Friar Schmitt gazed up at the eight story tower with a melancholy sigh. His breath hung like a specter in the cold night air, blood seeping around the knife in his abdomen. His killer cocked his head in a jerk, the knife was withdrawn and the killer leapt preternaturally into the air. If he landed the friar didn’t hear it, but he did hear his own knees crack against the pavement. Then a thud from his shoulder as his life drained away. He craned his head to look at the magnificent tower once more and said a prayer to the stone and the world disappeared.
Standing in the doorway Jessie quoted aloud, ” On the first day there was one. On the second day many flashes of light. On the third day I saw only one. A streak of fire through the heavens far above the Earth. I had no doubt then that it would strike the moon’s surface.” She hung her head so that her hair covered her face. Then slung it back and stepped to the railing.
Slinging back the hair that covered her face she dramatically stepped to the railing and looked down to the sparse factory floor. Both of the men looked up from their work on the large metal table, parts and pieces strewn around several incomplete objects.
“Pat, Jack would you be so kind as to escort me out for a burger and soda?” Jessie asked. She stood on the balcony behind them leaning on the corroded metal railing, the door to her office made bedroom hanging open. Her clumped hair languid in front of her thin and pale face. The remnants of beauty still clinging to her aura. She shifted her weight from one arm to the other and brushed back stringy hair with her free hand, her fingertips lingering on her neck as her mind wandered.
“You’re feeling better?” Pat said carefully placing his soldering iron on its base.
“Yes'” much better and I want to go out. Would you accompany me?”
“Jessie we’re not taking you anywhere, you’re in no condition'”” Jack started.
“I want a sandwich and a soft drink!” She pursed her lips like a petulant child who is intent on getting her way.
“Then I’ll go grab a sandwich and a soft drink for you,” Jack said, “but you’re not going anywhere in your condition.”
Jessie started to walk down the stairs savoring every step. “I want to feel the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair. I want to sit at a table and tell the waiter what I want and wait for it and eat it and pay my bill and leave a tip and walk home my tummy full and satisfied with my fresh hot meal.” Finishing her rant as she reached the bottom stairs and stood on the mottled concrete floor. She let her arms flap down quickly slapping on her thighs, breathed in and out slowly and smiled.
“Hey,” Pat sympathized rubbing greasy hands on his already filthy apron, “what harm could it do right?”
“For one; Friction is still out and we don’t know when we’ll need him, and two the Uruthenians are looking for her now, and three'”” Jack pointed at Jessie, who was smacking herself in the face with her hair, “look at her she’s in no condition to go out.”
“No no you don’t understand! They’re in danger, our Quidam. The book must come home. I have to get outside. I want to see if I can see them yet.” She asserted stepping forward and pointing a finger up.
“Pat take her upstairs, I’ll go get her a burger and soda.” Jack said making no attempt to hide his aggravation while putting on his coat and goggles and slipping several devices into his pockets. Through his teeth he said, “We don’t have time for this,” the metal door rang out as he slammed it.
“M’kay,” Pat said. He took her arm gently and led her back to the stairs, she looked at him with sparkling eyes and a quirky grin.
“It’s almost time you know,” she said dreamily.
“Is it now?” He said feigning interest.
“We need to gather. Call everyone together.”
“Yes. I will take a nap and eat my delicious hamburger and then I will tell everyone where we go now. ‘I sat at my telescope transfixed for an hour, peering into the small oculus intently. I was forced to take small breaks and rest my eyes.'” She quoted quietly, “The book has told me they’re coming it’s almost time — almost'”” she laid back and the patterns appeared in her mind. They’ve become comforting to her now, a part of her. She navigates the patterns and sees a familiar shape, the shifting green gestalt focused on one point, waiting for her.
“Barry! Barry!” The impatient voice rang up the staircase, “Barry Box! What’s wrong with the TV?”
“How should I know Dad?” Box shouted back from the bathroom.
