Facing the Devil2

“You’re as delusional as you are weak, Ultros,” conceded Ishmael as he gazed at the horrific scene in front of him.  His IAX machine, Id, revved as he kept his right hand on the main engine’s control switch and opened the cockpit with his left hand.  He viewed the disastrous sight with his naked eyes.  “Zirana maybe injured, but she can dispose of you without my help.  You’re just a pathetic weakling hiding behind your philosophy of death.  It’s easy to be nothing, but inventing and creating something takes determination and a sound, clear mind.  You can’t defeat me anymore, you filthy barbarian.”

Ultros snarled.  His crooked, scared body snaked along the battle field.  “You are nothing without your technology, so I decided to borrow a few items – and I used them to my advantage.  Your precious Treasure Trove is mine!”

Ishmael looked at Zirana as she was situated on her hands and knees next to her damaged MWS.  She was directly in front of The Cult’s emaciated leader.  “Now – The Cult of Ultros is a threat to us and the future of all mankind,” Ishmael remarked imperatively.  “Zirana, do you need help with this scum?”

“No, sir.  I can handle him,” Zirana snarled as she stared into Ultros’s beady black eyes.  Her pain gave way to adrenaline.  “Go to the center of the valley – go to the fortress and help the others.  This cretin dies here – in this war he constructed.”

“No problem.  That shouldn’t take long.  I will be back for you, Commander.  Try to stay within the borders of the valley – do not advance back to the ridge.  I will keep your location on my tactical screen,” Ishmael affirmed.  Ishmael closed the cockpit doors, accelerated IAX’s engines, and ascended into the air.

“Good.  This shouldn’t take long either,” hissed Zirana.  She could not hold back her calm demeanor any longer.  The Commander General was now savage and ruthless.  She slowly rose to her feet.

In sync with her movements, Ultros advanced toward Zirana with his warped body limping ghastly through the steaming sludge and battle debris.

*******

Ishmael maxed out the throttle and overtook the advancing army of Cult MWS forces.  Several enemy units launched rockets at The Treasure Trove’s reinforced walls.  White streaks of smoke raced across the sky and exploded on impact.  The outer walls of The Treasure Trove cracked.  Concrete and steel flew in all directions.  Large chunks of wall slid away and landed on the soft, muddy turf of the valley.

Ishmael flew Id over the mine field and circled around The Treasure Trove Fortress.  The huge, square building appeared to be intact; however, he noticed that the softer, inner walls were exposed in several areas.  The Leader of The Builders estimated that another hour of this siege would result in the Treasure Trove’s ultimate destruction.  “The Cult has been working hard to bring The Treasure Trove down, but they will not win this war!” Ishmael called out on the open coms channel.

“Hurry, sir!” shouted Balzad from the control bunker on the east end of Layer One in City-State.

“Vital signs look good, Ishmael!  Take out those remaining Cult soldiers, and get back to Zirana,” cheered Melchiot.

“Roger that,” confirmed Ishmael.

As he continued his arcing pass around The Trove, Ishmael noticed several trenches dug out in the ground near the base of the building.  The frightened, bloodied members of The Cult took refuge in shallow bunkers with The Trove to their immediate south and the minefield to their north.  Ishmael used the tactical display to zoom in on their faces.  Their filthy features did not resemble anything human – these cult members displayed pure, animalistic evil and deadly aggression.  Ultros created these monsters.

Most of The Cult soldiers clutched their stolen rifles close to their raggedy brown robes while Id flew near them.  Several enemy soldiers took shots at Id, but it was in vain.  They could not hit the fast-flying IAX vehicle, and even if they succeeded, the bullets bounced off the space-aged armor with ease.

Ishmael ignored the raucous cult soldiers and turned his attention toward the twenty-five opposing MWS units advancing toward The Treasure Trove.  The enemy stopped just short of the mine field.  Ishmael brought Id to a hovering stop just in front of their position, taunting the wretched members of The Cult.

Several Cult MWS units dropped their melee weapons and loaded high powered, rapid-fire machineguns.  The enemy took aim and fired.  The machine guns flashed as they spat out armor-piercing bullets.  Ishmael easily dodged to the right as the bullets zipped past him.

More gun fire came from Ishmael’s right side, so he pushed up with his legs.  The IAX emitted a strange green light from its clean-burning thrusters.  Id rose rapidly in the air about one hundred feet, leaving behind a shockwave of green energy that pulsed in every direction.  Several enemy MWS units toppled over from the force of the blast.  They quickly regained their feet and resumed their vicious gun fire.

Ishmael heard several distinct plink sounds as bullets bounced off his crimson armor.  “Better not tempt fate,” he thought as he pushed backwards, distancing himself from the enemy MWS units.  Finally, Ishmael spun in the air and thrust Id higher; he was now out of the range of his rivals’ gun fire.  The Cult members hissed and screeched like rabid dogs as Ishmael left the battle.

“That’s enough,” Ishmael whispered solemnly.  “Time to end this.”

Ishmael The Wanderer, leader of The Builders and the founder of City-State, crossed his arms over his chest.  The flying death-machine, Id, copied his movements.  Ishmael pushed his arms out in a natural movement and unleashed a double shot of green-blue energy from the emitters on Id’s forearms.  The energy blast went out in an “X” formation.  It travelled too quickly for The Cult MWS pilots below to react.  Most just stood there as they met their death.  The blast melted the armored hulls of the enemy MWS machines.  Fuel tanks exploded, sending pitch black smoke and fire across the valley.

Twelve of The Cult MWS units immediately exploded, sending flesh, bone, and metal into the dank air.  Thirteen others scrambled futilely for cover.  Ishmael maneuvered to his left and found another group of four Cult MWS units.  With a slash of his right hand, he ejected a flash of green energy.  The beam cut the units across their chests, cleaving them in a multitude jagged pieces.  As the machines toppled to the ground, their fuel tanks ignited, reducing them to smoking husks of melted steel.

“It didn’t have to be this way,” mourned Ishmael.  But in his heart, he knew that he made the right decision.  “You and your brainwashed savages could have just left us alone, Ultros.”

Ishmael circled back and found an additional group of two Cult MWS units toeing the line of the mine field.  He motioned his hand to slash and hit the ground next to the enemy.  Within seconds, a blast of rock and sand engulfed the enemy units.  They lost their balance and toppled into the mine field.  Both MWS’s connected with land mines and detonated on impact.  The blast sent dirt and sharp rocks into the air.  The cluttered debris landed inside the mine field and caused a chain reaction as more land mines exploded.

Hundreds of mines went off in rapid succession, killing many of the entrenched cult members huddled in their bunkers.  Ishmael heard the guttural screams of enemy soldiers as the animalistic, primitive beings died in the violent blast.

Immediately after that, Id’s proximity alarm sounded from behind him.  Ishmael turned around just in time to see several rocket-propelled grenades explode in his face.  Emergency alarms blasted his ears.  The IAX lost power, and he went into freefall.  The force of the blast nearly knocked him unconscious as Id thumped and smashed into the ground, jolting every bone in Ishmael’s body.

“Damn foot soldiers!” cursed Ishmael as Id lay on the ground.  “I thought they were hiding in the trenches.  I won’t make that mistake again.  Balzad?  Melchiot?  Is anyone there?  Do you copy?”

Ishmael’s console was black.  There was an immediate silence.  He started pushing buttons in numeric and alphabetic sequence to reboot the IAX.  Nothing.  From the left, he could feel the slight vibration of adversary MWS units charging the war torn ground.  He did not have much time.  Suddenly, the silence was broken as he heard a soft tremble on the surface about ten feet from Id.

“How did Balzad say to start this thing?”  Ishmael wondered aloud.  “That’s right!” he shouted as he remembered.

The Cult MWS units were getting closer.  He found the keyboard and entered the numerical and alphabetical sequence of 239571.ICD.100090.  Instantaneously, the IAX weapon jumped to life just as an iron club smashed into his chest.

Ishmael felt Id falling backward.  He placed his arms down and positioned them behind him.  Id stopped his fall, but it was awkwardly situated on his hands and feet; the machine faced up to the dim sky.  The enemy MWS unit charged at him with full force.  Ishmael stuck his foot out toward the MWS’s head and ignited Id’s lower boosters.  The Cult’s MWS’s head immediately became engulfed in blue fire and ferociously exploded.

The flame was so hot that the MWS’s head kept burning.  “That’s where all their sensors are located,” remarked Ishmael, realizing the enemy was blind.  He jumped up, bringing Id to its feet.  The Cult soldiers wandered off into the minefield and imploded after stepping on a mine.

Ishmael jumped up, bringing Id back to flight.  He quickly tracked down the last of the rival MWS units, and he blasted them with alternating energy bursts from his left and right arms.  One by one, the enemy forces exploded and melted.  To be sure Ultros’s men were dead, Ishmael sliced each machine in two pieces using Id’s superior weaponry.

He checked his screen to reveal a field of carnage within the valley beside The Treasure Trove Fortress: twenty-five enemy MWS unites lay in various states of annihilation.  “Now, for the soldiers,” Ishmael indicated blandly.

Ishmael circled Id around the perimeter of the valley and faced the minefield.  He blasted a long, straight line down the center of the field, detonating all the mines in that area.  The ground rocked like a massive earthquake engulfed the area.  Several pieces of The Treasure Trove’s damaged walls crumbled to the damp earth.  “That should allow our people to get to The Trove,” thought Ishmael.

“Balzad, send to any active foot soldiers and MWS units.  The Trove is open.  They can take cover,” Ishmael directed.

“Got it, boss,” replied Balzad.

Ishmael brought Id low and hovered over the trench line.  He saturated the underground portion with a heavy dose of green energy.  The Cult members’ bodies incinerated as soon as the sun-hot plasma scorched their robed bodies.  Ishmael made one last pass over the trench to check for enemy and ally survivors.

“None – there are no survivors,” he murmured to himself.  After Ishmael passed over the trench, he scanned the area, and began to maneuver Id to Zirana’s location.  His tactical screen identified the Commander General and The Cult leader about twenty feet from one another – they did not move from their original position.

“She’s still there with Ultros.  I have to get to her,” he stated.

Melchiot entered the conversation, “Sir, your vitals are showing elevated signs of stress, how do you feel?”

“I will feel great once Ultros is dead, Mel,” he continued.

“Go get her, sir.  She is wounded, and she’ll require your assistance.  Her vitals are on your screen, and I have maxed out Id’s power supply,” Balzad interjected.

“Roger that, gentlemen.  But Ultros his Zirana’s prize.  She must have the glory of killing that devil,” Ishmael confirmed.

********

 Zirana stood firmly the muddy ground, her boots anchored into the earth.  She intently stared at Ultros, and then surveyed the area.  The entire surface was riddled with holes, gigantic footprints, and broken MWS parts.  She then took her gaze from The Cult leader and her surroundings and locked her eyes on to Yeltahl’s MWS which was pinned beneath two Cult MWS units.  She silently screamed for her friend’s ill met fate.  The Commander General took a soggy step forward, wanting to desperately attack Ultros.  However, her military training and sharp instincts forced her to be patient.

The injured cult leader crawled on his hands and knees in the mud.  He feebly attempted to escape.  Zirana noticed the singed robe and his badly burned left leg which oozed blood through a charred wound.  Zirana could not help but laugh.

“We made such an effort to defeat you,” she said breathlessly.  Her wounded body allowed her to hobble toward him in the hot mud.  “It’s the great and powerful Ultros and his maniacal cult of mindless zombies!” she scoffed.  “You’re nothing but a pathetic weakling!”

“I’ll bury you!” shouted Ultros as he crawled away from Zirana.  “You haven’t beaten me!”

