The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Stardust: Towne, Chapter Fin

Last chapter of Towne.

Chapter 11

Andreas cursed from his hidden location. He knew Katrina would get into trouble. He searched the town all day, with no sign of her. Just before sunset, he spotted a patrol of Knight and took cover in a bombed out house. To his dismay, he spotted Katrina, Matilda and a bunch of children being lead away. They must be headed to one of the detention camps, perhaps the one Andreas saw on the outskirts of town.

Those were, of coarse, the infamous processing centers of the Knights. Andreas only knew of rumors, stories told by refugees. They said that those who went in, never came out. They spoke of genetic purges, of the extermination of entire villages and towns. And eventually of colonization by Naveinans. Pi Showna was one such location. The Knights came in, cleared it all out, and The People built their new city on top of it. What would happen to those colonist when the original inhabitants liberated the area? Andreas could only speculate, but they would likely meet the same fate as the originals.

Not that any of that currently did Katrina any good. Her future suddenly got a lot shorter unless Andreas could bail her out. Again. It was starting to develop into a bad habit; she lands in hot water and he has to save her. Just once he would like to meet a woman who was a little more self-sufficient. No matter; he was not about to abandon her, especially to those savages. Something told him, waltzing into the camp with guns blazing was not going to work here. In Shownastadt, he had surprise on his side. Here– the Knights expected attacks, and would crush them swiftly.

Andreas had to think his way around this obstacle. He was up to the challenge, but found life so much simpler when he could shoot his troubles. Andreas made his way through the rubble and ruin of Contra, his mind focused on the devastation. He certainly did not want to have to clean up this mess. Would the town ever be the same again? Might just be easier to plough it under and plant atop it. For the time being, everyone would just have to move to the big city. Tropico City should be in more or less one piece, and with The State’s fleet moored at the bottom of the sea– this invasion will never reach the capital.

If he was lucky, they would not even hold on to what they have taken. The artillery has not moved all day. Andreas made his way out of town, keeping his head low. The best plan he can cook up was to take to the outskirts of town, stalking low through the corn fields. He did not like moving on his own, not when he could end up dead. As a rule, the Golden Hammers did not approve of its employees going solo. Too easy to land in an ambush. The more pairs of eyes, the more likely nobody could get the drop on them.

Andreas had little choice now. His buddies were probably still up in that plantation, sorting through the dead. Dwarves have their own ways of disposing of the dead. Sapiens follow the Ancient tradition of coming from fire and water and returning to it– at least the fire part. Water was not always available, but an industry grew up around that too. Shipping ashes to the seas was a small business, but it got done. Pygmaeus, on the other hand, lived beneath the ground. Naturally, they died below the ground as well. They buried their dead, in single plots. It seemed strange to Andreas, but some Sapiens have adopted the same practice.

For the moment, the dwarves were digging individual holes for each of the Knights’ victims. As far as he knew, they simply left the Knights to rot where they lay. Perhaps the ravens will get some use out of them. Andreas could not care either way. They would get whatever they deserved. As for the others. Andreas still had a hard time believing what he saw. He tried not imagine seeing Katrina’s body slumped over in one of those trailers.

Andreas shook his head. He was not sure when, but sometime along the line, feelings started to develop. He always did his best to keep detached from life. Too much pain and suffering came from attachment; a lesson he learned the hard way. Normally, he would bail anybody out of trouble with the Knights, or any other invaders. But now, his thoughts focused more on Katrina. At first, that was the case with her. He felt– he was responsible for her apprehension, and was compelled to bail her out. Since then, they did little but bicker and argue, and still he could not keep his thoughts from her. If anything were to happen–

Andreas did not want to consider it. He failed one he cared about before, he would not do it again. His own feelings are what shocked him the most. She was difficult, stubborn and plain irritating at times, but they were connected. If his actions were driven by responsibility, would he have put up with her for so long? No, he would have dropped her off in the first safe harbor and been on his way. He certainly would have caught his ship in time.

Andreas scowled at himself. He had a job to do, not a time to get all sentimental. He can sort out his mind after he freed her, and the rest of that camp. Katrina would have to come first, as for the camp– he knew he would need most of the gang for that. After what they saw in that coffee plantation, they will be more than eager to pay back the Knights.

Andreas kept to the shadows of dusk as he approached farmland. He was close enough to safety that he dared not gather attention. Nothing like getting caught right at the end to ruin a man’s day. Not to mention, if he should live, he would never hear the end of it. The nearest corn fields were already partially trampled. Others had the same idea as Andreas, though their tracks led east. He was headed more towards the north. There lay the only detention camp in town, at least he hoped so. Contra was small enough that one should suffice. If he were wrong, and Katrina was elsewhere–

No, Andreas learned long ago not to dwell on ‘ifs’. He kept his mind on the corn field. Aside from the trails already cut through, there was no sign of inhabitants. No farmers, no ground sloths coming down from the hills, not even squawking hobblers. Everyone must have left Contra at the foot of the Naveinan invasion. After all the fighting, the fields were too quiet. He walked gingerly to keep his shoes from crushing stalks beneath them. Tropicans were not use to this level of silence. Even at night, there was an ambient sound of bugs and birds. When the crickets kept quiet, that was a time to worry.

