by Jourdan Cameron
CC-BY-NC. Details here:
In a forest of Markonis, not too far from Ace's factory, two men were having a discussion.
“I tell you, she already pulled her weight.”
“Which is precisely why she'll be fighting.”
“No, she's done enough, I think that now she needs a break.”
The larger man sighed. “Vinny, I know she's young. I know she's already seen enough. But think, man, we need her!”
“Casey” sighed Vinny “I don't want to see her get hurt. She's my daughter.”
“And I'll care for her like my own. But why don't you think about what we means, why don't you?”
Vinny looked around. They were mostly alone in the forest, but about a half mile behind them lay the rebel encampment, made up of the strongest, smartest rebels. It was a relatively small; about eighty people inhabited it. It was mobile, made up of the massive, rolling battle-tents. Each “tent” was made if titanium a couple inches thick, and was like a massive centipede on treads, heavily armed, and home to ten rebels, complete with hammocks strung from the ceilings and refrigeration for perishable items. Each was gray, inside and out, and was twice as tall as the soldiers they contained, though they were also much wider than tall, thus they didn't usually tip over.
Inside, they were relatively bright, their control panels flashing and flickering, with rows of simple, black, plastic seats, ready to load groups upon groups of troops, taking them deep into the heart of battle.
Overall, it was a machine to be feared. Several of a rebel army's finest were calling it home.
These rebels were mostly survivors of Paxcatia's invasion who escaped slavery chose to fight. Many had been revolting against the crooked government in Markonis. They'd chosen to run when Paxcatian forces attacked, rather than stand and fight. Most had been rioting in the streets against a government that no longer exists. Indeed, in a twist of poetic justice, the former leader of said government now works as a slave, mistreated alongside his corrupt police force and sham election organizers.
“It's been five years, Vin. She's grown now.”
“She's still my daughter.” Vincent ran a hand through his dark, messy hair. Mr. Sere was right, of course; Katy was a woman now. Decisions were hers to make. He just didn't like the idea of sending her on such a dangerous mission.
“And we're still hiding, running, and scared at night, Vincent. Do you think other daughters, other sons, deserve to grow up like that? Do you think I want to spend the rest of my life like this? Growing old, watching the young go to their graves before I do?”
Vincent stared down at his shoes. They were in shabby shape, and at one point they were brand new running shoes, white and contoured. Now, they were barely recognizable, a tattered pair of duct-tape tubes. The black tape that held theme together was beginning to show its age, faded and brittle in some spots.
In all, the two men, in their beaten attire, were quite a sight. Their conversation, however, was far more interesting.
“Tell me the plan again.”
“We go to Paxcatia, we spy on the land, find a weakness, and return with results. We'll launch a full assault in a year.”
“You can take her” said Vincent after a while. “Just bring her back breathing.”
Casey nodded, a leaf falling from his greasy brown hair, deciding to change the subject.
“So did you hear? They found a stockpile of shampoo. It's great stuff from what I heard, smells like coconut.”
“Doesn't that stuff dry out your hair?”
“Really? I could probably use that right about now” he lamented, rubbing a hand against the back of his head. The two returned to their camp. It was in a clearing, one large enough for the battle-tents to be hidden safely, yet still small enough that the light coming in was somewhat dappled, the dim light gently bouncing off the metal surfaces of the tanks. Leaning against a tree was Katy. Her dirty blonde hair in a bun behind her head, and she was wearing the standard rebel army uniform. The simple dark green canvas shirts, pants, and shoes that were practical, easily obtained, and relatively comfortable now adorned Vincent's daughter. A single red band encircled her right sleeve along the bicep.
“Well?” she asked. She seemed slightly excited. Not entirely out of character, really, though her level of enthusiasm wasn't exactly common among the rebels.
“Just like when she was little” thought her father. Markonis as it once was certainly had problems; a bad educational system, however, was not one of them. The educators, who'd spent most of their time carefully explaining things to other children found that such cautious teaching methods weren't needed with young Katy. She advanced at frightening speeds, excelling in lessons requiring complex strategies, doing things and saying things that seven year olds ordinarily wouldn't. Her teachers, quite simply put, loved her.
