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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Johel, a fractured man from a distant world arrives in the twisted, urban warrens of New Melbourne in search of his final mark. But this mark will become more to him than his job, his life, and his freedom has rediscovers who he is, and what he believes.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 682 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Johel Meuller compared the numbering of his ticket stub to that of the train cabin, a box lined with two bench seats and a large window peering out at the landscape beyond; rushing by as the carriages leapt away from Benyon county station. Autumnal leaves cooked rich brown and rouge by the heat of the passing summer streaked by from the rich boulevards of the central township, the cute cottages and white brick townhouses retreating quickly into the distance as the train line rose from the valley, the immensity of the vineyards rolled out over the verdant green carpeting the landscape; far, far into the distance, so far in fact that there conclusion became distorted by deep shadows cast across the valley many kilometers away, the afternoon sun beating down ever relentlessly on the fertile lands of the valley. It more like an oil painting than a true place, sun cast perfectly, the thin ticks of white from the township, picket fences lining the roads, a few sheep and llama paddocks; great, healthy animals springing about, stirred from there feed by the sound of the train cutting away into the mountains. And beyond the paddocks came the vineyards, thousands of acres dedicated to the viticulture. This time of year many were draped with bird netting, like enormous sheets of green webbing holding back the chirping minions so focused on building up there food supplies ready for the long winter months ahead. Johel stowed his bags and found a seat in the empty cabin, swaying with the gentle rocks and bumps of the hover-train over the track, soaking up the final few seconds of the valley before the train took him away for another winter. He smiled softly over his home, everything the light touched, before trees rushed into his line of sight, followed by carved rock as the rail cut into the mountain side, climbing as it may up away from the valley below. Johel breathed deeply and shut his eyes, resting his head against the backrest, feeling the pull of the train rock him hypnotically. It forced him to the edge of awareness, sleep penetrating the layers of his conscious. Somehow though he was still aware of the object in his pocket, like a mental weight pressing on his thoughts. His hand reached down and felt the object, its small leather box: at some level scared of it, at others so fully excited by the directions it would take him. There was a rap on the cabin door. Johel released the box, opening his eyes as a short, elderly Asian gentlemen with a briefcase entered, smiling at Johel as he stowed his belongings and sat opposite, watching the rocky innards of some carved path blur by unrecognizably.
“Good day” The man said “My name is Hu”
“Johel” He replied, extending a hand.
“Tell me Johel, why are you visiting the city?”
“University. I’m visiting Benyon County really. Just seeing the family before the semester begins.”
“Of course. What are you studying?”. Johel didn’t really like so many questions, but answered out of respect for the aged gentleman.
“Pre-Medical” He nodded “I’m going to be a doctor”. Hu nodded back.
“I was at university, many years back now. Studied economics”
Johel nodded half-heartedly. This could be a really long trip with such small talk.
“Well, I’ve got some work to do anyways” The man said unexpectedly. He opened his briefcase and pulled out a state-screen, a thin pair of spectacles on, typing away something he had saved. Johel pushed back into the seat, pulling a dog-eared, well worn book from his rucksack on the seat next to him, leaning against the window with one shoulder. It was cold against him, and beyond it he could hear the constant hiss of air rushing against the bullet shaped train, feeling the train beginning to level out as it approached the plateaus. As Johel read, the train passed into tunnels bored into the mountainscape, deep and dark extending far beyond Johel’s sight, even at an angle so close to the window, all he could see was a constant stream of panel lights lining the tunnel walls into the dark, murky distance.
The book went on, a murder mystery: Johel picked the killer from the outset, but everyone always said the excitement was in the journey, not its conclusion. Johel turned the page, reading on. In a moment the train leapt into sunlight on the mountain-top plateau, distracting Johel from the text by the effortless vista of the moor, low grasslands, occasional stringy-bark eucalypts, twisted and gnawed, like it took all of there strength to fight off the weight of the air above. Time stretched on. The terrain bent and flexed with it from the impossibly flat, beginning to undulate softly. There stood a lush forest, and a river. It slowly ambled parallel with the tracks until it spurred away through a large stone mill turning slowly. There were houses dotted around, clusters of smaller ones, occasional larger villas, a matrix of sealed and unsealed roads, wooden post fences, rickety bridges. A gaggle of children stood atop a farmyard gate, boys and girls of various ages, a bigger one cradling a younger one, all waving to the vessel as it sped past them. They farmed cattle up here Johel knew, great white-faced Herefords peaking up from the grass fields as the train streaked by, shrugging it off with equal haste.
Away from the township, the watercourse found a wide lake. Water up here was pristine, untouched by civilization and its polluting influence since the inception of this world. The water was calm and flat, so flat that the sky was mimicked with such accuracy it was difficult to discern the difference, like a piece of the sky had broken away and found a home here, at the top of the world, constantly gazing back into the heavens from which it had come. Occasional trees jutted from the surface, mountain lakes so clear that the solitary trees which violate it are placed in perfect symmetry, like these branches sit in the air, detached form the earth yet still somehow drawn to it, like gravity shows them no hindrance. People came to the mountaintops to find themselves, and what they would find is the lakes and skies perfect reflections, find themselves as reflections too of earth and space. They would breathe the free air and free their minds of all constraint. The train sped onwards.