“Because you’re the big uppity-up Comms Guild guy.” Said his portly father at the base of the stairs. He smacked the banister twice with his marshmallow hand and waddled away toward the den. He wasn’t just front heavy he carried his weight all around him, it made him look like a buoy in rough seas when he walked.
“No, I’m a lowly bag carrying journeyman barely making a hundred cid’s a week. Why would I know why the TV’s broken?” Box said coming down the stairs adjusting his goggles on top of his head.
“Well don’t you work today?” Dad grunted lowering himself into the worn chair.
“I’m pulling a night shift.” Box said standing in the hall clamping his ornate watch to his forearm. He polished the glass face and ornamental wings on either side with his shirt.
“Well look at this! What’s wrong with this blasted thing? It’s on every channel.” Dad clicked wildly on the remote. It was a sparse little gadget, the buttons looked like keys from a typewriter and a wire snaked from it to the TV set. “Ooh look at that. Says Friar Schmitt retired'””
“What the'”” Box said as he looked at the picture on the screen. Over a picture of the friar several circles and straight lines moved and overlapped, and strange symbols would appear as if typed directly onto the screen. The sound was crackling and warbling but still understandable. “It’s like a reading table gone wild,” he said examining the screen.
“Well, go to work and fix it. I don’t want to watch my shows like this.” Dad said shaking his chins anxiously.
“Right. Wouldn’t want you to go without your shows,” he said sarcastically and walked out the front door. He took a deep breath and immediately regretted it. Coughing he fished out a small vial from his coat pocket and downed its contents, then took another deep breath and sighed in relief. He looked at his watch, attached to a curved piece of copper with hinged overlapping flaps at the end binding it to his arm, elaborate and busy it glimmered in the light from the setting sun. With his index finger he pulled down on one of the ornate wings until it clicked three times and started off down the street. Behind the thick brick buildings to his right the sun was setting its last rays illuminated the polluted air with beautiful violets and reds and light greens. Box wondered how something so noxious could be so beautiful, but reminded himself that even a fungal infection could be beautiful if you forgot about the environment in which it thrived.
“Morning Carl,” he said to a man crouched behind the door of a tall rectangular iron box. Only Carl’s boots could be seen but Box had encountered them often enough to know exactly who it was inspecting the cables housed inside the iron coffin.
“Hey Box. You seen the TV’s?” Said Carl from behind the door as his feet shuffled.
“The radio’s are doing something weird too you know. Oh did you see about the Friar? Old fart retired. ‘‹Å”Bout time.” His hand appeared below the door dropping several cables and a long glass carbon-filament light bulb.
“Good for him, probably deserved it. I’ll look into the radio thing.” Box said waving his hand as he walked, his watch wing ticked up once. “Gotta go.”
The downtown streets echoed with the cacophony of rush hour. Compact steam engines strained to power the stationary automobiles, vapriforms spewing from vents and tailpipes, as noxious humid air is filtered into the cabin. The sidewalks thick with pedestrians, most wearing face masks and goggles to fend off the pollution of the inner city, but a head above everyone else was the tallest woman Box had ever seen. She put a hand to her goggles and the tint turned bright red, and his watch wing ticked again. He slipped down an alley to his left before he reached her, then left, then right and left again. There next to a garbage chute he waited. After several minutes his watch clicked a third time and the tall woman appeared from around the corner.
“Hey there pretty lady, right on time.” He said playfully.
“Hello small boy, who is always early.” Her husky voice carried no emotion, but it was clear that she was mocking him.
From her coat she produced a small book, the cover looked like a spider web of thin metal strands three layers deep. She held the book out, Box gingerly too it and pulled his goggles down with one hand and opened the book. Before his eyes appeared a green web of lines and dots. Pushing his goggles to his unkempt hair he read aloud, “‘I was privy to a show unlike any other. I saw the dust rise into the air and slowly settle over the Moon’s grey surface’ , I’d love to see the original map, I heard it’s much more detailed and pulses as the lines shift.“ Having confirmed its authenticity he put the book in one of his inner coat pockets . Then with his finger the pulls down on the opposite wing as before and clicked it down six times. “Six hours to go.” He said.