He picked up the Knight’s trail by the very same way. Vehicles and marching boots were the only sound detectable, and easy to track. He already knew the camp’s location, but this told him traffic would be heavy. The nearest corner of the barbed-wire fence orbiting the camp skirted the cornfield. It gave Andreas the perfect vantage point. He could see clearly towards the camp’s center. It was little more than a neighborhood of Contra, relatively undamaged, and encircled with fortification. He spotted no trailers or anything immediately noted as insidious.

Knights roamed the roof tops of a two story building. At one point or another, it must have been a shop, or a Tropican official building, but not now. Now it served as an impromptu lookout tower. The roof was sandbagged and Andreas spotted machine guns at each corner. They pointed down into the detention camp. They could hardly stop an attack, but most certainly would put down any uprising. There was one vehicle inside the camp, though many more on the outside, and that was a mobile surface-to-air missile launcher. Four missiles sat on a rack on the bed of a truck. It was hardly enough to stop an air raid, but it would be enough to shoot down a snooping aircraft.

No doubt that the Knights wanted to keep their practices secret. That made on thing self-evident; whomever went into a camp, they had no intention of releasing them alive. Andreas searched the crowd pressed into the former neighborhood square. Less than fifty gray wearing men walked in the crowd, and all of them were armed. Andreas estimated about two hundred in the crowd, two hundred Tropicans that it. He spotted no pygmaeus, but plenty of sleek and slender forms of elves. The Party had a special hatred towards them.

He also spotted some short folks, a few of those green. Goblins and gremlins were not even Terraforms, much less human, so Andreas was surprised to see them alive. The other shorties were children, both elf and sapien. Only a few redheads were in the mix, and only one had the dark red color of Katrina. His eyes locked on to her. She stood, humbled and nervous, but still protective. Five children surrounded and clung to her. One of those had to be Saul.

“Nice going,” he muttered to himself. “You found him alright, but you forgot the part about escaping.” Katrina sure caused him plenty of trouble. He was unsure what he would do without her. Probably be out with the rest of the Golden Hammers, resisting this invasion. Then again, he would only have himself to worry about; dwarves being more than capable of taking care of themselves.

Andreas’s attention drifted over towards the Knight with the fancy collar. He was no mere officer. He walked like he owned the place. Andreas could not tell his rank, but it was clear this was the man in charge. The only details he could make out were the gray uniform and one mean scowl on his face. He looked like the type who was just plain mad at the world, all the time. He was struggling to impose some sort of order on the camp.

“In line!” Andreas could hear the venom in his voice from his hiding spot. “Goblins over there!”

“What am I suppose to do with more goblins, Colonel Wood?” one Knight shouted over the crowd.

Wood turned to glare at the announcing Knight. “Process them immediately!”

Process– what a holesome word for it. Andreas had a fair idea what sort of process the goblins, three of them, would go through. The Knight commander, Wood, stomped over to an arrangement of Knights herding their latest catch into the camp. “How many times do I have to tell you, no goblins! Don’t bother bringing the vermin here. Deal with them on the spot!”

One of the Knights talked back, but Andreas could not make out the words. He could guess though. Something along the lines of; ‘if we shoot them on the spot, then the humans won’t cooperate because they’ll know what’s in store for them’. Times like this, Andreas wish his imagination was not so active. What sort of twisted person could come up with that, and the fact Andreas applied those words, certainly made him think less of himself.

Still, that must be what the Knight said. “Deal with it!” Wood snapped, before trudging back to inmates. Knights had an appearance as thugs and butchers, and it struck Andreas as ironic. The mafia in general is thought of as a pack of thugs in most countries. Only Tropico treated them anything like legitimate businesses. It appalled Andreas that the underground economy would be lumped into the same category. The Golden Hammers would never exterminate entire populations. They would only go after rival gangs, and only when provoked.

“Why are you here?” Wood asked the first man in the front line. He appeared to be an elf. The elf talked back to Wood, probably proclaiming his innocence. Instead of listening, Wood struck him down with his fist. “Wrong! You’re unnatural! You’re a freak of nature! You are an elf!”

Andreas shook his head. Since when was being born an elf a crime? Not like they had much of a choice in the matter. He watched as Wood moved down the line, asking the same question over and over, and always amending the answer, and always with a slap. He reached the first dwarf in the crowd, whom answered the question by spitting in Wood’s eye. In response, four Knight jumped him, beating him to the ground. The dwarf fought back with all he had, but outnumbered four-to-one.

