Lemniscate

“Are you sure?” Remiel asked.

The old woman before him nodded.

“Place your hand here,” he continued. She followed his order and placed her hand on the smooth tablet he held before her. Then he ushered her to the door behind him. The door closed with a thud that echoed through the great room. It was all white. Even the lone table and two chairs. There were no windows or lights. The whiteness of the walls, floor, and ceiling seemed to reflect each other in a way that illuminated every inch of every surface. No shadows existed anywhere.

He sat down to find another dossier had replaced the last. He rested the tablet on the table then picked up the file and flicked through its contents reviewing the information inside. The information that would allow him to pass judgement on his next guest.

When he was satisfied he had seen enough to make an accurate decision, he dropped the dossier onto the table and rose. The human named Francis Nguyen arrived through the door in front of him. A hint of confusion was visible on the small man’s face as he strode across the large room. Each footfall echoed within the chamber and Remiel made an adjustment that softened the noise. Then, as he approached Mr. Nguyen, he reduced his own size to be identical to his guests by shrinking a few inches and thinning himself.

“Mr. Nguyen,” Remiel greeted his guest and showed him to the lone table. Mr. Nguyen bowed graciously before taking his seat. Remiel took his own seat before formally beginning the conversation. Mr. Nguyen had been composed so far, which was an excellent sign.

“Do you know where you are Francis?”

“I do,” Mr. Nguyen said, briefly taking in more of the modest room. “It is good to see you again, Mr. Remiel, though I do not seem to recall the last or first time we met.”

Remiel smiled. “That is to be expected. I am familiar because we have met on multiple occasions.” Remiel himself did not know this until a moment ago when he reviewed the dossier and regained his memories of the previous Francis Nguyen, who had been called Lindsay Williamson. She had been eighty-two years old, whereas Francis was thirty-eight.

“Can you remind me why I am here?” Mr. Nguyen asked.

“Your time has ended, for now, in the land of the living.”

“Ah, I see, and I am here for my final judgement.”

“Not yet, Mr. Nguyen. You have lived just over two hundred years across five lives. You have a few more to experience before the final judgement is given.”

“I will go back then?”

“Not as you are currently.”

Mr. Nguyen’s eyes narrowed and he turned his head ever so slightly.

“What do you remember of your previous lives?” Remiel asked.

“Nothing.”

“That is because you cannot take your memories with you. You must start again. A clean slate. No prior experiences and under new circumstances. You have done this several times already. Only when you have lived your three hundred and thirty-three years will you be ready to receive your final judgment.”

Mr. Nguyen nodded. “Yes, I’m beginning to remember, but please forgive me. Why so many years?”

“One life is too short to accurately pass judgement on a soul. Multiple lives are required to collect the necessary information to make a proper assessment.”

“Then I have no choice to accept?”

“There is always a choice.” Remiel picked up the tablet and rose from his chair. Mr. Nguyen stood as well. They walked a few paces before Remiel turned to face Mr. Nguyen and present the tablet.

“When you place your hand on this, it will absorb all of your memories. Then you will pass through the door behind me to begin your next life. The choice you have in this moment is where you will be born and how long your life will last. You cannot choose who your parents will be or how you will be born or any aspect of how your life will be beyond where it will begin and time it will take. You will have no control over how your life will end and no memory of the length you had chosen. You will be born into the world you just left. Nothing will have changed. You currently have 129 years to live before we meet for the last time. Knowing this, make your choice.”

Then, as if from a particle of dust in the spotless room, a miniature earth grew into existence above the tablet until its surface could be seen in detail. Mr. Nguyen examined the moon slowly circling the planet and was tempted to pluck it out of orbit and look at it closer, but he quickly returned his gaze to the world before him. He remembered everything he could about what the world was like. After a few moments he made his decision. Niue. A small island in the Pacific Ocean. He loved the water and hoped to have a simple, yet enjoyable life there.

“Seventy-two years.”

“Are you sure?” Remiel asked.

Mr. Nguyen nodded.

“Place your hand here,” Remiel continued.

