“You might have the clock, but we’ve got the time.”
From the 2015 film, Hyena Road, directed by Paul Gross. As stated at the end of the movie in reference to, “What the Afghans might say.”
“You might have the clock, but we’ve got the time.”
From the 2015 film, Hyena Road, directed by Paul Gross. As stated at the end of the movie in reference to, “What the Afghans might say.”
Let’s put aside all of those things
That cause us to be so contrary
Let’s see what being “we” again brings
I doubt it could be so scary
There doesn’t always have to be
A reason, a cause, tried and true
There only needs to be you and me
To celebrate the red, white and blue.
Happy 4th of July, America.
I’d meant to publish this in it’s musical format in memory of my Brothers, but I’m just not there yet. My voice is still shot, my guitar work is shaky, so, I decided to let it go as is for today and I’ll get back to the musical version as I can. They wont mind as long as I didn’t forget.
RIP Santi. I know you’re watching. I miss you Brother. Hi to Prince and Rex.
What was the price I was supposed to pay?
What quest did I fail, to whom should I pray?
Did I come back too whole to warrant your greetings?
Was my soul not enough, or were your graces too fleeting?
Best friends dying, some gone in the head
Others are drowning in poisons instead
No one back home cares a damn for this mess
They wish it was over they do confess
I’m not a name on a wall
Just one little call
Why do you stall
This will end in a fall
If you live through the chaos and make it back home
They’ll think you’ve been brainwashed, a killer drone
If you don’t conform and act just like them
You’ll be banished for life, scorned and condemned
People will leave you without recourse
No one will show one bit of remorse
They’re done with you now, you’ve outlived your need
Move along soldier, we’ve got a new breed
There’s a price on my head
I’ve made mistakes that I dread
I’ve been so scared that I fled
Give me some purpose instead
Once you were golden, the cream of the crop
The best of the best that no one could stop
Your buds had your six, they kept you alive
Twenty-four seven, three sixty-five
Now you’re a nothing, you’re on your own
Left for dead in the VA zone.
Nothing can be done, there’s nothing we can do
Just roll over there, boy, join the twenty-two.
I cannot live in this place
So, I don’t fall on my face
My choices end in disgrace
Give me a chance in this race
Nobody warned us how you would turn
That in a moment you could burn
All that we gave, and all that we saved
You’d be happy to lend us an early grave.
What if we didn’t answer the call
What if we turned away from the brawl
How would your towers still stand tall
What good would be done if we all fall
I don’t want to be through
I am one of you
Can’t you see that it’s true
I bleed red, white, and blue
I am just like you
Republican Greg Gianforte wins Montana’s U.S. House special election after being charged with assaulting reporter.
Today, its possible to punch a jerk-off reporter in the face and still be elected to the House. At least you can when the media owned purveyor of bovine fecal matter falls out of his safe-space tree into your hood.
This is good. My face is hurting from the smile. Now we just need a few ANTIFA girlie-men to show up in Montana. BOOM! Thousands of wannabe gangstahs will suddenly unmask and reveal themselves to be Google, Amazon and Facebook software engineers on paid vacation, yelling “no mas, no mas”.
There are two problems I see with this development in Montana, though. First, Gianforte is going to face some legal penalty, possibly jail time. That sucks because he was provoked, repeatedly, by these media thugs. (Does anyone know a good lawyer…hey, OJ?) The second (probably because of # 1) is that Gianforte found it necessary to apologize to the offensive reporter. At least he waited until after the election results were in.
The heck with that, Greg. You were right. Apologizing will yield nothing. This kind of “in-your-face-abusive-reporting” is all the lefty media do. In fact, they will not report unless it feeds their agenda and, since reality doesn’t, they regularly create one that does fit, then blitz it down our throats. Anything that doesn’t fit that narrow view is labeled “alt-truth” and as such, may be ignored and/or mocked. Millions of previously self-thinking Americans have been swallowing this crap for decades now. Goebbels is dancing in the flames of hell.
Well, if it takes them getting their butts kicked, let’s do that. Let’s kick butt until this bullcrap stops, once and for all. If that’s what it takes, then let’s keep kicking butt until we reach the offices of the a-holes-in-chief of these media outlets, and kick their butts too…figuratively speaking, of course.
The real plus to this development is that Montana’s “we the people” spoke their minds, despite the piled-on last-minute media blitz to destroy Gianforte’s chances at the polls. The voters didn’t care one whit for that reporter, and, God bless them, they told the lefty media to piss off and elected Greg Gianforte to the US Congress. This is so heartening. This is GRAND! Real people, in real, unadulterated, heartland America, ignored the bullcrap vomitus of the left and voted for Liberty.
Excuse my repeated vulgarity, but this is one event that just calls for it:
So, you ask, ‘how do we “kick butt” without getting ourselves thrown in jail’? Certainly, we wont get away with physically popping reporters in the chops. As much as we might want to…need to…pray for the opportunity to, we really shouldn’t go postal. We everyday Joes do not have the kind of pull needed to avoid/survive the ramifications (and I’m only assuming that Gianforte will survive himself).
What we can do is refuse to participate in this farce. We can refuse to use outlets that refuse to report the truth. There are alternatives. There are even brand-new News Media outlets on-line that report real news, minus the obligatory drivel the left calls news and the myriad sales pitches you get with the main-screamers. There are TV show streaming services too. Yes, these new players have sponsors but there’s not a 50/50 split of news/shows and ads, and like I said, it’s real news. FOX News is not the answer, though many of their local affiliates are parsecs better than the other alphabet media outlets. Beware when you’re searching for relief online, though. Outlets like Brietbart and The Daily Caller only show their side and mock the other, though I will say that Brietbart only reports truth. the Daily Caller is one step up from the Enquirer and in some circles, that would be an insult to the Enquirer folks.
This poisonous atmosphere has permeated all levels of the media. I don’t listen to the radio at all except for music and I switch channels the second the drones start talking (except Brian Thomas of KAT Country 103). I stopped my daily print delivery. As much as I want to support a dying industry, I wont support a bullcrap machine that is also 50% or more advertisement. I get my news from local FOX affiliates, online, my dogs…and Fakebook!!! When FOX goes to commercial, I switch channels for 3 minutes. I get a feed from Brietbart and some few others for fact checking purposes. I get The Caller on my fakebook feed for laughs.
BTW: Isn’t it funny how the biggies (Mega News Outlets) are so full of themselves? They preach to us about how “for the people” they are, yet 50% of their output is profit earning commercials. Are “you the people” getting anything from those profits? How many of you spend hours every day glued to the tube? Do you think this has NO EFFECT on what they feed you? Do you think the biggies don’t know you’re sitting there and purposely feed you as much crap as they think they can get away with? Of course, they do. I’m not referring to any conspiracy theories about them spying on us through our connections to them. No, they can physically monitor the load on the live feed and then do the math that gives them an accurate estimate of viewership at any given time. Now, think about this. What if they knew you weren’t sitting there?
“How can I not watch TV?, you ask.” Well, that’s easy. Even for you diehard series addicts, series you can only get from the biggies, I have three letters for you: DVR. Record your shows, then watch them later…zooming right through their ads and propaganda regurgitations. Get your news, as much as possible, rom reliable sources NOT coming over your TV feed. They WILL see the drop in load during the news hours and since you are also no longer spending hours on end watching live TV shows, they will have to assume you are probably recording your favorite shows too.
Three things to keep in mind when your doing this: One, they understand that if you recorded your shows, you are definitely fast-forwarding through the ads; two, they certainly know how many are watching “live”; and three, this “live audience” is what pays their bills. Without live viewership, that is, a majority of viewers who DEFINITELY stay with the network through the ads; they change or they fail. You really don’t need to do the math. The very same method works with politicians. Don’t vote for them. Watch them change.
Of course, we are a weak species. We will need to be weaned, but, thanks to Montana, we have a start. This is still a great day in an ever more Great America.
Shout out to the WH too…Thank you Mr. President!
I saw you yesterday
You weren’t so far away
Not as far as most
But still, not so very close.
If I could have touched you
The ripples would roll through
To the end of days
And in so many ways
Make our spirits one
Our time would not be done
You wouldn’t be so far away
I saw you, just yesterday.
Please remember my brother with me today. Santi gave all on this day in 1972. We all lost that day.
SP4 Santiago Herrera Escobar, US Army Scout and Patrol Dag Handler, 34th Patrol Dog Platoon, 3rd Bde., 1st Cav., Bien Hoa, RVN. RIP Brother.
It’s easy to tell when I don’t want to write. I’ll post politics or gripes about the VA or such. I might write something really black that I want to throw away immediately after, but bottom line, I don’t want to be there. I’m forcing myself to keep my hand in and maintain some connection. That’s where I’ve been for a few weeks now, but this past weekend I was really bored with my honey away watching Liam. I picked up my laptop and started going over my notes. Before I knew it, was writing. So, here you are. Part ten-MikeH
Just after firsteat, 424319, at the apiary:
Jonn and Harkk were tag-teaming Burtt trying to keep him from running off to rescue Ssyndi before the optimum moment with the optimum circumstances. It was Jonn’s turn. Harkk was in the Flag’s comms hut, talking with Jaredd while Burtt was occupied. They got daily updates from the dome this way and depending on the info delivered, would plan their attack on Burtt accordingly.
Jonn’s comms-tech kept the frequency shifting randomly, that and an encryption package that made it impossible to interpret any message coming through this link usually made it a fruitless endeavor at best. Though if the Corp could lock on long enough to get a direction, that would be a problem. It wasn’t that the Corp didn’t know the Flag was here. They did. They were major trading partners. That wasn’t to say that the Flag didn’t have secrets it would rather the Corp knew nothing about, above and beyond the Taj.
So far it was proving very difficult to tag and track the signals to their comm-units, but Harkk was still concerned. He’d seen some of the new tech the Cops were using for detection and the Army simply had to have better. He and Jonn were constantly trying to find a better way. Harkk had added some monitoring equipment he brought with him. He piggybacked it on top of the transmitter/receiver in the hut and it could tell when they were being ‘sampled’. If the sampling lasted for longer than a few nanoseconds, the unit would be shut down. Comms would start up again an hour later after extensive, secure, systemwide re-syncing.
Jonn dragged Burtt to a distant small out-building. Beyond it were a dozen white boxes laying on the ground. On closer inspection, Burtt could see very small birds flying around the boxes.
“Quiet now, Burtt. This is our secret weapon. Well, it will be when we get them fully operational”, whispered Jonn conspiratorially, hiding his little joke effectively behind a serious look. Jonn and Burtt approached the busy little structures. He’d had Burtt put a screen-hat over his head, though Jonn didn’t wear one, himself. Burtt was equal parts perplexed, intrigued and apprehensive.
“Whoa! Are these bugs? I thought they were tiny birds. They fly? Hey! Hey! Get off me.” Burtt felt crawly all over and was trying for all the world to keep from being landed on while back peddling for safer zones.
“Ha! Burtt, do you realize how silly you look dancing away from these little critters? You should be happy they aren’t the type with stingers. Now, that would have been a sight, I’ll bet.”
“Yeah, well, I ain’t never seen such and they trying to land on me. They sound funny too. Like the wire does sometimes, you know. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ, like that! Annaways, what are they, and what do we need them for? What’s stingers?”
“They are called Bees, Burtt. Some had stingers for protection. A stinger was a sharp appendage at the bottom of their abdomen they could stick an enemy with. There was a minor toxin introduced into the wound that would cause the wound to sting. Other bugs and small creatures would be more severely impacted than humans would be.
“Our bees have been altered to go without, since they have no predators. They perform a very important farming function and they do it while they are doing their own normal business. They do it far more efficiently than we can ever do it. They cross-pollinate our plantings, Burtt. You know about pollination, yah? We went over that in ‘prepping for plantday’ training. Yah? It’s just as important to growing as water and fertilizer.” Burtt nodded so Jonn continued, “You have also seen our people in the fields with gloves on and syringes in hand, right? Well, that’s because we are doing the pollination now, by hand. It’s a slow tedious process and we don’t always get it right.
“On the other hand, Bees always get it right. That’s what they did before the fall. For millions of years they did. Once, the entire world was blessed with enough of these little fellas to take care of all the world’s growing things. With the Fall, we lost all of that. It was only with great effort from the founding families and their scientists that we can grow anything at all now. They also were forward thinking enough to plan for the re-introduction of the various species as things became more suited to supporting life again, if ever.
“Well, The City States aren’t the only ones with a scientific community. In fact, I’d stack Flag’s scientists up against any in the world, though I won’t tell the Corp that. You’ve seen what our Techs are capable of, Burtt.” Again, he nodded. “Well, they found a CommCorp lab in the mountain that had several samples of helpful creature’s DNA in cryostasis. We now have Barn owls to control the damn rats; Bees to pollinate our crops; cattle, sheep, and horses too. Hmm! Come to think of it, how’d the canine species survive in the wild when so many others didn’t, I wonder? Anyway, back to the lab; it was a virtual Noah’s Ark, in there.”
The confused look on Burtt’s face told Jonn he’d lost his young charge.
“Ha, Burtt. Sometimes I forget. I’ll tell the story of Noah someday. Right now, you only need to know that these little babies, these Bees, are going to make us rich. You know how much cred we earn from our F-F-Foods line of products, right? Well, once we get our bees operational, our output will easily double and the most difficult produce to grow will be the bigger sellers, and as such, will demand ever higher prices. We’ll be able to produce twice what we do now simply because the pollination process will be in the expert’s hands, or appendages, I should say…and if we keep that info from our partners and customers, we can still sell it like it was rare…ha, ha, ha.”
Jonn let several bees land on his hand. Burtt’s skin was crawling again.
“See here? All these legs? See the little hairs on the legs? Well, when they land on a flower, the hairs collect pollen. It sticks to the hairs, you see. Then they fly to another flower and in the process of getting more pollen from that plant, the cross pollination of the two happens as a natural byproduct of the bees collecting food for their hive. Bingo! Fruit happens. Then they carry the stuff stuck on their legs back to their hive for processing in their little nature’s factory. This is what God planned, Burtt.
“We build these boxes for them to live in. If we didn’t, they’d build their own hives, but this way, we get to easily move them to where we need them. We also get to harvest another product that is probably the most exotic of all and only bees can make it. Honey. Here, try some.”