In the end, he was subdued and dragged off in the same direction as the goblins. He would be dead in minutes. Not many could chose how to die, and dwarf decided to go out like a dwarf; stubbornly. As much respect he had for the dwarf, he had the same amount of loathing for the Knight. His pistol was beneath his jacket, and he could probably cap him now. He would too, if he only knew how the Knights would react. They might very well kill everyone inside the camp in retaliation. Andreas prided himself on never missing a target, but also with never harming a non-professional. He was not about to blotch his record.

He finally reached the children around Katrina. He asked the same question to the first one, and much to his surprise, received no answer. “I said, ‘why are you here’? Answer me!” Andreas squinted, trying to identify the boy. No, it was not Saul. At least he thought it was not. Why did he keep silent? Was he putting on a brave front? No, more likely he was just scared silent.

“Can’t talk?” Wood grabbed him by the head and jaw. He tried to pry his mouth open. “Don’t you have a tongue? Or maybe you’re just too stupid to talk. The world has no need of defects!”

“Leave him alone!” Andreas heard the familiar voice, and rolled his eyes. She just had to open her big mouth. Andreas could pick out her Naveinan accent all the way here. He leaned up against an old tree stump and sighed. He came all this way to rescue her, and Katrina went and shot her mouth off. He just hoped the Knight did not shoot her dead, otherwise this would be one short rescue mission.

“You! Why are you here?” Wood asked, but in a much different tone. He was not asking why she was in the camp, but why she was in Tropico. “You are one of The People! I can hear it in your voice. Why are you here? Are you a Red? A traitor to The State?” Wood was being rather forceful with his questioning. Both hands latched firmly to her shoulders, and the Knight tried to shake an answer out of her.

Katrina said nothing. Oh sure, now she was speechless. Seeing the Knight rough her up was almost enough to make him go charging in now. Only his cool professionalism stopped him from doing anything boneheaded. He will not go rushing in without a couple dozen heavily armed mobsters at his side. No, playing hero was a short career path.

Not everyone felt the same way. One of the boys did break ranks and charge Wood. He slammed into the Knight, and started pounding on him with clenched fists. Andreas shook his head. The poor fool had no idea what he is getting into. Andreas recognized him as Saul. He did not know the children of Contra as well as others, but he did recognize that one from a few days ago.

Wood responded viciously. He back-handed Saul with full force, sending him flying to the ground. Andreas waited for the Knights to come and take him away, but they just stood fast. Instead, Wood reached to his holster, drew his own sidearm and fired at Saul. For the first time in his life, Andreas actually flinched at the sound of gunfire. He heard only one shot, followed by a scream of horror, a scream from Katrina. She howled with shock before going limp, and fainting to the ground.

“That could have been Gus,” Andreas hissed through clenched teeth as his fist slammed into an old tree stump. “That could have been Gus.” He wanted to shout it, but had to keep it at a whisper. He was too close to the camp for that. The thought that those butchers would do anything to Gus, it made his blood boil. Perhaps the kid was lucky to die long before living through this.

Andreas withdrew into the safety of corn stalks. He only stuck around long enough to see what would happen to Katrina. If anything bad, he knew he would have to act fast. But no, she was not taken away by the Knights. Instead, the other inmates took her off to one of the crowded longhouses. They were all native to Contra, and word spread fast. They knew she was a Naveinan, but did not hold it against her. After so casually murdering a child, Andreas was surprised when he did not shoot Katrina. Perhaps he really was interested in knowing why she was in Tropico. When he questioned the others, it sounded more like a power trip on his behalf than an inquisition.

Andreas fumed in his hiding spot for the next few hours. He waited the night through, observing the movements of the guards. Knights on rooftop paid only the minimal of attention to the inmates. None where out and about during the night hours. He expected much more discipline out of the Knights. They were treating the dark hours as a long break. With no superior officers on patrol, perhaps they felt more lax. It would be a great time to attack. If the dwarves could come underneath the officers’ quarters, then taking the camp would be a snap– well, maybe if one discounted mounted machine guns above them.

Andreas waited through sunrise. There was a call for breakfast, but only for the Knights. If the inmates received any food, he did not see it. Perhaps they were fed in their longhouses, or more likely, were not fed at all. Why feed them when they were just going to be shot or gassed anyway? It was a cold, calculating way to run a camp. As far as Andreas, and the hole of the underground were concerned; it might cost quite a bit to take out a hit, but it did not cost a single dinar extra to be civil about it. Which of course meant no capping the target before breakfast or dinner.

Andreas inched his way towards the fencing. The camp was solemn, calm. After seeing dissent brutally crushed, the prisoners were reluctant to cause any fuss. They congregated in small groups, no more than ten each. Little talk filled the air. Andreas could not stand the quiet; it made anything he did all that much easier to detect. He waited until the groups became more vocal before moving towards the fence line.

He breathed easily once he spotted Katrina. She was curled up near the fence, which made it all the more easier for him to contact her. She sat curled up, her face buried against her knees. Andreas could imagine what went through her mind. He experienced the same when Gus died. He crawled his way close enough to touch her before speaking out.