Mr. Nguyen followed the instructions and placed his hand on the tablet. Every memory withing him transferred to the tablet. As did Remiel’s memories, through his own hand placed on the underside of the tablet, until both of their collective memories had been extracted.

When Mr. Nguyen removed his hand. Remiel looked up at him and smiled. Then he guided his guest to the door behind him and ushered him through. The door closed and Remiel returned to the table and placed the tablet on its surface. All memories of his previous guest were gone. A new dossier was sitting on the table. He sat down and flicked through the pages absorbing the memories of his next guest. Remembering each time they met and the lives this one had lived. Once he felt prepared, he placed the information back on table and rose to greet his new visitor as she walked through the door.

Prototype

Mathias followed his detector over the ridge of scrap to find the target, but it was not what he expected. Before him wasn’t a Viper II or a Leo IV, it was a small shell rummaging through the junk pile. It was one he didn’t recognize, which put him on edge instantly, but there was something about the machine that he couldn’t quite place. It was the strangest sight he had seen in a long time. Perhaps that is why he didn’t kill it right away. Instead, he chose to observe it. Gathering intel on new series was vital in any scenario. The little machine hadn’t noticed him and his detector hadn’t picked up anything else in the area.

Byron caught up to him and quietly readied his rifle putting the small machine in his sights. Mathias placed a hand on the gun and shook his head. Byron gave him a quizzical look and Mathias pulled a comm unit from his pack and typed a message.

‘Never seen this model before. Observe.’

Byron took the unit and typed a message back: ‘Copy. New series?’

Mathias shrugged. Whatever it was, he was sure it wasn’t good. They watched it for an hour before Byron messaged Mathias he was going to rest for a bit and to wake him should anything happen. He retreated down the scrap heap a few steps and found a comfortable piece to rest on. With his dirt stained jacket and boots, he blended into the rusted landscape. Mathias could feel the grime coating his own clothes and knew he was also invisible to the human eye as long as he remained still. He even thought he might be invisible to the scanning eyes of the machines as well. He smirked at the thought, knowing that such thinking would surely get him killed. He checked his detector again to make sure no other machines were nearby.

He observed the little machine for another hour. The entire time the little machine was simply digging through the scraps. Mathias began to wonder what it could be looking for, or if it even knew what it was doing. Perhaps it had malfunctioned. It stood at roughly three feet, had a spherical head, bulky rectangular body with large square feet underneath, and thin, hydraulic arms that were so disproportionate that it almost suggested it wasn’t constructed to hunt humans. This thought scared Mathias into shouldering his rifle. He intended to observe the machine a little longer before making it a permanent addition to the scrap piles. But, he thought, if it is malfunctioning, perhaps we could capture it for analysis.

Linda would go crazy for an operational unit to plug into. She was always asking for one. Complaining that they could never bring her anything intact. Stating she could learn more from a live unit than one thousand fried ones. Maybe today was her lucky day.

The little unit stopped rummaging and held a thin piece of metal in its similarly thin fingers. Then it brought the piece in front of its lenses and scrutinized it. Then the machine let out a laugh that made Mathias freeze. Adrenaline rushed through his body but he remained frozen. He had never in his twenty-four years scavenging heard a machine make such a noise. Mathias kept his eyes glued to the unit below as it giggled again. Then it held the piece of metal aloft and swung it through the air.

The arm moved in a swift, flicking pattern and the box-shaped unit stepped forward. “Fight me you coward.” The word emitted from the spherical head. Mathias almost open fired when he heard the words but soon realized the words were not directed at him. They didn’t seem to be directed at anything. The little unit giggled again, then swung the metal shard through the air. “You cannot beat me,” it echoed. Mathias dropped his rifle and stared at the machine.

Byron was beside him once again. The noise had surely stirred him from his nap. They were used to only the wind when scavenging on the surface. Anything else usually meant a tracker hunting them down, which meant a fight.

‘What is it doing?’ Byron typed into the comm unit.

‘It seems to be’ Mathias paused, thinking for the right word, then typed, ‘playing.’