“Maybe more, maybe less,” she said and walked away. Box didn’t know her name and it wasn’t always her that passed the book to him, but she must have been trusted otherwise she wouldn’t have the book.
Minutes later Box emerged from the locker room and a mustached man informs him that they’ll be replacing transmission lines in the tunnels. During the short drive Box stays in the back of the van packing bags with cables and other supplies. As he’s unloading the bags he’s approached by another person with red goggles over their eyes.
“It’s not time to pass yet, Deeb,” Box says to the short man.
“Emergency meeting,” he said urgently in a small squeaky voice.
“I can’t go right now, I’ve got work. I can’t just skip out.”
“All members must attend.”
“Alright. Dammit'”let me find some excuse.” The short man walks away and Box descends the stairs.
“Hey guys, I’ve uh — my stomach is all messed up. Must have been my Mum’s cooking,” He said awkwardly thumbing towards the door, “I’ll be back in a few, gotta go find a toilet.”
From the Book of the Crystalline Web as written by Franklin Uru:
The next night I was right back at my peephole to the universe. I neglected all of my other duties in favor of my observation. In retrospect I do not regret my obsession. Setting my telescope to maximum magnification, I was eager to not miss a thing. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I could actually see things moving along the moon’s surface. But I couldn’t make out exactly what they were. They looked like men but they wore suits like I’ve never seen. I decided I needed to know so I packed my notes and ran down to the Grand Observatory at the College.
Box stood in a dank hall in front of a corroded iron door with several others, including the tall woman who passed him the book and the squeaky voiced informant. “Anyone know what’s so important?” He said aloud looking for anyone to answer.
“Have you seen the TV?” Said a man from the corner. He was thin, his face gaunt and pale accentuated by his round wire rimmed glasses, with several branched lenses, and impossibly tall hair. He wore fingerless gloves and a long brown trench coat.
“Yes I’ve seen the TV, Kuz” said Box exasperated, “and there’s nothing I can do'””
“That’s what it’s about. Those patterns are coming from the Hepsite itself.” Kuz said.
“So it is alive!” Said another short round man behind Box. It was Dunn Mack of the Robot Guild, his plump face excited at the thought. He fixed his taped glasses and smiled awkwardly up at Kuz. Beside Dunn was the thin and elderly Plummerman, back bent and his egg shaped head thrust out like a turtle.
“More likely it’s transmitting something to or from someone other than us.” Kuz said, “the church doesn’t know what to do, they’re up in arms trying to fix it.”
“So that’s why they had us out replacing transmission lines, trying to fix it ‘” hoping it was something other than the Hepsite.” Commented Box.
“So is it receiving or sending?” Plummerman asked, “it can only do one or the other.”
“The Hepsite isn’t so simple.” Kuz said pulling out a small metal cigar case. On the cover of the case a winged gear sat among other ornate features, he opened it and pulled out a short fat brown cigar. Tapping it on the back of the case he said, “We know it’s capable of much more than is currently asked of it. It can handle the televisuals, radiophonics and the reading tables all at the same time. Plus there are other communications going through it that the public doesn’t know about, strictly Uruthenian and government. Did you know it manages most of the steam engines around town? It does and that’s why we never have power outages. It’s incredibly efficient.”
“The public only knows what they see on the tube.” Came a sultry female voice from down the grimy hallway. No one could see her clearly but everyone knew who it was by the distinct clop of her high-heels and the way her silhouette writhed in the backlight. It was Inqe Speaker from the Automobile Guild. Every time Box saw her he could only think of one word, steamy. Well maybe he could think of a few more words but he felt a little ashamed of himself and quickly pushed the words aside in favor of his sudden interest in the floor. Coming into the dim yellow light she put one foot directly in front of the other, causing her hips to dance like a bell under her black skirt, the slit that traveled up her leg exposed the spider webbed end of charcoal grey stockings obscuring a long colorful dragon tattoo. Her dark blue corset, covered by a small black jacket, pushed her ample cleavage together and up, leaving one to wonder how she breathed. The fingerless gloves matched the blue of her corset and reached halfway up her tattooed forearm, tied with laces and decorated with curlicues. More elaborate tattoos could be seen snaking up her arm and into her jacket.
