by James Neil /2009
Notes: This was written in 2009 by myself, James Neil and was to be the first of a trilogy that has now expanded to ten proposed books, entitled the Star Saga. Around fifty thousand copies were either sold or shared across Amazon, Lulu, and iBookstore. Revised recently in 2012, it is now available for free to download or read here on the site. If you're one of the few that bought the hardback copy I thank you and will be forever humbled by this strange, unexpected success. Hardback copy is still available through Lulu.com, but like I said it is available for free via the links.
An eye slowly opened taking in the sight of a billion stars flying by. The blazing white fire of the stars burned within the man’s eye. Solar systems, nebulae each with their millions of stories all morphed by in the bright white tunnel.
They had slowed as they’d entered one of the inner arms of the galaxy, and so the flames encircling them had grown thinner. Various territories could be seen all around for those who’d been this way enough times before. There were the Cambiran core worlds, identified by the nursery of green gas that wrapped in their many nubile stars. Nearby were Earth core worlds with their reddish, golden hue, and then to the next galactic border, the Lantis core worlds.
The recognised galactic date was 49721 with an equivalent Earth date of 2892. Lantis recognised only the galaxy date, since they were one of the oldest races to be brought into the fold.
His journey continued on it’s path through this most jealously guarded reach of space. The fire’s reflection surged out through his deep set eye from a pin prick pupil staring so intensely, murderously. He blinked once slowly and then turned away as the view ahead cleared, and from the flames a single point of light flickered and glared out of the dark, while a dark grey ball bombed by the auditorium followed by it’s litter of moons. The star leapt forward toward them as the ship swung around an elliptical orbit within the solar system. The star drew near enough to sting the eye, only to be eclipsed a moment later by a rust red and dark purple planet. It’s surrounding rings angled and stopped, or rather, relatively the ship did so, and then all ahead was still and dead. Planets looked so dirty and unmajestic when observed from space, but to the scientific mind it was still beautiful. The rings glistened in the remaining light escaping over the planet’s shoulder, while below the patterned glistening of domestic lights and high speed tramways on the planet scrolled by until they were over a more unpopulated area of this important core world. Not Lantis, the homeworld, but a primeworld owned and controlled by a royal-investment dynasty. Such was the system feeding tablescraps down to the streets, and as any of the many solar historians would say, so much never changes. But here, even more than just that was very, very wrong...
Nine left the observatory, with the man leaving last. He affixed a helmet to an illuminous white suit and cocked a pistol ready, as did the others ahead of him.
Their vessel slid slowly down into the planets orbit through a small spattering of solar traffic lined up in various traffic jams, waiting to land. Their white ship dwarfed them all as a whale might dwarf it’s food. Yet no alarms sounded, no ships ran to intercept, since the defence grid of this solar system had been fully hacked on approach. The space security mainframe would recognize the ship as an innocent mineral hauler no matter what the circumstances that followed, despite it being over a thousand times larger than anything sensibly owned my a merchant corporation.
From an opening in the side of the titanic bright white craft, the figures stepped out onto the hull and walked toward the underside. As the ship approached close enough to burn against the atmosphere, it swivelled so to move the figures into the harsh blast.
They stood within the fire looking at one another through the mockingly deformed animal shaped helmets.
Once one had nodded to the rest they crouched and leapt up from the ship, falling down toward the planet. Mainly silent in the high atmosphere, the horizon slowly became less curved, and less aglow with its relatively thin film of gases.
They dropped silently into it side by side believing they were at the end of a long journey, unaware they were only at the beginning of another.
“Hello and welcome to Cequodus Prime!” the automatic tourist welcome message of the planet fizzed through their earpieces as they passed down through the ionosphere, automatically mistaking them for nine visiting space craft. “This is the capital planet of the Cequodus Royal Dynasty. Adopted in 47133 for its central position between warp-particle trade routes, while also being uniquely situated on a Lord layline within less than a light year. The planet has seen generations of Cequodus bring prosperity and hope to this quadrant of Lantis space, and provide goods and services to every territory within the Eclipse Empire. We thank you for choosing Cequodus.”
The nine let the message exhaust itself as they dropped down from the harsh upper air toward the cloud belt lying like a distant carpet below. It closed fast toward them now that they were this low and then they were inside, diving down through hills of grey gas. Lightning snarled between two cliffs of condensation ahead as they bombed through, accelerating with each moment, before suddenly the cloud ended and the ground, so much closer than on many other planets with less intense weather cycles, emerged and closed fast toward them. They were dropping between tall, dark mountain peaks covered in black forests toward a palace’s grounds, built into one of the mountainsides.
From above the palace looked majestic like someone’s fairytale vision made real. From a dark gold hexagonal central structure, built right against a jagged outcrop atop a bottomless cliff face, right angled triangular steeples reached up higher than the peak of the mountainside it was built into. All of these features seemed to reach out to them from below as if to beckon them in to their dark, rich, quiet world. They passed between the steeples almost close enough to touch their densely coloured windows, down toward a platform extending out over the deep valley from the middle of the structure. It grew out from the dark gold along the entire breadth of the building face, housing a garden broken into four square lawns by a low path. From the face of the building, from a gigantic single stained glass window of complicated mosaic pattern, long red banners licked out over the length of the closest lawns, pulled from their station by the relentless storms from the cloud above. The huge window was brightly lit right to its peak, illuminating the nine falling figures as they dropped into the palace grounds.
Although still quite high from the ground the nine tugged on parachute chords and twisted with ferocious power as the fabric dragged against the air. They allowed this for less than a few seconds before releasing the chutes and dropping silently through the last of the air toward the lawns.
With a series of audible splashes they hit the sodden grass and crouched for a moment to gain bearings. They had landed relatively silently on the leftmost lawn at the back, where they had thought it to be less dark away from the palace.
Now they stood or squatted in this silence, aiming their pistols slowly around in a star formation for maximum coverage, but there was no one there to attack, and so they simply froze, waiting.
The rains continued as if nothing had occurred. Another snarl of lightning and its close thunder moved through the cloud above.
They each slowly looked around at the rain battered place they were in, and the tall palace and mountain beyond it. The leader of the nine nodded again and they began to jog forward through the gardens toward the palace.
“Not a soul out here, Ace.” one of them hissed over their intercom, while adjusting her crying-bear shaped helmet. There should be at least one person...”
“The conference is inside. All the security will be in there. Maybe the hack worked better than we’d hoped...” their leader, wearing the mask of a wonky-beaked bald eagle said to them all as he jogged ahead.
In the conference room just beyond the huge wall of glass the lights were on bright and through opaque patterning could be seen silhouette figures sitting here and there around the raised coliseum seating on either side. The intense sound of discourse between them rattled the bones, but it was what they loved, and all they’d hoped for.
The nine ran within the shadow of a tall statue of a ballerina trying to touch the moon, only the moon had been supplanted by the Cequodus house badge, an inverted triangle within a circular coin. They moved by the base of the statue to the glass wall fronting on to the lawn, and glanced inward for a moment before walking aside in two rows to the nearest doors.
At the mark of another nod from the tallest of them they shouldered through the doorways into the colossal room, spreading out around the base of a huge obelisk at the centre of the floor where speakers typically would take the open forum. It was now strangely vacant where they stood amidst the bustling crowd wrapped in the dazzling white of the coliseum seats. They each aimed their pistols at the characters on the lowest few rungs of ivory seating.
Four screens held aloft above the congregation hung from each of the faces of the obelisk, streaming out to the galaxy what was transpiring in the room.
The hall seemed frozen as the strangers in their deformed masks took the floor, yet the endless discourse refused to end.
Could nothing ever shut them up? Must they drown out all and everyone, always? Arc thought as he span around slowly aiming the laser sight of his gun across each face as he recognised it. What would have been the pang of fear of their recognition of himself and what he was attempting to do seemed only to ignite his sense to win this day, so hard fought and justly deserved.
The large screen above them showed the galactic state-run television news feed of this event, as everyone across the entire empire would see should they choose to follow such charitable events. Until now he hadn’t given it much thought, but there was something amiss, as his peripheral awareness was crying out.
As was shown above on the screen, so below here in the auditorium the lowest rung was clearly the place of the regional royal family, the Cequodus royal family. Head of many charitable investment and bailout funds, only too eager to help those regions of space that had fallen on hard times, mainly due to actions of financial oppressors that they themselves owned by proxy. Behind them on the next few higher rungs sat members of five other families, each as rich or richer than Cequodus, and all equally as corrupt. On paper they were collectively called Shadow Alliance, but off the cooked books they were known as many more shady things.
The one closest to their leader was clearly Pybus Cequodus. His fat, arrogant smile was spread all over his face. The leader shone the laser light of his gunsight into his eyes and held it there for his amusement, before pulling it away, realising that the oaf wasn’t about to flinch.
Sensing now that much was strange here, the others in their group looked between their leader and the still sitting figures of the Cequodus family. Ace reached and touched the face of Pybus with the tips of his fingers and watched as his head fell backward and shattered upon the wooden floor.
The nine stepped forward to see the rubble of the figurine. Within could be seen a small, old fashioned tape recorder playing back the voice of Pybus.
“They were never here. How could they have known we were coming?” one of the two women said, looking up at the screen still playing the computer generated fakery of the conference to the rest of space. “Let’s get outa...”
”Check the vaults.” their leader said quietly, and the two women skipped and ran off toward the back of the building.
One of the others walked close and whispered “Ace, we have to get out of here now.”
Insanely, their leader screamed out and opened fire into the room. The others joined him in their frustration, spraying the huge room with hot sparks of plasma. The ceramic figurines of the Cequodus family and many more all around burst and melted on fire, with the fire then quickly spreading and engulfing more of the wood and plastics in the room.
Amid their fury black spectral figures leapt through the flickering flames.
“Hunters!” Ace shouted and fired his pistol at two of the figures, blurred behind the now intense heatwaves that had engulfed them.
Within their suits they’d be safe from heat, but not from heavy military weaponry. The hunters had brought their own fire.
Giant nets fanned out from wrist guns that they fired toward them as they ran away up the nearest stairwell of the auditorium. Most pinned the melting figurines to their seats with enough force to show that this wasn’t going to be a gentle apprehension.
“Hurry Hawn!” Arc yelled back at one of them that had strayed behind, then dashed aside as one of the royal banners fell by him like a towering, flaming curtain.
A hunter arrowed from above like some demonic witch without a broomstick, and landed a meter from him. Instinctively he back flipped once over and skipped back slightly while firing his pistol at the dark and shrouded thing. It exploded before him in a sick bloom of blood and bone, and so he ran up the stairwell after the others amidst a tidal backwash of flames from the seating.
Above him they were firing back at the hunters through the flames, almost futily now as they’d pinned themselves up against the highest point of the place.
Suddenly the cloaked figures flicked like mosquitoes to both sides, and forward slightly to make ground on them. Ace slapped Arc’s shaking shoulder, and together they ran back down the aisle past Hawn, firing at whatever they could see. The noise of the gunfire and the roar of the flames all around was deafening in the enclosed place, punctuated almost ridiculously at the end by the screen falling in a shower of sparks to erupt in a bloom of plastic dust on the floor.
Panting in new quiet they saw that they had hit all four of the hunters, that now lay burning amongst the flames they had hoped to rush through.
Striding back down to the ground wearily, they heard a splutter of static over the suit's intercom and then the voices of the two women.
“Can you read me?” one shouted. “The vaults are empty. I repeat. They cleared them out. It’s over!”
“Teleporting in 5, 4, 3, 2...” their leader said looking around at the others through the glass of the eyes in the mask, while trying to mask his own humiliation in this unarguable defeat.
In a crack of magnesium light all but one of them disappeared.
Realizing the mistake, the man remained calm and walked out of palace onto the first of the damp lawns. The storm had cleared slightly, and through the gaps in cloud cover he could see their magnificent white ship in orbit. It was suffering a laser barrage from two other enormous ships that now surrounded it. It seemed that the others had taken control and were giving as good as they got, but in the confusion it seemed they hadn’t noticed one of their number had been left behind.
Behind him deep in the palace firebombs were being teleported in to cleanse it of the intruders. Such petty possessions were simple to replace, and one of thousands of palaces that the Cequodus family possessed.
The man stood watching the sky, trying to remain calm, as the sounds of explosions drew nearer.
The white ship banked away, ramming one of the Shadow Security ships out of its way, before engaging the backspace-drive and disappearing back into the night sky.
The man heard slow footsteps approach from behind, and he turned to see the person through his visor.
“Hello Arc.” Pybus Cequodus said as he stepped toward him on the lawn. His fat, over inflated appearance hissed and fizzed, denoting that it was a holographic projection of the Cequodus prince. A similar holographic projection of Arc and the surrounding place would be seen at the opposite side.
“The summit was a big success!” he cast his arms high above his head, and fizzed as a static charge from the storm interrupted the feed. “We’re the heroes, and so I guess that makes you the villain of the piece. We’ll edit footage of your jaunt together with the actual conference, and throw in a few dead babies here and there... Get all the old dears stroking their violins for us. You know the drill...”
The prince laughed slightly while stepping around the man called Arc and then stood staring at him in his suit. The deformed rabbit shaped helmet grinned back at him insanely, twisted bucked teeth and all. All in all it was not a scene the Cequodus would ideally like to portray to those pre-packaged tourists that visited here each season, but it seemed like they had an angle thought out ahead of time.
“Ah my dear Arc... So very bold.” Pybus said leaning toward him slightly, and then faded away.
Behind where he had stood, at the very far side of the lawn a tiny crack of magnesium light opened a small backspace gap, enough to pass through a firebomb. The object dropped to the lawn with a wet thump, then exploded. The walls of the garden blew outwards and the grass and trees burst apart.
Arc was thrown back from his feet like a ragdoll, and through the now splintering front windows of the palace. He flew back into the room amongst a shower of glass, and slid up to the foot of the burning seats.
There he lay for a moment, a broken mess inside his remaining armour, before reaching to claw with the last of his meagre energy at the eye plates of his helmet. It squeaked against his fingertips slightly, and then he gave up.
Arc lay panting and staring at the gaping mess where the front of a palace had been, waiting now for his pain and injuries to take him into death.
He was delirious but noticed now that the garden had become occupied by a large host. The people that should have been here to begin with now arrived shamelessly, slowly walking forward through the jagged windowframe with a swagger they reserved for private gatherings, away from the lens of the galaxy. They gathered in a group before him, an oppressive sight to behold. Standing before him alone in a semi circular swaray, it was all made more threatening by the cloaked figures that joined them in guard at the sides. In clearer view now they were draped from head to heel in a scaled shroud, with what seemed an impossibly thin body and limbs wrapped in a similar scaled fabric, at least so much as could be observed within the cloak. Around their faces it nipped tight, suggesting very alien features within.
There was a human chuckle, and Pybus walked between them amid a shower of thick sparks from above, followed by the rest of his odious family and friends. There was no holographic interference this time, and so it seemed they had come to finish him in person.
“Welcome to Hell.” Pybus grinned, and booted Arc hard in the face, killing him.
The Citadels Aren’t There
And where do I find my Soul now?
A pale sarcophagus lay at the centre of a cold, ancient room.
Two hologramatic screens hovering just above each of the two halves of its lid chattered and churned through information about the person within. Most were security algorithms, with speeded-up checks and cross checks on the changing mobility of the slumbering man.
Suddenly the data on the screen flushed red and orange, and then disappeared. The room lay silent and still for a few moments save for the churning dust and the steady hiss of the nitrogen coolants in the walls. They slowly poured their icy gas through fanned vents to fill upon the weathered plastic floor.
The lids of the sarcophagus whistled and hissed before pulling aside, spewing yet more cryo-gasses out to collect at the floor.
A needle-like camera in the ceiling watched a man sit up and hold his head in his hands. He was mostly bald and pale skinned with a wiry muscular body that seemed a gentle frame for the thin overall he’d been sleeping in. More noticeably were his eyes as he rubbed his forehead back and forth, deep set and almost laughing in the darkness there.
The camera watched and listened as the man groaned “Where am I?”
“Where am I?” he yelled up at the camera, having apparently found it already.
“Oh my word. How can this be?” he said putting his head back in his hands for a moment, then looked up with wider eyes and spoke almost in a whisper. “Who am I?”
The funnel shaped speaker beside the camera howled hollowly for a moment as a charge was fed into it. A voice was then heard muttering to someone else before curtly addressing the waking man.
“Are you alert? Come back to us!” a voice found its way almost urgently though the scratchy speaker. “My name is Horald Kinnyck. I am a security official of the Earth Central Government. I’m afraid you’re in a bit of a pickle... “
“Who in hell am I?” the man yelled again putting his head back in his hands.
After a pause Horald Kinnyck said “Your name is Arc McCormic. You are a science officer on the Antarctic research station. You were studying a prehistoric subterranean lake when I’m afraid something rather odd happened... The skyscraper complex you are in is controlled by an artificial intelligence and I’m afraid by fair means or foul this happy chap has gone rouge. The entire science faculty was wiped out... You escaped into this cryo chamber just in the nick of time.”
“I don’t remember any of this...” the man said. “Are you sure abou...”
“Quite sure Mr McCormic. Your memory will return shortly but in the meantime you will need to act fast to avoid the security droids that will undoubtedly have sensed your lifesigns already!”
“Are you kidding me?” the man looked up at the camera and began scrabbling in the oval pod to get out.
It was difficult but managed to drop out onto the cold steel floor.
“W... Where do I go?”
“To the left! There’s your way out!” Horald said and the man ran in the direction of the only opening in the smooth wall he could see.
The cryo gasses stung at the heels and seemed to have spilled out into the corridor outside. The walls were all equally as flat, but seemed to find their way with the gas in a corridor around the outside of the room he’d been in. He ran to the right at first but beyond the corner was just a flat wall with a single green light in the centre. He ran and half stumbled past the room again then along the left side of the passage. He made it to that corner and found that the adjoining corridor led for a ways past the outside of the cryo-room and a long ways beyond maybe four or five other similar rooms.
He sighed for a moment, gritting against the icy pressing of gas around the feet, then froze still as he heard footsteps running closer, at the farther end of the corridor.
A black figure ran from the right into view and stood staring at him for a moment. Was this a drone? It looked like a man.
The thought didn’t take long to occur to him that maybe what he had been told had been a lie, but more than that, the fear of the chase suddenly washed over him.
The man exhaled and ran back past the entrance to the room he’d started in.
“No!” Horald’s voice cried out from within. “You can’t go that way! You must fight this thing if you are to...”
“Silence.” The man heard a thick, deep and commanding voice close behind him, before turning slowly to look in its direction.
“Kill this monstrosity!” Horald yelled over his strangled channel.
“I said you could talk to him not drive him out of his mind!” The dark, cloaked figure began walking toward the man slowly as he backed away toward the end of the remaining space.
“I’m cold.” the man said pitifully.
“I know. You must relax.” The dark man said, through its totally shrouded clothing. For a split second he felt that he had seen this thing somewhere before.
“You’re name isn’t Arc McCormic. It’s Arc DoHernan. You are a terrorist and thief from the Lantis colonies.” It said, as he picked him up effortlessly so that he was lying across his arms. “You were caught during a raid on a Cequodus palace.”
“Don’t listen to him!” Horald yelled, as the figure laid him back in the cryo chamber.
“Cequodus? That’s a royal dynasty, am I right?” the man said looking up hopelessly. “Oh my word... why would I...”
“All I know is that you and your brothers and sisters were attempting to steal diamond stores from the vaults.” It said through the black canvas that enveloped its face, and then the rest of him. He moved as one with it, almost like a living representation of a shadow. “Sensors showed there was an error in your ships teleportation cycle and you were stranded. Abandoned by your brothers and sisters. You were taken into custody, and are now being taken to an exile planet under the supervision of Cequodus.”
“What about this motherfucker?” the man pointed up at the camera. “I can’t remember anything about myself.”
“There was allot of violence. Your head suffered many injuries. Your memory may never return. Mr DoHernan, you have nothing to worry about, and nobody at the colony will know your name or history if you don’t wish to divulge it. But you will not be able to leave the unit we assign for you. You will stay there until your death. Is this all clear?”
“Perfectly crystal.” the man who had been Arc said, almost sarcastically. “I can use a fake name.”
“Our computers have generated the name Aaron Bailey. You can change this now if you wish.”
“Anything...” Aaron Bailey said softly and lay back below the mist of his cryo chamber. “Who in hell are you anyway?”
“We’re the ones that caught you.” He said after a smug pause. “We are entering the atmosphere of your new home, Mr Bailey. Please stay in that position for a moment and remain calm.”
Bailey leaned his head up through the mist and asked “Why? What’s the....hey!”
The lids closed again over him and he could feel the sarcophagus being moved in the direction of the floor. It moved on runners backwards to a launch tube, fitting into it with a dull thud.
Above the icy landscape of planet Narcosia the robotically piloted ship angled itself with its roaring jets and fired the sarcophagus out and into the deep snow. A burst of wet snow sprayed up and out over the jet white walls of the prison unit.
Figures in woolly, hooded jackets ran down from an open door in the massive wall, gathering up the sarcophagus between them and carrying it back into the place.
One turned to watch as the ship banked away and blasted off toward the fast flowing snow clouds above.
“Let me out of here!” Aaron Bailey hammered his fists on the insides of the lids.
The room within the unit was a dank green mouldy enclosure behind the toppling waters of a fall. It was dark and looked nasty and natural, but for the portcullis in the smooth stone wall at the rear, that led from the real atmosphere outside.
The figures pulled back their hoods once inside the open doorway. Behind them the snow blizzard fell into the room, while the heat from the place before them began to thaw the two shivering men. The white portcullis slowly lowered to the ground locking out the icy winds.
The two men were from the colony, while the other, who was very much the one in command here, was a tall robot. It’s clear crystal encased computer brain flickered varying colours over the dull gold metal of its body, from its chin down to its feet. The metal moved like a canvas as the robot carried the heavy coffin to an area of clean rock near the falling water. The coffin lay in the light from behind the falls as the three figures stood back and looked it over.
“Ok, everyone. Ready?” the robot looked around at the two men, although it was difficult to make out any features in it’s face. The steady black dots of it’s eyes were buried deep within the alternating colours of the positronic lights.
The two men nodded, and watched as the robot leaned over the coffin and pulled aside the lids. Bailey sat up and grabbed the robot by the throat as the robot grabbed Bailey more gently by the throat and shoulders. Bailey glanced around at the scene within the robotic lightshow in the murky place.
The robot pressed Bailey back down onto the cushions within the casket.
“How are you?” the robot said very amiably. “What is your name?”
“I’m... I’m... Aaron Bailey.” he said weakly and relaxed his grip.
The robot let go and watched him a moment to make sure he had backed down, then went back beside the two men and waited to see what Bailey would do.
Bailey leant his leg over the side of the lid and pulled himself out onto the muddy floor in his bare feet. He was wearing only a clinical overall which he had apparently been frozen in for transport.
“Please don’t be afraid. We are all here to help you get well. Whatever you need...” the robot said.
The two men nodded roughly, although something within Bailey found them unconvincing somehow.
Bailey, half ignoring these words stepped closer to the ledge beside the casket and looked out over the drop of the waterfall. Through the water he could see a pool at the base of the falls, and then beyond that the room seemed to turn jet black strangely although he could see some folks milling around down there. Above was what could only be the scarlet canopies of tropical trees sourced from the planet Lantis, in lines on either side of the enclosure below. There was clearly some kind of memory still left behind he felt.
“You must kneel on the line.” he heard the robot say, and he turned back to look at them.
The robot was pointing at a white line in the rock plateau just behind his bare feet.
Bailey thought for a moment then took a step back and lowered himself down, groaning quietly against the stiffness and aches that still remained from his slumber.
Bailey glanced over his shoulder at the three people.
Aside from the simple minded robot were the two thuggish men, that had the look and feel of a security detail.
The first was a huge man with a deep rouge complexion. His eyes seemed trained on Bailey as if to denote that he meant business whoever he was. The other was a shorter man with a rat like face that looked more nurture than nature. Bailey couldn’t remember who or what he had been before he came here, but he seemed to have deduced a whole lot about these two already.
The robot looked like it belonged in some old fashioned science fiction novel; only this wasn’t, and it was really happening, and in the only way it ever could.
The robot gestured to the men.
“These are Border Security officers, whose job it is to keep you safe inside the borders of this facility. They are exiles just like yourself, but have earned a trustee role here in the unit. They will be your officers during your adjustment period. I am Zep Teppi, a robot as you will have guessed. I control this alteration unit here on Narcosia.”
“Good good.” Bailey said, and then gathered thoughts that he found now raced through his mind. “How long was I in cryo stasis?”
“We can’t say for sure.” Zep said. “But you were in orbit for over a week. They had to wait out a window in the weather warm enough to air drop you.”
“Over a week. Ouch.” Bailey said.
The robot droned on “The officers and I will show you your cell. It has already been assigned. They will be basic grade quarters to begin with, upgrading to better grades as you earn more levels and credits. It’s a system I invented...”
Bailey looked at the robot square and said “Riiiiight.”
There were no more words from the robot or the two men. They gestured for Bailey to stand and then guided him down one of two flights of stone steps at either side of the plateau. They led around the central line of falling water, and through another curtain of water that on passing through gave him a slightly better perspective on his situation.
The enclosure he found, was a garden that had been torched, probably by one of the hopeless looking exiles he now saw milling around. The grass had been charred black and also the trunks of the trees on either side had been burnt narrow and twisted. The red foliage seemed to have been untouched and still clumped together high up at the arched ceiling. One of the trees had leaned steeply to the side so that they now had to duck underneath, looking almost as if it had been tugged by some fierce hurricane.
As they walked under it Bailey glanced back at the cave and waterfall they’d come from. He found it to be a fountain of sorts, that extended from the wall, in the shape of cupped hands reaching out at different heights, with the largest pool just above the cave ceiling. The dank water dropped between gaps in the fingers to lower pools down to the main pond at the base. Dirty yellow moss covered the wet parts, and seemed to illustrate how carelessly the place was maintained by the robot.
“It’s this way.” the rat like officer pushed Bailey’s shoulder impatiently and Bailey continued toward a broad archway at the opposite side of the place.
Only now, once away from the roar of the falling water Bailey heard a strange noise coming from above. It sounded like a mechanical whistle or maybe a note produced by a computer program, constantly and without pause. He looked at the two men that didn’t seem to give it much thought although it was audible enough to threaten to drown out speech if you didn’t shout just a little.
Zep and the two goons took Bailey through the garden, avoiding some screeching kids that played around what he assumed to be their medicated parents. They sat on the burnt and slightly wet grass with other men and women that looked to be part of the wrong element of society.
“Home sweet home.” Zep swung his arms around at the hydroponics garden majestically, and then marched down the mossy steps through the stone arch in the wall.
I’ll tear out your spines...
Bailey followed them out into a smaller hall soaked through with water trickling from the arch. There was a stair case leading down to a dark place below, but Zep walked away to the side, toward another stone arch leading to what looked to be the first of a row of cells.
Before it was a corridor leading back along the side of the gardens with small windows looking in at the nasty place. More rows of cells junctioned off from it, lined with uninviting cubicles. Bailey followed along the corridor to a stairwell at the end and then up past another similarly inhuman floor to the third, being the top.
There was a door with a key coded lock that looked to lead to a further stair well and Bailey asked what it was.
“Is this where the noise comes from?” Bailey asked bluntly.
Zep looked at him over his shoulder as he walked along the nearest row of cells, and said “Don’t go near there.”
Bailey followed along the freezing corridor, its floor covered in shoe prints from the charcoal mud brought up from the gardens. He said “You know, this place is a bit of a dump yeah? You know what Century this is meant to be, right?”
“This floor is actually the warmest in the unit.” the man with the rouge complexion said, barely selling the idea to himself.
“Lucky me.” Bailey said turning into his face, causing him to flinch slightly.
They took him to the open door of a cell, with a strip cut out of the wall to the right that was apparently meant to serve as a window.
Bailey sighed and said “I can’t tolerate this...”
“You can hang a drape over this door or anything you choose.” the rat faced goon said, pointing at the corners of the gaping holes. “But at 8 in the evening you must be within your quarters for lockdown. If not you’ll be left outside all night, which is sadly, unheated. You’ve already seen pretty much all there is here so there’s no excuse not to make it back. It’s a tiny unit, you won’t get lost.”
“The air can freeze at certain times of the year.” Zep backed him up. “So get back here, son.”
“Assuming I don’t escape...” Bailey sighed sarcastically and smiled at them as if he hadn’t said it.
A smile dawned on the big goon’s face. “You’ll learn, I’m sure. And hopefully not the hard way. Watch your back for cattle, and don’t provoke them.”
“Cattle?” Bailey asked.
The goon looked to Zep Teppi, who sported a brief uneasy look and then went on “Cattle, you know? Murderers. Bull rapers and the like. They cattle together in places like this, so be on your guard. It might be best if you just stayed in your cell.”
“Can I call you if I need anything? I might need to talk to someone.” Bailey pushed.
“Oh, I don’t know.” Zep said cluelessly. “You can talk to me about anything. But you must accept your place here, and all medication I prescribe for you. You aren't going to heal yourself after all...”
“I just want to remember who I am.” Bailey looked at each of them, then stared at Zep Teppi for longer than would be comfortable.
He’s a very basic read-write artificial intelligence for the quantum processor. I’ll cave his robot head in!
“What? I’m not crazy like them.” Bailey said emptily.
“Of course... Well, we have other duties to other exiles so we’ll leave you to get settled in.” Zep’s rat faced backup tried to smile.
Bailey stepped back through the doorway of the dank room as Zep held up his fists and said “Yes! No! We’re on a roll! Let’s go!”
Bailey watched Zep point away, then they turned and headed back along the corridor.
“What?” Bailey said, then realized that neither of the men or the robot had said it.
He continued to watch them leave down the stairwell before entering his dark, foul smelling quarters. He looked to the hammock on the far side, then looked to the small chalk board on the floor and the words “Points exam: What shape are you feeling?” permanently embedded at the top. The toilet was in a slight alcove near the bed, and the smell of girly-poo was still in the air, suggesting that a woman had been here previous to him.
He sighed and left again, listening to that strange monotone whistling from above. He walked back to the adjoining corridor that he now saw had a number of porthole-like windows looking down on the gardens through the red leaves. He stood a moment looking down at the ugly folk there and felt his attention being dragged in the direction of the noise, to the locked door at the stair well.
Cequodus security system PTY55-g. The default passcode programmed by the manufacturers is 3333. You know if the robot changed it we’ll need to beat the new code out of him. Go!
“Go.” Bailey mouthed the word, then walked to the door and looked at the keypad.
Bailey entered the code, not expecting anything to really happen, and watched the door click and open slightly.
The noise, like some sonic attack suddenly washed over him and he dived through it onto the stairs, and closed the door behind him.
He was sure nobody had seen him at least, and so turned and walked up the freezing steel steps toward the now piercing noise. Finding a large fur lined coat on a hook at the top, much like the one worn by Zep’s Security guards, he put it on in the dank dark at the top of the stairwell.
Here there was another small door that looked to be half frozen to its metal frame. He pulled on the freezing handle and cracked it open and slowly moved inside.
Beyond it was a large room that filled the entire upper floor of the unit, with just a sloping cabin holding the door to the stairs. At the far side, along the outer wall were a series of tall open gaps, allowing the harsh weather outside to spill inward. The whole room was frozen in ice, and if it weren’t for the steady, blood curdling whistle he would have sworn he were alone in the glistening place.
Bailey scanned his eyes around the whole of the room, and eventually found something that looked strange in the direction of the noise, beside one of the towering gaps to the outside.
There was a crucifix there, lit by the small amount of light coming from the setting sun beyond a mountain range. He walked over to it, huddling in the warmth of the jacket. It had been jabbed into the solid ice floor and to it had been screwed a large, gaunt creature. He limped up to the foot of it, finding it to be at least twice the size of himself and looked up at what had been making the noise. For the first time since he had come to the place it stopped and coughed slightly, then lethargically looked down at him.
He recognized it as anyone would from their society. It was a Grey, one of the ancient race of engineers that had created the great space-mainframe, The Lord. It was a massive network of AIs that served as the robotic foundation of their space faring society, the largest in known space, the Eclipse Empire. Where there were other empires, they tended to avoid Eclipse with a wide berth due to its scale and power.
These engineers lived in harmony with it, totally absorbed by their magnificent creation, and jealously obsessive in their charitable goals. These goals controversially being the engineering and seeding of each and every human world in the galaxies they occupied, protecting them to maturity, then later inducting them into their ancient space culture. The Lord kept the order automatically due to everyone relying upon it, but by and large it was indifferent to the pettier politics of power dynasties, as they each squabbled over the democratic rights to be 'ruling house' of their galaxy. Rather than waste precious resources micromanaging everyone they instead enforced a common legal system over the whole of Empire space; a harsh reminder of their scientific monopoly.
This thing was human in shape but starved thin and tortured by the freezing planet. It was screwed and chained to the crucifix and had been partially frozen to it so that parts of its limbs were encased in the ice. Only its pale, bulbous head seemed to hang completely free. It was clearly watching Bailey now with its dark, almond shaped eyes.
“Hello?” Bailey said, and half expected it to scream its horrendous noise back at him.
“What are you doing here?” it said.
“I’m a prisoner.” Bailey said. “Are you a prisoner?”
It seemed to smile through its impossibly thin chin, and then said “What does it look like you Lantis halfwit.”
“I dunno. I didn’t think we had authority to detain your kind.” Bailey said. “What happened?”
The creature laughed slightly then said “It doesn’t matter. And you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Do you want me to set you free? I don’t care too much. I just need to access your database for a...” Bailey said but was cut short.
“Kill me. I don’t want to live like this. Please, I’m sick of my dirty soul.”
There was a honk of a siren and then the words “Lockdown in five minutes!”
“Don’t say that.” Bailey said as he turned to leave. “I’ll come back tomorrow and set you free.”
The alien creature laughed as Bailey turned and ran across the ice toward the door. A roll of thunder could be heard in the skies through the gaps in the wall.