Byron gave him the confused look he was expecting. A look that could not hide the tinge of fear.

The little unit kept swishing the thin piece of metal through the air and talking to itself randomly. Then they heard the rattle of a tracker through the rubble. It had a distinct sound. Metal on metal as it raced over and through the scrapyard. They both instantly shouldered their rifles. Mathias peeked at the detector. His eyes fixated on the screen as the noise rumbled in his ears. Finally, a green dot appeared from the north. A tag appeared next to the dot. Leo IV. Mathias nudged Byron and showed him the screen. Byron nodded and they both readied their rifles to the north. A Leo was too quick to outrun. They would have to destroy it.

Mathias glanced down at the little unit then had to look again. It was looking toward the north also, but had placed its thing arms atop its head and was rapidly moving from side to side, as if it were quivering.

He looked back toward the approaching Leo. He could see the landscape shifting, bulging as the hunting machine made its way through the pile of metal. It was nearly upon them. Mathias felt lucky the Leo had to exit the scrap in front of them and into the small valley where the unit was playing. Lucky that they had high ground.

The raging machine burst forth from the pile of rubble and was aimed directly at the small, quivering unit below. To Mathias, the next few seconds seemed to extend themselves allowing him to see and assess everything. What he saw was the Leo unit emerging from the scrap pile in front of the small unit. It was already swinging one of its large paw-like limbs. Mathias knew too well the force behind such a swing. He’d once seen a man get caught by one and it had cut through the man’s waist as if it were simply air. The swing would have cut right through a human’s chest, but was too high and missed the little unit. The Leo soared past the unit. As it skid across the dirt and readied itself to leap again and destroy the little unit, Mathias open fired. Byron quickly followed suit and they were able to destroy it before it was able to fully change its momentum. It fell to the ground and became another fixture among the scrap.

He turned his attention to the little unit, which was now looking at them.

“Quickly,” Mathias risked a whisper, “gather what you can from the Leo.”

Byron looked at him and nodded toward the little unit.

Mathias nodded and gestured Byron toward the still smoking Leo. They both descended the ridge of metal and parted ways at the bottom. Byron toward his objective, and Mathias toward the little unit.

He slowed as he neared the boxy figure. The lenses in the sphere followed his movements. He noticed the unit was still quivering slightly.

“What are you?” Mathias whispered. He looked around them to make sure nothing else moved nearby. “Answer quietly,” he added.

The little unit stopped quivering. “Are you a scavenger?” it said.

“Quiet,” Mathias whispered sternly, then answered, “yes, we are scavengers. You know about us?” He couldn’t help but shake a feeling of dread welling in his gut.

“Father used to speak of your kind,” it said at a slightly lower volume. It wasn’t low enough for Mathias’s liking, but he let it continue. “You are fighting against the progress.”

Mathias pointed at the Leo, where Byron was picking through the remains, and said, “That is not progress.”

“That is what protects us,” the unit said.

“What do you mean ‘us’.”

“The real humans. The ones still working.”

“What?” Mathias caught himself from raising his voice. “How can you count yourself among those beyond the wall?”

“You mean within the wall? Of course.”

“But,” Mathias couldn’t understand, “How? You aren’t even human?”

“Of course I am. I was part of the proty type test that father was in charge of. He said I would become the next type of human. The first one, and everyone else would follow me.”

Mathias felt his head spinning. The rumors were true. “How did you get out here?” he asked.

“I don’t remember,” the little unit said, “I was talking to Father when they poked me. Then everything went dark. I woke up outside the wall in a pile of machines. I’ve been wandering for a few days now. I’m terribly hungry sir. Do you have any food?”

Mathias stared at the little unit. Byron had finished scavenging parts from the Leo and now stood beside him. No doubt he had heard their entire conversation. “What is it?” he whispered into Mathias’s ear.

“I don’t know, but we need to get it to Linda. It was an experiment beyond the wall.”

Byron nodded and Mathias turned back to the little unit. It stared at him with its mechanical lenses. They were void of emotion yet he couldn’t help but feel the fear and hope hiding behind them.