“Ms. Speaker,” Kuz said blowing smoke, “How nice of you to show up dressed to distract.”
“I don’t get out often, Kuz Booker,” she accentuated his name, “so I take advantage of it when I can.” She brushed at her sleeves and pushed up her bosom.
“‘ They busied themselves with some task I could not quickly discern.’ “ Came another female voice. “It’s nice of you all to be here on time.” This voice was motherly and wise, as was her look. Ms. Revel, from the Education Guild, wore on her brown and grey striped jacket a winged broche. Joining Ms. Revel was Silce, from the Builders Guild. Silce was the antithesis of Inqe, she wasn’t unattractive she simply didn’t try for the attention. Silce was demure and chose not to call attention to herself. Her thick blond-brown hair flowed freely and sometimes seemed to quarrel with the air around her.
Jack walked around them both with a paper bag in one hand and paper cup in the other. “Right, everyone’s here let’s go in.” Jack said handing off the goods to Box and didn’t bother to take them back once the door was open and everyone inside.
“Where’s Friction?” Dunn asked walking onto the old factory floor. As if in answer to his question a man dropped from the rafters directly in front of him, absorbing the impact with bent knees. He erected to his full and copious height in several jerky movements and looked at Dunn menacingly. His face covered entirely by a leather guise that looked vaguely like a gas-mask and goggles, with buckles and straps visible on its fringes just under the hood of his cloak. His copper lined lace-up boots made no noise as he crossed the smooth mottled floor. He unbuttoned his cloak exposing a black pinstriped vest, Victorian style white collar shirt and a short tie. Box noted that he smelled of smoke and oil, but he was known to skulk around on the rooftops. His gloved hands awkward as his fingers twitched independently.
Friction turned his head slightly and looked at Box through opaque goggles, Box quickly averted his gaze to find Jessie tugging at the goods entrusted to him, “Mmm Burger and soda, oh and you got me some soggy fries. How kind.” Said Jessie peering into the bag still in his palm, her hand going from the bag to her mouth with limp fries. Box recoiled as she took the food and licked her salty fingers. Last time he saw her she seemed to been more stable, that was months ago. Now she was unwashed and her movements were erratic at best.
She walked proudly over to the metal table and pushed aside the wires and metal of Pat’s projects and set about consuming her food. Everyone mingled, Dunn loquaciously wandered from group to group, while Jessie ate then licked her fingers and sucked down her soda in a few long gulps until the straw sputtered. She let out a small belch then smiled and stood.
“Due to a certain gabby member being discovered we were forced to kill a friar a little more publicly than we wanted.” she said suddenly and prideful. “The Hepsite wants to go home. The signals on the televisuals and radiophones tell us that much. Book please,” she said holding out her hand. Everyone looked around. Box leapt in sudden realization that he still had the book. He pulled it from his vest and handed it to Jessie. “Ooh Box you bring so many wonderful gifts today, thank you.” She flipped through the book wildly then slapped it shut. “These words are the truth! Damon Uru discovered the Hepsite and through him the Uruthenians acquired it and used it to enslave our city, our country our minds.” Occasionally through her speech Friction would twitch or bizarrely make the same motions as Jessie. “They rule unchallenged and mercilessly. Now the Hepsite calls out, or perhaps it is being called. It wants to go home and they are returning for it. This will change the world. We will be thrown into chaos, and those who have the power will endeavor to keep it. I see war coming. A war we cannot win alone. We must confront those coming to retrieve their technology. We must seek their help. Not ask them to leave us the crystal, no! We do not want it, it makes us stupid. Let them take it but ask them for help in reconstructing our society, our people. Damon Uru predicted that they would come, the original book tells me also, he saw more than the church knows. Many of you follow me but do not know of my heritage. Most of you I brought in myself, a few where here before me. But let me tell you I was always connected to the movement, from my Father and his Father and his Father, my great Grandfather Damon Uru.” Most of them look at her in surprise. They knew of her Father and Grandfather but did not know that she was directly related to the discoverer of the Hepsite, called Uruthene by the Church. This explained why she was kept underground far away from the city. If the church ever found her surely she would disappear never to be seen again.
