N O P Q R
Whomp whomp, looks like I’m slipping just a little bit on the ol’ schedule for these posts. But, well, I’ve written the stories eventually, so here you go:
‘Oh, this is bad,’ said the administrator. Mina clicked her tongue at this understatement.
‘This just goes to show that I’m right – we let the workers have too much free time, and this is how they reward us. Work and worship and sleep – that should be their whole lives—’
‘Shut up,’ said the planetary governor, reading the same page of the report for the third time. ‘This is nothing to do with the workers. Five out of twelve patrol bases have fallen, two out of five Habitations have rebelled and opened their doors to this new greenery. It’s the Mountain. Those… [beasts]… are behind this.’
‘They’re dead,’ said Mina. ‘Two hundred years dead. The One Above All and The Merciless Fire themselves defeated—’
‘If the Patrons were truly sure that the Mountain was dead, they would not have left a garrison on this world.’
‘Mother! You presume too much – it is not our place to question the will of the Patrons—’
‘Have you made any progress in restoring the link to Earth?’
‘No, miss,’ said the technician. ‘Our equipment is in working order, but there appears to be something blocking us.’
‘Mina, you are here to observe and learn to craft of leadership. When I am dead, everyone will have to listen to you. Until then: shut up.’
‘Miss,’ said the technician, ‘there’s a… I’m not sure what, it looks a bit like a metaspace disjoint, centred around the Mountain.’
‘You scum,’ said Mina, red-faced. ‘How dare you speak to a superior without—’
‘Yes, miss. It looks like…’ The technician tapped a few keys, frowned, then tapped again. ‘It looks like there is – there was a Craft in orbit. But we don’t have anything scheduled to arrive… it looks like it’s been destroyed. Miss.’
‘This day just gets better and better. They can shoot down things in orbit, even.’
‘It’s these rebel workers,’ said Mina. ‘One of them – a scavenger, most likely – must have got into the Mountain. Or one of those off-world scientists. The original rebels are dead.’
‘I don’t see that it makes much of a difference now,’ said the planetary governor. ‘We do not have reliable communication with the patrol bases. I have less than five hundred soldiers available to me. What can I do?’
‘Retake the Habitations,’ said Mina.
‘And leave ourselves undefended? No. No… no.’ The governor brought her hand up to her mouth. There was one way, maybe.
‘You have an idea,’ said Mina.
‘I suppose. I suppose I do. You,’ she pointed to an administrator, ‘Get citizen of highest rank from Capital Habitation. I’m calling an emergency planning meeting.’
Rashid scream. His lover, the Patron known as The Goddess, Eternal One, Beneficent One, and a thousand other names, squeezed him tight and whispered ‘shh, dear heart,’ into his ear, but Rashid screamed and screamed and his throat was sore and he screamed and mucus slicked his upper lip and he screamed and he couldn’t hear himself scream and the stars whirled past them and the collapsing husk of the Craft receded.
And finally, his voice gave out, and Rashid continued to hurtle through the vacuum of space with only the embrace of a god for protection.
‘You’re scared, lovely one,’ she said, her soothing voice somehow carrying across nothing. ‘I understand. But you are safe. You are with me, so you are safe. Do you understand?’
As his voice was gone, Rashid nodded. The Patron loosened her grip, just a little, just enough that she wasn’t crushing him. The Craft receded over the curve of the planet, and it was crumbling to pieces.
‘You are the only one I had time to save,’ said the Patron. ‘I will have justice for this crime.’
‘How?’ Rashid managed, meaning: how could anyone destroy a Craft of the Patrons?
‘The have a weapon I did not anticipate. I thought I would be facing two-hundred-year-old archaeotech, but it seems that the beasts have been busy since the last war. Singh.’ – she hissed that last word. ‘I will have justice for this crime. I will lock them away in tiny black boxes, each alone in the dark and the cold, and I will leave them to turn mad for the rest of time. This I swear.’
And then she was silent for a long while, as the two of them fell through the dark around the world.
Chun pushed down, hard, on the guard’s windpipe. The guard thumped him, on his arms and sides and head, but Chun continued to push; his thumbs broke through skin and blood trickled down his arms. The guard clicked and gurgled, his blows slowed and grew weaker, he stared at Chun and slowly, slowly, he died.