“Come with us,” Mathias whispered, “We have food back at our camp.”

He offered his hand to the little machine. One of its thin, metal arms reached out, hesitated, then finally took his hand. They turned and headed back up the scrap-heap. As he helped the small machine navigate the metal landscape, Mathias couldn’t help but remember his son.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Andrew.” The machine said.

“Nice to meet you Andrew,” he replied, “I’m Mathias.” He stared as the little machine struggled along with its box figure and wide, metal feet. His heart sank. He didn’t need to wait for Linda’s examination to confirm what he already knew. This little metal box contained the mind of boy. A boy who had once been human. Now trapped inside a rusting piece of metal. Used and discarded like every other piece of trash that littered the surface.

Against the Current

Garreth picked up the metal pipe that had fallen from his overloaded leather bag and kept going. He was late with his meeting before the Thinkers. He hoped that he would be able to join their ranks should they accept his invention. It had been a dream of his since he was a boy. To be a Thinker meant he would be given access to all resources to improve the city. He could travel to nearby cities as well and be given the same treatment.

He stumbled through the door to the massive Citadel in the center of the city. It was the largest building ever made, and it consisted of an amalgam of precious metals, solid stones, mixtures that dried harder than even marble, and other mysterious substances that held the structure together in certain areas. Many of which had been lost to time. Garreth believed some of the formulas still lay within the vaults of the structure. Locked up where only a Thinker could gain access.

His mind wandered at the thought of all the knowledge stored beneath his feet. His absent stride echoed through empty halls. A figure burst forth from a room further down corridor and his attention returned to the present. He eyed the figure as he approached and realized it was woman. She had stopped in the middle of walkway with her head held low as the door slowly closed behind her. Before he was close enough to ask her a question, she huffed and threw the object in her hands against the stone wall and stormed off. Garreth remained silent as she raged by. She gave him no mind at all while he observed how her black hair fluttered about her face as she took forceful steps. He even caught the soft green scattered within her otherwise brown iris.

He watched her exit. A sudden sadness came over him. One that made him wish he had spoken to her, but the thought was fleeting. He had come to join the Thinkers and that decision was soon to be made. He approached the door she had left behind. He reached for the handle and was stopped by the sight before him. The object she had thrown. It looked like fabric stretched taught between wooden rods. He found he could only guess as to the purpose of it.

Muffled voices penetrated the large wooden door. Garreth had cracked it open without noticing. Through the slit he heard the Thinkers arguing about the woman.

“The device could be useful,” a high-pitch voice said.

“It doesn’t matter how useful it is,” a deep voice boomed, “no woman will ever be a Thinker. It’s unheard of. No text has ever hinted at such a thing being the case and there must be a reason for it. We must maintain the integrity of our forebears.”

The murmuring of small conversation ensued until a composed voice rose above it. “Perhaps we should investigate the nature of Howell’s argument. If research should show even one idea within the archives was founded by a woman, we will admit Cassandra within our ranks.”

“But even then…” the deep voice sounded, then trailed away.

“You may come in now,” the composed voice called out.

Garreth knew he was the recipient of the command and entered the hall. It was a large atrium filled only with a tall, semi-circle dais and a small platform of stone one foot from the ground. Garreth came forward and stepped onto the platform. He looked up at the Thinkers, all wearing the robes of their rank, and they looked down upon him.

“You wish to become a Thinker?” The composed voice said. It came from the man seated directly in front of him. He was older and wore the signature medallion on his left breast signifying him as the Primary. The head of all Thinkers.

“I do,” Garreth managed.

“Come, show us what you have there,” the Primary requested.

Garreth pulled the pipes from his bag and began assembling them. He began his presentation as he fitted the first few together.

“This model will show you how I believe it is possible to harness the river north to provide water throughout the city.”

“Harness the river? How?” The deep voice called. Garreth noted the man immediately. He was toward his right. A larger man with a mustache which still contains remnants of the man’s breakfast.