In the late afternoon light the track left the plateau behind, leveling out into the wetlands of the central flats. The hover track was buried deep into the damp soil, the only mark of human interference. Abound were the spoils of a unblemished world, the vast bayou filled with thousands of trees, dense tortured jungles, bubbling watercourses, the endless slough on all sides as far as the eyes could gaze. The train shot out into a clear area, hundreds of water-borne beasts wallowing in the shallows and the dry humps of land startled by the scream of the engine, Capybara and Iris started with furious acceleration, great pounds of water as they stretch for the safety of the jungle canopy. They left as promptly as they came, into a sprawling savannah once more, knee high with grass stalks bobbling around in the soft northerly breeze. The terrain, just as before, began slowly to undulate, soft dips pooled with water where strange beasts drank, peaks becoming hillocks. The stalks became to break up. It was unnoticeable at first, maybe a slight thinning, becoming large clumps divided by thin, sandy breaks. But the clumps shrunk, the divisions grew. The ground grew more rocky. Boulders in the sand jutted at all angles, seemingly glowing in the warm, fading light. Like some arcane god had stacked them like dominos to fall, only without pushing them, time, wind, rain, heat and cool causing some to stumble on there own, falling to the sandy soil. As the train passed a thin ridge, the expanse of desert yawned before them, a spectrum of the warm and harsh; reds, browns, piercing saffrons, glinting like the sand dunes were themselves shimmering in the light of a setting sun.
“Quite a thing, isn’t it?” Hu said. It startled Johel, as neither of the men had spoken for hours.
“Yes. It’s quite indescribable” Johel returned
Both were in silence for a time, just the every present rumble of the trains drive, and whistle of air. The dinner cart had come and gone.
“What’s the ring for?” Hu asked knowingly.
“What?” Johel replied, unsure.
Hu pointed to the small leather case on the seat next to him. It must have rolled out of his pocket somewhere along the ride. Johel snatched it up quickly, placed it back in his jacket pocket.
“Nothing, just my grandmothers” He nodded back.
Silence again. The sun united with the thin band of horizon. In a moment it seemed to stretch out, as if a ball of gelatin glowing hotter than a thousand fires impacted with some far away point, distending with the curvature of the earth, rippling with heat in the red light. The air changed from deepest blue to aching crimson until finally the sun set upon the desert, shadows building from distended forms to the inky whole of twilight. The desert begun to cool.
Hu reached up and pulled across a thick curtain used to separate the cabin into two partitions.
“??” He said, half smiling.
“And you” Johel replied. Beyond the curtain he could hear Hu unfold the bed from the wall and settle for a night. Johel himself stayed sitting up, watching the sea of stars above the immeasurable immensity of the desert, occasional cacti darting past like figures against the black horizon, the wheel of light as the night progressed deeper and deeper, sliding on, further and further.
Johel woke with a start, the cabin empty, the daylight streaming in over new scenery. Green soaked white by snow pastures blurred by, over a icy, clear brook skirted with pebbles and dropped leaf matter, building along its banks. He stared around the cabin. Hu’s bag was still there. He pulled himself to his feet and stretched, bones flexing and clicking, too long without decent exercise. Out in the passageway he was drawn to the smell of coffee, the small lounge and dining area at the front end of the cabin. A few sat there, a middle aged couple enjoying a morning chat on luxurious couches, and Hu at the bar, drinking a coffee over a croissant and news-spread. Johel found a pew next to him, ordering a coffee himself and some toast, sipping the warm coffee gently, holding it firmly against the slight listing of the train across the trackway.
“Morning” Hu said turning, always cheery “Sleep well?”
“Well enough” Johel shrugged “Anything I should know?” Johel referenced the news-spread. The paper flexed and oozed with images flashing, text flashing past. One title read something about proposition 622.
“The Corpus are planning to vote on that 622 today” Hu said absently. Johel hadn’t heard anything but politics his entire stay at home. His parents were business owners – a powerful, wealthy minority on the border, Osiris educated; their birth certificates may have said Sihang, but they were nothing like the far more independent-minded population of this world. With their son at University though, they felt him ripe for the pickings of leftist ultra-radicals: Separatists, dissenters, seditionists the government controlled media called them. He’d always been far more liberal than his staunchly conservative parents anyway, even after his private education on Sihnon. The choice to study at University not in the core, but in the city of Du-Khang was a lasting point, something that always came up around the dinner table on the breaks back in Benyon. And so, during his infrequent holiday visits Johel copped it – the politics of his parents, his family, their friends and relatives, all rabidly right. Had it been there way, proposition 622 would have passed months ago.
