Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Stardust: Towne, Chapter 10
Colonel Wood looked on with disgust at the marshy land. Such soft, weak land kept his armor from moving forward. What good were Knights without their mounts? As enforcers of The Party’s will, the Knights were as well armed as the regular army. So well armed, they often received first pick of equipment. “I bet the communists flooded this field,” he muttered.
“Yes sir,” his adjunct, Lieutenant Haze, replied. He had no love for communists, and certainly no use for Tropicans in general, but he doubted they were capable of flooding the field. It was likely naturally wet. Of course, he thought them incapable of building a biplane, much less a jet. Their flying saucers proved everyone wrong.
Wood glared at the field in disgust. No telling what sort of diseases the elves might have introduced. Their kind has long since been known for poisoning wells, so why not an entire field? “They’ll get what’s coming to them soon enough.”
Haze thought it best not to answer. He knew his commanding officer went off on rants ever so often. He had a great deal of angry energy driving him. He was hardcore even by the strict standards of the Knights. Wood’s first solution is ‘kill them all’. Haze’s anti-elven was generic in nature, like most of The People. But Wood’s, his was specific and strong.
“Lieutenant, how many non-sapiens were in that village?” Wood asked.
Which village was not a question Haze needed asking. The State’s invasion has thus far only managed to capture one village, at least the eastern branch. The western branch pushed onward to Corona, its lagoon, harbor and most importantly, its airport. Soon as that was in their hands, Daggers can start manning the skies, and maybe clearing those bloody saucers from it as well. There were no airfields nearby, and the lone carrier constantly pounded Comrade’s Airforce Base in the capital–
“Lieutenant!” Woods snapped. He was not one to be patient when asking or ordering.
“We’re still in the process of rounding them all up,” Haze said, taking a second to think. What did the latest reports says? “The village population is fifty-seven, and thus far only twelve non-sapiens have been found. Most of them goblins.”
Wood’s face crumpled in disgust. “I thought I ordered those green things to be shot on sight.”
“Yes sir,” Haze agreed. “But protocol is quite specific on the matter. We must document the infestation, and keep track of processing. You know how Knight Command is about punctuation.”
Woods snorted at the joke. It has long since been standing that Command wanted every bullet accounted for, serial number and target. It was all ridiculous. Woods was not here to take a census. “Fine. Herd all the villagers into the market square and ring it with razor wire. We’ll process them all later.” Woods shook his head when he thought about that village. Dozens of longhouses, all government housing. It must be a den of communism. Yes, and a total purge would be required.
“Belay that,” Woods amended his command. As the man in charge in Tropico, he could do that at will. “I want them processed before nightfall. I can’t afford to waste any Knights behind lines once we reach Tropico City.” Or better yet, perhaps Woods himself would purge the village. If one wanted something done right– or sometimes at all– then one must do it himself. Unlike other high ranking Knights, he did not fear dirtying his hands.
“Yes sir,” Haze said with little enthusiasm. He enlisted in the Knights because he wanted to serve The People, not because of any twisted sense of joy.
“No more than two bullets a target,” Woods added. He did enjoy his work, more than any normal human should. The pain they caused him, it was nothing compared to what Wood would deal out. The elves laughed at him. Now, the elves of this pitiful village would never laugh again. Wood would have the last laugh.
Andreas glanced off into the distance. Towards the west, not a storm cloud lurked in the sky. He frowned at the realization. The thunderous booms rolling across the island were not bad weather, but the rumble of artillery duels. The People’s Army battle the invaders, giving ground only a few meters at a time, and not before coating it with the blood of the enemy. For the moment, big guns were not his chief concern. The smaller cousins were a more immediate threat.
Andreas ducked back down underground. The streets were not the only way to move about in Contra. The pygmaeus inhabitants were in the habit of living beneath the soil. Many lived in houses, but those were the dwarven equivalent of attics. The dwarves had their own streets, beneath those of surface dwellers. The Naveinans were not ones who caught on very quickly. Andreas would not be surprised if they were still unaware about the underground highways that cross most of the continent. When they collapsed one entrance, the pygmaeus would build two more.
Andreas took advantage of Contra’s underground. He lead three dwarves in a small squadron, trying to flank the latest picket. The State, still locked in a furious siege of Fort Baxter, already sent recon in force to scout ahead in Contra. Many of the locals walled themselves up inside their home, but the few gun totting ones have taken up partisan politicking. At least that was what the Tropican Government called it. It was little more than making a nuisance of ones’ self. The partisans would shoot from two or three story windows, picking off the pickets. As long as the enemy consisted of light infantry, they were safe. Once the tanks rolled into town–
Better to be underground. Andreas reached into his pocket and pulled out his watch. “The Secretary’s late,” he grumbled. It was so unlike that dwarf to be late to a fight. Andreas dropped the watch back into its pocket. “I hope you guys are ready for a hard day’s work.”
“We were born ready!” replied the lead dwarf, a red and gray bearded man. More truth came from his statement than Andreas cared to admit. Homo pygmaeus was quite literally born to work.
Andreas smiled as he poked his head out of the whole again. Still no Secretary. Guess this will have to go off without them. “Let’s go,” Andreas commanded. He picked up his own Luneburg Typist and climbed out of the whole.
The sapien and dwarves quickly took cover in the underbrush flanking Contra’s streets. The State’s scouts did not even notice them. They were too busy eyeing the houses for partisans. Excellent, with their eyes ahead, they will not see the threat from behind. Andreas rose his submachine gun and aimed into the thick of the crowd. He pointed forward, giving the dwarves the go-ahead.
Andreas squeezed off a one second burst, launching a fury of bullet into the mess. Two of the enemy soldiers fell without knowing what hit them. The rest quickly hit the dirt, evading bursts from Andreas’s fellow Golden Hammers. Naveinans began crawling for better cover, in the meanwhile firing back at Andreas’s general direction. Andreas watched as they were nearing shelter, a meter tall brick wall. With a final attempt to eliminate them outright, he held down the trigger and emptied the entire hundred round clip into the enemy formation. It took great strength on his behalf to prevent the Typist from turning into an anti-aircraft gun. He spent so much time focusing on battling recoil, he knew he could not have hit anything..
“Pin them,” Andreas told the dwarves, needlessly. Dwarves did not need telling when it came to their enemies. Andreas dropped the drum and slammed another clip into his weapon. His eyes darted around the wall, waiting for a head to pop up. Typists made for lousy sniping. He laid his heavy arms aside and drew out his Bison pistol. It had not the power of a rifle (though neither did a Typist) but it was something he could aim.