“Katrina,” he whispered. No response. “Katrina!” He raised his volume by a notch.

Katrina slowly rose her head and looked towards him. “Andreas,” she said weakly. Her eyes were red and puffy, from a night’s worth of mourning. She did not sleep a second the night before, instead sobbing into her arms. The shelter around her life was leveled by a devastating attack.

Andreas nodded. “Yes, it’s me.”

“They killed him,” the moment she spoke, more tears ran down her face. “They killed him!”

Andreas cringed at her voice, too loud for his comfort. “Please, Katrina, keep your voice down.”

“They killed him, and I couldn’t do anything,” Katrina’s face lost any emotion. “They killed Saul because of me. I never came back–“

Survivor’s guilt. Before Gus died, Andreas wrote is off as a bunch of nonsense. How could anyone feel guilty about living? Andreas found out, the hard way. He already traversed the path she was now on. He could not think of any words to comfort her. Instead, he reached out and grasped her shoulder. “Just hang on Katrina, I’ll get you out of here.”

Katrina’s hands moved up and grabbed his. He looked into her eyes, and saw not the defiant, stubborn woman he escorted across Marasuania, but rather a vulnerable and hurt girl. “Andreas–“

”Just hang on,” Andreas repeated. “I’m going to gather up the gang, and we’ll be back before nightfall. We’re going to get you out of here.”

“Don’t leave me,” Katrina pleaded.

Her words and expression stung at his heart. “You have to wait, hold out a few hours. I’ll be back– I’ve lost too much in my life, and I don’t want to lose you.” His hand moved from hers and caressed her face. So soft, yet so sad. She was a tough one, and would recover from this loss– but she would never be the same. “I can’t do this alone. I promise I’ll get you out of here, but I have to leave for the moment, ok?”

Katrina nodded slowly. “I trust you.”

Of all the things she could have said, that put the pressure on Andreas. Now he could not fail. If the dwarves could not afford the help, then he would have to return alone. He did not foresee that happening, not when so much blood was between the Golden Hammers and the Knights. Andreas took his attention off Katrina and glanced around the roof tops. No Knights were watching. Why should they be concerned about a lone inmate curled up by a barbed wire fence. Nobody could get past the three meter tall barrier without cutting themselves to pieces and crying out in pain. When that happened, they would just shoot the escapee.

Andreas drew his hand back through the gaps in the fence. “Just hang on, I’ll be back.” He turned around without another look and began to slither his way through the cornfield. He could not look back; the heartbroken face and pain-filled eyes were just too much for him to take. He would be back, that much was sure. He only hoped he was not too late.

Andreas did not know if he should be surprised the tunnels still stood, or surprised that the Naveinans hold non-sapiens in such contempt, as to not bother sealing them. Whatever the case may be, the underground itself was still intact, minus a few collapsed entries. Andreas found his dwarven compatriots enthusiastic about this jail break. It was not so much freeing their fellow Tropicans, as it was to hunt down the Knights. A vendetta has been sworn, and vengeance must be taken. The Knights crossed a line sacred to mafia companies; the line between business and personal.

Andreas squinted in the darkness, trying to keep track of where he step. The war above might not have reached the city below, but its effects had. Pygmaeus received their electricity from the power plants on the hills or in the city, same as everyone else. The State cut it during its invasion. Whether it was intentional, who knew. One thing was known, and that was the invaders were indiscriminate in their destruction.

Word of the Knight’s massacre spread fast among the non-sapien populations. The Golden Hammers sent many of its foot soldiers to clear out these savages. To kill one’s nemesis is one thing; the mob does that all the time. But to target one’s enemy’s neighbors, siblings, parents and worst of all, their children, it went against every fiber in underground honor. It disgusted every dwarf to the core. Some ‘honest’ dwarves tried to sign on for a crack at the Knights. The Golden Hammers, obviously, turned them down.

As for the Naveinan Army– “Don’t worry about them,” Ghulam told Andreas. “The People’s Army’s been massing themselves east of Contra, waiting for the ships and airplanes to do their worst.” As it turned out, allowing The State to land was part of an elaborate trap. By allowing them on shore, then sinking the ships and destroying their supply lines, it was hoped to force them into surrendering. Or at least destroying them.

Andreas’s eyes darted every which way his flash light moved. Dozens of electric torches lit the way. Dwarves and sapiens in the gang were on guard. None expected any resistance on the streets of the underground city, but the streets were uneasily quiet. Most dwarves and gnomes, the non-combatant ones, are steering clear of the fighting. The streets were filled with dust and rocks, both broken off the low hanging roof during bombardment.

Andreas looked up at the smooth ceiling, five meters above him. It was odd to have a roof over a street. Pretty lousy for ventalation, but few autos ever drove here– and those all were electric. “I have to say, I envy you, Ghulam,” Andreas told the older dwarf. All dwarves were older than him.

“Why’s that?” the dwarf asked with a gruff tone.

Andreas shook his head. “Because I have no idea where we are.”