“It’s for my girlfriend” Johel said.
Hu turned “Sorry?” he said.
“The ring. My grandmothers engagement ring. It’s for my girlfriend”
Hu nodded. They shared a moment of knowing silence.
Du-Khang stood as a silvery monolith buried into the softly rolling mountain-scape of Sihang, meadows of pastures and tall pines skirting its outer regions soaked together in a thick, soft white swathe; early morning snow from the east. A large, open, flat plane of stone, brick, metal and glass; traditional houses, towering skyscrapers and geodesic domes, a mix of the hypermodern, the contemporary and the outdated sprawling for dozens of kilometers in all directions. Some called it the largest city on the border, a glinting hub of civilization, where the independent of the system – the independent academics, journalists, researchers, captains, engineers, miners and farmers – could find common ground. A vast, glittering cityscape glinting like a prism over the land abound, where cross roads and crossed paths met, rivers converged, lives touched and trade boomed. Snow had dusted the roadways and rooftops across the city state powdery white, slowly thawing under in the deep blue sky of a new day.
The three towers of Du-Khang were of huge significance to the cityscape, mighty stone things, – although now dwarfed by the skyscrapers in the city core – one for each of the rivers of the city. The first sat upon the corridor of the Eastflow, visible for almost the entire Southern precinct, as far east as Wintervale, and north to its sister which adorned the banks of the Garden River streaming from the mountains above. They tolled together; deep bellowing claps emanating through cobbled side roads, under overpasses, through windows and doors. Far off, over the expanse of the city came a reply, the Tower of the great wall, where the confluence of the rivers exited the city through giant drains, pouring from the wall into the valley below. Essentially the core of the city was a valley cut from two long, winding rivers to the west leading toward the sea some twenty kilometers downstream. As the streams converged they descended from the plateau into a deep fjord, steeply lined gorge walls plunging chillingly toward the thick river running the spine of the valley. The original inhabitance of the city, the terraforming crews who maintained the giant Carbon dioxide burners through day and night, would have found themselves in a vast open plane, devoid of life, oxygen and sustainable atmosphere. And so became the old city.
In its origins, the workers bored great lumps of rock from the crust, carved into blocks of twenty tonne, carried downstream on great barges toward the burgeoning city. The bricks stacked high, blocking the valley from north to south as a dam, lip to lip, the remainder of the gorge flowing out eastwards toward the sea. The bricks stacked so high they reached the plateau level, above it, becoming the great wall. Its only break was the drain, where the rivers could break through this mighty wall instead of damming up, flowing out into the rest of the valley. The laborers worked backwards toward the start of the valley, using more bricks, constructing massive buttresses hundreds of feet high, wider than houses. There were huge arches topped with trembling keystones held perilously firm by the surrounding rock. Timber was grown or bought; it became floors and bridges, spanning the cavernous internal space. The ceiling slopped upwards from curving buttresses, keystones - hundreds of tone of solid rock hanging above the floor hundreds of meters below, suspended by the very gravity that forced it down. Finally the half valley was filled, a city seemingly carved from the living rock, a marvel of engineering. Geodesic domes capped the roof in places, natural light shinning in, filling the place with its warming glow. The great halls, some kilometers long and similarly high, became the home of the workers and there families, great subterranean houses, subterranean suburbs, schools and hospitals. An entire population sheltered from the chaotic, titanic storm ridden atmosphere of a forming world above. An underground civilization cradling this small world into being.
And then one day the storms subsided. The air grew clear. It must have been an astonishing sight; the children seeing the sky without impediment for the first time, the endless horizons, the snow capped mountains, limitless forests reaching far beyond the scope of human sight. And the sky, the dome above, all encompassing, the hauntingly beautiful night, the pristine days of a virgin planet to do with as they wished. Some said that Sihang came from the dreams of the children, whom so long wished to smell the air beyond that recycled through the cavernous halls of the city. They dreamt for an unspoiled world bypassing the cruelties of human nature: the anger, the violence and vulgaries. They dreamt of a world without pollution, famine or disease. They dreamt of a world without sin.
And from there dreams came this world.
The city grew. It spread west, south and north across the plateau, a vast pan of civilization walled in like a medieval fortress with the same great stone blocks. The wall was more accident than design, the stone buildings simply running to a single, contiguous edge. It came to be adorned with splendors: the towers and passageways, and great rivers and harbors. The subterranean residence sprawled into their new sky-bound city, emptying the underground, leaving the great caverns bare of there former purpose. The most exclusive residencies came to be that atop the Old City, slathered in stone and metal and glass creations, each as spectacular as the last. But under there feet, the old caverns found new reason.