Against his luck, heads did not poke up. Only guns, atop the wall and along its side. They fired a few rounds, emptying clips into the brush. A few rounds whizzed by a hair too close for Andreas’s comfort. He pressed himself flat against the ground and hoped the bullets did not hit him. He cursed the invaders. “Alright, you guys try and cover me. I’m going to go around and hit their flank.”
The dwarves nodded, and fired blindly against the wall. Andreas was about to crawl off into danger when the screeching of wheels caught his attention. He looked up to see a Mark Two, a shoe box of an auto, come flying down the road directly at them, and at the opposite side of The State’s fortification. Not many would be out driving when the front was slithering closer to Contra by the minute.
This was no regular auto. Andreas could spot two barrels sticking out of the right, and a third out the left. On the left, a dwarf hung partway out the window, positioning himself to aim his Typist towards the right. As soon as the auto closed in behind the invaders, the three dwarves unleashed a hail of fury into the enemy. The few Naveinan guns sticking above the wall began to spasm, then fell silently to the ground. The auto came to a quick stop, and the four dwarves involved in the drive-by hopped out and charged the wall. Andreas recognized Secretary and his precious Typist.
He did frown at the dwarf’s enthusiasm. Even though the enemy was most certainly dead, Andreas heard the rapid type-like tapping of submachine guns. Andreas shook his head as he stood. They were already dead, no point in turning them into pulp– or wasting bullets. Of all the products vital to the Golden Hammers, bullets were the hardest to obtain in the People’s Republic of Tropico.
“You’re late,” Andreas said flatly.
Secretary smiled. “We were a bit held up,” he said, tapping the hood of his auto. Sure enough, several holes were once they were not. “You’re lucky they didn’t rupture the radiator.”
Or flatten the tires, or ignite the petro tank. Andreas was about to mention this to him, when the rumble of large engines caught his attention. He frowned as he watched two red armored personnel carriers rumble down the street. Both vehicles were battered and dented from several rounds of combat. From what little Andreas heard off the radio, Fort Baxter was already under siege, and taking a pounding. The State even went as far as to send bombers, as soon as the sun set.
“That’s the third time that’s happened today,” Secretary grumbled. He did not enjoy watching the People’s Army heading east; it meant fewer soldiers in the west.
Andreas approached the armored auto, waving his arms wildly. Only briefly did the idea of The State commandeering a Tropican vehicle cross his mind. The armored personnel carrier came to a slow stop. Its top hatch flew open an a head poked up. “What can we do for you– comrade?” It took him a second to figure out the only sharp dressed humans with guns in Contra must be mobsters, and thus fighting the invader.
“Why are you headed east? The fighting is that way,” Andreas pointed towards Baxter.
The soldier shook his head. “Not any more. The parts not already in Naveinan hands are being demolished.” The soldier’s face showed both fatigue and anger. “Makes me wonder what the navy is doing.”
Andreas stepped aside and waved on the armored autos. The soldier did make a good point. The State’s invasion fleet stood with near impunity off shore. They dared not sail too close to Tropico City, but they were still close enough to fire their high caliber rounds into and behind the front. A few battleship rounds landed near Contra, but as of yet, not inside the town. That could change at any moment.
The idea of indiscriminate bombardment took his mind instantly to Katrina. He brought her to Tropico because he thought she would be safe. If the Naveinans take Contra, how safe would she be then? Especially if– when they learn her true origins. Her accent would give her away, and Katrina was always one to quickly voice her opinion. Her defiance would only end up landing her into a mess of trouble, and when it came to the Knights, there would be no happy ending.
“Think it might be time to fall back,” Andreas suggested to his dwarven comrades. They would not fall back to Tropico City or any of the fortresses between here and there. The dwarves have plenty of safe houses above and below the ground. Beneath, they could use the tunnels to harasses the invaders. Not to mention deposit or withdrawal persons on a fly.
Secretary did not like the sound of those words. “But we are still winning.”
“We’ll be dead if the Naveinans overrun us,” Andreas told him. “Can’t do much typing then.”
Secretary frowned. “Very well.”
“Meet us north of town, in the coffee fields. You know the safe house,” Andreas commanded. “I have something to take care of first.”
The dwarf had a good idea of what, or rather who Andreas referred to. He still had no love for that sapien. “Don’t dwaddle.”
Andreas nodded “Alright, let’s get going,” he told his dwarves, who quickly fell in line.
Finding Katrina was not as difficult as Andreas expected. With Contra suddenly bursting into chaos due to retreating soldiers. Already artillery began to rain down on the country town, shattering the outer most housing. The State focused a lot of its firepower on the rail, and the industry built upon it. Factories stood with many holes in them. Andreas avoided the rails and headed for the first obvious place. Since Katrina was not in her longhouse, she must be at work. Yes, she would be stubborn enough to goto work in the middle of a war.
Sporadic machine gun fire shattered any illusion of silence. What should have been sounds of haggling and chickens, were instead felt with explosions mixed with the occasional cry of the dying. Andreas flinched each time he heard the thunder of exploding shells. That last one was certainly closer. Enemy soldiers or even tanks did not bother him, but how in the word was he suppose to wrestle a hundred millimeter shell?
Andreas kept his typist up to his shoulder, training it in each direction. When his eyes darted, so did the gun’s barrel. He was in a hurry, and as luck usually work, one hit every red light only when one was in a rush. The same could be said about ambushes; they will happen at the most inconvenient time. He kept his eyes on shattered shop fronts. People’s invested their entire lives into those stores, only to have glass broken and goods scattered about.
The looters would come soon, that much was for certain. Most of Contra’s trade was done in open markets, with only the finest of merchandise in permanent structures. One such store was Contra’s own corner drugstore. Since Katrina was not home, she must be in there. Andreas approached the three story brick building. Its windows, too, were missing. Across the street, a freshly dug crater provided the catalyst for the drugstore’s redecoration. Andreas scowled at the crater. Not only that, but that use to be somebody’s house. It was only then did he wonder if Sentry was alright.
Andreas pushed open the already ajar door. It was once a wooden frame with a painted glass body, but not anymore. Now it was nothing more than a wooden frame with a few shards still hanging to it. Andreas’s shoes crushed hundreds of glass fragments as he crossed the store. He only visited the drugstore when he had something to buy. The Golden Hammers left it alone, so he never paid a business call. Besides, if the mafia started leaning on everyone, the People’s Government might stop looking the other way.
“Katrina!” Andreas called out, half expecting her not to answer. She never was one to listen, but the same could be said about the females of most species. Did goblin males have the same trouble?
“Andreas?” a shaken voice replied. “Is that you?”
“No, it’s the Eternal Dragon,” he replied sarcastically without even thinking. “Yes it’s me. Who else am I going to be? Now where are you?”