Bailey returned to his cell and stopped dead in its one, bleak room, still wearing the heavy winter coat.
He walked forward and stared close at the hanging bulb that burned at the centre of the ceiling, then bowed his head and stood, waiting. Night was falling and the time for lockdown had come.
Bailey stayed with his head hung low, his eyes half closed as a harsh rasping voice shouted “Lockdown in 20, 19, 18... “
It counted down to two before omitting one and then lockdown began with the darkening of the bulb over his shoulders. The open doorway behind Bailey was sealed with an old plate sliding up from the ground. The window that ran along the rest of the outer wall was filled first with strips running upward, and then by strips running from the left. For a second the room was in complete darkness, before a pattern of square holes in the seals lifted outward allowing light in through small, glass windows. The holes were no bigger than his hand but there were enough of them to light the room, but only just.
Bailey casually turned on his heel to look at them, then walked over to the hammock and slumped into it. Outside the place, in the real atmosphere of the planet a storm began with another low roll of thunder.
There were no more cries from the creature on the top floor, and Bailey wondered if he had done a little good here in this terrible place.
Something within Bailey still was racing, like the quantum mind of that robot, but as for Bailey, it was time to fall asleep. He heard the sounds of the storm begin to rage as he sank into some dream.
You know you’re so close to the end.
Bailey opened his eyes as a harsh rasping of thunder sliced through the walls of the prison.
Had he dreamt that voice? Or had the words been here just like the storm?
“Hey Chico?” Bailey heard someone speaking and turned to look at the wall just over his shoulder. He saw in the low light, one of the bricks slide away and then someone began to speak through the hole in the wall.
“Got any bread? Got any women? Got any bread?” it said.
“Go away.” Bailey said flatly.
“No need to be unfriendly. Pokey just wants to be friends with the new boy.”
“We’re not friends. Up yours pal.”
There was a sound a little like a laugh and then the brick was put back into its place. Straight away, the sound of extremely irritating music with an unnecessarily heavy beat began blaring on the other side of the wall. Whoever lived next door banged a few times just to indicate that he was doing it deliberately to annoy Bailey.
The music continued into the mid-morning when the lockdown ended and the door and window were uncovered.
Bailey immediately donned sandals, a t-shirt and cord pants that he found in an old chest beside the hammock. Casually he strolled around to his neighbors’ quarters, finding both the door and window closed off by reinforced metal. There was a strange knocker on the door and a keyhole the size of a child’s wrist.
“Hmm.” he said, noticing a few of the other people eying him warily, apparently realizing that he had scored disfavour with the crazy person living at this address.
Bailey nipped his mouth comically and knocked on the door. A moment later he heard someone scrabbling around at the large keyhole.
“Pokey? Is that your name? It’s your neighbour.” he said.
A small child’s voice answered him, whimpering through the hole “Daddy not in. Please help me. I can’t feel anything.”
Into the dark. Go.
“Hmn. I see.” Bailey said and then walked away.
Straight past the corridor overlooking the gardens and ignoring for now the door leading up to the creature he walked down to the bottom level and around to the small hall by the gardens. Ignoring the gardens he stepped to the top of the broad stairs leading down to the dark place below.
Wherever it led to was below the entire rock structure of the unit, including the gardens, but it was the only place he had not seen with his own eyes within the narrow limits of the place.
He stepped cautiously down into it, letting his eyes adjust to the dark, and straight away heard a throng of voices within. He found first the murky green tank of the underside of the garden pond, with its clear sides shedding a meagre amount of light on that far side of the basement. Next he found the glimmer of lights from a keypad to his right, illuminating the numbers on the pad.
His feet reached the bottom and heard the creak of old wood, and as his eyes adjusted fully he saw he was standing on a set of old boards that had been suspended over what looked to be a bottomless drop. There was enough space between boards in places to fall through so he decided to be careful.
“You want to be friends with Pokey now?” he heard that same voice from the hole. “We gonna be gooood friends.”
He looked and saw the throng of men and women approaching him in the dark.
“I’ve got friends.” Bailey said, and seemed to anger slightly the man called Pokey.
“You no feel sorry for Pokey?” he said with a fake indignance. “You no feel sorry for Pokey’s childrens?”
Kill them all! Butcher! Slaughter! Kill!
“No!” Bailey cried out, then turned and ran back up the steps.
He ran right back to the top level, and entered the door to the frozen attic. Forgetting to shut the door properly behind him he ran up and stumbled out onto the icy floor while fitting another of the big jackets over his shoulders.
He ran across toward the dull crucifix and bowed before the alien, panting and said “I’m not meant to be here.”
“That’s where you and I differ.” it said in quiet reply.
“Oh God. I am alone aren’t I?” Bailey whimpered.
“You are not alone. I hear whispers. Millions of Lantis. Millions of halfwits!” it hissed. “I can hear shapes. Homes. Engines. I have something to show you. Take a look outside! Climb out to the ledge and tell me what you see.”
“I don’t care I just need access to your database. Are you still linked up to...”
“Listen to me.” It said with finality. “Walk to the opening and look around there.”
Bailey said nothing more, and stumbled around the crucifix to the first of the towering gaps in the wall. He looked out into the murky daylight of the planet, across a shallow valley to a gothically twisted power station just before the beginnings of a jagged mountain range. Wind farms reached up out of it, capturing the flow of air from between the peaks. Beyond it all to the right the glowing multi coloured orb of a gas giant rested down into the horizon, with its plethora of moons littering the rest of the sky.
“I had already guessed that this lost little place was a moon of some kind.” Bailey sighed as he stood in the gap. “Not quite sure how, but I seemed to... sense it somehow.”
He turned and looked at the Grey, who chuckled slightly and said “Not there. Go right outside and look up...”
Bailey slid through one of the gaps slowly, and hugged one side of the metal divides as he stepped out onto a narrow outer ledge. It was a long drop below to a ring of floodlights around the entrance and the same bright blue and grey marbled rock that the moon seemed to be mostly made up of, besides the ice.
Bailey steadied himself and looked upwards as directed. He had expected to see a short wall and then the roof, but here he saw a massive wall reaching up, and curving away into the grim clouds. The smooth white wall reached away to both sides for an equally gargantuan distance. Above it all the sky dimmed quite momentarily into the start of night and the snake of stars of the Milky Way came to sight.
It’s a dome. Approximately 20 miles in diameter. Another lie... What do they take me for?
A gust of wind threatened to budge him from his perch, and so he slowly slid back through the gap.
He dropped down onto the icy floor and walked back around to the alien, who had a knowing smile on its gaunt face.
“I know I’m right.” it hissed quietly as he walked around to face it. “Tell me I’m right. I haven’t lost it.”
They’re testing to see how long it takes it to die! Kill it, but get the information first...
“This place is huge. You are quite right about that.” Bailey said, and walked back around to the side of the crucifix. His foot caught on something and looking down he saw it was a ladder.
Bailey looked up sheepishly at the side of its alien face and then sat down on it and stared out at the mountains, and the flowing, milky cloud over it.
He watched for a long time as the close orb of the planet sunk further downward and the rest of the moons changed positions in ways that felt right but couldn’t be fathomed to look at.
The skies dimmed to black as evening approached and for the first time Bailey felt a coldness move through him.
How can we work such a bleak and smelly place?
Ignoring the coldness Bailey stood up and slung a small pebble out through the wide gap and watched it arc through the air toward the planets above.
“I can access the database, yes.” It said after a while to quiet.
“I can’t remember who I am... or was. I was risking my life attacking a Cequodus palace. Can you find out more?” Bailey said as he walked around the enormous, encased feet of the thing, and stared up at him with his deep set glimmering eyes.
“Accessing...” it said, and a series of blue graphics appeared to glow through his cranium, and down one of his arms. “News reports show a raid on a famine conference on Cequodus Prime. They were raising money to bailout a series of independent colonies in the outlands who had fallen short economically. The terrorists had attacked in disguise, aiming to steal central banking diamonds to be used to underwrite loans to those planets. Eight escaped, one was killed in an explosion. Identity classified to the public...”
“You are a Grey.” Bailey said nodding toward him. “You can access high security material surely.”
“Strange...” it said, cocking it’s head slightly. “I cannot. There is no data in the file. Cequodus have deleting all data regarding the attackers. Most of the data in the file has been faked however. If you wish to file an appeal with the central justice authority they would be happy to take on your case...”
“Like they took on yours?” Bailey glanced away.
“You are of course correct.” It said sadly. “We created your kind, and now you corrupt that which created you, with no regard for its heritage. We have lost control. You will need to find another way out of your situation here...”
Bailey walked over to the openings and looked up at the long tail of the Milky Way sinking down into the horizon.
There they all are, those fuckers. You don’t remember them, but I do. Well I’m coming to get you...
Outside a storm suddenly engulfed the prison, with the winds knocking Bailey forward slightly before steadying himself and huddling in the huge jacket.
“That won’t do. You must get out of here quickly.” it said, and already Bailey could feel the cold grasping at his flesh through the layers.
Suddenly he was startled by the sound of the door below opening and footsteps walking up the long stair.
Bailey walked backward toward the Grey as men poured into the room from the metal stairwell hut. They were the ‘cattle’ he had met earlier, only now they had brought all of their friends, that made up a large contingent of this tiny unit. They looked vacant and prejudiced, and didn’t seem worried about the icy drafts.
“How about we finish what we started sweet cheeks.” the man that fitted Pokey’s voice said while rubbing a deep scar along his chin. They were all glaring at him with a strange sort of amusement. “Yeah, welcome to the jungle, maggot...”
Now it’s time to kill. You died once before, don’t let it happen twice. Besides, cattle deserve to die. Feel that chill? Get on top of it! Get o...
Bailey looked at the old alien over his shoulder and said “I’m sorry you had to see this.”
He then turned to the crowd and began bobbing on his feet while slapping his hands together.
Behind the crucified alien the razors of the snow blizzard were misting into the room, threatening to kill them all if it grew any more freezing.
The crowd moved at him calmly at first, and Bailey met the first, tugging at their shoulder with one hand while planting his fist through their face with the other. The next he elbowed on the soft crown of the head, and then the next and the next were dispatched until he was so surrounded that he had to use the fallen as shields, kicking them into some of the crowd to divide them into more easily manageable groups.
Eventually, and quite inhumanly he had killed them all but two. Pokey had retreated to the back with a particularly tall and muscular man. He growled and ran at Bailey without any sense or fear, with his huge friend at his side.
Bailey waited until they were close, and then dived down while twisting the back of his calves to strike Pokey’s legs. Pokey tripped and fell through the air, bouncing once on the ice before sliding up to the base of the crucifix. The tall man, a little disorientated stopped and watched with Bailey as the long, thin claws of the creatures feet burst out of the ice and wrapped around Pokey’s face. He screamed and grabbed at the toes as they squeezed tighter around his skull. The pressure built until the blood burst from his head.
The taller, shaking man lunged at Bailey, who caught him and twisted him around in his own momentum. He stumbled across the blood soaked ice on the floor, and was making to get back up when Bailey ran and kicked him hard on the butt, throwing him forward toward the freezing blizzards beyond the gaps. He tripped and stumbled through one of the openings and immediately froze as the cold winds found him. The freezing liquids within him expanded causing his body to bust out and grow like a tree from the outer ledge.
Bailey stepped back in horror at the strange sight, and began panting uncontrollably.
“What is going on here? Was that you in my head? How did I?” Bailey’s voice quivered as his fearful eyes flicked here and there. “No. It wasn’t you. What in hell am I doing?”
“I don’t know. But you have to get out of here, Bailey.” it said while looking at him with a sadness.
“How could you have survived this torture?” Bailey said, looking at the harsh storms that it must have suffered countless times. “Oh God! The Lantis are doomed, aren’t we?”
“It’s not just your species, Mr Bailey.” it said as Bailey stood panting, looking over what he seemed to have done. “I was a spy. I have seen many planets, and all are the same bloody dramas without an audience. Do you want to do some good in this universe? You’re a killer.”
Bailey looked at the once majestic Grey alien hanging above it all, and stood up straight. It was looking at him with those sad, knowing eyes.
“Kill me.” it said, and cocked its head slightly, revealing its emaciated neck.
Bailey walked closer to it crouching hard against the storm. He placed the frozen laddering at its side and then climbed up until he was at its head height, and then reached across to its throat.
It was panting thick fog into the cold air, and seemed to grow more exited as the moment of its death drew near. Bailey sank his fingers into its leathery hide and twisted hard on its spine. His strength was immense for his size, being enough to snap the huge spinal column, killing it instantly. Its head flopped aside onto his wrist, and he slowly pulled his hand away. Lights deep inside of it dimmed and went out, and then Bailey was alone in the place.
He left it hanging on the crucifix with the litter of dead cattle around the floor at its feet, and then solemnly made his way back down to the cells.
He stood and waited in his cord jeans and t shirt until night fell, and then it was time.
Bailey could hear the voices of Zep Teppi and his two goons somewhere, in another corridor.
“Hold him down more firmly so I can administer the sedat...” the voices trailed off, apparently in no hurry to return to one of these horrible enclosures.
They don’t live in these cells, you moron.
“Lockdown in 5, 4, 3...” Bailey listened to it and then casually stepped outside of his cell.
The plate slid up covering the door and then the window slit. He stood outside of the barricaded cells in the corridor, and then turned and made his way to the top of the stairwell. The voices of the three men were approaching from the next corridor over, and so he quickly crept down to the bottom level.
He took the stairs down to the dark basement level and tried what he believed to be the default manufacturers code for that keypad system. It returned an electronic groan as the code failed and so Bailey made a decision.
Hide. Watch. Wait. I have a plan. It’ll be fun.
Carefully navigating the wooden floor boards, he sat in the far back corner beside the tank containing the lime stained pond. He balanced where he crouched on a plank of wood over the dark precipice, near where the excess of the pond was drained out in a series of sluices, each dropping away into the darkness below.
Bailey crouched just outside of the green glow and waited.
Eventually he saw the backwash of the flickering lights from Zep Teppi’s head reflecting over the stairs. Then the two goons came down into sight, and walked across to the keypad, not seeing Bailey in the shadows. The lights of the brain of Zep the robot faded, as he walked away into his unit.
The rat faced goon entered a key code as Bailey watched, then both men entered the doorway. It then slid forcefully shut, and the keypad reset to its dim green glow.
12, 14, 2, 19, 20, 2, 14, 8, 18, 18, 6
“I know. I don’t know how I could have seen that but I know.” Bailey said out aloud.
He walked to the door and pushed his fingers through a grating near the top. There was warm air moving over his fingers beyond the door.
Do it now.
“I mustn’t!” Bailey cried out as he reached up to input the code.
The door slid aside and Bailey found himself looking into the eyes of both officers, standing at the far side of a warmly lit corridor before an open doorway to what looked like a much larger cavern. There was a hollow echoing of what had to be a pretty huge place beyond.
The old amber strip lighting overhead flickered and buzzed, as Bailey looked over the eyes of each of the goons. Nobody said a word as they stared at one another in the dusty corridor. Just that buzzing, that almost seemed to swallow up the other more natural sounds.
They both then walked toward him side by side, flexing their fists for what would only be a harsh manhandling back to his cell.
A tear escaped Bailey’s eye as the two men drew close enough to touch, and then they stopped and looked at one another for a moment.
The smaller man filled with energy and swung a punch toward him, but somehow Bailey grabbed it, and twisted his whole body around in its own massive momentum. An arrowed hand found a pressure point on his neck sending him back and out of the way, giving Bailey just enough time to finish the job with the other.
The big man grinned and loomed toward the smaller balding figure of Aaron Bailey. But by the time the other had righted himself, the big man’s head was a hideous, battered mess. He fell to the floor between them, as the rat faced goon squirmed back slightly from it. Bailey looked, shaking and shivering at his hands covered thick in the man’s blood.
The last officer seeing that he wasn’t going to be able to control the situation leapt to depress a punch button on the wall. A strange bell suddenly started to ring outside in the big cavern, and the heavy, rusted door to the outside slowly began to slide down over.
Bailey ran for it, landing an uppercut jab and a swift back punch to the cowering officer as he passed. He hit the floor, dead behind him as he sprinted for the slowly lessening gap between the floor and the door.
The corridor seemed like treacle to run through, and the buzzing of the warm light dragged his psyche back.
He leaped feet first, skidding in sand through the door, and out, where he slid to a stop on the concrete beyond. The door moved down into its locking position with a heavy slam.
Straight away in the silence of the new place he heard that strange, off-tone chime of a large bell.
You will see. Look.
Bailey sucked cool, dusty air into his lungs and turned around to look up at the outer wall of the place he had just escaped from.
There was a text painted in massive lettering on the wall space between the cold concrete expanse he lay upon and the old beamed ceiling high above.
It read “Red Sector: Psycho Wing” just below the huge rocking bell, rusted and old, chiming out into the cavern.
Panicking Bailey kicked and scrambled to get away from the place. He ran blindly out into the dark cavern along the expansive concrete flooring, before coming to piles of coal and soot which he would have to climb over if he wanted to continue in this way.
High above him a flock of seagulls began complaining loudly in their way, as they circled in the low light looking for something to scavenge.
A dome. A lie. This huge cave alone could swallow that unit twenty times or more, and must be the first of many in this geographical imprisonment. Where in hell are you?
He began to stagger between the gullies in between the piles, careful not to breathe in when one of the many gusts of strange wind in the giant cavern kicked up enough of the dust that lay over them.
It was impossible to climb over these piles of industrial crap and so he had to somehow navigate his way through the maze of valleys, like some labyrinth for the lunatics to navigate before they could return to... a larger colony? The light of the psycho wing had disappeared behind him and so now he had no choice but to go on.
This isn’t sexy...
Time passed slowly and he walked far through them in a direction he judged to be away from that door. He gradually felt the moisture seep out of him and without any water in sight in the cold dark place he had no option to push on despite it. And despite everything, there was no way he’d let something so ridiculous stop him now.
He staggered onward, eventually catching sight of the farther side of this gargantuan man made cave, and a relatively small and insignificant light high in its wall.
As he grew nearer to it he found it to be a wide opening with a balcony looking out over the expanse from which he had come. Two flights of steel steps squarely spiralled down to the cavern floor.
Bailey dizzily walked away from the last of the soot piles toward the leftmost stairwell. It sat in the ground a meter or so away from the huge bricks that made up the outer wall and ceiling of the gigantic cave.
Ahead, the huge wall of the cavern stretched away into the darkness to either side and above with only the small rectangle of light half way up. Behind him now, the low moan of the circulating air over dusty desert steadily rattled the ancient metal pillars that held aloft the roof of the place here and there.
He could hear low voices travel on the wind from up on the balcony, although looking he could only see the backs of a group leaning against the balcony wall.
Bailey walked up the steps trying not to make a great deal of noise, and alarm whoever it was.
Once at the top he found a group of younger men and women, all painted heavily on their bare arms, legs and face. They had a similar vacant look to the cattle gang he had faced off in Red Sector, but he doubted fate would be so unkind after such a tiring marathon.
Skate punks. Fucking insult them.
Bailey stood staring at them, as one of them noticed and gestured curiously to the rest. Others looked at him, with one of the girls smiling a kind smile.
I brought you this far.
“Um... I, errr...” Bailey said in confusion as he stepped across the balcony before them, and then through the gap in the mighty wall to the cavern on the other side, where a similar balcony looked out into a slightly better lit place. His eyes were sore as they adjusted to the change of luminance, and slowly he found more and more of those shapes the Grey alien had claimed to have heard.
Chimneys of factories could be seen immediately, and in the closest street below, Bailey saw a bus pull away from a stop, hissing with an archaic engine that seemed juxtaposed to the high tech nature of the colony itself.
They’re keeping this exile colony locked in the past, technically anyway, to keep them out of everyone else’s way.
Within the overall dome it was another large cavern that hummed with machinery of industry, and distant fairground music.
At the height of the balcony in its wall, the fairground and its four enormous merry go rounds could be seen beyond two industrial units, that billowed smoke up to a haze at the stone ceiling far above. From there at the top of a hillside where the true colony no doubt began, the whole cavern was packed tightly with factory units separated by narrow, badly kept roads, and two dry river beds running from storm drainage sluices at the top of the slope. They led to the main storm drainage river below the platform, which was dry enough to cross at this time of year. The steps to the balcony hung down into where the waters would have been, providing a meagre access to the soot fields and the psycho wing deeper in the dome shell.
On looking closer Bailey saw that same design of robot as his former jailor, Zep Teppi. He cringed against the balcony rail, realizing that the place before him was full of these things.
Standard, archaic design of service droid. Wirelessly networked, sadly. If they catch us, they’ll kill us. Or worse, send us back into that nowhere place. I can help, but you must do as I say.
Behind, he heard crazy, piercing laughter from the punks.
I said, insult them. I want you to trust me. Mind, body and soul. Unquestioningly.
“Who in the hell...” Bailey panted uncontrollably as he turned away from the colony to look back at the gang of tattooed yobs.
“He. Ur... Hey!” Bailey started. “You look like a paint and decorating accident.”
No more lies. Now it’s my turn to drive.
The gang looked at each other calmly before pushing from the balcony ledge and approaching him, the men walking ahead of the girls.
How can we work such a world? These bleak and smelly lives worth so little even to themselves. How can you win? We’ll see.
Bailey chuckled hopelessly and said “Okay. I’ll trust y...”
He was halted as one of the gang, smiling, hit him over the head with a thin steel rod that he had seemingly produced out of nowhere.
All of the gang had a chance to take out their aggression on Bailey’s unconscious body, until eventually they stole what little was in his pockets and stripped him of his shirt and pants.
They then lifted his naked body to the balcony edge, and onto its thin stone wall. The noise of metal liquor crates sliding to and fro in bulk echoed in the cold air, as the gang threw Bailey’s naked body over the side. It fell down alongside the web of scaffolding that propped up the platform from the empty river.
They watched, morbidly hoping to see it impact on the concrete, but some of the rusty scaffold was reaching out a little from the rest. Bailey’s naked body dropped into these, and slumped over one of the poles, where he hung unconscious over this outer city district.
“Meow.” one of the girls said and looked at the others.
From the Depths, From The Dust...
“C’mon Spunkers! Let’s make it! Oh yeah!” a young man skated fast along a pipe in the storm drainage system below the colony. He was wearing oil stained work pants, shirt and bracers, and his head was encased in the gaseous haze of a hologram mask, with its mess of spinning infograms and commercials flickering in the low light. “The path is there and it’s meant to be shared!”
He skated swiftly around each curved turn in the pipe, eventually finding a ramp leading up through a wide doorway into one of the huge caverns. He flew up it, leaping out high over a yard full of storm drain service robotics, and with enough momentum over the yard wall and down into the fairground opposite. The wheels of his rollerblades landed hard on its wet wooden circle, slowly spinning. It was one of a couple in the lame, mainly unused fairground. They had been turning slowly in their way since they were created along with the colony, long before it had been converted into a prison.
The young man slid off the edge through one of the gaps in the wood walls, and landed on the gentle slope between it and the mainly empty ribbons leading to the gateway to a rollercoaster. The coaster swung by on its robotically timed journey as he passed.
With a short kick to the concrete he accelerated toward the large arched gateway leading out of the fairground, atop a sloping bank, that led down to the outermost wall of the prison city.
“Spunkers! Spunkers! Don’t care anymore!” he sang loud as he went. The robot attendant within the ghosttrain shed glanced at him as he passed, and left the place. The droid was much the same as Zep Teppi, but with a much reduced role, here selling tickets in a fairground.
The skater launched out with speed onto the main road and then into a small parking lot opposite.
With a few more kicks to the concrete he had built up enough speed to jump onto the front of one of the parked automobiles and launch up from the cracked windscreen over the fence at the end of the lot. He landed hard on the steep slope of a dry river bed, that would be fed at times by a grated hole from the storm drainage system. He rolled fast down the smooth concrete, which skaters such as himself used regularly to build up enormous amounts of speed. It led for a long way, and after a dangerous few moments of speeding he reached the bottom, where the river ran in tributary to the main emergency storm drainage river.
“You can be a closed door.....” he sang the last line of the space-funk anthem as he descended toward the river. “Or a corridooooooor!”
The sides of the dry river bed sloped steeply upwards in a smooth curve on both sides. Skaters used this feature for their own enjoyment, as this person now did, carefully hooking into the curve on the opposite side. The upward curve carried him in his speed up high through the rusty scaffolding along the wall. He slowed as he reached a dangerous height, noticing calmly the body of the naked man slumped over one of the railings. He passed by Bailey’s body, scanning for it’s identity with the networked interface in the mask. He passed again on his descent back down to the curve and then skating over the river to the curve opposite he launched back up high and took another curious look at the half dead naked body. He dropped again to the river bed, skating back across, and up through the scaffolding again.
With a little less height this time he was able to take hold of the closest railings and hang beside the body. He stared at it for a moment through the inconclusive identity readouts before reaching over with his left foot and kicking his butt with the skate.
Bailey scoffed and grumbled, still unconscious.
“Oh, deary moo.” the man said, and then looked curiously at the pattern of Lantis birth markings that ran across the back of his shoulders, upper arms and neck. “Strong puppy?”
On saying this, an application installed into his mask apparatus began scanning over the naked torso. It identified many interesting markings and genetic patterns, highlighting them within the holographic display, and informational tags sprouted out from the highlights.
The app tested for street combat ability, and the thicker the marks, the more savage the fight in the dog, or so the bookies always said.
The man slowly smiled like an idea had dawned upon him and he looked around at the district for ways to make it work.
Just across from the entrance to the soot caverns was a freight warehouse yard full of crates.
A highspeed train was at this moment entering the city district and the yard through a tall arched tunnel that led to the inner city. He watched it roll up to the end of the tracks on its bridging and stop with a hiss as two tall robot operated cranes began their motion through the thick smog above. They began dropping their weighty hooks down to the crates below, then lifting them up through the air to the flat plates pulled between the magrail engines.
Soon these crates full of manufactured goods would be taken back into the city and so a chance was there to be taken.
The man watched as the holographic apparatus in his mask scanned the layout below for surveillance points and security weaknesses. It was another illegal application to install in the mask but such was life in the exiled world. A green hue overlaid his vision showing him the viewpoints of each camera and colony robot, and carefully he mapped out a path through the industrial jumble to where he needed to be.
A hollow horn sounded within the factories and the man knew that he’d need to be quick to avoid the flood of rush hour. Already he could see the seething mass of men and women spilling out of the buildings up and down the hillside, in full view of where they hung on the outer wall. Any one of those miserable dole boosters could easily spot and report them, and he had no doubt they would.
He moved below and hoisted Bailey’s body onto his left shoulder, before letting go and dropping the distance to the bottom of the wall. Angling the skates carefully he hit the slope in a direction so to roll under the road bridge and back up the tributary he had come from.
As he rolled up the bank his speed lessened and timing it just right he shouldered up the side of the river bed. Using the slope he leaped up and over the high wall of the warehouse yard, and with the right amount of speed cleared the wall and grabbed hold of a CCTV pole on the inside. He clasped at a bundle of wires while hugging his other arm around Bailey’s midriff, and stood against the pole with the skates.
Above him the camera swivelled on its computer decided path, and he hung as silently as possible as the warehouse workers began filtering by below toward the gates. Seeing that he was in full view of these few commuters he quickly pressed his foot against the pole and kicked back, jumping down toward one of the many big freight crates that were to be filled and loaded onto the carriages. He stepped on the edge of the crate to slow himself and then stumbled as best he could down between it and the next crate over.
He landed hard and felt like he had sprained an ankle in doing so.
The man crouched holding his ankle with one hand, while on the far side of the yard he could see the freight train high up on its bridge, and that half of its carriage trays had already been loaded.
Time was of the essence as the rest would be loaded soon, and so ignoring the pain he began skating hard along the narrow gully between the crates, with Bailey’s short body slung over his shoulder. Above him the train on its bridging of flyovers grew nearer and then he was forced to stop, as the crate beside him was lifted up high into the air by one of the two loading cranes.
Having removed that box he was now in full view of the remaining robotic workers in the yard and so quickly he leaned onto the bar that opened the thick side door to the nearest crate, and pulling with all of his remaining strength he managed to tug open a gap just wide enough to slide through.
He held Bailey close and disappeared into the shade within.
Within this crate was a flamboyant pink and yellow car with a wide front and back bonnet and elaborate furry interior. Such was the popular style with certain sections of the populace. He lay Bailey’s naked body over the bonnet, and hearing a loud thud on the roof above him he leapt for the opening and pulled the door shut.
Immediately he felt strain in his knees as the crane lifted the crate high over the yard and slammed it down on one of the empty train carriage trays. The man fell back and steadied himself against the car.
Sighing, he then leaned back against the crate door as another box slammed down inches away on the adjacent carriage.
These particular crates were carrying vehicles to be sold or leased it seemed, and so they would undoubtedly be taken directly to the central metropolis, which was where they needed to go. All he needed to do now was wait, and let the train travel the long distance across the radius of the city.
The last crate had been loaded, and the train began to move. It rolled back into the tall archway and over the dirty, cemented cobblestone ground in the tunnel. The same cobblestones surrounded the next district over and served as the main substance used for the paths and lanes that ran between its buildings.
The train slowly dragged its cargo out of the tunnel on the other side and turned on its tracks through tall apartment complexes, in the direction of the main tracks. Ahead, a passenger tram of workers rolled slowly onto the main tracks from a tunnel on the far side and raced off into the city.
The skater opened the heavy door again and leaned out into the flowing air, and hung there smiling as the towering grey apartment buildings moved by at either side.
They were filled with the equally grey lives of the others society hadn't wanted or needed, much like himself but with a difference. His work was of a slightly higher calibre in robotic science and so he was one of the luckier ones, holding his head slightly higher than the hell that sprawled below. Skating was his own way to commute, and a way a to keep fit in a place that threatened to rot you down with its stagnant inactivity.
Below him cobbled lanes scrolled by all feeding into the elevated motorway, that wove its own path through the sprawl a little lower than the tracks. Other tunnels led through to other city districts, all carved out of the same rock in mega scale silos with reinforced beams along the mighty walls, that together held aloft the ceiling, and the much bigger place above the murky city.
The train began to accelerate having hit the central rail track, that cut a path through the honeycombed places of the city.
The skater took off his hologram mask and threw it carelessly out at the passing apartment blocks. He was a thin man of medium height with black hair and doe eyes, and had the vacant look of a man that would enjoy hanging out the side of a moving train. He was muscular however and able to hold on as the train reached its top speed.
Cavern after cavern passed by in what had once been a thriving Cequodus colony, now refitted and filled with undesirables from the same system. The man let the wind flow through his hair.
He had finally found a little luck.
Suddenly he heard a loud noise from within the crate behind him, and looked into the dark over the naked body on the back bonnet. As his eyes adjusted to the light he saw a crouching figure in the corner at the back.
He closed the door carefully and then slowly walked around the car to the front door. He opened it and leaned inside, and flicked on the headlights.
In the beams he saw the tiny figure of a boy crouching and shielding his eyes against the sudden light. He looked scared and the skater smiled cruelly as he stood back straight.
“Don’t worry, I’m not a cop.” he said. “Come out here.”
Slowly the boy unfurled his arms from over his head and slowly stood up in the light.
“Who are you?” the boy asked, and pointed with an arm that was covered over with an oversized jumper that he had more than likely stolen. “Who’s the dead guy?”
The skater chuckled and looked over his shoulder at the body.
“He’s fine. Just sleeping. I’m taking him to people that can help him.”
“Why are you helping him?” the boy said.
“Because I’m one of the good guys.” he said, then spread his arms theatrically. “My name is Thom Gubichayan! I’m an intergalactic explorer! I’m a hero back on the Lantis colonies! Well, my father is, but it will be me soon enough.”
“You have the South Syndicate tats. You part of a gang?” the boy said observantly.
“Temporarily. A highly scientific means to an end... like this guy.” Thom said thumbing Bailey's limp body. “What’s your story anyway?”
“Back at the orphanage they call me Allstar.” he said solemnly. “I escaped.”
“Horrible places, public orphanages.” Thom said with a mock sympathy. “Just horrible”
“So you’re taking him back to South Syndicate?” the boy asked. “He must be something special or they wouldn’t waste their time. What’s so great about this lump of meat?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know, you silly little girl.”
“Boy! I’m a boy!”
“Yeah yeah.” Thom chuckled while turning away. “You can’t bullshit a bullshitter, kid.”
“Oh yeah?” she said. “You’ve got it all worked out, huh?”
“Heh, you know it.” Thom said looking over his shoulder at her.
“Then why have we stopped?” she smiled, and Thom realized it was true.
The train had come to a slow halt and now sat with its engines humming on the line.
Thom opened the crate door and looked out into a blinding collection of blue flickering lights. He looked around from the gathering of police vehicles and colony droids on the motorway below, that seemed to spread out into the derelict neighbourhood behind them.
He could see now that the train had stopped half in and out of the thick wall that enclosed the central district, and the old metropolis within. They had made it to the last wasted cavern before their destination, before one of those reports had caught up with them.
At the metropolis wall the motorway sloped up to the height of the tracks and entered at adjacent tunnels. Around the tunnel and all across the wall were densely littered with holographic posters that leaned out from the wall over the district just far enough to match galactic regulations. As his eyes found one with an overly stylish ladies head, shoulders and cleavage hovering over the derelict buildings below, he heard faintly it’s commercial: “Sagar stores. Your... local? Comfort convenience?”
Thom's eyes flicked over the gathering of gold bodies below and their stationary vehicles pulsing their lights, and one wikied a siren to spur his decision to surrender.
Thom closed the door and said “Ah. Shit. Okay.”
Allstar watched in silence as Thom moved in a dull panic in the small space, picking up the naked body and placing it on the front passenger seat of the car. He buckled it in and then got into the driver seat and did the same.
Allstar jumped into the back seat and strapped herself in.
"I take it then this guy's worth a bit?"
“Hold onto your tushy.” Thom said and turned the key in the ignition.
With the gear in reverse he twisted hard on the steering wheel and rolled the car around, slamming it onto the side of the crate, that itself was a tightly chained door.