Jonn handed Burtt a wooden ladle he dipped into a Jar full of a gooey golden liquid. Burtt took a small taste and started handing the ladle back, assuming this tasting wouldn’t go over too well. His eyes lit up and he snatched the ladle back to finish it all.
The twinkle in Jonn’s eye said that he knew that taste well.
“When it’s time to pollenate, we set the hives out in the fields near where we need them. They do the rest without any more help from us. They don’t seem to ever tire; the perfect industrial engine they are. They cross-pollenate the crops, fill the hive up, we empty them and they fill them up again.
“The best part? Honey will sell like sex in the city. There is nothing that comes close to its sweetness. Our Medicos tell me its healthful properties will make it an even greater sell. Yes sir, Burtt, I can’t wait until we get this in production. The scientists say by next plantday, we can start using the bees to pollenate about 100 hectares. We have several younglings learning the art of bee-keeping. You should pick a couple too and have them team up with our crew. In two, maybe three seasons, we’ll be able to split off some new queens and hives for the Taj. Yah?”
“Yeah, Jonn. We can do that. These little guys are alright, I guess.” After a short pause Burtt asked, “Why you don’t have a hat on, Jonn?”
“Well, you honestly don’t need one. It just helps the uninitiated to be calmer with the bees first time out. They were a necessity when bees had stingers though. Now folks only need them because bees don’t really care what part of you they land on…on in. Had one in my mouth yesterday. Damndest thing. It followed me into the Greathall and flew into my mouth when I was yelling at Konn to open the flue before the whole hall filled with smoke. I couldn’t get it to come out again. I don’t know if it was stuck or what, but I damn near choked trying to NOT swallow or chomp on the poor thing. I finally coughed it out. It landed across the room. Rolled about ten feet, sort of shook itself off and flew back home to the hive. I felt that fluttering in my throat for a cycle afterwards.
“Do you know, they are not supposed to be able to fly? I don’t know. Maybe that’s what they used to call, a wives’ tale, just a story, but there are references in some old books that indicate it’s supposed to be physically impossible for those little flimsy wings to lift the weight. No matter. They can. You see it as well as I do. They damn sure can fly, the fat little buggers, eh?”
“Why caint we make this honey stuff? Your people seem to have figured out ways to make most anything?” Burtt asked.
“Oh, we can make all kinds of confections, sweet things. But there’s nothing that compares to the real deal, eh? We’re going to try to grow some cane this coming summer. Sugar cane I mean. Sweets sell like crazy in the dome. Our partners are begging for them all the time, so we are trying to source some natural sweeteners. Cane likes the heat though. So, we may not have any luck at all with it, in which case we’ll move some of our operations out to the desert south of here, and grow more Agave. That produces another fine sweet substance. Nature always makes the very best if we let her. You’d do well to remember that Burtt. If there’s a natural way to do something, that’s probably the best way.
‘I’ve seen few exceptions. Childbirth being one of them. I know from my uncle that the Flag lost so many of our young women back when we first settled here, simply because we were too pig-headed to see the light. Our Medicos were telling us to let them help when it got too hard, but our Mid-wives refused. To save the mother, the babe would be spent. ‘Twas a savage way to do things and it was taking way too long to populate the Flag.
“When the Leadman role fell to me, I decided to challenge the law. Enough elders had lost loved ones themselves to birthing, that I won out and the role of the Mid-wife became subservient to medicine, in fact most are registered as Nursemaids now. We’ve not lost a single mom or babe since, though damn near every one of those elders is gone now. After about a year of grumbling, everyone came to see that having a Medico, or at least a trained Nursemaid, present during child birth was a good thing. It helped that a Mid-wife nearly lost her own child except for the intervention of Doc Stoanne Hans. She became the first of the Nursemaids. That was Rrebca Torg.
“So, the best way is always the natural way, my friend. Always! Hmm…Well, we humans are doing birthing that way. Before we have crazy numbers of Ks running loose around here, twenty-seven is quite enough, thank you very much, we should really do something about that population, eh?” Jonn nodded towards the Ken.
“Yeah. Well, Jaredd was going to get someone in the dome to help with that. I ain’t sure what kind of help, but it’s off the table now.” Burtt still imagined the strangest things when thinking how anyone would keep a K from rutting. Most of those thoughts led to laughter or complete disbelief.
“Ah! No worries, Burtt. We have animal doctors here, too. They used to be called Veterinarians. We just call them Med-Techs. They care for our livestock. They can perform a minor procedure called neutering on your kens that’ll keep them from producing. It doesn’t hurt them and it takes no time at all. Now, you’ll want to choose from the lot, those you do want to be able to produce in the future, so we won’t neuter them. Pick the cream of the crop, if you know what I mean, yah? And pick more than one in case that one is impotent.”
Burtt nodded his understanding. Survival of the fittest in every way.
“So, of the ones we don’t neuter, when it’s time for a bitch to go into season, we’ll keep her isolated, or we’ll let the studs have at her, whatever you want at the time. Yah? If you don’t want any surprise puppy parties, you should assign someone to keep tabs on that sort of thing, so we know in advance and can get the girl K away from the studs before the deed is done. They go into cycle every few months like clockwork and the males will know the second she does and will be right after her.”
Burtt was smiling. The thought of twenty some randy hounds going at each other unchecked until the entire green zone was covered in Ks, seemed immensely comical to him. Better still, he imagined letting them loose in the dome right after some greasy leavings found a way into their bellies.
He also knew immediately the best candidate for keeping tabs on the female Ks’ seasons. Little Cconnie already knew more about each K in the Taj, including Dogg, than anyone else. Harkk and Jonn agreed that the diminutive female was a whisperer. Burtt only wondered at that until he saw her control all 27 Ks at one time without one of them even flinching for a second, and without ever opening her mouth.
Kett had close to that relationship with his Hiss, but only with her.
Burtt and Dogg were a different thing all together. They were one creature. Burtt hardly acknowledged the rest of them and Sweet was still leery around him. But put Burtt and Dogg together and they moved as one. When they hunted, Dogg was between Burtt’s legs, the two moving like mixed liquids, until Burtt set him off to fetch the kill.
He jerked back to the present.
“Yeah, that’s a good idea, Jonn. That last set was a surprise and a half. We were just coming to grips with the first throw of twelve when Sweet popped out thirteen more. Damn. Imagine if humans did that? I mean twelve, thirteen at a time? Jizmo!”
“Whew! I cannot imagine it, no! Thirteen Kett Monts? Twelve Jjenna Boks? Hmmm! Norton, save us!”
The two shared a laugh and headed back to the Greathall. Burtt was edgy but understood the effort being made to hold him back until the best possible opportunity arose to rescue his sister and the rest. Word was that there was another family of exiles joining them too. These new souls were living with the kids now, waiting for their chance to flee. How uncomfortable were they hiding out underground all day and night? How anxious?
I’m coming, Ssyn. I swear I am.
Same time, under the Lok stead:
These are the little bastas that got Larss sent to the wall? These foul little beasts are the reason I am hiding in this hole like a rat? I’ll be damned if I’ll let this stand. Screw Larss and screw my uncle. I’ve had it. Norton! They even have my children talking like them. This ends today. Tomorrow at the latest. The next time Jaredd brings food, I’ll lay that scrawny twit out and make good our escape. I’ll trade this location for our continued good standing with CommCorp. Larss can rot on his damn wall for all I care. I’ll crucify him myself for subjecting me to this smell…for days!
Ellsbeth Fen was a walking, talking madwoman. Even her children were afraid of her and keeping their distance. The Taj-mates kept close watch on her, expecting some sort of crazy behavior to happen at any time and prepared to prevent her from hurting herself or others. They insulated the Fen children as best they could, with Hamm Klop running interference as much as possible. The kids, Kurtt and Bbekka Fen, made the best of a bad situation. They hung with the Taj when they could and ran obediently to their mom when she got most adamant about them staying close to her.
Once when Ellsbeth was off her guard again, Hamm asked Bbekka, “Your dam, she’s a bit off the edge, ain’t she?” They were of an age and they’d struck up a friendship as the two oldest in the group other than Ellsbeth.
“She’s just very worried about what’s going on with my father. We’ve never been without him you know. And then Uncle Samm sends us underground with total strangers…proles, no less…Oh dear, I’m sorry Hamm. I didn’t mean anything by that.”
“Hmm? By what? Why ain’t you say what you mean? Did you mean it when you said you liked me?”
Bbekka Fen, blushed. This boy was so direct. They all were, these kids. Like none of her friends at school, these kids told the truth right out, all the time, and then they’d tell you there “ain’t no wrong in true”.
“Yes, Hamm, of course I meant it. I may be an elie snit, but I don’t lie. I like you…a lot.”
Now Hamm was blushing.
“You two gonna smooch now?”
Kurtt’s sudden intrusion caught both off guard. The smirk on his kisser bought him a crack off the back of the head from an irate sister.
“DO NOT SNEAK UP ON ME, KURTT! JIZMO!”
“Ouch, Bbekka. Dang!” Kurtt whined.
“Yeah. I guess I’m okay with being an only child”. Offered Hamm with a snicker, ruffling the younger boy’s hair, as if an old timer himself, then caught one off the back of his head too.
Kurtt made great sport of that for hours. Hamm took it in good humor, as he took everything.
Ellsbeth Fen planned her escape and waited.
Ten cycles, 424319, on the Wall:
“You do realize that I know you’ve sent your family into hiding, don’t you, Fen? Trying to sway me with this pile of feces you call intel is hardly the way to assure their safety. Or, do you think I couldn’t find them if I determined they needed to be found? I’ve left it be for now only because I thought I might still have use of you.”
“Of course, sir. And, no sir, I assume nothing about your capacities, certainly not, Commander Card. I don’t doubt you at all, sir. I would like to assure you that what I’m telling you, though still in the realm of supposition, is credible. The boys here have been monitoring suspicious activity for some time now. When it got to be too much for them to write off to random noise, they brought it to my attention and now I’m bringing it to yours. I reprimanded them for hesitating at all.”
Fen paused a moment to let the implications set. He now had confirmation that Card was on to his familial plans. He simply must win this pompous ass over. He pressed on.
“You might see how something like this could be a feather in our caps, don’t you, sir? If we were to bring to light a major smuggling ring, AND this Burkk fellow too?” Fen was desperately trying to keep the pleading out of his voice. Card just stared, so Fen continued his pitch.
“Now, I can’t guarantee it’s him, and sure, we all hope the basta is already dead, but someone out here was in comms with someone in the dome and we both know this Burkk had sympathizers within. That’s certain, sir. We’ve found repeaters built into the dome itself. They were coded to accept pre-programmed randomly switching frequencies. The comm times were so short it took us a month to track the repeaters to their precise locations, though we never found the comm-units themselves. That took tech savvy no prole has, I’ll wager. That greaser Harkk was a capable sort, now. He could have done all that. Those comms have stopped completely for the past month plus some. We are picking up new ghost signals now, more frequently than the others, but far more sophisticated and, so far, untraceable.
“As to all those proles, I ask you, sir, where did they all go? Do you believe we killed them all? With no trace left? No trace at all?” He didn’t give Card time to interfere, “I don’t believe that for a moment, sir. At the very least, the perservs were right there in the assembly area in front of the tube entrance; there should have been traces of their presence. There was nothing! At first I hoped they were all just obliterated, but once it was made clear that we’d found nothing of these proles or perservs, I knew something else was afoot.
I started to think they might have gotten away. To do that, I knew they had to have help and it had to come from outside the dome as well as inside. Then we found the tunnels. And that cursed fog? What was that? Where did it come from and why couldn’t our sensors see through it?
“We can be certain the Loks were the inside threat. That one will thankfully be closed forever with Mmarta gone and Jaredd on his deathbed. Dougg is a buffoon who’ll probably end up in the zones too. House arrest is a light sentence for Jaredd, yes, but he is dying and he’s going nowhere with the Guard on his stead. The brat girl will be ingested by the system. The Army is always looking for recruits, or the mines.
“It’s the outside link we need to identify, fix and destroy…together. We also need to nail this Burkk to an X, you and me; if he still breathes. I believe the one will lead to the other and I don’t for a minute believe they all died in that fool Clak’s conflagration.
“We’re not only getting random unintelligible comm hits, sir, but we are also picking up transient hits on our wall proximity sensors that would indicate the approach and subsequent breeching of our defensive perimeter. We just can’t fix them long enough to even define what we are seeing, though we do have a rough geographical area of interest…every bot in three consecutive gradients are so alarmed that half of them end up shutting down due to sensory overload. It’s never the same three grads though. We could assume the passage is occurring in the middle of that noise and send troops, but what if that’s what they want us to assume and it’s all just noise, while they pass somewhere else we aren’t looking. To be honest, that is exactly what’s happened whenever we did react.
“This is very high tech, I’m told…or our sensor equipment is completely FUBAR, sir. However, after exhaustive checks and diagnostics, we can’t find anything wrong on our end. One could make enough valid suppositions to indicate that this stealthy tech might just originate in that Flag compound out to the southwest there.” Fen pointed out the viewport to the green hazy plain in the distance. Then referring to a map on a nearby chart table, “You’ll notice, sir, that following the line of what we think is the path being used; it could very well lead from the Flag, over the wall and terminate in Sector-22.”
He was stretching his case to the breaking point he knew, but he would literally do anything to get off this foul, man-made hell. He was banking on Card’s own demise to spur him onto Fen’s plan for restoration. Card was a greedy SOB and he wanted his status back far more so than Fen did. Fen just wanted to be safe again. Card was showing signs of interest. The sneer he saved for all his underlings was replaced with something resembling, well, a less severe sneer. Fen interpreted this as an indication he should carry on before he lost his momentum.
“That all brings us to you, sir, and the reason I bring this to your attention. We don’t have the resources here to tackle this mission ourselves effectively, sir. The Corp cut funds and manpower here, ironically enough, when the Flags built their compound out beyond the Wall and effectively knocked the wildling population out there down to near extinction levels. The Corp sent the excess to more needy areas around the perimeter. As a result, we need your help to carry this through, sir. Well, we need you to bring your resources to bear on the problem.”