She loved them back, and it showed in her work ethic.
“You're going to have to be careful” said Vinny, watching his daughter grin for but a moment, returning immediately being serious, intense.
“Under no circumstances should you take any unnecessary risks, and if you feel like you're in danger, you get out.”
She nodded. “Understood” she replied.
“Casey, brief her please.”
“Katy, you're going to be an integral part of this mission. You need to perform like you never have before. Here's what we'll need you to do...”
A mere few miles away was a factory, the workers within manufacturing goods, primarily putting together control panels for Ferroform surfaces, large ones used in stylish restaurants, bars, and every so often by artists.
A group of these workers sat in a gray, dimly lit room, hunched over a wooden table, each with a slightly different piece of black plastic and glass. These were their creations, their ideas for control panels; one was a simple elongated box with a glass covered surface. Another was quite similar, but it had rounded corners. Yet another was arch shaped, something users would reach into.
Only one of these, however, would be used by Ace as a design. The creator of the winning design would receive the most coveted prize of all: a day off from toiling beneath the machines! Instead of laboring, soldering pieces of metal, one to the other, they'd have the opportunity to sit back and watch their friends working to assemble their creation. Quite a grand prospect!
“Do you have any questions?”
“When do I get to go to Paxcatia?” she grinned.
“In a mere few days” replied Mr. Sere.
“Yes mom, I'll be home on time tonight, you don't need to worry.”
The streets of Paxcatia were among the safest in the world. David strolled down them, heading away from his home to the nearest train station. Like many things in Paxcatia, transportation was mostly free; a network of trains, simple silent steel tubes criss-crossed the nation.
The street David traveled along was peaceful and mostly quiet. The sidewalk was simple, gray concrete; it never seemed to change, age, and almost never seemed dirty. This was due to the rather high number of those willing to clean it, maintain and upkeep it. The work was somewhat challenging due to the amount of debris that tends follow gravity, but the work was considered important and thus payed well. David smirked whenever he thought about how seriously the job of keeping concrete clean was taken. Sure, it looked nice, but there were some bigger things to be cared for.
For starters, the trails through Paxcatia's forests were barely maintained, and were typically overgrown and impassible. Sure, they were barely used, but David had a special affinity for nature, and he enjoyed retreating to the forest from time to time. Unfortunately, much of it was inaccessible. The thought of the forest was enough to make him sigh; why didn't more Paxcatian citizens take interest in nature? They all seem so preoccupied with the constant shipments of devices everybody already seemed to own. Nobody really cared that most 'new' gadgets were just repackaged, rebodied versions of old machines, they simply consumed, seemingly stuck in an endless cycle of purchasing, updating, mindlessly.
David never followed his curiosity quite far enough.
Soon he was walking up a hill, flanked by bright, glassy, and supposedly 'modern' buildings. He glanced into the window of one and could see brightly coloured electronic wares contrasting heavily with the minimalistic motif established in the shop. His view was suddenly blocked by the back of an employee as he shifted his gaze back towards his goal. The train station near, and he could just make out the faint murmur of human voices on the air.
In what seemed to be no time, he was standing in the shade of the large booth that was next to the track. The train track was a simple, smooth metallic surface, just as clean as the sidewalks. It was about one hundred feet long in either direction, and at either end was a hole that lead the train back underground. The track rose up through holes at either end, where the train surfaced and picked up passengers.
David braced himself as a telltale rumble made the ground beneath his feet vibrate, and the crowd around him seemed suddenly prepared. Like a massive steel earthworm, the train came into view, tunneling upwards, headfirst. It was a simple, elongated cylinder, but broken into individual cars, little joints where the train bent and twisted through the subterranean tunnels.
The crowd eagerly spread out alongside the thirty-foot serpent and waited, impatient for the doors to swing open. Each segment on the train had a simple door, rather silvery from the outside, but as they slid open, would reveal a simple, comfortable seat made of some strange, silky black material. As David sat in one at the end of the train, the door slid shut as he stared back out at the buildings along the street; the doors were transparent from within. In a few short moments, the train began to move, and David relaxed in his seat as simple black walls of the car began glowing a gentle black, and what appeared to be a row of multicolored symbols made their way across the top.