Great spaces became reserved for the critical industries of the city: hydroelectricity of the flowing rivers, sewerage and waste reprocessing, dirty foundries, all containing there polluting filth beneath the soil. But still much space was unaccounted for. Many became the vaults, stores of food for the great blizzards, which still hit the city, holding it within a chilled grip for months at a stretch. But the greatest of all: the great central hall, formerly the domain of the worker’s parliament, a massive space directly beneath the ceiling, adorned with the finest of the old cities offerings; was yet to be assigned purpose. However, as news of this new, prosperous world spread throughout the system, thousands began to arrive, each eager to begin a new, free life, devoid of the entrapments of there former existences. And while this world already offered all manner of freedom: vast tracts of land, rivers and mountains waiting to be explored a planet over; freedom from political, social or economic deprivations; it was yet to provide freedom of thought. And thus became the University of Du-Khang.
The Train glided into the Grand Central Terminus slightly before Eleven AM, ramps deploying down onto the platform as the hover-drives took a well-deserved break, resting down on to the track. The space was immense, high glass ceiling smattered with snow in places, light streaming in over the maze of concourses.
The place thronged with travelers. Some were leaving, teary goodbyes with families, huge bags packed with treasures. Some arrived, equally teary, hugs and kisses all around, family and friends taking bags, eager to hear the exploits of there loved ones in foreign places. The commuter monorail weaved its way through the station on its loop of the city, carriages darting in and out every few minutes, hundreds loading and unloading with each carriage. All the time the air will filled with excitement, with the hum of engines, the final calls of conductors, whistles and the drone of the PA.
Johel pushed his rucksack inside his bag and hefted them over his back, clambering down the ram and onto the platform, staring wide-eyed at the arching construct around him. Hu came after, a far more dignified suitcase in hand. They stood for a second, soaking up the scenery.
Hu turned to Johel. “A most pleasant journey Johel”
“Indeed Hu” He smiled.
“Goodluck, with everything” Hu shot a glance at Johel’s pocket briefly. Johel tapped it, making sure the box was still inside.
“Cheers”. The two men shook hands. Hu pulled his hat on, and without a second thought strode across the grand plaza toward a massing air-taxi rank.
Johel used his CityCard to board a commuter train, watching Grand Central fall away as the speedy little monorail shot away upon the elevated track, quickly west toward Clearsheimer on the Blue line. It flew over channels lined with boats – these channels weaved through the city like roads in some places, completely replacing the need for anything more than single lane roadways, most of those filled with pedestrian and cycle traffic anyway. Silently, it mounted rooftops, speeding past the upper spire of a small church, a murder of black crows bursting from their rooftop hideout into a tall spiral, blown like raven-black roof tiles scattered by the turbulence of air thrown off by the monorail. Sharply it turned south, toward the city core, the buildings like vast seafaring sails, shining in the brilliant mid-day sun. Through the inner city the monorail shot, buildings rising up around like fingers grasping skyward, until the monorail line shot out into open space, the buildings suddenly ending, the vast snow-covered grounds of Central Park, the weaving confluence of the two great rivers, a lake frozen white by the nighttime chills – now scatted with ice skaters whipping tight figures on the vast canvas. Walking tracks, trees and gardens, quite occupied even in the chilled air. And then the Old City.
The University needed, as it turned out, more room than the great halls could provide. Subset within the Central park an immense granite floored plaza stood, led to by a cascade of stairs from all sides. And within it, the plaza held everything. Student residencies were little more than Concrete prefab buildings, painted bright colours they provided and interesting backdrop. Other buildings, smaller, maybe only two stories high, lined asphalt defined roads lined with antique arching lamp posts and flowerpots, no flowers this time of year, yet still large awnings spread out over coffee tables, humming with students. Other shops; clothes, markets and stalls also lined these boulevards, balconies hanging from above covered mostly in sofa’s for student’s in residence to soak up the night sky and the party atmosphere that developed in the lanes after sunset. The rest of the plaza were sections of the university, administration mostly, security, as well as areas for some subjects which couldn’t be taught within the halls. A huge telescope jutted from a bubble roofed observatory. Radar, microwave and laser comm dishes also sat about the place, starring somewhat impassively into the sky.
The Plaza had its own Monorail terminal. Down the steps, Johel walked through to the C-Residential tower, a stubby set of flat no discernibly different from the others. His swipe card still worked.
With his personal effects stored in his flat, Johel set out across the plaza toward the university. There was only one entrance and exit, although it definitely sufficed, a fifty meter wide, eighty meter high archway that led into the hallowed innards, dark and ominous. And longed for since the moment he had left. Johel could hardly admit it, but he loved the university, the life, the freedom it presented. His pace quickened across the plaza until finally he felt the walls close it around him, absorbed into it with grace.
Every time Johel entered the great hall it affected him in some small way that would never subside, like stepping inside a fantasy, waiting for the cruel tug of reality to set in. With day break the great central dome cast a brilliant light into the space, wiping over the grey surfaces without effort, outshining the warm light of a thousand gas lamps that dotted the space, walls and tables, stretching far off into the distance. For the most part, the hall had become the library of the university, lecture halls buried into the walls, seemingly endless stacks of dusty, whether worn books reaching, shelves clawing at the walls. Ladders were built into deep rails in the floors, arching wooden things that seemed to reach into the dark, where the light from the dome did not cast. So immense and grand, seeping with the histories of thousands of worlds, works of millions more, outdated ideas, radical plans, from the most mainstream to the most bizarre, every text tagged and marked by a veritable army of librarians.