“You really are delusional,” offered Zirana, laughing at the sick, comical scene.  Sudden anger erupted from deep within her soul.  “Where do you think you are going?” Zirana demanded angrily.  “You’re going to pay for this!”  She pointed to the carnage around her.  “You’re going to die – here.  You’re going to die now!”

Zirana grabbed her pistol from the mud next to her demolished MWS tank and trained it on Ultros.  He was defenseless and unarmed, but Zirana did not care.  “Your idiotic, barbaric philosophy is responsible for this war!”

“Don’t kill me,” shrieked Ultros.  “I surrender.”  Ultros collapsed in the mud as his knees clasped underneath his bony frame.

Zirana shook her head.  “No,” she ordered.  “You will die by my hand.  There is no mercy for you.  You will not have a quiet death a prison.  You’re weak minded and weak-willed.  You’re power was just a way of hiding your weakness,” Zirana shouted as she raised the pistol between Ultros’s dark eyes.  Despite her injuries, she held the pistol in a steady manner.

“I’m unarmed,” accused Ultros.  “You would kill an unarmed man?”

“Man?” mused Zirana.  “No, I would not kill an unarmed man.  But you?  You’re not a man; you’re a despicable creature.  Your death will be easy and enjoyable.”

A shot rang out.  Zirana felt a stabbing pain strike her left arm.  She spun to the ground, rolled to her right and popped up, aiming the pistol in the direction of the shot.

Zirana saw a Cult member with a pistol aimed at her.  She squeezed the trigger confidently.  The bodyguard’s head snapped back as a clean shot to his forehead ended his inept attempt to save his master.

Ishmael’s IAX machine slowly hovered into the area.  Steam slowly flowed from the hot red armor.  There was a loud piercing blip that screeched form Id’s loudspeaker.

“Zirana, you’re injured,” came Ishmael’s amplified voice.  “Let me vaporize this wretch and be done with it.”

“No,” she yelled at the demon machine.  She clutched her left arm.  “No,” she said more calmly.  “I’ll do it.”

Zirana limped toward Ultros who resorted to dragging his inoperable leg.  From the rubble of the destroyed transport truck, another Cult member jumped out to defend his leader.  He hurled his body onto Zirana’s torso, and he managed to get his hands around her throat.

Zirana gagged, and her muddy hands dropped the pistol.  Ultros limped to maintain her pistol as his tainted soldier struggled with the Commander General.  His skeleton rattled as he hobbled to the weapon.

Zirana took a step back with her right leg.  She weaved her right arm through the top of the attacker’s arms.  Her left arm snaked through the bottom.  She clasped her hands together and twisted her body to the right.  The torque pried the enemy’s arms apart.  The Cult member’s hands tore away from her throat as his body smashed into the ground.  He popped up with fanatical quickness and lunged at Zirana again.

The Commander General shot her foot out and connected with his groin.  The cultist doubled over in pain.  The momentum of his body carried him forward.  Zirana stepped to her left and placed her left hand on the attacker’s right shoulder; her right hand cupped his chin on the left side.  She snapped her right hand up and pushed her left hand down.  The cultist’s neck broke with a satisfying crack.

“Rot in your nothingness,” she cursed as her opponent’s body slumped to the slimy, bloody ground.

Zirana turned to face Ultros; he clutched her pistol.  The Cult leader’s shot rang out, and Zirana was hit in the abdomen on her right side.  Now wounded twice, she dropped to her knees as she wailed in pain.  Ultros laughed loudly as he watched the blood stream from Zirana’s side.

Ishmael stepped forward, but a hidden Cultist fired his rocket launcher directly into Id’s sensor panel on the machines face.  Ishmael’s killing machine went offline immediately as sparks rained down no Ishmael inside the cockpit.

“Oh, Ishmael, it seems you’re not so invincible,” Ultros smirked.

IAX’s cockpit slowly opened, and the killing machine slumped to the ground.  Ishmael’s protection and his communication abilities were eradicated.  With his hands up in the air, he stepped out of the IAX.

Ultros snickered as he kept Zirana’s pistol trained on her, and the last remaining cultist pointed a weapon on Ishmael.  “You see?” remarked the Cult Leader.  He crawled on one hand and his knees.  His badly damaged leg prevented him from standingfully erect. “Everything you think you know is useless.  For every trained man you have, I will have a hundred barbarians.  For every gadget you create, I’ll use it to destroy you!  The Treasure Trove is mine, and I’ll destroy everything with it.  Mankind is nothing more than a collective of mindless animals!”

“Damn you!” Zirana swore.  “Come here, and I’ll kill you with my hands.”

“Death is meaningless!” shouted Ultros.  He coughed and winced as he tried to stand.  Instead, his burned leg buckled, and he fell back to the mud.  The gun never left his hand.  “Life is meaningless!”  Ultros shouted with wild eyes, keeping the weapon pointed at Zirana.

Ishmael ground his teeth, waiting for the split second he needed to grab the pistol from his holster located under his pilot suit’s left breast pocket.  “From the void, we came and to the void we shall return.  Knowledge isn’t real, and it does you no good!”

Zirana winced in pain; she pressed on her wounds.  Ultros continued gloating.  “I will kill your precious prophet again!  I will destroy City-State and The Treasure Trove, and you will be nothing but a memory.”  He observed her as she flexed her left arm and clutched her side.  “Unfortunate,” he mused.  Blood oozed down his charred leg.  “You’d have made a fine barbarian.  You kill.  You destroy!  That’s what my Cult is!  You just chose the wrong side.  Death awaits us all.  Now you see why it is so foolish to try and know – to attempt to progress.  It was this knowledge that destroyed the world.  Yes, death comes for everyone.  And today, I’ll send you back to the void.”

Zirana looked down at her right side.  She was losing substantial amounts of blood.  She turned her gaze to her leader who gave her a hopeful look.  The Commander General glanced back at Ultros.  “Come on, you bastard!” she coughed.  “Come on, and do it!”

Zirana heard a rumble from behind her.  She felt a warm breeze blow her sweaty hair off her neck.  From underneath two enemy MWS units, Yeltahl’s Advanced-MWS’s engine revved up, shaking the ground violently.  He managed to restart his machine.  With great effort, the damaged machine threw off the dead Cult units and regained its bearings.  Armed with a machine gun, the Builder unit slowly advanced toward Zirana, Ishmael, and Ultros.

“Yeltahl!  To the right!” screamed Ishmael.

A large gash in Yeltahl’s MWS machine allowed to hear Ishmael.  Zirana’s First Officer was alive, but he was mangled inside the walking tank.  A deep gash encompassed his right cheek, and he appeared to have minimal use of his left side.

“Yes, sir!” exclaimed Yeltahl.

Immediately, Ultros’s eyes went wide in terror.  His focus moved from Zirana and Ishmael to a bent and broken MWS tank furiously approaching him.  A large machine gun was pointed on Ultros’s forehead.  The Cult leader’s hand went limp, and Ishmael quickly grabbed his pistol from under his pilot suit.  In one swift motion, Ishmael put a bullet clean between the Cult soldier’s eyes who disabled Id.  Zirana, encouraged by the chaos, took her chance.

She lunged at the cultist leader, striking him hard in the chest.  She knocked the gun from his grasp.  They both toppled over into the mud.  She felt his frail body fighting in vain to overcome her own battle-hardened strength.  Her hands found his throat, and she closed her hands with supernatural strength.  In this moment, her adrenaline pumped ferociously through her veins.  Zirana was oblivious to her deadly wounds.

Her grip tightened.  Ultros harmlessly beat his hands against her back and the side of her head, but his frail body was no match for Zirana’s years of trained combat experience.

The Commander General closed her hands tighter around her enemy’s neck as Ishmael and Yeltahl kept the area secure.  Ultros’s blood-shot eyes bulged as his mouth managed only faint choking gags.  Finally, Ultros’s body went limp, and his mouth opened wide in a silent scream.  Zirana did not let go.

“I hate you!” she cried.  Tears of sorry and pain rolled down her cheeks.  “This was your fault!  My soldiers – my friends died because of you!  This war was meaningless!”

Zirana slammed the dead man’s head into the ground repeatedly as she let loose a volley of guttural, unintelligible screams.  She lost her ability to speak momentarily as she unleashed continuous punishment on the corpse of the man who caused so much death and destruction.  Ultros gasped for one last breath.

Zirana suddenly felt a warm hand on her shoulder.  She turned to see Ishmael’s kind face standing directly behind her.  He exited the IAX and placed his hand on her shoulder.  Yeltahl was a few feet behind her, protecting both of his superiors.

“Let go, Zirana.  Let him go,” Ishmael whispered.

Ultros’s dead body slumped to the wet ground.  His neck remained tightly in her grasp.

“Let him go,” Ishmael whispered again.  “It’s over.”

“Yes, sir,” Zirana exclaimed dreamily.  Her eyes were unfocused.  She released Ultros’s crooked, emaciated frame and let it rest on the battle field.  Zirana screamed in pain; her wounded ached and burned.  Ishmael caught Zirana’s broken body as she attempted to regain her footing.  She closed her eyes.

********

Ishmael looked through the plate glass in the infirmary on the east end of Layer One within City-State.  Zirana rested comfortably in bed as several machines monitored her vitals.

Melchiot stood beside Ishmael and smiled.  “She is going to be just fine, sir, thanks to you.”

“Thanks, Mel,” replied Ishmael.  “But your masterful medical skills are what really saved her.  You didn’t even use the nanomachines.”

“Well,” sighed Melchiot.  “I was thinking about what Balzad said earlier, and maybe…  Maybe I should put them away for a while.  He is right; they are too dangerous.”

“Really?” asked Ishmael, surprised.  “They saved me, didn’t they?”

“Yes, but it was just by luck that you didn’t have more intense side-effects.  I think I’ll focus on other technology for a while – mainly communication and construction projects.”

“Fair enough,” agreed Ishmael.  “Balzad has already agreed to seal away Id, I mean the IAX.”

“It is probably for the best,” Melchiot nodded.  “City-State should be a place founded on the peaceful exchange of ideas for mutual benefit – not about weapons.”

“I think you’re right,” Ishmael smiled.  “I think we’re going to release the information in The Treasure Trove and make it free for everyone.”

“Is that really wise, sir?” asked Melchiot.  “I know we believe in freedom, but look at what Ultros accomplished.  Look how he used our own technology against us.  Maybe a more controlled approach to The Treasure Trove is appropriate.”

“Honestly, Mel,” replied Ishmael.  He thought for a moment and shrugged.  “Maybe you’re right.”

“There have been reports that more and more people want to locate to City-State,” Balzad informed, changing the subject.  “Now that The Cult is gone, they feel safer to travel here.”

“That’s great news, Bal,” Ishmael stated with a genuine smile.

“Which reminds me, sir,” continued Balzad.  “We should start engineering City-State to incorporate the Multi-Layered design as soon as possible.  There are very few inhabitable areas left in the world.  There will be a great number of people coming to this nation.”

“You mean my layered bunker design?” Ishmael asked curiously.

“Yes,” answered Balzad.  “We can reengineer it for a city-wide application.  We could build layer upon layer of city here and drill it down into the earth each time a new layer is built.  The geothermal heat underground and the natural insulation will help us keep the entire city energy efficient.  It will also add a layer of protection against any future invaders.”

“Is that how I designed it?  My mind is still a little frail from the nanomachines,” explained Ishmael.

“Yes, your memories will return.  These designs are impeccable, and the Multi-Layered system will be indestructible,” nodded Balzad.  He looked at his brother, Melchiot.

Melchiot smiled and then noticed Zirana move in her bed.  “Sir, I think she is awake.  You should talk to her.”

Ishmael nodded and walked to the infirmary door.  He pushed it open and took quiet steps toward Zirana.  “Hey there.”