“In the basement!” she called from below. Yes, the basement would be a safe place, provided a four hundred millimeter battleship round did not land on top of the place. Best of all, the dwarven streets connected to the basement. Dwarves of the honest type did business here, and they were a private bunch. They preferred to get their prescriptions filled without anyone else knowing. With those underground streets, Andreas would have no problem making it to that coffee plantation. It exited to the north as well as the west; the east hooked up with tunnels beneath Tropico City.
Andreas descended the stairs and shoved the basement door open with ease. Surprisingly, the place still had power. He could see Katrina huddled up in a corner, a notepad on her lap. “Doing your taxes?” he asked.
Katrina shook her head. “Just a phrase search. I can’t stand just sitting here waiting. I needed something to take my mind off this madness.” Naturally she would pick a game that required concentration to pass her time while the shells landed above.
Katrina was not alone in the cellar. The owner, and elderly man, along with several tenants from the upper floors, all stayed in the shelter. Andreas wondered why they were all here. The dwarven streets were not exactly a secret, and certainly the old man knew about them. He would not be much of a business man if he did not know how his customers kept getting prescriptions filled down here. Sure enough, the place looked similar to the store above, though in miniature. Dwarves and gnomes did not suffer from the variety of ailments a sapien was naturally cursed with; how could they and still have a natural life span of two hundred fifty years? Andreas noticed a lot of pain killers down here– goes with their choice of lifestyle he supposed.
“Why are you all still here?” Andreas asked the nervous crowd. “There are tunnels on the other side of that wall.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” the owner replied with a sharp tone. “They’ve been there longer than I have, but I have no clue where they go.”
“Why would we leave our homes?” one of the tenants asked. He was about as old as the owner, and his hair far grayer. “The People’s Army is still fighting, how can we run?”
Andreas shook his head and sighed,. “They’re fighting alright, fighting to the east. A bunch of soldiers headed that way tell me Fort Baxter is in Naveinan hands.”
Katrina flinched from the mention of her people. Yes, the suffering and pain brought upon these folk was the complete responsibility of The State. They would catch her. If one thing was certain in life, it was that The State always got what it wanted. As if on cue, several explosions erupted outside of the drug store. Each burst was accompanied by fierce shaking of the ground. Bottles fell from the shelves and dust through the floor boards above.
“And by the sound of things, looks like they’re not satisfied with just having Baxter,” Andreas said in a calm, cool and almost apathetic tone. He might be cold on the outside, but he was sweating bullets on the inside. With his Luneburg Typist in one hand and Bison pistol hidden beneath his jacket, he knew The State would not get him, and quite a few soldiers would not be returning to their families in the process. The dying part did not worry him, it was what would happen to the living.
The dwarves did not feel much like wasting any more time. They moved to kick open the door to their world and move out. After all, there was a schedule to keep, and Secretary was not one to be kept waiting. “Come on, boss,” the youngest of the dwarves called out.
Andreas pointed at the opening, a door just about as tall as the average sapien. The owner was a bit taller, and thus would have to duck. “You heard the man, let’s get going. I can’t just leave you here to fall into their hands.”
Most of the occupants muttered in agreement. Katrina still looked on with worry, and concern. Along with a great deal of confusion. She knew there were wars, and that The State conquered its neighbors, but never had she thought of her own people as invaders. She stood up and headed towards the exit. “Where do we go now?” she asked Andreas.
Andreas moved beside her. “North. The tunnel opens up in some farmland. There’s a safe house in the coffee plantations up there. Not much in the way of roads, and no rail, so I doubt we’d be bothered much. After that– I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on out there, only that we don’t want to be here any more.”
“Why did it have to come to this,” she softly muttered as she stepped on to the dwarven street.
Andreas knew the answer, and under most circumstances would tell her straight up that it was all because a certain set of somebodies just could not stay on their side of the fence. They just had to try and shove their ideology down the rest of the planet’s throat. Not this time. “It’s just the way the bomb bounces.”
Open skies and fields of green bushes was a welcome relief from the congestion of the underground. Dwarven streets were barely wide enough for four dwarves to walk abreast, and barely high enough to keep Andreas from smacking his head against the ceiling. In contrast with the echoes beneath the ground, the coffee fields were deathly calm. Off in the distance, artillery duels continued, but no shells fell anywhere near the field. And why should they; after all, there was no tactical advantage of blowing up a farm.
As long as The State continued looking down its nose at Tropico, seeing it as inferior as well as being blinded by its own ideology. It would not surprise Andreas if they knew nothing of the underground. Andreas exited that world with his fellow mobsters, and Katrina. The others hiding in the drug store took a different route, deeper into the underground city. They would be safe from the shelling there. Just as safe as if they were surrounded by coffee.
The snorting of several ground sloths caught his attention. Distant shelling left them nervous. Thunderstorms almost never hit Tropico City, and a few years passed since the last hurricane made landfall upon the island. Plenty of rain, yes, but seldom a thunderous storm. The shells were something different, something unknown. Ground sloths tended to ignore or tolerate known quantities, but they did not like the unknowns. The large, brown animals turned their dim-looking eyes off towards the distant booms.
Andreas pitied the soldier who tried to tackle a ground sloth. Even these human-sized ones had claws capable of removing an inconsiderate ape’s head with some effort. Though the noise left them nervous, they paid little attention to the various humans arriving on the surface. They continued browsing on the various trees, mostly ignoring the bushes producing coffee beans. A good thing too, since they could strip an entire plantation of its goods.
Through peaks in the foliage, Andreas could see the ocean and all its beauty. At least it would be, if not for dozens of warships parked off the shore. All of them flew the spear-in-circle banner of The State. Where was the People’s Navy and why was it not doing anything. They could not be defeated, that much was certain. Though the government might not release news of a defeat, they would still inform the families of the casualties, and that would not go unnoticed. They might have a working agreement, but the various mafia companies still kept a wary eye on the People’s Government.
Every few minutes, the guns on board the battleships and cruisers would flash into existence. The sudden burst of deafening noise spooked the sloths, and forced them to waddle away from the ocean. If it was just small guns off in the distance, that was fine, but when naval artillery started up– it was just a good idea to be elsewhere. Andreas covered his ears from the blast, and Katrina nearly jumped out of her pants– well her shoes anyway.
“Bloody cannons!” one of the dwarves roared over the gun fire.
Andreas agreed, but with a little stronger language in mind. He kept his silence in polite company. Still, the shells flew off towards the southwest, presumably where the People’s Army was holed up. Whatever they fired at, did not last very long. As abruptly as the firing started, it ceased, and relative silence fell back on the plantation. Andreas yawned, trying to clear out his ears when he heard a faint humming not too far in the distance.