“Here,” Garreth said, pointing to the open pipe at the top of his contraption, “is where it begins. We build this structure at the beginning of the waterfall north of the city. The water flows into the pipe where is can be diverted to various spots around the city.” He pointed to several points along his matrix. “Where the water can be stored in containers for regular use.”

“The river would be fully diverted? This would prevent water from reaching the irrigation channels further south.” It was the higher pitched voice. Garreth registered the man. Young, thin frame with large eyes. A genial look on his face that Garreth believed to be both an eagerness to learn despite a deep well of knowledge.

“The water,” he lifted a jug and poured it slowly into the open pipe at the top of his contraption, “would be diverted through the city, past the collection points, and guided back to the riverbed before it reaches the channels, therefore it would not disrupt the food supplies.” The water exited the web of pipes into the collection pan he had set at the base.

“Impressive,” the high-pitch voice said.

“What would this structure consist of?” the mustachioed man asked.

“Marble.”

“Why?” the Primary followed.

“To prevent contamination. The water would be river water, but if the materials were metal or a baser stone, then we would risk particles being released into the water that could be harmful even when boiled.”

“You’ve tested materials?”

“Yes. Marble proves the best suited for this project.”

“It would take years to complete such an undertaking.” This came from the fat mustache.

“Perhaps too long,” the Primary said.

“No longer than it took to build the bath houses,” Garreth said. He meant it as fact only but could see from the look of the bigger man that offense was taken.

“You know the intricacies of masonry?” the deep voice boomed.

“Not all.”

“Then do not falsely claim to know deeply of things you have only seen in passing.”

“I made no such claim.”

The bigger man rose from his seat on the dais to grow a few feet more above Garreth.

“You dare to-”

“Calm yourself Baron,” the Primary called, “You do not act your station at the moment.”

The mustache rumbled as Baron let out a huff at the Primary’s words and returned to his seat.

“Garreth, is it?” The Primary asked.

“Yes sir.”

“You have brought an interesting proposal before us. We thank you for this. We shall deliberate upon it and make our decision momentarily. We ask that you wait outside the Citadel for our response.”

Garreth thanked each of them and gathered his contraption. He wandered outside before stopping to properly dismantle the remainder of his model. He slipped a pipe into the bag. The clink of metal on metal was followed by a woman’s voice.

“You want to become one of those idiots?”

Garreth turned to see the girl from earlier. Her cheeks slightly flushed from recent tears. The name he overheard flashed across his mind. Cassandra.

“To become a Thinker is great honor. There is much to learn in the Citadel.” He looked up at the large doors he had just left. Cassandra followed his gaze.

“You are right. Too bad it’s all a farce.”

“How do you mean?” He asked it despite knowing she was telling a truth she did not fully understand.

“They are all old men. Too tied up in traditions to live up to the reputations created by those before them. I’d say the Citadel lost its ingenuity a few centuries ago.” She sighed.

“What was it?” Garreth asked impulsively.

“What was what?”

“The thing you left behind.”

“Ha,” she huffed, “It was a device that would let us harness the wind. Turn it into a mechanical force.”

“Really?” He stepped closer to her eager to hear more about it.

“Doesn’t matter now,” she said, “It’s impossible to build anything new without the Thinkers money. It wasn’t even hard to build.”

“Could you show me?”

She stared at him. Slowly the suspicion faded from her eyes as she realized he still held the spark of curiosity. She picked up a piece of straw from the street and began drawing in a patch of dirt at the base of the Citadel wall. She explained the intricacies simply and Garreth found himself inspired. He couldn’t fathom how she hadn’t been granted the robes of a Thinker. Then he remembered the discussion he overheard before his own presentation.

“This is fascinating.” He meant it, and she must have accepted his words honestly because she smiled. “As you said, this wouldn’t be hard to construct. Have you considered building it yourself?”

“Even if I had the money, only Thinkers get permits in the city.”

“What if you built it outside the city?”

She looked at him as if he had asked her to build it beyond the stars. The doors opened behind them and a courier presented Garreth with scroll. The Thinkers seal was pressed into the wax. Inside would be their decision. He held in his hand the answer to his future.