He traveled an elevator cage to the floor level, the rock level pulling up toward him, lined with hundreds of study tables skirted by chairs, centrally adorned with a shimmering gaslight. Occasional tables were occupied with large piles of books and tireless students plundering over there findings, contemplating the complex, irreversible nature of our own futility though some shape or form. On the ground finally, it seemed to take forever to reach anything - librarians sped around on farm-techs piled high with returned books – shoes across the huge, flat brick slabs, massive carpets and rugs, until finally Johel entered the Stack. The stack was like a different world altogether, walls of books, tight, labyrinthine corridors, low stone roof which made you feel you needed to duck to move around. Most people carried gas and electric lanterns, the light itself fairly insufficient in this shape casting long shadows. Seniors told freshmen stories of Bessy, the rabid librarian witch whom stalked the stacks by day and night, having never left this place; dare not take a book and not return it to its proper place or she would take you to her own, personal library of pain, skin covered books, pages of dried entrails, and bound you herself. No one listened, it was a famous prank of course, but one could not help wonder when within the shadowed, flickering passages if one was ever truly alone.
Johel tiptoed, hands out. The girl was standing ahead of him with her back facing him, reading some long forgotten scroll deep within the volume of Ancient texts, deeply lost within the words. He struck, grasping her by the shoulders, tightly, a sharp shake and spurted scream. Cylin dropped the scroll and her torch to the floor, both clattering away, spinning too look up at her boyfriends smiling face.
“That’s so not funny” she was breathing fast, Johel could feel her heart pumping hard as he pulled her into a hug.
“Of course it was, honey” he replied cheekily “What did you find?”
Cylin – Lin to her friends – lent over and snatched up her scroll and torch. “Quite interesting actually, thank you for asking” she replied “It’s ancient, a reprint of something called ‘the prince’. It’s a sort of ancient text in the ways a statesman should operate: without morals”.
“Shiny. How old is it?” Johel asked, hugging her around her waist from behind as she read the article, peeking over the shoulder.
“Well this is a copy, obviously, probably brought with the first ships from earth-that-was though. But the original text is from 1513. So, yeah, like a thousand years old” She turned back to Johel who studied the paper with his eyes.
“Christ.” He said quietly. He started to read it “Listen to this. ‘It is necessary, indeed, to put a good colour on this nature, and to be skilful in simulating and dissembling. But men are so simple, and governed so absolutely by their present needs, that he who wishes to deceive will never fail in finding willing dupes’”
He looked at Cylin, who was already nodding.
Johel said quietly “That’s scary, that a thousand years on and the government still rules on the back of that idea”.
“Don’t let your dad hear you say that” Lin said.
“Well I guess it’ll be our secret”. He winked at her. “Are you going to use it somewhere?”
She placed the scroll down and faced Johel, arms around his truck as he laid his around her shoulders.
“I’ve missed you” She whispered, “How was your family?”
“They’re good. Getting ready for the new season. Train ride was good, Benyon is looking really good.” Johel replied back, keeping the quiet tone “Warm” he added.
Lin smiled “Lucky boy. It’s been freezing here. Thom and Lucas and Sammy and I went out onto Central Park Lake the other day to ice skate. It was great. Probably better you weren’t there though”
Johel laughed, “It’s not my fault! I just have a weird centre of gravity s’all!”. He had made a bit of a fool of himself last time, much to the amusement of his friends.
There became a stillness between them. Lin arched up and kissed him, and they held there for a second, safe within that moment with each other.
“What’s all this then!”. A familiar voice from behind. Johel turned, catching Lucas’ smiling face in the shadows. “What have I told you about the rules! One meter separation!”
“What are you, in high-school?” Lin replied, snatching up her bag dumped in the warm light, inserting the scroll back into its protective cylinder and placing it into her bag.
“No, I went to one of them progressive schools where they teach free love and stuff” Lucas replied cheerily.
“Yes, and how to shoot synth into your eye ball veins.” Johel replied.
“No” Lucas said “Drugs are not nice. Bad Johel!” He hit him playfully. Johel just shook his head. It was a game.
“How are you man” Lucas said, straightening up “When did you get back?”
“Just this morning.” Johel returned. They shook hands.
“We missed you man. Winter just ain’t the same without you.” Lucas extended.
“No. I just said that. We didn’t miss you at all”
“Little punk” Johel grabbed Lucas in a headlock, grabbing a pen from his pocket and pocking it into his ear. Lucas squealed like a stuck pig. Lin just laughed.
A Librarian shot her head out from around the corner, staring with menacing, judging eyes at the three.