“What do you want?” chided Zirana.   I see that you are by my side again… need a bodyguard or something?”

Ishmael laughed.  “I was hoping you can punch Yeltahl for me.  He’s recovered already, and he told me to tell you that you need to quit slacking off.”

Zirana chuckled.  She paused before changing the subject.  “So it’s over, right?” she asked hopefully.  At this moment, her blue eyes displayed exhaustion and a sincere kindness.

“No,” Ishmael shook his head soberly.  Then the leader of The Builders smiled; his mood switched to one of enlightenment.  “It has only just begun.  The year is 2217.  Hopefully, the future of City-State will be optimistic.  The residents of this nation should use The Treasure Trove to paint a marvelous scene in the years to come.  I have faith that City-State’s impending leaders use this technology wisely.”

 

© 2014 All Rights Reserved

Facing the Devil1

Ishmael soared at low altitude on a high speed, southwestern course in search of his destination.  His heart raced as he sailed through the dank, humid air.

He left the confines of City-State and the bunker behind him, and he flew over the open land.  His final stop was The Treasure Trove which sat in a barren valley surrounded by a crescent-shaped ridge.

The blood-red IAX vehicle, which Ishmael nicknamed Id, easily cruised at speeds of more than seven hundred and fifty kilometers per hour.  It was quite unlike the bulky, standard MWS units maintained by each army.  Id was sleek, slim, adorned with sharp edges, and it flew like a superhero from the stories of his childhood.  The sturdy, armored killing machine was well built; Ishmael heard no external sounds, yet he could feel its graceful movements as it flew – raw power snaked through his veins.

“You really built this well, Balzad,” remarked Ishmael over the radio.  “Will I make it to the ridge in time?”

“We don’t have any communications with Zirana at this time, sir,” answered Balzad.  “I tried to get in touch with her, but she cut us off – she eliminated all radio contact.  Melchiot is organizing a medical team in the event of casualties, but we do not have any way to deploy them to the battle location as of yet.  You will be the first one to reach the ridge.  I am hoping there are survivors, sir.”

“I see,” replied Ishmael.  “I need to hurry or else Zirana and Yeltahl will have finished off The Cult before I even get there.  Hopefully, most of the infantries and MWS units are still fighting.  Is there a turbo boost on this thing?”

“Stick to the plan, sir,” indicated Balzad.

Ishmael did not allow himself to dwell on the possibility that The Builder’s forces would be defeated.  Ishmael had presided over much of their training, and he knew that they were well prepared for battle.  Zirana was more than capable as a leader.  Ishmael felt she could handle anything The Cult threw at her, but he still wanted to fight.  He wanted to defend The Trove and The Builders’s legacy.

Ishmael tested the IAX vehicle’s maneuvering once again.  Id swerved to the left and back to the right, easily cutting through the thick, foggy air on City-State’s surface – Layer One.  The ion-drive thrusters attached to Id’s feet made the vehicle surprisingly mobile.  What Ishmael did not notice upon first inspection were the retractable, dragon-like, metal wings that provided enough lift to convert Id into a flying and a killing machine.

Ishmael neared a large mountain range as he traveled southwest from City-State.  “I better assess these psycho-kinetic energy weapons,” he informed Balzad.

“Excellent!” came the enthusiastic reply.  “The energy-based weapons are triggered by natural fighting movements.  Imagine you are using your natural body movements – think of it as enhanced martial arts instruction.”

“It’s been a while since my martial arts lessons, but I think I can handle it,” Ishmael confidently offered through Id’s communication device.

Id’s pilot suit was covered with white, circular sensors that detected combat movements from the pilot.  Ishmael was secured in a near-standing position inside the cockpit.  He received relatively free movement with his hands and feet, and there was a small command console in front of him that he operated with his hands.

“How does the machine know the difference between when I’m operating the console and when I’m moving my arms in combat?” Ishmael asked.

“The PK energy weapons were installed with an intuitive processor that gathers data from your body: vital signs, eye-motion, and your brain’s projected alpha waves.  The system can determine from those items whether you are fighting or whether you are just moving around in the cockpit,” explained Balzad.

As he soared above the barren landscape, Ishmael raised his right arm in a quick motion.  Id’s right arm raised in perfect synchronization.  Then, Ishmael chopped down with his raised hand, and the IAX also chopped down, slicing the air violently around him.

“Great!” Balzad’s voice buzzed in his ear.  “Now try the energy weapons.”

Ishmael shrugged, not sure how to proceed.  He surveyed the hills in his immediate vicinity for an empty space of land.  He was spoiled for choice as the landscape below him was singed and desolate from the war.  Finally, he crossed his right arm over his chest.  Id mimicked his motion.  Ishmael slashed his arm back to the right, not expecting the IAX technology to work.  To his surprise, he witnessed a blue-green arc of plasma fire from the sharp, curving spike on Id’s forearm.  The green energy instantly impacted on the side of a mountain with a forceful explosion.  Rock and dust sprayed in a circular patter away from the point of impact.

With a smile, Ishmael belly-rolled Id to the right and dove down between two peaks.  He swerved around the mountain summits and let loose a slash with his left hand.  A green-blue streak of lightning unleashed its fury.  The imagery again crashed into a mountain peak, vaporizing snow and ice in a cloud of steam.

“My god!” laughed Ishmael.  “What power have you given me?”

Ishmael brought Id to a hovering stop over a large boulder just over the horizon from City-State’s south border.  He was approximately thirty miles from The Treasure Trove Fortress.  He clapped both hands together and shot a wide bolt of energy into the large rock.  The hunk of granite exploded into a fireball and disappeared behind a veil of smoke.  A million shards of gray, glittering rubble rained down on the valley below.

“I can’t believe this!” Ishmael said in a half holler, half giggle.  “This is… Balzad… this technology!”

“Sir!” Balzad chastised.  “For all we know, Zirana and the others are in need of assistance!”

Melchiot quickly radioed into Ishmael’s channel, “Sir, you have got to move quickly.  The Trove may be destroyed.  A medical team is in place, but the terrain may be too much for their small armored trucks.”

Ishmael shook his head, bringing himself back to reality.  “I named this thing Id for good reason.  Balzad, what is this euphoric feeling I have?” he asked over the cockpit’s communications system.

“It’s a slight side effect from the PK-interactive design.  The more you use it, the more it can affect you.  Best to only use it when absolutely necessary.”

“It sounds like it can be addictive,” warned Melchiot.

“I believe it,” confirmed Ishmael.  “I’ve spent too much time here.  I have to get to Zirana and the other Builders.”

 ********

Zirana’s eyes went wide.  The cloud of dust rising over the ridge could only mean that an army of Cult MWS tanks were headed to meet The Builders’s remaining soldiers.  Large clusters of red dots began to appear on her tactical screen.  Zirana’s sensors could not determine a specific number of enemy units.

“Regroup!” shouted Zirana over the command line.  Her forces were gathered in one place near the edge of The Cult’s dusty, deadly minefield.  Several well-placed shots would decimate their forces.  “Spread out!  Formation Gama six!”

The Builders’s MWS units began to spread out into groups of three.  There were only twelve functional Builder MWS units left, and there were about two hundred foot soldiers left on the ridge.  Zirana didn’t know how many enemy forces were approaching, but she knew her troops were outnumbered.

“Commander!” shouted an unsteady voice over the radio.  It was from Warrant Officer Michaels.  “There is a massive… force… numbers…”  The transmission was jammed with static.

The transmission was cut.  Zirana turned quickly to Michael’s position on the ridge.  She could not see the top of the ridge from her position in the valley.  Suddenly, three large explosions erupted from the top of the ridge.  Rock and metal spewed into the air.  Michael’s radio transmitter suddenly went offline.  Zirana already knew what it meant, but the explosions confirmed it.  The Commander General sighed.

A massive counter-attacking army of Cult forces flowed over the ridge, advancing rapidly onto their location.  With a minefield to their back and a weapon-ready army to their front, Zirana was in a terrible defensive position – she was incredibly outnumbered.

Within seconds, a barrage of distress calls flooded her radio as more explosions rocked the ridge in the areas of the other infantry groups.  All four Builder camps were now burning, and there was no communication with her soldiers.

“We need to get back up the ridge!  Those infantry groups are helpless up there!” Zirana screamed in her radio, hoping someone heard her command.  “Advance!”

White streaks of smoke raced down the ridge at Zirana’s forces.  Two of the Builder’s MWS’s exploded, showering her own unit in sparks and burning shrapnel.  The last ten remaining Builder MWS forces marched as quickly as possible to the ridge, but just as they started making their way up the ridge, a swarm of Cult MWS machines, more than fifty in all, flooded down the hill and hurled themselves at the vastly outnumbered Builders’s forces.

It was like looking at an abomination.  The members of The Cult, whose minds were ruined by Ultros’s cruel brainwashing, acted like animals when they engaged in battle.  The mindless beings did not deserve to operate such fine machinery as the MWS tanks.  She imagined their filthy, troll-like faces sneering at her as they piloted the invention of Ishmael and his counterparts in a quest to destroy The Builders.

“Zirana,” came a familiar voice over the command line.  “I’m on my way.”

“Who is that?” demanded Zirana.  “Now is not the time!  I thought I blocked all communication from twenty miles outside the battlefield.”  Her soft blue eyes scanned the tactical screen in an attempt to interrupt the incoming signal.

“Ishmael,” replied the voice.  He severed the transmission.

Zirana had no time to contemplate the strange conversation.  “Ishmael?  Sir?  Where are you?  Are you physically able to fight?  I thought you were dead!”

“Yes.  The nanomachines, Zirana.  Balzad and Melchiot took a risk, and I want to take a risk with Id and my soldiers,” stated Ishmael.  “I am about fifteen miles from your current location.”

“I apologize, sir.  If you can fight – if you will fight – we would love to have our leader in the fray,” noted Zirana.

“Roger that.  Keep my communications up.  I will see you shortly,” instructed Ishmael.

“Yes, sir,” confirmed the Commander General.

“Here they come!” shouted Yeltahl in his radio.

The Cult’s Mobile Weapons Systems equipped heavy, armored shields in one hand and melee swords in the other.  Outnumbered five to one, Zirana called her MWS units to form into a tight, two-deep wall.  Metal collided with metal as each machine squeezed tightly together.  “Shielded units up front,” she screamed.

Four heavily armored MWS units stood shoulder-to-shoulder.  The rest of Zirana’s MWS units formed up behind The Builders’s army.  Zirana’s group formed into their strong positions in mere seconds before The Cult’s forces met them at the base of the barren ridge.

A wall of enemy MWS forces met the wall of The Builder’s forces.  Large, armored mechs met as two opposing, unstoppable forces.  The clash echoed like thunder as metal traded blows with metal, ripping sections of steel, bolts, and flesh from each side.  The untrained Cult forces lost their balance and toppled over.

Zirana’s shielded units pushed hard into the coming onslaught, bashing them with their shoulder to floor-length shields.  The Cult’s melee weapons bounced harmlessly against the armor of the four front units.  The six rear units fired their machine guns over the shoulders of the shield units.  The armor-piercing bullets ripped the Cult MWS tanks like a paper shredder.  The unprotected heads of The Cult vehicles exploded, sending smoke, ash, and flesh into the damp air of the valley.  The enemy mechs dropped to their knees as smoke erupted from the empty space at the top of the machine – the now headless tank hissed and popped with blood and sparks.

Zirana and Yeltahl stood in the middle of the back line, picking off the untrained Cult army’s MWS units in short controlled bursts.  And while The Cult easily fell in succession, her group was quickly surrounded.  Zirana saw the two end MWS machines on her back line go down to the ground; they were pummeled by The Cult’s crude melee swords.  Their lighter armor eventually buckled under the relentless hammering of Ultros’s men.