“Have fun being a Thinker,” Cassandra said as she got up. She smiled at him and walked away.

He watched her walking away, then turned his attention to the scroll, then down to the drawing in the dirt. He shoved the scroll into his pack without breaking the seal and ran after her.

“Wait,” he called as he caught up to her.

“What? You want to gloat?”

“I know of a town about a day to the east that could really benefit from your idea.”

A dubious look filled her features.

“I’m serious. You could really improve their lives out there. Isn’t that why you wanted to be a Thinker? To help others?”

“Don’t you have business in the Citadel?”

He shrugged. “It can wait. I’d hate to see your idea lost. It’s a Thinker’s responsibility to preserve ideas. To help those with the spark flourish.”

“You think I have the spark?” she asked with an incredulous tone.

“I know you do, and I know this world can’t afford to lose it.” He smiled in an attempt to convince her.

A moment passed before her own smile spread across her cheeks. “Where is this town?”

The Pendulum Clock

Val slipped through the open window. The security in this high-rise was lacking compared to many others she had visited. Perhaps the guards on the main floor were meant to create a sense of safety. Only a fool would think harm could or would come from one source. Luckily, tonight she was hunting a fool, but nonetheless she found it all alarmingly simple.

There were no cameras within the apartment. All the lavish furnishings and open room were left untouched. Spotless. No eyes viewed the precious artworks on the walls except the owner, and then only when he spared a moment to look. They were each worth over a million dollars. Priceless to some, mere tomes on the shelves in a lawyer’s office to others. Trophies. Benjamin Gally was a man who came to money easily through donation or inheritance, or bribery. He was a public figure who cared little for the public, which was why Val made him her next target.

She strolled through the parlor and prepared her catch before locating the controls on the far left wall. She scrolled through the library and found a tune she thought fitting to the scene. Miss Murder blew through the open room as Val hid carefully above the control unit. Benjamin Gally rushed into the room. He surveyed it briefly before walking to the controls and shutting it off.

“Hello,” he called to the emptiness. He was still in his perfectly tailored suit and tie, sans jacket. He pulled out his phone and Val whipped it out of his hand with the heel of her foot. In one swift motion, she laced the ribbon around his feet and hit the reel. He was lifted into the center of the room. His head swung only a foot from the polished granite.

Val stood, composed herself, and switched the music back on only to dim it so a proper conversation could be had between them. She tied his hands behind his back. He was still too shocked to resist properly.

“Who are you?” he screamed.

“They always want to know who I am before they why I’m here. It’s rather annoying.” She circled around and sat down on the cold granite so she could look into his upended face. “I have no qualms about giving a dead man my name.”

“Do you know who I am?” he snarled.

“Of course I do,” she replied calmly, “You are Benjamin Gally. Founder of Handiman. Son of Christopher Gally. Inheritor of sixty million dollars and thief of five-hundred and seventy more. No wife. No children, at least claimed that is. No next of kin. That’s why I’m here.”

“What?” Confusion flickered across his face. “I’ve stolen nothing.”

“You’ve stolen plenty, or had it handed to you without question. No favor worth a hundred and twenty mil can be honest or easy. It doesn’t matter now. That money gets a second chance at helping people once you’re gone. In this state, it goes to the Board of Education. Maybe it can fund a library for all the intercity kids so desperately wanting an opportunity to grow up without finding themselves on the other side of the law.”

“Let me go and I’ll build that library. Twenty million. I’ll invest it into my property on fifth avenue.”

She pushed him so his face swung by her she spoke. “That’s the thing. You could have been philanthropic and built such a place. Helped thousands of people, but you only think of it now. When your life is on the line and you’ve lost the control you grew drunk upon. It wasn’t even your idea. And you have the audacity to limit the project cost to a measly twenty mil? You’ve probably spent more on hookers.”

“One hundred million then.”

“You don’t get it do you?” She pulled out a knife and watched it register in his eyes as his swinging slowed. “It’s too late for you. The only good you can do for this this world now is to die.”

