Brotherhood, Betrayal and Redemption Part II:
The Turning Tide
By Stephen Harris
Stumbling, I clawed my way through the darkness. The sounds of klaxons blaring in the night, the screams of the fallen and the sickly icor that clung to the roof of my mouth nearly drove me mad. I ran away from it all in no particular direction. My only desire was to escape. I could hear them all. The shuffle of boots, hauntingly rhythmic in the white noise of this chaos, as they closed around me. I felt the earth beneath me give way as I fell through into oblivion. The feeling of weightlessness was liberating until the arms found me. Like a thousand vibrating cilia, they were feeling, sensing and caressing me as I furthered my decent into what was most assuredly madness. I spiraled through shadow as these phantom limbs wound round me like silk. Comfortable in my cocoon of illusions, I looked into the unknown and had it stare into my soul. A pair of mercury eyes emerged from the swirling abyss. I was transfixed in its gaze, immobilized by my own manifestations of fear and humbled by its presence. As they filled with murderous mirth, I screamed aloud, grasping at the air.
It was a cold night in West Athen and I had awakened beaded with sweat. The apartment lights flicked on per the home's automated instruction and lowered their lumens to bathe the room in an almost incandescent glow. The nightmare was jarring to say the least and it had been almost a year since the last one. I threw on my robe and gazed out of the window at the gleaming spires of the magnificent city. The Nar Shada paid well enough, but try as I might I couldn't get used to the creature comforts of the wealthy Clanners. I pressed my forehead against the reinforced glass and sighed deeply. I missed the open desert. It has been almost five years since I had left the company of my Newland comrades and now I longed for the open sky even more. Liberated or not, Athen still reeked of the Omni; from the remaining technology that survived the battle for the city, to the looming spires of its skyline, the city was massive, but cold and austere. Why did I ever come here?
"Why are you here Mr. Houston?"
Kojiyama's voice echoed through my head. Why had I come to Athen? I felt I was fleeing one reality to return to another. Truth. That was why I had come here. That was why I spent three weeks searching through old Omni-Tek labor records and finding that data leak in Omni-Med. Even in this age, slavery still existed under the guise of progress. It took the sharp buzzing of the door alarm to bring me out of my reverie. Half-dazed and disjointed I clicked the monitor on to see Lizbeth's concerned gaze. "Malcolm, are you up?" her voice lilted over the intercom. "Yes. Gimme a sec," I replied languidly, clicking the monitor off and disengaging the airlock on the door. I opened the portal and looked down at the young woman still dressed in her nightgown. For my big sister she certainly couldn't match my height.
Lizbeth looked at me quizzically with her sleepy green eyes. It was unusual for a Solitus to show an Atrox such concern. I wish I had known her before my life in the mines. "I heard a scream and I came running." Her mouth curled into a smirk. "I didn't know 'Troxes dreamed?" she joked. "I'm overflowing with laughter. See? I'm all jovial inside," I oozed. "Listen, I'm sorry I woke you. Go back to bed," I said. She looked at me in a way that cut like a knife, but then softened her countenance. "Can I come in?" she whispered. "Yeah sure. Suit yourself... sorry about the mess, " I replied and walked back to my bed and sat down at the bedside. My head was still reeling from the whirlwind of nightmaring as I sat there, sunken into the mattress that had never known true mass. Lizbeth sat beside me and put her small hand on my arm. "You know you're a big softie for an Atrox," she joked. "So I'm told," I sighed, staring at the hardened pads of my palms. Each crack and cut reminded of where I came from, who I was and what I would always be. Athen was wrong, this apartment was wrong, this whole assignment was wrong. She patted my arm and stood up. Even sitting down, I was still taller. "You know, if we're going to be working together, you need to speak up when something's wrong," she said as her tone of voice hardened, but then she cracked a smile. "And besides, what kind of big sister would I be to leave you all alone in the dark". I couldn't help but laugh. Her smile warmed and her soft eyes gleamed with mirth. I couldn't help but grin.