When Card didn’t respond right away, he tried to continue. “If you could assign, say, a few AirT…”
“I know what an operation like this entails Fen. Shush while I decide the best way forward. You say, this Flag may be involved? That would be Jonn Flag now, as I understand the hierarchy out there. Jonn took over for his uncle before him. Tis why he left the Wall, and tis the why of my rise to power.”
His memory of those bad old days was foggy, at best and he liked it that way. Jonn NearKlop, as he was known back then, the son of a scion of the Corp, and nephew to a crazed one living with the nomads out in the wild, sacrificed everything to defend the dome from the hordes of wildlings storming the Wall. He was legendary and rose through the Mil-ranks like a storm through the southern plains.
He outperformed everyone in his class at the academy and any for five cycles before and any since. He so far outclassed Maxx Card as to cause Maxx to be the laughingstock of Class VXII, and laughable he had been. Griping at every test score that Jonn aced and every fete of strength he eased through, Card looked and filled the role of the spoiled elie who couldn’t match up. Jonn was destined to instant greatness and rank, while Maxx Card would be lucky to get out with the rank of constable in charge of mucking out the stalls of the senior officer’s horses. How fitting would it be for him to bring the almighty Jonn Flag, to his knees.
Card had had to resort to some very shady dealings to get ahead at all while Jonn was the Army’s Champion of the Day. He was the first to make contact with the wildlings. It wasn’t by choice. Not by a long shot. He and his troop were sent out to scout what was now that green swath of life out to the southwest, by none other than Commander Jonn NearKlop himself. He was the only one to return.
Though it wasn’t the story he told Command when he straggled back onto the Wall, what happened was grizzly enough to break the hardest of veterans or the cruelest of minds. Maxx Card was neither, not yet.
The wildlings had tricked them. They sent a scouting party ahead ot draw Card’s troop into a trap. Card complied much to the chagrin of his senior non-coms. When the wildlings finally let loose in the perfect killing field, it was a slaughter. That’s when Card found out they weren’t as wild as everyone believed they were. He wondered if that wasn’t by design. These crazed, determined warriors had language and were smart enough to use tactics.
Despite his predicament, he’d led a determined retreat so that he held the high ground with superior fire power. He had the one repeating pulse weapon on the battlefield and he was wielding it with reckless abandon, taking out his own men with the wild ones when they clustered near his position.
In the end, the chieftain called for a Parley. Card traded the pulse weapon, all his remaining men and their equipment for his life. The humiliation stayed with him for years and turned him into the soulless creature he was today. To just have a chance at pay-back to the man who had brought so much pain into his life was delicious. He couldn’t NOT go for this.
“Before I commit to anything, Fen, I’ll have an insurance policy. I won’t have you humiliate me as you did in Sector-22. I’ll know the location of your family’s hide. Is that understood, Fen? Better still, I’ll have them as guests on my stead until the mission’s successful conclusion.” His cold stare told Fen there would be no further negotiation on that point.
“Yes, sir. I see, sir.” He was trapped. “Begging your pardon, sir, but I’ll need something in exchange. Not for myself, but for my family, sir. I’ll need your assurance, your Officer’s Oath, that they won’t suffer if the plan fails. They shouldn’t be held responsible for my transgressions, sir. Please, sir!” He pleaded. He knew his and his family’s lives were in the wind.
“Do I have your parole that you will not conspire against me, Fen? Can I trust you?”
“Of course, sir. You’ll hold all that is dear to me in sway.”
“Very well, Fen. You have my Officer’s Oath. Your family is in my charge and insulated from rebuke. I will dispatch my chief of AirOps to begin gaming this with you. I’ll expect to hear from your Spouse by the morrow.”
“It may take longer to …”
“Tomorrow, Fen. Say, ‘yes sir’.” He scolded, turning away.
“Yes sir!” Fen scalded Card’s back with a boiling rage pouring from his very soul.
BASTA! Now what? Norton, Ellsbeth will panic for sure.
Neither man knew the Corp had other plans in store for the Cards and the Fens. It wouldn’t matter how wonderful and heroic their deeds might be now. CommCorp had already declared them persona non-grata. They were done, all of them. The Corp was waiting to have all their ducks in a row first; they still hadn’t located the Fen brood after escaping the woman’s uncle’s lair. The uncle and his family had already been dispatched. If the two errant enforcers happened to do some good for the Corp in the meantime, so be it.
Ten cycles+15, 244319, in the Flag Greathall:
“…you see, then, Burtt, why I was hesitant to bring this all to your attention right off? You do, don’t you?”
Jonn’s pleading voice struck Burtt to his core. Burtt knew a new level of sincerity and dedication. He was both inspired and appalled.
How far would Jonn go for the Flag? How far would you go for the Taj, Burtt, you great oaf?
“I have to think about all this Jonn. Harkk tried explaining this version of democracy. It’s a bit hard to swallow though, when one person is still making the decisions most of the time. You say, that you only make crisis decisions on behalf of the Flag, but I see you in every decision made, every day. Maybe your people just like it that way, I don’t know. This is a lot. Ya make my head hurt. Jizmo!”
He shook his head and as Jonn was about to interrupt, he cut back in as if he’d just thought of something else.
“Jonn, I appreciate this talk. I do. And I understand why you’re having it with me and the Taj council. We all must agree to, how’d you say it, in…corpo…incorporate the two clans. I get that. We get that. And we get the whole idea of having one person authorized to make the important-can’t wait for a council-every day decisions. We do! And I really think your people just got used to you doing the heavy thinking for them is all, Jonn. No offense meant, now.” He directed this at the Flag council in session with them.
“The Taj leans on me and Harkk a lot too and we’re still a democracy. What I don’t get, and I think I speak for everyone here, is why talk about a change right now? Why is this so important, when we have so much to do and, at least in my opinion, the last thing we need is a new leader? Why now, Jonn? You’re doing a great job as far as I’m concerned. We have years of learning to do. Learning I plan to get from you, Jonn.”
“Ah. Well. That’s the rub, isn’t it?” He hesitated, unsure of how to proceed, but then decided to just jump in. He gave a signal and all the oldest males and females of both houses, who’d been waiting in the wings, joined the procedures up by the dais. The rest of the houses filed into the open spaces in the hall and settled into a nervous wait. Both houses were buzzing with questions, suppositions, rumors and flat out speculation.
He had a clapper he used to get everyone’s attention. Once he was sure he had it, Jonn began.
“By now, you all have some inkling that this might not be the best of messages I’m about to impart, and you’d be right to think so. You see, members of the Taj, and mine own people here, I have the spots. I’m expecting no more than another three lunars active, then I’ll progressively fade away. I’ve no more than six lunars at most.” He used the slang describing his brand of incurable lung disease. The suddenness and cataclysmic nature of his announcement caught the Greathall in its grasp and bedlam broke loose.
The Flags broke into the outraged declarations of naysayers and deniers. Burtt and the Taj, quite familiar with the grief of death and destruction, were also keening, waiting for the rest of the blow to land. Death was never the only harbinger of bad times to come.
“Quiet down now. Quiet down. Come on, come now, Flag and Taj. Will you not hear me? There is business that must be resolved before I become too feeble to lead. And that brings us to the Selection.” His voice rose to crescendo on the last word.
The Flag knew of what Jonn spoke and were immediately silenced, as if the truth of the moment was suddenly upon them. The Taj didn’t understand and continued to bemoan the folly of coming to a strange land only to lose their one trusted connection to the society they were thrust into. Now more tragedy would be heaped on a population of children who’d never known anything but.
“HUSH NOW, TAJ! WE’RE THE GUESTS HERE! HUSH!” This from Harkk. The hall fell to an uneasy silence again, though the kens could be heard howling in the distance. Every Taj felt what any Taj felt.
Jonn collected himself. This was to be the most important speech of his recent life.
“Hear me, please. We are two houses that need desperately to be one someday. Some of you may not feel that way, now. In time, you’ll see the rightness of it. I stand before you, today, and ask you all for that time. I ask you all to let that time start now.
“You Flags. You know what it takes to be Leader. It’s in our learnings from when we are wee ones. Our guests do not. I will honor that ignorance with time. If we are ever to be one house, our Leader must come from the best of both houses, so both houses MUST be equally ready to answer the call.
“With fairness in mind, then, I declare the Selection open on the first Hi Day of Sixth Lunar. Nominations are due by Lo-day next. You can nominate yourself but you’ll be paired with a top seed right off if you do. That leaves us a bit more than a lunar to prepare.
“You Flags! You will show our guests the way of the Selection Process. You will honor it by teaching our guests the true meaning of the Selection and what qualities our Leader MUST possess. You will show them how we train to showcase these qualities. You will relate to them the connection from Leader to every single Clan member. You will explain our Leader’s subservience to the Clan…even the lowliest among us. Our Leader serves for life, with his life, and will give his life for any in the Clan without a moment’s hesitation; for to hesitate once you’ve accepted the mantle of leadership would be to condemn yourself to the Din for eternity.
“You Flags will work with our new mates and help prepare them for the trials as well as you prepare yourselves. You will have to compete with our guests for this great honor. Will you have them compete at any level other than their best? Would you feel complacent having beaten someone you purposely left unprepared? I think not.
“You, Taj! You are tough and knowledgeable beyond your years. I would have no hesitance following your best into the never-ending battle for life. Learn from us. Study hard, for it is not just a great beast who will win us over, but a wise one too. This is not just a test of means my friends. No! this is as much a test of wits and wills.
“The most important thing of all, to us all, is that we, the peoples of the Taj and the Flag, are our leader’s heart and soul. Our leader is our eye on life, our ear to the wind, our voice in the rift. Our leader touches the universe and we thrive through that connection. Our leader dies for us every day until there’s nothing left. Then we select the next strongest among us to take us ever forward, ever higher, ever longer, ever freer. This is our way.”
He’d said it all with such reverence the Greathall sustained an echo of his statement for several breaths before he continued, sure he had their rapt attention still.
“Choose well among your champions my friends. Choose the ones you would follow anywhere. Not because they are your friend, but because you feel the best chance of success lies with following that person. Because you KNOW that person will be selfless in all matters, even at the expense of their own life, but who will never waste that life; for a leader is not to be wasted.
“Those of you who are chosen for the trials, honor that confidence your peers placed in you with your best effort always, even to your last breath after these Trials are long over. Surrender only to the superior candidate and then only after you have exhausted every effort to better them. There is no disgrace in bowing to a champion among champions. There is a life of disgrace in failing to accept your fate, though. Instead, vow your allegiance forever to the one who prevails. This person will have earned it via the same trial by fire that tested you. Give them your faith until they revoke it.
“Finally, your allegiance to the Selected One is the key to our future. As we do on the first Hi-day of each Solar, after the Selection of a new leader, each one of us renews our vows of fealty to the clan and obedience to the Leader in an elaborate Ceremony of Faith. This symbolic show of subservience to the clan and the leader, not the individual who holds the position, but the position itself, regardless of who holds it, is our connection to one another. It is what we all have in common. Our leader is the collective the heart and soul of the clan that we so freely gave to him or her.
“As new members of the clan, you Taj will also be expected to swear allegiance to the Clan and its Leader. This does not make you slaves in any way. This simply streamlines the chain of command in crisis situations. You’ll see that everything else still comes down to a vote by the entire clan. We have no Kings here. No bosses. No Gods on earth. We may have become a little complacent and rely more on me than we should, yes, but that little problem is about to sort itself out. No? You, whoever you are to be, Master or Mistress, Leader of the Clan, can make that your legacy. Find a more efficient way for democracy to not fall to one person.”
“These are the rules for the choosing. They may not all apply, but they must all be stated.
· Anyone, female or male, of years advanced enough to have tried before and failed, may not try again. These, if any survive still, will be called upon to be judges.
· Judges will otherwise be drawn from a pool of elders, ineligible for the trials, twenty-one full solars or older.
· Anyone, female or male, between the age of eighteen and twenty-one solars, but not older than their twenty-first nameday or younger than their eighteenth, may be nominated.
· A contestant found to be in violation of any rule of the Trials will be declared lost, and forever banished from the clan, for to blemish so sacred a trust is unforgivable.
· Parents/relatives/guardians may not intervene in the nomination process except to nominate.
· Of twenty possible categories, a total of ten will be chosen for the Trials. Five of a physical nature and five of a more cerebral one.
· All candidates will train for all twenty disciplines as the ten choices won’t be selected until game day.
· In tests of mean strength pitting one contestant against another, the dominant opponent must offer mercy if called for; injuries prove nothing but recklessness in this case. One can win by sheer beauty of performance in fetes of strength, as well as by brute force. Neither necessarily holds sway in the judge’s eye, but both can.
· In tests of will and wits, the same lack of stubbornness when losing must be exercised.
· No form of external aide may be incorporated into the competition. No form of help my be provided to a contestant. No tool, nor weapon, nor any form of supplies, not provided for by the rules of the Trials, shall be had. No contestant will leave the competition’s boundaries until removed by the judges. No contestant will leave an injured contestant without succor. No contestant will ridicule, period!
· Except in the case of injury, a candidate may not drop out of the competition, nor may they skip a Trial, but must finish every category of the Trials.
· In case of a tie in any category, the winner will be the one who scored higher in the next higher discipline in importance.
· If, at the end of the regular Trials, there is still a tie at the top. The competition will continue until a winner can be declared. The judges will pick from the remaining ten Trials, three at a time, until there is a winner.”
· If all Trials are exhausted without a clear winner, the judges will pick from a select group of ever more difficult backup Trials, until there is a winner.
· No one quits.
· The Trials will not break for twenty-four hours after they start. A four-hour break for nutrition, hydration and rest will follow. Then the Trials will resume for another twenty-four hours. Repeat until a winner is declared.
· There can be only one.
Jonn deflated. The steam had run out, and it showed.
“That’s all I have folks. If there are any questions…”
The hall lit up with them and the conversation continued well into the night. Meals were served there in the Greathall along with a new brew Jonn introduced as mead. The children were not allowed to have any, but were given a taste of honey instead. Not much more was resolved after Jonn’s speech. There was more denial, tearful remembrances, drunken story telling along with the requisite hilarity and then a sudden return to reality when one or another of the clanmates would remember what they’d just listened to.
The Clan, as they were beginning to think of themselves, ran themselves out of energy eventually and went home in the wee hours of the morning, well after newday. Burtt was smart enough to lay off the Meade when his head started to spin. Kkhloe had told him about Zobbi’s home brew and how it distorted your abilities.