Ghulam’s flashlight shifted to a nearby street sign. “We’re on Granite Street. Happy?”

Andreas sighed. On the surface, he would know his location. He never had to rely on street signs, knowing instantly his location via landmarks. Whether it be a statue, a grove of trees or even an oddly painted house, Andreas always knew where in Contra he stood. Knowing where under Contra he stood– that left him at a literal loss. Though it was surely his job, he let Ghulam lead the way.

“This should be it,” Ghulam looked up at the steel staircase.

“Should?” Andreas replied. “You don’t know?”

Ghulam snarled at him. “Of coarse I know! But you didn’t give us a very good description of the place.”

“I gave you the address and number of Knights, what more do you want?” Andreas asked.

Ghulam shook his head, uttering something far from flattering about youth under his breath. “Suppose you walk up there, open the door, and find yourself in the middle of the Naveinan quarters? We’d get picked off, one by one.”

Andreas did some muttering of his own, but far from beneath his breath. He was in such a hurry to get Katrina out of this nightmare, he had not thought things through. His feelings were interfering with his abilities. In short, he was letting personal get in the way of business. A humiliating mistake that not even an Associate would make. “Tell you what, how about I go up first. If I get shot, take another route,” he tried his best to save some face.

Ghulam nodded. “A fine plan, but I’m sure this leads to the neighborhood store’s basement. From what you said, the guards should be atop its roof. We go up there, take them out and appropriate their machine guns. You all get that?” he called back to the other dwarves, some thirty in all. They cried out their ‘aye’ in unison. Ghulam turned back to the Sapien. “Lead the way.”

Andreas walked quietly up the stairs, not wanting to alarm anyone who might be in the same room as the underground entry. A needless precaution; since the dwarves are seldom quiet in their discussion. Their voice was one of confidence, that resonated deep from within. It was not that they were unconcerned about the dangers. Far from it; if they thought a trap was waiting, they would move as quietly as elephants through the jungle. Andreas knew from experience, that forest elephants could blend in with ease.

Andreas entered the store’s basement with all the stealth he could muster. No Knights were on guard, and the storage was already thoroughly ransacked. Where war went, looting was not far behind. Not that the store had much worth taking to begin with. It was a clothing store, and seeing how The State so loathed anything and everything Tropican, Andreas could not imagine them taking it. Perhaps the average soldier simply did not care about ideology and doctrine.

Andreas gave the go ahead, and dwarves began to file into the basement. “Andreas, take your men out into the streets, once we take the roof,” Ghulam told him. He planned to take the high ground, capturing the machine guns, before they even try to storm the streets.

Andreas agreed. He reckoned that most of the camp’s firepower sat on the roof. Take it, and the dwarves can turn those heavy guns on the oppressor. “Just make sure you fire on sight only. No strafing the houses, Secretary.” The aggressive dwarf glared at Andreas, but did not object. Andreas had no idea which buildings housed soldiers, and which inmates. Presumably, the nicest joints were preserved for the highest ranking Knights, but nothing was absolutely certain.

Kevlar, one of the most senior of Golden Hammers, moved first, knife drawn. He managed to fulfill hits long before Andreas was born, or his parents for that matter. Despite his advance age, the dwarf was skilled at quick, silent kills. He climbed up the stairs and pressed against the door. It swung outwards, quietly. Only one guard was visible on the ground level. Kevlar was quick. He reached up with his free hand, and clasped the Knight’s mouth. With his armed hand, he drove his trusty knife between ribs. The Knight thrashed for only a moment, before going limp.

“Clear,” Kevlar whispered.

“Good start,” Ghulam noted. “Now let’s finish this job and go home.”

Colonel Wood leaned back away from his desk. Purging was a slow, laborious business on this island. Back on the continent, he could muster far more resources and clear out this town in a day. With supply lines so extended, Wood knew he must be patient. With the supply lines cut, and the Tropican’s mutt army pressing against the front, it made his task all the more difficult. Soon, he would have to detach his Knights to aid in stopping the Tropican advance.

The hole situation infuriated him. How could the navy drop the ball like this? It was a major embarrassment that The People should lose to an island infested with defects, deviants and Reds. He had no idea when, or even if, reinforcements would arrive. Bombers could not drop bombs or paratroopers over the isle, thanks to those flying saucers. Tropico’s navy is doing its best to rule the seas around their island.

Wood had virtually no idea as to how many ships were lost. All he knew was that supplies were cut, and communication was tattered at best. The Tropicans were proving capable of jamming signals. Must have bought, or stole, the technology from a more advance island. He would say the same thing about circular winged aircraft, but not even a diehard like Wood could figure out who else came up with that idea. He refused to admit, or even consider it a possibility that Tropico might have developed weapons and tools of war independently. How could a communist nation do anything so enterprising.