The colony robots watched from below as the car slammed into it a second time, splitting it from its hinges and causing it to swing down over the sides of the tracks. They heard the thin voice of Allstar whimpering "Ohhh fffuuu..."
From the place so high over the ground the car screeched in the confines of the crate and Thom reversed it out over the precipice, immediately cutting the engines as it began its descent. The car rocked back over as it accelerated toward the ground, then landing with its back wheels against the slope of the motorway.
Thom began to brake hard as the gentle incline caught the car, and took it down to the foot of the police blockade. The car halted in a cloud of rubber smoke and sat on the empty motorway as the colony droids took aim at the backs of their heads.
Seeing this Thom turned the key in the ignition causing the large car to growl and spit flames from the rear exhaust over the damp cement. The wheels span as he floored the gas and took the car back up onto the slope toward the wall of flickering advertisements.
They hadn’t taken the time to blockade that tunnel and so after dodging a few leering robots he took the car into the long tunnel alongside the train.
The central district was much bigger than the rest, and octagonal in shape, with a ring of eight city retail blocks left over from the hayday of the original colony. Within that was a broad promenade of various features and events, before the central ring of blocks. Here at the center of the metropolis, and at the dead centre of the entire dome was what was called The Octagon where each of the eight smaller blocks contained the robot-run public services such as the hospital, AI court and police.
Around the outer ring of buildings ran the central highway, with the train tracks to their side and a major commercial highstreet below. It was the hub of what passed for commerce in the exile colony, whether it be legal or otherwise.
There was a grouping of robots already at the entrance to the metropolis, but were dodged easily enough at the speeds they were now going.
Thom swung the car around onto the motorway, clearing the last of the train that still sat half in and out of it’s tunnel, and then drove along the lanes swerving between the crawling traffic.
The outer wall housed long lines of extractor fans, pumping the stale air away and fresher air back into the retail areas. On the left side was one of the eight retail blocks, that in this case happened to be owned by a restaurant and nightclub conglomerate, although any such ownership was again a token reality, and borrowed from the city system.
Thom knocked the car into a higher gear and floored it as the cylinders growled loud in the confined space and spat another gulp of flames back over the highway.
The car wormed in and out of the traffic ahead as they made their way forcefully along the length of the city block.
Allstar looked up at the balconies hanging out from the block filled with dancers below the signs they were advertising. Each all day club reflected the culture that had taken over this particular part of the prison. Here it was the Sugalectrics, and it was always either those or their cold rivals the Spunkers. Where Spunker culture claimed to be the perfect fusion of Space and Punk the Sugalectrics laid similar claims to a fusion of sugar and electricity.
Each balcony passed by with the women dressed in suits and cold makeup, and the men dressed in frocks and glitter.
Allstar cringed at seeing this so close up, and looked back to the direction they were headed. At both ends of that stretch of highway could be seen the coloured flickering of the quantum-positronic lights of the colony robots. With each passing second they were being isolated within the back street, and soon if not already it would be all too late.
There was a slimline spaghetti junction at the middle point of the highway where on one hand lanes fed up into a hollowed section of the retail block, that served as the main parking port for those frequenting its services. On the other side a lane led down to the ground level street and despite the traffic lights being red and traffic already beginning to cross their path Thom floored the gas and charged in front of an omnibus, that skidded to stop as it saw this.
There was a thin gap between vehicles on the slip road leading down into the bustling life of the streets. The car fitted through before descending to the main street, and hugging the merging lane at the side.
The car emerged onto the street at a breakneck speed inches away from the packed sidewalk and then accelerated onward toward the turn at the end of the cavern, leading around to the next block. Already there were robots converging there with two antigravity bikes swinging down over them. The flashing police lights were beginning to swamp out the natural features there, with the same happening behind, at the far side of the street.
Thom reached a point were the store fronts ended and the wall dipped inward in a smooth alcove. He took the road into it, past a sign that read multi story car park.
Immediately he skidded to a halt before the gaping entrance, that itself was blocked off by construction works. They sat in the car for a moment amongst teams of robots operating jack hammers and various construction machineries.
The long line of windows at either side of the tall carpark entrance filled up with people coming to see what had caused such a commotion. The ways in to the ground level mall were totally blocked by half welded beams and piles of sand, so there was nothing for it.
Thom gritted his teeth and took the car back around toward the highstreet but stopped as it filled with colony robots from either side, and the air above swarmed with hover bikes. Robots were flooding out of the shops here and the construction droids around them dropped what they were doing and took on their dual role as peace enforcement. All produced small pistols and held them at the three people in the car.
Once they had converged together in the street a blue skinned robot pushed through the other gold bodies and ran a little toward them. The high ranking robot pointed its pistol at Thom from a distance and emotionally screamed “Get the fuck out of the car! Now!”
At that instance Bailey began to come around in the passenger seat, and began rubbing his eyes while clawing at the seatbelt. He moaned as he swam back into consciousness and on opening his eyes he saw the face of the high ranking robot, whose clear cranium and dancing gemstones of light within were a mirror of the robot, and the clutches he had just escaped from.
He began writhing in his seat, while half realizing that he was naked.
“Mnuh! He’s coming to get me!” Bailey moaned, but stopped as an irritated Thom elbowed him in the face, knocking him back unconscious.
Bailey slumped back down into the chair and Thom began to survey the lethal blockade before him.
“Maybe we should...” Allstar began.
Thom twisted in his seat and looked over the young girls shoulder, and said “One more mile.”
He knocked the gear stick into reverse and pressed his foot down on the gas. The car wheelspun slightly before racing backward toward a group of wooden planks resting loosely on a large pile of sand.
The car hit them like a ramp and managed to clumsily jump just far enough to hit the nearest window into the mall.
The car toppled inward in a spray of glass and slammed back over onto the stone tiles within. Only half regaining his bearings Thom began to reverse the car through the ground level gangway, avoiding bricked fountains and the delicate niche store fronts.
People dived out of the way on seeing this and to make sure Thom nipped his thumb a few times on the horn.
The line of shops and balcony bridges were quite long from one side of the retail block to the other, and it took a good deal of concentration not to hit the various men, women and children that were having a lazy day out here in the midweek. Finally the main set of doors drew close but to Thom’s dismay he saw a family standing more or less in the path of the car. They were smiling and licking on small ice cream cones they had bought from a robot-run stall nearby.
Thom began hammering on the horn but they seemed still not to notice as the back bumper of the car hurtled toward them.
“Dopey fucking family.” Thom muttered and turned the backside of the car into the corner of the closest fountain pool.
It cracked away much of the low wall and kicked the car up onto its side wheels. The underside of the balancing car rolled by the parents and their children, that only now seemed to vaguely notice that something weird was happening.
Thom glanced at them through the sloped windscreen as the car rolled back through two sets of automatic sliding doors and then outside onto a pedestrian walkway.
The walkway took a slight dip and then the car rolled down a ramp to the broad promenade that separated the outer and inner ring of blocks.
The corner of the back bumper hit the first of the mosaicked tiles that covered the broad expanse of the central promenade, and then they continued to roll across the breadth of it. Thom steadied with the steering wheel to keep the car balanced while reversing as they journeyed between strolling couples swirling parasols and guiding their children through the garden features and stalls.
They stopped and watched slightly stunned as the car rolled by quietly on its side wheels.
The car rolled onward toward the opposite wall face with the huge sign of the ownership lit and shining out over the pedestrians below. Not quite a public service, it read ‘Beldin. Gambling and Virtual.’.
The car rolled to the foot of the wall and then stopped, balanced precariously on its side and then toppled back over onto its roof.
“Ow!” Allstar groaned as the car rocked to a stop.
Already Thom could see through the cracked windscreen, the far side of the promenade being swarmed by the robot contingent that had found various ways through from the highstreet.
He clipped off Bailey’s seatbelt and then shoved him out of that side door while piling out with him. Allstar crawled from her door groaning and then stood up and looked at the masses of coloured heads sprinting toward them across the wide open space. The swarm of antigravity bikes had braved the heights to fly up through the thin space between the roof of the block and the ceiling of the huge central cavern.
Allstar turned to look at Thom, who was now hoisting Bailey over his shoulders, and shouted “Would you mind telling me why we’re doing this?”
“Just get inside!” Thom growled at her, and pointed at a short ramp leading up to a tall glass fronted room within the block, that looked to be an emergency fire exit.
Allstar ran for it while Thom skated behind her. They pushed up the narrow ramp and then reached the narrow but tall wall of glass set into the plastic sealed bricks. Quickly, and half motivated by the now audible clattering of a hundred metallic feet getting closer, he tapped in a numbered code to a box in the glass and then shouldered through an air sealed door.
Allstar followed and then Thom handed her Bailey’s limp body, that pressed down on top of her causing her to fall back on the smooth plastic tiles within.
The colony robots, headed by their blue skinned leader now sprinted up the ramp toward them, as Thom leaned hard on the air pressured door until it sealed shut.
The robot leader stopped inches away from the glass on the other side with the rest of his army flooding the spaces behind and in the air.
Thom looked at him eye to beady eye for a moment, noticing how the robot twitched with hunger to do its violent business, but stopped now by an in-coded jurisdiction boundary.
Slowly the robot raised his tiny black eyes up to the lit sign of ‘Beldin. Gambling and Virtual’ and then looked back at Thom and the girl buried under the naked man.
Thom smirked at them all, while behind him Allstar retched slightly and vomited a little onto the tiles.
Thom waved his hands in the air as if to say “Checkmate”. The blue officer took a step forward at this gesture and pressed a gloved finger against the opposite side of the glass. It kept pointing at him momentarily before turning and pointing at the crowd to disperse.
Allstar watched them all head back down to the central promenade, some of them re-joining the stalls and work duties they had been called from during the excitement.
“I don’t get it.” she said. “Why are we still kicking?”
“Friends in places kid. Friends in places.” Thom smiled calmly, and lifted the body up from her.
He carried it over to a short flight of stone steps leading up to the inner emergency exit of the small dusty place.
There was a thick metal door and keypad, that opened with a hiss on entering the code. Thom disappeared inside with Bailey slung over his right shoulder, while Allstar slammed the door shut behind.
He began to skate lightly through the maze of barely used staff corridors, with the young girl keeping pace. They avoided the main customer walkways that led through gallerias of various gambling and virtual reality gaming enterprises, and pressed on for a long way through abandoned corridors and up stairwells until they finally reached a fast food restaurant called Big Beldin Burgers.
Here they’d reached the inside of a fire exit that hadn’t been opened in decades. From its window they looked across the inner kitchens at the colony robots and the odd spotty adolescent pulling together bags of unhealthy food for the throng of customers out front. When it looked like the gangway at the rear of the kitchen was momentarily clear he opened the door and rolled behind them with Bailey and Allstar in tow.
They reached the kitchen door and exitted quickly to a narrow space that was in view of a few of the Big Beldin fast food tables, that were luckily empty but for one little girl. To their left was a heavily reinforced door and keypad.
Thom entered the correct code and they disappeared into an area hidden behind the fast food joint.
Deep within the hidden place, a bare knuckle fighter stood behind a curtain listening to his opponent’s introduction. He hopped up on his toes and punched towards the floor, chewing on the bit between his teeth. He had yellow blonde hair and a muscular physique wrapped tight over a tall torso from his broad shoulders. At one time he may have been fair and even good looking, but his apparent life had long since grimaced those features. His arms snapped down at the floor as he forced his breath to panting.
“Randall!” he heard his name from behind him, and turned to see someone he knew well enough to dislike, standing with what looked like a dead body slumped over his scrawny shoulder, its butt pointed in his direction.
He gestured and beamed “Look what I found!”
Randall shook his head, a little disorientated and said “I really don’t need this right now.”
“Flyyyyyyynn Raaaaaandaaall!” the commentator’s voice yelled from within and the curtains pulled back.
Now in view of the entire diamond shaped area that steamed with the lime green of mixed narcotics, Randall was spotted by the fighter in the ring at the center.
Flynn Randall pointed at his friend and said “Get outa here, Thom.”
He then turned and began hopping his way through the intense crowd beyond. A few of the closer members of the crowd saw the naked body, but knew not to ask too many questions about the illegal back-business of Beldin, Gambling and Virtual.
A couple of staff corridors away from the combat arena Thom and Allstar came to two thin double doors with the sign “Medical Emergency” overhead.
“Blade off. Pass, Aquinas.” Thom said, causing the wheels of the skates to melt into the rest of the fabric, turning them into regular trainers.
Slowly, they sneaked inside.
Within, nurses were treating a screaming fighter that wrestled against them on a bed. Thom looked at them, and seeing they were looking the other way they tip toed past them then ran toward two more doors signposted “In-Patient”.
They entered and closed the door carefully behind.
A thin nurse with light white hair swaggered away along the corridor, and Thom leaned at her hissing “Pssst! Faye!”
Not hearing him she turned into the matron’s cubicle as they moved deeper into the place.
The corridor beyond was a long ward with doors leading to large rooms on either side.
He walked by each one, tired now and flagging, until he found one empty and entered. Together they laid Bailey gently onto the bed and leaned over him to pull the whole cover up to his neck.
Thom stood back to look at the bruised and battered man he had brought here, to a wholey illegal establishment that could well murder him itself if it didn't find a use for him.
He then looked to the orphan that he seemed to have picked up, then turned away sighing.
There was a large arched window standing in the wall behind the bed that looked out over The Octagon, the centermost point in the city. Hanging from the bricked ceiling of the cavern here were glowing milky crystals that were actually made up of a billion smaller crystals, each transmitting orders to the millions of colony robots across the prison dome. There were a few such blue and red robots doing their business on the central promenades far below, that tightly encircled the hovering Cequodus Dynasty logo. The other seven blocks of The Octagon mirrored the Beldin building, although they themselves housed public services such as the Border Security police force and the hospitals. It spoke of the influence the Beldin company had here in the city that they could occupy a building on the inner ring.
There were hundreds of windows dotting the levels of the towering walls on all sides, although none of them would see into the mirrored windows of Beldin, Gambling and Virtual.
“Faye!” he heard a woman screech angrily behind him. He turned on his heel like a gentleman and smiled at a woman with thick, red dyed hair. She wasn't smiling back and had the look of a girl that meant some bad business.
“Your weird friend is here again.” she shouted down the corridor while glaring at him.
“Nice to see you too, Scarlet.” Thom smiled.
“Get fucking stuffed.” she replied and marched away along the corridor, to be replaced by Faye a moment later. She was a slender lady of medium height and a sharp pale complexion, offset with the lightness of her white hair and the darkness of her purple lipstick and makeup. The bright blue of her eyes seemed to melt into the cold white, with the piercing gaze of her pupils seeming to penetrate all and everything within the room. The name on the badge pinned to her nurse’s uniform read “Faye Scotia”, a name he knew too well, but despite their friendship he couldn't forget the place and company he was in.
She stood in the doorway for a moment looking at the skate punk in his oily work overalls, before nodding at the bed.
“Who’s this, hm?” she said, and walked around the opposite side of the bed.
“Dunno. Found him out back of some units. Looks like he’s had a good kicking... err, assault.”
Faye reached over Bailey and moved a device over him, producing a low hum like a moth wing. As it passed each swelling and bruise they grew back to normal.
“You can’t bring every poor mugging victim here, Thom. This isn’t a charity. Far from it.”
“If worst comes to worst he can stay with us in the apartment block. But I have a feeling it won’t come to that.”
“Oh great. More noise. You know those elevator tubes run right by our living room. You and the gaggle of cunts you call friends shouldn’t hang out in there. One of those elevators will cut you in half on of these fine days.”
“It’s disused. And would you rather we were out in the street getting picked off one by one by some gang?”
“Who is this guy anyway?” Faye said squinting gently in her way.
“He’s a brute. I’m thinking we can sell him into the fight leagues. Maybe make enough to get out of the apartment districts. Maybe get a safer place in some village compound or...”
“We won’t make that much even for human cargo.” Faye shook her head, and her wispy curtain of white hair with it. It always took an effort for Thom not to think about sex when in her company.
“But look...” Thom smiled, then reached down and pulled back the covers.
He pulled gently on Bailey’s shoulder tipping him on his side so Faye could see his back.
“My word.” she said and held her hand over her mouth. “Birth marks jet black, all the way across? Freakish...”
“Mean’s he’s strong. I thought you’d be interested. Could be worth a bit of money, nai?” Thom smiled and rolled Bailey back onto his back.
Faye began treating the wounding on his chest and arms with her pocket device.
“It’s true there’s some evidence to suggest a link between thicker Lantis birth markings and physical prowess. Officially, it’s still only a myth.”
“Might be a good selling point though, right?” Thom said. “And if I’m honest, I don’t think that blood on his hands is his. He already won one fight.”
Standing up straight, Faye looked down at Bailey and said “You did the right thing. Leave it with me. I’ll bring the Beldins down to have a look.”
“Well alright.” Thom grinned and stepped around toward her. “I know you won’t rip me off. You aren’t as dumb as you look... unlike that husband of yours.”
“I hope he’s alright.” she said biting her thumbnail.
“He’s too stupid to get hurt.” he said smiling down at her arrogantly.
“Well that’s very sweet of you.” Faye smiled momentarily. “Now, get outa here. I’ll call you when I get a price.”
"And you'll get your cut don't worry. Seventy thirty sound good?"
"Sounds... great, Thom. I'm not going to rip you off, Thom. Just leave me to it." Faye said shaking her head slightly up at him.
"Incentive don't hurt." Thom smiled slyly as they left the room together and walked around to the matron’s cubicle. "Made a little stink on the way in here. I’m going to need a hack and erasure from the police warrant board."
The words drifted off along the corridor, and once they were out of sight and sound Bailey opened his eyes and looked at the door.
I couldn’t have planned this better.
“Don’t pretend you didn’t.” Bailey said in a low voice.
Beside the matrons cubicle was a wide entrance, and a holographic book to be signed by visitors.
Thom reached down and signed “Thom Gubichayan”.
“Here’s lookin’ at you, Scarlet, ya stupid little freak." Thom waved creepily through the window at the girl, who grimaced and shook her head.
With that Thom glided down the causeway leading to the public exit to the clinic. Faye watched him and the young girl until they disappeared into the light of the Beldin galleria.
"What a waste you are, Thom." she muttered, as if to herself.
Lost and Guidance.
“Keep it up Erik. Hit it!” Barton Beldin snarled encouragingly at a tall well built man with a tall spiky Mohican hairstyle, attacking a padding enforced robot in the gymnasium. Faye stood waiting in conversation.
“Well, how about it?” she said. “Have I ever let you down?”
“Yes.” said Barton.
“Well I won’t this time, ai?”
“Hit it!” Barton yelled, as Faye flinched slightly with every plastic slap echoing in the tall hall.
She glanced momentarily as Erik Luminaire jump-spin kicked the side of the de-networked colony robot before continuing to aim punches through its guarding arms.
“I’m just asking you to take a look. There’s something a bit special about this one.”
“Like what.” Barton eyed, having just lit a cigarette in his mouth.
“You kind of have to see it. I’ve never seen a Lantis birth pattern like it.”
“Black is it? Ok, I’m a sucker for those old granny tales.”
Erik stopped his assault on the robot and turned to the two, and yelled to them “Why bother? I mean, we’re escaping right?”
“Faye isn’t coming, Erik.” Barton said. “And try not to yell about it, even back here!”
“Sorry, but... Why aren’t you coming, Faye?” Erik said, with a hollow look across his face.
“I’ll help you as I can. I’m just pulling out, is all.” Faye said looking away.
Erik looked at her not knowing what to say, then Barton tapped her shoulder gently and said “Come along. Let’s see if we can make you a little money.”
They walked together out of the secret gym and along a staff corridor to a fire door that opened in on a cosy shop selling many different kinds of ale. They walked through and out onto one of the upper gallerias of gambling joints in the Beldin building.
In between each of the virtual reality stores along either side of the broad corridor were niche shops and market stalls selling everything that could be needed. As Barton passed a coffee stall he gestured to Faye to wait as the large man within poured out a dark coffee, and sandwich.
“Black market coffee. The best coffee on the planet right here.” he said to Faye, then asked. “How much?”
“On the house, Mr Beldin. Please come again.” the man said warmly, sporting a mish-mash of accents.
Beldin sipped it and insisted that Faye take a sip also, as they walked the rest of the distance along the galleria corridor. At the farthest end of the gallery of store fronts they entered the wide opening of the fast food restaurant, and waded through it’s playschool-esque décor to the common service door Thom had used the previous day. Entering the same code on the keypad they slipped into the place behind the restaurant packed with out of control families, and closed the door firmly behind them.
Along another thin corridor of many code-locked doors, they took the one at the end and entered a large, noisy arena half full of fight fans, and bookmakers. In the centre of the arena were two rings, both hosting brutal bare knuckle fights.
As Barton and Faye entered a spotlight shone around onto him and followed him as he walked through the crowd area to the VIP zone close to the rings.
“Please welcome... “ the loud commentator yelled. “The man who made all this possible... Barton Beldin Junior!”
Barton waved at the cheering crowds, smiling his rehearsed smile, while continuing on toward the curtains on the far side. At the point where Flynn Randall had entered the previous day, Barton and Faye left the arena and turned toward the Medical wing.
“Now if I’m not interested in this guy, I can’t have him staying here any longer. You got that, Faye?”
“I won't kill the poor fool, but the syndicate isn’t a place for waifs and strays. I mean we’ve only got so much medicine.” They walked through the Emergency ward, raising voices over the groaning fighters.
“I understand. It's good of you to be concerned by what you leave behind.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Barton eyed her as they entered the In Patient ward and walked over to the closed door to Bailey’s room. Faye looked in at Bailey and he sat up straight in bed, watching them both through the small window.
“Barton!” a voice shouted from the room beside Bailey’s. “Faye!”
They stopped as Randall limped to the open door and shook their hands. His face was swollen and cut badly.
“I heard you won. Congratulations, Flynn.” Barton said. “You know you don’t need to fight anymore. We’ll be gone in a week”
Randall smiled at them, leaning against the door for support. “I like to fight. And I’m not sure if I’m coming with you, friend.”
“I expected it.” Barton said leaning against the door in full view of Bailey. “You and Faye we’re meant to be together. We can all see that now.”
“We will help you until the last hour. To the end, right?” Faye said, turning to Barton.
“Heh, yeah. The South Syndicate way. Well this escape is going nowhere until we can find a good enough hacker to take those auto-guards offline. All our hackers seem to die mysteriously.”
“Chester Barron.” Faye said bluntly.
“I have every faith in Chester. He’s united the syndicates for the first time in more than a century. We don’t ask where we come from here in South Syndicate. Only where we want to go. You know this is the way.”
“But escape? It’s a huge responsibility for someone with his past. You’re putting your lives in his hands.” Faye said.
“So this is why you’ve pulled out.” Barton smiled.
“It’s the main reason.” Randall looked at him with his one unswollen eye,
Bailey watched this conversation, unable to hear what was being said through the air-sealed medical door. Somewhere inside, something he possessed transcended this handicap. He watched their mouths closely, reading each word with the shape of their lips.
South Syndicate? Escape? Shortage of hackers? Fate smiles on us my beautiful friend.
Bailey had to concentrate hard to read their lips. The skill was so raw within him. So primal and basic it unnerved him with every word understood.
“Well, let’s see this ‘prize fighter’ of yours then.” Barton said and opened the door for Faye.
Faye walked in and to the bedside.
“Aaron Bailey? I got your name right didn’t I? This is Barton Beldin. His family run the black market in this quadrant of the prison. I’ve brought him here... because uhh... Well, he might have some employment opportunities for you. Yes!” Faye said and looked to Barton for help.
“Hello Mr Bailey.” he said. “Faye is right. I may have a place for you in our organization. I just need to take a look at you walking around for a few moments. That’s all. Can you do that for me?”
Bailey, still instinctively scared from his ordeal with the gang pulled his covers up to his chin and closed his eyes.
“Damn it Faye. He can’t even get out of bed. Look at him!”
Get out of bed!
Bailey, with a tear in his eye pulled the covers down baring his chest. He twisted and stepped out of bed in the hospital pants he’d been given.
Barton, not saying anymore looked at Bailey intensely. He surveyed the Lantis markings, thick across his upper back in a near symmetrical pattern, and the broad spots up the bottom of his neck and the tops of his arms.
“You are powerful.” Barton grinned intensely. “I can pay you 15 in diamond cubit.”
“Million?” Faye asked, and looked to her partner who now stood in the doorway, also surveying Bailey’s markings.
“See you in the ring.” Randall smirked and limped back to his room.
Faye sighed at him, but it couldn’t spoil her excitement. “Thank you so much.”
“My gift to you. My final gift.” Barton said walking Faye to the door. He turned and pointed to Bailey. ”That’s all for now. I’ll come back soon.”
Do as I say. Solar defences. Hacks.
“You haven’t even asked why I was sent here.” Bailey said.
Barton turned back and walked to the end of his bed. “Where you’re from matters not here on South Syndicate. Only where you want to go. You don’t have to tell us anything if you don’t want to.”
“It’s no secret.” Bailey shrugged. “I was working with terrorists. Hacking solar defence grids.”
“That’s some complicated stuff. You can do all that?”
Now reel him in.
“I’m one of the best in the colonies. I strive to be better than the best.”
“Well, I won’t argue with that. Seems like old Barton got his money’s worth again.” he smiled and Bailey smiled back. “You’re new to the colony right. Fresh out of psycho wing I hear. No, don’t worry. Even if you are loopy we can fix all of that. Faye, you fill him in on the prison details. I need him clued in by the time I get back.”
Bailey liked Barton, and the easy connection he felt with him. Maybe it was a cool talent Barton used with everyone but still Bailey found it to his liking.
Leaving, Barton said “I’ll bring my wife next time. She’s the clever one. And we may have a proposal for you. I’ll sign you onto the books as a fighter for now, so get healthy. Can you do that?”
Still a little shy, Bailey nodded, and with a final smile, Barton Beldin was gone. Faye, in the doorway looked at Bailey a moment before following him.
You told no lie. Only the sweetest poetry.
“You’re getting on my nerves.” Bailey said in the empty room.
At the far end of the corridor Barton said a few words to Faye and left, while Faye returned to her post with the matron.
Bailey stood with the door standing slightly ajar until they had gone, and then leaned his head outside, checking up and down the way before looking across at the man on the bed in the opposite room.
He’s not breathing. Who is he? He’s got a nice coat.
Bailey looked around again before walking casually over and into the open door. He walked around the bed and knelt down beside the old man’s face, covered partially over by the bed sheet. His lips were pulled back over his teeth, and he stared ahead coldly, on his side.
Bailey pressed his fingers under then man’s neck, then whispered “Dunno.”
He’s dead alright. Grab his wallet and anything else in his pockets.
Bailey thought for a moment then did so and with the dead man’s belongings filling his pants pockets he strolled back out into the corridor. There he noticed the fighter, Flynn Randall standing in his own doorway, watching him with one eye. They stood a moment looking at one another, before Randall said “What are you up to?”
We can use him.
Bailey smirked and pointed at Randall’s swollen face “You might want to get that looked at.”
Bailey then walked slowly back into his room and then in a panic emptied his pockets into a drawer he had been given, and pushed them to the back, out of sight.
He looked at the door to see if Randall or anyone else was about to follow him, and seeing that they hadn’t, he reached back into the drawer and took to hand the dead man’s Stable-License, for the operation of automobiles and airmobiles, not that there would be many airmobiles on this colony. It read “Gen Colec” for name, and “Importer/ Exporter” as a role.
“Is this good?” Bailey asked quietly.
Let’s find out.
The Retro League.
When Barton and his wife returned the next day, they saw though the window in the door, that the bed was empty.
“Faye!” Barton yelled at her as she did something at the far end of the corridor. “Where is our man, Faye?”
“Oh... You enrolled him in the fight leagues...” she said pointing with her clipboard.
“No! No! No!” Barton yelled as he and his wife ran along the corridor in the direction of the hidden places housing the combat rings.
“You’ll need to be quick!” Faye yelled after them as they disappeared though the Outpatient doors.
The commentator was already introducing Bailey’s fight.
“And in the blue corner, we have Flynn Randall! Bookies favorite versus the red corner, newcomer to these leagues, Aaron Bailey!”
Bailey sat alone in his corner watching the man he had mocked and insulted the previous day opposite him as he was massaged and pep talked by his trainers.
Suddenly he saw Barton and Cix Beldin crash through a group of officials at the side of the ring, and then leaned at him through the bottom of the ropes.
“This is a mistake!” Barton yelled over the bloodthirsty crowd. “I’ll stop this right now. This man is a killer, Bailey.”
Not seeing his boss at the ring side the commentator gestured for Bailey to come and start the fight. Randall had seen them but didn’t seem to care.
“Relax.” Bailey said and walked to the center of the ring.
“Last man breathing wins.” the official said and then jumped back, out of the way of the two men.
Flynn Randall towered over Bailey, who was a clearly weaker character by far. He punched once into his palm and then lurched forward, as Bailey tap stepped aside. Randall had seen this move countless times before and righted himself to face Bailey again.
Bailey pressed gently from one foot so that he stood on Randall’s slightly crouching knee, and then used that leverage to step up to kick at Randall’s head. He kicked at one temple and brought the same foot back over to slap the opposite temple.
Bailey landed smoothly, then arrowing his fingers sliced forward into Randall’s throat, tearing the tubes within.
Randall took a step back as the various ruptured pressure points began to smother him. He kicked slightly at the floor and then slipped down and flopped onto his back.
Bailey casually stepped up to him and looked down at his twitching opponent, eclipsing the harsh glare of the ceiling lamps to his eyes.
“All done?” Bailey smiled lazily.
Randall stared up at him through his swelling face and using the last tiny bit of breath he had said “Fair fight.”
Bailey turned and raised his arms over his head as Randall began slipping into the next world.
Nurses ran up into the ring and began waving instruments over him.
The crowd cheered and Bailey let it wash over him as he hurdled over the ropes and landed on the red carpet leading back a shower block.
He passed through two curtains to the row of showers and locked himself in one of the ceramic cubicles, then noticing Barton and Cix Beldin filing into the room after him.
“Get out! Everyone, get out!” Cix yelled at the others who were there.
They all left without objection and then Bailey was alone with the South Syndicate family. Bailey continued to wash in the small cubicle, still able to see them over the ceramic door that closed it in.
“That was pretty stupid but it was our fault I guess.” Barton said. “We need a quick word.”
“I gathered that.” Bailey said eyeing them through a mass of soap bubbles he’d squeezed over his face.
Barton gestured to his wife, a tall, slender woman with even whiter hair than Faye.
“This is Cix Beldin, my wife. She wants to talk to you about your claims.”
“Claims?” Bailey said cocking his head slightly at him.
“Solar grid hacking is quite a skill.” Cix smiled at him. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”
Bailey blew air through his lips and thought for a second.
“Where to begin?” he said, then listened to that dark impulse well up from its deep place within him.
Specialty being defence grids. Parrot fashion, angel child.
“I was caught helping a small band of terrorists hack a solar defence grid. I had specialized in testing defence grids for Cequodus Dynasty, but when my job was axed and replaced with a robot, I sold my knowledge to opposing forces.”
“Cequodus defence grids, then?” she said. “So you know all about the parabol algorithm?”
“Yeah.” Bailey smiled. “Only that’s a governmental code from Earth, not Lantis or Cequodus.”
Cequodus was but one of many corporate dynasties that had evolved from the society of their home planet, Lantis. Each dynasty had their own defence codes, and nuances to their defence. Earth also, one of their neighbours in the galaxy, would have their own dynasties, authorities and defence programs. Bailey hoped they wouldn’t quiz him on them all.
“Well that’s right.” she nodded solemnly. “But I’ll want a little more than that.”
“Whatever you need.” Bailey smiled at them both, and they smiled back, seemingly exited by the direction their makeshift interview was going.
Cix handed him a small, handheld computer from her handbag that he then rested on the top of the door, away from the spraying water.
“Take this.” she said, and Bailey looked down into the touch-screen display, its display lifting slightly up from flat in a hologram. “It’s a simulation of the solar defence grid that secures this solar system. It has been custom designed to prevent us from escaping should we ever make it off the planet, which none of us ever have, so far as we know. I want you to confuse the defences so to....”
Bailey, who had sunk his fingers into the hologram and had been tapping commands into the simulation with inhuman speed, handed her the computer and interrupted “The defences are down.”
“Err.” she stammered and looked to Barton, who shrugged, grinning. “Completely down? Ah, I see. Well, I guess that’s... superlative!”
“Easy when you know how, I suppose. Right Bailey?” Barton winked at Bailey.
“We’ve had a lot of trouble finding someone with these talents. We admit we have a little shortage here in our syndicate. We’re not sure about the others. And if they have any, well they haven’t shared them with us.”
“What do you want me to do? Hack the solar defences? Is that what you’re asking me to do?” Bailey pressed.
“Well talk like that can get you killed here in the colony.” Barton said grimly. “This was just to test your claims. But I guess you passed, so...”
“I believe you.” Cix said, patting the side of the cubicle gently. “We have many teams working under us here in South Syndicate. I’m sure we can find one that can use someone like you.”
“Well done.” Barton shrugged as they turned to leave, then turned and asked “Oh one more thing. Where are you going to be living?”
“I don’t know.” Bailey spoke with a note of fear.
“We will assign you somewhere nice. Somewhere in South Syndicate village with us.”
“Sounds delightful.” Bailey smiled shyly.
“Think naught of it. When you’re ready, I’ll have someone take you there. Get your stuff together, whatever it may be.”
Bailey’s cheeks flushed once they were gone, and he looked sadly at his shoulder bag on the bench opposite, containing Gen Colec’s stolen IDs.
“They were nice?” Bailey sighed.
There were no words from the darkness, and for once Bailey felt a little glad.
A little later the nurse, Faye Scotia came and told Bailey it was time to go. Bailey gathered up the small shoulder sling while Faye finished her run down of the dangers of the colony. She sat on the corner of the bench beside the lockers and spoke to him where he stood, drying off slightly in his clothes.