Two cycles+15, 344319, following the Taj back to their compound:
“A penny for your thoughts?” Katt whispered as she and Burtt made their way home at the end of the Taj procession.
‘I guess I’m afraid again, Katt. I don’t know what to think. Is this a good thing? Harkk says, empires are built on the strong arms of young men, not the older ones, so, I guess this will be okay in the end. I just caint bring myself to the idea of taking orders from someone other than Jonn. Even then I was hesitant to give over to him completely, or Harkk, for that matter.”
Kkat was smiling, barely able to hold it in.
‘What? What? Come on. I know that smile. What I do now?”
“Oh, Burtt. You’re so cute, thinking there’s another within a hundred kliks of here on a par with you…or that Jonn doesn’t already know that too. Um, um! Yessuh! You one kina craze, you is, Burtt, master bossman.”
“What? What are you talking about now and why are you talking like that? I don’t understand you sometimes, K…OUCH! Jizmo!”
She’d smacked him off the back of the head again.
“Let’s go to bed, dopey. You need your beauty sleep. Boy, do you ever!”
Eight cycles+20, in front of the Taj’ Temporary Greathall:
“What’s this? Jenna? Kett?”
The two had cornered Burtt after firsteat and refused to let him pass.
“We decided we caint foller no Flagger but Jonn, so you gots to win. We he-ah to hep ya train. We caint try ahsefs, so we heps you. We tough, you knows, and we faster than you, so we c’n hep wi’dat. Ahm bettah with a bow and Kett he the boss with a pike. Yessuh!”
“Ha! You train me, eh? Well. Hmm! You are faster, the both of you, and I could surely use some help with all the weapons other than these blades, that’s sure. What do you have in mind.” Burtt was fascinated. After all the trouble the two had been, they were his staunchest allies now. They backed him in every endeavor and volunteered for anything they thought would benefit the Taj. This could prove interesting.
“Well, first, is this…” the two took off like lightning bolts towards the pastures to the south. Looking over his shoulder Kett yelled, “Come on, old man, catch us if ya can.”
In stunned silence Burtt stood there watching the distance grow. A crew of Taj and Flag mates had gathered by then and were watching the challenge go unanswered. Soon, some good-natured hooting started up with the Taj’ headman as its target.
“Burtt is a turtle. Burtt is a turtle. Burtt is a turtle.” The chant soon grew to twenty, then thirty voices strong. He couldn’t avoid the challenge then.
“Oh, Jizmo, I’m gonna pound you when I catch you two.” Burtt jokingly howled after the quickly shrinking silhouettes ahead.
“No, you won’t…” was the fading response.
“Cconnie, hold these.” He stripped his belts and harnesses, leaving only his leggings and a light top shirt. He kicked off the sandals they’d been given since moving to the Green, as they had come to call their new home. Then peeled off after the much speedier younger clanmates.
It took the better part of 40 spans of non-stop all out running, but he caught the two eventually. As it turned out, the kids slowed to let him catch up. He looked to them as though he was about to drop, and they knew their leader would never quit. It wouldn’t do to have ot carry him back to the compound.
“After a minute of gasping and feeling almost normal again, Burtt looked up at his captives and sighed.
“Damn. You two ain’t even winded. I am sooooo, screwed!”
“No you ain’t. Das why we he-ah.” This from Jjenna. “If ya trains wif us ever day, in thirty plus, you be pleny fas enuf. Nobod gon beat you straight up, so we just gots to get you runnin fasser an longer, an gets you shootin straight.”
Then Kett chimed in, “We know ya gots other things ya gots to do. We knows ya gonna go get the rest of the Taj too. Ya still gots t’ train. One cycle at least, ever day, we do that. We train you up hard too. After you goes to get Ssyn and them, we double up the training time. Yessuh! D’as a’righ!” He said with a grin, mimicking Burtt’s own earlier favorite phrase.
“You had this all planned out, did you?” Burtt was still surprised at the turn around these kids had made is so short a time. This was a glorious world.
“When Jonn told the rules and we seed we couldn’t compete, we decided. Yeah! Then we planned. Then we come to you. We gots a whole plan laid out. The onliest othah ones we’d foller is Qquitia or Kkat. They trying, but They ain’t gonna win. Nossuh! Jorukk n’ sum uthas gon beat them su-ah.” Kett offered.
“Well! Thank you. I, I don’t know what to say. You surprise me, you two. You’ve grown so much and you’ve done so much. We are all so grateful to you, already. And now this? Phew!”
Burtt really was stunned. The kids seemed to grasp that and smiled. Both reached out to shake Burtt’s hand in the Taj way, gripping the others wrist, but Burtt had a surprise for them. He hugged them both to him and planted a kiss on each forehead.
While both kids stared in openmouthed shock, Burtt whispered, “If you tell anyone I did that I’ll pound you both for a week…if I can catch you.”
The three broke into uproarious laughter that cascaded for minutes afterwards, dying down for a moment then rising back up in full hilarity just to die down again, and then repeat.
Jjenna Bok was crying. She turned away wiping her eyes, hoping the men thought it was from the laughter.
I don know wha dis is, what I feel, but I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it. Please, Got. If you dere, don let dis be a lie too. Please!
She turned back to find the two boys still rough-housing with each other. Oblivious!
Men! Why them don feel crazy stuff too?
Same time, at the Flag infirmary:
“I can’t believe how good I felt last week and now I feel like crap again. What’s going on Doc? Really?” Ccassie was concerned. After about a week of breathing clean air, and some treatments from the Medicos at the Flag, she’d started hacking up some god-awful looking stuff from her lungs. At first, she felt horrible and congested beyond anything she’d experienced in sector-22, but eventually the congestion cleared.
After that short period of extreme discomfort, life changed. She didn’t feel tired after short periods of exertion. She could taste food. She could take a deep, deep breath and not explode into a coughing fit. These were all new phenomena for Ccassie. She’d never breathed right before now. So, what happened to make her feel so terrible now?
“Well, Ccassie, my dear, unlike your worst nightmares, this has nothing to do with your lungs. Well, it does, but it’s not lung disease that’s got you down now. You’ve got a cold. It’s a common malady out here. What’s odd, Ccassie, is that back there, in your sector-22, the cold bug is dead. Out here, it’s alive and well. A real pain in the ass it is, but it’s a nuisance only. You’ll feel crappy for a day or two then spring right back. Do not worry. Take one of these every day to ease your breathing and sleep. You’ll bounce back I promise. Hmm! I still marvel that this common little bug has survived years of medical advances beyond your wildest imaginings. In order to kill it, we literally had to kill ourselves too.”
“Oh, thank Norton! I was terrified, I don’t mind telling you Mmarg. I debated telling you at all in case you made me go back. Ha! How childish!”
“Oh, Ccassie, dear, I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, but it is no more. Do you hear me, Girl? It is no more.”
Ccassie’s tears, the sobbing heaves and her head on Mmarg’s shoulder were answer enough.
Eleven cycles+45-525319, prior to mideat at the Loks hideout:
“OOF!” was the exclamation heard from Ellsbeth Fen when her attempt to ambush the much shorter Jaredd Lok with her self-fashioned weapon, fell short on the much taller Doctor Georgge. She bounced off and fell back into the hide.
Hamm was on her in a moment, just before Jaredd, coming into the shelter behind the Doctor, lashed out with his stunner. Hamm had her wrapped in a bear hug causing her to drop her club. Her children were screaming at her, then at Hamm, then at Jaredd. The doctor fell to his knees, nursing a bruised shoulder. Then he stood up.
“ENOUGH!” He screamed at the top of his lungs. “STOP THIS, YOU FOOLS!” He continued with only slightly less volume and acid in his voice.
“You, stupid woman. Do you think for a minute the Corp will reward you for tossing this sanctuary over to them? Do you? Fool! Fool, woman.” The vehemence in his voice caused her and everyone within hearing distance to wince and to back away.
“The Corp has a warrant out for your arrest, you and your brats. Your Uncle and his family are already forfeit. The moment the Corp finds this place; you, your family AND your husband are finished. Caput! Do you understand now, Ellsbeth Fen?
These proles are your only chance at life. WAKE THE HELL UP, WOMAN! For God’s sake, wake up. If not for your own sake, then for your children.”
Incapable of grasping her new reality, Ellsbeth Fen fell back to the confines of what darkness she could find, to the farthest corner of their hide, away from those unclean scum, away from the Loks and their cursed doctor, away from her own treacherous children. Just …away…
“Come children, it’s time for your shots and checkup. Come, come, who’s first this week? I have candy…”
End Chapter Ten, Burtt’s Story.
10+30-552319, on the banks of Green river:
The dual blasts blew him 30 feet down the backside of Green River Mound. He’d fought to stay conscious but failed. When he woke, there was only the sound of the Army souring the area for survivors, remains, evidence…whatever they could find, he guessed. His crew was gone, hopefully they made it out okay. Before he’d passed out, he saw the boys make it down the mound with the launchers and remaining rocket rounds.
They were good boys. Shot the hell out of that Trans they did.
They had taken cover after the shootdown. Josepp had remained standing fascinated by the fiery crash he’d ordered done.
Now he was desperate to stay hidden until the cops and the army were surely gone. Then he’d figure out what to do next. Like a sniper, he crawled inch by inch across the debris field on the back side of the Green River Mound to the remnants of the greenhouse. A few broken panels from Burtt’s encounter with the wall was all that was left, but it was enough for Josepp to crawl under, nurse his wounds and stay quiet. He was covered in dirt so he figured he blended in well with his surroundings and that was why the overhead Mil-AirTrans hadn’t spotted him yet.
There was no sign of the Taj or the Flag anywhere, just a dissipating fog bank, receding into the frontier. The fact was, the spillover effects of the fog bank were still screwing with the Air ship’s scopes.
That’s where they are. Good! Bettah off out thay-ah than he-ah, for su-ah.
Now he just had to lay low for a while
They comin back for me. Won’t they?
Josepp dug down deeper and fell into a trouble sleep.
Eleven cycles, at the Lok Stead:
“Where do you suppose all your perservs went, Mr. Lok? What about the two Hap perservs? Where is this Burkk fellow?” A perturbed Senior Detector Fen had been grilling Jaredd for hours now. Jaredd played innocent and ill. Doctor Georgge pled his case. Fen persisted.
Finally, the CommCorp-MilSecCinC, Maxx Card, from the Army, made an appearance. With apologies to all, this Card hauled Fen out of the house and proceeded to dress him down ferociously. Fen was a simpering, cowering dolt by the time Card finished with him. Truth be told, the both were in hot water with the Corp. There’d been far too much damage incurred and nothing but speculation to show for it.
When Maxx Card stormed off, it appeared at first that Fen would return to the Lok stead for more fireworks when his comm unit chimed at his belt. He looked at the display and all the strength seemed to flow out of him. Jaredd wondered who that might be, discreetly watching from the window of his sleep quarters.
Fen, looking as though he’d been shot, sulked away to his transport yelling orders as he went.
“Sepp, to Justice Hall, on the quick, now, boy. I’ve to meet with a Justifier. Norton, this is going to get ugly. Alright. No sense, laying down now. Once you drop me there, Sepp, I need you to go to my wife and children. Trans them to somewhere near her Uncle’s stead in North-City. Understand? Don’t take no for an answer and if my son, that great oaf, gives you any trouble, stun him. You have my permission.
“Here’s the most important instruction I have for you, Sepp. It is imperative you get it right. Understand?”
Sepp nodded, his concern growing with every word from his longtime master.
“Tell Jjoan, “Missing”. That’s it, Sepp, “MISSING”. Nothing more, okay? And don’t ask any damn questions. Pick them up. Transport them to North-City wherever Jjoan tells you to, then forget you ever saw them today and get back here to me. Repeat your instructions, Sepp.”
When Fen was confident that his driver would do his bidding, they set off on what Fen knew was a new destiny, and probably one quite a bit bleaker than that which he enjoyed today. Failing for so many times to quell the “uprising” in sector-22 would have its consequences and they weren’t good. That’s why he was having his family go “missing”. The Corp didn’t just punish her failures, she punished anyone associated with the failure. Fen didn’t feel his family deserved to suffer for his transgressions. He sent them off hoping they would be safe. Her uncle was a prole sympathizer, though he kept it on the Q T. He would keep them out of sight if he could. He had a cellar no one knew of where they could hide in a pinch.
Damn that prole boy. If I don’t hang today, then one day I’ll get you Mr. Burkk. One day, I will! And when I find out who supplied you with Rockets, I don’t care who it is, they WILL hang.
Same time, in the Flag Greathall:
“Easy now boyo, there’s naught we can do about it. CommCorp owns the communications business, remember? They own the lines, the towers, the repeater stations, everything. They built that unit in your hand. If they don’t want comms outside the dome, there won’t be any. Along with the usual civilian and business wavelengths, there are several Military and cop channels they keep open all the time. But, in crisis mode, they shut down all but those official lines of communication.
“You lost your signal originally in the soup, Burtt, as everyone does. Something about all the radioactive metal still lying about. Once we got clear of that, comms should have come back. Since they didn’t, we must assume the Corp shut it down for the duration of the present crisis.
“Believe me, it’s a crisis in there right now. They have a Mil-AirTrans down, taken out by proles with SAM rockets. They have a massive dome breech to repair. Then there’s the exodus of Norton knows how many Proles from a conclave established right under their noses, with the aid of several perservs who’ve gone missing, and possibly several citizens too, some of whom have also gone missing. They must see all that by now.
“The debris left in the Taj will indicate more than just a wasteland. That one Army officer even alluded to its cleanliness. By now the underground will have been discovered. You and the Taj are well and truly blown my friend. And, they’ll also surely be wondering by now, where the hell all the sector-22 perservs are. There should have been some remains, if just bits and pieces.”
Burtt, staring longingly across the flat, towards what was once home and his sister, wondered if he’d ever see her again.
“When we get comms back ya think, Jonn? I have to let Ssyn know I ain’t aband…abnand…oh hell, leaving her there.” He was so angry at himself, he could hardly speak a handful of coherent words at a time. “No mattah. We don’t get comms by mideat, I’m going back. I’ll keep trying to get her until I do.”