The purges must be expedited, but he had more pressing business to attend to. That woman, that lone example of The People in a sea of filth, what was she doing here. He must know. As a Knight of The State, it was his duty. Was she a spy? Perhaps she worked with the pirates and thugs who smuggled illicit goods into The State at every opportunity. One thing was certain, she was working against The State. He could not fathom why, why anyone with sound mind would want to flee The State for this refuge. What was unclear was just how many accomplishes she had. No woman could pull off something so complex, so she must have contacts still in The State. He must learn of these, and try to get word back home. They would not go unpunished.

He would learn the truth in good time, but for the moment, a break was in order. Wood was not the type to idle on a whim. A long, hard task lay ahead of him. Perhaps he and his Knights were doomed, trapped on this island forever, but that changed nothing. If anything, it made completing his task that much more urgent. Wood refused to die leaving a job unfinished. It would make him look bad, and worse yet, brand him a failure. He yawned, fighting fatigue. There would be plenty of time to nap after the job was done.

Just as he closed his eyes, they flew open at the sound of mechanical chattering. Machine gun fire, in his camp. What were those Knights thinking? He heard no artillery in the area, not even as much as a low flying plane. All that action was further ahead, where the Tropicans threw themselves at the hasty constructed defenses. They could not break free this soon, and even if they could, the army would have sent him word.

Wood pushed his chair back and walked towards the window. A short burst might have told of attempted escapes, but not a prolonged one. Where it was just one gun, seconds later, all of the roof-top machine guns were firing away. They better not be killing off the entire camp. Strafing was terribly inefficient, more over, it wastes bullets. Wood marched over towards the window to determine just what was going on.

Much to his dismay, it was not prisoners being cut down, but his own Knights. What was once a minor irritant, quickly grew into full blown rage. He glared up at the roofs, seeing not gray-clad soldiers, but stout fellows wearing sharp suits. Dwarves. Dwarves were gunning down his own men. How did they get up there. Never mind that, he knew exactly how they were coming down.

He ran back to his desk and snatched the phone with enough fury that he thought it might snap in two. That was last thing he wanted, a broken phone. Without it, he could not contact the army. He planned to have an artillery barrage brought down on top of that building. That would silence the tunnel rats. He started to dial, when he noticed a low static hum in the phone’s ear piece. It was a dead. The line was cut. He threw the useless device against the wall.

Wood flung open his desk draw and drew out his sidearm. It was but an eight millimeter pistol, but it would kill just as well as any cannon. He took another look outside. No longer where his men being cut down; now they were fleeing. His own men, running from a bunch of tunnel rats! Wood roared in fury and turned towards the door. No Knight under his command would run, and no dwarf would best him. He would go out there and deal with them personally, or die trying.

“Andreas!” Katrina gasped, seeing him make his way through the panicked crowd. She stood, and threw herself at him.

Andreas caught her in his arms and held her close. “Who were you expecting? The golden jackalope?” Katrina did not reply, instead she sobbed into his shoulder. “It’s alright now. I’m getting you out of here.”

“When I heard the guns on the roof, I thought it was all over. I never imagined you would brave the massacre. I would have thought not even you would be so brazen,” Katrina leaned heavily on him, just barely recognizing her own growing fatigue.

Andreas smiled. “It’s no problem when it’s your own co-workers doing the shooting.” When Katrina gave him a quizzical looked, Andreas told her that he would explain later. “For now, let’s get out of here. The gang’s rounding up everyone, and we’re headed underground.”

The Knights’– in fact that hole State’s contemptuous view of Homo pygmaeus worked to the Golden Hammers’ advantage. By not cleaning out the underground towns, they gave a perfect avenue of rescue. Even the People’s Army is using the underground for their counter-attack, poking up long enough to cut down some Naveinans before taking back to hidden safety.

Andreas lead her through the crowd and back towards the mason building. He could see the muzzle flashes on the roof clearly, and the chattering was louder than any Luneburg Typist could muster. Every now and then, he spotted flashes aimed at the dwarves. A few Knights still put up resistance where most had sense enough to flee. In their flight, they left the gates open and unguarded. Andreas always took the Knights as a hardcore, vicious, yet well disciplined group of butchers. Now, they just seemed like a pack of bullies trying to save their own hide.

The two of them kept their heads low as bullets were traded by both sides over their heads. With each exchange, the Knights responded with fewer and fewer bursts. Slowly, the remaining Knights were cut down or just plain silenced. Some Knights took shelter in longhouses or any handy building. The dwarves responded by peppering the structures with bullet holes. Unwanted destruction was frowned upon, but after the Knights defiled this neighborhood, nobody was likely to move back into the houses. It would all come down once the invaders were dispatched.

Andreas made it back into store and out from the pulsing red sun’s insistent rays. Glass and wood, along with merchandise lay scattered everywhere. A few Knights managed to get close enough to lob grenades at the building. Andreas did not see any make it to the roof, but plenty came through the windows. Andreas was half surprised the defeated Knight did not call down artillery, or what little air power The State had in Tropico, upon them. He could not complain by its absence, but he still worried when things went too perfectly.