Zirana fired without conscience, killing one Cult MWS after another.  Her force was down to eight, but her team slaughtered twenty enemy MWS units.  She fired again, and with each blast, robot head after robot head erupted with fire, blood, metal, and bone.  Suddenly, she felt her MWS unit pull backwards.

Zirana checked her read sensors to see four enemy MWS units behind her. She turned around, just in time to see a brutal, iron club beat down on her MWS’s head.  A burst of alarms sounded in her cockpit.  She gasped for air as she felt the MWS start to buckle.  Her heart raced.

“No!” she screamed.  The electronics inside her vehicle shot hot sparks over her pilot suit.  Her face and suit were singed.  The MWS fell to one knee.  The Commander General attempted to reboot the tank, but the enemy’s unit was above her, and she felt the repeated blast of the Cult’s melee weapons on the back of the Advanced-MWS.  Her display went black, and her unit lost power.  She felt another massive blow come from above her.  The MWS unit fell flat to the ground, and fire broke out in her cockpit.  She heard an awful creaking sound and then a heart-stopping “snap” as the mech’s structural supports and roll cage buckled.

“Damn!” cursed Zirana as she struggled with her safety belt.  Tears filled her eyes as the MWS started to crush itself under its own weight.  The cockpit began to collapse as she scrambled desperately to escape.  She heard the dull roar of other MWS units falling to the ground.  She also caught the sound of gun fire of her own forces suddenly cease.  They were defeated – The Builders and their forces were defeated.

Zirana frantically pulled on the harness; she quickly loosened it.  She fell on her face, and she heard more metal creaking above her.  The fire burned directly beneath her chest as the command console arced and smoked.  The cabin filled with noxious, deadly smoke.  Zirana began to cough violently.  She attempted to cover her face with her hand, but the smoke was too swift.  She grasped the small fire extinguisher that hung on the right side of the cockpit and sprayed her damaged console.

Holding her breath, Zirana flipped over on her back and smoothed the sweaty, blonde hair from her eyes.  She grabbed the safety tabs on the back of her seat and pulled hard.  The seat broke away from the rear of the cabin, and she pushed it to the right.  She searched frantically as the smoke impaired her vision.  The Commander General wildly grasped for the manual release lever.

Her hand caught the lever, and she pulled with all the strength she had left in her slender body.  Various cuts and bruises adorned her arms and legs.  A medium-sized gash spread across her forehead.  She lifted her hand to inspect the wound.  Blood readily seeped down the left side of her face as it mixed with strands of sweaty blonde hair.  “Damn it!” she cried.

There was a hiss as the air in the pressurized cockpit escaped outside.  Zirana crawled out of her nonfunctional, demolished MWS and landed on the muddy ground.  She pushed the hair out of her eyes and looked at the carnage.

All ten of the Builders’s MWS units were destroyed and charred.  About twenty-five smoking Cult MWS units sprawled across the cold, desolate terrain of the battlefield.  The rest of the Cult forces progressed toward The Treasure Trove Fortress.

“The bastards must know how to get around the mine field,” she remarked in shame.

Zirana searched for Yeltahl’s MWS.  After a quick scan, she found it pinned underneath two Cult MWS units.

“Yel!” she cried hopelessly, knowing that he could very well be dead.

No answer came.  Tears welled up in the Commander’s eyes.  “No!” she screamed.  She looked at The Cult’s forces as they moved toward The Treasure Trove.  “No!  You bastards aren’t supposed to win!”  She wiped the tears from her eyes, smearing blood and sweat along her jaw line.

She reached inside her MWS machine and pulled out the com device.  “Ishmael?  Where are you?” she yelled.  There was no answer.

There was a small rumble behind her.  Zirana whirled around, ready to fight with her fists up.  She faced a large, armored truck.  The tires stood seven feet high.  There was a large, square cab in the front and a long, covered cargo area to the rear.

“Come on you freaks,” growled Zirana.  “I’ll kill you with my bare hands.”

The left cab door opened and a sequence of steps unfolded underneath it.  From the cabin, a man in a dingy brown robe exited and slowly took the steps to the ground.  He stood in a crooked pose about fifteen feet from Zirana.  His body was bent and warped much like his mind.  His face was gaunt and pale, and his malicious smile was missing a few teeth.  He laughed with wild-eyed amusement as his thick, maimed skin stretched loosely around his face.  It was Myrian Ultros, himself – Leader of The Cult of Ultros.

“Well, well… if it isn’t the one and only Zirana – the Commander, well, ex-Commander General of The Builder’s depleted and demolished Builder’s forces!” remarked the Cult leader flippantly.  “So now, in the end, do you realize how foolish it was to support Ishmael.  Knowledge is dangerous, isn’t it?”

“Go to hell,” snarled Zirana.  She reached for her pistol.

“Please,” Ultros warned as he raised his hand.  “Put the weapon down.”  Several blood-thirsty and mutilated Cult members surrounded her, weapons drawn.

Zirana cursed again and dropped her pistol.

“Very good, my dear,” laughed Ultros.  “Why don’t you sit back and watch as we disassemble your Treasure Trove.  I hope you appreciate the irony of us using your technology to destroy all knowledge on earth.”

Zirana’s hands were seized by The Cult’s soldiers.  They fumbled with restraints as Ultros continued to speak.

“You will be an excellent sacrifice once this battle is finished,” he threatened.

Suddenly, a green light flashed down from the sky.  The truck exploded, sending Zirana and The Cult members roughly to the ground.  Zirana pulled her face out of the mud just in time to see a blood-red MWS flying across the sky on its way towards The Cult soldiers.

“Ishmael!” Zirana shouted.  She rose to her knees and turned toward Ultros.

The leader of The Builders landed the IAX with ease.  He opened the main cockpit and scanned the area.  Zirana’s strength and confidence was gone – she was bloody and broken.  Ishmael stared into Ultros’s maniacal, scarred face.  “Don’t lay another hand on her or any of my men,” he demanded.

“Sorry, sir,” she said turning toward Yeltahl’s bloody MWS.  “Looks like you’ve lost.  We have lost.  All hope – and The Trove – is gone.”

Ultros laughed evilly, “You’re mine, Ishmael.  You’re mine.”

To be continued…

 

© 2014 All Rights Reserved

To Save The Trove

Zirana, Commander General of The Builders’s Defense Force, pulled her shoulder-length blonde hair into a pony tail.  Her faint blue eyes reflected the light of the cockpit’s command screen.  This lean, fierce militant adjusted the shoulders of her lightly armored pilot suit, and she proceeded to call up the tactical display inside the cockpit of her Advanced-MWS vehicle.

She was situated atop a large, crescent-shaped ridge that encircled a sprawling valley.  The valley was situated several kilometers to the southwest of City-State’s urban limits.  The curious formation was most likely the result of a meteor strike on the Earth thousands of years before human civilization.

Time and weather eroded one side of the crater, giving it its crescent moon shape.  Situated in the once lush valley stood The Treasure Trove Fortress – the place where Ishmael and the other Builders kept all the knowledge they had accrued over the last twenty years.

The Builders collected as much of mankind’s scientific, historical, and artistic knowledge, including various communication and war inventions of their own.  This archive was gathered in hopes of lifting man out of a barbaric, primitive dark age after the brutal War of Darkness from 2200-2212.  However, The Cult of Ultros had alternative motives – to plunge humanity into a pit of ignorance from which it might never recover.

The status of Zirana’s forces was displayed in disappointing detail on the flat screen panel in front of her.  There were four battalions situated strategically on the ridge – two units to her right and two units to her left, and each battalion consisted of four MWS vehicles, armored man-shaped mechs, piloted by one of her officers.  There were also fifty infantry in each battalion – the men and women were dressed in lightweight, camouflaged body armor, and they were armed with mortars, grenade launchers, and assault rifles.  The only other additional forces where her own Advanced-MWS and Yeltahl, her First Officer, who’s Advanced-MWS stood a few feet from her, also positioned on the ridge.  Her forces were ready to strike the cultists in the valley below.

“Battalion leaders check in,” Zirana ordered over her mic.  One by one, the battalion leaders along the ridge acknowledged the call.

“Alpha, ready,” replied Lt. Basil Grimes who was deployed farthest to the south and west of Zirana’s position.

“Delta, ready,” said Lt. Thane Davis.  He was deployed to the east of Zirana and Yeltahl.

“Gamma, ready,” reported Lt. Ashley Franks.  “I’m here – located to the south and east of your position, ma’am.”

“Zappa, ready,” came Lt. Commander Scott Halsey to Zirana’s west.

“This is Warrant Officer Michaels,” echoed the last voice.  “All infantry units are ready.”  He stood proud, glancing out upon the valley’s rough terrain.

Zirana’s long, slender fingers swept the control panel.  She switched over to the intelligence screen and brought up the enemy forces.  The Cult’s forces consisted of twenty five MWS Units and seven hundred-fifty infantry.  Therefore, The Builder MWS units were outnumbered by nearly half, and the infantry was outnumber four-to-one by The Cult’s armies.

“God help us.  God help Ishmael,” Zirana muttered.

“Commander,” came a scratchy voice over the coms.  It was Yeltahl.  “The enemy is just over the next ridge.  Our four battalions are in position.  The enemy began to attack The Treasure Trove’s main infrastructure.  We have a small defense force inside, but they will most likely be taking shelter at this point.  They will be no help.”

“Thanks, Yeltahl,” replied Zirana.  As she blinked, her long eyelashes almost brushed the transparent face shield on her pilot helmet.  “What I wouldn’t give to have some air support.”

“Yeah, well,” Yeltahl offered over the circuit.  “You can thank The Cult for that.  They spent a lot of energy hunting pilots and destroying any kind of aircraft they could find in City-State.”

A small window popped up on Zirana’s tactical display.  The window was labeled “Message from Balzad”.  Zirana closed the window, ignoring the incoming message.  The window popped up again immediately after she closed it.  Frustrated, Zirana opened the window.  Balzad’s face appeared in a small corner of her display.

“What is it Bal?” snapped Zirana angrily.  “We’re kind of busy here.  My leaders are placed, and we are about to meet The Cult’s forces.  This is breaking the radio-silence protocol!”

“I’m very sorry, dear,” Balzad apologized.  “I’ve just called to let you know that I’m sending reinforcements.”

Zirana rolled her eyes.  “What kind of reinforcements?”

Balzad opened his mouth to explain, but Zirana was quicker.  “Look, I appreciate everything you’ve done, but we’ve already got this battle coordinated.  I can’t afford to make last minute changes to this well-planned strategy.”

“Hold on, I think you’ll want to hear this, Zirana,” offered Balzad.

“I’m going now,” Zirana scoffed, ignoring her fellow Builder.  “Don’t call back.”

“But,” Balzad managed to sputter as the window closed on Zirana’s display.  The Commander General quickly opened up her settings and disabled the video chat feature.  This prevented anyone else from calling her.

“Alright,” Zirana resumed. “Let me get a look at the enemy, Yelthal.  Bring up the bird’s eye tactical map,” she dictated.

“Yes, ma’am,” Yeltahl responded.  He pressed a series of buttons on his display.  The graphic opened, and he forwarded it Zirana’s tactical screen – she immediately saw a detailed 3-D map.

The map was provided by the one functioning satellite that remained in orbit.  City-State sat on a plateau close to the spacecraft’s northern position.

The Commander General could see the smart, square layout of the nation’s streets and more of the nation’s prominent construction: The Capitol, the defense structures on the city’s border, and the large trading post in the center of the city.

Zirana’s location was marked by a small blue dot in the middle of the ridge’s crescent moon curve.  The battle-torn ridge opened up to the south where it gave way to rocky hills filled with caves and crooked passes.