“What’s that?” Andreas asked, more himself than anyone else.
“What’s what?” a dwarf answered. “I’m amazed you can hear anything after that display. You’d think they were recording sound-effects for the next moving picture.”
Maybe there were, Andreas considered it for a moment. Maybe it was just a show of force for propaganda films. Or maybe not. “It almost sounds like an engine.”
“I hear it too,” Katrina told him. The aftershocks of big guns slowly cleared and her hearing went back to normal. “A generator?”
Andreas shook his head. “Couldn’t be. There’s no petro generators up here.” True enough, none of the hill top plantations used generators. Fifty meter tall wind mills lined the cleared crest of hills all around Tropico City. The small turbines within those mills generated enough power for the scant needs of a plantation and its surrounding longhouses. In the cities, giant coal-fire steam engines churned out all the power needs. Fortunately currents hundreds of meters above the ground blew most of the smoke out to sea, otherwise, Tropico City would be one dirty place.
“Maybe it’s just an auto,” said another dwarf. “Sounds like its backfiring too.”
Andreas began to pick up the popping noises as well. They did not sound like an auto, but more like poppers used on plantations to scare away the wildlife. They sounded a lot like rifle fire, and that alone would make most animals avoid it. There was nothing more dangerous than an ape with a gun– okay, a honked off dragon, but one encountering those did not live long enough to learn avoidance.
Only a moment on the trajectory brought them into contact with a second group of dwarves. “Secretary!” Andreas called out to the mean looking dwarf.
“You’re not late,” Secretary grumbled with a hint of laughter. “Good for you.”
“Headed our way?” Andreas asked, jerking his thumb towards the engine-like sound.
The dwarf nodded curtly. “Ought to not be any engines up here, not this loud anyway. Sounds more like an airplane than an auto.” Dwarves as a rule were suspicious of anything out of place, and most things new– unlike their gnomish brethren, which embraced the new. But even they did not like routines to be muddled.
The two groups became one whole band of mobsters stomping west towards the engine. The pops continued, though more sporadically than before. If it was an engine back-firing, it was now dying down. One of them was an engine, that much was certain. Andreas could already see a large truck, the type used to transport goods on the continent. A large truck, with an even larger trailer, perhaps ten meters in length. They were not that practical on Tropico’s swerving roads.
“That’s no back-firing,” Secretary scowled, clutching his typist. “That’s gun fire.” He charged forth into the nearest clearing, leading his gang into the mess.
Andreas shook his head and cursed the dwarf’s enthusiasm. “Come on, let’s go back them up.” If that was gun fire, then who was firing them? If it were Tropicans, then they were firing at invaders. If it were invaders– then one should not go charging in, weapons blazing. Andreas lowered his head while running, bracing himself against slapping foliage. Lucky for him, rain had not visited this hill in a while, otherwise his suit would be drenched. A few of the red fruits were knocked off and landed in his pocket. He would just save those for later.
When he burst into the clearing right after Secretary, Andreas stopped in his tracks. It was gunfire, but not from a battle. The scene baffled him. A gray trailer and truck sat up against knocked down coffee bushes, its engine roaring. Andreas glanced it over, not seeing any exhaust. An engine of that design should be belching out the most foulest of fumes. There were exhaust pipes, but they were capped with tubes, tubes that lead into the trailer.
Andreas did not have much time to contemplate it. The dwarves opened fire with their submachine guns, cutting down gray clad sapiens. They were Knights of The State, and most were cut down. Any who resisted did not live long enough to explain themselves. Two of them hit the deck, dodging the deadly hail of dwarven fury.
“Cease fire! Cease fire!” Andreas commanded, shouting at the dwarves. “If you kill them all, they can’t talk!”
One by one, the dwarves ceased their fire. Secretary was the last to stop; most likely because he emptied the drum. He ejected the round magazine and loaded in a backup, but did not resume the attack. He stomped over towards the nearest living Knight, and pointed his weapon in the man’s face. “Alright, talk!”
The Knight did not look up in fear of his life, but rather contempt. He was not use to taking orders from any non-sapien. Quite the opposite, he was use to pushing them around. He just glared at Secretary. “What do I have to say to you.”
Wrong answer. The dwarf unleashed a short burst into the man’s face, turning it into pulp. He moved on before the corpse hit the ground. “What about you?” he asked the second Knight, who climbed to his feet.
He looked at the dwarf and spat in his face. Secretary did not even give him a second chance. He cut him down with a sickle of heavy metal. The Knight twitched and spasmed, and the dwarf fired another volley into him. Andreas ran up behind the dwarf and pulled him back. “That’s enough! If you want to shoot something, shoot that generator!” He turned to his own squad. “Go over there and check out what those Knights were doing.” Andreas pointed over to a grouping of dead gray-clothed men.
Andreas walked around the trailer, his own weapon aimed chest high. “Hold!” he commanded a Knight, who simply stood on the other side of the trailer, pistol in hand. “Better drop it.”
The Knight did not drop his weapon, but he did holster it. He glared at Andreas with an aura of arrogance, as if he were somehow above Andreas. “Well, are you going to cut me down?”
“Not yet,” Andreas said. He pointed his Typist at the generator. “Shut it off.”
The Knight complied, reaching up and slapping down a lever. The roaring of the engine quickly died off. “Happy?”
Andreas took another look at the engine and trailer. Yes, the exhaust was being piped into the trailer, but why? Andreas could think of no good reason. It made no sense. Now he heard of and seen houses in Tropico City that had generators hooked up to it. They fumigated those nice houses whenever bugs infested it. HE could think of no reason why a trailer would need it, much less why they would fumigate it way out here. It would make more sense to do maintenance back at their bases. Like all the fortresses ringing Tropico City, Fort Baxter had an excellent maintenance facility.
“We got a few big holes out over here, boss,” one of the dwarves called out.
“Empty?” Andreas asked. He suspected they would be, otherwise the dwarf would say otherwise.
“For now? Looks like a good place to dump these Knights,” the dwarf offered.
Andreas did not reply, leaving the dwarves hanging. Perhaps there was waste in the trailer, and they planned on dumping it. But why pump in fumes? The most lethal of exhausts from auto engines would be carbon monoxide. Andreas was no chemist, so he could not guess what good carbon monoxide would do to toxic waste. He was determined to find out what was in there, but it might be dangerous. Only one dwarf could handle this.
“Secretary! Open the trailer,” he ordered.
The dwarf grumbled, but complied. He shot off a few rounds into door, much to the Knight’s annoyance. “It’s not even locked,” he spoke down through his nose when he talked.