“My Grandfather changed our name to keep us safe from the church that wanted my Great Grandfather to be a prophet, he also fashioned many of the beautiful little devices you carry with you as secret truth that you are part of the movement, a quidam among the ignorant masses. The original book, which is kept in a secret place, was constructed of parts from the device that was found with the Hepsite, then was copied to the smaller book. We have many converts, our word is already popular among the discontent, albeit it accidentally when the book was lost and the words written by Franklin Uru were copied and printed. We have only to inspire them with our actions! Show them that there is someone to oppose the church, the Uruthenians. The name Uru is no longer my own so I have no reservations in destroying it and the corruption associated with it. Deep within the church is the Hepsite, and this is where the visitors will go to retrieve it. We must meet them there. Patrick and Jack have devised a plan to infiltrate the church. She approaches Dunn and kisses him on the cheek. “I forgive you for your mistakes. You must be more careful in the future. None of us deserve to die fighting an unjust ruler,” She then turned and spoke to everyone, “but we are willing to die fighting a tyrant. Know that your lives are at risk. Know that if your job is not done you put others at risk. I love you all and I know you will all do what is right and true. Until now we were nameless because we couldn’t risk exposure, but from now on when you speak to others you shall call us The Lathe, we will carve out that which is ugly and useless.”
Jack approaches the table and unrolls a large sheet of brown paper across the table and begins explaining the plan to everyone.
From the Book of the Crystalline Web as written by Franklin Uru:
The next night I was right back at my peephole to the universe. I neglected all of my other duties in favor of my observation. In retrospect I do not regret my obsession. Setting my telescope to maximum magnification, I was eager to not miss a thing. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I could actually see things moving along the moon’s surface. But I couldn’t make out exactly what they were.
Box crouched against a wall, Kuz standing several feet away looking into the depths of the city beyond the alley heavy smoke swirling out of his mouth and nose clinging to his eyebrows and ghosting around his impossibly tall hair.
“Is it just me,” Box said, “or was Friction acting a little weird in there?”
“Yes'”yes he was. But that doesn’t concern me nearly as much as Jessie.”
“What about her? She looked fine to me,” Box said.
“She’s not fine. She’s loosing it, she can barely keep it together, and I think I know why.” Kuz said toking on his small brown cigars.
“Loosing what'”her mind?”
“Exactly. We were told not to tell anyone but if we’re going to do what she says you have to know about her state of mind.” Kuz said taking a drag off his cigar. “It’s Friction, she’s connected to him.”
Box looked at him puzzled, “What like family? Is Friction her brother or something?”
“Friction is Jessie. The same person.”
“But he was standing right there next to her. How can she be in two places at once?”
“Remember what I said about the Hepsite? How it can do more than we know? Well apparently it can interact with thoughts and minds. A while back Jack and Jessie and me started playing with the machine found near the Hepsite by Damon Uru. We discovered, quite by chance, that it could communicate directly with a person, or rather that person could send a request thorough the crystalline web to a machine. Basically the Hepsite will make the machine do what you want it to. Jessie devised this insane plan to build an automation. It wouldn’t need a power source just a connection to the Hepsite and to the person controlling it. At first we objected to her connecting herself but she insisted. So we built Friction, with the help of Dunn, and used pieces from the machine to connect him to Jessie and the crystalline web.”
“Built him. So he’s not even human?”
“He’s not even technically a ‘‹Å”him’, Barry.”
“So that’s why she seems so'”” Box started.
“Crazy — ” Kuz finished.
“So she literally controls him'”it.”