“Burtt, this is reckless. We just must wait. Not long, they need comms too, but we need to wait. We gain nothing if you get captured.” This from Harkk.
“Besides, it would be better if you waited until we could get one of our comm units to her. So far, the Corp can’t tag our units to jam them or locate us. They can pick up that little unit of yours, though, without breaking a sweat.” Jonn offered.
“I ain’t get captured, Harkk. They ain’t a Corp Cop who could. And I got to call her on this first time, anyway.”
“Perhaps you won’t be captured, Burtt. How about Captain Clak, though. You know the Army Captain who leveled the entire Taj on a whim? Remember him and his partner? They have hundreds, just like them waiting for the opportunity to prove themselves to the Corp and better their lot in life. Capturing or killing the notorious outlaw, Burkk the Blade, would just about do the trick. Every gun in the Corp is out looking for you right now Burtt. Even if they don’t know your true name, they are gunning for you, son, and you can bet they know what you look like, roughly. There aren’t a whole lot of healthy, threatening 19-year-olds anywhere outside the dome. Don’t give them what they want. Please.”
Burtt was surprised at Harkk’s use of the word “son”. He fought to temper his anger for Harkk’s sake. Those around him could see the fire raging within. Burtt simply turned without saying a word and left the Flag Greathall.
Son? Not parts now, Harkk? Am I now your lesser too? Damn!
“Norton, that boy is an explosion waiting to engulf something.” Jonn stated with concern.
“Yep, that’s Burtt. One trigger pull away from cataclysm…every day, all day,” Harkk responded. “I have spent countless hours reining that energy back in or channeling it to another direction. He can learn damn near anything you teach him. So, if you want to prevent catastrophe from following him around, keep him busy. Norton, knows I try to. And every time I do try to redirect his energy, I feel him slip a little further away. He is one independent son of a blister that boy is.
“Do you know, Katt taught him algebra in three months? Not on a low-school track, after two weeks of blowing through the basics like he was learning to eat, she hit him with a full on MastersEd track and he aced it. Sure, he had some initial difficulties with the concept of formulas and using them for problem solving; but one day the light came on and it was all downhill from there. He helped me lay out the plans for the greenhouse. In fact, he did it all himself with very minor coaching on my part, and that was more about style and conformity of labeling than the actual layout itself or the dimensions of it. Kkat was asking Jaredd for more advanced materials when the stuff hit the fan.
“Yes, Our Burtt has a head on his shoulders. It appears he’s every bit the Brainerd his dad was. I knew him, I did. He came out to the Wall often. He was a decent sort who liked to do kindnesses for both us poor slobs on Wall, and the poor slobs on the frontier too. That and Jjosie’s propensity to be more outspoken than her infamous Great Uncle Henrry Meinklop, is what got them in such trouble with the Corp in the first place.”
“Perhaps we both are trying too hard, eh? With Burtt, I mean. Maybe we should let him feel his way through this stuff and only offer guidance if he asks for it or when he is obviously headed in a wrong direction. Like I said before, Harkk, that BOY is no boy, and we ought to start thinking that way. Did you see how he looked at you when you called him “son”? It wasn’t an amused smile, Harkk. It was that one he uses when he’s about to tell you nicely to, go fish”.
Jonn was also looking for answers regarding Burtt’s behavioral patterns. He needed to be able to approach Burtt without fear of reprisal for saying the wrong thing. He just didn’t know yet what it was that constituted wrong in Burtt’s book. It seemed like Harkk had the same problem. Burtt’s temper was the one thing about him that was still rooted in his childhood. It would take him down eventually, Jonn knew. He’d seen it before. Jonn’s predecessor passed because of his lack of control. The last thing both crews needed was for another wild man to take the reins.
Harkk was worried about his young friend for much the same reasons as Jonn. The fear he felt for Burtt went beyond any fear he’d ever felt for himself. The boy could turn from calm to critical mass before Harkk could blink.
Boy! Ha! There you go again. Burtt the MAN, Harkk old son, Burtt the man.
He knew this headstrong boy was going after his sister somehow. It was just a matter of how long he and Jonn could keep him tied down on the farm, so to speak. What a sin it would be to lose him now. Like Jonn, Harkk believed Burtt was the key to every one’s survival.
If anyone can spur these crews on to new heights, it’s that lad, not me. Not Jonn. It’s Burtt!
Eleven+30 cycles, outside on the Flag Compound:
There was certainly a lot to do and the doing was well under way. Work crews were organized by Harkk and Bann. For the most part, Burtt was too preoccupied for anything more than walking the perimeter staring at the Wall and beyond to the Dome.
Sometimes, Burtt thought he could still see atmosphere venting form the place Josepp’s rockets had impacted the Dome. He knew it was just more smaze at the wall playing tricks on his eyes. He wanted so much to be there. He’d gotten the Taj to safety, he should have turned right around and gone back to get Ssyndi and the rest.
Now he also knew that he didn’t get all the fighting Taj-mates out that day. Josepp’s three rocketeers were the last to make it to Jonn’s AirTrans. They came in without Josepp. Burtt didn’t notice he’d gone missing until they had left the red-zone. All the rocketeers could tell Burtt was that when they looked behind them after the blasts; Josepp was nowhere to be seen.
He felt so guilty it tore at him all day long. He had to go back. The longer he waited the less chance those kids had to get out. But every time he allowed himself to travel down that line of thought, he ended up at the same place.
If you go now; you die!
His frustration level grew.
When he couldn’t stand the idleness any longer, he filled his time with the back-breaking labor of moving huge slabs of granite into place around the new Taj compound or digging the trenches the slabs would sit in. He might be brooding out by the fence and hear a crew grunting and straining at their work. He would then hustle over to lend his brawn to the effort.
Thus, he would pass his next several days impatiently waiting for the Comm channels to clear, and, subsequently, the day he could rescue his sister and the rest of the Taj. It couldn’t come soon enough.
Same time, Flag compound and southern perimeter grazing fence:
The two had become more than fast friends. They spent every waking and sleeping moment together. You couldn’t separate them come hell or high water. Katt was perplexed. She couldn’t continue Jjenna’s lessons when Kett was around. The older girl was still uncomfortable in Kett’s presence, though he hardly paid her any attention now. Still, she tried to pass the ball to Bbessie but the old girl was having no part of it.
“That girl is your problem, Kkat. I got my hands full with Cconnie and her troop of women warriors, for lands sake. Their a bunch ten and twelve-year-old children. Warriors my fat behind! No! I’ll not be taking on another problem child for a while yet, thank you very much.”
(Sigh) “Well, then it’s up to me. Jizmo, though, if that boy even squeaks ugly, I’ll rap him so hard he won’t know what day it is.” Katt accepted her fate.
“I swear. If Burtt doesn’t snap out of this funk soon…” She left the thought unsaid.
What could she do? What could he do? Burtt was struggling too.
“It’ll all work itself out, Katt. Have you been watching those two? Jjenna and Kett? Have you?”
“Watching them what, Bbess?” Katt was thinking that Bbessie’s age and the wild was finally getting to her. Why on earth would she be watching the demon boy from hell?
See what? I don’t want to see him, hear him…whatever. She thought.
“Honestly, Kkat. You and Burtt have the same malady. Can’t see past your own grief-itis.” Bbessie audibly clucked her disapproval and continued, “Those two have been stuck to each other since we left the Taj. Like glue they have. They are even sharing sleeping space. Has he said a word to you, Katt? Has he been snooping around? Is he at your heels anymore?”
Katt had to think but then admitted, “No. Come to think of it, no, he hasn’t. Not once, in fact, since we’ve been out here. The only time I see him, he’s with Jjenna when I wasn’t to spend time on her lessons. Hmm! Can it be? This is wonderful news, Bbessie. Wonderful.” Then Katt stopped in mid gloat. For the briefest of moments, she felt a pang of jealousy.
Oh, girl, you are such a…Kkat thought.
With a sudden intake of breath, “Oh, dear. Bbessie, have I been an insufferable twit?”
“Yes dear, but all teenage girls are, so don’t fret.” Bbessie’s smirk kept Katt from a snarky retort. Instead she ran to her best female friend outside the dome and hugged her tight.
Bbessie hid the tear in her eye with Kkat’s head buried in her matronly bosom. How long had she wanted this? How long had she prayed to whatever being was in charge, if any, to grant her the blessing of children. How long had she pined away the hours with regret, ministering to the most hateful bitch the Corp could boast having as a resident. How long had she suffered that witch’s mean spirited treatment of Qquit in silence, when her baroness left her an empty, lonesome, nearly uncaring shell? Now, she had a hundred of the little darlings and there wasn’t enough time in the day to deal with half their needs, not for one person.
“No, my dear Kkat, don’t worry about being a human child. You’re supposed to have these trials. It’s all a rite of passage kind of thing. You’re just fine.
“More than that though, young lady, I need you to be a functional senior Taj-mate. I need Burtt to do the same but I’m working on you. Burtt is for Harkk and Jonn to master, and good luck to them with that, eh?” Bbessie whispered this last to lighten the moment. It worked. Kkat couldn’t help but smile at the effort it would take to even begin to temper Burtt’s ardor.
“How long have they been out there?” Katt asked pointing to the two-black sheep, barely visible at the outer grazing wire. They not only took to the farm animals, they were the first Taj-mates to volunteer for perimeter watch. Burtt didn’t volunteer, he just went there and assumed the duty.
“Harkk tells me they were up at the crack of dawn, fed the chickens, mucked the stalls and led the cattle and sheep to pasture. They took Kett’s K, Hiss, with them and now Kett is using her to help control the herds. He’s using the whistling, clicking and hand signals Burtt taught them to make the K go straight ahead or left or right. He found that he could move the herds in the general direction he chose running the K back and forth behind them.
“He told Harkk that he just watched the way Hiss interacted with the animals. How they would move away from her if she approached. From there it was just a matter of experimenting. It took some practice, but in the brief time they’ve been out there this morning, Kett has taught Hiss, to guide the herds with little chance of the livestock getting away although it probably took an hour longer than normal and I’m quite sure they scared the heck out of some of those cows, so there may be a bit of sour milk tomorrow. He had much more trouble with the cattle than the sheep. With patience, he even got some of the herds to pass through the gates to the pastures they were using. All the sheep did, but they had to work together to get the some of the cattle in the normal way, shooing the great beasts along ahead of them.”
The two were camped at the wire now, watching for intruders. They would stay there until mideat when a relief crew would come to spell them. That crew was not well versed in the art of K-handling, and would be Flags anyway, so they moved the cattle the old-fashioned way, on horseback. No Taj-mates had yet to cowboy up, as Jonn called it. They’d never seen anything so big before and were slowly coming to grips with the fact there were bigger living things in this world than humans.
Kkat saw them lean towards each other and tough foreheads. Her mouth fell open a bit. Silhouetted like that, they looked so natural, so connected…so unlike either one of them.
Can it be? Please, lord, please.
“There’s more than a little friendship going on there, Katt. Your worries in that regard are over, I’m sure. That boy is gone head over heels for someone else now, girl. You had your chance and you blew it, I’m afraid.” Bbessie couldn’t help herself and laughed uproariously at her little joke.
Katt simply blushed, pleased as pink.
24-113319, at the Lok stead:
A static hiss interrupted the silence of the night. She kept the unit on and charging all the time, just in case.
ZZZZZZZZZT, “24, that’s 24. Not down but up a half. Mumble. Out!” No response but two clicks was needed. Ssyn sent the two clicks depressing the push-to-talk button twice.
His voice. That was what she’d been waiting for. That was the answer to her every waking moment’s prayer. Jaredd had contracted Harkk long before, to construct an iso-chamber in the Lok stead for allowing discreet comms into and out of the dome. Receivers and transmitters finely tuned to an exact frequency and signal amplitude could penetrate the shell of the iso chamber electronically and the dome itself through tiny repeaters the greaser also installed discreetly while servicing other technical needs of the dome itself. It was effective for up to thirty ticks. Burtt never stayed on for more than five.
He comm’d me. He comm’d me. Oh, thank God, Burtt, I love you. You are the absolute best brother. Let’s see! “24-up-a-half-mumble” means, tomorrow at mideat, he’d be there to rescue me.
She almost started crying again but then caught herself. She had to get the kids here from all over the damn dome.
No, wait, the message only said “Mumble”. That means talk only, not escape. That message would have included the phrase “stroll the park”. Sigh! Okay. We’re not going home today. But he’s coming just the same. The kids will all be excited so, I should be too, I guess.
She gave herself permission to cry and did so, profusely. Jaredd came running to her door in a state.
“Ssyn? Ssyn? Oh, my Norton, girl, what’s the matter now?”
The tears flowing from her eyes contradicted the ear to ear smile so profoundly, that Jaredd, for perhaps the first time in his life, was left speechless, but for just a moment.
“You heard from Burtt?” When Ssyndi nodded, “Oh, thank the stars.” He smiled with her and hugged his trembling charge tightly.
“Do you suppose there’ll be room for me Ssyn? Do you?” He asked.
“I’ll make room, Jar.”
Same time, just inside the Wall within sector-22’s extended area:
“You sure they got it, Burtt? If so, close it down. Remember what I said about being live for too long on these open perscomm units. You might be screened inside the dome, but out here, the Army owns the airwaves.” Jonn senior tracker was more than a bit nervous about this mission.
“Yeah, she got it. She clicked twice like I taught her. Then shut down. It’s all okay. I’m in there tomorrow. I’m glad we came half way today, Jorukk. That was a clever idea you had. Makes tomorrow’s run in a piece of cake. Be easy brother Jor.”
“Yeah. Just so long as you run in, give her the new comm unit and run the hell right out again, then I’ll be easy. I still don’t like you going in alone.”
“Looka this fog, Jor. A horse could get in unseen in this stuff. And Baff said it be like this until Hi-day, at least. We good, brother.” Baff was the Flag weather-man.
“You say so.” Was Jorukk’s unconvincing reply.
“Ha! Worry- wart!” Burtt smiled at his newest best friend and companion.
11+30-213319, on the downslope of Green River Mound:
He saw someone on the far bank of Frontier Creek.
Damn, they still lookin? Bastas!