"You'd be wise to stick with us. There is no central authority here." Faye said. "The robots are all one hive mind. This is their system and they don't give a fuck about us. Make no mistake about that. Get a stake here or you'll dissolve away like the rest of them."
"Sure, yeah." Bailey said shaking a hand through his damp hair.
“Now like I said, you have South and East syndicates, that essentially concentrate bootlegged material from the civil rationing systems, with a backbone of gambling and other hardline shit. But the biggest game in town is Old Gang. They are the oldest and biggest syndicate on the colony, and they have spies everywhere. If they see you somewhere alone they’ll radio back and send a band of cattle to intercept. Then they’ll strip you to the bone for anything they can sell back for drugs.”
“Do they run another black market?” Bailey said turning to her while tightening the noose on the small shoulder bag.
“Not exactly. Anything they gather up they sell back to our markets. If we didn’t buy up we’d have no control over them, and they’d burn us out of house and home. Believe it.”
Like a violent marriage.
“Sounds complex. .” Bailey smiled at her. “I’ll take your word for it.”
"Just remember the territories and you should be alright. Old Gang are established in the North. There isn't much of interest West so far as syndicates go, it's mainly a place for people who don't want to get involved."
"And rot away quietly. Just like the system told them to." Bailey said smarmily.
"That's one way of looking at it I suppose." Faye looked away. "You just won a fight so we can't leave through the fight areas. You'll get mobbed by people after your... notable win."
"Your boyfriend right? He alright?" Bailey said slinging his bag over his shoulder.
"He was dead for a few minutes but recovering now. I don't know why he does it. We don't need money."
"I understand. But it's hard to explain politely."
"Follow me." Faye said bluntly.
He followed her out of the hidden place, through a filthy side exit, and out into the black market concourse. Unable to get his bearings he followed her through the hustle and bustle across the chipped, mosaicked floor of what would have been a normal mall galleria at one time.
Aside from the markets that spilled out of the open fronts of what would have been windowed stores, there were holographic readouts of the many fights that were taking place throughout the hidden backquarters of the block. They hovered over the strand here and there flickering neon light over the greasy bartering below.
There were bookmaker stalls here and there, and some of them seemed to recognize him and tip their hats.
"Didn't realize I was on television." Bailey said. "Quite an interesting place... 'busy'."
"It's a crude set up but has worked for over a century this way. It's easy to pack up and move it all elsewhere in the block. There's quite a few places like this hidden within the building."
At the far end they walked through a rusty door in the tiled wall to a dark back room that led to a perfectly flat wall, caked in dust.
The room wormed away around corners to other places and seemed to be a back room for service and maintenance for the main public galleries. There were funky people killing around here, coming and going, and it seemed as though this was the main access route to the black market strands.
Faye pushed through a small door in the dusty wall and they walked out to a dead ended corridor filled almost completely by a fountain. The dead end was the wall, that he now saw was a huge mirror with seamless fire exits along it, one of which they now closed behind them.
The black market was well hidden it seemed, and only accessible along these lonely offshoots from the main concourses of Beldin, Gambling and Virtual.
"Try to look natural." Faye said as they headed toward the sounds of life. "This is a public place now. The colony droids and Border Sec cops are everywhere, and both are on the lookout for behavioural anomalies... much like yourself let’s face it."
They walked down the short corridor, with the continued mosaicked floor and gaunt, disused retail units on either side. Bailey noticed within each niche store was a nonfunctioning colony robot, slumped over the cash counter. It was eerie to think of old Zep sitting there decade after decade, waiting for instructions.
They reached the end and stepped over a small ribbon cornering off the dead end from passing bodies of the main retail corridor.
It was a wide, mall like hall with a line of gambling and alcohol ventures on either side. The Big Beldin burger joint was just to the left, beside a small corridor leading through to the public part of the mall infirmary.
They walked from them and along the concourse passing various flickering amusement arcades and virtual entertainment services, and Bailey noted the vast amount of people going in and out of their gaping maws. Others were sitting around on benches beneath trees or beside small fountains with drunken and lamenting looks about them, but all seemed to be happily giving their money away to the place.
Eventually they reached the end wall, and a broad hole in the floor, covered by the blue glow of a force field. They stopped behind a small crowd of people, and waited for a matching rectangle of glass to slide up into it.
It came and they got onto it, and let one of the other people tap commands into a hovering holo-slate that appeared at the corner.
The elevator slid back down through the building, carrying the small throng of people down by other levels of the block. They passed by two other floors without stopping and then emerged in a huge open space, that he found to be the parking hollow within the retail block. From this angle Bailey could see it's many lanes running from the main road at the far side, all bustling with the life of the metropolis, and fed by bridges through the openings at either side.
He was looking at it all through a huge glass wall that cut off the elevator area from the rest of the hollow. There were other similar elevators taking people up and down to other concourses at either side of them.
Each parking lane reached the glass and ramped up and through it in an enclosed tunnel. They ferried noisy cars between the glass elevators and into the parking lot of the block, just behind them. The activity here was thick with people going boldly to and from the soporific amusements within.
The elevator travelled to the bottom and Bailey followed Faye to an arched exit in the glass wall. Here they walked out onto one of the broad, gardened pathways between lanes.
There was a wind flowing through the place from the central Octagon behind them, kicking up grit in gusts that Bailey had to shield his face against with his hand. It made it hard to look into that strange hall, and its huge glowing crystals in the ceiling that pulsed and throbbed as though they were alive.
Faye walked the opposite way, through a few underpasses leading under the lanes to the lane running along the outer edge, overlooking the promenade.
They stood there for a moment looking out over the broad space, and the nightclub building opposite, that was but one of a few block faces that they could see from their position. Other buildings with equally intense advertisements continued around on their path around the central ring. It was interesting to Bailey to see so much activity after his brief but memorable time in the Psych-unit, but despite his strange awe the sheer amount of constantly selling robot vendors and holographic displays were beginning to make him feel a little queasy.
Faye had noticed him looking a little green, and said "Let's get outa here, yeah?"
The man, Thom had brought him here through all that. It was as though nothing had happened a day before, although on closer inspection Bailey could see the tire tracks left by the car. He glazed over watching the people and robots milling about below as Faye pressed a button on something Bailey recognized as an automobile key, or rather a ‘stable-key’ as was the slang term.
They watched as a car drove itself from one of the openings between the elevators, then down a ramp leading through the glass front to the lane at its base. It rolled quietly along to them spewing a small amount of steam behind it, giving away that the fact that it ran on a primitive water fusion system.
Bailey found he knew so much, beyond that missing core of knowledge of who he actually was. He knew clear as day the slang terms such as ‘stable-lane’, and that the car had been parked in the ‘stables’, which was the space slang way of referring to the parking lot. They were terms that commonly referred to air and solar mobiles, but in this place there would be little need or use for those.
They got in, and Bailey relaxed back as Faye drove it from the hollow and across the promenade bridgeway. Bailey looked down at the patchwork of raised gardens and open spaces as Faye took them across to the nightclub building’s parking hollow, and then through it's steaming mess to the streets at the other side. She drove down onto the spaghetti junction suspended over the street, and then took a sliproad up into a tunnel in the thick metropolis cavern wall. It curved up into it, in a carriageway running through the old stone. There were a series of carved openings looking back into the cavern that progressively became higher and higher over the streets until Bailey felt he couldn’t look.
He squirmed in his chair as they left the metropolis cavern behind and turned through a darkly lit tunnel through the rock and steel. It curved around toward more natural light, and emerged from a lake bed and up through a glass-like road that emerged from the water between two glistening bergs of ice. The crystal road was encased by a half pipe of the same crystal, and was clearly designed for larger speeds.
The carriageway ran up and above a field of icebergs, and Bailey, who had almost stopped squirming against the height over the lower city district, now took in the massive place he had been taken to.
It was a biosphere filling the whole top half of the dome. The town beneath it, and all of its caverned districts supported above it a giant island, separated into four zones reflecting the various climates of Lantis, their homeworld. The center most zone they had entered at looked to be arctic, with its huge bergs of ice jutting up high above the rest of the island. Surrounding the whole landmass was what looked to be a broad moat of water, that merged into a holographic projection of an ocean, giving the illusion that it were an actual island and ecosystem, although for all purposes it was.
The holographic sky was clear cyan blue and the sun shone bright and intense, most likely from a powerful lamp just beyond the projected illusion, so Bailey estimated.
Faye took the car away from the central ice and over an area of dark green moors that surrounded it. They were entering a huge network of crystal carriageways suspended high over the land like a thin but expansive snowflake. They reflected many faint rainbows of light from the artificial sun at angles that felt a little too man made and unnatural.
They took the longer lanes avoiding the main bulk of crystal highways and ringroads, that webbed together more densely here and there over the island.
Looking back Bailey saw the highways congregated at the center at a huge roundabout that hung over the central ice and around a tower that rose up from the bergs. The dark grey tower faded as it reached the illusion of the sky, most likely merging with and supporting the ceiling of the huge cavern.
“That’s the central control tower for the colony robots.” she said pointing back at the distant spinning lighthouse-like lamp that shone out just above the ice. “The robots pretty much run everything for us, but you can top up your money ration by replacing one of them if you wish. But if you’re working for South Syndicate you can make a lot more money with us.”
“Crime you mean?” Bailey said sarcastically, while trying to keep his mind off the dizzying drop below.
“There’s worse organizations in the city. Like I told you...” she said dismissively, then looked at him. “This ain’t the colonies. This is exile. It’s a whole other world, baby. Oh, yeah, do you need a cigarette? It's a bit of a drive.”
She looked at him where he squirmed in the passenger seat, and flicked a rolly that landed in his lap. Bailey took and lit it on the dashboard.
“I think I do.” he said, and sucked long and hard on the toxins before muttering. “Fine, crime it is.”
They travelled across a series of crossroads and junctions that were controlled by sets of cold glowing traffic lights. They travelled South for a long time at high speeds until the simulated sun above had dimmed for evening.
Bailey tried not to look at the land moving by below. The moors had turned to a thick canopy of overgrown forest, that filled the whole of the southern quarter of the island. It had been allowed to overgrow, controlled only by the faint gaseous glow of a plasma film here and there, that separated the forest into more easily farmable chunks.
Bailey braved to look down at the enclosed wildlife in the forests. It was reflective of his homeworld, not alien to him at all but a sight for sore eyes. His eyes moved across the emerald green of the leaves descending to the wispy tall grass that filled the clearings within the forest. Each enclosed clearing was as congregation place for the animals that were homed here in the forest, serving as a wild place where they’d wrestle and bully each other for a drinking spot at the muddy ponds. The rusty mud would have been brought from Lantis originally and then fed and churned by the plants and animals over the seasons.
Bailey sucked on another self destroying cigarette as he gazed at a beady eyed stalk pecking the mud at the feet of a long legged elephant. There was what looked to be a white lion stalking aimlessly though the long grass at the other side, but then it was all behind them as the crystal tunnel dipped down into the canopies.
The clear tunnel dropped down into the darkness of the tall forest between fattened and aging trunks, and turned toward a tunnel in the forest floor, with a holographic signpost overhead telling that it was Apartment District S-18.
They drove down another steep sloping road through the stone wall of a cavern, only this time the windows looked out over a slightly different kind of district. The green land inside the place was paub hazy with mist from the grass and plants.
He didn’t get a chance to see much more as an exit drew up, and they slowly turned through it and out onto a road leading around the enclosed park. There was the vague evidence of where apartment blocks had been torn out to make way for this inner city simulation of normality, where the grass of the field was dried in the shape of the old foundations.
Birds flew overhead through the pink and blue haze of the biosphere mists, and insects hummed their way lazily here and there.
Bailey casually soaked it all in as Faye drove into the place. She carefully swung the car around and onto the opposite lane, pointing back toward the gap to the tunnel in the district wall. The car stopped and Faye flicked her finger for Bailey to get out.
He stepped out of the door, and looked around at the mostly empty enclosure over the top of the car. It had been densely terraformed so to be a mini biosphere under a series of harsh sunlamps hard-welded along the length of the roof. With so few buildings cluttering the place the first thing to strike you was the sheer size and weight of the bricked ceiling above. Although the bricks were structured so to spread their shape and weight against each other, and although they had held fast for close to a thousand years already, you still would instinctively double take as if it were on the verge of collapse.
But it was perfectly safe, and the serenity in the place was the second thing to catch your mind. It was mainly a wide open space of fields surrounded by a road junctioning to the various sized tunnels leading through to other districts. At the center of the fields and gardens was a grouping of old fashioned Lantis homes, a neighbourhood with what looked to be a compact village center within.
Bailey walked from the car across the road just before an embankment topped by swaying white roses, and noticed that Faye hadn’t followed.
He turned to Faye, who still sat in the car with the side window down, and said “Not coming?”
“You’ll be safe from here.” she said sourly, and threw him a small green card. “You’ll need to keep that signature card on you while you’re here until they get your gene print added to the surveillance grid. Go to the village green and meet with the Beldins. They’ll show you where you live now.”
Bailey smirked at her and said “You and Randall don’t live here too?”
She scowled at him slightly and said “We live in apartments... a little to the north”
“Thank you.” Bailey said stepping back onto the grass bank. ”I will prove to you all that I deserve these promotions. I promise.”
Pass the bucket. I’m going to hurl. Slap her and go get drunk on the lawn.
“Ok, Bailey.” she looked down. “The Beldins will be bringing more people by to meet you later today. So get washed and changed before then. You need to start acting like a member of the syndicate family.”
“Please don’t worry. Aaron Bailey is a name you will all learn to respect.” Bailey said, and Faye thought about this, then smiled, slightly concerned.
Bailey smiled goofily as she started the car and pulled away.
Once she was out of sight, Bailey stopped smiling and turned, and walked across the embankment to the wide open space of the first grass field.
As he crossed the perfectly laid and maintained grass he noticed the colourful birds and insects of Lantis that had made their home here.
He strolled across it leisurely in the direction of the village, and watched the first line of huge, stilted houses slowly draw near.
A road to the left led from the encircling road he had come from, and looked to lead into the village as a main street of sorts. Rubbing his slightly running nose he headed toward it, and walked out into the middle of its grey surface.
He looked both ways to make sure he wasn’t about to be run down, and then began walking into the village, toward what looked to be the village green near the center. There were small apartments at either side that looked to be guest houses, and through the gaps between buildings he could see other more private streets running out from the village center. It was kind of a half star within the semicircular place that backed onto what looked to be a tall and looming forest. As he drew closer to it he saw within the darkness of the tall tree trunks the glimmer of multi coloured lights.
There were more robots here, no doubt picking the fruits from this private food forest.
At the end of the road he walked across a broad ring road that connected the different streets, that was broad enough to surround a small village square, that didn’t look like it ever got much use. Circumnavigating it he then passed through a tall metal archway that led into a misty field with garden features. The grass led up to the first of the forest, that already looked to be a tangled mess of different sizes of plant life.
It’s not what you know, but who’s ass you kiss.
Just before it was a raised flower garden with Barton and Cix Beldin tending to it with the aid of a large, spider-like droid. Within its mesh of tentacles could be seen that same clear and coloured cranium as the others.
Bailey jogged up to them where they stood with their backs to him, and hearing his approach they spun around and smiled.
“Bailey!” Barton smiled widely. “Glad you made it.”
“Your food, Sire.” the droid spoke in an electronically drowned tone as it handed a cardboard twist filled with steaming foods to Barton.
Cix was also given one, but she handed it to Bailey.
“Freshly grown, freshly roasted.” she said and Bailey picked a few out with his fingers, and eating them found them to be to his liking.
“Simply delicious.” he said quietly.
“We have a place for you here, now.” Barton said fishing in his back pocket, and then pulled out a keyring with a set of old fashioned keys. “Stay away from the fight leagues from now on. You’re too important to us.”
“Important, how?” Bailey said, looking up from his food.
“We will discuss this with you later today. I’m bringing together a group of syndicate leaders from all sides to meet you. That is... all three crime syndicates here in the city. We all need to speak with you urgently.”
“Golly!” Bailey said with a strained sincerity. “This sounds pretty serious. I really hope I can assist you... with whatever it is.”
“You can.” Cix nodded. “I’m sure of it.”
“Go find your home and get freshened up. It will be the perfect place to rest up after everything you’ve been through.” Barton said.
Bailey looked down at the keys and then squinted at them and said “Alright then. That’s good for me.”
With that Bailey turned and walked back across the green and pink grasses, and then out onto the ring road. He found his street, Carter Lane to his left and began walking along it, searching for number seventeen.
These houses were large detached properties not unlike the kind you’d see back on any custom-terraformed planet. They were quaint and secluded along the side road, blocked off at the end by the down turning subway that led to the private automobile stables.
Bailey had already noticed the wireless stable key on the chain, that could only be for some car they had decided to shovel into the bribery package they had set out.
He strolled along the right path that was darker beneath the shedding tops of the old trees that reached up from each of the front gardens along the way. They were broad, tall, temperate trees from their homeworld, gently dropping their blue brown leaves at the end of the autumn.
Ahead he saw the mail shed for number seventeen and walked casually toward it, it being only one home away from the end of the row. There the road ended and the sink of the stables began, surrounded by a cluster of the same large trees. Nearer to it he could almost see down into the yellow-lit underground parking bays where his car would now be waiting.
It can keep waiting for now. As can the rest of the city.
Bailey licked the food from one of his incisors, momentarily reminding him of the river animals his species had evolved from. They were arguably still carnivorous even in human form, as was the optimal shape of evolution for those born into vertical gravity environments. He doted on this as he ate the rest of the roasted vegetables, and then threw the card wrapper into the gutter, not caring much that it was the only piece of litter in sight.
Bailey looked back up and down the street and then began walking up the curving drive toward his new home.
What a dump.
He kind of agreed, but didn’t know why. Was he used to something far better? If he was he couldn’t remember, along with the other traces of before. Being a terrorist must have its’ own rewards, he guessed.
There was a marble arch in the white face of the wall that led into the ground floor lobby of the home. The lobby ran under the whole of the house and then out through other archways into the back gardens, where the loom of a stilted section of the home darkened the area.
As he approached the center of the cold stone floor a glass and steel elevator plate floated down automatically as he approached with the keys, and he stepped up onto it.
“Living one, two, three, Basement or Attic.” a tinny voice said after a while of standing in confusion.
“Err... Living... one.” he said and the elevator tugged upward briefly and delivered him into the dining room of the house, on the first floor.
He looked around the tall hall with its wood floor and dining table close to a half open bay window. The tall, lace curtains blew gently in the breeze around the first chairs of the table.
Then suddenly in front of him gasses blurred momentarily and the figure of a thin man dressed in formal wear materialized and cupped his hands together.
“Hello master.” he said in a matching formal accent. “Would you like to view your holo screens?”
Bailey said nothing and stepped back onto the elevator plate.
“Living two, please.”
Again the antigravity tugged the glass flooring upward and he found himself in the main living space of the house.
He stared at it all for a moment, with its two tiers of floor and far windows looking out over the gardens. The ceiling was slightly lower here but still continued the same style of décor, as if someone had lived here and left. The same laced curtains blew out of control across the arranged sofas and living room floor at the far side.
A dizziness was taking hold, and he could feel the walls leaning inward, although they obviously were not.
He steeled his mind against those sensations as the same holographic tv guide materialized in front of him.
“Would you like to view your holo screens, sir?” it said formally, and Bailey walked forward and around him.
“The others who lived here. Where did they go?”
“They were caught in a terrorist bomb blast three days ago. None survived.” It said. “Their holo-theatre presets now belong to you, unless you wish to change them.”
“No, it’s fine.” Bailey said, rubbing his now throbbing forehead. “Start it, please.”
Without another word the man smiled slightly and bowed his head, then disappeared. Behind him, along the wall close to where the elevator had arisen, the wall faded away to be replaced by a view of a clapping audience. The live noise hit him, giving the acute illusion that he were actually looking through into another room of the house.
The applause died down and the view moved to the stage where it focused closer on two men that were about to begin some sort of interview.
As the last of the applause died the interviewer cut in “Welcome to the show kind viewer, and also our guest, Morton Fincle. Thank you to those of you joining us live and also to our subscribers who will watch a saved archive as it becomes available later in the week.”
Bailey assumed this had been saved, and set to begin when whoever had lived here had returned, which now would never happen.
“Now Mr Fincle, you are the oldest living member of the Old Gang crime fraternity, or rather their representative group here on Narcosia. This is your first real interview since being exiled, so I suppose the question on mine and I assume all of our lips is... why now?”
Bailey listened intently, and could feel a harsh analysis of every finest detail the ultra definition holographic cameras picked up.
He could feel the cool breeze on his back as he stood, alert with his hands on his hips.
Morton Fincle seemed to squirm slightly, and clearly was at odds with even being there. He had a large beard that he seemed to hide behind, glancing with narrow eyes every now and again at the interviewer.
After a pause he began “I have lived a long time, and living here in this city has seemed like an eternity. Like everyone in exile I have had all age inhibitors revoked and so soon I know that I will die.”
Bailey sucked in a breath of the cool air.
“My family has a bad reputation, I accept this, so I guess what I really want is to give some sort of explanation. We, like all of you feel the pressures of prison life. We are used to far greater things and to be sent here affects us more than most. We realize now that we have acted inappropriately, and we want to change. I’ve wanted to change our operation for years but with our family, well change can be slow.”
The interviewer tried to cut in here and said “This will be welcome news to the average lifer here in the city, but going from your record of the past two hundred years you have murdered over sixteen thousand people that we know of, been responsible for the creation of hundreds of terrorist cells that have been responsible for many more fatalities. Torture and extortion of...”
“You’re not hearing me...” Morton quietly cut in, with more than an undercurrent of threat. “People can change. I’ve changed. And soon, everything will change. I’m making a promise here, okay? Anyone can change.”
Bailey closed his eyes, and waited for his rapid mind to cool.
After about an hour of switching between the various saved and live channels available on the local city network he went up to the top floor and began the large shower.
It filled a quarter of the floor with the rest of the room being a toilet and washbasin for two. The rest of the floor was filled with dusty dressing rooms that had been used at one time to ready the occupants for life and formal occasions.
The steam had built up in the room and Bailey swept the condensation from the mirror over the broad washbasin. He stared back at himself momentarily before turning and stepping into the shower basin.
After washing he walked naked through to the closest of the dressing rooms and began to get dried beside those same white curtains, blowing from the light winds outside.
With a towel around his shoulders he walked to the window and looked down the four floors at the garden below, and noticed beyond his back fence, some kids climbing in an old tree.
It was one of many trees on the triangle of grass between the back of his row and the next row over.
He turned around smiling momentarily and then looked over his shoulder at them as they climbed and hung from the branches.
He made brief eye contact with one of the younger boys who smiled a naughty smile back to him, and then started pointing at Bailey and shouting for the others to look.
“You dirty bastard!” he yelled and dropped from the branch.
The boy ran away along the houses, as Bailey frowned at them all. The others stared at him a little confused and one looked to be on the edge of tears.
That little shit.
Bailey watched the kid run away, no doubt to start some gossip snake that would come back to bite him. But Bailey found that he didn’t care, and carried on drying his shoulders.
As time rolled on he instinctively felt that gossip was being generated somewhere, and so closed the dressing room windows and then the heavier, gold curtains. The room was too dark to see, and he stood there for a few moments.
Outside the kid must have brought his father or something, as he heard him cry “Bastard!”
Responding to the darkness the home lit a single buzzing bulb in the middle of the ceiling.
This looks strangely familiar. We’re not out of the cell yet.
Bailey looked around at the tall mirrors that surrounded him.
You must listen and obey or you’re going to get yourself into more trouble.
He looked between his reflections as they each turned to look in a different direction.
We need to create a false ID print from the cards you stole from Gen Colec’s body.
There had been a family here at one time. Perhaps a father, mother and child. For whatever horrible reason they didn’t live here anymore and the place had been retouched for a new occupant. Still, the scars of their life could be seen on everything, but Bailey set it aside in his mind.
He needed to gather his thoughts, this much was obvious. But beyond all of it he saw one single priority glaring out of the night like a piercing star.
“Who the hell are you?” he hissed, finding a reflection that stared back. “I thought you were... that weird thing I killed on the edge of town. But it can’t speak to me now it’s dead.”
There was no answer and he stood for a while, trying to ignore the piercing screeches of the children that still played at the tree.
“What are you?” he repeated.
He suddenly felt lonely, but Bailey was still too happy to care, having found a place to call home.
Right follows right. You will listen and obey, angel child.
“These people have been so good to me.” Bailey whispered in the twilight.
These people aren’t your friends. They are a drug and gambling syndicate and cannot be trusted.
“But they’ve given me a home?”
This place is no use to us. We need to find Gen Colec’s home. There we will make our world away from these worthless people.
Bailey lay back against the canvas curtains, crumpling them against the glass, and in the darkness he sighed.
For the rest of the morning Bailey examined the layout of the perfectly reconstructed suburban home they had given him. He quickly found the home computer in the study on the top floor of the house, and taking the crystal sphere in hand, he returned to the ground floor and walked out to the area below the stilts.
There were a few ponds connected by slate covered rivulets, and Bailey watched the fattened fish as they bobbed dopily together in their enclosed world. He sat at a stone table by one of the ponds closer to the light of the gardens, and then rolled the sphere onto it.
“On.” he said, assuming it was the command to start it.
A pin prick of light could be seen within the glass and then above the table a set of icons sprouted out in a holographic operating system.
He had brought a pocketful of stationary too, and placed it neatly to the side of the now hologram swamped tabletop.
Now we must forge an identity here in the city. A simple double identity.
“What for?” Bailey blurted out as the hologram icons encircled him, awaiting his touch.
The clock is ticking. Those gangsters will be here in a couple of hours. We need a faith between us.
“I trust you. I’m sure of it. But why a double identity? I assume you mean Gen Colec?” Bailey said, looking down at the spinning face of the old man on the left third of the card. “We don’t need it if we are escaping, right? That was the whole plan right?”
A second skin can always come in handy, especially in a technocratic hell hole like this.
“Okay, whatever I guess. But I don’t know how.”
I will guide you, always. We must create a double identity amongst identities. Expand the central window, and let’s poke about the guts of this measly city.
He sat back and looked at the floating collection of pages that had appeared within the orbiting icons. They had appeared by default as chosen by the family, with hardly any of them interesting him.
Bailey followed that dark potential from within, and tapped the centermost page, which was what passed for a search engine here on the prison. As he did the others flew away, as did the spinning icons, only to be replaced a moment later by new icons. The page spread out before him in two pages for forward and backward navigation. The search engine displayed its search box that Bailey then pressed a finger to and began speaking aloud his commands.
“Gen Colec?” he said first, and the pages filled with random information posted about the man on various networks.
The prison internet would no doubt track and record everything biometrically according to the dna print of whoever was touching the hologram surface.
No matter. We’ll unplug from the internetwork before we begin reskinning the identity card.
It was much like the early internet, that had matrixed their society near the end of the 'Age of Acceleration'. It wasn’t anything like the super-mind that the internet had eventually evolved into but it was a quick way to dip into colony life.
After a few more encyclopaedic searches he found that it connected to a handful of primary networks, with lesser search results pushed way to the back of the listing.
It was all pretty mundane information, and he found already that the most important information was that which he already possessed.
As he surfed and linked between each headline and article about city life he found it a harsh shadow of what their lives would have been had they not been exiled.
A video submission site called ‘We Are Megacity’ showed the sardonic view the exiles had of their prison. There was nothing mega about it, it being locked at a primitive, pre Harmony level.
Each site reflected the city and its cultures, that themselves reflected the popular cultures back in the free world.
Bailey remembered everything about life back in the empire, only he couldn’t remember when and where he had learnt it, or who he had been at that time. Everything he found on these networks were a sad reminder of that lofty existence, and the world they had come from.
The Lantis species were just one of many in the Eclipse Empire, that was the largest of a few similar empires that had gained dominion over the vastness of intergalactic space.
From early in history, like most human cultures the Lantis civilization had come up through its ages. After the first metal ages there had been the industrial age, and then the Age of Acceleration, where people wanted more and faster. And then finally The Harmony, where many sciences combined over the quantum, and from it a new society was born.
Time began again at this point, so it was said, since The Harmony had brought into people’s lives a new blissful form of existence. Advancements had unchained man from his natural limits, from curses such as boredom, aging and disease.
It was a harmony on one hand between man and his nature, but also with powerful artificial intelligence, made conscious to the point of a new life form itself. Under jealous and suspicious regulation, these new robot-programs took the reigns of their world, evolving and conserving it for mutual benefit to both.
This ascension of man and robot grew more powerful with every minute of every year, on and then up into the space age, where they encountered similar cultures with more or less success in their harmonization.
The Eclipse Empire and its mainframe had taken them into space. The Greys had contacted them eventually, as was the way, only when it was judged that they had fully entered into the Age of Harmony. It was written in stone that they would not interfere with any civilization until a crux point such as this.
The Grey aliens that began the empire brought with them a powerful Artificial Intelligence that they called simply The Lord. It was in fact a chimera of multiple virtual personalities, almost schizophrenically harmonized as one in service to the peoples of the empire. Their own artificial intelligences were offered up to integrate into it as a trust gesture, then allowing them to share in the mutual benefits of The Lord. This mega-mainframe served to accommodate the AIs of each homeworld, while empire space was open and free to the humans, and any of those rare species that had evolved in a non human way.
Under the Grey’s imperial reign, all citizens were allowed a basic Harmony set, halting their aging and conserving their health, with the option of more intense technologies on a scale closer to the bio-androids that The Lord used like gloves to service the people. With little or no necessary employment remaining, The Lord and its robotic hands had taken away the old pressures of nation and state, and replaced it in their lives with a unique kind of bliss.
A unique kind of boredom...
Such was the technology, and the responsibility, but there was none of that here in the world of exile, but for scraps here and there as a small mercy.
As he surfed each social networking hub he looked over identity after identity, and what limited information they used in shorthand to get to know one another, those times when they bothered to do that in any real way.
He closed down the hovering internetwork windows and sighed, and although he felt empty and directionless he had a sense that he had gleaned all that he had needed in that small space of time.
Following the darkness within him, he took 3D photographs of himself with the social networking camera built into a holo-projected screen. With various images of his head and shoulders rotating slowly he rescaled them to a thumb size and set them to ‘print out’ on 3D paper. Beside the crystal sphere, after a slight yellow flicker and gaseous blur the piece of paper materialized on the table. He picked it up and looked at the rows of self images rotating before him. Lastly he cut away the ones he liked and glued a small piece of a metal paperclip to the back.
After a moments churn of thought he got up and returned to the house, and brought from the kitchen some work tools, cutlery, and bottles of detergent. He placed Gen Colec’s ID cards on the garden table and began applying a combination of detergents, before peeling back a few layers of protective lining. He peeled back the final lining only enough to access the text on the left, without breaking an electronic seal that ran down the middle over a spinning DNA graphic. He used a combination of slicing away the embossed numbers of the date of exile, rearranging what he had stripped away, and then filling in any blanks left over with simple black pen. He then resealed that side and peeled back the right side so to access the spinning photograph of Colec. He sliced within a golden electronic seal, designed to prevent the removal of the photograph, and using the knife as an electric bridge to the earth at the back, slid in the photograph he had taken. He then resealed the right side of the card and carefully placed back the rest of the protective layering.
At the last he glued them all into one with the common stationary glue.
With this technique he did the same with the rest, until each of the ID cards read “Gen Colec, 30 years natural age” and with his own photograph.
The Biometric DNA print within the card was still that of Colec’s however, and this is all that would be read by authenticating programs, unless he happened to be stopped, at which juncture the face and name would match himself. There were risks involved in such a technique, but without more time it would have to do. Bailey had understood all of the commands the darkness had provided, but still doubted whether a full identity print could realistically be achieved in a place such as this.
We need to steal his entire life, and it's doable. These biometric systems make a thousand mistakes each day. Our trick is finding these gaps, and constructing a tunnel through them.
Time was marching on, and soon the gangsters would arrive. He returned upstairs and fished through the walk-in wardrobe in the master bedroom, eventually finding something the darkness liked.
The father of the household looked to be the outdoors type and with a few robotic refits he got dressed in the old clothes.
Wearing a silk t-shirt and sandy suede jacket with tight jeans and hiking boots he wandered back outside, and sat at the table while staring at the expansive back lawn. He studied it in the late afternoon light, with its line of flowers at either side, leading down to a glass house at the end. The broad glass house looked to be full of a variety of plants, with a huge tree at the center practically bursting out the top.
Over its roof he could see that old tree where the kids were still playing, including the one that had caused the trouble earlier. On catching sight of Bailey he took on a note of concern, but looked to be scheming still.
He's obviously terrified, look at him... he will be.
The other kids looked quite sweet and seemed to be happy at seeing Bailey’s return. Bailey smiled at seeing this but felt the darkness grimace.
Bailey sat staring ahead at the gardens and the small wildlife that came to and from it, until he heard a voice behind him.
“Sorry.” Barton said leaning around the archway, as Bailey calmly palmed the new ID cards from the table, and into his trouser pockets. “I couldn’t get an answer at the front.”
He walked out onto the stone garden followed by Cix, who formally said “Hello, Mr Bailey.”
Others followed behind them.
First came two people that moved as if they were another couple. They were older, the man a tall and perfectly bald with a lightly muscular build, and the woman medium height and broad. All, including the others that followed behind seemed to be dressed in black but for the broad woman, that wore a heavy knitted cardigan and dress.
“Come with me.” Barton said as he passed by the table
“Doing a little spring cleaning?” Cix said as she passed, with an amused look at the detergents stacked up on the table.
“No. I was actually going to pour them down the drain. I hate chemicals.” Bailey said, unable to think of a decent explanation so quickly, and then hoped they wouldn’t ask about the pile of cutlery and tools.
As he stood up he noticed that one of the others following the old couple was none other than the man he’d seen being interviewed earlier that day. The sight of Morton Fincle of the now infamous Old Gang made his gut clench.
Bailey made haste after the younger Beldins, while keeping ahead of the older couple.
They marched down the lawn, within sight of the long line of lawns, most with a mass of white linen and clothes blowing on the lines in the flow of the wind.