“Yes, and the more precise the movement the more concentration it takes. I don’t think it’s her connection to Friction that’s driving her mad, I think it’s the crystalline web. She has to navigate that web in her mind to get to Friction, in fact that’s why we call him Friction'”it was a little joke. Not so funny now. The first time we tried it took weeks for her to even find him properly. Her mind bumped against every other machine out there, we thought for sure they would catch us before she got to him, what with her causing havoc with the TV reception. They didn’t catch us of course, but they came close. Closer than they’ve been in years, that is until Dunn screw up and was seen by a Friar doing god knows what. She really started to lose it a couple months back when the Hepsite started to receive foreign signals, my team in the Research Guild was the first to spot it.”
“Foreign? Like other countries?”
“Not at all. The signals are coming from beyond the moon. Pat told me that Jessie was rambling on about someone coming back. The book says ‘‹Å”It was the device I had seen through the telescope, except most of the metal was melted away exposing a large green stone, a glowing gem.’ and ‘‹Å”The stone is not of this Earth and they will likely return for it.’ I think these aliens are coming back for their goods. Whatever the Hepsite is to them they want it back, and through the crystalline web Jessie could sense their signals and it’s effecting her.”
“And that’s who she wants to ask for help?”
“Personally I don’t think a people capable of creating something like the Hepsite would give a damn about us. Look what we did with it, enslaved a whole country with stupidity. Built a religion around it.”
“That wasn’t us. It was the Uruthenians and the government.” Box said defensively.
“It may as well have been us! We let them do it. The only person who really stood up to them was Damon Uru and they killed him because he didn’t willingly become their prophet but his name was already known so they made him a dead messiah. They used his name to justify their acts of violence and repression. If I was coming back for my technology and saw that they had used it for death and destruction and enslavement I’d take it and leave before they could spread their hate to my home.”
“So if you don’t think these aliens will help us why go along with the plan?”
“Before she started to lose it Jessie and I'”We were close. Now I’m lucky if she can remember my name. It’s not that she doesn’t care for me anymore her mind is just elsewhere. She’s right though, there will be a war, a civil war. More like a revolution really. Things will start to change quickly once the church has lost its powerbase, but without someone to lead the people the Uruthenian government will retake control.”
“And you think Jessie will be that leader?”
“Then who will lead the revolution?”
“You’re a good guy Barry, but I don’t know and I don’t care.” He threw the butt of his cigar to the ground and walks away.
Box sat for a moment and watched the smoke rise from the cigar. He imagined smoke rising from the city around him, alight with the fires of change and the chaos of revolution. He twisted his foot on the smoldering litter and left the alley.
From the Book of the Crystalline Web as written by Franklin Uru:
I watched in despair as the missile slowly advanced on their position, bringing certain death. It didn’t hit them directly, but slight to the north. The explosion was much larger than the first when the ship crashed, surely they were all dead. Many pieces of the moon were sent flying into the earth’s atmosphere. One such piece I watched as it flew overhead and landed in a field. I immediately got on my tractor and rushed to the scene. I expected to meet the military there, but I did not. When I arrived I recognized the object immediately.
Plummerman walked toward the large door with Box and Silce in tow, both of them dressed in overalls and carrying several bags. Plummerman shows his identification to the guard in front of the door who nods towards Box and Silce.
“Who are they?” Asked the guard standing in front of the door.
“They’re here to repair the transmission lines, or haven’t you seen the TV.” Plummerman said venomously.
The guard looks them both up and down, pausing to ogle Silce who curls her lip at him in disgust. “Kind of early isn’t it?” Said the guard throwing his head back to Plummerman.
“Rather do it now before this evenings broadcast. You know how they get when something goes wrong.” Plummerman said.
“Show me your permits. How longs this gonna take?” He said holding out his large hand.
Silce shows her Public buildings permit and Box shows his communications permit. The guard snatches and examines the small cards, they looked tiny in his massive hand.
“Until it’s done. Now listen young man, I know you want to feel like you’re useful but right now you’re just a big dumb wall. But we don’t have all day, so move yourself to the side and let us do our job.” Plummerman said jabbing his bony finger towards the door. Box and Silce looked at each other sure they were going to be pummeled by this large guard, but the guard grimaced and opened the door.