All the same, he would prefer to leave this camp as soon as possible, just in case the big guns are only late. He found the decent into the underground far more crowded than his way up. He kept Katrina near him, not wanting to lose her again. He left out a quick breath of relief once they reached the dimness of the pygmaeus streets. He pulled Katrina away from the streams of escapees.

“You’re safe now,” Andreas told her.

Katrina clung to Andreas. “They killed him–“ she spoke softly, barely audible.

“I know,” Andreas solemnly said. Though he still seethed with anger, he was too tired to be mad. All he wanted was a nice quiet place to lay down and not wake up for a couple of days. He filed the idea away in the recesses of his memory. He still had to make it to the Tropican side of the front before taking his vacation time.

Andreas waited a few minutes, with Katrina by his side, until Ghulam came stomping down the stairs and on to the subterranean street. He was the last Golden Hammer to arrive, as was his intent. A good leader always waited until his men were safe before tending himself. “We got most of them,” Ghulam told Andreas.

“What about their leader?” Andreas wanted that Knight dead, and if possible, twice over.

Ghulam shrugged. “You think I’m hanging around to identify them? Like I said, we got most of them. No telling if the rest will get their act together and trail us.”

Andreas nodded. “Right. Let’s get to a better defensive area.” If they tried to defend the door, the first few Knights falling will only convince the others to try a different route. Better to lure them all out, then whack them. With Katrina leaning against him, Andreas followed the senior mobster down the road, and away from that cursed prison.

Colonel Wood treaded through the wreckage of his camp. How many Knights lay dead? Too many, but at least they were Knights to the end. The ones that ran– those would see his wrath. They might be the only Knights left in the area, but Wood will still have them shot. They were all trapped here, and will all die. The Knights than ran, he would not permit them to die as men, to die as Knights of The State. He would hunt them all down.

That would have to wait. For now he must link up with more loyal Knights. Another camp was further west, in the farmland. As much as he loathed retreating, Wood was forced to admit that he would do the cause no good if he were dead. He would have to traverse hostile territory, and quickly. He was already regretting unloading every one of his clips into well fortified dwarves. How did they take the Machine gun nests so easily? Were there traitors within the Knighthood? Was that why so many ran?

What was clear to Wood, was that a Pygmaeus was not capable of pulling off something this clever on their own. This was something that required a sapien, and a well educated one at that. Wood put sorting out this mess at the top of his to-do list, right after returning to safety.

The streets, or what was left of them, were empty and quiet. With so many prisoners on the run, he expected to see a little chaos. The Tropican’s army had yet to arrive, but that was no surprise. They were far inferior to The State’s war machine. Nothing could match the might of The People. Nothing ever would, certainly not a mob of rabble.

Wood walked westward for a good fifteen minutes before seeing any active life. One of those flightless birds of prey, falconeers he believed they were called, stood on the carcass of a burned out auto. The bird’s eyes watched Wood intently, almost like a falcon eyeing a rat. The creature had sharp teeth, and nasty kicking claws, but he was no match for an animal more than ten times his size. Not only that, but Wood was far meaner than any feathered pest.

Wood turned away and continued his march. Three steps later, he heard a sharp caw. He glanced back over his shoulder and saw the falconeer also took a few steps forward. Wood turned to the bird, “Scram!” he shouted loud enough to cause the falconeer to retreat to auto top. Wood cursed the animal before turning to continue his retreat.

Without even a step, he came face-to-face with an emaciated elf only a meter in front of him. Where did he come from? Wood glared at the elf. Where was not an important question; what mattered was how dare a non-sapien stand in the path of a sample of The People. Colonel Wood stepped forward, expecting the elf to move aside. When he did not, Wood grew angered. He snap back-handed the elf, sending him to the ground. Times like this he wished he carried extra ammunition.

He took a few more steps before another elf appeared on the street, stepping out from behind a partially singed hedge row. This one was much older than the previous, perhaps closing to the limit of elf’s lifespan. Wood thought it a shame such a waste of genes was allowed to exist so long. Like with the first, he knocked this one to the ground and continued.

He did not even manage two steps before more elves appeared. Wood tried to take in a quick count. They rose like weeds from inside ruined homes and behind piles of rubble. Elves were not the only ones to appear. Several dingy pygmaeus appeared. Wood could never tell the difference between gnomes and dwarves, but he knew by their beaten appearance that they must be escapees from the processing center. A few more rose to join the crowd, these sapiens. No, not sapiens, but traitors to their own species.

They weakly approached Wood, making to encircle him. Their eyes glowed with hatred, fury for what the Knights have done. Wood sneered. Too bad. The Knights of The State would continue purging this world of genomes unworthy of life. Did they think they could beat him? A pack of half-starved mongrels going up against The State’s best. Not likely. But if they wanted a fight, then Wood would put them swiftly into their place. Even without a loaded sidearm, he could still snuff out their lives.