“Just open the bloody thing!” Andreas shouted.
Secretary grumbled as he did. When Andreas heard the door creek open, he also heard Secretary go silent. Andreas glanced over his shoulder, seeing a sight that made his heart skip. Secretary’s eyes were wide with horror and disgust as he stared at the contents. “By all the Gods of the Ancients, what is this?” he voice was weak, not the bombastic tone of a cold-blooded killer.
Other dwarves flocked to the trailer, their faces filled with disgust, then quickly with anger. Andreas dashed backwards, keeping his weapon trained on the Knight. His first glance into the trailer was not much. Fumes quickly escaped the trailer, revealing a crumpled mass of clothing. No, it was more like several masses of different clothing. The realization hit Andreas with simultaneous waves of nauseous and fury. They were people, and dead ones at that. The Knights were not fumigating anything, they were gassing Tropicans.
“We got another whole over here!” a distant dwarf cried out, his voice filled the same conflicting emotions within Andreas. They were all mobsters, most longer than Andreas had been alive. They were the most professional of businessmen, sometimes so cold blooded they might be mistaken to live off liquid oxygen. They have disposed of corpses in gruesome ways, but nothing in their lives ever prepared them for murder on an industrial scale.
Perhaps they should take comfort in the fact these victims suffered little. They were killed in the most efficient means possible. Perhaps they should, but not a single one did. Of the two dwarves scoping out the second hole, Andreas heard a distinct cry of anguish from one of them. Andreas whirled around, totally unaccustomed to dwarven emotions. They kept their feelings on the inside, only revealing bits and pieces to those closest to them, and only in private.
Andreas’s eyes went wider. One of the dwarves was in the pit, cradling a smaller dwarf in his arms. Andreas knew the dwarf, Arberald, had children of his own. He was the most junior of the dwarves, only forty years in age. Pygmaeus always believed children were for the young, so they raised their children before devoting themselves fully to their working natures. His youngest was ten, and still living in home. Andreas knew the bundle of still clothes in the dwarf’s arms was the size of a ten year old dwarf.
Andreas clenched his teeth and fists. His eyes burned with rage as he stared down the Knight. The Knight’s face was blank, stone cold. There was no remorse, no sorrow, not even pity. Nor was their any joy or satisfaction. Andreas used to think dwarves were the coldest of humans, but these Knights could poison so many children without even blanking an eye. It was a testament to absolute professionalism, and the monstrosity of humanity’s darkside.
Andreas knew The State was filled with butchers, but never did he imagine it on this scale. Their army had not even secured the area, and they already started ‘purging’ the area of unwanted genomes. Did this Knight have any children, could he imagine what Arberald was going through? Andreas would never know, but the Knight would not live long enough to have them, if he did not already.
“Have you nothing to say?” Andreas asked the Knight.
“No,” he said calmly. He had to know his fate, but with the same coolness he used on his job, he used to face down death.
“Andreas!” one of the dwarves, one who ventured into the trailer. “We got sapiens in here too!”
“What is this? What did they ever do?” Andreas asked, his voice soft.
“They are defective,” he said, with the same tone as a factory foreman removing a part not up to standards.
“Defective!” Andreas shouted. “Defective!”
“Hey, boss,” the dwarf in the trailer poked his head out. “I recognize one of the sapiens. You know that crazy old man who lives on Second Street North?”
Andreas shook his head, not in rejection but disgust. Yes, he knew the man. He was old, and a bit crazy. He always kept on about being Emperor of Tropico. The people always humored him, and his degrees. He often gave seals of approval to pubs and cafes he found to his liking. Those seals were coveted by the restaurant owners. Now he was dead– and for no good reason.
“What threat could an old man ever pose to your kind!” Andreas hissed.
“He was defective,” the Knight repeated his earlier prognosis. “Any aberrations effects the whole, and must be purged for the greater health of the species.”
Andreas knew what he was getting at. Natural selection, survival of the fittest. It was a fact of life. It was also the central ideology of The Party. But, The Party never believed in letting nature take its choice. “Who are you to decide that! That’s life’s decisions, not yours!”
“And you do not chose? Who is it who gives help to those too sick to live?” The Knight asked with a hint of passion, the first show of any emotion. He was a believe in The Party, all-in-all.
“You bloody fools. You run your mouths about natural selection, but you forget one thing. The most important trait of our species, our genus. Our minds! They might be born sickly, but they live, they survive! They have the will to overcome any obstacle and challenge thrown at them. There’s more to life than genes.”
The Knight snorted, and shook his head. It was the same sort of shake a mighty scholar might give to a confused pupil. The same sort of shake Katrina might have given to a misinformed student. She stood by during the whole exchange, just shocked beyond all belief. She knew The Party wanted to be rid of non-sapiens, but she always assumed they were expelled, sent elsewhere. She never could imagine anyone capable of slaughter on this scale.
Sure, wars produced many dead, but that was all hot-blooded. Spur of the moment. This, this was planned out, organized with calculating efficiency. Nothing in The State happened without layer upon layer of bureaucracy. Worse yet, what they said about that old man. Katrina saw him a couple of times during her short stay in Contra. She just wrote him off as a crazy, a popular, beloved crazy, but one nonetheless. She never had any ill feelings towards him.
Defects– Defects were not suppose to even exist in The State. Was that true? Once upon a time they must have, before The Party came to power. Did they meet the same end? Gassed and dumped in a distant field. That her own people could do this to the elderly and children, it left her appalled. She fought to keep her stomach contents down where they belong.
The dwarf who accompanied Arberald approached Andreas. “Boss, some of the dead have gunshot wounds in them.”
When Andreas turned his gaze back to the Knight, he received a quick explanation. “Not all were dead. You didn’t expect us to bury them alive, did you?”
His calm demeanor burned the dwarves. All seven off them dropped their gawking and searching and closed in on the Knight, surrounding him, pinning his back against the trailer. Each of them might have relations in the pit, or trailer, but they were dead. Dealing with the deceased can wait, the living were another matter.
“You have a lot to answer to,” another dwarf told him, pointing his stubby finger straight at the Knight’s chest.
“Yes, you do,” Andreas agreed.
While the mobsters trapped the Knight, Katrina’s gears began to turn. They kill defects. Would they consider Saul defective? From what the doctors say, there was nothing wrong with him. He just did not talk. ‘Normal’ sapiens talked, period. Those who did not, must be defective. Her blood chilled, and she shivered despite Tropico’s warm clime. She felt panic surge through her. Was Saul in the trailer? Was he safe, or were the Knights on his trail. She climbed up in the trailer and started searching frantically.