She pushed him again so he swung higher, then held the knife out in front of her. With each pass, she edged the blade forward until it nicked his scalp. Blood began dripping as he continued to swing like a pendulum in the room. Painting the glossy floor with a steady stream of life. The granite stripping the heat of each drop.

“You’ll bleed out in about forty minutes like this, maybe less,” she said, “The blood flows freely along the skull, and gravity will speed things along.”

“Who are you?” he repeated.

“Again with the who. Like it will make any difference to your situation.”

“I have friends-”

“Yes, and they are on my list too. Don’t worry.”

“They’ll hunt you.”

“They’ll try, but they won’t find me. They won’t even try until they themselves are scared. Even then they won’t look. They will bolster defenses which will only make my work more interesting. It won’t slow me down. I promise.” She cleaned the small shade of blood from her knife and hid it away. “Besides, they wouldn’t have the slightest clue where to look.”

His face remained bright red as blood continued to drip freely from his scalp. His features began to show the amount of blood he lost. The eyes attempting to drift backward. The mouth growing slack. His speech grew slurred.

“You….won’t….change any….thing…..you can….can’t hide….forever.”

“You’re right there Benjamin. All your buddies have had similar predictions.”

His eyes flashed a gleam of focus at the mention of his friends.

“Yeah, that’s right. Your missing friends. Carlton Dieson. Harold Bennington. I’ve made their acquaintance. Not much to them to be honest. Just anger and bitterness as they drifted into the ether. Leaving their spoiled bodies behind. Their money helped fund the much-needed public transportation renovations, but Governor Harris decided to keep a few million of those public funds for himself. It seems my list only continues to grow.”

She realized she had let her thoughts wander. Looking back at the man in front of her, swinging gently, making circle patterns in the blood pooling together at her feet, she realized he was dead. They never ask why, she thought as she stood up and surveyed her work. The music made its way back into her senses and the room seemed vacant. She was very much alone and she felt the loneliness creep within her.

Before it could grab hold, she disappeared back into the world she loved. She began dreaming of what would be done with the hundreds of millions Benjamin Gally just left behind for the public to better itself. The body that was Benjamin Gally hung in the high-rise apartment. The blood dripped, slowly spreading across the unforgiving granite, until the dripping slowed to a crawl and stopped completely.

Best Laid Plans

Jedrek looked up through the clear dome shield and at the moon looming above the surface. It’s size threatened to crash down upon him, but his planetologists assured him it this would not happen for another three thousand years. The planet’s gravity only decreased the distance by a mere three inches a decade, but Jedrek couldn’t help but believe the moon grew larger every day.

Ceroid was a planet rich in carbon-base materials. Its flaxen surface hinted at a low hospitality for life, and this was proven true by the fact water had to be brought in daily to sustain the few inhabited domes on the surface. There was only one reason to come to Ceroid and that was to put your life at risk for a generous paycheck. Jedrek made it as safe as possible for his employees, they were each a valuable asset, but accidents happened. Ceroid was proving to be the most profitable planet in the Galactic Consortium.

Ceroid’s moon, however, was deemed useless by the Vanguard. Bereft of profit, it consisted of a powdery substance that clogged even neutrino engines. Visiting the surface of the moon was costly. Therefore, Jedrek deemed it the most valuable asset against what was coming.

Having the city made was not an issue. The secrecy of it was not hard to maintain either. Ceroid’s moon had minimal rotation. Jedrek’s plans were precise, allowing him nearly two years before anyone on the surface would even have the chance to notice his little operation. Not that anyone would. Nearly everyone on the surface was employed in his factories.

Anyone traveling to the planet would potentially see it, but his calculations only granted visitors from the outer territories the chance, which were few at most and only workers who wouldn’t question anything they saw there. He still took the precaution to hide the parts of the city that penetrated the surface of the small moon. If anyone did notice, they would have no idea what the purpose was.

The city cost Jedrek a fortune even with his own factories supplying the graphene materials used in the construction. His caution added little more cost but gave him enough assurance he deemed it worth the price.

“Father? What are you looking at?” A voice cracked behind him.