Josepp was getting weaker now. He couldn’t find anything else to eat. Whatever was left in the underground, the Army had confiscated. Even the rats ran away. He was living on the Green River water he crawled to after dark. Today the overcast was so heavy he was going down to the water in daylight. His stomach was screaming at him as were his bowels. Apparently, an all water diet wasn’t the best thing.
Now he’d have to scramble back to his hide before whoever that was got too much closer. He was so weak though. He slowly turned and started crawling back to the greenhouse. He only made it halfway and fell asleep. He’d been doing that a lot these past two days.
What was that over by the Greenhouse? Burtt wondered. There was something over there. It was barely moving but it was hard to see in this smaze still.
Maybe someone was sneaking around over there?
He made his way slowly, staying directly behind his target until he could see it was a man. He had been crawling slowly, then he stopped. He was just lying there now. Burtt approached slowly with blades drawn
Now that he was about to pounce, he saw the tuck. Scouts, soldiers, rocketeers all carried a tuck with personal effects like a shoulder bag but crossed over their necks and tucked into their leggings at the small of their backs. They were all made of the same material. Bbessie had sewn them each one. Only a Taj-mate would have one. He’d found Josepp.
God, let him be okay. Please. I don’t ask for nuthin else this week. Please! Burtt pleaded with his deity.
Josepp groaned when Burtt eased him over. “Oh, my stomach. Kill me please!”
“Ha! Not today I won’t, Josepp. We are going home. Yessuh!”
Josepp’s eyes opened fully and when realization that he’d been rescued set in he tried to whoop, but barely managed a squeak.
“F-f-f-food. Food, please, Burtt.”
“Easy, friend. Let’s get you out of here first, okay?”
Using the secure comm unit Jorukk had given him for personal use, he comm’d his friend,
“F2, F2, this is T1, over?”
“Go ahead, T1”
“Trans-blaster1 found. Need MedTrans asap. Trooper in distress, over.”
“Roger. F2 inbound. P-U at GRM base, over.”
“Roger, GRM base, out. Copy we need an IV for this guy.”
“Copy, Starting and IV.”
“Let’s go Josepp. Time for you to ride the FasTrans. You ain’t gonna believe this thing, Josepp. Jonn has more surprises than a first-tier bot. We got to strap you in so you don’t fly off it. I ain’t kidding either. This thing flies.”
Josepp didn’t answer. He was out again. Burtt picked him up and headed over to the base of Green River Mound.
Damn! Hurry Jorukk, hurry!
The import of Jaredd’s foresight in getting the four exiled citizens to agree to accompany the Taj to their new home was never more apparent to Burtt than it was then. There wasn’t anyone in the Taj aside from those four from the MedSci ranks of CommCorp City who would know how to deal with Josepp’s condition well enough for Burtt’s satisfaction. It didn’t matter that they really had no other alternative. Had they stayed in the Taj, they’d have died in the blasts.
Burtt began the tedious task of unwrapping. He would overheat in sudden fashion if the suit wasn’t processing. That was another key to wearing the iso-suit. If you weren’t working it, that is, making it process your bodily wastes and absorb or distribute energy, the suit would work against you. So, when you stopped exertion or didn’t need the filters, you stripped and put on the unisuit instead.
They were constantly learning new things from the Flags. The suit was only one source of mystery every Taj-mate wanted answers to. Burtt had puzzled over the concept of there being living creatures in this material; another bit of info the Flag had delayed the telling of. That bit of news was kind of creepy, so maybe it was good to take these new things on, one at a time.
Harkk had known there was no “magic” involved like every Taj mate believed there was. He pushed Jonn until Jonn gave up the secret. Harkk hadn’t found any tech in the suit, other than the material itself, so that led him to the obvious query, “What’s up with this stuff, Jonn? Really?”
The answer was long and very high-tech. Harkk was puzzled himself by a fair amount of the science involved. It took three of the Flags’ best to explain it all in layman’s terms. The material was the home of tiny creatures (nannies, the Flags called them) who thrived on human liquid impurities, pollutants and poisons, and whose excrement was suitable for human use, up to and including hydration. These nannies also absorbed radioactive materials and reprocessed them into benign waste that were passed out the bottom tube back into the soils it came from, though without the 10,000-year half-life issues.
Yes, this was some amazing stuff. One could live for three days without replenishment if the suit remained intact. They were still working on ways to process poop. The common thread of thought in their science community was that if they could figure that one out, they might extend that replenishment window to a full 7-day.
The Taj conceded, unanimously. It was all MAGIC!
12 cycles, at the Lok Stead:
ZZZZZZZZT-zzzzzzzzzzzzt… “in 5” was the short cryptic message.
Her excitement nearly sent her head over heels downstairs and out the door.
“Remember what we said about looking suspicious, Ssyn?”
“Oh Jar, I’m so excited I can’t help it.”
“I know. Let’s just take a walk and meander on over to the tube. Then if anyone asks we’ll say we decided to look at the devastation. It will be the first time we’ve dared to venture outside since that terrible day with those terrible proles mucking about out there.”
“Oh, you are ever so devious, Jar. I love it! Shall we?”
“Yes, let’s.” Jaredd escorted Ssyndi to their first meet with a prole since the day of the exodus. To Ssyndi, it seemed months had passed.
12+5, at the tube exit into the sector-22 near-zone:
“I don’t see him, Jaredd. Where is he?” Ssyn was frantic. They’d been here 5 spans without seeing a hint of Burtt. It was past the 5 spans Burtt had stated in his comm. There wasn’t anything here to see so they couldn’t stay much longer without drawing unwanted attention. As it was, the guard on the other side of the tube was mightily suspicious and asked way more questions than they’d anticipated. Jaredd finally had to assert himself and gain access via his family’s name.
“He’ll be here, Ssyn. He’s watching from somewhere, making sure it’s clear. Hmm! Perhaps we…” he paused a moment, then, “There! There he is. See? Just behind the debris pile the robodozers left where the Taj hall was located. Aha! I bet that’s where the tunnel to the underground began. Let’s wander over that way, shall we?”
They strolled, seemingly without purpose towards the pile looking every bit the curious citizens just taking in the sights.
Ssyndi was the first to hear it. It started as a barely heard tinkle, then became clearer as they got closer. Someone was whistling Kkhloe’s song. Ssyn joined in with the lyrics. “When you’re down, and troubled, and you need a helping hand,”
“You always were a bettah singer, sis. Probably why I whistle so much.” Burtt whispered from beyond view of the tube and the dome. “I wish I could hug you. Ain’t no time though. Not he-ah. I got you a new comm unit. This one the Corp caint listen to. We plan your escape using this unit. Jonn says we should try to be patient. Give the Corp time to settle down again and stop being so vigilant. It would be no good to try a rescue just to get caught, right?”
“Yes, Burtt. That makes sense, though I hate it. Humph!” Ssyndi had expected this but it still rankled.
“Come on, Ssyn. It ain’t gonna be for long. Now that the dome is repaired, the level of Mil-AirTrans traffic has gone back to almost normal. I figure a week…two at the most.” Burtt lied.
Harkk and Jonn both insisted that they wait a full lunar still. Burtt hoped that if he was in comms with Ssyn, the headstrong girl would be able to hold on, barely.
“How are things progressing out there, Burtt?” Jaredd interjected, nodding towards the beyond and deftly deflecting Ssyn’s growing pique.
“Slow, Jaredd but it’s coming. We got so much work to do it’s crazy and still the Taj is rising to the challenge.” He paused as if thinking what was worth the telling in the short window of time available. He decided there was one piece of info that Ssyn would love to hear.
“Kett Mont and Jjenna Bok are a thing. Can ya believe that? Hah! Kkat’s like in heaven without that boy in her space all the time. They’re like, how’d Bbessie say it? Oh yeah. Two peas in a pod. I ain’t sure what that is but it sounds about right, don’t it? We’re going to have peas with a meal soon, so I guess I’ll find out, eh?” Burtt finished with a huge grin. Ssyndi was ecstatic. Towards the end of the Taj’s stay in Sector-22, there wasn’t a day that Kkat let go by without complaining about that boy.
“Oh, Burtt, that’s wonderful. Tell her I said, “yay”, okay? She’ll know!” She was positively beaming and Burtt figured he should make his break now on a positive note. They needed to get Josepp out of there, too.
“Alright, sis. It’s time for me to go. Let me show you how to work the comm unit.” He did so but couldn’t help noticing his sister’s face grow long and the few tears she allowed to fall from her eyes.
“It’ll go quick Ssyn. I promise it will. You’ll see!” He started to reach for her, but Jaredd shifted in time to block any view of that errant limb from the tube. Burtt snatched his hand back quickly with a hollow feeling building in his chest. He placed the unit at the edge of the tunnel.
JIZMO! You a dope or what, Burtt?
“Go on, Burtt. We’ll be waiting. I know how to use the comm unit. What call sign will you answer to?” This from Jaredd as Ssyndi was too choked up to speak. She blew a kiss to her hero then turned and ran weeping toward the tube.
“I’m T1. Jonn is F1 and Jorukk is F2. Why don’t we make your call sign D1, for dome, eh?” He looked over towards his sister’s parting back and whispered a final promise. “Soon Ssyn…soon.”
“Jaredd, you be ready to go, too. Ain’t no place for you he-ah either.”
Unable to express his gratitude without an emotional outburst of his own, Jaredd merely nodded his ascent and smiled. He stooped low, picking up dirt, debris and rocks, allowing it to slowly sift through his fingers; he discreetly pocketed the new comm unit, rose and turned towards the tube.
Oh, dear Norton, thank you, Burtt. Thank you!
“Ssyndi? Ssyndi…wait. You can’t be distraught in the presence of those tube bots. Wait please! Damn, that girl.” Jaredd picked up the pace.
As he made his way slowly back into the smaze, Burtt was on his comm.
“F2 this is T1. FC at CC in 5.” Was Burtt’s quick missive to Jorukk telling him to meet at Fountain Creek outside Ccassie’s old Creche.
“T1, roger. Double quick. Trooper failing. Break!” Was Jorukk’s strained response. Burtt lit out with renewed determination.
Same time, in the soup just beyond the red-zone in sector-22:
“Repeat that last Medic. I say again, repeat that last.” Jorukk was trying to fly, hold Josepp’s hand, and talk with the medics back at Flag Compound.
“You have to stick the IV needle in his vein. Do you hear me? Hello? HELLO?” Samm Spayd, the medic on the line was yelling by the time he finished. To the tech next to him, he asked, “Can he hear me okay do you think?”
“Hmm! I’ll tell you what sir, if you yell in his ear again I think he’s going to pop you in the nose when he gets back here. Just talk to him. Yelling won’t help. When you finish saying something, and want him to confirm, say over, remove your finger from the PTT, and wait for him to reply. When you’re done talking to him, say out. Okay? Calm, now.”
“Stop yelling, damnit!” came the angry response, then, “Oh crap. F2 to base. Copy your last. I’m flying now. Will get back to you in 5 spans, stand by, out.”
When he seemed about to reply, CommTech Redd Fox grabbed the hand unit from Spayd and said, “No response needed after you hear, out. Just wait.”
12+30, on the Wall:
“Are you sure? Certain sure? I won’t have it said that I am now seeing the sky fall at every turn.”
Junior Detector Larss Fen was gun shy. He’d had his fill of reacting, underreacting and overreacting to that demon ghost from Sector-22. He wondered now if there ever was such a creature. Life on the Wall will give one pause.
Burkk! Hah! There must be such a one. That basta cost me a star he did. Bah! Why complain, Larss. You’re not in the mines, are you? You go home every night to your empty quarters and sleep in peace. Better than these poor buggers stuck out here all the time. Norton, who would opt for the military over the cops? And how did I manage to stay out of real punishment? It’s nice to have a benefactor, but it would be nicer to know who it was.
“Yes, sir. We checked across several sensor banks. There’s been passages across the wall in both directions over the past lunar sir. The traces are mere ghosts though, sir. That’s why we haven’t reported them until now. We’ve have nothing solid to point to. Then, when the sensors lit off again this morning, First Rank Pors decided that this alert was one too many, sir. We both decided to bring it to your attention. Begging your pardon, sir.”
“That’s quite alright, Second Rank Tok. That’s why I am here purportedly. If the two of you are sure, let’s have a look at the data, eh?”
A command position at the Wall wasn’t normally the place for a Cop, but Fen’s embarrassing failure at Sector-22 brought his commander under fire. It was all the Chief of Cops could do to keep his most senior detector salvageable, and he’d had to call in some owed favors to keep Fen from the mines. This assignment and the demotion, which represented a severe cut in pay, was meant to teach Fen a lesson.
Quadrant III Chief of CommCorp-Police, Jaxx Bik, didn’t want to teach Fen a lesson. He wanted Fen to keep doing his job, so that Bik didn’t have to, nor did he want to spend the time finding a new Senior Detector so capable. CommCorp didn’t exactly promote the idea of independent thinking even with its higher-ranking officers. So, Fen would spend a few lunars living like a common soldier, then get his old job back. Bik would fill in himself in the meantime, delegating what he could to several semi-literate second-tier Detectors.
Fen was grateful beyond words at this happy ending but hadn’t yet decided to bring his family back into the light, so to speak. Something kept niggling at his consciousness, telling him that he wasn’t quite out of the woods just yet. He left his wife and sons in Limbo on the other side of CommCorp City. He never considered it might be the Chief who saved his bacon. The chief hated him. The feeling was mutual.
The bastas are probably waiting for me to bring my family home before they drop the hammer.
The drumming of the soldier’s fingers on his pad shook Fen form his reverie.
“Hmm! This looks like noise to me Tok. What do you base your analysis on?”
“Well, sir; It’s just that we don’t normally see the same patterns repeatedly. Noise is noticeably random, sir. The signals we’re picking up are the same every time. First Rank Pons decided to start recording the hits last 5-day. Take another look, sir. That can’t be noise, sir. Can’t!”
“Show me the other scans, again.” He waited while they were brought up one by one on the soldier’s pad. The similarity from one to the next was too remarkable to be random.
“Well, I’ll be damned.” He looked about him getting oriented, then, asked, “Isn’t that the Flag compound out that way?” pointing through the viewport towards the Green Slash of open pastureland well beyond the Wall.
“Out there some where’s, yes sir.” The soldier replied.
