“I have absolutely no doubt. For most of my life, I have been part of it and I was blind. It took the execution of children to wake me up. I will be ashamed until the day I die that I did not do something sooner.”

Jack nodded.

Yenah walked over to Jack, baby in arms, he put his arm around her. The group turned and walked over to Nera and it turned and smiled.