Minutes passed, and no sign of him, just dozens of terror-filled death masks. These people knew what was happening, some struggled. Guilt tore into her. She was one of The People, the same People who did this. Where they doing the same thing all over the world? How many, how many innocents died at their hands. The Knights were suppose to protect The People, not exterminate in their name.
“Andreas!” she called out as she left the trailer, her voice filled with panic.
“Coming,” he called back, zeroing in on her panic. He hoped she did not find anyone she knew in that place.
As he turned away and head towards her, the Knight tried to get his attention. “Aren’t you going to kill me?” He asked with a slightly snobbish air. Even in face of imminent death, he still felt himself above the rest.
“No. I am not,” he replied flatly. He leaned towards Secretary as he walked past. “Spot me a nickle will you? I don’t want the little lady to see any more than she already had.” Katrina seen enough for one day, and five minutes should be more than enough to get her out of ear shot. He doubted that even a Knight could hold back the cry of pain after the dwarves finished with him.
Much to his surprise, the dwarf agreed. “Sure thing. We’ll deal with him.”
Andreas did not even give the Knight’s existence a second thought. No doubt, fear began to creep into him. After killing so many of their kind, the death by dwarf would not be pleasant. Andreas spotted them, from the corner of his eye, laying down their ammunition and ejecting clips. They were going to finish him the old fashion pygmaeus way; by bashing him to death. Well, Andreas seen it only once before, during business, and that was enough. He would not wish that fate upon even those who betrayed the Golden Hammers.
“What is it?” Andreas asked, moving towards Katrina.
Her eyes were filled with tears and her face ashen. At first, he feared his own suspicions were true. No doubt Andreas could pick out a couple of more victim he knew. “We have to go back.”
Andreas shook his head. “Are you crazy. The butchers are swarming the place. No telling what they’d do to you.”
Katrina violently shook her head in protest. “We have to find Saul. We have to save him.” She cried. “They’ll kill him. He just like these poor souls. Just like Gustavus.”
Mentioning Gus was like pouring petro on a fire. It burned a new fury within him. Even the thought of these monsters laying a finger on Gus, rest his heart, was enough to make him want to join in on the dwarf’s beatings. Blast them all, it was not Gus’s fault, or anyone else’s that they were born as they are. It was certainly not another human’s right to decide if they live or die.
Andreas fumed, remembering time was short. In a few minutes, the dwarves would dispatch that Knight, and Andreas did not want to be around to hear it. Nor did he want Katrina around. “Alright, let’s go.” He dropped his Atlus Submachine Gun and checked his pistol. Marching into an occupied town heavily armed was a certainty for failure.
The two sapiens ran out of the field, heading straight for town. They made it not a moment before Andreas heard a large explosion out in the harbor. He and Katrina came sliding to a stop, Katrina nearly falling face first. Andreas quickly steadied her and dragged her towards the ocean. They pushed through thick growths of wild plants. Parting them gave both a quick burst of hope. The explosion was powder, but not that in a gun. The State’s battleship was in two, rapidly sinking. Flaming patches of oil spread outwards from the wrecked hull.
At first, he thought it an accident, a fire in the magazine or something. But not when the only carrier in the invasion force erupted like a small volcano as its aviation petro ignited. Flying low against the backdrop of flames were many red aircraft. The twin-boon attack planes flew in from every angle, firing anti-ship missiles into the enemy fleet. Merculite warheads penetrated hulls, and waited. The electrically ignited explosives were set at various times.
On the horizon, Andreas picked out flashes. The flashes were followed seconds later bu fountains of water jetting from the ocean. The People’s Navy and its Rhodesan allies were finally striking back, a couple of weeks after the invasion. What were they doing this whole time? With so much preparation, they better completely destroy the enemy. Watching battleships and cruisers ignite from missiles and shells should have sent him celebrating. In spite of it all, he could not help but think this attack came too late to help those up in the plantation.
Colossal explosions rocked the sea from behind The State’s fleet. The navy ignored the warships and was now destroying The State’s freighters and transports. Andreas saw the implication immediately. “Perhaps it’ll be over soon,” he muttered. When he turned to leave, he found Katrina nowhere to be found. A large weight suddenly dropped to the bottom of his stomach. “Or perhaps not,” he muttered. Great, now he had to find her before she got herself into trouble, again. At least he knew exactly where she was headed. Andreas took off towards Contra at a full sprint.
Katrina lost track of how many times she tripped or stumbled over debris. Chunks of earth and building littered the street. The entire neighborhood was rearranged; where there was once building, there were now holes, and where there was once open space, there was now pieces of buildings. The stench of freshly turned dirt, burning wood, and that of death. The latter was the worse. She had no words to describe it. The scent tripped her fight-or-flight instinct, a force she had to fight with each step.
No, she must find Saul. She can not just run away and hide. She would not be able to live with herself. After so many weeks on the run, she simply could not go any further, not without Saul. At least the other children had their parents to go home to. Saul, who did he have? Only the generosity of the Tropican State. She will never see eye-to-eye with their policies, but helping those down on their luck did not seem so bad. An orphan was out of luck back home, and helping those in need went against everything The Party taught. She always imagined a socialist state to be far more intrusive, but truth was, The Party controlled every aspect of The People’s lives.
She never thought much about freedom; she simply took the way The State runs for granted. After some time in Tropico, she knew what it meant to be free. She also learned that there was a price to being free. She had to accept and face the risks inherent with freedom. With that, she faced the dangers ahead to save Saul. She always loved children and working with them, and she did not want a single more to face the fate of those on the plantation.
Shock still flowed through her system. She still could not believe her own people would commit such a– such a crime. A grievous one at that. She felt her own pangs of guilt, for she was a product of that system. She never knew it was like this. The Party wanted non-sapiens gone, and everyone assumed that meant out the door– not in the ground. Her part in this crime, was that of ignorance. Intellectually, she knew there was little she could do to chance the world, but that did not stave off the guilt.
Katrina found herself lost quickly. She could have sworn her longhouse was in this neighborhood, but she could not find it. Though they all looked alike, finding one’s own place in Contra was a simple task. The place was now unrecognizable. Not a single longhouse stood in tact, or anywhere else for that matter. Artillery bombardment from afar churned up the dirt and turned the city inside-out. Nothing but kindling and glass shards remained.
Thunder continued to roll from behind her. The land forces might not even know about the big battle at sea. She saw the ships filled with her people explode and sink. She knew the invasion force no longer had any outside help. Worst case scenario; their supply lines were cut and the army was doomed to obliteration or surrendering. She could not imagine them surrendering to those The Party considered inferior. She left Andreas standing there, transfixed by the actions, and hurried back to town.