Bailey followed them as they walked into the glass house, and into the spread of tall leaves and growing trays.
“Mr Bailey.” the heavily dressed woman said as she entered.
Bailey leaned back against a water-filled tray at the glass wall, and stood there watching as the others filed in before him. He crossed one foot over the other as he wiggled his fingers in the shallow water.
There was a damp metal table in the middle, just before the trunk of what he now found to be a thick growing fruit tree. They all gathered before it, while a younger man with what looked like a fat wire reaching out of the back of his head walked around the tree to the back of the glass house. He opened a door there and threw a pebble at the kids in the tree, who screamed and dropped to the ground, crying and ran away. He returned to the others with his wire gathered in his arms.
“Are you sure this turkey can do it?” Morton Fincle wagged a dirty hand just before Baileys face, and Bailey stretched a silent smile back at him.
Almost cutting into the conversation, the tall man stepped forward “Hello, Mr Bailey. My name is Lon Sagar of the Sagar East Syndicate. This is my fiancée Dora Beldin...”
He gestured to the heavily dressed woman and then to a tubby man beside her.
“And her brother, Rupe Beldin. Rupe’s son, Ting and you’ve already met his older son Barton and his wife. Finally, Morton Fincle representing Old Gang.”
“All three syndicates? I’m honoured.” Bailey smiled at them all.
Dora Beldin stepped up beside her partner and said “Well, you must have already guessed that we are in need of someone like yourself.”
“Indeed, but I can’t imagine why.” Bailey lied, giving them just the right line to get on with what they had assembled to do.
“Well, here’s the crux.” Lon said, while ghouling over a computer crystal of his own. “Collectively we have decided that we simply cannot live here anymore. We are, all of us, ascended men and women. Ascended in our mind, body and spirit, and used to much more opulence in our lives. Our syndicates are at war back in the colonies, but here we are all in agreement on one thing, we need to get out.”
“We are of course too old to escape ourselves, but our children can escape from this place.” Dora carried it, as her partner began to waffle. “Escaping this moon, the system, maybe even exile itself. Ideally they’d like to return to empire, but it might not be possible.”
Lon continued “They may not need to if we can pull this off. But in order to do this we need someone like you to do the complicated shit.”
Dora went on, “Cix seems convinced that you can hack the solar grid, so that’s good enough for me. But what do you say? Most people would jump at the chance to get out of here.”
Bailey smiled an embarrassed smile as all eyes suddenly fell on him, for that answer they had all come here to get. He shrugged and said “Well, it sounds good enough. I’d need to know more about it of course.”
Shut the hell up fool! Just agree!
“But of course.” Lon said and slid his crystal onto the wet tabletop behind him. “I’ve brought with me a crude diagram we’ve created, mapping out the basic scheme of the escape.”
Above the table a hologramatic representation of the marbled planet and its moons sprouted into living colour. A bird that was on its way to drink some of the collected water stopped in mid air and flapped madly around the top of the planet before turning and flying back out of the skylight. The diagram zoomed in to center on one of the orbiting moons. It was an ice covered world.
“The planet you see is the sixth in the solar system, a non ignited star stabilized as a gas giant in a binary orbit with the sun, Narcosia. We are on its largest moon, a planet large enough to swallow our homeworld three times. We have no idea where we are in the galaxy, but it must be remote. Somewhere deep in the Outlands.”
Lon walked around the model slightly and pointed at one side of the moon.
“We are there, in a domed city.” he then pointed at a small space station orbiting overhead. “This is the Narcoisa weather station. Every season a rocket is launched from the side of the dome, taking samples of the atmosphere as it journeys into orbit.”
Lon had begun a demonstration, and Bailey watched as small dot lifted from the moon’s surface trailing a comical line behind it. The weather station journeyed almost too perfectly toward it.
“Once in orbit it is collected by the weather station for analysis.” Lon said and turned to Bailey.
“And you’re going to use that to get into space?” Bailey said with a note of sarcasm.
“Precisely. Once on board the weather station you can take control, and our compscans have shown that it is fitted with an old but working Backspace drive. If you take the station you can go anywhere you wish, but only if the solar defence grid is disabled. That’s where you come in.”
“Do you think you can do all of this?” Morton said bluntly.
“Oh yes. It’s like second nature to me.” Bailey blurted nervously with an inane smile.
Dora pointed up at the weather station and said “If you can escape in this vehicle you can live there indefinitely. It was designed as a home for army and navy units, as part of the original pioneering years. You can sell space merchant services to the Outland colonies and live out there like kings. You’d need to stay on the move of course but you’ll be free. At least that.”
“Sounds perfect.” Bailey said quietly and smiled up at her. “Consider me on board.”
Just then the artificial sunlamps went out, immediately replaced by the cool blue moonlight lamps of evening.
“Drat.” Dora said, smiling at Bailey. “I guess its time for bed.”
“Barton will fill you in with the rest. It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Aaron Bailey.” Lon said and shook his hand with a gentle firmness. Behind him Dora scooped up the computer crystal and dropped it into her cardigan pocket.
“Thanks.” she smiled as she passed him by.
Morton followed them and then Bailey walked out onto the grass with the remaining Beldins.
Barton walked up beside him and smiled “That went well. I think you have a lot to add to this.”
Cix approached and said “We’ll be back tomorrow, and we’ll take you to one of our labs. You’ll be assigned a compartmentalized team and report only to them, and to the overall project coordinator, Dr Chester Barron.”
“You may hear gossip about Dr Barron. He was on other escape attempts that failed. Just remember we have every faith in him, and that should be good enough for you.” Barton said.
“Certainly.” Bailey lied.
“You’re really a solar hacker?” Barton’s younger brother, Ting leaned at him in the moonlight.
“Err, well yeah?” Bailey said with a sardonic note.
“I play a solar hacker in my Star Marines RPG. South Syndicate runs Star Marines. I can get you a free account. Do you want a free account?” Ting said as he walked around him like a circling shark. His brain-link wire trailed along the lawn behind him, leaving a small trace of blood on the dark grass as it did. It was a primitive technology used to connect these virtual reality junkies into the fake world of RPGs and the like.
“We’ll see how it rolls.” Bailey said and turned away from him, to his older brother.
“Nine tomorrow morning. Be ready for a full day.” Barton said.
“And stay indoors tonight.” Cix added as if suddenly realizing something. “We have syndicate guards all around here but the dickheads still get in sometimes. We don’t want any harm coming to you... and maybe keep the curtains drawn too.”
“Anything you say.” Bailey said, pointing at her cheesily on the ‘you’.
Their father, Rupe stepped around them and put his hand on Tings shoulder.
“Take this multi-com phone.” he said handing him a small pebble shaped computer, that fitted just perfectly inside the hand. “I locked all the important numbers and addies you’ll need into it. Also the diagram you saw earlier. Nerd up on this stuff as quick as you can.”
Bailey nodded slightly while looking down at the multi-com, which was basically a more ergonomic version of the computer crystals.
“Good evening, Mr Bailey.” he said, and with that they all left across the gardens.
Bailey watched them until they were out of sight and then began to walk back up to the tall house. Inside the lobby he stood on the hovering elevator and leaned against the wall as he watched the cars of the visiting party pull away along the street.
There was a piercing screech from a distance behind, followed by a set of gunshots and then more screeching.
“Attic.” he said, and stood straight as the elevator lifted the full height of the house to the topmost floor.
He walked into the long, dusty room stepping by sets of wooden boxes toward a boarded up window he had seen from the garden below.
He stepped up to it and looked through one of the gaps in the old boards. With a clear view over the fields of the district he was able to see figures running at a distance while colony robots tried to chase them down. They looked insane, possibly high as kites and running with their arms flailing. There was the flicker of laser light and two of the figures fell to the grass. Other figures turned and ran toward one of the many tunnels out of the district.
We can’t stay in. The night is young. We need to find Gen Colec’s pad.
“Looks fucking dangerous out there.” Bailey muttered and then looked down at the nearest wooden removal crate. It's lid had been popped and inside he could see a few living photographs of the parents and child that had lived here. From the scattering of snaps he could see the hopes and faiths of them, and that coldness in knowing that they had died quickly somewhere out in that dangerous place.
He picked up a pair of sunglasses that had been resting on a holiday snap. It was a moving picture of the family burying their father in the sand, most probably one of the shores up in the biosphere.
We can’t waste time. So much yet to do.
He watched as it looped again, and then put on the sunglasses and walked up to the closest light.
He gazed at the flickering lightbulb through the sun shades and sighed slightly before turning away.
“Let’s ride.” he muttered sombrely and moved toward the elevator again.
Moments later he walked down the drive to the night-lit street and pressed the button on the stable key, calling his car from the garages.
After a moment of standing in silence there was a hollow growl from within the subway at the end of the road and then the roof of the car came to view as it turned to mount the ramp. It popped its headlights on as it sensed the night and cruised up onto the street, and then along to park where Bailey was waiting. There was a slight screech as it did, and then Bailey began to walk around it looking the beast over in the artificial moonlight.
It was a beautiful machine; a sleek, brown sports automobile with low back and modest spoil. At the front the bonnet curved over the brims leading to the seal-eyed lights.
Responding to his biometric dna touch he opened the driver side door and slid into the wood and leather furnished interior, kicking up that newly refitted smell as he did.
We can’t dawdle. We need to get out into the city as fast as possible, preferably without anyone here noticing.
“Relax.” Bailey said, as if to himself. “They are all tucked up nice and cosy in bed.”
“Are you addressing me, sire?” the inbuilt robo-consciousness within the car said in an electronically drowned male voice. “Where would you like to go?”
“Err. Gen Colec, please?” Bailey said while wiggling his fingers.
A search result was displayed in the windscreen opposite, with only one exact match for ‘Exile: Gen Colec’ reading his address and date of death.
Date of death: 72551.281. That’s three days ago.
Bailey frowned and said “They left him lying there for a day?”
Place of residence: Apartment district E-19, Block K, Floor 18, 5-E.
“Is that East Syndicate?” Bailey said, and was replied by the male voice of the cars navi-com.
“Affirmative.” it said.
“And how do I get there?” Bailey asked, realizing how ignorant he was of the lay of the city.
“Would you like to take the upper or lower highways.” it said.
“Err. Not the crystal highways. I don’t like those.” Bailey stammered, remembering that dizzying height.
“Lower city highway route found.” it said, and the windscreen filled with a transparent overlay of the road, filling in half or unpainted signs and covering the road surface with lines for speed and etiquette. There was also a prominent red line bisected by arrows, indicating that this was the first route to take.
“Manual or Auto drive?” it said
“Err, manual I think.” Bailey said, and a green light came on beside the gear stick.
His feet and hands found the right places and he took the car along the street. At the end he saw a group of men and women talking outside of a house and hoping that none of them were the Beldins or anybody related he speeded up on the junction and away along the road from the village.
After taking the car around the road at the cavern wall he found a tunnel leading East and started on the first highway out into the city.
The small highway ran over the cemented grounds in the tunnel and then raised up to the main motorway system that streamlined traffic through the districts. He took the car up onto them and drove between the top halves of apartment blocks bathed in the blue and white streetlamps from below.
It was mostly dark however with very little electricity visible and only the odd window illuminated. He took the car through district after district, using broader tunnels cut only for those carriageways.
This place was a science outpost once? I wonder what they’d think knowing their homes had been built upon countless times to house scum in these apartments. Well I guess its all part of the imperial council’s plan.
It probably took longer than it would have done on the upper highways over the biosphere but Bailey was interested in the city. It seemed far quieter than he had expected and feared. There was an electric tension in the air, but he wondered now if it were coming only from himself.
Maybe it won’t be so bad.
A few districts out from the destination he saw a static flash in one of the back streets below and then a plume of flames roll up into view at the height of the motorway. He passed by it and into the next district, realizing that it must have been some sort of terrorist strike, or perhaps something drug related. Either way he had no interest in it and continued on to the district containing Gen Colec’s apartment.
There was a strange activity coming from the streets ahead and the navigation arrows seemed to be pulling him toward it. As he journeyed through the dark apartment buildings and drew closer to the lights he found them to be spotlamps shining up to the ceiling and moving around to the thick beat of what he believed to be Spunker music.
This is it. Here we can achieve miracles. Just do as I say and stay safe. Get into the apartment building as quick as you can.
“Who the hell is this?” Bailey said as he indicated to pull off the highway, following the red arrow down a slip road to ground level. “You didn’t answer me?”
Who I am? Who are you?
“You’ll tell me.” Bailey smirked, as the car left the slip road and drove out into the darker highstreets.
Following the guide he drove around and into the glare of the party that he now saw to comprise of a town square filled with jumping hooligans, some in cheap cars that they were wheel spinning or crashing into public property. He drove along a street just out of the way of it all, and by one of the huge floodlamp boxes.
The guide brought him around onto a broad street and stopped before steps leading up to one of the larger apartment blocks.
Bailey got out of the car, feeling the harsh blast of the music from the party, that was now still in sight just meters away. He was standing on one of many white boulevards bathed in the blue streetlamps and the pink from signs over the bars around the square nearby.
He heard someone shout “Whoah! Fuckin’ nice wheels man! Whooo!”
Looking in the direction he couldn’t see who had shouted it through the bright glare and the jumping mass of flesh.
Park the thing and get inside. Quick!
“Park?” Bailey said to the car, and the door pulled gently out of his hand and closed.
“Parking in A17 Stable 3.” the drowned voice said on the outside of the car this time.
It then pulled away on its own and drove along the street, by the party, and then turned along another road out of sight.
You need to get out of here!
Bailey then walked away from the steps, and along the street slightly so that he was in a better view of the violent partying. He stopped at a lamppost and leaned against it, and glanced casually around it at what was causing this voice so much distress.
“I want to know.” Bailey said.
I’ve brought you this far. Showered you with things this riff raff only ever dream about. I will explain all, but inside.
“That’s all you had to say.” Bailey said and then walked back and up the flight of white stone steps to the doors.
You will learn not to question me. It’s either work with me or join with the riff raff. You’ll work like a dog for chicken feed. And dogs can’t live on chicken feed.
“Wise words.” Bailey said sarcastically as he entered and glanced at the robot guard that stood century.
“Pass?” it said, and Bailey held up Gen Colec’s ID card that he had doctored with his own image earlier.
There was no objection from the snake eyed droid and so Bailey strolled into the opaque lobby and waited.
A holo plate for control appeared beside him, hovering over the worn red carpet. On it were the numbers of each floor to be chosen by touch.
He tapped the floor required and below him a sheet of glass merged from the floor and began lifting him up through a tunnel in the ceiling. There was the distorted glow of antigravity at the edges that cradled him on his journey up and slightly along to be then lowered down onto another red carpet.
The glass disappeared into the floor again, and Bailey found himself to be standing in a wide corridor at the back wall of the apartments. There were windows here looking down over what seemed to be a spaghetti junction, leading off in many directions to other tunnels and districts. There was a little traffic down there but little enough to remind him of how late it was getting.
At the other side were a series of nicely carved doors, in an equally nice chocolate coloured stone wall. It had the mark of somewhere that had had a lot of money spent on it, with the intention of it lasting a long time without maintenance.
Bailey found the door to Colec’s apartment but as he stepped up to it Bailey felt a flush to his head and a dizziness that made him reach for a thick radiator on the wall.
He tapped it gently before righting himself and stepping on through the corridor toward the door.
Bailey pressed Colec’s home keycard to the magnetic plate of brass and the door clipped open slightly. A bright light from within spilled through the crack, and on opening it he found it to be from a harsh bulb on a tall pole.
He heard a rasping snarl and through the blinding light fur and teeth and claws grew in size as something quite deadly jumped at him.
Without any conscious thought but for an instinct fuelled by shock, Bailey found he had swung his foot up and booted it into the oncoming face of the beast.
He stumbled back slightly into the corridor as the dog, or was it a cat, flopped onto its back and twitched its legs through its carpet of fur.
Bailey seeing this all now twisted away holding a hand over his mouth to muffle any cry he might make. He looked at it and crouched toward it, feeling slightly sorry for the thing, since he had rendered it unconscious.
A Romano fighting dog, and a big one. Maneaters. Colec must have expected us, or someone. There’s something to find here, no doubt.
Bailey reached to touch its fur but as the thing snarled out in its sleep he pulled his hand away.
Drag it inside. Tie it’s mouth to something with wire.
Bailey, still somewhat shocked and on the verge of crying pulled the knee high lump of fur and teeth into the landing and up a step onto the wood floor of Colec’s front room.
Switching off the bright lamp near the front door, he closed it then began scanning over the dark, dusty interior of the place. There was an extractor fan in the wall slowly turning and an old clock ticking each second away. The man, Colec seemed like quite a gentle soul from his antique décor, and love of old fashioned books.
Bailey walked around the half dead dog and toward the windows looking out over the cityscape, and the fingers of light reaching up from the now muffled party below.
Panting slightly, he surveyed the similarly panting hound, then seeing a small harp in the corner of the room took one of its longer strings and rapped it around the Romano’s flat face. The jaws were easy to open but not so easy to feed a wire through since the teeth were all long and pointy and shooting off at irregular angles.
He tied the other end to the pipe behind the toilet which was a room far away and out of sight of the front room. As he stood back up from the dog his own reflection caught him again in the huge washbasin mirror, only this time dizziness and rage welled up inside himself and he lashed out, punching into the center of the glass. It shattered inward held together by a plastic preservative film. After another glance at the fragmented reflections of himself he stepped away from the mirror, toilet and the snoring animal beside it. He just hoped he didn’t need to go while he was here.
Pull yourself together, child! We can use this place, but we need Colec first. Bring anything you can find to this room regarding Gen Colec.
In a kind of daze, Bailey looked around and began fishing through drawers, cupboards, and coats. Having piled everything he could find from the front room onto the floor where the dog had been, he proceeded to the bedroom and study, finishing up with the kitchen. In the end he had accumulated a waist high pile of papers and info-needles. Gen Colec's multi-com was also salvaged which he threw on a thick wood table before the window.
Now the fun. Open Colec’s multi-com, and surf to his business’s login page. We will need a password. The password is somewhere in that pile.
Bailey looked at it, his eyesight shaking slightly, as it had before the dizziness.
“I’m a little tired. What’s happening to me?” Bailey asked as his eyesight hazed and faded, and the wood floor rushed closer.
Bailey looked around suddenly, half realizing that he was now in a kind of dream. There were slimy, vacuous clouds swirling around him, close to him like a mist he could touch. After turning a couple of times, and not getting his bearings, he saw a shade growing behind the mist.
You’re becoming more like me. Or maybe I’m becoming you. Either way I think I’m stuck with you.
“Arc?” Bailey asked, then wished he hadn’t.
I am Arc Micormic, or what used to be Arc Micormic. I am what I do, and so are you.
“You were a terrorist. A thief!”
This world stole from me first.
Bailey listened and saw the shade grow larger and lean at him through the mists.
You have no idea what they did to me. How could you know?
Bailey saw momentarily his indignant face, before it returned back to the shade and mist. His own face, only different. Another life.
“I guess Aaron Bailey never really existed. I’m a joke... an insane joke.”
You are just what you do.
Bailey heard the words in his wet ear as if they had been spoken in the room a moment earlier. His eyesight cleared, seeing the words of an East Syndicate invoice close up. He leaned up gently, finding he had slumped over the paper pile he had created, and now drooled over in his sleep.
He looked at the clock standing by the wall, seeing that it was now late into the night. A tropical Lantis lizard that Colec had apparently kept as a pet stood atop it waving its long antennae in his direction.
Standing, he looked down at the pile and sighed “So a password. And then what?”
He heard nothing, but then he guessed he had something to do.
Bailey sat in silence with his feet on the desk beside the lizard that had joined him. They sat watching the holographic display above the multi-com as Bailey took it to the internet sites Arc had advised. Hours had passed during his quest to safely steal Gen Colec’s possibly unneeded identity, and he was starting to get very tired.
He sat in an old rocking chair Colec had put beside the window, where he could look out through the wood blinds at the town square below. During the day it might actually look pleasant, but now was filled with the noisy ‘riff raff’ as Arc had called them.
Colec’s multi-com had not been passworded, so Bailey had used it to wirelessly cloud dial the login page for business affiliates of East Syndicate, that overall had the corporate guise of Sagar Warehousing. Since Colec’s own business was part of the criminal enterprises of East Syndicate he thought it might be a good site to start the hack.
Where a gene print for the city grid itself would be valuable, an East Syndicate gene print would be more so, and so with time as a factor it had become tonight's priority.
He had been going through the pile, searching for possible passwords each page at a time, scanning them with a speed that alarmed himself. Each time he found something that resembled a name or repeated string of letters he tried them in the password field of the profile page for Sagar employees.
Nothing had worked and he had already gone through half of the pile. He now knew a great deal about Gen Colec's Import/ Export business, like how it was a front for mass drug distribution to smaller gangs in the east. Much had been gleaned from the documents, but not how to bypass his security clearance. He doubted that there would be anything new in the rest of the pile, just the same information repeated over and over.
Bailey then caught sight of a thick book with a very elaborate hard cover. He had dismissed it before due to its gaiety, but now he took it to hand and found it to be Gen Colec’s personal diary.
He shut down the multi-com to standby mode and pushed it to the back of the desk. Beside the lizard he opened the book, and found it to be a hologramatic recorder. He had expected it to be like the rest of the belongings that had all been made in the old fashioned method of wood based paper.
As he opened it he saw the face of a man projected over the flat pages, with the high definition hologram attracting some affectionate attention from the lizard. He placed the book flat on the table and looked over Gen Colec’s features.
He was a kindly man but old and worn out. He had a sly smile on his lips like someone ready to tell a joke.
“Here are three options.” he said in Gen Colec’s voice. “One, recording. Two, scroll to date. Three, delete date.”
“Err. Two. Two weeks ago.” Bailey said, in awe of this new development.
“Lord Date 72551 point 270.” it said, and was then replaced by a front on recording of Gen Colec, sitting at roughly the same position as Bailey like an off centered mirror image. He leaned at the diary as if confiding with some beloved confidant, or maybe just himself.
“It’s a weekday and I can’t bring myself to go to the warehouse. Francine can handle the books today. My plan has failed. I have been unable to raise the cash needed to pay back Old Gang, and now it’s just a matter of time before they discover this. I’m getting old. There are many things I find I cannot do any longer. Francine joked that I should submit myself to the South Syndicate combat league. I can’t bring myself to tell her how serious things are for me. But I will not sell the firm. Too many of my workers rely on it, not to mention the gangs... I will leave it and the warehouse lease to Francine in the event of my death. I will now never tell Francine how I truly feel for her, after so many times I have spoken of it. I see no way my love can bloom, but then it never does in this place. Maybe Francine’s idea wasn’t so crazy after all.”
They screen blinked and with a static bleep, the hologram was replaced the menu hologram.
Bailey reached over and rebooted the multi-com. He leaned inside the encircling holographic icons to the central terminal and typed “Francine.”
“Access Granted.” the Sagar Warehousing internal network replied, and the display filled with a complex economic menu system.
Bailey was at a loss, but felt his actions swept along by the powerful intellect of the darkness.
By my command. Open a raw root command window. Do you remember how? Ah good. Type GET NETWORK ADDRESS. Type SCAN NETWORK ADDRESS. Type CONNECT WINDOW 21. Ah, running Branch Operating System. Old version, weak calculator. Easy to crash. Type FLOOD EMAIL BRANCH CALCULATOR. Ah, more passwords. Type ACCESS BRANCH CALCULATOR PASS LONISDON. Ah. Now type, ACCESS IMPORTEREXPORTER DATABASE. Ah, hello Mr Colec. Now type, OPEN GEN COLEC PROFILE FILE. Now type, CHANGE NEXT OF KIN TO AARON BAILEY. Now type, CHANGE GEN COLEC DNA PRINT TO INPUT, PASS FRANCINE. Now press your thumb anywhere on the multi-com.
Bailey pressed his thumb on the scratched pebble shell of Colec’s multi-com and a line of light within scanned his DNA and fingerprint. The random string of data beside the database field ‘Biometric Signature’ changed to match Bailey’s DNA print. This was mirrored on the identity cards that were updated by the central dna database.
Now type, SAVE. Now switch off the multi-com.
Bailey sat in the deepening dark for a second. The fingers of light and the bright glare from below had gone leaving only the dim blue glow that filled most of the prison. He looked down at Gen Colec’s fully stolen Stable-License on the desk, and then sat back thinking gently.
He saw through a thin gap in the blinds, younger men and women left behind by the revelling had congregated in the concrete park in the square. He watched them calmly for a while, hidden in the dark behind the window so high above them.
He started as someone at the front door began rattling a magnetic key against the plate. Whoever it was whistled and said “Just me boy. Who’s a good boy?”
Cry. And get those papers into the bathroom.
Panicking slightly, he pulled the multi-com and diary into a drawer and slammed it shut.
Once done, Bailey gathered as much of the paper pile as he could and ran into the side corridor to the toilet, and threw it in on top of the sleeping dog. When he came back to the front room, a tall thin woman holding a paper bag full of food was standing staring at him.
Bailey, tears streaking his cheeks stared at her a moment, so she could get an eye full.
“Why are you here?” she said. “What the hell happened here? You’ve made a complete mess.”
“You must be Francine.” Bailey said, forcing a warm smile. “He told me so much about you.”
”Gen?” she said, putting the bag on the table, on top of the Stable-License and other items he shouldn’t have had.
“Yes. My name is Aaron Bailey, Gen’s cousin. I will be administering his will.”
“Strange he never mentioned a cousin. I thought he was one of the few people that had no family here on the colony.”
“We weren’t very close. In fact we haven’t spoken in years. But family is family. I will put Gen’s business to rest.”
“His business? He said he was handing it over to me.”
“I’m afraid not. All business will be under my control until further notice. There is still an outstanding debt payable to Old Gang. They could come to take their money by force. I will hand it to you once this matter is clear.”
Francine began crying and sat down in the rocking chair. Bailey walked to her and hugged her head to his stomach.
“Oh Gen. God I’ll miss you.” she cried and buried her head against him.
Bailey sighed then said “How are you for money? With Gen gone where do you go?”
She looked up at him through her tears and said “Well, nowhere...”
“Gen worked out of three warehouses in the Sagar met-building? I want you to reopen them in a week.”
“A week? We’re losing money by the day...”
“You’re right. Begin business first thing tomorrow. I think that’s what Gen would have wanted.”
“Which of the three warehouses is the smallest?” Bailey asked.
“B’s the smallest.”
“Okay. I want you to open A and C, and begin work immediately. Just work through the old address book. Can I trust you with that?”
“I will do my best. What if Old Gang show up?”
“You call me.” Bailey said.
Once she had gone, Bailey pulled the multi-com out of the drawer, expanding the holoprojection again.
Location, Location, Location.
Seeing that it was still connected to the East Syndicate internal network, he brought up details of Gen Colec’s Importer/ Export company. Scanning down the premises details he found the Sagar Warehousing block to be in the outer metropolis ring, and served as a cover for East Syndicate proper. Colec’s business was part of an intricate hive of drug production and distribution within the block.
After he had a small paper print out of the company address, Bailey tidied the apartment and gathered all identification together.
The night is young. We aren’t done yet. Now, let’s test this double identity.
“I will do this one last thing. Then I must sleep.” Bailey said as he jumped down from the living room toward the door.
The corridor outside had taken on a chill when it came time to make his way back to the elevator. He let it carry him back along its route through the tunnels to the lobby, and then ran out through the cool air to the top of the steps, and down to the road.
Bailey walked to the curb and pressed the button, hearing immediately the noise of an engine from a subway in a concrete bunker somewhere in the unseen backstreets.
A moment later he saw the low raindrop of his car turn the corner and roll at a safe speed along the road.
It stopped before Bailey with a cool hiss, before opening the closest door and returning to standby mode.
“Auto or manual, sir?” the voice spoke from the dashboard as he climbed into the driver side.
“Auto.” Bailey sighed and rested his forehead in his palm. “You’re a pretty weird-assed terrorist, you know?”
Whatever, asshole. Now we must find the East Syndicate building.
“East Syndicate.” Bailey whispered, and was pleased to see on the opposite side of the windscreen a hologram appear of the route to the Sagar Warehousing building through the prison.
Hacked navi-com. South Syndicate vehicle.
A ‘Yes or No’ confirmation blinked to the left of it within reach of the driver seat, so Bailey tapped the ‘Yes’ and the car found its way back up onto the motorway. Forgetting Bailey’s earlier request to avoid the crystal highways the car took an offshoot into the cavern wall and then up the steep banking lane leading up and out of the lower city.
The car emerged from the tunnel in the land of the biosphere island, and then up through a thick brush of fences covered in salad vegetables.
As the clear road emerged above it, the rising sun glared into the windscreen. It immediately tinted to accommodate the yellow glare, and then Bailey found he was looking out over a forest of intensively grown foods that dominated the terrain to the distance at either side.
As he drove along the merging crystal highways, light glinted within the clear road just ahead of the car every now and again, guiding it where and when to change between the two lanes.
The car stays within the blue light.
“I remember.” Bailey dawned a smile and continued to study the Lantis roads, despite the distractions from the height and sights scrolling below.
The whole contained landscape of the biosphere could be seen more and more as the tube raised up and over it toward the centermost ring road system. The car reached it and slowed, and Bailey looked down at the arctic region at the centre of the island.
The robot control tower reached up out of it before him, and looked quite menacing to him in the low light.
The central roundabout that encircled it was large and littered with a jumble of holographic signposts, cryptically scribed with abbreviated district names.
The navigation computer found the one he needed, and skirting around a couple of maintenance robots drove under the holographic sign and onto a dual carriage highway.
At the first slip the navigator took him off and down through the ice to a tunnel leading to the central metropolis.
Then suddenly, as he drove down the last of the bank toward the metropolis cavern the full weight of what he was doing impacted him. Stealing and actually using someone’s whole identity? He was way out on a limb here, breaking all the rules he’d been given.
On his own he would have to maintain a masquerade of innocence, given he was about to commit a string of very serious crimes, not to the law but to the crime families of the city.
The car drove down through the gap in the cavern wall, and out under the block signposted as “Sagar Warehousing LTD”.
The car paused at the main highway that encircled the metropolis, giving Bailey a little time to study the place at night. The lighting strips in the ceiling of the cavern and also much the ambient lighting from the buildings had been dimmed.
After a brief look up at the Sagar sign the computerized navigator took him across from slip road to slip road, and up into the hollow area of the building to park.
It turned slowly into the first of the lanes and stopped in one of the bays. Bailey got out of the car feeling the press of a cold morning draft through the hollow place. He squinted against its bite and said “Park.”
The car rolled off along the lane in the direction of a high walled slip road that ramped up and around the side of the block, skimming over some tram rails and then into the parking lot of Sagar Warehousing.
Bailey looked across the wide open space within the building, searching for a decent route to the elevators. There were a number of people walking here, some maybe people who worked in this or the other blocks in the district. Bailey was a visitor, or so he would say if questioned, and if he were too deep into the place he would use his new identity, but only as a last resort. For now this would have to do.
Bailey walked down stone steps leading to the perfectly flat, tiled expanse between two raised lanes. He followed it along in the direction of the lobby of the Sagar building, situated in the center of the same styled line of glass elevators he’d seen in the Beldin block. Along the walkway was a row of palm trees that bent against the uncomfortably strong wind that seemed to be flowing through here. It was a harsh blast that stung the eyes, but the others here didn’t seem to mind.
He stepped up to the wide base of the building, stopping for a second to look over the large glass wall and the elevators behind. At the direct center between them was an open doorway leading inside the block.
Within would be a robotically manned identity scanner, which would probably require a DNA print. Assuming that his little hack had worked, he could only hope it wouldn’t contradict the signature on Colec’s key card, or worse still be checked against the central DNA database of the prison, which he hadn't had time to hack yet. Still he wasn't sure how he could be so sure of these impulses, these voices, but in the absence of anything else in the world they had undeniably guided him in the right direction.
But now was the test, he realized. If they saw he wasn’t meant to be in the building he could get sent away at the gate, and never get to see the inside of Mr Colec’s keep. They could even hand him over to the police, who would probably have him dragged back to that lonely lunatic wing.
Bailey walked boldly in to the glass space, out of the wind and then on through the lobby door, and then marched past the detector. He glanced at the robot over his shoulder, seeing it standing stiff to attention looking directly forward through those flickering coloured lights within its cranium.
He marched forward as the lobby fanned out into a wider bay, and pressed the button on the hovering holo-plate to call.
The elevator came fast and silent from the floor beneath his feet, and Bailey looked down at the crumpled print out of the company address. It read 34thth Floor, Warehouse 14-17, so he tapped through the relevant menus in the hovering holo-plate.
Bailey trained his eyes on the side of the robots face as the elevator raised upward, seeing it cock its head toward him curiously just as he entered the shaft.
The elevator hissed as it sped up the levels and along a shaft, then descended into a darkly lit but nicely furbished lobby. Its’ spread of carpet looked to have been stampeded by the hundreds of warehouse workers that had come and gone over the years, and it seemed nobody took a great deal of interest in cleaning it anymore.
He stepped through it in silence, and out onto a steel balcony looking out over a long, tall hall that looked to span the whole width of the block. There would be a lot of such halls on the many warehousing floors in the building, with the main storage spaces linked into from massive doors all along each side. The main loading would be done from a hall at the opposite side, as this area had been filled with large sited cabins for administration and office space.
Bailey looked along both of the high concrete walls at the numbering painted in large letters over the roofs of the relevant offices that served as an admin center for each warehouse. Along the oily roadway in between them, where worming freight tracks which would feed the typically goods to the gaping doors at the side of each unit, only now most were cemented over with the cabin foundations.
It was all shut up tight at this late hour. All the lights were off save for a couple of dim spot lamps along the lane.
The elevator had brought him to a lobby closest to Colec's three cabins that looked to be one of a few along the wall. The two largest lay at either side of the balcony connected to warehouses A and C behind him beyond the lobby. Opposite to C was a cabin around one third in size at the side of an enormous freight door that looked almost rusted to its cradle base. The mesh of rail tracks leading into it looked rusted and rotten also, and so any import or export would need to be conducted at the far side.