He let the corpse fall to the ground, its traitor soul leaving to be consumed and tormented forever. He spat on his former jailer, then went through the man’s pockets: there was the key to the laundry-room they had repurposed to hold him. They were idiots to bring this to him, but it was their very idiocy that made the rebels such a threat.
No weapon, though – not even a knife. Chun cursed under his breath and went to the door.
His first priority, he knew, was to find some way to contact the upper levels of the Habitation to warn them of the upcoming attack, to warn them that those rebel fools intended to open the main doors and let the poisoned air of Paradise in.
Chun put the key in the lock, turned it, and pushed the door, hard.
‘We should offer a prayer first,’ said Mina. None of those around the table offered any objection; the planetary governor did not look pleased, but she kept silent. Mina closed her eyes. ‘Patrons above,’ she said. ‘We, the greatest of this world, are as nothing before you, we are lower than dirt and each of our thoughts that are not dedicated to your glory are worth less than a mouthful of shit. We are shit. For our crimes, we are not even worth of the worst punishments you decree for us. We are stupid, and weak, and small, and we pray that you will guide us to the correct course of action. W—’
‘Thank you, my daughter,’ said the planetary governor. She turned to the woman on her left: ‘Colonel. Would you kindly lay out our options?’
Colonel Reeves cleared her throat.
‘The enemy have taken control of a majority of the Habitations and an unknown number of patrol bases. We do not have reliable communication with and conventional forces outside of Capital Habitation. We cannot win a conventional battle. As I see it, we have two options: firstly, we could surrender.’
‘Blasphemy!’ shouted Mina, her chair clattering against the floor as she stood to point at the Colonel.
‘Surrender cannot be an option,’ said the Freetown Habitation overseer. ‘As citizens, we have duties. What is your other suggestion?’
The colonel breathed in through her nose, then sighed.
‘We cannot win a conventional war. We do, however, have the ability to send the nanospores in Paradise’s atmosphere into Total War mode. This will render survival suits useless – only the active defences of a fully-sealed Habitation would offer any protection. Everyone on the surface, in the compromised Habitations, and in the patrol bases would be killed.’
Mina opened her mouth, but found that she couldn’t say anything. It was as though her stomach had dropped out of her body – this was too much. It was too big. She stood, and the others sat, in silence, for several minutes.
‘Under the law,’ said the governor, eventually, ‘this is not a decision I can make alone. It requires a majority vote of the uppermost rank of Paradise to declare total war.’
‘You’re asking us to sign off on thirty thousand deaths,’ said the Freetown overseer.
‘Closer to fifty thousand,’ said the governor.
‘They’re traitors,’ said Mina. ‘Death is more mercy than they deserve.’
They are not all traitors,‘said Reeves. ’I have two thousand three hundred and ten soldiers out there.’
‘It’s necessary,’ said Mina. Then, more confidently: ‘It’s our duty.’
They were silent, after that, for another few minutes; and then they reached their decision.
Ong awoke under an open sky for only the sixth time in his life. It was strange, still, opening his eyes and not finding a ceiling above him – only ash-clouds and the Sun.
He felt the same moment of panic he’d had on the previous five mornings; but it was less, and shorter-lived. He reminded himself that he didn’t need a survival suit outside – not any more, not while he was in a green space. He ran an un-gloved hand over a leaf, to prove that it was real.
‘Are you awake?’ asked Alice.
He rolled his head and looked at her; she was sitting propped up against a piece of rubble that was covered in some sort of climbing plant, and was checking the bandage at her waist.
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Are you all right?’
‘I’m healing faster than normal, I think. Not that I’ve ever been shot before.’
‘I know. I wouldn’t be coming with you, otherwise.’
Ong sat up, and looked at the Mountain.
‘I reckon we’ll make it there today.’
‘…are you sure you want to see it?’ She wasn’t referring to the Mountain.
‘Him. And yes.’
‘His body. Are you sure you want to see him that way? Wouldn’t you rather remember him at his best?’
‘I need to see, with my own eyes,’ he said. ‘I can’t…’
Ong bunched his hands into fists; his vision blurred, just a little. ‘I can’t believe Booker is… dead… until I see it. And I owe it to him.’