“Just the future, son,” Jedrek replied. He looked at his son, barely beginning his journey from boy to man, and smiled.

“And what do you see?”

“A clever question. I cannot say for certain. All the best laid plans do not survive the passing of time. All I can say is that I hope. I hope for an easy future for you.”

His son, Rayner, took his words in silence and looked upon the vast horizon of carbon dust beyond the dome shield. No life existed outside the static screen.

“Are we in danger?” his son asked nonchalantly.

“Why would you ask such a question?”

“You’ve been on edge lately. Expectant. Like you used to be back when you feared a raid from the Okkunan in the forests of Baddan.”

“Things are different now than they had been on Baddan. We are a recognized coalition within the Galactic Consortium.”

“That is not an answer.”

“Perceptive. Good. I’m glad to know your lessons are proving educational.”

Rayner looked at his father and sighed.

“Fine,” Jedrek said, “I see you are finally at an age to comprehend the dangers of the high game. To answer your question, yes, I believe we at risk. Our operations have grown to a noticeable level and have attracted the attention of the elder coalitions. It would be unwise to believe another may try to usurp our position here. Even under the noted doctrines.”

“You expect a hostile union?”

Jedrek nodded.

“When?”

“Within three years.”

“That soon? What can be done to prevent it?”

“Nothing.”

Rayner looked at his father. Disappointment visible in his eyes.

Jedrek laughed. “They will come with a force enough to destroy the scattering of domes we have on the surface. There is no sense in defending them. We will let them take the surface.”

“We will just give it away? Retreat without a fight?”

“Yes. The fight cannot be won and therefore not worth having. We will retreat, then wait a half year before we mount the counterattack. They will believe they took it with ease and we retreated into the outer territories when in fact we will have been here all along. Letting them settle into a comfort that will prove most fatal.”

“Bunkers outside the domes?”

“Go find Mende. Give him this,” Jedrek handed his son a small slip of paper, “he will know what it means. It’s time you learned the real reason we came to Ceroid.”

Rayner walked away in silence. Jedrek watched him, thinking how his son would inherit the planet in due time. He will do well here, he thought, I just have to ensure he has the chance. A beeping sounded from his wrist.

“Yes,” he called into the receiver.

“Sir, four cruisers were just picked up on the long-range scanners.”

Jedrek looked up at the moon. His moon. Then uttered his response into the receiver. “Keep an eye on the scanners. Provide me with updates as more arrive. Contact Rayner and have him meet me at the flight pads in B5. Stop all production and ready the men to evacuate the cities. I want full departure in one hour.”

This may prove easier than expected. He laughed as he strode off toward B5. The fools come from inner territories in full force. They will find an empty planet and let their greed fool them into thinking we ran. They may be cautious enough to scan the surface, but they will nothing. Once their battleships leave, we will make our move.

“Ten more cruisers and three dreadnoughts have gathered on the edge of the system sir.”

Jedrek raised the receiver to his lips. “Where is my son?”

“Last contact had him awaiting your arrival at B5’s flight pad nineteen with Tuhinga Mende.”

“Good. Begin the evacuation. Short range. Lunar sector eighty-six.”

“Sir?”

“Do it. I’ll provide explanation when we land.”

“Full evacuation will be completed in forty minutes.”

“Well done. Ensure comm silence until we are secure.”

“Understood sir.”

Jedrek ushered Rayner into the ship as he approached.

“Get inside. We are leaving.”

“I thought you said they wouldn’t be here for another three years.”

“I said they would be here withing three years. That included every second after the statement.” Jedrek eyed Mende.

“We will have much to review,” Mende stated as they entered the ship.

“Get us off this planet,” Jedrek barked at the pilot.

Jedrek secured himself in a seat. His mind raced through all possible outcomes. They would be secure beneath the moon’s surface before the ships had Ceroid in view. All he needed to know was which coalition had the audacity to attempt a hostile takeover so quickly. Once he had them identified, he could choose the corresponding plan that would annihilate their establishment. Not only the ones they built on Ceroid, but across the known galaxy. He would be ruthless, and it would only be the beginning.