That cabin was his destination though, and looked to be a perfect spot to commandeer just out of the way of the main activity of the business. Bailey walked down the steel steps to an oily path leading between the cabins of A and C.
He walked out onto the central lane and along until he reached the office unit of Colec Warehouse B.
Bailey skipped up to it's metal doorway, beside a larger portcullis door to the left that looked to be for vehicle access. He punched in the code numerically for “Francine” and was answered by a red light and a frustrating snarl indicating it was the wrong code.
Bailey’s mind flashed through all he’d read. Gen Colec’s date of birth was a number large enough to be the code.
He can’t have been that dumb.
The code was punched in and the lock emitted a pleasant ping. Within the door could be heard an automatic unhinging of the locking mechanism.
Bailey smiled and pushed the door open.
Now all we need is a... err... eh?
“Good evening, Sir.” Bailey heard the words pierce from behind. “Border Security Inspection.”
He turned to see a medium sized man with a slim build in a heavy armoured uniform and domed helmet. The emblem on the uniform sleeve read “B-Sec”.
“Identification please?” he leaned at him with that same piercing voice.
“Have I done anything wrong?”
“This is an Orange security zone. If you are off limits without a permit it can lead to a fine or a punishment term in solitary confinement? So please Sir, your identification.”
Bailey fished in his pocket for Gen Colec’s modded Stable-License. He produced it and held it to the officer.
“This identification is clearly a forgery. I have seen some good forgeries in my time, not that this happens to be one. I’m afraid I will have to place you into custody.”
“Is this really necessary? I assure you this is real.” Bailey pleaded unenthusiastically.
“You are off limits and under the Border Security act under the Royal House of Cequodus, page 115, paragraph C, it clearly states no unauthorized personnel shall be off limits for any reason without a produced orange permit in an orange class security sector. You have been found in violation of said paragraph and hence I must treat you as an extremist.”
“Do I really seem like an extremist?” Bailey looked him over lazily.
“Well you get a lot of strange folk wandering around in a place such as this. You could be an extremist. You could be a prowler, a hacker, a terrorist! It’s a judgment call. I’m going to have to call it in...”
The officer leaned his mouth to his shoulder where Bailey saw a small microphone that he would no doubt use to call for backup, and turn this into quite a hot experience.
The Border-Sec officer’s head snapped almost to breaking point, helmet and all as Bailey punched down. The officer didn’t make the call but instead fell like a rag doll to the cold concrete road.
Bailey sadly looked up at a camera pointing more or less directly at him from above, recording what would usually be the uneventful goings on in the night.
AI hasn't spotted it yet. Maybe the camera's rusted too. Inside now. Let’s turn this to our advantage.
Bailey sighed and lazily picked up the body and dragged it into the admin unit of Colec Warehouse B.
Bailey hauled the body through the narrow reception and through another door into the main space of the unit. There was a trailer parked just behind the vehicle door, to the side of a narrow gangway with two old cars stacked on its uppermost level, and a few old motorbikes piled on top of one another on the bottom. It looked like it could be towed as part of a convoy of trailers should it be taken to and lifted onto a rail cart. Bailey passed these by to a workshop at the rear of the place.
The old man has stripped the office out for us. Maybe everyone has the same ideas.
In the workshop he let the body go and glanced around. Colec had been in the business of repairing automobiles and other micro-engineered equipment it seemed. Something within him smiled.
Suddenly he felt the dizziness return, and tried to make it to one of the encompassing workbenches before he could fall. He seemed to regain control this time, but felt a little odd. His fatigue had weakened him, and in doing so something else had grown stronger. It was Arc, and in his schizophrenic state he now felt much, much closer to him.
Let go. Let me drive.
“No! I’m not mad.” Bailey whispered weakly.
Bailey tied the cops hands together with some old plastic covered chain and lifted the body of the officer effortlessly over him, hooking the chain over a hook dangling from the ceiling. The officer hung as Bailey sat back against the scarred work bench that lined the rear wall. There was an old half smoked cigar in a tin tray to his right, so he lit it with a slightly shaking hand and tried to assess what he had done. He took a long draw on the old stick, but it didn’t seem to help.
“I feel... faint?” Bailey hissed as he exhaled.
What does your heart tell you to do?
"You're trying to..." Bailey said while shaking his head and looking around the lost place he had come to for some sign of familiarity or console.
He caught sight of himself again in a tall, warped mirror leaning against the side bench. His own face was stretched in three directions by the pummelling the mirror’s face had taken.
This universe is a dream. Life is a dream. You are a dream. Listen to my voice.
Bailey stood up and walked over to the officer with a swagger like an old gangster from a cheesy movie. He took his domed helmet off and dropped it at his feet, then proceeded to blow cigar smoke into his face, waking him slightly.
“Uhh. You’ll never get away with this.” he said coming to. “They’ll notice I am missing and search this place with prejudice.”
Bailey, having seemingly heard enough turned to the officer, stepping at him, and side kicked into his stomach.
The officer’s body swung back and then forward, as Bailey side stepped to be missed.
“I’m telling you straight...” the officer began, cut short as Bailey winded the words short with a punch, followed by a furious barrage of more punches to his chest and stomach.
The officer coughed and swung before Bailey who stood staring at him, a crazed, fixated look on his face.
“The codes.” Bailey said with a kind of childlike drama. “Your passcodes for Border-Sec intra networks.”
“I am a trustee! Go to hell you...” he said before being stuck hard across the head. Bailey followed with more punches, bending his face left and right.
The officer’s face was pouring blood from cuts afterward, but he still spoke “You can kill me. I swore allegiance to Cequodus Border-Security. I swore allegiance to my homeworld. Oh why was I sent here to this place? I am a police officer!”
“All this will end. Just tell me the codes.”
“You know you will have to kill me anyway. My integrity! I’ll never tell you!” the officer whimpered, injecting fury into Arc Micormic.
Bailey struck him some more before catching sight of the cop's identity wallet hanging half out of his jacket pocket. He took it from his shaking body and took from it a picture of the man’s family. It had been taken in the biosphere, indicating he had made his family here on the colony.
“Oh God no.” the officer panted as he saw the photograph.
“Just tell me the codes... And only you have to die.” Bailey spoke.
“Password is Seikonjelles. It’s the colony where I was born. Security code is 1357, should it be required. It never is.” he panted, and Bailey turned away smirking like some comic book villain.
Bailey took a jagged, oil stained knife from the backmost work bench, and brought it up to the chest of the hanging officer. Slowly Bailey fed it through the buttons of the armoured uniform, and into the chest, piercing the heart.
Bailey stepped away from the officer slowly, watching the body buck and jerk against the blade. Eventually it stopped moving and hung lifeless between the cul de sac of workbenches.
Bailey stepped back and sat up on the rear workbench, and rubbed his sore eyes, wondering if it was all a dream. He looked at his fingers and saw a streak of blood and felt even more dizzy and unreal.
He was noticeably being guided now, with the lack of morals only experienced in dreams, but with far more grace and precision.
As if watching someone else his hand took the multi-com from his pocket and threw it onto the floor just below the dead cop’s feet, skimming through the growing pool of blood.
Immediately the Branch operating system began within the multi-com, and a huge, high definition holo-terminal projected over it, swamping out the view of the corpse and the trailer behind it.
Bailey looked over the display with glazed eyes, as the square options orbited slowly around the point of light. He chose “Public Internetwork” written within a dark green square, reaching up to tap it as it flew by.
We need some friends.
On selecting it, all options fluttered over his shoulder with a thrum. The terminal expanded into two white pages, while spewing out new options that orbited at a wider distance, so to pass by behind him.
Bailey suddenly found himself sitting within a strange collage of moving colour and light, with his arms compelled to manipulate the pages and options that hovered before him. Somehow he seemed to know the intricacies and nuances of computer sign language, so to zoom, select, copy, paste, delete and a host more within the Branch operating system.
His finger pressed against the search box while he seemed to say “Civil service trustee login page, flag, secure web protocols.”
A number of search results came back, with the third being the one he needed, and so his finger tapped there.
He now looked at the login page for colony trustees, that were just exiles like himself that had been granted an especially trustworthy role to top up their allowance a little higher than a regular job. He tapped the name field and said the name of the cop, then the pass field and said “Seikonjelles.”
Both pages fizzed and then became the Civil Service internal network. The left page was entitled “City Archives” and amongst it’s long list was the option for “Advanced Census”, and so he double tapped there, opening a third page that he dragged away to the side.
The new window began to populate with the names and expandable details of everyone recently brought into the colony, with other tabbed pages for histories going back a decade at a time. While it did so he left it for a moment and turned his attention to the rightmost page, that was entitled “High Security Services”.
Within it’s lists was the option for “Raw Command” at the very bottom, illustrating how rarely it was selected. Bailey double tapped it, entered the passcodes, and both pages turned black. The left most page filled with a green line that danced as Bailey spoke, while the one on the right filled with the text spoken. With this window brought much more control over the services on the network, but only if you knew the complex computer language that ran the services.
Arc apparently did.
“Open surveillance grid.” Bailey said, and a new window popped out of the pages and hovered just above them. It filled with a complex inventory of camera hubs at various points within the prison.
“Individual, search by name.” he said and then turned to the city census, and reached out to the search box at the top of the long list.
Pressing the box he said “Find me exiles with the following attributes. Identity theft. Concealed murder. Mutilation of corpses. Hacking. Marksmanship. Honour. Persistent sexual inadequacy...”
Bailey continued to lay out the attributes the darkness required, and desired. For each attribute a new window popped out of the main and populated with the relevant names and addresses. He dragged them to the left and right stacking them in a mini totem like pole at either side of the main windows.
Once each new window had been created he worked through them, sorting the list by extremity of that attribute in the life of the person. At the top of each list he double tapped the name and watched as the two main pages dimmed and minimized, and were replaced in the center of the room by a slowly rotating hologram of the person. He linked the surveillance grid to the name and found a live feed of what the person was doing in a set of windows just over the shoulders of the hologram.
With each person he recorded their data onto the drive within the multi-com.
Chester Barron, a tall muscular man, and coincidentally the man he had been told was leading the escape. He was sipping a coffee alone at a café along the promenade somewhere in the city center. Wendall Jayne, a demure but intelligent looking lady, that was busy taking a morning bubble bath, according to the infrared camera nested within trees opposite her cottage in the outer neighbourhood belt. Nash Fincle, one of the notorious Fincle twins, and current primary leaders of Old Gang syndicate. Currently, he was watching a gang of thugs beating an old man to death, safely hidden behind a one way window in the Old Gang building, that didn’t look to be part of the metropolis.
Name after name and person after person. He found the ones he wanted and saved them to disk.
The last window was a search for someone with starship command experience. The field was empty but for one cryptic entry. It read “Incoming” and on double tapping it he expanded the hologram of a short stocky black skinned man wearing reverend garb, dog collar and all.
“Incoming?” Bailey murmured, and the civil network help system answered “Affirmative. Exile currently inbound to prison.”
“Reverend Dane Angell is currently being deployed into hatch 7-Y. He is to be collected by colony robot 647933UAX.” it said.
“Connect surveillance. Show me!” Bailey said and watched the surveillance screens that suddenly began to focus in on one of the golden robots as it walked from a police vehicle in a place that looked to be beneath the sea. The whole roof of the room was glass and viewed schools of real Lantis fish that must live all around the island.
It was where the sea met the outer wall and within the room the grey stone seemed to stand ominously over the tiny figures within. There was a waterfall flowing from a large stone pipe above, toppling to the ground and down through a grated drain.
This is how exiles normally enter the place. Be thankful you had a softer landing.
Bailey turned one of the cameras to look directly at the waterfall, that looked eerily similar to the fountain in Red Sector, and watched as a chubby girl with long blonde hair flew out of the pipe. She fell down the long drop and landed on her knees on the jagged metal drain. She grabbed her thigh and screamed out at the ceiling, with one of the sharp lengths of metal cutting deep into her knee. The robot that had been assigned to collect her ran over to her and pulled her roughly from the drain, then began running a medical device over her body to heal her.
A tiny black streak entered the water flow from above and then a man wearing a dark suit fell from the pipe and landed like a coil on his feet and hands within the falling water. He slowly righted himself and walked out of the falls to the robot, and was then escorted away.
“Where is he going?” Bailey watched himself say, and then watched the reply from a great distance within his daze.
“He is a reverend of the Church of the Naturalistic Mind, and will be stationed at the cathedral in Old Gang Central.”
“Old Gang ai?” Bailey said rubbing his stubbly face. “Only one more thing left to do... while we’re in security.”
He tapped and signed his way though menu options until he was at a graphical readout for the martial-emergency defence grid. The special gates around the cavern containing South Syndicate village were part of this social program, installed to protect them from the nearby drug addict project districts. The ‘Chance 2 Change’ Project was right next door, and it was more than perfect for this purpose. Bailey coded a timed email to the multi-communicator of each person enrolled in that program, stating simply “Free Smash at gate fifteen. Tomorrow at midday.”
There was no way for them to resist, and so with virus installed on a timer to open that gate at the right time, they should have free access to the village grounds.
Lastly he hacked deep into the Beldin virtual reality grid, and hacked the gaming account for the little brat that had called him names through the window earlier. As a psyche that had been born only a few days ago, he found he had an acute and petty dislike of being bullied.
Save data and presets, and exit.
Bailey jumped down from his perch on the workbench as the gases were deionized and the huge hologram faded. With all the digital razzmatazz gone he was once again standing in a dingy workshop with a cold corpse hanging from a hook.
Bailey stepped forward and unhooked the body, then dragging it to a walk in cupboard at the right. He looked at it lying on the plastic sealed floor, a new pool of blood growing, and then staying the same size around it.
This is bad. We will need to get rid of the body, and fast. And that includes all traces of it on the surveillance grid. You can't sleep just yet.
Bailey, still somewhat entranced, closed the cupboard door, and then dozily headed out of the building, and then back across the city to Colec’s apartment.
Without turning on the lights he grabbed the body of the savage dog and dropped it into a large sports bag. Racing back the same way he took the sports bag to the warehouse and tipped the sleeping man eater on top of the corpse. Bailey locked the door of the cupboard and turned, looking around the interior of the warehouse.
His eyes were a deep red and shaking slightly like a madman.
“No.” he hissed.
You know, I wouldn’t have thought of that.
The Hot Situation.
By morning the next day Bailey had returned to his own house on the row, and was reclining in the garden under the buzzing sun lamps. He had been reading through a newspaper he’d found in Gen Colec’s workshop, but now simply sprawled in a pair of shorts under the heat.
During the early morning he had hacked the Border Security records beginning with the dead officer’s passcodes, then spring boarding to higher and higher security clearance levels. The higher clearance allowed him to delete that nights surveillance records for the warehouse, replacing them with garbled data as if a virus had had its way. Eventually he got some sleep, but only after handing in the officer’s notice and a crazy sounding letter suggesting he had gone somewhat insane and turned to an undisclosed religious cult.
Whether this would be believed was another matter, but it would stall a man hunt for a long while to come.
...and by then the cop will be dog shit.
He lay there until midday, when he heard the voices of children playing in the fields and small woodlands around the village. Mostly they sounded happy, with infectious glee that made him happy to share their world with every massing moment. But there were the sounds of other kinds of children also.
Mockingbirds to clear.
The little brat’s name was Anthon, and was a distant relative of the Beldins, not that any of them would know it off hand.
Today he was playing in the field, wearing augmented reality goggles that transformed the natural landscape around into a field of cute critters and rosy cheeked merchants. The goal of this game was to run around the field whacking each of the critters with a weapon until they died in a bloody fashion. The more that died, the more points and levels you’d get, a little like keeping up with the joneses for sociopaths.
Anthon’s game had been hacked however, and now even the visible landscape around had been replaced by a fake one that slowly lured him away from the other children, toward gate fifteen.
He beat down a few more bouncing balls of goo, before trying his hand at a pair of pink, sabre toothed bears. The glared down at him as he tried futily to hack at their fur.
Eventually he gave up, assuming something had glitched on the server, and pulled his goggles up to find his bearings in the place. The bears turned into people, tall with blotchy skin and thick stained jumpers and track pants. They had mud and shit stains all over from their trainers right up into their hair.
He was surrounded.
Bailey heard the first of the screams, and by the time he’d made his way to the back gate leading into the fields there were people running from all over the village. They passed the children running the opposite way as they were each gathered up by their fretting parents.
Bailey began to jog up to the back of a line of people that had formed just before gate fifteen, and looked on with everyone else at the throng of filthy degenerates that had taken their chance to come in here, teased for a whole night on a promise of a fix.
There was no Smash here so these smash-heads were looking to feed their hungers in other ways.
Anthon’s mother reached the line screeching for her baby but was caught and held back by three men.
“Plague! They’ve got the plague!” someone boomed his voice at her face.
Bailey smiled slightly as he chewed on a slice of apple he’d brought with him. He licked it from a small knife and carried on witnessing what he’d caused.
They all watched as Anthon stared back at them, and was slowly lifted up from the grass by his arms. One of them bit down on the side of his neck spilling blood over the front of his shirt while another few effortless tore off his arm. His screams joined his mother’s as he was dismantled before their eyes, until nothing was left but a few rags of clothing and a whole lot of blood, stained onto the nearest of the small crowd.
The guns of these gangsters then opened fire and took down each of the junkies in turn. And then it was effectively over.
Bailey tuned and walked away with a small few others who didn’t seem to be capable of handling the situation.
He returned to his recliner and waited to see if the Beldins would still show up.
By the time they did the city robots had cleared away most of the bodies, and sealed off the area around gate fifteen. Apparently taking the stance that nothing major had happened, they arrived in high spirits, possibly to keep their hacker in the game.
“Today’s the day, Mr Bailey.” he heard the voice of Barton Beldin approach from behind, and the lighter footsteps of his wife. “Time to meet the guys you will be working with. They know a lot more about your role than I could ever explain, and they're eager to meet our new golden boy.”
“What? Right now?” Bailey looked at him through his shades.
Cix leant down and closed the magazine on his lap, and said “Right now.”
Bailey got dressed quickly, and left the house feeling refreshed, having caught a few hours sleep under the sun.
The Beldins had brought a nice car, larger and more valuable than the one they had given him. Bailey sat in the centre of the back seat, while they took the car up onto the crystal highways.
The car drove over a route leading to the west, over where the cultivated land became dustier, and then desert.
They drove down to the desert where the tunnels of the crystal highway ended, leading out onto the biosphere island. An obviously filled-in concrete road took them across the boiling sand. It ran up over a hill and down a long slope toward the edge of the island. Here a large beach ran down to the water.
So close to the sea now, it looked as if it stretched out into infinity, almost unnaturally so.
They got out of the car and walked along the coast to the beginnings of a pier that seemed to lead out into that infinity. They walked up onto it and the couple took heavy fur-lined blazers from a white wood hut. Bailey took one, looking up at the blazing artificial sun in the roof of the biosphere cavern.
“You want me to put this on?” Bailey said, as the other two put on their blazers.
“Now.” Cix pointed, and so Bailey shrugged and pulled it over his shoulders.
Bailey walked slightly behind them as they walked out to sea along the pier. The sweat poured from him.
They had brought with them a shoulder bag each from the car, not mentioning what was in it, not that they had mentioned a great deal so far.
“Oh Gosh!” Bailey said, feeling a little light headed.
Barton looked at him over his shoulder and smiled “Build up your heat. You’ll need it.”
Bailey nodded and followed them further out to sea.
The shore grew smaller and smaller, until it was just a thin yellow blur in the intense heat waves.
“Here.” Cix said and ran forward slightly. “Watch.”
Bailey stepped up, watching as she picked a small pebble from the pier, and threw it forward, along it.
The pebble seemed to hit a forcefield, causing the view ahead to ripple and hiss with static.
“Come.” Barton said and Bailey followed them to the forcefield’s edge. Together they pushed through its membrane. The static tried to grab them at the touch, but with a little shouldering they made it through to the pier beyond.
Bailey scanned around the interior, finding they were at the inner dome wall, where the sea ended, crashing up and along it in fair sized waves. Ahead, at the end of the pier it widened slightly, unlike any pier he had ever seen, to an area afore a large grey door in the wall.
As they got closer he appreciated more and more its size and height. A relatively small panel to its left changed its display and bleeped a couple of times, almost as if to say “Come on, just try and open me.”
Barton took a small remote control from the front pouch of his bag and pressed a button, aiming it toward the flickering panel. The giant door groaned slightly then began sliding to the left, spilling bright white light onto the dark place between the forcefield and the dome.
“Took us ages to crack the codes for this door.” Barton said, with a loaded sigh. “Come along.”
Bailey followed them through the doorway squinting against the brightness until the interior became visible. A corridor came to sight, first the bright blue domed lighting on the ceiling high above, then the white walls and rail track that ran along its length.
They walked along the corridor than ran down in a broad spiral. Bailey squinted against the clinical, brightly illuminated sheen that seemed to wash over everything within.
“We’re in the dome wall.” Cix said. “Can you hear that, and the vibrations? They are the recycling plants. It’s a big part of our way off the planet.”
Bailey could hear a hum every few seconds, and the vibration all around them.
They walked along the huge corridor until they reached its end. The clinical paint ended and the old stone and brick below it stretched out into a tall hexagonal hall. Bailey realized now why they needed the heavy coats, as a freezing wind flowed over him. He put up his hood as he stepped into the cold, wet concrete place. The railway turned as it entered and ended at an archway to the right, which itself had been sealed shut by melted steel.
There was a circular pit at the other side of the hexagonal floor, and a matching hole above it. Barton moved to it and took a box with two punch buttons hanging on a long wire from the ceiling.
Bailey could hear a groaning of metal from above and then a thick grated platform was lowered on chains from the hole in the ceiling. It stopped in the hole in the floor and the couple walked through a gap in the thin pole fencing around its edge. Bailey followed and then Barton pressed the top button on a similar box atop a pole attached to the elevator.
The chain tugged and pulled the grated industrial elevator up, fitting neatly into and up through the circular shaft in the ceiling.
As the elevator began to accelerate upward, Cix raised her voice “We’re going to introduce you to the prison defences. You’ll be working with the team in charge of hacking and disabling them.”
“This is one of the few views out of the colony wall. It’s a nature observation tower we think was used by the original scientists that lived here, before the ice age.” Barton spoke.
Bailey looked upward seeing light from above, and feeling the cold winds intensify.
“The ice age?” Bailey asked.
Cix said “Yeah. The colony used to be a Cequodus science outpost during the first colonization era. Narcosia was a prehistoric planet, but like most planets in that era it suffered a bombardment of meteors. Star nursery leftovers on a cosmic timer returning or some such. The planet was thrust into an ice age and so the colony was converted to this.”
She gestured toward the colony behind them, and Bailey felt a tinge of sadness.
“Goggles.” Barton shouted, as the cold winds intensified, and handed them both a pair. Bailey put his on and hugged against the harsh bite of the swirling draft.
The elevator slid to the top, and stopped within the observation room looking out onto the snowy landscape, through narrow slits encircling them.
There was no storm outside but the winds were savage and fierce. The view beyond was clear, with a full view of the atmosphere beyond the prison wall.
Through two of the narrow slits could only be seen a rock face leading upward, but at the other three could be seen greater distances. One looked out over the same rock face from a side angle, showing how it led down to an outcropping and series of hangars. There were lights down there denoting robot activity in the area. From the other two, beyond a short ledge of rock could be seen a massive expanse of undisturbed snow reaching off into the misty distance.
The Citadels aren’t there?
Through each slit a strange slogan could be easily read. Through the two blocked by the rock face, the words were scribbled in red paint and easy to read across the rock. The Citadels aren’t there. Through the slit looking down over the hangars, the words were painted on the side of the first hangar, clear as day. Lastly, though the two slits looking out over the wide flat of white, the words could be seen at a distance, scribbled on a huge wooden sign, much like an old sign from the pre industrial period. It had been stabbed into the snow a few miles out, and had been blown slightly askew in the time it had stood there. It echoed mockery. The Citadels aren’t there.
“Citadels?” Bailey asked.
“Slow down.” Cix said. “Well explain all that we can.”
Barton had opened the control box and was switching a pin from one resistor to another that looked like an earth. A single fat spark flew out as the connection was made and the box was closed. Barton pushed the button to go back down and the elevator dropped back along the shaft. It slowed and stopped just before the opening in the hall roof. To the side, in the direction of the hangars, a tall metal panel sat in the wall of the shaft.
Barton unclipped the handle and opened it, revealing a tunnel through the rock, ending at an opening to the outer environment.
“This way.” Barton said, and began crawling on his knees through the tunnel. Cix followed then Bailey.
Ahead, Barton reached a round, glass hatch that snapped open forcefully at the press of a switch. It was the last door before the outer world of the planet and Bailey followed them out into the grip of it's brutal weather.
They emerged from the hole on the outside, and he found himself looking down the slope of a snow covered hill, that led to the gangway between the sealed hangars.
Barton pulled him down by his sleeve and said "Stay low."
Bailey followed the couple as they crouched behind a low ridge of rock and headed away from the round doorway.
Looking around he saw how the observation tower had been built into a protruding shape of rock that was part of a taller cliff face. The pasty white walls of the dome towered miles higher to the left and right, just beyond the top of it.
Bailey saw Barton smiling as he watched him try to weigh up the outer topography.
“The base of the dome is just beyond that cliff. We’re at the perimeter of the colony. Don’t worry, they can’t see us down here.” Barton said, then began crawling in the opposite direction, toward what looked like another cliff face falling far down to the flat expanse and the weird sign. “You’ll see more around this way. Stay out of sight of those buildings.”
Bailey followed them along to the edge of the cliff, and then around the base of the tall rock tower. As they moved to the other side of it they lost sight of the buildings and stood up.
From here the cliffs merged into one, and far along could be seen a huge outflowing pipe, spewing the leftovers of the recycling process down into the misty places far below.
“God, it’s cold!” Bailey hissed, trying not to look at the cliff edge.
“Look.” Barton said, and walked cautiously back the way they had come.
Bailey looked around the side of the rock wall at the hangars, catching sight of a shorter tower close by, caked in snow, with an arm and ear radar spinning slowly atop. There was a robot standing sentry at its base, close to a box that would probably be used to interface its firmware. It held before it a huge rifle topped by a long, jagged bayonet.
Gently ushering Bailey back out of sight, Barton said “This is where we can access the solar grid. If we can set up an override in that radar, it can be used to send the signals needed to spoof commands from the Citadels.”
“The Citadels that aren’t there?” Bailey smirked.
“The Citadels most certainly are there.” Barton said. “There are a few things you should know.”
Barton went on “For years we had no comprehension of who was in command of this colony. We assumed it was all run robotically or perhaps from the weather station in orbit. You can’t see the station right now, but it’s clear most nights. But even the station is robot-run, according to our experts. Seventeen years ago there was a rumour put around by a new exile, who had worked in the inner command circles of the Cequodus military, that when the research colony was converted to a prison, there had been three citadels built in the center of the crater.”
Barton gestured at the wide expanse of snow. The sign still signalled its creepy message.
The dome is built within a crater. Interesting...
“The citadels were cloaked to invisible, so he said, and a smaller colony of guards posted permanently within.” Barton said, stopping to take a breath in the thin air.
Bailey digested this and looked out over the gigantic crater, the other side of which could not be seen. His eyes caught sight of a strange shape in the distance, wondering momentarily if it were a citadel or something related. Looking at it further he saw it was another dome, miles to the fogged distance.
Pointing to it Bailey said “Another dome? Here within the crater?”
“That’s right.” Cix said. “As far as we know there are only two, but there is a third smaller dome in the opposite direction. That, we are told reliably is the robot center of the prison. It’s all coordinated from there. You can’t see it today, but on a really clear day you can see it with a telescope from the tower.”
“What about that?” Bailey pointed at the crooked sign post. “The Citadels aren’t there?”
“Shortly after the rumour of the citadels began, this slogan began appearing all over the prison. At first we thought it must be a new cult or a gang of kids. Surveillance cameras would go offline, miss whoever did it, and then we found it painted on the outside of the dome, in places inaccessible by anyone. It became apparent that we were dealing with something... else. We think it must be something robotic, programmed by those living in the citadels. But to what ends? We don't know.”
“How can you be sure there are citadels?” Bailey said. “Maybe they aren’t there after all.”
Barton smiled and walked past him toward the cliff edge. From his back pack he brought two stands, placing one at one point and the other a few meters along. He knelt beside it and pressed a control.
A line of holographic light reached from it to the other stand, and a screen reached up from the line. It was transparent, colouring the view beyond a dark blue.
Barton stepped back beside the other two and they looked up at the landscape, and three tall buildings, the citadels reaching up out of it. They stood miles high merging into the slow rolling clouds above.
Barton walked back toward the screen, and pointed up to the citadels.
“Centuries of redesign and planning has developed layer upon layer of security systems for this dome. Many minds create one mind, but the same applies to us. We have stripped away that layering, and are now ready to break free.” Barton latticed his fingers, staring intensely at him. “And there’s one last thing.”
Barton reached inside his backpack, and produced a dark grey human skull. He threw the skull and Bailey caught it. It looked as if it had been burnt.
Barton continued “This was found in the waste system, at a point we found flows from the citadels. They mustn’t have recycling facilities at their side, so food and water is no doubt sent to them through pipes, and their waste sent here for reprocessing. This is the skull of a man who disappeared a few months back. He is one of many that have disappeared. We believe they are kidnapping, and killing them.”
“The families up there, how many generations are between them?” Bailey asked.
Cix gulped and said “Not many.”
“And you’re suggesting they cooked and ate this person?” Bailey gestured with the skull, grimacing. “The guy’s fried...”
“We don’t know. We’re telling you all that we know.” Barton said.
“Lording over you all these centuries, up there all alone? They could be completely insane. Nice...” Bailey said, failing to see the irony. “It’s hard to believe they haven’t been removed from their position.”
“What do Cequodus care if they keep doing their jobs?” Cix said. “They are hackers just like you. They reprogram the robots to be stronger every year.”
Bailey looked up at the towering buildings, standing in the snow far beyond the contradictory sign.
Barton turned off the screen and gathered the stands.
“Let’s go back now. You’ve yet to meet your team. They should be more on your wavelength.” Barton said, and crawled back around the rock face.
They crouched along the ridge out of sight of the robot sentries, and on reaching the tunnel to the elevator, Barton tapped Baileys shoulder and said “One last thing.”
Barton took a large rock and stood up in sight of the robot at the radar. He threw the rock, as the robot readied its rifle. Bailey watched the rock sail down and strike it on its flickering head. Immediately it aimed the rifle at them and sprayed the other side of the ridge with plasma shots. Snow kicked up high into the air over them, as Bailey held his hands over his ears and crouched down out of sight.
He felt a powerful hand grab his coat and pull him into the tunnel.
“Don’t freeze up.” Barton said, an inch away from his face.
They sat cramped in the rock tunnel as the footsteps, metal on rock, approached up the face of the hill. The lights came, and then the robot stopped just beyond the ridge, looking left and right as if they weren’t in plain view.
“As long as we’re within the borders of the colony, it won’t attack.” Cix whispered.
“Is that what you wanted to show me?” Bailey said, as the robot walked back the way it had come.
“No. Wait.” Cix said, and so they waited. Bailey, being the closest to the end of the tunnel had a wider view over the hangars and what looked like the top of a weather rocket beyond them. It was white with red and blue stripes spiralling down over it.
Are they really thinking of getting off the planet in that?
“Hmmn.” Bailey said concerned.
Just then, a large black vehicle emerged from beyond the cliff face, flying up around the rocket and encircling the hangars with incredible agility. It had two archaic helicopter propellers reaching up from its wings, that angled as the body itself twisted slightly with its every movement. It looked to be a living creature but for the fact that it was clearly robotic. Massive bays of chain guns and missiles hung below it.
“There’s our real problem.” Barton said. “We call it the Heletank. A work-horse artificial intelligence completely independent of the robotic grid. Un-networked so we can’t hack it.”
“Shit.” Bailey said, watching it.
The massive AI shone alternating colours of flood lamps around the hangars and observation tower, screeching a hideous siren in frustration as it searched for whoever had hurled the rock.
“Let’s get back before it sees us.” Barton pulled at Bailey’s coat. “I’m not so sure that it won’t attack.”
Bailey closed the hatch, and then followed them through the tunnel. They dropped back onto the elevator, and shook the caked snow from their coats to the metal grating.
“We think it comes from the robot dome, but we don’t know for sure. It could come from the citadels for all we know.” Cix said, shaking her head side to side, having caught some snow flakes in her length of white hair.
Barton lit a cigarette before changing the wires back to normal in the control box. He pressed the down button twice and the elevator slid down into the hexagonal hall and directly on into the floor.
The shaft continued deep down into the rock until finally the walls became plastic and portholes showed that they were underwater. The water was a tanned colour from what looked to be soil or biomatter.
“We’re in an underground lake.” Barton said “It’s the waste water from the biosphere. We’ve commandeered one of the recycling plants on the lake bed. The terminals in the plant are connected to certain networks we need to access... or something. This is where you and your team take over, I’m afraid.”
The tunnel suddenly moved through a dark stretch and then they emerged in a room completely surrounded by clear walls. Like a glass hut on the bed of the lake, with the damp, rocky floor of the room covered flat by metal grating. Through the clear roof could be seen the tidal eb and flow of muddy water, and long illuminous eels higher up that looked as though they belonged in some deep ocean trench on their homeworld.
The water was flowing all around the outside of the walls, thick with bits of wood and insect that had washed down from the upper dome. There was obviously plenty to recycle, since a colony such as this wouldn’t wish to waste organic matter. He noticed vaguely a group of short eels fighting in frenzy over a piece of fish.
Bailey looked around at the laboratory interior, and the men and women in lab coats running here and there between terminals.
One of the men, noticing their arrival shouted out “Ahh! A new addition to our order!”
He ran up steps from the lab to their level, and Barton introduced him.
“Bailey this is Lloyd Oric, team leader. Lloyd, this is the big hacker we promised, Aaron Bailey.”