She knew not what The State was wasting its very limited supply of shells on, but she hoped they would soon exhaust their loads. She would never take silence for granted again. The sounds kept the natives in hiding, most of them anyway. A pair of falconeers ignored Katrina, as they feasted on the carcass of a bonehead. The poor animal looked sliced by a million splinters, almost certainly a victim to naval bombardment.
Katrina heard shouts from nearby, and ducked into some rubble for cover. They were not the welcoming calls of neighbors, but harsh, commanding tones. From her temporary hiding spot, on what might have once been her half of a longhouse, she watched several gray-clad Knights leading away slender humans, likely elves, down the street at bayonet point. Were they to be gassed too, or just shot? Katrina did not want to think about, did not want to have any more blood on her hands.
She continued to hide, even after the Knight vanished from view. She knew she should continue her search, but her instincts said stay put. Given the dangers now roaming the town, she agreed with them. Sure enough, voices came from where the falconeers stood. “Would you look at those,” a large, a gruff looking soldier pointed at the flightless birds.
“A couple of real bird-brains,” his companion joked. He was younger, and acted more reserved than the older one. Probably a subordinate. “Don’t they know they could get killed out here, Sarge?”
The Sergeant snorted. “Bah, they’re just birds, they don’t know nothing. Probably forgot about the bombardment the moment it stopped.”
The younger soldiers nodded, but not in agreement. “Too bad the same couldn’t be said about the underground. I’d like some of those battleship shells to collapse it. Speaking of which, why don’t we go in there after the dwarves? I mean, sure demolishing the entry points is all good and well, but wouldn’t a dwarf just dig another one?”
The sergeant eyed his soldier. He agreed in principle, but his duty was to keep his men alive. “A word of warning, soldier. Never question orders. If an officer ever heard you say that, he’d turn you in like that,” he finished with a quick snap of his fingers.
“I know that, Sarge. I was just thinking–“ the soldier went on.
“Don’t!” His commander snapped, this time without fingers. “Thinking will only get you into trouble.”
These were hardly the soldiers Katrina seen in the news reels. Those were always optimistic, enthusiastic and above all, nationalistic. She supposed all the news she watched the past few years was nothing but propaganda, stories made to keep the masses happy. What would the people back home think if they saw tired, cynical soldiers pounding the ground? They would think ‘that must be somebody else’s army’. Katrina might have thought it as well. These soldiers were almost doubtful about the war and the whole system.
She did see the danger in the underground, in ways she never had before. An armed band of dwarves or gnomes, or the People’s Army for that matter, could sneak right underneath the invaders, and pop up anywhere to take a few shots, before vanishing into the darkness. It made her wonder how many pygmaeus, be them dwarves or gnomes, still lived beneath The State.
“How did we get rid of the underground back home then?” the younger soldier asked. The two marched past Katrina without noticing her, much to her relief.
“Beats me,” the sergeant replied. “The Knights would know, but like I said before; don’t go asking questions. It just is not healthy.”
They continued their patrol away from Katrina in silence. Once out of earshot, Katrina slowly drew herself from her hiding spot to continue her own search. It was obvious by now, nothing or noone remained within the neighborhood. They would have been killed during the metallic rain or rounded up by patrols. Either way, their futures looked bleak. She could see no purpose in rounding everybody up. If there was nobody left, who would grow the crops? Then it dawned on her; colonists. The People colonize conquered lands, just as she was sent to Shownastadt. Was Shownastadt once like this? Were its inhabitants rounded up so The People could move in? Where they the ones now in the slums, and not the dredges of society that The State claimed? The thought only added more to her already burdened conscious.
Katrina continued her restless search. She was starting to learn her way around Contra before The State came. Now, it was simpler, for she could walk in a straight line over rubble and debris. No landmarks remained, nothing to let her know which street she was upon. Each of the piled of rubble looked alike, but offered handy hiding spots when a patrol was in sight.
She crossed into what she was sure was once the market place. The street use to be lined with stalls and stands. It was odd, and unsettling, to see the streets so quiet. They were just as cluttered, but without the life. Where there was once a zoo of smells, only that of smoke remained, with a faint whiff of death. A few fires burned, but not very fiercely.
Katrina came upon a part of town that was still standing. The large buildings stood, peppered with holes, all in a straight line. It must be the railroad. She could see beams of steel twisting and poking into the sky, like a skeletal hand rising from the earth. The train station was now a rotting giant, adding to the whole morbid scene. Katrina walked towards the warehouses and factories. They withstood the bombardment, so perhaps the locals have taken shelter within.
She thought it a bit obvious as she entered the dark shelter. Her nose picked up a familiar, savoring scent; that of coffee. She had not had a good cup of latté for a couple of days. The coffee plant reminded her off all the simple joys in life. She looked around the abandoned factory. Monestrous machines stood silent, its workers long since fleeing the city.
Hundreds of empty cans lay scattered carelessly about. A few even had traces of ground up coffee spilt from them. She did notice many, many bags of coffee lining the walls. They were almost sandbags in their appearance. Somebody must have arranged them as such. They would absorb a little bit of impact from falling shells, but not a whole lot. Perhaps enough to keep abject explosions from smacking those behind the bags with shrapnel.
Katrina rounded the wall of coffee bags. She poked her head around the corner and caught sight of many hiding in the shadows. “Hello?” she asked, not even thinking about her accent. The locals knew she was one of The People. Would they assume she would help her own? They already accepted her simply as Katrina, but with any immigrant, loyalty was always in question.
“Ah Katrina!” called an old, and tired voice. “You’re safe.”
Katrina sighed in relief. At least her neighbor made it out alive. “Matilda, I’m glad to see you safe as well. What are you doing in here?”
Matilda scoffed. “What are we doing in here? Doing our best not to get killed, that’s what. We obviously can’t go home, now can we.”
“We? Who else is here?” Katrina asked, coming into full view of the refugees.
“I found some of the neighborhood children and herded them to the safest place I could think of,” Matilda sounded more tired with each word. Her age would not help much in such a stressful predicament. “We had to move from the last warehouse after the Naveinans raided it. They caught a few of us, but most escape.”
The children all looked up at Katrina. One in particular. He jumped forward and threw himself at Katrina, wrapping his arms around her legs. “Saul!” Katrina said with glee. She knelt down and embraced the child. “I’m glad to see you’re safe. I was starting to worry about you.” As she uttered those words, the horrifying images of so many ‘defective’ youths twisted and contorted within the confines of that accursed trailer. How many of those rounded up during the last raid Matilda spoke of, ended up inside one of those trailers? Plenty of dwarven children did, though she seldom saw any in her little section of Contra.