"So tell me about him?" I asked. "Who? My father?" she replied. "Yes, I want to know about him. I want to know about all of you," I professed, probably sounding like a child. She smiled again. "Didn't you find all you needed in those records?" "No. Only your, I mean 'our' father's service record and Omni arrest warrants." She chuckled, "Serves 'em right." She strode over to the window and looked out over the luminous cityscape. "He was a great man," she sighed. "Not great in the sense of the Council or Mr. Radiman, but he was a good man who loved his family and his people." Her high shoulders drooped a little before she could finish her line. I could tell how much she missed him. "I remember when he and Mr. Stolts got into a fight about where the trade route to the outpost should be and all the trouble the Rhinomen would cause when they were disturbed by the city Clanners." The nostalgia started to perk up. "He was a wonderful man, an accomplished soldier, and a great dad," she said wistfully, taking a seat in one of the bronto hide chairs and continued. "When Mom died, he was devastated. He loved her very much. He used to tell me his only regret was not having another child," she professed, running her fingers through her short brown hair. "Life out in the desert was hard and between his shifts at the outpost, he had a heck of a time keeping our home in order. Between the Rhinomen and the Omni loyalists, Dad never left me unattended. I pretty much spent most of my time lingering around the village with the other soldiers or loitering around the outpost while he stood guard." She looked off at the glowing skyline and continued, "When my uncle, a bureaucrat from Athen, came to visit us out of the blue, he brought him a gift. He said it was something to help around the house." She laughed a bit. "When I heard the news I knew for sure it was going to be one of those robot nannies or housekeepers. I was so upset that I hid from my father for the entire day until my uncle caught me out on the roof when his transport landed." She straightened up and looked in my eyes and smiled. "Instead of an automaton, he brought you into our lives. You were a very BIG gift for such a small family."
I mulled it over in my head, and the images of a past I had never known grew even more obscured. I coughed and shook my head. "I don't remember anything." She sighed and said, "You were only five months from the incubator and fully grown, but still infantile. I remember you used to follow me around the playground asking me all kinds of silly questions," she chuckled. "You used to keep the lizards away from me when I'd sneak out of the house and into the desert. You were always my big protector." She grinned and stuck her tongue out. "Thanks, make fun of me some more," I sighed. She stopped and frowned a little. "Aw, get off it you big lug. When I lost Daddy to the Omni, my older cousins took me in. It was never my father's wish to sell you to the OT Mining Corps, but when they had taken custody of me they said they couldn't afford to care for two children." She looked down at her hands, crossed in her lap. "I think... I think I cried more that day than I ever did in my life." Her voice trailed off into silence and she grew stoic. After several minutes, she sat herself up and stated matter-of-factly, "they probably wiped your mind clean to prevent discipline problems. Wouldn't want the labor getting nostalgic, would they, the bastards!" She looked at the chronologic panel on the wall and stood up to leave. "It's getting late and we have a lot of work to do tomorrow." She closed the curtains and walked to the door. As she put her hand across the sensor panel, she looked back at me and smiled. "You're the only family I have left Malcolm, I will never forget that."
After Lizbeth said her goodbye, I fell into bed and a surprisingly sound, dreamless sleep. When the first few rays of light touched my face, I felt worn. I shivered slightly. It was still chilly and the light gave me no warmth. Half tempted to get up and make myself a hot cup of coffee, I instead resolved to sleep for a bit more. I had at least four more hours before Lizbeth and I would meet with Adrianos in the bistro on the avenue.
My old friend had become wealthy off the growing skirmishes against the Omni. He had been trafficking weapons to the guerillas from off-planet OT rivals. He was Sun Corp's golden boy and he was the Nar Shada link to a sympathetic supplier. Adrianos had always been a strong supporter of the Clans due to his wife's background. His dealings in Tir had earned him a reputation for providing quality weapons at remarkable prices. If Adrianos Cornelius didn't have the gun you were looking for, he'd find it, or build it himself. His methods of "item acquisition" had earned him tremendous respect and a good bit of power among the traders of Athen. When he moved his business to the more contested lands of Athen proper, his clientele quadrupled. So much so that he came under the surveillance of even more notorious brigands.
When Adrianos got an invite for a private deal with the Sentinels, he knew his luck might have just run out. That was when the Nar Shada decided to use him. I didn't like the idea, but he would give us an "in" into the most factional of the Clans. The terrorist activity was escalating at an unprecedented rate, and both Omni and Clans supporting the Council of Truth were victims. They speculated that the Sentinels had a hand in the violence, but others say they just keep to themselves. Even though all us wanted the same goal, the Sentinels were always more fanatic and factional than even the more belligerent Clansmen. They also never dealt with outside arms dealers. Nobody knows how the Sentinels managed to finance their personal struggle against Omni-Tek without support from the other Clans.
The Nar Shada hoped that by establishing contact with them through Adrianos, some of those mysteries might be solved and establishing contact with them through Adrianos might make a new ally in the struggle against oppression. As one of his most trusted friends, I was assigned as his protector in the event the deal went sour. Lizbeth was to pose as his charming assistant. Though she was sweet, she was more dangerous than a desert Scorpoid when engaged. The Nar Shada weren't stupid, but they were idealistic, and maybe that's why things were about to go down in a way they could have never surmised.
"KEEP YOU HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK!" A blaring voice bellowed.
"YOU ARE BEING CHARGED WITH CRIMES AGAINST THE COUNCIL!"
The sunlight of the ID scanner had finished sweeping my face and as the cold binary interpreted the signatures of my personal nanomachines, I groaned. The ruby clad soldier with the loudspeaker voice grabbed my arm and fastened in securely to my leg, his twin had taken to twisting the other in on itself. As the pain shot into my skull I cried out.