“Welcome comrade!” Lloyd yelled and held a hand to Bailey, who shook it, a little disorientated.
“Let me introduce you to our mission.” the geeky scientist took Bailey by the wrist and practically dragged him down the steps to the lab.
He moved around the outside from terminal to terminal showing him what systems each member of the team were working on.
“And this is the primary system dealing with the robotic ability to call for assistance. If we succeed in severing this link we can localize the alert during the break.” Lloyd spat in his toothy way. “Simply put, we here seek to sever all connection with the outside world from the specific areas utilized within the escape plan. Although we aren’t privy to the other teams work, and rightly so given the failures of security in previous escape attempts, we possess all the data required to bring our tasks to completion. Any questions?”
Lloyd leaned at Bailey smiling slightly
“How come it’s taking so long?” Bailey shrugged. “You have the connections by the look of it. Why not install the programs on standby?”
“We have encountered a number of unanticipated hurdles.” he confessed.
“Hurdles?” Bailey tried not to smile.
“There are gaps in our understanding of the requirements to spoof such commands to the robotic mainframe.” he nodded.
“Can I take a little look?” Bailed asked laconically, and Lloyd began walking him to an unused computer terminal, that could have been Lloyd’s.
“I do admit that we could do with a few pointers.” said Lloyd. “This particular terminal has been set up to deal with security surrounding the weather rocket...”
Lloyd went on “I hypothesize that a source signal spoofed to come from the citadels...”
“No.” Bailey interrupted, and leant down to work on the computer. “They will only take command from the robotic center, which I’m told is another dome. If we can take a sample signal from that dome... Ah I see you have a couple. Well with that sample you can recalculate the key to the signal and then simply encode each signal with the key. Normal this would take a long time but luckily I can do the calculations myself. Looks like it’s in the 600 range so that’s.... tsk-tsk-tsk...”
Bailey typed a command into the computer and then said “There’s your key, comrade! Simply feed your commands through that program. The metal heads will respond.”
Lloyd looked at the screen, then back to Bailey, then beamed “Superlative!”
He clapped and strode around the lab to gather the attention of the others. “Oh my word, you’ve won the day!”
“So, where do I work?” Bailey asked, and the applause stopped.
Barton shrugged and said “It's this way?”
Bailey followed the Beldins and Lloyd onto the elevator again, and Barton handed them all strap-on gas masks. Bailey, not asking anything further grabbed the nozzle of the gasmask in his teeth and tied the ribbons behind his head. Bailey followed them all in affixing his goggles again, and then Barton pressed the button to go down.
The elevator shuddered and then was lowered below the rock bed of the lake. The walls were damp rock and there were some worrying trickles of water in places. The smell was damp and mossy, and then invaded by a fouler smell.
The elevator reached the bottom and Bailey looked around, surveying the broad hall within. There was a thin walkway around a large oval lake of black coloured liquid, that boiled and churned. The smell was terrible, and Barton, realizing that Bailey had failed to affix the nose clip part of his has mask, reached over and did it for him. Bailey nodded and breathed through the nozzle in his mouth.
He followed them around to the opposite side where a thin walkway reached out half a meter or so to a wide oval shed that covered that quarter of the lake. The whole interior of the lake room and the outside of the smaller shed within were all a corrugated plastic, seamless as if constructed for maximum containment.
Barton stepped across a walkway to the door to the room and swiped a blue card in a reader. The door slid aside and Bailey followed as they entered. The door slid shut and they removed their masks and goggles.
“Oh my God! What the fuck?” Bailey cried out. “You could have warned me!”
Barton looked to Cix worriedly and said “This is one of the oil processing plants. It’s the last point of titration in the recycling process. It combines everything from biosphere to human wastes. Not nice, but this room is where you must work from. It’s has the highest level of access.”
“No matter. But still you could have warned me.” Bailey said, surveying the inside of the room.
There were computer panels all along the wall close to the door, and at the other side of the oval interior a small pool of the horrible liquid lapped up on a metal shore. Instruments hung over it that would be dipped down into the lake for testing purposes.
“I take it these computers link to the main robotic communications trunk?” Bailey asked, eyeing Lloyd Oric.
“Yes indeed, my good sir!” he said clapping his hand together. “It’s possible to bounce a signal down through the reprocessing mainframe, into the main trunk, and back up through to the weather testing mainframe.“
Bailey listened then tapped a few commands on the main terminal. One of the screens above suddenly changed its view from the interior of a section of the lake, to a camera looking out over the crater. The camera turned, stopping as it found the radar tower.
“I’m at the site. I’m in. The connection is open.” Bailey muttered, then smiled at the Beldins. “The robots think I’m one of them.”
“Wonderful!” Barton shouted to him.
“I’ll set up the connection to the radar tower. Then when the day comes, we just feed in the command to release a signal to the solar grids. The solar defences will fall and you should be able to pilot a ship out into the galaxy.”
But we won’t do that.
“We... we won’t?” Bailey stammered.
Barton eyed him patiently and said “We will or we won’t?”
“Will.” Bailey chuckled nervously. “It will all be ready to roll out. I’ve done part of it already just opening the connection.”
“We could use a little of your aid on a few more minor problems we’ve encountered.” Lloyd said.
“Well just let us know when it’s all ready.” Barton said as the Beldins walked toward the exit. "Make it as soon as possible, we have news there’s a good storm coming. Good reason for a weather missile run. In truth the other teams are pretty much ready to roll. But take your time. We need this tech stuff done right. It’s the foundation of everything we’re trying to do.”
Cix turned and said “I’ll have Barron come down to the lake room. He can coordinate you on what’s expected of you during the actual break. It will be a little work by each of us, but together, it will be just enough. I’ll tell him to come before end of play this evening.”
Bailey watched as they donned gas mask and goggles, and quickly exited and closed the door behind them.
“How much do you think we can achieve in today’s timeframe?” Lloyd asked.
“What?” Bailey looked at him, squinting.
Bailey and Lloyd worked for a few hours more in the foul smelling place, until they had almost achieved their overall task. It was then Bailey made an excuse that he’d need to rest before completing it and so they returned to the upper lake room for the rest of the day.
Bailey did not truly need to rest however and so was at full energy when he first met Chester Barron.
“Good afternoon, Mr Bailey!” Chester Barron strode wide legged down the steps from the elevator to the lake room, and held his huge hand out to Aaron Bailey. “My name is Dr Chester Barron, but you probably know that already.”
“I didn’t know the doctor part.” Bailey smiled and shook his hand.
“Oh yes.” Barron said stepping around him, looking out through each of the walls. “I was a scientist for many years back on the colonies.”
Barron was a huge man, with long, thick dark blonde hair that rested on and off the shoulder. His muscular appearance bulged through his suit and evening jacket almost as if they couldn't quite find a size that properly fit him. He seemed to have a permanent smile burning around the eyes that themselves seemed to be buried within folds of excess muscle. His smile permeated everything he did and said, and he'd win over most people instantly with his force and prowess, but Bailey knew better already.
I've been round and round the block, Bailey.
“You people don’t seem to regard this as being part of those colonies.” Bailey sighed.
“Most people wouldn’t want to. Most people wouldn’t even want to escape.” Barron said sitting down in somebody’s chair. “This is a colony for those exiled from the colonies of Lantis, and a few other alien factions in the empire. You should accept your situation. Even if we do make it out of this solar system, we still won’t be returning to the empire any time soon, and likely not at all.”
“I accept this. I just hope we’re going somewhere we can live half way decent lives.” Bailey said, throwing out a query about other areas of the overall plan.
Barron smiled realizing this and said “Rest assured we will. Part of what you will need to know revolves around the weather rocket that you may or may not have seen during your tour of the hangar district. The weather missile is launched into orbit during particularly heavy storms. We will pick one such storm and hide within the rocket during its flight into space. Once in space it, and other missiles around the crater are collected by the weather station that orbits Narcosia. It is all done robotically and quickly enough for us to commandeer the control deck of the station. It is fortunate for us that the station has a backspace-drive, capable of jumping directly out of the system, to anywhere in the galaxy it has the power to reach, and with a station of that size it should possess quite a lot of power.”
“So this is your plan?” Bailey said.
“Everybody involved will be given a bracelet to wear. When the bracelet turns red you’ll need to leave your station and get to the rocket as quickly as possible. People will be there to help you. But it is important for you, being one of the folks that will be out in the field, that you complete your assignment before leaving. We all succeed or we all fail.”
“I understand completely.” Bailey said dismissively. “I won’t be able to get to the rocket in time from all the way down in the oil room though.”
“Oh really?” Barron sat back crossing his legs, interested by the feedback.
“I’ll have to virus the radar tower and patch into it manually.”
Barron shook his head slightly, confused by the jargon.
“I’ll need to be up there beside the radar tower to hack the solar defences. It’s the only other way. And there’s a robot sentry right beside it to stop people like me doing things like this.”
“I see. Well, this should be taken care of. I can tell you all now that part of the plan is to blow up the robot control antenna for the base. We believe this will sever it from the central intelligence for a few minutes until an override engages. This should disable your sentry long enough for you to hack the grid and get the hell outa there.” Barron thumbed as he said this, and Bailey thought a moment before nodding.
“And you’re sure they won’t attack. You’re sure?” Lloyd asked quite forcefully, apparently worried for Bailey’s safety.
“Sure as eggs.” Barron said standing up, and glanced disdainfully at Lloyd as he passed.
Barron walked back to the elevator and said “That should be everything. We will hand out the bracelets in the next day or so. Wear them at all times, and when the light turns amber you need to get to your positions and wait for the lights to go red. That’s the time when your task must be complete, and to get your ass to the rocket.”
Chester Barron. God has sent me another angel. Only this angel will fall to the earth in flames.
“Then we wait.” Bailey nodded, and Barron nodded back with a mighty smile.
Bailey and the other technicians watched Chester Barron disappear up through the shaft, and then turned to one another closely.
Bailey leant in to hear the chatter.
“So long as we do our very own jobs we can at least cover our own names and reputations should all of this end in collapse.” one of the darker skinned Lantians said, whose ancestors appeared to have come from the North continents.
“I have no concern for my reputation. I have more concern for the repercussions on those caught and sent back. I won’t survive in the shells. Solitary confinement will crush my intellect. I will fade like the setting sun.” another interjected, apparently one of the more classically educated of the high brow technicians.
Bailey interjected “Surely not? What is this talk of collapse and failure? Dr Barron seems confident, does he not? And I’m told he’s had the most experience of any other on the colony of escapes such as this... I know there are rumours...”
“Rumours?” Lloyd smiled to him. “Facts comrade. The Beldins have forgiven him of his sin, but the sin remains.”
“What is it that you know. I have heard many versions of this story.” Bailey lied.
“Only what is said. Barron was second in command of the biggest escape attempt the prison had ever seen. Everything was set to work, until Barron was contacted and bribed by Border-Sec, who we believe were working on behalf of those that live in the Citadels.”
“The ones that aren’t there.” Bailey jibed.
“The Beldins showed you them I’m sure. It pains me to leave the colony in this state. Nothing will change for those we leave behind.” Lloyd hung his head slightly, as if thinking of people or things important to him.
“The plan will work. I am sure of it.” Bailey nodded to them, and pressed with a repressed passion. “I will help you with everything. I will make it work.”
Lloyd chuckled and slapped a hand on Bailey’s arm. “I know you will, comrade. I have every faith in you.”
“We must all believe in one another.” one of the lady technicians said shyly.
“Let’s call that close of play for today. Bailey has worked particularly hard for his first day. I have to inform you all that I was impressed.” Lloyd spoke to the small crowd. “So let’s call it a day, and reconvene tomorrow at.... Eight forty five in the morn.”
They tidied their work areas and went to the elevator. Once in the hexagonal room above, Lloyd stopped Bailey and said “Come with me, Bailey. I’ll drive you home later.”
Bailey looked at the other technicians walking away up the first of the spiralling corridor, and then followed Lloyd back onto the hanging elevator platform.
Lloyd did the same trick with the control box and then pressed the button to go up, taking the elevator adjacent to the tunnel to the outside.
Bailey followed Lloyd through and out into the night. They hid behind the rock ridge and made their way around to the small ledge where the Beldins had taken him earlier that morning. Lloyd sat down on the rock, and lay back looking at the clear night sky.
“Come hither, comrade.” he said in his nerdy way.
Bailey lay beside him and looked up.
Lloyd passed him a small, high fibre confectionary bar. Bailey smiled taking it then took a bite enthusiastically, accidentally biting the side of his tongue as he did, and then cringing against the pain. He was hungry though, and although the sweet bar was tainted by the taste of his own blood he swallowed it anyway. As he did he glanced slightly at the place where he’d seen the revealed citadels earlier, and considered something abstract.
Lloyd sucked in the icy, fresh air and sighed as he watched the perfectly clear sky above.
“Must be the calm before the storm.” Bailey said.
“That’s right. It often happens this way on Narcosia. The night before the storms begin the sky clears completely, and you can see it all. I don’t recognize any of these star patterns, so we must be somewhere far, far away from the colonies. Probably close to the outer rim.”
“That’s a long way home.”
“But we aren’t going home.” Lloyd looked at him. “You can abandon all hope of ever returning. You need real citizenship to live your life in those worlds. They’ll spot a fake eventually, there’s no way to fool them. And even if you could go back would you really want to? I certainly wouldn’t. Anything I called home died long ago. The Eclipse Empire, saw to that, and all the corrupted dynasties within it. Worst by far being Cequodus and the others involved with the Shadow Alliance. Good deeds happen in the light, comrade. Evil in the dark. Choice of symbolism can reveal so much motive in these things.”
“I agree, I guess. And no, I don’t think I have anything to go back to either.” Bailey said truthfully.
“Look up there.” Lloyd pointed with his thin hand at the end of the huge furry coat arm. “See the weather station?”
Bailey looked up, searching the black between the stars. He found it, a close collection of lights like the stars, but with a few slowly flashing red and green lights. And then he saw something else.
“What is that?” Bailey pointed at it.
Lloyd looked, seeing the brightly lit ship a little over toward the horizon.
“It’s big whatever it is.” Lloyd began.
I recognize it.
“Looks like a Shadow Security ship. Sheriff class.” Lloyd said. “Sheriffs hunt down exiles in the empire then bring them back here to the prison. Like glorified bounty hunters I suppose. I don’t know why it’s still here though. They dropped off the last batch of exiles weeks ago. I’ve never seen one stay in orbit when it doesn’t need to. It will be costing money to keep it there after all.”
I know who it is. I met them on the colonies. They beat me.
“What species are the Sheriffs? Are they from Lantis like us?”
They weren’t Lantians.
“No. I saw one once, just before I was captured and brought here. They wear scarlet robes at all times, and dark green canvas masks. But the shape of it... the body... that face. They weren’t from Lantis, I’m sure.” Lloyd said.
“Waiting for what?” Bailey said out aloud, and Lloyd looked at him, considering his thoughts.
“They’re waiting for something.” Lloyd agreed.
They’re waiting for me. And let them wait.
Bailey lay a while longer with Lloyd Oric, talking about various mundane things that had happened in the colony, and how South Syndicate had approached him and his ‘comrades’ to help with their escape.
The next day, Bailey awoke on the sofa in his home’s front room. The large holo-theatre at the opposite side played out its news report like a tank of violence. He had forgotten to turn it off before falling asleep.
Bailey opened his eyes to see the aftermath of some terror attack on a neighbourhood in a district he didn’t recognize. It was being reported on enthusiastically by what he had found to be the colonies only live broadcaster. It was mainly an open access system where members of the colony could produce and have scheduled their own programs, most of which were of a low standard Bailey had decided. The hourly news bulletin was quite well produced however as well as a few select shows that he had seen just before sleep that night.
There was another day of work ahead, and it was going to be the hardest he’d done in his short life. Bailey stood up in the morning sunlight and slowly turned his head surveying his home and the sounds of parents and children milling around the other homes on the way to school. He felt nothing, and he found it strange.
Before anything else he stopped by Gen Colec’s apartment, finding it much the same as last time, but for a slightly mustier smell, and that the lizard had knocked over a floor vase. It watched Bailey as he moved through the place, expecting some sort of punishment, but Bailey was in a hurry.
He gathered the rest of Colec’s ID cards and dashed back out.
Nobody saw him as he made his way back to the beach at the edge of the desert, and ran along the pier to the door. He had his own control for the door now which he used as he dived through the forcefield, not stopping but squeezing through the opening gap, and then onward down the spiralling corridor. When he reached the bottom he found he had caught up with two others, who had walked a more casual pace to work. He nodded to them trying not to show how blustered he’d become from the run.
They took the elevator down to the lake bed and Bailey took goggles, gasmask and a grey-silver plastic body suit from the rack. With these protecting his body he pressed the button to go down, waving at a couple of the technicians who were looking at him worriedly. It was a horrible place to work but Bailey could see the logic in it. Since the computers there truly did connect into the main communications trunk of the prison, it was an extremely useful means to their end.
It remains to be seen just how deep the trunk goes.
The elevator reached the oil room, and Bailey walked around the hideous, hissing pool.
Once inside the control hut he set about completing the set task, which took less than a minute.
The room was thick with insects today. It seemed that some insect exterminator machine had malfunctioned, filling the room with white-striped flies, which buzzed close to his face now and again looking for a place to lay their eggs. He brushed them aside and continued.
Bailey thought for a moment, then typed in commands enough to hack down into the top security layer of the communication trunk.
So, it not only links to the Border Security offices. It also links into the Citadels as well.
Bailey thought for a moment, then tapped into the citadels’ local area network, masquerading as the citadels’ antivirus program, scanning not for viruses, but for certain programs. He found most of the ones he needed, first, out of sheer curiosity, feeding through the internal surveillance cameras to the screens near the ceiling of the control room.
All were static snow but for one, which simply looked at the corner of a window, which itself looked down on the dome of the prison, or maybe it was the other dome, he couldn’t tell. Bailey watched for a moment before seeing a dark silhouette move in the reflection of the window, and in a slight panic disconnected all video feeds.
He stood head bowed, thinking and fiddling with the nozzle in his mouth. He breathed regularly as he planned out the hack.
He needed to swim through the citadels networks, and precisely so to minimize the risks.
Bailey felt it in a sense of shadow. He entered line after line of commands into the archaic console, until eventually he had navigated his way to a folder, and downloaded its contents to an adjacent console, where he began printing it all out in a tiny paper receipt.
Security codes for every trusted system on the grid; every lock and key. Even the heletank? I’m laming my ass off! And now... Let’s say hello to Dr Chester Barron.
He entered more commands, tapping into established lines of communication between the citadels and the highest ranking officers of Border Sec. Spoofing the identity of Horald Kinnyck himself, since this was the only member of this citadel culture that he had encountered, he opened an emergency communiqué with an officer general of Border Security, by the name of Dogan Lerrock. Dogan appeared on the screen, and Bailey double checked his monitoring program so to ensure that he couldn’t be seen himself. The screen at Officer General Lerrock’s side was mainly black snow, but for the insignia of Cequodus and below it the insignia of the Citadels validated the transmission.
Bailey had found that this was a common method of communication between Border Security and the Citadels. He wondered if he, having spoken with Horald Kinnyck only briefly, had been one of the few people on the planet to have actually met anyone from the citadels. This made him even curiouser since he was only a terrorist, and why would he be given such unique treatment?
Stop trying to think. Just do what I say.
Part of the system of communication set up here was a text to voice program, which Bailey now used, being careful to erase the logs of his activity as he went, since he didn’t want anyone in the citadels to actually discover that their impenetrable systems had been hacked.
He typed out his message “We have uncovered a plot by South Syndicate to escape from the planet. We do not wish you to intervene, but instead to contact their leader, Chester Barron. You will offer him a deal. He must wait until the escape is in progress, then turn guns on the people escaping. Nobody must be left alive. If he succeeds he will be transferred to the other dome city, and given a high ranking position in Border Sec there. Understood?”
There was a pregnant pause then Dogan reached forward and typed “Understood. I will see to it personally.”
“If Barron declines, kill him in the usual way. Then offer the deal to each of the Beldins, and if they will not bend, offer it to Aaron Bailey. Understood?”
“Understood perfectly, High General Kinnyck.” Dogan typed.
So, Kinnyck has a rank too.
Bailey disconnected, while brushing away more of the persistent flies. He more than wondered how this could possibly be the right thing.
This plan is doomed to fail. If we want any chance of getting away from this place, we need to let this pipe dream die out. And we will also see the prison defences at work. You must watch them. Study them. Remember them for later. Do you really care about a handful of worthless criminals?
“I don’t care.” Bailey said around the nozzle between his teeth.
Later that evening, Barron sat naked at the end of a long table with his huge hands cupped over his private parts. He was a massive man, thick with muscles from his shoulders to upper and lower body.
The rest of the table, and the room around were filled with Border Security officers, all staring at him furiously, having told him what they knew.
Barron raised his head, with tears dropping from his eyes and cheeks.
“How...“ he whimpered. “Why haven’t you arrested them? What do you want from me?”
Barron raised his voice slightly at them, but the officers just coughed arrogantly, chuckling to one another. From their position of power it seemed rather strange that they wouldn’t act.
“We want to make you a deal.” a dinosaur of a man leaned at him from his right.
Barron sniffed, and then composed himself.
The following morning, Barron met with the Beldins, and told them the news that all teams were now ready, and they should make their break as soon as possible. The Beldins then travelled to each team in turn to tell them of a meeting to be held that evening in the South Syndicates village. They alerted each team, moving through Bailey’s team as they did all the others, ending finally at the team in charge of aerial combat operations.
“How’s it going up there?” Barton Beldin yelled up to the men working on the plane, which was hung from the crane high above.
“Well hey!” Flynn Randall took off a pair of huge engineering goggles, and looked down at the three over the wing of the plane.
The room commandeered for their team was a long and high tunnel running around the entire circumference of the dome. It was one of many interconnected places within the dome wall used to circulate the different consistencies of air within the various districts, and biosphere of the colony. The air, rarely motionless, would change heat and smell every few minutes as the environment was regulated. Their team had taken over a small stretch of it, shipping in three huge cranes, from which were suspended three antique airplanes.
The planes had been restored from wrecks that they had found in a museum leftover from the original colony. They were highly manoeuvrable fighters from the great world war of Lantis. It had surprised all species venturing out into space, just how similar the patterns within their histories were.
The planes had been refitted with high powered jets, and anti-grav guidance systems. They also held beneath them an arsenal of firepower, from spark-based machine guns, to fire-and-forget micro-missiles.
Flynn Randall had been working on these systems with his team when they were paid this unexpected visit.
“We have some good news.” Cix yelled. “Please come down! All of you come down now!”
There were five people on the team, led by a lady called Bethany Lux. The rest of the team comprised of the three pilots, Flynn Randall the fighter, Port Farnon from Border Security, and Mitchell R’Oskvikg, who came from an undisclosed role in East Syndicate. All three had extensive piloting experience in their lives before prison. The others were the main mechanics, Erik Luminaire the famed punk fighter from South Syndicate, and Rhia NoVakahn, a black skinned girl who worked in haulage for Old Gang.
The men and women in overalls gathered around, and Cix Beldin stepped forward.
“We think we have a window.” she said. “So we’re bringing the teams together this afternoon for an official meeting. It will look like part of the Autumnal Solstice celebrations so feel free to come dressed in party gear. Costumes may be a little inappropriate though. Bethany, you don’t need to come unless you’ve changed your mind about coming?”
Their leader, Bethany said “I’m afraid not. It’s too much for my partner. There’s no way she could handle something like this right now.”
“Thanks for helping.” Barton nodded.
“I guess I’ll wish you luck now. Not that I think you’re gonna need it.”
“I’ll miss you, girl.” Cix said and kissed her.
Barton took over “Gathering is at South Syndicate village, on the east field. Right beside the old market wheel, which you will all have driven past countless times no doubt, but never thought of visiting. Well the same will apply to everyone else hopefully, and so we’ll get a little privacy.”
“Well, at last.” Mitchell said, slapping Randall’s shoulder hard.
Randall smiled slightly and said “What time?”
Cix looked at Barton and shrugged “We’ll be getting it going right away, but you can say... Eight in evening?”
“Eight then.” Mitchell grinned.
“We’ll be starting the countdown from ten.” Barron said “Your wristbands will be synchronized automatically. All you have to do is show up.”
“Even if you don’t they’ll still be synchronized.” Barton said. “But we’d like to have everyone there for the beginning. Including you, Randall. Are you still sure you want to come?”
“Yeah. Me and Faye have been having a few problems. Don’t think it’s going to last.” Randall said sadly.
“Sorry to hear that, friend.” Barton said. “But it’s good to have you on board.”
“Just Old Gang to inform now.” Barron said. “I’ll do that myself. You don’t need to come along for this.”
Barton nodded “That would be good of you, Chester. The bad blood isn’t going away on this or any other planet.”
“I have to settle up with a lady friend of mine anyway, so...” Barron smiled.
“Be careful.” Rhia said. “This truce is hanging by a thread.”
“What are you thinking, Barron?” Mitchell hissed. “Let’s not get sidetracked like last time, ok?”
“It’ll be fine. Trust me please?”
Rhia nodded and she, and the others walked back to the planes.
“Oh, Mitchell?” Barron said “Can I have a word? Just a sec?”
Mitchell looked at the others and then walked back to Barron and the Beldins.
Barron walked away from the couple while gesturing to Mitchell, and so Mitchell followed.
Once they were out of earshot of everybody, Barron said “I’m sensing a certain mistrust from you, Mitchell.”
“Oh, you think?” he said sarcastically, looking back at the others as they continued their work.
Barron smirked at him arrogantly, and said “Is there anything I can do to rectify this situation?”
“I don’t get why you would gamble the whole truce on the eve of our escape like this.”
“You mean Byder?” Barron smirked again. “We could all die tomorrow, Mitchell. This could be our last chance to be together.”
“Byder and Josep are a couple. Do you even understand the importance of this? The importance to Josep? If he sees you two together it will destroy the truce. It will destroy this escape. There is no escape without their team.” Mitchell said emphatically, while Barron only stood and smirked in his disconnected way.
Barron blinked and looked away. “You know I’ve longed for the day when I could be free of this planet. I should never have been sent here, like many others here. But for me, although I do like a lot of the people I’ve met while here, I do find them hideously ignorant. People like yourself, completely uninformed of anything other than what exists in the tiny tunnel of your life. And I hope you believe me, I don’t mean any offense by this. But I’ve had to put up with this intelligence gap for almost ten years now. It’s ten years of my life stolen away forever. They’re never coming back...”
Mitchell, who was indeed furiously offended, said “You’re going to get us all killed. And you know it. What’s going on, Chester?”
Barron smirked and chuckled, turning away.
“I think we’re done here.” he said in a low voice, and walked away toward the exit.
He gestured and the Beldins left with him.
Mitchell stood staring at the exit, panting with the fear and anger of what he knew.
“Come on, Mitchell!” Randall yelled from the far side of the place.
Mitchell looked at him, then began running to the door.
“Where are you going?” Rhia yelled.
Skipping sideways he yelled back “We don’t need to run another check. I need to sort a few things out before tomorrow.”
“They should have been done already, Mitch.” Rhia yelled, as Mitchell ducked through the dark door.
At ground level, Mitchell managed to catch up to Barron and the couple, remaining out of sight behind them until they reached the exit to the sea.
As the three left through the door, Mitchell ran to slip through just before it closed again.
Mitchell stood in the dank space between the end of the pier and the forcefield, watching them through the grey haze of it as they walked away across the sea.
As they reached what he judged to be the shore, Mitchell leaned his face through the field, emerging through the fake projection of a seascape.
He could tell they were far enough away not to see him, and so began to sprint toward the shore. Two automobiles revved up and began rolling away toward the highway, but Mitchell was fast and reached the shore as they sped up onto the roads above.
It was the temperate north zone, filled with patches of heavily overgrown fields, utilizing the perfect balance of a combination of plants, animals and insects to produce masses of food on an industrial scale. Small octopus-like robots gathered the harvest with greater precision than a human could achieve.
Mitchell ran into the thick smell of the plants, pushing on to his own car and then sped at illegal speed onto the glass carriageways, and accelerated to catch up to the two cars. He could see them after the central ring road and so slowed to give a little distance.
The Beldins turned away toward South Syndicate, while Barron, as he promised, turned toward the northern cavern containing the Old Gang headquarters.
In the north was another city center that had been abandoned by the original colony, and had not been touched during the refurbishment and conversion to a prison. It now lay to the north, a series of half rings of derelict retail districts, with stagnant rivers instead of promenades surrounding a central district, that rested up against the dome wall. This one district in the middle of them all had been rebuilt and populated. Old Gang Central, as it had been named, now served as a remote hub of drugs, misery and crime in the gigantic colony. Hordes of cattle and other degenerates spread out from it by day and night clawing and feeding at the belly of the otherwise depressed and peaceful city. But the drugs they made were in demand at the end of the day, and business was always booming.
Mitchell followed a car behind as they drove down into the wall of this central district, which itself was alive with the beginnings of the Autumnal Solstice carnival. It was a carnival organized by Old Gang so was hugely financed, and proved quite distracting to drive through as he left the tunnel and joined the outer highway.
Old Gang central was much like the metropolis only halved by the outer dome wall. There was the outer ring of retail blocks surrounding an inner space, and the road systems hugging around the circumference.
There was a lot of activity spilling onto the lower street, highway, and even some on the tram tracks.
Seeing where Barron was heading, Mitchell drove slowly around the dancing crowd and made it up the slip road to the parking hollow of the Fincle Harvesting building, which was a front company thinly veiling Old Gang headquarters. The whole outer ring here had been taken over and so it would be no problem parking in any of the outer blocks.
At that height you could see right into the enormous, darker space on the other side, that throbbed and hummed with the vibrancy of a dance party. It was full of bodies and steam from the substances being cooked up between them, all jumping and dancing to the sound and lightshow pumping over them.
The blocks on the inner ring of the district had been demolished and concreted flat with one, single building, a tiny cathedral built in the middle of the sea of people and flashing lights. Behind it all was a disused tram line that had been broken and twisted in shapes to read “Old Gang Central”.
The district played host to this never ending party, thinly veiling the buying of stolen goods and the selling of hard narcotics. Tonight the party had a carnival vibe, and spilled over into the rest of the colony, drugs and all.
It represented everything they wanted to escape from.
Mitchell sat in the car and watched Barron at the far end of the stable-lane get out of his car, and allow it to drive away toward the parking lot. Barron, instead of turning toward the lobbies, turned to walk along the path to one of the graffiti abused glass elevators at the side, that then took him down in a perspex cubicle to the high street below.
Mitchell left the car and ran to catch him once he was out of sight, then took an adjacent elevator down into the bustling crowd below.
Staring along the length of the main street he found Barron walking along the side path under the loom of the highway.
Above, a train rocketed by on the railroad, over the party filled highways. A girl with tanned skin wearing a wide feathery costume ran up to him and kissed his cheek shouting something in a language he didn’t recognize. He ignored her and continued to trace Barron’s steps.
The early starters of the carnival were mainly on the road, with only a couple of people on the path between himself and Barron. They themselves seemed to be people uninterested in the carnival, and simply trying to get to wherever they were going unmolested.
The carnivals would be in full swing very soon, which would make it almost impossible to follow anyone at this distance.
For now, Mitchell watched as Barron reached the end of the long street where one block met the next, and stood with his hands on his hips looking out over a roundabout there. Mitchell squinted to see what he would do next, seeing Barron turn and look in his direction.
He dived behind one of the old supports for the highway as a train raced by above cutting out the street lights momentarily.
Mitchell was sure he hadn’t been seen, and to confirm it he looked back, seeing Barron heading to the right and downhill.
“What the hell?” he said and ran the length of the street to the road-blocked roundabout.
Opposite the looming face of the buildings, the wide road downhill led to what was clearly signposted as the Geothermic Catacombs.
Beneath town level were a complex network of old catacombs that, if followed deep enough would lead you to the lava of the giant volcano that housed the city domes.
Mitchell could see Barron stepping his weight carefully down a steeper incline of the road, moving deeper into the catacombs. He had no idea where he could be going, since there was nothing down there but for the geothermic power generators, which provided the largest percentage of energy for the colony.
Mitchell followed, but cautiously, hiding behind the ridge of the tunnel to allow Barron a little distance through the first of the damp catacombs, and seeing him disappear to the right he entered the place and followed.
The catacombs were old, and grew more rich in stalagmites and rock pools as he followed Barron deeper down below town level. Eventually he entered a large cavern with a wide, shallow pool fed by a subterranean waterfall. Pipes were feeding the water to a network of others on the walls, taking away the excess for cooling purposes no doubt. The cavern was dark mostly, illuminated in three places by old, crooked lanterns at the cave roof. There was no sign of Chester Barron, and looking to each of the walls no other way out could be seen, but for a small hole in the wall so high that it would be impossible to reach.
He looked around for a moment before stepping into the cave and walking toward the wide pool.
It seemed that Barron was gone, and for a moment Mitchell thought that maybe, everything was going to be alright.
Barron however, who had been hiding in a dark shadow behind an ancient stalactite ran out behind Mitchell with his arms hung like a beast and sliced the blade of a knife across a small region of his back.
Mitchell was frozen, paralyzed from the neck down. He watched as Barron, who had stripped down to his underpants, walked around to face him.
“Hypophine nerve. Just above the fourth vertebrae. Instant paralysis.” he smiled, with a vacant, empty look about him.
“Bastard.” Mitchell mumbled. “You’ll kill us all!”
Barron laughed silently to himself then said “You first.”
He reached a huge hand to Mitchell’s neckline and sank his powerful fingers into the flesh of his shoulder. He screamed out a long hopeless cry as the blood dripped and squirted from him. Barron, giggling like a beast wrapped the fingers of his other hand around the top of Mitchell’s head, and with a large fraction of his strength, ripped his head away from his shoulders.
He dropped the head and then kicked body to the cave floor, before holding his head back and roaring to the roof like an animal.