The map displayed a once green valley nestled itself inside the curve of the ridge.  War had turned the green, treeless fields into a barren expanse of mud, rocks, and sand.  Several paths were cut into the mud and gravel that led to the only standing structure outside of City-State: The Treasure Trove.

The small horde that comprised The Cult’s army situated itself around The Trove.  Their muddy faces full of vacant, brutal stares undoubtedly wanted to destroy this remarkable building and everything inside of it.  It represented everything they hated.  Intelligence, knowledge, science, academia, and wisdom.  Zirana swiped her hand across the consol’s screen to close the map.

“Got it.  Let’s go,” she affirmed.

Zirana gently pushed the throttle forward on her armored battle gear.  The large robot, standing approximately fifteen feet in the air, softly stepped forward with immaculate grace – more grace than one would expect from a walking tank.  Momentarily, the top of the ridge quickly disappeared, revealing the battlefield ahead.

The enemy MWS units positioned themselves down in the valley about one and a half kilometers from Zirana’s location.  “This area is crawling with Ultros’s mindless minions,” Zirana stated.  She was at a loss for another phrase to describe the vicious cultists.

Infantry soldiers were entrenched in a semi-circle around The Treasure Trove, while enemy MWS units encroached on the walls of The Builders’s fortress.  The tall, square building stood approximately twenty-five stories.  It was made of white reinforced steel and concrete, and the Seven Point Star of City-State stood proud over the structure’s main entrance.

The enemy MWS units advanced toward the structure, carrying some kind of melee weapons in their robotic hands.  Behind the enemy MWS tanks, seven-hundred fifty cultist infantry were outfitted in raggedy brown or gray robes.  They carried assault rifles and grenade launchers.

“I see The Cult has no problem with using technology,” remarked Yeltahl.  His MWS remained idle a few feet from the Commander General.

“Not if it helps them destroy mankind’s achievements,” replied Zirana.  “Some of those units down there were stolen from us.  I recognize those designs from Balzad and Ishmael’s files.  They must have kidnapped some of our engineers and forced them to build more.  They will use everything we created in order to destroy everything we created.  We must save The Treasure Trove.”

“There is no point in prolonging this.  We’re outnumbered, but we have the element of surprise and better tactics,” Yeltahl suggested from his MWS, which positioned itself next to Zirana’s.

“That’s right,” Zirana accepted.

The Commander General opened up the force-wide communications channel.  “This is Commander General Zirana.  We are a go for execution.  Being initial attacks.  Take out those MWS units!  Take out The Cult of Ultros!”

Zirana’s four battalions stood tall along the crescent shaped ridge under a mile from the enemy forces.  The terrain consisted of tundra, bare rock, and mud – a result of the continuous warring that had taken place just outside of the City-State boundaries.  The Cult of Ultros, assuming they destroyed The Builders’s defense forces, never posted watch along the ridge.  Their primary location lay within the valley – directly surrounding The Treasure Trove Fortress.  “Their assumptions shall be their undoing,” remarked Zirana.

In simultaneous fashion, each Builder battalion ascended to the edge of the ridge, forming four attack points along the ledge.  Each MWS vehicle loaded its long-range rocket launchers attached to the right shoulder of the two-legged tanks.

“On my mark, leaders,” Zirana commanded.

Each leader heard her direction via mics within their MWS.  “Yes, ma’am,” responded Warrant Officer Michaels.

The remaining three Lieutenants replied in unison, “Yes, ma’am.”

“Fire,” instructed the Commander General.

Multiple blasts from the rockets ignited in a deathly semi-circle along the ridge.  Zirana watched with rapt attention as sixteen streaks of white smoke descended onto the unsuspecting cult forces below.

The Cult MWS units sat close together, firing their rockets and machine guns at the bulletproof walls of The Treasure Trove Fortress.  The enemy noticed the incoming rockets, but it was too late.  At the last moment, several vehicles tried to dive out of the way of the incoming rockets, but most were unaware when the deadly munitions struck their targets.  The site exploded with vengeance as several enemy MWS machines were completely destroyed in the blast.

The Cult forces quickly regrouped and began spreading out, advancing toward the ridge.  “Again!” ordered Zirana.  “We’ve already destroyed four of them!”

“On your command, Zirana,” stated Michaels.

“Fire,” shouted Zirana.

A second volley of rockets hurled down the ridge in the direction of The Cult forces.  Two more MWS tanks exploded.  Zirana noticed The Cult’s MWS’s advanced in a rapid fashion; the enemy’s weapons were ready for another round of battle.

“Switch to assault mode!” Zirana shouted into her mic.  “Infantry, provide fire support from the ridge.  Take out their troops on the ground!”

Each battalion leader acknowledged Zirana’s order with a quick reply of “Rodger.”

As instructed, Zirana’s MWS units detached their rocket launchers and loaded their assault weapons, consisting of machineguns and Gatling guns.  Some units were equipped with a weapon in each hand, while others used one weapon and a large, armored shield in the other.

“Advance!  Formation Delta-five!” ordered the Commander General.

First Officer Yeltahl motioned his MWS directly next to Zirana’s.  He touched his tactical display, indicating a position on the map close to the other battalions.  Zirana’s 3-D map immediately opened, indicating the same position.  “We should be down there!  We must get down to the valley!  Let’s maximize our tactical abilities and have the infantry forces closer to the action!” Yeltahl lamented over the coms channel.

“No,” replied Zirana.  “We must stay put and observe the theater of battle.  You and I can’t get lost in the fray.  The MWS units are more than capable of taking care of this while maintaining their positions.  We can’t let our emotions distract us from seeing the whole battle.”

Zirana’s MWS forces, including the four battalion leaders, charged their mechs down the side of the ledge while she, Yeltalh, and the infantry forces remained on the ridge, overseeing the battle.  The Builders’s army advanced in four columns, and they met the enemy MWS machines in a violent clash.  In each formation, the two front units, equipped with the large shields, pushed forward directly into The Cult’s MWS squads.

This caused the MWS formation to split.  Several enemy units fell to the ground after being bashed with the shield units.  The remaining Builder MWS pilots flanked the fired relentlessly on the separated enemy units, easily destroying them.

Zirana witnessed two columns to her left and two to her right flawlessly cut the enemy MWS units in half.  “Alright!” shouted Zirana to her battalion commanders.  “We outnumber their MWS units.  Finish off the rest, and advance toward the foot soldiers!”

Zirana’s makeshift army made quick work of The Cult’s poorly trained MWS pilots.  Lt. Grimes shot a large rocket launcher into a tightly packed group of Cult MWS machines.  Smoke and fire from the rocket’s thruster streaked across the battlefield as it flew with lethal accuracy.  The area exploded in a violent blaze.  The sky turned an ominous shade of red and orange as smoke and debris filled the air.  Soon, all twenty-five enemy units were reduced to smoking rubble on the ground.

“Infantry, fire anti-personnel grenades on the enemy ground forces!” Zirana commanded to her foot soldiers on the ridge.  “Don’t give them a chance to surrender!”

“Yes, ma’am,” indicated Lt. Grimes.

The Cult ground forces stood their ground.  As The Builders’s forces approached the trenches of Cult fanatics, three ally MWS tanks exploded.  The Cult soldier erupted in cheers.

“Mines!” cried Yeltahl.  “We need to cease our advance.”

“Agreed,” confirmed Zirana.  “Commander Halsey, do you copy?  Who is unresponsive?  Which MWS units are operable?”

“Lt. Grimes, Lt. Davis, and Lt. Franks are not responding.  I am tracking their vitals… ma’am, they are down – dead.”

Zirana sighed in frustration and anger, “Halsey, have the MWS units fall back to a safe distance from that minefield,” barked Zirana.  “We can kill them from a distance.”

“No problem.  I am on it,” confirmed Halsey.

Zirana pushed a button on her command screen.  The screen turned blue as she brought up Warrant Officer Michaels’s coms channel.  “Michaels, this is Commander General Zirana.  I need grenade and mortar fire on those trenches – now!”

“Roger,” replied Michaels.

Long, looping arcs of smoke shot into the air from the four infantry units four camps of soldiers left on the ridge.  The grenades arced harmlessly over the Builder MWS units and landed with precise accuracy into the hoard of Cult foot soldiers near The Treasure Trove.

Multiple explosions sent the ragged, robed bodies of The Cult fanatics in every direction of the valley.  Bodies flew into the air as the explosives hit their marks.  Cultists scurried from the trenches, some missing limbs, while other were on fire.

A second volley of grenades followed the first, resulting in a more dead cultists – here, around one hundred Cult members were vaporized.  The remaining cultists took shelter in dug out trenches and armored bunkers where the MWS machine guns could not reach the lingering soldiers.

“Damn!” cursed Zirana.  “One airstrike could have taken care of all of this!”  She glanced down below the ridge, and then she looked to her second-in-command.

“Can’t we advance?” asked Yeltahl.  “There are people in The Treasure Trove – scholars, scientists, our guards – who might need help.”

“We’ll have to go around the ridge and approach from the rear,” suggested Zirana.

“They probably mined that area, too,” observed Yeltahl.

“You’re right.  Damn!” shouted Zirana.  “Okay!  Listen up!” she calmly stated in her mic.  She was speaking on the command channel to Halsey and the other remaining battalion commanders.  “The area is mined.  We’re going to have to form explosive disposal teams which will scan for land mines, and we must deactivate them.  I need you and the company commanders to get me a list of personnel within the hour.  That goes for you too, Warrant Officer Michaels.  Get me a list of explosive disposal qualified personnel from all four infantry units.”

“No problem,” replied Michaels.

“And The Trove?” asked Yeltahl.

“We can’t do anything until we can get to the fortress.  The scholars, scientists, and our defense team in The Trove are on their own for a few more hours,” Zirana conceded.

Zirana felt a low rumble in her belly.  At first, she dismissed it as the machinations of her MWS, but then she looked over and beyond the ridge.  The Commander General saw a large cloud of dust rising from behind it.

She looked over at Yeltahl’s MWS, who was also staring in that direction.  Zirana heard the nervous voice come over the radio: “We have a problem.”

Zirana’s display lit up.  She looked down at it, and she saw that Balzad was calling her again.  Highly irritated, she answered his call.  “I distinctly remember turning you off, Bal,” Zirana snarled sharply before she disabled the window again.  She didn’t have time to hear from her colleague at the moment.  “Do not override my communications software.  Balzad, The Cult is regrouping and…”

“I am sending him in.  He’s on his way,” Balzad stated.

“Who?” Zirana snarled.

“Ishmael is coming, and you can’t stop him.”

 

To be continued…

 

© 2014 All Rights Reserved

War Remains

 

Ishmael faded.  He was dying.  His vision blurred; he could only recognize minute patches of light and dark.  A warm patch of blood oozed from his torso, yet he felt cold.  These were his final moments.

“Melchiot, wait!” urged Balzad’s voice from the darkness.  “It is too dangerous!  Is it possible to patch up the wound conventionally?”

“The wounds he sustained in battle are not contributing to his ailments,” Melchiot quickly countered.  “His war wounds are curable.  His specific condition regards Halidor Neurotoxin, the lethal venom currently running through his veins.  This poison has been in his system since before the last battle, and this toxin is what is killing Ishmael.”

“Please don’t use them – the nanomachines,” pleaded Balzad.

The round, reinforced steel room sat underground.  There were no windows for natural light.  A single, bright white light shone down on Ishmael’s gurney.  Melchiot, Balzad’s younger brother, stepped into the light.

“What choice do I have, brother?” implored Melchiot.  “These machines… it’s the only chance we have to save him.”