“I wonder what that old codger, Flag, is up to? Isn’t he the one they caught flying into that melee on sector-22?”
“Yes sir, it was him. We were listening in on the whole op, sir. Quite a mess, eh? Who’d thought a bunch of pro…” He caught himself when he turned to see the red flush rising in Fen’s complexion. “Sorry, sir!”
“Ahem! No need! No need! It wasn’t your fault, was it? That damn Burkk. By Norton, I’ll…”
“Who’s that, Sir?” the soldier was having a great deal of difficulty keeping the smirk off his face. Word had spread like wildfire about the Cop and that great smelly turd, Maxx Card, being handed their arses by a prole with a rocket launcher. It was a source of great entertainment to the troops who’d suffered long and hard under that basta Card before he moved to the dome. Any time a Cop took heat was a good day too. They worked half as hard as the Army and lived high off the hog in the dome.
“You know damn well who, Tok. Don’t play coy with me. I know you boys are having a swell time laughing behind my back. You’d do well to remember that one day, I’ll go back to the dome. One day, I’ll have direct access to your bosses again. Hmm?”
The smirk slowly slid off the soldier’s mug. No doubt this officious basta would do what he threatened.
“Yes, sir!” Was the only expected and acceptable response.
“How far from us is the crossing occurring, Tok?”
“It’s hard to say for certain, sir. The soup is a cold beast when you need it to be warm and vice versa, signals wise, sir. It’s really a crapshoot trying to guess distances or even vectors sometimes, but First Rank Pors thinks the signal is coming from the part of the Wall that is usually most engulfed in smaze that rises from that swampy area just inside the Wall. Just so happens, that section of the Wall is directly in line with the Flag compound from Sector-22’s near zone. Close in to the Wall, we’ve cleared the debris for a killing zone, just in case the crazies do get in behind us some day. Anyway, that clear zone lets us see into that area a little better with our sensors. Pors thinks that why we got any hit at all but the smaze in that area makes it all a bit iffy. It looks like some real high tech counter detection equipment is involved, sir.”
“Is it, now? Is it? Hmm! Just what are you up to Mr. Flag?” For the first time, Fen began to wonder if this Burkk wasn’t really a new phenomenon to hit the wilds. What if he wasn’t some new someone else altogether? What if Jonn Flag was this Burkk fellow, too?
Bah! To what end? The Flags have everything including freedom from the damn Meinklops. What could he possibly need in sector-22? Nothing, that’s what. Damn!
He wanted so badly to make someone pay, but he had no target. He wondered if he’d ever win his way back into the Corp’s good graces.
Better not bet on that, Larss. Better not!
“Very well, Tok. Keep monitoring. Intensify the signal strength. Get me something substantial I can take to the Corp. Understand?”
“Yes sir, but if we intensify the signal, it’s gonna burn through our screens too. Then whoever it is will know we are watching, especially if it’s the Flags, if you catch my meaning, sir. Those guys got some serious tech, sir. If we up the ante, they might call our bluff, so to speak, and make it even more difficult to track them.”
“Yes. I do know what you mean, Tok, and who said anything about a bluff? Do it!” the Flags were technically advanced enough to be able to detect the increased signal strength and might shut down whatever they were doing or configure some new tech trick to spoof the scanners. Fen thought it was worth taking the chance.
I’ll do anything to get off this damn Wall.
“Then get Pors to connect me with CinC Card. On the quick now, Tok, on the quick.”
A plan was forming in Fen’s mind. He and Card both were in the dog house with CommCorp for their failure to protect the dome and her citizens against the unwashed proles. If the two could coordinate their efforts and bring this notorious Burkk/Flag to Justice Hall together, that would go a long way towards correcting their career paths, and bring Fen back into the dome. Card had been placed on administrative detention until his disposition could be determined. The Corp was quite disappointed in their newest CinC. He would be more than willing to go out on a limb with Fen, if it bought them some respite.
Fourteen+15, just south of the Wall, ten kliks shy of the Flag Compound:
“Shhhh, Burtt, shhhh. Listen.” Jorukk impatiently shushed his friend so they could both listen to the static white noise on the Trans’ receiver. Jorukk had been tweaking the dials for the last few minutes seemingly searching for something.
“Damn! I know I heard it. It’s here somewh…THERE! Did you hear it? Did you?”
“Jizmo, Jor. I ain’t hearing nothing but static. Are you okay?”
“Oh, Burtt. I got to teach you how to listen. It’s so clear. They’re watching us Burtt. They’re watching us from the Wall.”
Burtt was pulling his blades, staring around the cabin of the Trans as if to find their enemies within.
“Oh, Jizmo, Burtt, put them away. THEY ARE OUT THERE! They are still out there in the Wall but watching us with their scanners. I should say they are trying to watch us. They sure as hell ain’t getting no good signal. Not in this shit and not with Jonn’s tech running, they ain’t.”
Jorukk puzzled the idea in his head for a minute then added.
“They are getting hits though, or I wouldn’t hear them at all. Just feint, but hits just the same. I’ll have to let Jonn know. Maybe he can do some more magic on these birds so we’re not spotted again, even if just so-so.”
“So, it is Magic!” Burtt exclaimed.
“Huh, no mattah. Do you think we should, um, what did Jonn call it? Evade? Is that it? Evade?”
“Yeah, evade, and yes I do think we should. And NO, it isn’t magic at all, Burtt. We’ll zig further west and north a bit then come down on the Flag from the Mountain side of the valley. It’ll take longer, but it’ll be better. Your man Josepp is stable now once I got the damn IV in his arm. Whoever thought sticking a vein could be such a bitch, huh? Damn thing kept moving away from the needle as soon as I started to stick him. I ain’t never seen the like, Burtt, I swear.
“Anyway, if whoever it is that’s watching us does get another fix, even a feint one, it’ll be while we’re heading away from the Flag, not towards it. Once we get beyond and start heading back, nothing we do will ever reach the Wall or the Dome. Jonn’s tech base at the Flag Compound blocks everything except what Jonn doesn’t want blocked.”
“Okay Jor. Let’s do it. I miss my Taj.”
Jorukk knew that Burtt was still unsure of his pristine environment and didn’t like being away from his crew for long. Having some of them still stuck in the dome was making him a bit crazy, too.
“Hey! Don’t you worry about your people, Burtt. We’re going to get them out. Jonn don’t make promises he can’t keep.”
“Ain’t Jonn’s promise I have to worry about.” Burtt was just being persnickety now. The frustration of not having all his charges with him was wearing him thin.
Same time, at the Flag Compound:
“…so, that’s what’s driving his fears now, Jonn. He doesn’t know what to think of you and your form of government. He’s had all he’ll ever take of bosses and kings. He’ll fight you, even me, I think, to keep his kids from that life again. To the death, he will, Jonn, make no mistake.”
Harkk was opening the door to further discourse that would hopefully bring Jonn and Burtt closer together. He at least hoped this would get all their secrets on the table. He knew there was no building a trusting relationship from hidden agendas and untold facts. He knew Burtt’s fears. He was hoping to expose Jonn’s. It worked.
“Damnit, Harkk. I don’t care for secrets. I know what you’re about, man. This is not my first rodeo either. I haven’t been fully up front with Burtt because I just don’t know what to think about him or the Taj yet. Not fully! I know he’s leery of me. I can tell he is. But I’m leery of him too. If he doesn’t pan out to be the man I think he is, this could easily turn into the worst thing I could have done to the Flag; bringing you all out here, I mean.
“Oh, Damn! Here it is, Harkk. All of it. We don’t just need numbers and new blood. We need a leader. One leader for both houses. I don’t know about the Taj. You folk are young as far as clan lives are tallied. Flags have been around since the year 101af. We are a democracy, in as much as we decide critical long term matters by vote. But, and this is a big but, we are led, on a day to day basis, by one man and one man only.
“You see, we’ve been down the road where a committee rules in every matter all the time and we’ve nearly been wiped out because of it any time we did. Committees take too damn long in a pinch. One confident, able leader can easily do in a moment of quick decisive decision making, what it might take a committee forever and a lifetime, literally, to do. So, we select a “leader for life”, who is the go to guy in those desperate situations when calling a committee meeting and taking a vote is NOT appropriate. It’s usually an elder of the clan and can be a man or woman.
“You may have noticed that I said we select our leaders, we don’t elect them. We elect the council and we nominate candidates for the Lead posting. The leader selection process involves trials of strength, skill, wits, cunning and will. Yes, you guessed it. It’s a trial by fire process. Only the most qualified in ALL five categories can prevail. I won over my rivals by sheer will and strength of arms, and those included my wife of 5 years. All my rivals, by the way, perished in subsequent action against the wildlings or the Army or because of the poisons. That was a while back, before we made our peace with the Army and started wearing them Iso-suits. Now, they pretty much keep the wildlings at bay for us, but some still leak through.
Jonn seemed to runout of steam.
“Okay, Jonn, I get that much, but why are you worried about a leader now? You…, oh shit!”
“Hush, now Harkk. Not even my own people know this. I have somewhere between three lunars and maybe six on the outside to settle my house’s business. I have a tumor the size of a small nut in my head. It’s going to get big enough to shut me down completely first. Then I’ll go rather quickly after that. I need a leader here, Harkk. I’ve some wonderful lads and lasses here, but not one of them is leader quality. Not one. Still kids, are what they are. Now, your Burtt; that boy, well, he is no boy, whether by quirk of fate or not that boy is a man. He’s more man than most of my rivals were back when I fought for my role. He’s the Real McCoy, we used to say.
“I need him, Harkk and I need you to help me groom him for the job. My boys will fall in line. The trials will determine that, I’m sure. Once all your people are safely here, I intend to announce and then stage the trials.”
“Norton, Jonn. I-I…”
“Ah! There’s naught to say, Harkk. I’m a goner and that’s all. I’ve had a good life. I’m only sorry the damn poisons took my wife first and before we could have our own brats.”
“I’ll do what I can to help, Jonn. You have my word.” He thought a moment, then added with trepidation, “I don’t mean to intrude where I’m not wanted, but, if it gets that bad in the end, and you want…”
“Ah, thank you, Harkk. A soldier’s man you are. Never let a brother suffer. I’ll keep the offer in mind.”
Harkk’s offer to end Jonn’s pain if it got too bad was a precious gift. He wouldn’t spend it unless everything else was taken care of first, but if he could and if it turned out that he needed to, it would be a comfort to know the option was there. He couldn’t knowingly do it himself, not even by poison.
Eight cycles, H24319, on the Flag quad:
Burtt was headed over to confront Jonn when they ran into each other outside the Flag Greathall.
“It’s taking too damn long, Jonn. I caint wait anymore. I was just talking to her for the tenth time in two days and Ssyndi threatened to walk if I didn’t come this 5-day. Jizmo, why I couldn’t be an only child?”
Jonn’ smirk got Burtt to laughing at himself.
“I was coming to talk about that very thing, Burtt. You see, we discussed it, the Flag council, and since it appears the Corp isn’t going to settle back into its old comfortable routine of NOT actively patrolling the near-zones anytime soon, we may just have to go in as is, to finish the job, and finish it we will, or my name isn’t Jonn the Flag.
“So, I was coming to call you and your council in for a confab with our council. This will surely take some in-depth planning to get it right, my friend, and we need to start now or your sister is going to be peeling our skins when she sees us next, eh?”
“Phew! Jonn. I thought I was in for another fight. Thank God. I’ll round up the Taj council and we’ll meet you in the Greathall, yah? Those Ssyndi-masks are tested and ready now too. This is perfect.” His enthusiasm was infectious.
“That’ll be fine Burtt. We’ll plan on having mideat while the meeting is in progress so we don’t interrupt the planning process. I have maps of course but why don’t you bring yours too. I can mark it up on that plassheet overlay like before.”
“Through Mideat, Jonn? It’s only eight now. How long you gonna talk?” Burtt was only partially joking. How long did Jonn plan to talk about a simple run in to the dome? How much was there to talk about?
“Ha! Well, my friend, these things take detailed planning. I don’t go into the dome often and then only to pick up supplies I can’t get from the military or from the other clans out here. When we go in for some clandestine operation, we plan well ahead of time and we plan with a mind towards overkill. This is more than just a simple raid for raw materials though. We are going to illicitly interact with the citizens of the dome. That act alone is enough to end the career of the most influential of nomad clansmen, let alone extricating some dozen or so of those very citizens.
“No sir, Burtt. We’ll do this right or not at all. What we need is a major distraction. One that will occupy the Army, and the Cops, while you get those kids out of the dome.
“Now! Here’s what I have in mind…”
The meeting went on for hours as Jonn predicted and still, after mideat was done and gone, they were still planning the details. Burtt had fallen asleep several times only to be jerked awake by Jonn’s stentorian rebukes. Finally, when they’d covered everything possible, twice, Jonn conceded the point and let everyone break from the tedium and get about prepping and packing for the trip.
Fifteen cycles, on the quad:
It was fifteen cycles and Burtt was staring off towards the dome as was his want lately. Jjenna surprised him, “If you lookin for volunteers, we ready.” She said this with Kett at her side. He met Burtt’s glare steadily. Burt, for the first time in a while, realized that Kett was “over it”. He and Kkat could relax now and, he prayed, depend on these two to live up to their potential.
“That’s a great idea. Then I don’t have to disrupt any of the construction work crews. I’ll use only a hand in the old Taj and let Jonn and his team handle the rest. Thanks, you two. This is going to be an immense help.” His gratitude was genuine and it showed. The two smiled and left to prepare their gear. Burtt wondered at their changeover. It was so dramatic. Human nature was a wonder, for sure, he thought.
Twenty Cycles, in their sleep space:
“Can it work, Burtt? Are you sure? There’s so much riding on this one escapade. What if they are ready for you somehow? What if the cops or the army can listen to your comms and we just don’t know it? Oh, my god, Burtt, So, much can go wrong.” Kkat was frantic with worry,
“So much can always go wrong, Kkat. Tomorrow only a little more so. We got to go, Kkat. You know that and the longer we wait the harder things could get for Ssyn and the kids in the dome. We got to go.”
“Oh, I know. I just wish…”
BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! The percussion of projectile weapons invaded on their intimacy. Burtt was out the door and armed in seconds headed for the wire but unsure where the threat lie. He looked about frantically for guidance.