The thought of patrols already out in force, jolted her. “We have to get out of here,” she said to Matilda.
“Obviously,” the elder woman said. “But we are not all in the prime of our lives. We certainly can’t out run them.”
“You don’t have to,” Katrina explained. “Pygmaeus streets are beneath us. We just have to find an entry.”
“Is that all?” Matilda said dryly, then sighed. “We all know about the underground. It’s a mirror of Contra, but like the image in a mirror, it is not so easy to reach. The entrances are well hidden, and any of them found were blown up by now. If we leave and search for one, we’ll be found.”
“And if you stay here, you’ll be found,” Katrina pointed out.
Matilda nodded. “I know. Quite the trap we’re in. You can still get out. Obviously you’ve evaded them,” Matilda’s voice almost had a hint of suspicion. No, Katrina much just be imagining it. She knows, just like the rest of the locals, that she already landed in trouble with the Knights– thanks to Andreas– back home. If they discover her identity, then they would send Katrina back to a short fate. Assuming they simply did not shoot, or gas her, the way they did so many others.
“No. I came looking for you, and I’m not leaving without you,” she said, but not to anyone in particular. She came to make sure Saul was safe and to keep him from the Knight’s clutches. They would kill him when they learned he could not, or would not talk. From her own experience, she knew the Knights were intimidating, so perhaps they may assume he is simply afraid.
Katrina sat down with Matilda and the children. No, she would not leave without them. All of them. It would not be right to just save one and leave the rest to uncertain fates. “Perhaps we can escape at night,” Katrina offered. She came to save Saul, and was not about to stay here until they were discovered. “They is plenty of debris out there to hide, and the patrols won’t be able to see us so well in the dark.”
Several of the children agreed with her. She smiled, knowing they did not fully comprehend the situation. Katrina did not even full comprehend it. She use to think life was so simple, black and white, but now she found countless shades of gray thrown into the mix. Life was so much simpler before that man crossed her path.
“Very well,” Matilda said with resignation. She, too, was ready to leave– to escape anyway. She lived in this area her entire life. After so many years, it was hard for one to just up and leave. Even with their home reduced to splinters and kindling, it was still hard. “We will wait until nightfall.”
Minutes passed like hours, and hours like days. Waiting for night was agonizing. She passed the time by watching the children play. It was hard for them to play while hiding. They had no ball to kick around, so instead, they chased each other and tried to land a tag. Even Saul joined in the games. He was just such a sweat child. It was beyond Katrina why anyone would want to hurt him. Maybe there was something wrong with his genes, and maybe not. His kindness and spirit made up for anything he might have lacked from birth.
Katrina found herself starting to doze off a couple hours before sunset. When she sat back and relaxed, she learned just how exhausted she was. Between a couple of days worth of shelling, and running all over the countryside, her energy reserves were sapped. She knew not exactly when she fell asleep, but she did know the moment she awoke. The sun was finally going to the horizon when the harsh footsteps echoed off the factory floor.
“Come on out!” a voice called.
Katrina jumped from her spot, her eyes wide with fear. She knew that tone. It was the same tone, told in rumor and tale, that came at the door in the middle of night. She was not the only one alarmed. All the children wore masks of fear, and even Matilda was left startled. “It’s them,” she muttered, barely audible.
A full range of emotions ran through Katrina. She rose to her feet and started looking around. Maybe they would not find them. Maybe they would just breeze over the place and move on. She shot down that idea instantly. If the Knights were anything, it was thorough. Perhaps they would move on if they found somebody.
Matilda thought the same thing. She rose from her seat and prepared to leave. “Watch the children.”
Katrina gasped when Matilda started to leave. “You can’t,” she said, grabbing her by the arm. The old lady was much stronger than Katrina, but she did not fight. Not right away. “Those are Knights of The State, there’s no telling what they’ll do. They’ll– they–“ Katrina could not even say it.
Matilda nodded. “My life is behind me, their’s is in front of them. If those monsters are going to catch somebody, it might as well be me. Make sure you get them to safety. As soon as they take me far enough away, I’ll give you a holler.”
Katrina nodded briefly. There was no convincing Matilda of her folly. She chose to give up her own freedom to save the children. As Matilda walked out of cover, Katrina was determined not to let her sacrifice go to waste. She could hear Matilda surrendering to the Knights. Katrina glanced over at the children. They were not sure what was going on, and Katrina envied them for that.
“Where’s Matilda going?” one of them asked.
Katrina did not have the heart to tell them. “Come on. We’re getting out of here. We just have to wait until the coast is clear.” The sooner the better. But something was wrong, the Knights had not left.
“Where are the others?” one of the Knights demanded from Matilda. Matilda insisted she was the only one. For a moment, she thought they might shoot her there and continue the search. No, they did not– not yet anyway. The lead Knight simply ordered some of his subordinates to take her away, and the rest to continue their search.
Katrina knew the hasty plan failed. She looked at all the children. “Get ready to run,” she told them quietly. Perhaps is she ran towards the Knights, that would buy the children time to escape. If not– she did not want to think about the alternatives.
“Surrender!” the Knights were convinced more hid in the building. Perhaps other groups tried the same trick. “If they run, shoot them,” one Knight said to his comrades.
Katrina’s heart sank. There would be no escape. Her eyes darted around their corner, looking for any nook or cranny to stash the children. If they could hide just a little longer– then what? Then they would be all alone in an occupied city. The State was ruthless with its enemies. Katrina pressed her back into the bag wall as she spotted flashlight beams sweeping the area off to her side.
Only one last desperate ploy crossed her mind. “Don’t say anything. No matter what,” she told the children. If none talked, then the Knights might assume they were afraid. It would not be the first time they frightened somebody into silence. Katrina tried to hide her own fear. The children all had brave faces. Katrina smiled weakly at that, with a hint of pity. They have no idea what lay ahead. Katrina wished they would never have to learn.
“Come on out!” the Knights said, their flashlights finally reaching the Tropican’s hiding spot. Katrina did not want to, but a lifetime of conditioning made her comply to the Knight’s commands. She knew now that she failed. She failed herself, she failed Saul, she failed the children, and she even failed Andreas. She ran off without him, and look what happened. It made her feel so worthless. She stepped forward, leading the children into custody. She would not waste her breath pleading for their safety. The Knights were machines, and they did exactly as commanded. “Come on, hurry it up,” one of the Knights commanded, his rifle aimed at Katrina. The only hope she had left was that of exploding ships. Maybe the war here would be over soon. Maybe they could hold out long enough for the People’s Army to free them. Would that not be ironic; the People’s Army saving Katrina from the grip of her own nation’s Knights.