“The nanomachines are not tested.  They don’t meet any of our standards,” warned Balzad.

Ishmael groaned.  Currently, pain ruled his existence.  The deadly neurotoxin coursed through his body, firing almost every pain receptor in his limp frame.  No one knew who administered the toxin until Ishmael’s trusted servant, Julan Benedict, was found dead.  The suicide note revealed the betrayal.

Melchiot tried to reason with his brother.  “If we don’t save him now, The Cult will storm The Treasure Trove and destroy everything.  We’ve worked for the last two decades with Ishmael to preserve knowledge for the nation, Balzad,” he argued.  “I’m doing it.  Ishmael deserves to survive.  We owe him – he is our leader.  He is Ishmael The Wanderer.”

Melchiot stared into Balzad’s eyes and commanded him to retrieve the MediPalm situated on the nearby metal table.  “Pick up my device and log this in: October 29, 2217 – administered nanomachine experimental treatment to counter the Halidor Neurotoxin and heal various battle wounds.  If we can get him to pull through, he may just live to see his fortieth birthday.”  Melchoit adjusted Ishmael’s medical robe, and he readied the needles.

Ishmael felt the dull sting of an injection whip through the middle section of his torso.  The last patches of dull brightness faded from his vision.  Soon, he would sink into nothingness – the sweet release of death.  His soul was in God’s hands.

Ishmael silently welcomed death, and with it, he welcomed utter defeat at the hands of the nihilistic Cult of Ultros.  He felt a cool sensation overcome his body.  It started at the point of the injection, but it soon moved outward to his chest, groin, his arms, and legs.  His head buzzed with a thousand light, cheerful, metallic chimes.  He gasped.  His fists clenched tightly as his forearms and biceps pulsated in protest as the nanomachines coursed through his broken body.

“Is this my death?” Ishmael interjected calmly.  “What is it?”

 

*******

 

“Ishmael!” cried a voice from the darkness.  “Can you hear me?”

“Speak, Lord!” Ishmael replied reverently.  “I hear you!”

Ishmael heard a light snicker.  Soon, the darkness of his vision gave way to light.  The brightness, blurry at first, began to resolve, and Ishmael could finally see.  He sat upright.  His blue robe followed the movement of his tall frame as he rubbed his eyes and smoothed his shoulder length salt and pepper hair.  Ishmael was positioned on a medical bed in front of his old friends – the brothers Balzad and Melchiot.

“Are we…” began Ishmael.  He coughed, and as he cleared his throat, Ishmael’s mid-section throbbed.

“Alive?” replied Melchiot.  “Yes, sir.  We are all alive.”

“Not all,” Balzad corrected.  “We are the last of The Builders, sir.  After your apparent death, Zirana and Yeltahl took the last of our forces to meet The Cult’s army and defend The Treasure Trove.”

Ishmael’s mind locked on to the memory.  The Treasure Trove, which was part library and part research and development facility, contained all that was left of humanity’s scientific, historical, and artistic knowledge.  It was housed in a large fortress outside the fledgling nation of City-State.  He and his fellow Builders collected intellectual information from around the world, and they used it to develop new technology that would lift mankind out of the Second Dark Age.  And now, Ultros, a boorish madman and his fellow cult members meant to destroy the fortress and lead mankind down a spiral of death, barbarism, and ignorance.

Another memory came to Ishmael’s mind.  Previously, he announced the plans to build City-State as a layered, underground bunker to help defend against the attacks of The Cult.  After this announcement, Ultros and his mindless thugs attacked the city while the plans to construct Layer Two unfolded.

Ishmael looked down at his bloody torso.  Where he expected to see bandages and ripped flesh, he saw only smooth skin with a slight pink tint.  Ultros and his men attacked and wounded Ishmael, but the others were not so fortunate.

“There are only five of us Builders left?  The other forty-five?  Dead?  What about City-State… destroyed?  Is it still undamaged?”

Melchiot waved his MediPalm in front of Ishmael’s face.  “Are you having memory problems?”

“Damn it, Mel,” growled Balzad.  “I told you that those machines weren’t to be trusted!”

“His memories should recover,” countered Melchiot.

Ishmael’s eyes hardened.  “Never mind all that.  The battle – What are our chances?  We must save our friends and The Trove.  We must save the nation,” proclaimed Ishmael.  He propped himself up; his wobbly arms were fully flexed on either side of his body.  His strength was beginning to return.

Balzad lowered his face to the ground.  Melchiot touched his brother’s shoulder.  “Sir,” began Melchiot, “it looks as though The Cult will emerge victorious.  They will destroy all physical knowledge… eliminate intellect of any kind.  That is Ultros’s ultimate goal.  He wants to resort back to a barbaric society.”  Melchiot stifled back a sob.

The metallic chimes still echoed in Ishmael’s mind.  He shook his head feverishly as sweat trickled down his temples.  “I remember their goals,” stated Ishmael.  “How long until this blasted ringing goes away?”

Balzad shot a dark look at his brother.  Melchiot stepped back and looked down at the ground.  “Well, sir,” mumbled Melchiot.  “It’s a matter of study, I suppose.  We don’t know the specific side effects of this new technology.”

“You mean to tell me that… these nanomachines… I’m an experiment?” stammered Ishmael.

Melchiot nodded, but he steadied his eyes on the floor.  “Well, I know what they will do; I just can’t prove it.”

Ishmael laughed heartily seasoned with slight sarcasm.  “I trust you, and that’s a risk worth taking.  Right?”  He grasped the right side of his upper body as he chuckled in pain.

Balzad frowned.  “Sir, I was against using the nanomachines.  Not because I wanted you to die, but…”

“That’s alright Balzad, I know what you mean,” Ishmael raised a hand.  “No explanation is needed.  I know you were only looking out for my well-being.  I am, however, glad it worked.  Those who wish to destroy all knowledge and innovation must be eliminated.  I’m willing to suffer any side effects these nanomachines give me in order to do that.”

“Yes, sir,” smiled Balzad.  The brilliant engineer’s eyes lit with dark fire.  “To that end, might I suggest a way to defeat The Cult?”

“No!” Melchiot yelled at his younger brother.  “You can’t possibly suggest the MWS!”

Ishmael turned from his seated position and placed his left foot on the cold, metal floor.  He situated his right foot on the floor, properly balanced himself, and slid his body off the table.

Ishmael felt strong and reinvigorated.  The pain in his stomach and mid-section ceased, and he scanned the room.  His vision further cleared, revealing the small, circular room.  The walls and floors were adorned with steel plates, and several insulated pipes ran across the ceiling.  A small control panel with brightly lit buttons hung on the wall behind the brothers.

“I didn’t think the Omni-MWS was ready,” commented Ishmael.

Melchiot stepped close to Balzad and grabbed the sleeve of his brother’s stained white overcoat.  “You remember that much about it, Ishmael?” Melchiot asked while glaring at Balzad.  Ishmael cocked his head to one side.  After a brief moment, the younger brother continued, “If I may say, ‘not ready’ is a severe understatement.  It’s not – it’s absolutely not ready!  I forbid it.”

“Why?” asked Balzad, removing Melchiot’s hand from his sleeve.  “You took a risk with the nanomachines, and now it’s my turn.”

“You’re not taking a risk,” shouted Melchiot.  He pointed at a shaky Ishmael.  “He is!  Ishmael will suffer if you lose the gamble.”

“What’s the difference?” dismissed Balzad.  He walked to the control panel with Melchiot attached to his ear.

“No!” ordered Melchiot.  “I forbid it!  It could kill him!  I just revived him, and you want to place him in an unreliable combat vehicle?  A death machine?”

Ishmael’s leg buckled.  He fell back onto the bed.  “Mel, let him speak.  Can we get the MWS ready in time to save The Builders and defeat Ultros?”

Melchiot stopped in his tracks.  He slowly turned to face Ishmael.  “Sir, no,” he said softly.  “The MWS isn’t ready.  It might go haywire again!  The Identify-Friend-Foe technology isn’t meshing well with the Omni-MWS.”

“I know the risks,” indicated Ishmael.

“Do our friends know the risks?” Melchiot rebuked.  “They would be in the most danger.  If the Omni-MWS malfunctions again, you would be unable to distinguish friendly and hostile targets.  You could kill our own forces.”

“Don’t listen to him, sir,” Balzad smiled.  He pushed his brother to the side.  “Come here, and I will show you an alternative.”

Balzad punched in a sequence of numbers into a wall-mounted keypad.  A hydraulic hiss sounded in the rear of the room on the other side of the bed.  A small hatch on the metal floor popped loose.

“What kind of a bunker is this?” inquired Ishmael.  He narrowed his brow.  He rose to his feet once again.

“You designed it,” indicated Balzad.

With Melchiot in tow, Ishmael and Balzad walked across the steel bunker.  The three of them lifted the heavy hatch and descended an iron staircase to the next level below.

“I don’t remember designing a bunker; I don’t remember this place,” remarked Ishmael as he struggled to examine the poorly lit room.

“But how do you remember the MWS program?” inquired Balzad.

“I don’t know,” responded Ishmael.  “I can vaguely remember certain situations before the accident.”

“Of course, sir,” Melchiot nodded.  He continued, “This is a 1/1000 scale mock-up of your City-State Layer design, starting with Layer Two.  As of now, we are situated on Layer One.  Three to four additional Layers will be constructed on top of one another at a later date,” offered Melchiot as he fumbled for a light switch on the wall.

“I am so sorry,” added Balzad.  His brother took over the conversation.  “Speaking of memories, do you know what day it is?” he asked.

“No,” remarked Ishmael.

“It’s your birthday – it’s your fortieth birthday, sir,” declared the young engineer.

“My birthday, Balzad?” Ishmael questioned.  He smiled inwardly at the irony.

“Yes, sir.  It’s October 31, 2217,” answered Balzad.

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” quipped Ishmael.

“The shaky memories are just a side effect of your illness coupled with the rapid recovery with the nanomachines,” replied Balzad.  “We didn’t want to overload you with too much information too quickly.  We should start calling you Lazarus.”

“He wasn’t dead, brother!” Melchiot started in on Balzad.

“It was just a figure of speech.  I was just joking… we all could use a little laugh…” bickered Balzad.

“Gentlemen, it’s all right.  No offense taken.  I understand,” smiled Ishmael.  At that moment, he felt that his purpose was clear.  His second chance at life gave him the opportunity to complete his life’s work.  And to do that, he had to save his friends and end the war.

Ishmael reached out and grabbed the sleeve of the brothers.  “I want to personally thank you both for saving my life,” acknowledged Ishmael.  “Now, what’s next?  I want Ultros dead.”

Balzad nodded. “Yes, sir.  City-State has sustained heavy damage due to the war.  The Treasure Trove actually has the plans to implement a full-scale Layer Two – as you designed.  But getting to it is going to prove a challenge.”

“By the way,” interrupted Melchiot.  “I still think sending you into combat in the malfunctioning Omni-MWS is a horrible idea.”

Balzad’s hand slapped the appropriate panel, and the room instantly illuminated with soft, white brightness.  Centered in the room stood a large, bulky, man-shaped, robot-like machine.

The machine, a Mobile Weapons System, or MWS, looked intimidating, even without a pilot.  Heavy, square, armor plates shielded the pilot from direct weapons fire, while an assortment of modular weapons attached to a thick, armored “backpack”.  This was the latest model – the Omni-MWS, which was constructed specifically for Ishmael to use.  However, it had failed several preliminary tests.

The MWS looked like a military combat tank on legs.  “How many of these do we have?” Ishmael queried, observing the weapon.  His medical robe swept the edge of the MWS’s shiny, metal surface.

Balzad moved past the weapon, and he typed something into the control panel on a desk beyond it.  Balzad looked back at Melchiot and Ishmael who gawked at the armored monstrosity.