“Is something the matter here?” She spat.
Johel dropped Lucas’ head and they all stood up straight, fain serious over smirking laughs sprawled across their faces.
“No, no problems here” Johel assured her. She peered with cruel eyes over the three and vanished from sight. Johel lent over to Lucas who was still recovering from the pen-violation.
“I think we’d better get out of here”
The trio crossed through the gaping threshold of the library, out into the chill air of the surface and the vast flat central university plaza, the huge space hemmed in by the central park. From this angle, now leaving the hall, Johel could see the giant marble states which adorned the plaza, erected for the heroes of the old city upon there exodus onto the surface. A large crowd was gathering at the seat of one of the statues, students with banners and signs and hats and red arm bands. One guy on a megaphone was shouting out instructions to the group, probably some hundreds.
“Guys! Wait up!”
The trio turned as Sammy ran out from the university, catching up, her sweet little face glowing.
“Hey Sammy!” Lucas cried. She ran up, seeing Johel, wrapping her arms around his bulk.
“How are you! How’s Benyon and the stuck-up rellies?”
“They’re fine” Johel replied “How are you?”
“Great” She glowed “Timm and I are headed over to the 622 thing at Corpus house. You guys should come!”
Lucas and Johel looked at each other, agreeing. Lin stayed silent.
“Sound’s shiny” Lucas said “Where do we sign up?”
Sammy pointed over to the mass of students. One was coming out toward them, a big guy, athlete. Johel had only met Sammy’s boyfriend once before, just before he had left for Benyon about a month ago. Timm seemed like a friendly enough bloke. Time would tell though. The two guys shook hands.
“You guy’s going to come?” Timm asked “We’re all heading over the Ruby’s after for an after protest party”. Everything at university has an after party. Even most after parties have them.
“I think I might give it a miss actually” Lin said, looking at her watch.
“Come on!” Johel said “We’ll go out and get wrecked after. Dance the night away”
Lin stood. She faltered under Johel’s pleading eyes. “Well, okay.” She conceded “Just as long as I don’t have to yell anything”.
“Promise” Johel said. He turned back to Sammy “Where do we go?”
The Skybuses had been rented by the group, four of them taking 250 students each in the end. They rumbled out of the plaza, up over the university, engines burning hard as they slipped out over central park and toward the city. The group of five sat together at the back, soaking in the atmosphere of hundreds of other students, all adorned with various anti-alliance paraphernalia, chatting and bubbling amongst themselves.
“So, what’s this whole thing for?” Lin finally asked.
“Do you know what 622 is?” Sammy turned.
Everybody nodded, except Lin who remained reserved.
“Would you hold it against me if I said I didn’t?” She said meekly.
“How could you not have read about it!” Sammy demanded, probably with more force than she intended. For such a little girl she could come across very scarey at times.
“Well, I watch the news but its just so depressing, the same stuff again and again. He’s angry at him, this guy’s angry at that that girl. You know? So I say why bother.” She seemed content with her answer.
Johel leaned over to her. “Prop 622 is the Alliance putting minimum quotas on the amount of resources we export quarterly. If we fail to meet the quotas, they hit us with economic penalties, loose medical imports, maybe even some defence.”
“What?” Lin seemed genuinely shocked “Why would they do that?”
“Its to do with the Independence movement on the border. The Core has ninety percent of the systems population, consume about ninety-five percent of the goods produced system wide, yet produce only about ten percent of the total primary resources they require. The core needs the border for minerals and for lumber and for food, and everything else it can’t produce itself”
“Like wine” Lucas interjected
Johel faltered, looking at him “Yes, like wine. Anyway, it works fairly simply. People move to the border, they work in the mines or in the mills or the vineyards, for example, and the products they produce get shipped to the core. The core send back money and demand for more. Thus the border industries grow. But what has happened is that the border has begun to internally diversify. They use the money not to build bigger mines and farms, but better schools, a sizable manufacturing industry, and suddenly the border worlds dependence upon the core for money for its resource sector is reduced”
“So, what’s wrong with that. The Core is still getting resources, aren’t they?”
“Well yes, but the border is no long dependant on the core. These border worlds, with there limited working-age populations, can begin to move around there labour forces, place them into value adding or in other sectors which are of no economic benefit to the core, but may be of great economic benefit to the planet, like in hospitals or in construction. And suddenly, with all of these workers leaving the mines and the agriculture, we see a shortfall for the core.”
Lucas smiled “And we wouldn’t want that. Spoiled dandies missing out on a third skiff for there birthday, or a fifth banquet between dinner and supper”
“And so the quotas force the border worlds to put everything back into farming and mining and ignore economic diversity?” Lin said, ignoring Lucas.
“Yes” Johel nodded.
Lin thought for a second.