“Ah, a classic” he remarked, as he stuffed a hand into the right pocket of his jeans, extracting a black device roughly the size of his palm.
“The Ardonap Unleash” he mused to himself, opening the clamshell-styled machine to reveal a keyboard flanked by flat black control pads on either side. David loved this little device; it had been created by an independent company on the other side of the country. Ardonap, the company responsible, wasn't quite like the other faceless Paxcatian megacorporations: its founder lived a relatively normal life among the Paxcatian people, choosing to create among the masses rather than for the masses. Needless to say, his devices weren't very popular, but David didn't really care. He was just glad to know where something came from.
He relaxed in his seat as the jewel-bright invaders began converging on the car's door, then blitzing towards him. He grinned, and with a few quick keystrokes, was ready to play. Pointing his device at one of the symbols shaped rather like the letter 'M', slid his thumb down the right control pad of his device as a beam of light sliced the 'M' in half.
“This never seems to get old” he thought aloud.
A half world away in Markonis, a small group of people trod through a forest, speaking among themselves.
“So when did we find out about the factory?”
“A couple months ago. We'd have spoken about it sooner, but there's the matter of the...”
“Yeah, that. We'd only draw attention to ourselves if we overran the factory and cut everybody loose.”
“I understand, so you kept quiet about it as a preventative measure against vigilantism. Completely logical.”
The group advanced towards the factory, their practical black clothing contrasting sharply against the greens and browns of the forest around them. Their march was rather like a funeral procession, quiet and solemn. Much like those marching in a black parade so were these people, mere shadows of the loud, joyous Markonis natives who once roamed this land, lived in it and loved it. Those people had been forced into hiding deep within themselves.
Soon, they neared the gray, concrete bulk of the factory. It was a simple, oblong block full of misery, mistreatment and mostly hard labor. The flat roof doubled as a docking station: when a transport arrived, it would rise, the cargo being pulled into the belly of the ship by powerful magnets.
After that, the ship would shut its hull and fly back to Paxcatia. The process took mere seconds, and involved no humans; it was completely automated.
“So why do we have to climb the building, exactly?” A random rebel dissented. “Wouldn't it have been easier to just use Flights?”
“Wouldn't have been easier to just show up with a marching band?”
“But Commander Sere, Flights are so quiet!”
“They also show up as generating a massive electro-magnetic pulse, just the kind of thing we don't want on a reconnaissance mission!”
“Can we just get this over with?”
One rebel stepped out of the crowd. He surveyed the wall, feeling it, smacking his palms against it and considering it for a good thirty seconds before he finally reached into one of the many compartments of his black, heavy jacket and removed what appeared to be a handful of long, thick, white nails, the type used for building things. Casey smirked- he'd been to some of the more rural areas of Markonis where things were still being built with wood. Wood.
“How times have changed” he thought to himself, as his comrade loaded the nails into what looked like some sort of small, orange pistol. The rebel took a shot at the wall and a nail sunk itself halfway into the concrete with little more than a click and a scrape.
The process was repeated, and the man proceeded to stand on the two nails he'd placed. He then created a pair of handholds above himself, climbed onto these, and continued until he'd reached the top of the simple, flat roof. Katherine could hear her heart pulsing in her head- this felt different, definitely different from rushing into battle. This was slow, deliberate and dangerous, and it didn't seem to sit well with her. She glanced back into the forest, away from the building- surely Mr. Sere would understand if she wanted to go home, wouldn't he? The mission could continue.
“What's the point of this miss-” Somehow, she'd managed to cut herself of in mid-thought. She knew precisely what the point of the mission was. A great injustice had occurred- it affected her, and her family and all the already oppressed citizens of Markonis. This was not the time for looking back in fear- it was the time for action.
“I'll go next” she said, making quick strides towards the makeshift ladder.