"YOU ARE BEING PROCESSED!" he continued.
"DO NOT MOVE OR YOU WILL BE EXECUTED!"
"What the hell..." I sputtered as the soldier cracked me in the mouth with the butt end of his assault rifle. As I coughed on the blood and bone that had splinted into my sinuses, my senses swam into focus. I heard the heavy rotor of an assault dropship. I squinted through the fluorescence and made out the shadows of troops rappelling from the roof and gathering on the balcony. We had been had.
"Dear god, LIZBETH!" I cried out, only to receive another blow to the jaw. In an instant I thought about our capture, the cruel and defamatory nature of her interrogation and our unceremonious execution. Enemies of the Council? How? "We are SANCTIONED," I spat, only to receive the same reply. My protests degenerated into bloody bubble-blowing through swollen lips. "Shut your mouth 'Trox, your assassination attempt was discovered," barked the petty officer who continued to tear my wrist from my arm. What the hell was he talking about? "Hold him, Private", snapped the loudmouth as he fastened a carbonum fast-shackle to my left wrist and strung the microwire of the other end to my ankle. From outside of my peripheral vision an Atrox clad in vermilion armor kicked in the balcony door, and ran into the room and climbed onto my back. At first I thought he was being risqué, but his intentions were far from amorous. He firmly clubbed me on the back of the head with a blackjack and planted his knee firmly in the middle of my spine. For a moment the blow made my head spin. After relinquishing his position on my left, their captain spoke into his communicator, "Commander? Confirmed seizure of target Bravo. Requesting further instructions." In a few moments I heard the soft click of a rifle's safety switch. "Yes, I understand. We will liquidate target Alpha. Intel only requires one confession. Roger." I heard the static of an end-transmission encryption burst and gritted my teeth under bloodied gums.
Jesus what was happening. Assassination? I didn't understand. The frustration and rage welled within me. I had to get Lizbeth out of the building or else she was dead. Where were the other operatives? This was a simple contact operation, wasn't it? I needed the answers, but first I had to escape this mob of infantry. As the soldier made to fasten my other limb, the monkey on my back lifted off some of the pressure enough for me to twist at my waist to meet one of my captors face to face. His faceplate split and he let out a gurgling cry as I jerked my arm backwards, thrusting him into my forehead with the speed of a rocket. He immediately loosened his grip enough for me to spin the dangling bracer at my mounter. The Atrox yelped as the monofilament wire on the fast-shackle looped around his neck. I jerked my wrist and felt a wet thud on the back of my calf. The Captain reeled back as I shrugged the body off and came after him bellowing. He fired erratically, hitting me in the thigh and the shoulder. I grabbed him by the neck with my good hand and felt his cervical vertebrae snap as I squeezed.
The officers on the balcony had heard the commotion and were forming up to storm in. Swinging the limp body in front of me, I charged at the balcony vista, driving the corpse through solid glass and into the throng. The dead captain's armor held up quite well considering the fire from his troops. I had sent one of the invaders spilling onto the cobblestone below. As he lay there, brains strewn across the avenue, two others who couldn't keep their balance against the swinging body joined him. It made me feel a little sick when I felt the Captain's arm break in several places as I swung his corpse like a ragdoll against my would-be captors. When I had given the bulk of them discharge by altitude; I heard the sound of boots on concrete as more of the grunts came rappelling down the building. I hear the deep whir of salvos and the throaty clicks of a loader being primed. "You've got to be kidding me..." I muttered as I saw a perpetual wave of crimson combatants flowing down the side of the building under a hail of gunfire.
I held the body up over me to catch the first few wisps of death and threw the body at the first mountaineer who came down the line. Unbalanced, he lost his grip on the cable and fumbled backwards, only being saved by his drop-harness. He hung there, suspended and thrashing. I leapt onto him, grabbing the dangling lifeline that hung from the sky. As he gripped for his holstered pistol I came down with my boot into his chest. I heard the snapping of bolts and he vanished into the darkness below. Pulling all of my weight to the side, I was able to get a grip onto an outcropping and lodged my feet firmly inside a nook. I heard the hiss of propulsive gas and groaned.
"I hate heights."
I pushed off the cranny with all of my might, sending me shuttling along the face of the building as fragments of glass and smoldering steel cascaded around me. The first missile impact had blown most of the infantry clear away from the building and the second had caused the entire structure to vibrate and warp. By providence I landed on Lizbeth's balcony, being flipped over the rail and landing on my head. Moaning as I pulled myself upright, I kicked the glass in only to find her in full battle armor talking into her headset. She looked at me and sighed. "What in THE HELL is going on here?" I shouted. She calmly dismissed my outburst and pointed the end of a silenced pistol at my chest, smiled, and said, "We have a leak."