“Get back!” he shouted.

Ishmael and Melchiot took several steps away from the Omni-MWS, and both of them came to stand next to Balzad.

“What is it?” Melchiot asked.  He became increasingly annoyed at his older brother.

Balzad smiled devilishly.  “You don’t think I’d send Ishmael The Wanderer into battle with that piece of garbage, do you?”

With maniacal glee, Balzad touched a button on the screen.  There was an alarm; the white lights dimmed and changed to red.  Several yellow flashing lights appeared behind the MWS.  A polished, metal door opened beneath the Omni-MWS.  Within seconds, the armored machine was swallowed by the hidden compartment.  The doors closed.

A second compartment, just behind where the Omni-MWS once stood, opened in the floor.  A dark red, menacing shape ascended to take the MWS’s place.  The shimmering red metal glinted as the emergency lights bounced off its smooth armored plates.  At the elbows, knees, and shoulders, the armor came to points, making the contraption look like a fifteen-foot tall demon.

Melchiot and Ishmael stood speechless.  Balzad took the opportunity to introduce his latest creation.  “Gentleman, may I present to you the IAX, the Integrated Assault Exoskeleton.  We call it the Id.  This will assist the remaining Builders in defeating Ultros and his Cult.”

Balzad jumped in front of the metal demon.  Its sleek, blood-red armor featured vertical spikes protruding out of the shoulder blades which rose above the head of the death-beast.  Long, serrated blades extended from the forearms in curving cruelty, and the leg plates displayed horror in sharp spikes.

“This is the latest invention, of course.  Much more advanced than the MWS designs,” continued Balzad.  Her armor is super lightweight and much more durable than our standard or advanced MWS.  You can see the spikes protruding from the shoulders and knees,” Balzad indicated this with his hand, and he slowly circled the unit.  “This is to make melee and hand-to-hand combat feel more natural.”

Ishmael gawked in utter awe.  “More natural?  A little ironic, but The Cult must be destroyed.”  Ishmael glided his fingertips along the sharp blades of the machine’s legs.  “This is most fearsome, indeed!” he managed to whisper.

“Thank you, sir,” gloated Balzad.  “You’ll notice the heavily armored feet.  That is because we have included aerial thrusters – one of my enhanced designs.”

“You mean this thing can fly?” Melchiot asked as he continued to look on in horror.  “This is atrocious – a barbaric winged killer!”

Balzad turned serious.  “Yes, well, what better way to deliver an omnicidial death to The Cult to their maker?”

“Pardon the observation,” remarked Ishmael, “but where are the other weapons?  The conventional weapons… You know, like guns or swords?”

Balzad’s smile returned.  “Conventional weapons are not necessary, and that’s the best part, sir.  I’ve spent many years researching a way to interface electronics and virtual intelligence with the PK responses in our brains.”

“PK?” asked Ishmael.

“Psychokinetic, sir,” replied Balzad.

“I know,” Ishmael grinned.  “Just making sure I heard you correctly.  As you know, my brain is a little frail.”

Melchiot’s jaw dropped. “This is a PK weapon?” he cried.  “Are you insane?”

“No,” Balzad replied casually, “I’m a genius.”

Ishmael interrupted and cut off the next round of bickering.  “So this thing uses PK energy – responses from the brain – as a weapon?  How, exactly?”

Balzad sighed.  “Yes.  The short version of all this is that it basically responds to your thoughts.  That’s how you move.  It is very natural.  You think, it responds, and it performs.  Even if you want to fly.  I’m over-simplifying this, of course, but… tempus fugit, sir.”

Ishmael nodded.  “And the weapons?”

“Yes,” answered Balzad.  There are several PK amplifiers in the unit.  The weapons are energy-based.  The ordinance is dispensed by your natural movements.  Hacking and slashing with your arms will unleash directional waves of energy at your target.  Kicking works too, and if you want to block an opponent or incoming fire, you can put your hands out and form a type of plasma energy-shield.”

“This is a god-slayer,” Melchiot breathed as he searched for a chair.  “I can’t believe you created this!”

“Oh please, brother,” rebuked Balzad.  “We’re in a war.  I want to win, and this is how.”  He turned to Ishmael, “Sir, this is yours to pilot.  I’m sorry we don’t have more time to go over the instructions, but I do believe that Zirana and Yeltahl will engage The Cult within the hour.  The location of The Treasure Trove is already programmed into your computer.  It’s about five kilometers southwest of City-State.”

“They are alive?  The only ones left?”  Ishmael paused, took a deep breath, and continued.  “Fine,” Ishmael agreed.  “Find me a pilot suit.  Today, we will fight the last battle.  Man will either rise from the ashes of its own ignorance, or it will decay into a barbaric, anti-knowledge race of animals!”

“I’ll let Zirana know you’re on your way, sir,” replied Balzad with a smile.  “She needs – The Builders need – our leader.”

 

To be continued…

 

© 2014 All Rights Reserved

 

 

two-microphones-press-conference_header

Harper Grey’s office was cluttered.  Time-worn, out of date MediPalms and disposable java cups littered her desk.  The office space was muddled with hundreds of paper printouts of old books on journalism, writing, and storytelling – books that were already deleted from the City-State National Library.  These resources were no longer available for MediPalm download, but Harper admired them.  The printed stacks were towered unevenly in her office, and they resembled City-State’s massive, aerial skyline.

This average, B-Class citizen sighed as she stared at the office’s deep blue walls that held two wide paintings: a desert landscape and a mountainous landscape.  Harper purchased them from an eccentric artist on Layer Six who claimed to “see the past in his dreams.”  In contrast, five medium sized vid screens were positioned on various sections of her office walls in front of her desk.  The vid screens showcased City-State’s incoherent, absurd reality shows.  As she twirled her shoulder length, golden blond hair, her five years at The City-State Sentinel waned on her mind.

The Sentinel was City-State’s premier tabloid news outlet.  Located on the outskirts of Layer Seven’s Information District, Harper watched the aircars whiz by her eighty-sixth story office window as they carefully maneuvered their way through the maze of the nation’s colossal structures – some skyscrapers surpassed over two-thousand feet.  Harper observed the perpetually overcast sky of smoke and fog through her three large windows as she twiddled her silver pen between her pointer and middle fingers.  “I’m incredibly bored,” she mumbled.  “This is not going to work.”

Harper’s latest piece on the newest reality television show, “Indiscrete Cannibalism,” was drab.  She blankly stared at her vid screen on her desk which was barely visible as stacks of old data disks piled up around it.  She peeked over the mountain of paperwork to view the television show on one of her office vid screens.  Harper rolled her eyes.  “Could there be anymore blood?  Those producers are horrible,” she murmured.

Harper wanted more – she wanted the Capitol.  “I must tell people the truth.  This mindless trash circulating through the press is ridiculous.  I have to get to Karns,” she said to herself as she dropped her silver pen, cupped her long bangs behind her ears, and adjusted her tight-fitting, navy blue blouse which accented her skinny frame.  Harper heard a knock at her office door; she looked up.  Her boss stood in the threshold.

“Hey, Harper, are you done with that story about the new reality show?  I need to put it on the B-Net today.  One of the victim’s family members is appearing on Spotlight News at 7:00pm,” barked Shannon Young, Senior Editor of The Sentinel.  She entered the cluttered space with stern intent.  Shannon was a tenacious reporter: her intriguing interviews with reality stars continuously earned high ratings and readership.

“Yeah, Shannon, I’ll have it this afternoon after I get back from the Capitol’s press conference,” noted the young reporter.  Harper crossed her long legs, sat upright in her leather chair, adjusted her yellow pencil skirt, and rebalanced her shaky vid screen.

“Why are you going to the press conference?” asked Shannon.

“Karns will address Illegals, Grecian, the drones on Layer Six, and…” Harper was aggressively interrupted.

“Harper – outlawed citizens, drugs, and politics are not The Sentinel’s focus.  We are strictly an entertainment…”

Harper returned the favor, “And that’s the problem: City-State’s entertainment!  It’s degrading and stupid!  Look!  Look at this!”  Harper pointed to the despicable programming displayed on vid screens within her office.  “Trash!  If only…”

“Harper, please!  This is what our Government mandate requires.  Going off-topic can get us sanctioned.  The Sentinel isn’t allowed to cover politics.  Our readers don’t want to read any nonsense from the Capitol.”

“Well, it’s not what I want!  And it’s not what the people of this nation should want!” exclaimed Harper.

She grabbed her handbag and her MediPalm, rose from her chair, and left her desk.  She pointed at Shannon with journalistic passion.  “I’ll get you a story – a story that will change the face of this mediocre newspaper!” hissed Harper.  She walked around the piles of books on the floor, winked at her boss, and exited her office as her blood red stilettos clicked on the marble floor.

“What has gotten into her?” Shannon mumbled to herself.  She swiftly turned back to Harper, “Your story goes live at 5:00pm!”

*******

Harper raced out of The Sentinel’s main lobby and hailed an aircab.  “To the Capitol, please,” she instructed.  As the driver ascended into Layer Seven’s meticulous system of aerial highways, Harper shaped her flowing hair into a loose bun, letting the shorter strands fly freely.  She smiled with enthusiasm.  “Karns will hear me today,” she whispered to herself.

The Capitol buzzed with activity.  Jace Karns, President Wilhelm’s Media Secretary, shifted his paperwork at a large, stone podium as the crowd of media press hovered to reserve their valuable placements in the small board room within the President’s quarters.  After a moment, he exited through the room’s back doors for final preparations.

Harper spied a third row seat – right in front of Karns.  She carefully navigated through the sea of reporters.  “Excuse me.  Pardon me,” she apologized as she found her way to her seat.  As she made herself comfortable, the reporter reached into her handbag, pulled out her silver stylus, and activated the I-Note app on her MediPalm.

“Oh, great, why is The Sentinel here?” laughed Phillip Crayborne, a chubby, balding, middle-aged reporter for the B-Net’s main video news reel, CSVN (City-State Vid News).  “When do I get your latest piece, darling?” snickered Phillip.  He situated himself in the front aisle with his production crew.

“Shut up, Phillip,” snarled Harper.  “Why are you here?  Did the Karns and his staff pull you out of your Layer Five hole to regurgitate their talking points again?”

“Oh, Ms. Grey, you have a lot to learn about advanced journalism.  But you are pretty – I’ll give you that,” smirked the veteran reporter.

“You think I’m pretty, huh?  Well, get me on the B-Net.  Get me on your primetime reel,” motioned Harper.  “I can draw ratings, you know that.”  She grinned.

“How?  A bikini news block from President Wilhelm’s Senate chair?  Ha!  You’re better off sticking with ‘The Slimy Sentinel’, sweetie.  Someone’s gotta report on all the trash from the Entertainment District, and it’s not gonna be me,” mocked Phillip.

Harper rolled her eyes as she fixed the front buttons on her tight blouse.  She turned to the front of the room: the press conference was about to begin.  One last tech crew member checked the podium’s microphone.

Karns sauntered back into the board room.  He looked sharp in a pitch black, pinstriped suit.  His deep purple tie and pocket accent shimmered in the room’s bright lights.  The golden Seven Point Star pin on his lapel matched the larger Seven Point Star on the stone podium.

“Good morning,” Karns greeted the press corps.  “As you are all well aware, there have been a few incidents regarding violent explosions in several areas of City-State.  The most recent incident took place in the Commercial District at the Merc-X Corporate Headquarters Building.”

Several members of the press shifted in their seats.  Harper glanced across the room.  It was not the norm for Karns to address such matters directly.