The skybuses swung over the central business district of the city with military precision, setting down in a large, open landing zone. Already a large crowd was massing. The Corpus House was a huge Geodesic dome set upon huge stone steps, Central road running from the centre of the CBD right up to the main doorway. Normally the entire area was open to foot traffic. Definitely not a normal day. Huge concrete dividers encircled the building, along with a second plastic set, a three meter high temporary, cyclone wire fence topped with razor wire between them. Police were everywhere. Two patrol cars were parked at the front gate, lights strobing, and police in groups of no less than four stood at ten meters intervals surrounding the compound. But these were not regular police. A Federal military skiff hovered statically overhead, craning back and forward over the scene with expert grace. These police were federal marshals, highly trained and heavily armed. They were obviously expecting some resistance.
“You see that Skiff?” Lin said, tugging on Johel’s sleeve “That’s not normal is it?”
“No” He said “Don’t worry. They have to look vigilant. Things like this happen all the time”.
Unloading via the huge nose ramp, the students mingled into the larger mass of protestors, thousands of them now, all with huge banners and signs opposing the implementation of 622. A small podium had been erected, a slight man with a red and yellow shirt on, numbers 622 circles and crossed out in its centre, walking to it and a thunderous applause from the crowd. It happened before Johel and Lin could figure out what precisely was going on, both of them failing to clap. They felt isolated somehow from the group, like they all shared a collective energy and zest the two had somehow missed out on.
“Ladies and gentlemen” the crowd hushed to an awed silence. “I know we are not all allies so often. We have amongst us today the traditionally opposed. Student and farmers. Workers, doctors. Amongst you today are police, Police who oppose this tyrannical move by the Core!”
There were shouts and boos from across the crowd, all supporting this man.
“622 is a piece of legislation that will effect us and the way we see our selves and the way our children will see us. It is a proposition that asks the question, do we want the border to be under the thumb of the alliance forever, to squirm and suffer as the Core gets fat off our labour, or do we want…” He paused for effect “…to be Free!”
The crowd spontaneously erupted into celebration, being screaming and yelling, streamers thrown in all directions. Finally, after thirty second or so, the man was able to calm them again.
“In twenty minutes the Alliance Executive Apparatus member for Sihnon will arrive here to ratify 622. Ratify it, on the day it is voted through the house. And they pretend to say that this is not a rigged vote. In twenty minutes though I say we block the Executive motorcade from access to the Corpus. I say we make a wall of voices against this motorcade, refuse it access to the very place built by our hands to protect us and our rights!”
Another applause. People started moving out, great herds spilling toward the Corpus just a few blocks distant.
“I think this is a bad idea guys” Johel said, worry tinged though his voice.
“Me too” Lucas said “Lets make for uptown.”
The weight of the masses was to strong, carrying them with it toward the corpus.
“Johel. What do we do?” Lin said.
“Just go with it.” He said, unsure “It’ll be fine. We’ll make our way back as soon as these crowds move past us.”
But the crowds never stopped. Instead they continued to pour past them, hundreds, thousands, all chanting, spurred on by leaders with Slogans plastered across t-shirts and megaphones, together chanting “Sihnon Man! Here us true! We don’t want your 6-2-2!”. The feverous nature of the crowd was quite intoxicating, infectious, carrying the little troupe inwards toward the corpus and its Razor wire defenses.
A wall was being constructed, not with materials, but with people, locking arms and shouting there slogans together, rows and rows of them, some rows facing outwards toward the city and the motorcade when it arrives. The other inwards at the Feds shielding the corpus, faces cold and impartial, eyes hidden behind tinted goggles. All had rifles and stubby gas-grenade launchers. Johel began to suspect somebody wanted trouble. Suddenly, a rumbling through the crowd. The motorcade was coming.
Two long black techs pulled into sight, hovering above the tarmac, sliding slowly into view, skirted by a ring of feds in thick body amour walking alongside the vehicle. The crowd was beginning to form up, really crowd dynamics as stragglers either bolted or squeezed in. In the centre of it, Johel, Lin, Lucas, Sammy and Tim were jostled from side to side with the weight of people, unable to escape the crush. Johel had his arms around Lin’s waist, holding her.
He lent in to Lucas and Lin and spoke softly “If this gets bad, and there kicking or whatever, we do whatever we can to get out, understand. Just get out, stay together and don’t look back. Get me?”
They nodded, Lucas swallowing deeply.
The motorcade was almost upon the wall, still shouting loudly, now mixed with various curses and insults.
The feds behind, on the steps of the Corpus began to form up also, a wedge of shields and batons. It could now plainly be seen that the Feds guarding the motorcade had shields and tazer-clubs too.
The motorcade stopped short of the group, a booming voice suddenly flooding over them.
“This is an illegal protest. By order of the Alliance executive apparatus, I order you to disperse immediately. Any failure to comply will result in criminal charges”
The crowd just jeered, shouting back insults and abuses. One man ran out from the crowd, turned and dropped his pants, slapping his arse.
“Hop on!” He cried, those before him laughing at his defiance.