Kkat ran for the kids’ spaces, organizing their protection as she ran.
Jorukk yelled at him from across the quad, “From the south! Wildlings! Look to your own people. Longbows to the roofs. Go, brother, go. Jonn and Harkk have the wire with our ready force. To the roofs.” He disappeared, headed to the aid of his commander.
The Taj was rousted now. Burtt found his next in command.
“Bann, long bows there and there, ten to each building. Be prepared to support Jonn and the Flag if they are driven from the wire.” He pointed to the two tallest structures in the compound.
“Kett, Jjenna, form two skirmish lines. On the quick. Let’s go!”
Everyone jumped to his commands. His pride shone through with a whoop, when his two team leaders had their charges formed up and heading towards the fight. He joined the second line with Kett at its pivot point. Jjenna Bok filled the same role in the other.
At the south wire:
“Jorukk, well met, lad. To the western front. Hustle now, hustle. Hold them while I roll this crew up. We’ll come in on your opponents from their eastern flank. Yah?”
He didn’t wait for an answer. It was understood that his troopers would do as they were told. Jorukk was on the job in seconds. Jonn headed to the eastern flank to shore up those defenses, form a counterstrike and then overwhelm the mob on his eastern flank. They would then wheel onto the flank of the attackers hitting the center of the defensive emplacements.
The explosion caught them not only off guard but completely unprotected and the far eastern position of the Flag defenses were obliterated in a flash of light, sound and gore. Not just the fighters, but the wire and trench itself disappeared in the conflagration.
Jonn couldn’t hear and was in shock himself, just feet from suffering the same fate as his crewmates. When the wave of wildlings came pouring through the gap left open by the explosion, Harkk barely pulled the Flag boss out of harm’s way.
They had runout of luck, though. He couldn’t carry his friend and backpedal fast enough to evade the crazed invaders. He was preparing to do the best he could to turn and defend himself and his friend when the wildlings started to scream and drop behind him. The Taj archers had found the mark and were driving the wild men back. Hark made it to the next group of defenders and first aid for the Flag leader. Jonn was hustled away to the MedTent.
Harkk returned to the fight. The breach was still open. Sheer numbers would eventually overwhelm even the archers’ efforts. The wildlings came with every available warrior for this fight. They were as desperate for survival as anyone in this insane world. The Flag represented a richness in resources the wildlings would never see at one sitting unless they stole it. That they’d managed somehow to procure explosives, raised the stakes significantly.
The Wildlings hesitated only long enough to gather their might before renewing their attack on the Flag. The very moment their leader decided was the right moment to attack, was the same moment Burtt reached the fight with his two shield walls.
The wildlings hesitated again at seeing this new challenge, but only long enough to catch their breath, begin screaming again and renew their attack.
The Shield walls split wider apart, side-stepping in perfect unison to Jjenna and Kett’s clear, concise orders, never exposing a single human link. The wildlings then attacked simultaneously in two different directions, effectively splitting the op-force in two and drawing them away from the Flag forces still reeling from the breach. Jonn’s troops rallied then with Harkk at their head and hit the wildlings from behind. their projectile weapons now fitted with stabbing tools on the ends. With the Taj slashing and stabbing at them, Burtt racing around and attacking from every direction at once it seemed, and the Flag’s rally, it became a rout at that point. Less than twenty of the invaders made it back into the wilderness before the fight was over, harassed all the way by archers.
In total, the Flag suffered, eight dead, almost all in the explosion, and twelve injured. The Taj came through it in much better shape with three injured, one critically. He was hit with a projectile from behind. The Taj learned its first terrible lesson about friendly fire. The man who fired the round was being run through by a wildling at the time.
The wildlings suffered thirty-nine dead, over twenty critically injured, most not expected to survive, and another 12 slightly injured, who chose not to run away but instead sat down in place and mimed their hunger and thirst. These people had no language at all, but grunts and hand signals. The Taj and the Flag watched in stunned silence as these Neanderthals would change from grateful, childlike angels, to demonic creatures from the dark in seconds, when they didn’t get their way, immediately. The injured had to be strapped down to treat their injuries; while scratching, snapping and biting at everyone the entire time. The Medicos finally gave up and sedated them.
The Wildlings were insanely afraid of the Ks though and would immediately go dormant in their presence. That was the only way to describe it, they would literally lay down, close their eyes and wouldn’t move. Harkk and Bbessie thought it was a learned behavior, used to protect themselves from predators, but no one could imagine that working somehow.
Burtt had them corralled in an isolated pen, surrounded by Ks and handlers. They were anything but a threat at that point and that’s how Burtt wanted them until he got back from rescuing his sister. He had to see if the plan was still a go, though. He couldn’t blame the Flags if they needed time to mourn their dead, but holy Jizmo, how would he tell Ssyn?
24+30-124319, at the Med Tent:
There was something wrong. Burtt had been refused entry when he came to check on the Flag’s and Taj’s injured troops. The posted guard wasn’t exactly unkind, but he sure wasn’t welcoming either.
“No one enters, you. Stay back!” The guard, Rapp, demanded.
“Hold on, son, we have troops in there too. We…” Harkk tried.
“I said stay back.” The guard had his stunner in Harkk’s midriff. The tension around the MedTent was palpable. Burtt was stunned at the guard’s reaction.
“Easy, friend. We’re on your side. Remember? What’s this about, now”? Burtt calmly prodded. The soldier was clearly intent on doing Harkk harm if provoked at that moment. Kett had moved slowly around to the side and was setting himself to attack.
“Jonn be okay in thay-ah? Jjenna, broke the tension. She was a look and at that moment she looked all sweet and poufy. The guard flinched for just a moment before he resumed his staunch guard’s position in front of the tent flap, though retracting his stunner to a more neutral position. The tension was broken. Kett eased up and returned to Jjenna’s side.
“Jorukk said to keep everyone out, so I’m doing just that. Okay? Now back off! Alla ya. Okay? I don’t know if Jonn’s okay. They don’t tell me yet. Just said to guard the flap ‘n keep everyone out.”
A sudden stirring at the tent flap caused the guard to start and everyone else to duck. Jorukk bowed through the exit.
“S’okay Rapp. Jonn’s okay. He’ll be laid up for a few days though. He caught a fair piece of that blast and it tore up his leg some. He needs to rest and stay off it for a few days. Good thing your docs were here.” Jorukk said to Burtt, as he exited the tent. There was more sadness in his eyes and in that statement than Burtt could fathom just yet.
Then Jorukk continued, “The wound was a bad one. He lost a lot of blood. Not only did your MedCrew from the dome stabilize and save him, one of them happened to have his blood type. It’s rare and we only had two pints of it in stores. I don’t think our crew would have been so lucky…or should I say skilled? Here’s more we owe the Taj anyway, and thanks for that too. We still have our Jonn.”
The crowd that had gathered outside cheered, Taj and Flag alike, hugging and holding hands in shared joy and hope. Burtt and Kkat saw this and staring into each other’s eyes, rejoiced. This was going to work, they both thought. The Taj and Flag fought together and prevailed. Now in the aftermath, they also shared grief and joy. This is community. This is Family. Burtt squeezed Kkat’s hand so hard she winced and cried out.
“Jizmo! Sorry Kkat. I feel funny though.”
“It’s okay, Burtt, I understand. I feel it too, just not quite so vehemently, hmmm? That feeling you feel, Burtt? It’s called hope, and when we feel it we should cherish it and never let it go. Okay? Can we just do that? Please?” Katt smiled at Burtt rubbing her damaged hand. “And let go, before you do that again. Okay? Jizmo, Burtt! I still can’t feel my fingers.”
Burtt’s smile was an embarrassed slash across his face.
“Das A’righ. Yessuh!” Kkat punched his shoulder…and immediately regretted it.
“Ouch! Damn it! Burtt!”
Shaking his head at his girl, he noticed his friend, Jorukk, alone and lost in thought. He couldn’t help but notice the pain and concern etched in Jorukk’s expression.
“Is there something I can do, Jor?” Burtt gently probed.
“Did you know? Did he tell you?” the question sounded as much accusatory as inquisitive.
“Did I know what, Jor? You’re worrying me. What’s this about? You ain’t been right since you come out of that tent. I thought you’d be happy he’s still alive. I know you took a lot of losses, Jor. Is that it?”
“So, you don’t know about Jonn’s…condition?”
“Condition? What are you talking…”, a sudden intake of breath indicated that Burtt was beginning to understand. Kkhloe had a “condition”.
“Oh God, Jor. I swear, I didn’t know it. We didn’t know…”.
“Well, now, wait. I did. I knew. He told me a while back and asked me to honor his confidence. I couldn’t do any less, so I kept my mouth shut. I just now found out that the medicos spilled the beans and came straight here. I knew this would be a touch, irksome. I’m sorry, Jor. A man’s word…” Harkk came from behind them and tried to intercede before Burtt took too much heat.
The steam seemed to flow put of Jorukk’s anger. “I know what you mean Harkk and all is forgiven. It’s some harsh knowledge to gain though I don’t mind saying.”
There wasn’t much to be said then. They huddled with the mix of Taj and Flag outside the MedTent, listening to the hubbub around the Flag. The mood could swing on a pin with one bad piece of news. If word of Jonn’s condition were to burst onto the Flag’s scene right then, only god knew the result.
Harkk had heard how surprised everyone was that the casualties hadn’t been greater. They’d been hit with much smaller wildling forces before and paid a much greater price for it than they did this time, in numbers injured, notwithstanding the bomb, and they’d certainly never lost so many dead in one go. That bomb was new and it was why they’d suffered so many fatalities this time.
Still, the combined Flag/Taj forces prevailed and with far less casualties than the Flag expected. This laid bare the finer differences between the Taj and the Flag. The Flag was used to giving up a lot to keep what they wanted. If the Taj army had suffered so many casualties, Burtt would go catatonic.
Knowing there was a lot more to be said on an occasion such as this, and reeling from the possibility of an out-of-control Flag due to the certain loss of their leader, Harkk stepped in.
“We fought together and won today. We also lost today. We lost some dear family and friends. We can carry that knowledge as a weight to drag us down together, or we can carry that knowledge as a beacon. Our victory today can be the shining light we follow to the future. A better future for us all. One that we create for ourselves, freely, in the fashion we wish it to evolve. We lost some of our own today but we did NOT buckle.
“Today proves that we are right for each other, Taj and Flag. Today proves that in the tradition of the old world, the world before the City States, family ties are far stronger than corporate loyalty will ever be. Crews that love each other like brothers and sisters, like family, will never fall to the automatons of the City States, certainly not to a bunch of savages. Together we faced down a far stronger force and turned the tide when it looked most desperate. Why? Because we didn’t give up. The wildlings did that and we routed them. You Flaggers have prevailed against Wildling and Army alike. That doesn’t come from luck, friends. That comes from love and dedication to duty. We don’t fight to take what’s before us, we fight to protect those behind us. If we stay whole; learn from this day’s tragedies and build to prevent them in the future, no one will beat us. We will prevail.”
The cheer that followed Harkk’s speech was more a testimony to the truth of Harkk’s words than a celebration. There were brothers and sisters to bury. No one was ready to forget the cost they paid for their freedom. This was the price the Flag and other clans paid to be free of the domes. That freedom didn’t come cheap and it is only slightly less expensive now than it was when the Flag first ventured out into the wild.
8-124319, at the hide Harkk built under the Lok stead:
“Be quiet, lady, You’ll sca-ah the rats.”
The tittering surrounding her raised the hairs on the backs of her arms.
“Who’s there?” Who are you? Children, stay close to me. Don’t let them touch you. You there, stay away. Do you hear? I said, STAY AWAY!”
Jjoane Fen, was backtracking as fast as she could away from these wretches. What did her uncle get her into? He told her this was the only safe place left for them. Word was out that they were seeking high and low for the Fen family. Once they had them, they could once and for all deliver justice to the citizens of CommCorp City for the sector-22 debacle.
Card was another matter. The Corp was certain he had supplied the proles with the rockets. They would sweat him for as long as it took to get the confession the Corp desired.
“Take it easy lady. The kids are just funnin ya. Nobody gonna hurt you he-ah. We all jest hidin out he-uh ‘til we can join the E-K-S-O-D-U-S.” Harr Klop took the lead as spokesman for the crew, though he was just 12 solars himself. “He-ah. Have some water. Ya gots t’ hydrate down he-ah. It gets mighty dry.”
“Oh, Larss, what did you do?” she mumbled to no one at all. Her children were easily taken in by the others and soon they settled down to their daily routine of learning. The Fen children were far advanced and turned out to be a major source of additional learning for the Taj refugees as the days wore on.
“We have to get word to Burtt or Jon. Somehow they need to get word to Fen before the poor bastard hangs himself.” Jjoane’s uncle told Jaredd.
“I’ll work it out, Benn. Go before you’re found out too. Go!”
8+30-124319, on Boot Hill:
With the aid of some heavy equipment the Flag kept for moving lots of earth, the bodies of the dead wildlings were quickly dealt with and buried beyond the refuse heaps the Flag was using to dispose of solid wastes, well away from the living compounds.
The Flag had a burial ground too, much like the Taj did, and their ceremony was no less formal. They gathered in the quad at dawn of the next morning. In a great procession, they wound their way through the Flag compound, so that all might see their passing brethren one last time. The procession ended on a hill they call Boot hill where there is a great pyre ready for the job.
The bodies of the fallen Flag-mates were then placed atop the pyre and some fuel was lit below it that fully engulfed the platform, quickly turning their mates to dust. Jonn gathered the dust solemnly into small containers called urns, and then very reverently carried it to a line of Flag-mates who passed the urn from hand to hand, to its final resting place in the dirt of Boot Hill. The Flag then joined in a solemn hymn of travels and travails that reminded all, it seemed, of too much sadness and not enough joy.
When the Flag seemed to be done with their traditions, Harkk began to blow Amazing Grace on his windbag. The Taj chimed in in perfect multi-part harmony. The Ks joined from their Ken. Tears were spent to ease the dead’s passage from the temporal place they held in their friends and loved one’s hearts. The dead went home. The Taj and the Flag turned their efforts to building effective defenses against explosives and to finish plans for a new compound and an escape.
Thus ends Book 9 of Burtt’s Story, The Taj Goes Green.