They enter the massive chapel, dimly lit mostly from the lights outside. They make their way to the tower entrance in the back.
“You be careful. It’s dead for another couple of hours so no one will see you for a while yet.” Plummerman said and walked out.
“That guys really useful. You know he’s off to help out Dunn, that sack of crap, and Inqe. I don’t envy them going through the sewer. Ick!” Said Silce.
“Yeah, but we’re in the lions den here. If we get caught — .”
“We have an excuse right.”
“More or less. Hand me that bag would you?”
Silce hands him one of several bags full of rolled up cable. They walk through the door and into a round room at the bottom of a staircase that curled up the walls of the eight story tower. Box looked straight up then over to Silce and smirked.
“Here we go. Remember every twenty feet up we have to place a pack,” he said pointing at her bag, “and don’t forget to put the glue on it.”
She held up a disk, it was round and about three inches thick and two and one half inches in diameter. Producing a long thin metallic gun-like tool with a tube set into a groove from her bag she squeezed the trigger thick black goo came from the tip and onto the back of the disk. It piled in globs then congealed into a solid viscous mass in the center. Box took it from her and threaded the cable through a hole in the side, turned a screw in the center of the disk tightening the cable down'” then stuck the whole thing on the wall. The black glue oozed from under the disk as he pushed hard against it.
“One down.” Box said starting up the stairs dispensing the cable as he climbed.
“Why couldn’t we just put a ton of explosives at the base and knock it over?” Silce asked while she applied glue to another disk.
“Jessie wants this to be a call to arms. So if it just fell over they could claim it was faulty construction but if it’s blown to bits there’s no question that it was an attack. Others who share the same view as us will be emboldened by the display, polarizing the normally ambiguous public. Some will support us, some will support the church.” He continued his task while he talked.
“It’s like I want them gone, the Uruthenians, but I don’t want to kill anyone.” Silce said affably.
“Every revolution has its price, usually paid in lives.” He said acutely.
“Is that what this is'”a revolution? I mean shouldn’t they just give up when they’ve lost?” She handed him another disk.
“You would think so, but history has taught us the answer is usually no. They’ll try to hold on to their power. Or rather they’ll order their troops to attack in essence sacrificing them so they can retain power or escape unharmed. That’s the big difference between us and them. We do this willingly, but soldiers just follow orders. We are our own soldiers. We beat our own drums. Almost there,” he said feeling the cool air wafting in from the domes open apex and continued to thread disks and stick them to the wall.
“Why not just attack them directly?”
“Because then you leave the military strong. It’s a bit complicated and psychological.”
“I’m not an idiot you know.” Silce said offended.
“I know you’re not,” he said reaching into the bag pushing aside cables and pulling out a wrapped bundle, “It’s just hard to explain in one sitting, and we’re not exactly sitting. I’m a fan of history so I’ve studied this. The reason for the start a revolution is rarely the only reason for revolution, and they don’t always succeed. Usually because of poor planning or outright ignorance on the part of those dissenting.”
“You’ve been around since before me right?”
“Couple of months, yes.” Box answered while he took parts from the bundle and assembled a bow-gun customized for use with the disks.
“Why did you join?” Silce inquired.
“Like I said I’m a fan of history. I knew this country was destined to fall because of the ultra-oppressive religious government. Or maybe I hoped — ” He smiled wistfully at Silce then aimed his bow-gun with a threaded disk affixed to the tip. He fired and the cable rapidly unfurled from the pile in curls and the disk made a splat against the wall. “Why did you join, Silce?” He asked as he let out the cable walking down the stairs.
“I was caught impersonating one of you, one of us'””
“Ooh yeah, I remember that. Wow that was you?”
“Jessie said I was smart, I just followed the clues I found in one of those illegal printed Crystal books.”
“How did you get your hands on one of those?”