The motorcade began to advance.
The attack came from both sides, feds pushing in from behind with sharp japing motions from there truncheons and shouted commands to “Get back!”. Those before the crowd locked shields like a phalanx of ancient roman warriors, pushing in. Johel hoped to god or allah or whatever that nobody became trapped and fell under them, as was his primary concern for Lin. She wasn’t tiny like Sammy, but still the weight of people could push her to her stomach in a second, in that kind of rampage nobody would stop to help the trampled girl. He shuddered to think.
People were face-to-face, Feds and Protesters, screaming into each others mouths hideous insults, orders, spittle spraying, tensions boiling.
A punch was thrown. The man went down with a tazer hit, dragged away by the feds. Others charged forward. There was a cry as a man was taken in the temple by a blow. Two women went down screaming, one clutching her scalp as a fed grabbed her hair and dragged her across the asphalt. Others charged in to her defense, tackling one Fed. Other feds surrounded the attacker, beating down on him mercilessly with the truncheons. On the far side, a fed was grabbed by a big guy, hauled into the crowd, thrown to the ground. He curled himself into a ball as the kicks and punches flew into him, cracking ribs and jaws, fingers shattering. Rocks started to come, knocking a fed to the ground, blood streaming from his right eye. Heavy pelting rocks, bouncing over the motorcade now with its nose in to the ground, hands and boots slamming into the tinted glass windows, fierce spit filled screams like a mass on hungry predators foaming at the thought of food, just beyond the glass. Still the feds snatched people from the crowd, pushing them behind to other waiting feds for a quick tazer or blood choke, protestors screaming and yelling, kicking, flailing in defense, clawing and biting, anything to fight back.
A Molotov was thrown.
It detonated over the roof of the motorcade, fire lapping over the black steel, catching three of the feds, the armored men screaming and rolling as the fires engulfed them, others rushing to there aid. The truncheons went down, and the guns came out.
People dropped everywhere, hideous gunshots popping around, indiscriminate bursts into the crowd. Another Molotov flew up, smashing into one fed’s face, exploding with a bloody crack, the impact knocking him unconscious, the wicked flames doing the rest.
The man beside Johel dropped under a spray of ichor. He grasped Lin by the wrist and ran, sidestep the injured, over the mortally wounded, the crowd breaking up as the bullets rained inwards, spearing off in all directions. Gas grenades fired, popping like champagne corks, purple sting-gas choking the air in moments. People already wounded started to wrench on the stuff, airborne filth invading their throats, lungs, ears, nose and eyes. Some dropped to there knees to be over come by the Feds, gasmasks out and on, kicking and belting the defenseless protestors to motionless heaps. Johel held his hand across his mouth and nose as the air suddenly became flooded with purple smoke, running hard with squinting eyes out of the melee, Lin in toe. Timm and Sammy ran along side, Lucas behind, Sammy coughing hard as her asthma combined with the smoke. A Fed appeared from nowhere in front of Johel, Johel crashing into his bulk, bouncing off him as if he was a wall. He raised the butt of his rifle above him, prepared to slam down on Johel’s face. Johel waited for it.
A round caught the Fed in the neck, spraying Johel with blood. The fed went down, clutching the wound, Johel catching sight of the rooftop sniper who delivered the killer shot. More shots, from all around, snipers suddenly everywhere, raining fire upon the feds who hammered back. This was no accident. Lin tripped on a motionless corpse as a round slammed into the asphalt becoming a tumbling ricochet next to them, Lin’s knee thumping down hard on the ground making her squeal in pain. Johel grunted and lifted her, cradling her in his arms; and running, running hard. Lucas was next to him, Handkerchief across his mouth; Timm’s eyes streaming with mucus and fluid, somehow still able to see, only barely. Lucas, the only one who seemed to be able to see clearly led them into an alleyway about a block from the corpus, the group collapsing in a heaving, moaning mess. Back out in the street the huge fog of purple swirled in the air, occasional black shapes emerging from it, sprinting hard, some knocked down under cackles of fire.
Lucas held himself against the wall, staring out around the corner, the handkerchief still held firstly across his nose and mouth. Sammy was coughing in between staggered breaths, more like savage moans of air trying to rush through her swollen larynx. She lay cradled in Timms lap, who was still crying profusely, eyes red raw and bloodshot, veins burst open in places soaking his whites ugly pink. Johel slumped against the wall, still shaking, noticing blood on the side of his face. Must’ve been from that first fed to take a round. Fed blood all over him. He wiped it off the best he could. Lin was next to him, still clutching her leg in agony from the fall.
Sammy was trying to vocalize. Lucas spun to look to her, the words croaky and distended in her throat. Unrecognizable. She was lifting one arm, finger pointing toward Lin. Her leg. Johel followed it with his eyes. A huge red stain was blossoming across the inside of Lin’s trousers, centered around a deep black hole, right above the femoral artery.
Thursday, November 02, 2006 11:23 AM
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