“There have been some investigations, none that I want to get into detail about, and the results of those investigations are as follows:  A group of highly militant, fanatical Illegals are behind the attacks.  The government is taking the proper precautions to eliminate this terrorist group, and the matter is almost already completely resolved.  As a result, drones have been deployed to various areas of Layer Six.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any other information for you at this point, and I won’t be taking any questions at this time.”

The members of the press nodded their heads in near unison as they typed the government’s announcement into their MediPalms.  Harper looked around at the complicit crowd of “journalists” in utter disgust.  “How can they just let this go without so much as a question?” she thought.  “I can’t go back to The Sentinel.  I don’t want to go back to that place.”

“Now, let’s get back to the important economic turn in…” Karns heard a loud stifle from the crowd.  It was a woman’s voice.  He briefly glanced among the crowd; a young woman from the third row stood amidst the silent and seated crowd of journalists and television crews.  Her voice was strong; Harper was determined to get her story.

“Yes, Mr. Karns, and how does the government define the Illegals?  Especially since the government has never officially admitted to their prior existence,” Harper spoke with wide eyes and a determined grin.  She held her MediPalm with an extended arm to retrieve Karns’s response.  Phillip and a few other reporters glimpsed at her with caution and envy.

After a moment, Karns calmly confirmed, “Basically, Illegals are outlaws.  They do not operate within the confines of the law, they drain City-State’s resources, they attack government and public buildings, and they live underground.  Illegals are filthy fugitives.”

The room erupted in hysteria.  Harper smiled as reporters gasped and briefly gossiped between one another.  “I can’t believe this,” Phillip muttered to his crew.  Other reporters leapt from their seats to ask follow-up questions.  They were unsuccessful.

Disgusted, yet a little satisfied, Karns turned from the podium and left.

Harper scanned the frenzied room.  All of the journalists were frantically typing on their MediPalms and scrabbling to write in their notebooks.  She rose from her seat, grabbed her handbag and her MediPalm, and squeezed her way through the crowd of anxious reporters.  She glanced back at Phillip who struggled to capture all of the footage in a steady manner.  “How’s that for ratings, Phillip?” Harper winked.

“You sure got guts, darling,” Phillip grinned.

Harper followed the Media Secretary through the board room’s back doors.  She slipped right past the security guards who were distracted by the raucous crowd.  Karns tried to quickly snake through the maze-like hallway without interruption.  Suddenly, he heard his name, and he stopped.

“Jace!  Jace, wait!” the young reporter shouted as she ran unbalanced in her red stilettos.

Karns stood about twenty-five feet in front of her.  He spun around and threw his arms up in the air.  “What?  What do you want, Harper?  I told you that The Sentinel has no place for politics and internal affairs.”  Karns rolled his eyes as he walked toward her.  She felt two oversized hands grab her by the shoulders.  Harper quickly turned around and came face to face with the two men – Capitol security guards.  She sighed.  There was no doubt that she would be thrown in jail shortly.

“No, no, wait, Jace!  I want you to tell me more.  Tell me more about the Illegals and the drones deployed on Layer Six,” she begged.  She struggled against the guards, managing to slip out of their grasp momentarily.

“Why?  So you can spin it into a reality show?  No way,” hissed Karns.

Harper was desperate.  She could feel the sweat start to trickle down her temples.  She swerved to avoid the slow guards again.  She stepped to her left and ducked under their grasp. “No, I… I want to…” she was dangerously close to Karns.

“Goodbye, Ms. Grey,” motioned Karns.  He began to pseudo salute her as she interrupted his motion.  The guards regained their grasp on the tabloid reporter’s shoulders.  Harper heard the unmistakable high-pitched whine of a stun baton charging.  Her eyes widened, and she stepped forward.  She decided not to stay quiet.

“Why is the government suddenly claiming that Illegals exist?  You knew that announcement would bring about questions!  What’s the government really hiding?  Who is really behind the attacks?  What are the drones really doing on Layer Six?  Answer me, Jace!”

Harper felt a hot electric shock to the back of her neck.  The world disappeared behind a black curtain.  Her knees hit the cold, tile floor of the hall, and a pair of huge hands grabbed her under her arms.

*******

Harper woke with a gasp.  Harsh, fluorescent light blurred her vision.  The light slowly came into focus.  She stared at a concrete ceiling.  A singular, rectangular light shone down on her from above.  She lay on a thin, uncomfortable cot that was attached to the steel bulkhead.  To her left, a thick, metal door with a thin slot just large enough for a food tray was in her burred, peripheral vision.  She was in a section of City-State’s National Security Office; she was in jail.

“Oh man.  What happened?” she moaned.

Harper made a move to stand up, but the throbbing pain in her head forced her to lie back down.

“Damned stun batons.  Karns, you jerk,” she cursed.

As she laid there incapacitated, she heard footsteps approach her cell door.  “Here he comes,” thought Harper.  “I’m totally screwed.  I’ll never work again.”

Harper heard the distinct sound of electric buttons pressed on a MediPalm.  She sat up, blinked her dry eyes, shook her head, and attempted to smooth her tangled hair.  The door lock chimed happily as the mechanism released.  The door swung open and before her stood a National Police Force Deputy in his dark blue uniform.

“Grey,” stated the deputy.  “I’m Deputy Kilnbern, and I’ll be assisting you this afternoon.”  Kilnbern paused as he swiped his finger across the screen of his MediPalm.  He scanned several documents before looking up at Harper.  “Well, there’s good news: you’re free to go.”

“What?” Harper asked as her head throbbed.  As the deputy came into full focus, she immediately noticed his sparkling blue eyes.  They complimented the dark color of his uniform.  She rubbed her eyes and fully scanned her visitor.  Kilnbern’s watch blinked blue.  With the dazzling blue color that matched his eyes, a crescent moon illuminated the background in between the device’s distinct flashes.

“You’ve posted bail,” clarified the deputy.  “I’ll help you to gather your items from the storage closet,” he smiled.

“Who posted my bail?” inquired Harper as the pain slightly subsided.  She glanced up into the deputy’s eyes.

“I don’t know,” replied the deputy kindly.  “But what I do know is that you are free to go.  Please, follow me to the closet.”

“Wait, sir, I am not sure about this.  Who posted my bail?” she asked again.

“A member from your workplace, ma’am.  Everything is legal; you’re clear,” he calmly acknowledged.

No member of City-State’s National Police Force was this sincere.  As a tabloid reporter, she dealt with law enforcement and legal matters on a regular basis.  Deputy Kilnbern was an exception; this was extremely unusual.  Harper hesitated, “Okay, well, thank you,” she grinned.

The deputy led Harper to the storage closet.  It was an oversized, cold space that contained the inmates’ personal belongings.  Kilnbern lead Harper deep to the fifth row of lockers.  Her red stilettos clicked loudly on the tile floor.  “I’m sorry,” she sighed.

“Not a problem, ma’am,” noted the deputy.

As they trekked to the back of the storage area, the lighting was not as bright.  The deputy stopped, turned to Harper, and punched a few buttons on his MediPalm.  “Here – number 38562.90,” he indicated.  A loud click echoed throughout the space.  “I believe you only had a few items.”

“Thanks,” Harper beamed.  She anxiously clutched her MediPalm and her handbag as she removed them from the metal locker.  She placed the handbag over her shoulder and tightly grasped her MediPalm.

Harper noticed that they were alone.  She suddenly felt a little nervous, and she looked up into the deputy’s blue eyes.

Kilnbern glanced around the space.  There was no one in the closet.  He looked back at Harper.  “I have something for you, and it’s very important.”

Harper grew apprehensive.  “Look, sir, I don’t know what is going on.  I just want to go home.  Can you please show me out?  You said I am free to go,” she stated.

“I could do that, but you’d be missing your big chance to do what you’ve always wanted,” Kilnbern explained slyly.  “You want to tell the people the truth, right?  I have the truth, I promise.”

Harper glimpsed around the quiet space.  “What do you mean?  What are you talking about?” she questioned.

“Let’s just say that we recognize people who are sympathetic to our cause,” noted the deputy.

“Who… are you?” Harper whispered.  She took a step back.

“It will take too long to explain.  We don’t have much time.  Please, if I may?”

“Okay, what is it?” she asked.  His blue eyes made her feel safe.

“Files.  These will inform you about the terrorist attacks on Layer Seven and the drones on Layer Six.  The drones are a distraction.  The Illegals are not responsible for the recent terror attacks.  You have to believe me,” whispered the deputy.

“Why should I believe you?” Harper inquired.

“Trust me, but remember, there’s the alternative.  You can always stay in jail and take your chances with the real police.  I’m sure the courts will give a ‘quick and fair’ trial before they throw you into prison.  I’m not exactly on the government payroll – if you get what I mean,” the deputy murmured.

Harper stared at the deputy, and then she turned her focus to the cold, tile floor.  She placed her hand on her forehead; her temples still ached from the effects of the stun baton.  After a moment, she glanced back up at Kilnbern.  It clicked.  “You mean, you’re an Illegal?” asked Harper as her voice grew louder within the space.  She covered her mouth with her hand as she spoke that last word – “Illegal”.

Kilnbern ignored the question and focused his attention back to his coms device.  “Can you get a story through the B-Net by tonight’s live broadcast?”

Harper understood.  Her situation would only improve if she sided with Kilnbern.  “Yes, yes I can,” Harper promised.

The deputy tapped a few button on his wrist device.  In turn, it flashed yellow and vibrated.  He grabbed Harper’s MediPalm and activated its archived file log.  He held his watch parallel to her MediPalm and uploaded five different files to her device.  When the file transfer was complete, Harper’s MediPalm chimed softly, and the deputy’s watch blinked blue.  Once again, she noticed the crescent moon in the screen’s background.

“Good – it’s your turn to tell people the truth.  You know how to pull in ratings, right?” Kilnbern winked.

“Of course,” she smirked.  “And… thank you.”

“Let’s go,” the deputy indicated.

He led Harper to the main waiting area of the storage closet.  They passed another deputy who was seated at the front desk; he worked feverishly as he entered data into the main computer terminal.  Both Kilnbern and Harper nodded politely.  They hung a left to exit the building.

Deputy Kilnbern escorted Harper out of the front of the National Security Office.  As usual, Layer Seven’s dim atmosphere was apparent and mildly inviting.  Kilnbern turned to the young reporter, “Good day, Ms. Grey,” he grinned.  “I can’t wait to read your next piece.”

“Yes, sir.  Good day,” Harper concluded as she walked to the main street to hail and aircab.  She turned back to steal one last glance at Kilnbern’s kind blue eyes.  She smiled.

*******

A few minutes passed.  His watch blinked red as he turned the corner from The National Security Office.  He lifted the coms device to his lips.  “Yes, Zohar, I’m here,” stated Braden Fleming.

“Did you give the files to Ms. Grey?” questioned the leader of Nocturnity.

“Yes, sir.  She is good to go.  There should be a news piece circulating the B-Net sometime this evening,” affirmed Braden.

“Good.  Now get back to Nocturnity before you are spotted.  Use the west tunnel system on Layer Six.  There is a cluster of drones on the east barrier.  I don’t want any of my spies in immediate danger,” Zohar instructed.

“Yes, sir.  I am on my way,” concluded the Illegal.

 

© 2014 All rights Reserved

cyberpunk city

Did this evil fast approach?

Come and let us see the past.

Centuries of apathy

A millennium idle

What now do your people say?

We are forgotten? Cursed? Damned?

But by who’s hand? Thine own Hand!

~The Rebel Poet~ 

Thanks for the awesome pic.

http://hotszots.blogspot.com/2014/04/cyberpunk-city-wallpaper.html

Poem 2

The foreseen night

is treacherous

is mysterious

is hopeful

The artificial sky

stacked upon Layers and Layers

of corruption

He can save us

~ The Rebel Poet ~