Wood took a shot at the nearest elf, easily knocking him to the ground. He kicked him in the head for good measure before moving along. An elf woman took a lunge at Wood, but in her emaciated state, Wood easily dodged her and set his own elbow into her back. She crumpled and did not rise again. A third and fourth jumped into to take her place. Wood kicked one away, and knocked the other flat on his back. Each time he downed a target, two more would fill into place.

Soon one even managed to land a hit. It was not a precise hit, but one of fury. Wood launched his elbow backwards and caught the man, rather the dwarf, in the nose. His elbow crushed bone with a satisfying snap. The dwarf fell with an oof, but was quickly replaced. Before Wood fully understood his situation, the rabble and rift-raft escaping the camp enveloped him. Wood continued his struggle, convinced he was stronger, and he would win. Even as he fell to a knee, his conviction did not waver.

Bones crunched again, this time Wood felt a sharp stabbing pain in correlation with the snap. Soon, boots, shoes and even bare feet found their mark. Wood’s head began to spin and his vision lost focus. Pain coursed through his body. With each passing second, he grew weaker in body. Never during his fall did Wood ever consider he might be in the wrong. The last sound his conscious mind heard was the cawing of anticipation by the falconeer standing atop a burned out hulk.

Andreas was one of the lucky ones. His house was still in tact, and Sentry still stood watch. A lone crater tilled the soil of his garden, and the windows were all broken out, but aside from that, it was in good shape. He was glad, because after an astro of fighting for Contra, he was ready for a good night’s rest. A hot bath would be nice too, but he had the feeling that plumbing and electricity might not be fully functional. A crater in the packed dirt road, with a newly dug fountain in the middle, proved that running water was now flying.

Though the garden was stripped bare, likely by occupying Naveinans, the rest of his house was still mostly intact. He spent the better part of an hour going over it. His little library was untouched. Not surprising since he locked the door before leaving. Besides, books are not worth much as booty of war. However, his silverware was missing. Some soldier pilfered his silver, and burned Andreas. Under normal circumstances, he would have to hunt this guy down and whack him, but the past few weeks have been anything but normal.

His furniture was still mostly in one piece. He half expected the enemy, or more likely, the wildlife, to come in and make themselves at home. Looks like old Sentry did his duty and kept other falconeers at bay. Though, there was no telling how much time that bird spent in doors. His couch was still in one piece, and showed not even as much as a claw mark upon it. It would not have surprised him if feathers covered it, but no, just Katrina.

She stirred when she heard the door open. Andreas gazed upon her with deep sympathy. “How are you holding up?”

“I’ll live,” she said sadly. She watched Andreas crossed the room and sat a bag upon the counter. “Any luck?”

“Depends on what you mean by luck,” Andreas replied. A little bit of luck had surfaced a couple of days ago. The Naveinans in Fort Baxter surrendered after it was clear they could not escape. Some of the invaders are still fighting, in an ever shrinking pocked on the northwest coast of the island. “Rations are pretty pitiful. Some fresh-dried fish and canned corn.” The People’s Emergency Relief had only dried and canned foods. It was long ago stockpiled in case of an emergency. From what Andreas heard, they replace the food ever calender year, so this stuff should not be that old.

Katrina sighed. After a week of canned, she longed for some variety. “I guess we can’t complain.”

Andreas only shrugged. “But I do have a bit of good news for you. They found that Knight colonel, or at least what was left of him.”

Katrina’s attention perked. “What happened to him?” What she really meant to ask, was whether he suffered long and painful death.

“Beaten to a pulp,” Andreas told her. “They had trouble identifying what was left, but he had some items that captured Knights confirmed were his.”

“Did the mob get him?” Katrina wondered. She remembered the seen on the coffee plantation, the pain and anger surrounding the dwarves who found relatives among the victims.

Andreas shook his head. “No. This way ain’t our style. We have a problem, we just shoot him. More efficient that way.” Andreas was always callous when he spoke of whacking. To him it was just part of the job. No, he was certain the dwarves did not do this. For when something crossed from business to personal, they would not hesitate to beat him to death. However, dwarves, and even gnomes, would leave the corpse recognizable, as a warning to anyone else who might threaten their families.

“Best anyone could tell is that he ran into an angry mob,” Andreas continued. “He was found not far from that camp.”

Katrina cringed at the thought. “When is the government going to tear that place down.” Another second that place existed was another second to long.

Andreas nodded. “Already started. Rebuilding is just zooming along. Before you know it, Contra will be back to normal.”

Katrina frowned. Normal. Back to the way things use to be. Nothing in her life would ever be ‘normal’ again. Being dragged to Tropico opened up her eyes and gave her a new perspective on life, and tainted her old one. Life would never be the same, but it would go on. Katrina forced herself to sit up. She very well could not spend the rest of her life sleeping. “What do we do now?” she asked, or rather wondered out loud.

Andreas paused from unpacking their rations and took a gander around his house. “Now, Katrina, now we rebuild and get on with our lives.”

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