With or without a carnival winding up in the town above, nobody would have heard the screams. Nobody ventured this deep but for the robots and the occasional group of kids, and even then the kids wouldn’t go this deep, so close to the molten core of the terrific Narcosian mountain. There were three other volcanic mountains of the same scale around the planet, separated by other lesser mounts and deep gorges, all encased in impenetrable ice and snow. It was indeed the perfect location for a prison colony within the empire.
Chester Barron, having been covered in the blood of his murder victim, went to the underground fall, which he had conveniently lured Mitchell to. He stripped naked and stood beneath the flow as the water erased the evidence of his sin.
Afterward he sat on the edge on a dry plate of rock, while the heat from the lava a few levels below dried his body.
From here he redressed and walked back through the caves to the roundabout, which had now been completely overrun by tents and carnival trailers, backing up traffic along all highstreets and the spaghetti junction above.
Barron walked back the way he had come, wading through the thick crowd toward the public elevators leading up to the parking lanes.
Once there he ran across the concrete park toward the central lobby of Fincle Harvesting, seeing that a crowd had reached the hollow place and was now filling it with party and dance.
He ran in through the glass front and through the lobby door. Just missing the elevator’s departure he ran up the stairs behind it, now a little giddy, excited by how well things had gone so far. It was only two levels up, where he needed to be, so reached it ahead of the elevator.
He walked past the descending plate of glass and whoever was on it, and past the reception desk, who knew him well enough not to bother asking for ID. Barron walked through glass doors into a corporate lounge area, filled with rough faced, cigar smoking men and women.
Barron snapped his fingers and gestured at the short, thin woman sitting beside one of their leaders, Josep Fincle. The woman looked at Josep and his twin brother Nash and then stood up and walked to Barron.
She stood beside him as he said “Have you heard?”
The gang, looking solemn and offended remained silent.
“Meeting at eight beside the market wheel at South Syndicate village. The one day timer will be set tonight. I have my date, so be there or be squared.”
“That’s Josep’s girl, fool.” Nash Fincle said.
“She’s been mine as well for the past few months. Right, Byder?” he smiled warmly and kissed her cheek. “I did promise to get you all out of here. Party’s at Eight. Don’t get left behind!”
After another angry silence he turned and laughed arrogantly as he walked out, with Byder Mauv at his side.
She glanced around at Josep and the others, smirking slightly before following Barron out of the door.
Outside, the carnival grew louder with song and dancing.
At the South Syndicate village, at the edge of the east field beside a tunnel entrance in the wall, a U-shape of tents and tables had been constructed. They blew in the sweet gale that channeled down from the highways and biosphere. A large stone wheel lay on its side with a thicker grass and weeds growing up around its edge. It was meant as some kind of modern art statement, but actually looked quite hideous, and only served as something for the younger children to run around on.
In the rest of the village, balloons and blimps had been raised from the fields as others that lived in the surrounding South Syndicate apartment districts came to enjoy the place, as invited. It would serve as added cover for their meeting, but none of these people were interested in such things anymore.
“Darn.” Barton said taking the microphone on the stage before the huge crowd that had gathered. “Been locked up in this place so long, I’ve forgotten how to do this!”
“Speech...” someone yelled followed by a chorus of “Speeech!”
Modest street and house parties were beginning and could be heard on the air from the rest of the district.
Barton coughed then tentatively said “In a few minutes from now, we will begin the one day countdown.”
Cix Beldin gestured theatrically like a gameshow assistant to the holographic image on the steel table behind him. It showed an hour and minute readout, ready to be started.
“It is so good to see everybody here in one place for the first time. Look to one another. It will be the first time some of you have ever seen one another. You are looking at heroes. You are looking at men and women who believe in a world beyond ice and blizzards. A good world of heart and soul... and I know some of you will have noticed the absence of Old Gang, but we have been assured by Chester that they have been told, and we have every faith in their determination to make this project work!”
Barton noticed a young girl run across from the road, where she had run her automobile onto the embankment. He continued, as she stood at the side of the tents, gesturing at him.
“We are leaving.” he said. “We will fly off into the depths of space and find a new world where we can be free. The days will turn to weeks, the weeks to months, and the months to years, and this place will fade to memory, and matter not. So for now we dance. Our final solstice!”
He held his beer glass in the air and the crowd did also, crying out in chorus as the music began.
Barton jumped down to the grass and held Cix by her arms, lowering her slowly beside him. He kissed her and they hugged cheek to cheek, smiling with hope for the future.
Riley Sagar, one of the Sagar elders from East Syndicate took the microphone, and shouted over the music “Here’s to South Syndicate! I don’t know how they did it!”
They all toasted Barton and Cix Beldin and their final party on Narcosia began.
Bailey sat at one of a few arranged tables with the technicians, watching the festivities.
The girl that had arrived half way though the speech moved across the dance area and took Barton away from Cix and the others.
She leaned in so nobody else could hear and said “Something bad. It’s your pilot, Mitchell. He’s been killed, Barton. Robots found him murdered, down in Geothermic, in the north.”
Barton hissed and said “Shit! What can we do? We need three pilots.”
“They ripped his head off, Barton. Who would do that?” she said on the edge of tears.
“I wonder.” Barton said with a mild sarcasm. “And we have the absence of Old Gang...”
“Oh God!” she said, finally breaking down, and Cix having seen this walked over to them.
“Go get Chester.” he patted her and she ran off toward Barron and his lady friend.
“It’s Mitchell. Got himself killed.” Barton said to Cix.
“Old Gang?” she said, then went on. “Do we really need them now? We have all the intel we need. We only used them for their ties to Border Sec.”
“But if they tell Border Sec?” Barton eyed her with a shaky look.
Cix shrugged and said “Then we’ll die.”
“It’s all too much to fight. To the end, no matter what.” he said, and turned to Chester Barron as he approached.
“Bad news, friend.” he said to Barron. “Mitchell is out. Murdered we think. Do we have any other pilots, no matter how inexperienced. Just for backup to the other two.”
“There’s always me.” he said, and the others looked shocked. “I have a full atmospheric pilot’s license. I didn’t want to volunteer for pilot duty too early. Seemed like suicide to me.”
“Well it might be.” Cix said. “But if we don’t have this covered then we’re all dead anyway.”
“I’ll do it.” Barron smiled. “You know you can count on me.”
Making a Mockery.
As usual Thom Gubichayan was on his way to work the next morning. He followed his usual route via tram from the south to the robot maintenance factory in the east. He stopped off, as he always did at the neighbourhood adjacent to the factory outskirts, and skated the rest of the way via the central shopping mall.
As always he took a route via the unisex perfume counter, stopping only briefly to apply one of the samples.
Above he and the others present, including the gold robot cashiers, the lights dimmed and a scratchy siren honked out over the mall.
“Perimeter compromised! Everyone remain where you are!” the equally scratchy voice boomed out over every public speaker throughout the old city. “Martial lockdown is in effect!”
Thom smiled bitterly and shook his head. “Stiffed us again.” he hissed quietly.
Thom and the others in his gang hadn’t been told of the escape, that was now in progress.
“T minus five minutes!” the feminine computer voice cried over the engineering floor, and pilots now ready in the planes.
“All set?” Rhia yelled up at the men in the cockpits, and each gave her a thumbs up, apart from Barron who simply ignored her.
“Good, good.” she said to herself and ran over to Erik near the crane controls.
“T minus four minutes.” the same voice of the communications computer spoke over the wristbands of those waiting in the hexagonal room.
“Come on. Now.” Barton said to Bailey and the others, they began affixing their goggles and ceramic hot water bottles that they strapped around their chests, close to their hearts.
They followed him onto the elevator, and Barton took them up to the tunnel through the rock. Barton and Bailey stood watching as the technicians and others who had already completed their tasks crawled into the narrow tunnel. They carefully worked their way along, through the open hatch on the other side and crawled around the rock tower, out of sight of the hangars. The harsh storms battered them with thick snow and sleet.
Bailey and Barton waited as they each made their way.
“Do you ever dream, Bailey?” Barton said, as if in a trance.
“Dream?” Bailey looked at him.
“I only ever have the same dream. In one place, a house in a field. It’s snowing, but not like this snow. It’s nicer somehow. I meet someone there each time. Someone I’ve never met anywhere else.” he said. “It’s strange, Bailey.”
Bailey thought a moment then with a note of sarcasm said “Yup.”
A voice on the wristband said “Robotic grid disabled. Good to go.”
The last of them crawled into the tunnel and Barton said “Let’s hope those planes sever the connection soon, or the grid will reboot, and then we need to start shooting. Ok. Get into position. I’ve got your back.”
Bailey crawled ahead, and they both emerged on the other side, and flinched as the wet snow from the blizzard slapped them in the face. It continued to pour from the fast scrolling clouds above. Seeing that Bailey had forgotten to fix the goggles Barton did it for him.
They stood looking down at the still robots near the hangars, and the sentry beside the radar.
Barton held up his wrist band and said “Family team, where are you?”
“Family team?” Bailey asked.
A voice crackled over the band “Almost there, keep some seats warm.”
“Come on.” Barton said, starting down the sleet covered hill. “We don’t have a lot of time here. Get to the radar tower.”
Bailey half walked and half slid down the slope as the others emerged from behind the rock. He walked past them to the radar tower, and around the frozen robot sentry.
“Looks like it worked.” he said to Barton.
“Professor Hickam will assist you.” Barton said, and a tall thin man with strawberry blonde hair pushing out of his hood walked up to them.
“I don’t really need help but...” Bailey tried to raise his voice over the storm, but Barton had moved on.
Holding his wristband to his mouth he shouted “Radio silence starting now. Coordination only!”
Barton and Cix ran off along the way between the buildings with the others closely behind. They shot at each of the robots as they passed, shattering them into fragments in the snow. Bailey looked at the face of the sentry beside him, that they had seemingly forgotten about.
They ran to the far side, toward a rocky slope down to a lower ridge atop the huge cliff. From this ridge the weather rocket stood on its platform, with a single thin ladder leading up to a service point for the gathering module within. The rocket had already been programmed not to take samples of the storm, but to simply fly up into orbit for collection by the station. They would be able to hide within the air tight container for the whole voyage.
The Beldins led everyone down a flight of icy stone steps cut into the rocky slope, steadied by the thick boots they were told to wear. Rhia NoVakahn had worn high heels however, which actually worked better at holding her in place.
“This way!” Cix shouted over the blizzard.
The storm was lessening its assault but the temperatures were still dangerously low.
Crouching beside the radar, Bailey looked up at his new assistant and smiled as if annoyed.
“Try not to get in my way.” Bailey said and turned to the control box below the spinning arm and ear.
Don’t use the Cequodus default passwords. If you use them and this fails, they’ll change them.
He opened the thin door and plugged in a specialized palm computer that expanded to a holographic keyboard and monitor when connected. The radar was overridden and above it stopped spinning and turned to face up at the sky. A few more commands involving a series of nice looking system overrides within the city itself, and he turned and smiled at his assistant
Bailey held up his wristband and said “Solar defence grid down.”
“Holy shit!” Barton crackled over the band. “Thanks.”
He turned and smiled again at his assistant, who was now craning to see the holo display on his computer.
“Those aren’t the solar defences.” he said with his nose turned high in the air. “Why did you tell them it was done?”
At the planes, the engineers fed instructions to the cranes and on each a yellow industrial warning light began spinning. A rectangular hole that had been cut into the wall in front of the planes slid upward, and the cranes moved the planes forward until the nose of each hung out over the precipice beyond.
Each pilot now looked out from the steep side of the dome. The long white wall stretched away below to the jagged rocky ridge before the cliff.
Rhia shouted over bands “Release in three, two, one.”
A piston within the end of the cranes kicked each of the jets out of the hole, sending them falling down along the wall, and then past the ridge and down along the abyssal cliff face.
There was plenty of time to right themselves, so they took it easy pulling back on the controls to begin their flight.
Each of the three jets banked upward and arrowed off in different directions across the flat center of the crater. Randall tested his guns on the morbid sign as they passed it, bursting it into a thousand splintered pieces.
They then turned back around and flew up and over the upper curve of the dome.
Port Farnon took his jet along his designated path, toward a target he’d seen countless times in a simulator. He knew Randall and Barron would be heading toward the hangar field to protect the others while escaping. The heletank would reach them very soon, and so two planes would be ample diversion for it.
Farnon was heading for the wireless antenna array that connected the robots in the dome to the citadels over an old fashioned radio line. It stood on the direct top centre of the dome comprising of a small black hut with huge antenna reaching up into the first of the cloud.
It was hard to see much through the blizzard of snow pouring out of the clouds, and it got worse the closer he got to them. Then suddenly he saw it emerge from the murky distance, but felt no relief just yet.
He thought for a moment that he could hear the roar from another plane’s engine, then it was confirmed as one of the other planes darted at him out of the distance ahead. It fired its chain guns and would have hit Farnon if his military training hadn’t kicked in, and dodged slightly aside with a flick of the control stick. He hadn’t dodged quite far enough however, and the other plane rammed the glass roof of the cockpit. The strike split a crack along it and the blizzards began to pour into the cockpit. He flinched against the spitting slush as it sprayed his face and shoulders.
“Superb.” he hissed, and pulled around having missed the control antenna a mile or so back. “Can anyone read me? Over!”
At the radar tower, Bailey’s assistant began to step forward, and Bailey began to step away. He analysed the display further.
“What’s going on here?” Hickam said looking at him sternly.
Kill him! Kill him quick!
“Do you think I should?” Bailey said in a worried panic.
“Who are you talking to?” the man said, and then heard the voice of Port Farnon over the wrist band shouting.
“I’m under attack! It’s one of the planes!” his words were followed by a barrage of chain gun fire.
“A double cross!” Hickam hissed looking up at the sky, and then accusingly back to Bailey.
Bailey stepped toward him and dived to grab his face. He punched at his long thin neck and then pushed the man back, and watched as Hickam gasped for air in the freezing storms. Quickly he grabbed him by the hair and began hitting his head repeatedly on the corner of the radar tower, and kept doing it until the blood was pouring out of him.
He let go and the man’s body fell to the ground.
Panting he looked around to make sure nobody had seen, and seeing up on the ridge, a woman escorting a group of children out of the hatch, he grabbed the body and dragged it around to the back of the radar tower. He dragged it to the cliff edge and after slipping a few times in the sleet, he toppled the corpse over the side.
It span away into the murky fog below.
Bailey went back and peered around the side of the tower at the group of children and their escort.
“Children?” he said. “I didn’t know there’d be...”
Just then a plane flew overhead.
Randall had reached the platform with the hangars and rocket, and arrowed low over them to catch everyone’s attention.
“Farnon, what’s going on? Please come in. Clarify your last message, over.” Randall said.
He took his jet over the upper ridge, along the base of the dome, and then saw a black spot far across the white crater floor.
“Here he comes.” he said, referring to the heletank.
He took the plane over the ridge and in a direction roughly toward the robotic killer.
As he glided closer he heard over the wire, Port Farnon sounding scared and flustered.
“Please copy. I’m being chased out by another plane. It’s either Randall or Barron. Please copy.”
“It’s not me, friend.” Randall said.
“Barron!” Farnon said angrily, and over the wire Randall heard more chain gun fire.
“Barron you hear me?” Randall shouted. “Break off attack immediately. Don’t make me shoot you down.”
Randall took the plane down and swooped over the heletank. It immediately howled it’s off tone notes, and gave chase, firing it’s array of spark-cannon weaponry. The rainbow targeting scanner almost blinded Randall in the cockpit but then it stopped. The blizzard had thickened the air but Randall could still see that the heletank had turned around, and was heading toward the hangars.
He sighed as he began to bank the plane around over the flat snow.
Back at the hangars, Bailey hid from the view of the children and their escort.
“What do I do?” he whimpered, crouching down and biting on his thumb.
Suddenly, the heletank arose from behind the ledge of the cliff, and howled strangely at Bailey. It hung in the air beyond the drop, steadying precisely with its weak antigrav stabilizers.
“Aaaaagh!” he cried out, as the heletank bowed forward, lowering one of its rotor blades toward him.
Bailey crouched back against the base of the radar, closing his eyes and crying in panic.
Move you dumb cunt!
Bailey couldn’t move. He was scared to the spot, and the blades were lowered so close to him he could feel their rhythm on his skin.
Then suddenly, Port Farnon flew down, and crashed his jet’s wing across the heletank’s upper side. The plane flew down and crashed on fire into the side of the cliff, while the heletank, knocked off balance and out of its senses shouldered to the side and crashed on the edge of the cliff. It lay on its back for a moment like a stunned turtle, before tipping over the cliff edge and falling away into the mists below.
Bailey opened his eyes and looked at where the heletank had been, and saw Port Farnon dropping by having ejected and deployed his parachute.
“Help me, Bailey!” he shouted at him with frustration as he wriggled with the chords. “I’ve missed the platform help meeee!”
There was nothing Bailey could do even if he had wanted to. Instead he walked to the cliff edge and watched Port Farnon sail away into the grey below.
“Good work, Farnon.” Bailey heard Randall’s voice over the wireless, but there was no reply. “I’m going to go for Barron. You get safe, buddy.”
Bailey skulked around the side of the radar tower to get another look at the children.
He heard a tinny voice say “Hold it right there. Trespassers will be killed.”
He looked around as the robot sentry that had been previously disabled, now stalked its way toward the children, and Byder Mauv that stood before them like a human shield.
“Please.” she said. “We just want to go back to the prison.”
“You do not have a permit?” the robot said, and raised its huge rifle. “Trespassers will be killed.”
It shot a single precise round that burst the woman’s thin chest. Bailey watched her corpse fall in silence to the snow between himself and the gaggle of kids.
“The family team....” Bailey said in his hiding place.
“What was that, Bailey?” the voice of Barton said, having overheard him. “Be careful the robot grid has rebooted.”
Shmamily team. We’ll wipe em all out. Stupid worthless fucks!
“I am what I do!” he said louder, as he watched the robot step toward the children. “I am Bailey!”
You do what I say.
“Go to heeeeeeeeeeeeeeell!” Bailey yelled, and ran out between the buildings. “Aaaaaaaaaaagh!”
He dived and tackled the robot to the ground, snatching up it’s rifle, before rolling on his shoulders, and back to his feet. He turned and aimed the gun at the robot, who now stood facing him with the scared and crying children at their side.
It slowly held its golden arms up, from which extended two long thin blades.
Bailey grinned and pulled the trigger, hearing only a hollow ‘clunk’ sound.
“Biometric authorization required.” the faint computer voice spoke to him from within the gun.
“Son of a...” Bailey began but stopped as the robot sailed forward, and swung one of the long blades down at him.
He caught it, blocking it with the jagged bayonet of the rifle, and then having seen what he had done, unclipped the bayonet and dropped the useless rifle to the snow. As the robot made its next move to strike, Bailey swung the military bayonet back around to meet it.
He blocked each of its fast attacks with the huge bayonet, then began to attack himself, swinging and lunging with skills he had no memory acquiring. With no gun or anything else he was left with only the thick blade as a primitive means of attack.
Although he would need to stop the evil bastard somehow, right now he was content just to gradually draw it away from the children.
The robot was fast and technical in its strikes, pushing Bailey back toward the steps down to the rocket. The narrow rock steps were slippery with blackened ice, but Bailey managed to keep his stance, blocking and replying each of the robots relentless blows. He walked back along the steps toward the battle that was raging below around the base of the rocket.
The South and East syndicate leaders, and members of Old Gang were locked in gunfire with heavily armed robot sentries.
Robots were blown apart, but a number of Old Gang were killed as they fumbled out of their comfort zone. Josep cried out at this and ran for the rocky slope to get away, along with a few others who had decided it was all hopeless now too. The children looked up at her hopefully as she trotted by and up to the hatch.
Erik Luminaire, who had stood his ground was caught in a blast of plasma fire so heated that it incinerated his body until only the burning top half of his mohicaned skull remained. It span and hit the rocks beside Josep, who panicked more and scrambled on.
Josep escaped from the mayhem and ran back toward the prison, pushing through the group of children and then up to the hatch.
Through all of this Bailey was driven down close to the base of the rocket. The robot pushed him back with its hand and readied to deal the last blow, when in the corner of his eye he saw Rhia running toward them.
He allowed himself to be pushed onto the floor by his opponent and then covered his face theatrically, as if beaten.
“Baiileeeeeeeeey!” Rhia yelled and leaped through the air at the robot, spinning and then kicking hard against the side of its head with her high heel shoe.
The robot staggered left and right clutching at its slightly dented head and the positronic lights that had been slightly scrambled within. The heel had stabbed through the plastic covering and now hung out of its brain as it struggled to gather its thoughts.
Bailey, now appearing more composed stood up and spun around, dragging the huge blade with him for one final theatrical blow. He sliced at the robot’s neck severing its head, hands and blades, and then continued the swing to drive the sword through its chest.
“Bailey!” Barton yelled, running around to him. “Get away from the rocket. It’s about to go.”
“Shouldn’t we try?” Bailey said as he helped Rhia to steady herself on the cold ground. “And what about the people inside?”
“It’s too late. Let’s get the hell out of here.” Cix said, joining them, and they all ran back up the steps, and through the hangers to the children.
“No.” Barton said to his wife. “We have to try.”
She nodded and they turned and ran back and down to the rocket. They were about to run to the ladder when the rocket ignited and blasted out, pushing them onto their backs.
“They’ll be ok. Come on!” Rhia yelled to Bailey, as they watched the rocket slowly raise up above the place.
Barton and Cix could not be seen and so they shepherded the children back up the hillside to the tunnel.
“Okay. It was a good try.” the voice of Barton came over the band. “Now everyone back inside the colony.”
Randall replied on the band “No way Barron lives. No way.”
Within the cockpit window Randall’s three pointed missile lock narrowed on Barron’s plane as it darted below, close to the ground. It was heading toward the other dome, Randall could now tell.
He gained a lock and immediately fired, and engaged the thruster to follow as close behind the missile as he could. The cockpit shuddered as it overclocked its natural speeds, and Randall struggled against the joystick to keep it level at its target.
Randall saw the missile miss as Barron pulled an evasive manoeuvre, but the explosion so close to the plane on the ground sent it spiralling out of control.
Randall, drawing ever closer, saw Barron’s plane level out and skid onto the flat snow. It came to a stop and Randall, took aim, firing the chain gun and raining the plane with bullets.
Then, the gun was out of ammo, and out of missiles too. He flew the plane over the crashed plane as Barron opened the cockpit, and emerged into the now quietened blizzard, apparently unharmed. He dropped down onto the crater basin in a heavy coat and began running away.
Randall saw this and took the plane around and down, skidding it onto the ice as the other had done. It came to a neat halt and Randall opened the cockpit and got out, feeling the bite of the freezing air against his skin through the thin t shirt. He dropped down onto the rock and compacted snow and squinted to see a blurry, distant spot heading toward the towering dome, that was now much closer than their own.
He took his pistol, and fired a few shots after Barron, who was running like a mad man toward the other city. The shots burst the snow around him, but didn’t stop him.
“You bastard! You sold us out!” Randall shouted, and then heard metallic footsteps behind him.
Realizing that he had been caught he put his hands on his head and sank to his knees in his now wet jeans. The snow congealed on his face as he saw the lain snow around him begin dancing with colour.
“Stay down.” one of the robots said in its tinny way.
Meanwhile, Port Farnon still hadn’t reached the bottom of the cliff. He had carefully guided the parachute as best he could so not to hit the cliff face, but now that the crater floor was more clearly in sight, he saw running at high speeds over it, the robot sentries. He realized now that it had all been for nothing, and so quickly reached the decision to avoid being caught for as long as possible.
Tugging on the left rope he leaned the parachute closer to the cliff face. He slammed into it hard enough to break bones, but grabbed a hold of an outcropping of rock and held himself close to it.
Quickly, he slapped off the parachute straps, just as a strong gust of wind tugged at it. The silvery chute whipped away, tugging hard from his right arm.
Hanging from the side of the cliff he felt fine apart from the cold that was now seeping through his wet t shirt and pants.
Down, he could see more and more of the sentries fleeting back and forth at massive speeds, kicking up a wake of snow behind them as they did. He looked up seeing the same murky distance that he had seen when looking down from above. After a sigh he began to climb.
The rocket flew out toward the sky above, as the people who had survived made their way back to the hatch. Bailey and Rhia got there first, climbing up the snow covered hill and then piling the children into the hatch. Rhia got in next while Bailey waved for Barton and Cix to hurry.
Far away, in the main citadel a milky hand rapped its long fingernails on a metal console. A camera view was following the ascending weather rocket beside the sickly character. The person sank their hand into a holographic control sponge and began a massaging motion. The rocket began turning on the screen until it had rotated 180 degrees.
Bailey noticed what had happened, as did Rhia who was looking from the hatch door.
The rocket was turning around and heading back to crash upon the hangars.
“Hurry up nooooooow!” Bailey shouted, but saw how far away the Beldins were.
Get inside. You can wait for your friends.
Bailey saw the sense in it, and climbed back into the hatch, and watched as the Beldins reached the bottom of the hill. They climbed the slippery slope as best they could, but the roar of the rocket was loud, and they seemed to know that they had failed.
They pushed on to the last moment, then stood looking at Bailey beyond the ridge as the rocket struck the roof of the hangar behind them.
Bailey saw the gush of flames toward him, and could feel the heat from them before he made the move to close the hatch. The round glass door snapped shut and the flames splashed against them. They licked against the other side of the thick window, and through them a blackened corpse struck its head against the glass, and then fell down to the ground. The flesh had already been flayed from it and Bailey couldn’t tell which of them it was.
The fire parted like a curtain, quickly lifting to show the hangar platform now completely bare of snow and ice, it having all been melted down to water. It was a blackened, scorched area now, full of debris and corpses.
The children were crying in the tunnel, and Rhia had stopped talking. Bailey rocked slightly where he sat.
“Why?” he said. “Why did it have to happen this way?”
“Come on.” Rhia said, and Bailey followed her with the children.
She took them along the bright, spiralling corridor to a place where a manhole to the internal vent system had been painted over. She tugged at it with strength he wouldn’t have attributed to her, and they all climbed into the pipe within.
There were voices from the upper side of the corridor, and so Bailey quickly closed the manhole, and they climbed through the pipes away from the scene of the escape.
Rhia and Bailey emerged from a wide pipe and dropped the two meters to the path beside a highway tunnel within the wall of a district. They beckoned and one by one the children dropped down into their arms.
“What should we do with them?” Rhia said, looking around the dirty corner they now found themselves in. “Their parents are... well we need to take them to someone. Can’t leave them alone in a place like this.”
“East Syndicate.” Bailey said. "South Syndicate will be in upheaval right now.”
“I don’t know anyone East.” she said.
“I’ll take them. I have contacts inside.” he said, not really sure if he was being honest. “They’ll be taken care of. I promise.”
They walked down the road to a bog standard apartment district where Rhia left Bailey at the tunnel. She walked off into the closest neighbourhood while Bailey took the kids up to a tram station and waited.
Once one had pulled up they took it across the districts to the South Syndicate village.
Bailey walked along the road past the empty houses while the group of children followed close behind. They walked a little way past his own home and then Bailey pressed the keys to call his car.
The semicircle of tables and parasols still blew in the wind a few fields away he noticed.
The children stepped back onto the path as the car rolled smoothly up to them.
“Inside fast.” Bailey said to them, and they piled into the back seat and a few on the front passenger side.
Bailey took the car up onto the crystal highways and over to the metropolis central. Police were flying by with sirens howling, seemingly without any kind of real coordination. He hoped there wouldn’t be any checkpoints set up yet, not that it would make sense to do so, since all the action had taken place beyond the dome wall.
A lot of the children seemed to have taken their time to digest the situation by now and were starting to cry like they meant it.
“Hush now.” Bailey said, trying to sound like a good guy.
He parked in the hollow for East Syndicate and everyone got out. There were police vehicles everywhere along the stable lanes. Some read Border Sec across the side while others were just plain robotic busy bodies. They asked no questions of them as Bailey took the children at speed into the building, and up the elevator to the warehouses.
Inside the offices of Colec Warehouse B, Bailey sat the children in the workshop at the back. He had to stop one of them opening the cupboard door, and then locked it so they wouldn’t get hurt by what was kept inside. There were growls from the cupboard.
“That’s just my doggy.” he said, then clapped his hands together at the sad children. “Does anyone want any milky?”
Most shook their heads but a few nodded or looked puzzled.
“I’ll get you some lemon-squash.” he said and opened the small refrigerator beneath the left workbench. He got out the family sized bottle that Colec had stocked up on before his demise, and handed the bottle to the kids.
“Pass that around.” he said then sat back on a stool, rubbing his forehead. “Just let me think for a second.”
He sighed and thought.
Call Francine. She must take you to the Sagars.
“Sagar Family.” he said and looked at the kids, who now looked a little more at ease, having had a few swigs of nice cool fizzy pop.
There were two huge posters of Barton and Cix on the right wall, and notes connected by strings between the pins. Bailey glanced at them and then looked at the children who seemed uninterested.
Francine Adyms came after being texted and Bailey met her outside the warehouses with the children.
“Oh my God!” she said. “You were escaping with them?”
“I’m sorry, Francine. That’s why I wanted to settle things up here quickly. So you could take it over with a clean sheet.”
She knelt down to the children and began cleaning a few of them up with her thumb.
“I need to bring them to the Sagars. Can you help me with that?” he said. “I need to tell them what happened. It all went horribly wrong.”
After a couple of phone calls, Francine took them up to a level that was signposted on the wall as being the CEO offices. He followed Francine with the children around a few bends in a wide carpeted office space, that seemed to be mainly reception desks and meeting rooms. Eventually they came to the end of the executive promenade, to a pair of large double doors made of heavy wood.
Francine knocked sheepishly on them and then opened one of them. They all entered a huge office with an appropriately enormous desk. There were two chairs behind the desk, filled by a man and a woman. One was Lon Sagar while the other he didn’t recognize.
The rest of the room was filled with other people, some of whom were relations of Cix and Barton. He recognized immediately Lon’s fiancé, Dora Beldin and her brother Rupe.
“Come in please.” Lon said as he shifted uncomfortably behind the desk. “Shut the door.”
The younger woman at his side stood up and walked around to the children.
“Come here.” she said kneeling down to them and hugged a few of them.
“Aaron Bailey? So this is all that’s left?” Lon said frowning.
“There may be a few more. I don’t know.” Bailey said, looking over the faces of the syndicate leaders.
“It seems there’s been a strange incident. As you can see, South Syndicate have come to us for aid. Border Security in league with Old Gang are already plundering the Beldin building. They seem to have wasted no time. It’s all a little suspicious, isn’t it Mr Bailey.” Lon said, tapping a finger on his lips.
“I agree. I’m sorry. I tried to save them all.”
“No need for apologies here. From our intel this cataclysm was the work of Dr Chester Barron. I don’t know why we didn’t see it coming.”
Play with the kids. Play with Sagar.
Bailey knelt down to the children, opposite the woman, and began petting the children. She smiled, but Bailey was too stunned to reciprocate.
“You can leave the children with us, Mr Bailey. I am Lon Sagar as you know. My daughter Bede has business ties to boarding houses and the like. We can always use new young things in our organization.”
Bailey suddenly shouted out “Yeah? For what?”
Lon Sagar, a little shocked calmed himself with a smile and said “This isn’t Old Gang my friend. We won’t whore them out if that’s what you were afraid of.”
Bede put a hand on his sleeve and said “I won’t let anything happen to them, friend.”
Bailey looked at her hand and smiled at her.
Keep track of these children. Stay in touch with the lovely Bede Sagar, and this corporate whorehouse. We have our second stepping stone.
Binary is my first published novel that has recently been voted cult indie book of 2010, and has recently sold over ten thousand copies on Amazon.
As I am now working on the sequel, and an unrelated television miniseries, you can read it here on my site for free...
Other work available here include several short stories, and an ongoing fantasy tale which is to be published exclusively through this site, Legends & Lies.
I'm fast gaining allot of readers on the site so I guess there are enough scifi fantasy fans out there to make this not something a crazy person would do. To you all I say thanks and you are ever welcome.
You can now join me on something they're calling a twitter to discuss these or anything else that seems relevant in this crazy world we find ourselves in.
This site is always being updated as I trundle my way through each plot and twist. Lord knows where they come from and Lord knows where it's all going.
What is that creature in the corner of my eye?
It's been sitting there so long I can't help but wonder why.
When I turn my head to see it it shrinks back into the shade.
I wonder where it comes from and what peculiar home it's made.
Another August and the gentle things,
In the beauty of the world and it's paradise wings.
Still enchanted by my dreams of thine.
Allow the flowering love all around you to shine.
I remember the games we use to play
In the life and heart and soul of each day.
So still the meaning can be seen
Where everything tastes so burnt and clean.
Now understanding the powers that be
While opening the same avenues within me.
While taking care of the delicate petals of love.
Now a mirror maps us from above.
It's like all the dreams the people dreamt
Yet never seeing what they meant.
They can be seen atop the spire,
Time to time, in Nowaday Fire
Age fades the world like the dollhouse.
The dolls lose their pieces until they must sit
And stare and dream of their dollhouse
And the world around
And the pieces that are still there.
Beneath the Himavant.
Set against a dying day
All my thoughts are here to stay.
Ride and park became the way
Back before that dying day.
Far removed technology born
Fists against a phantom dawn.
Any rhyme in a storm will
Soothe this bard in midst of form.
Now all the stories you were told
Are taking form in newer bold.
Telling while you wish they weren't
Since rendering the world so cold.
Now all the moor is filled with scream.
Collapse into another's dream.
Believe the world is so unclean while
Blackened chariots work unseen.
And silently our cloaked feeder,
Forcing trickery with the seeder.
All unto the Lazy reader.
Where's the Lady now I need her?
And all the death and decayed
You learn to live with every day.
But smiling on a passing stay
We'll watch the evils fade away.
Beyond the two projects mentioned I have a number of consulting productions through my own company. The mini-series in production and another idea in concept form are available in synopsis in the section, WIP. If you wish to provide funding, contact myself or my secretary via our Contact Page.
Once this site is complete, I will compile the stories into a single book for sale, Legends & Lies. For now my scifi series Star Saga is available to buy from amazon or in hardback.