“Friend at a bookstore. Jessie was really nice, but now she’s ‘” different.” Silce ended the sentence quietly.
“Don’t worry after this she’ll get better. I have a guarantee.” He said and fired the bow-gun again.
Plummerman walked up to Dunn and Inqe, both dressed for a walk through the sewers, shuffling his keys. They waited while he opened the wrought iron gates. “Come on we haven’t got all day.” He said clipping the keys to his belt loop.
Dunn motions for Inqe to go before him in a gentlemanly way. Inqe rolls her eyes and walks in, Dunn plodding behind. Plummerman lets them through several more doors each one down a set of steps. They walk on the raised sidewalk the flowing sewer inches from their feet. They come to a set of four tunnels, Plummerman leads them down one on the left. That’s where they hear the clanking and hissing of Automaton Guards.
“I’ll get this,” said Dunn. As the group of three Automaton Guards cross his vision he calls out,
“Hey, stop. I’m from the Auto Guild,” he shows them his Guild ID and they turn towards him in compliance, “I need to do some maintenance.” Dunn walks around behind one of the guards and takes a back panel off. He reaches past the bundle of cables and abruptly stops. Looking around the robot his mouth agape and his eyes affright he started at Plummerman and Inqe.
“What is it? Just shut the damn things off.” Plummerman said.
Dunn walks around to the front and reaches up and takes off a panel, exposing a human face. Inqe gasps covering her mouth.
“What is that?” She murmurs.
“Lad! What is that?” Plummerman said loudly.
“It’s — it’s'”” He started.
“Golem Guild permit please.” The human face said in a hollow metallic voice.
“A Golem — guild — the rumors — ” Dunn said. Then he quickly went back to the rear panel. “I think I can shut it off. If I can’t you have to run. Don’t stop just run.”
“You are not authorized for maintenance on this unit.” The human face warned as clanking noises emanated from its back panel. Another guard stepped behind it and grabbed Dunn by the throat lifting him to the tip of his toes.
“Present Golem Guild permit or you will be punished.” It said coldly. It raised Dunn into the air, he kicked his legs wildly as his face turned red. He turned and looked straight at Inqe. She stepped forward as if to help but he stopped her with a gesture then pointed behind them noiselessly mouthing something. They looked and there was nothing there and looked back at him. He struggled to grasp the Golems arm and pulled his head up just enough to say, “RUN!” They both hesitated then bolted down the circular concrete tube away from the guards and Dunn. Behind them they could hear the rending of flesh but no scream. They both knew he was dead and that the Golem would be coming for them.
Plummerman led Inqe down several corridors then unlocked a door and they slipped inside. He turned on an old dim light bulb and saw Inqe in a corner rocking back and forth on her feet.
“Nothing we could do girl, they had him and they would have had us.”
“We just left him — I could hear the — hear the — ” Inqe broke into streaming tears. She put her head in her knees and wailed.
“We can grieve later, but right now we have to do our duty. We have to unlock those doors.” Plummerman said trying not to sound insensitive. He felt horrible about running but Dunn knew what he was doing, sacrificing himself.
“I don’t care anymore. Leave me here.” She said sobbing.
“You can’t just stop caring because someone you knew died in the line of duty. He knew it was going to happen, he even told us that if he couldn’t do it to run. He may have been a little pecker sometimes but he did what had to be done. And now you have to do the same, so get off your ass and lets go open those doors.”
“Do it yourself.” Inqe said from between her knees.
“Girly I can’t do it myself. I don’t know how to shut down the compactor. I’m not a big fancy Auto Guilder. I take care of the sewers, that’s why they call me Plummerman. Did you think that was my real name? Do you think at all? You can shut the damn thing down, you have to, we don’t have much time and I’m too damn old to figure it out.”
Inqe sniffled and rubbed her nose on her overalls. She looked at Plummerman with blurry eyes. She felt like a fool. Of course she had to do her job, if Dunn could do it so could she right?
“What’s your real name then?” She asked hoarsely.
“Jerry — Jerry Harmon.” He said.
“Okay Jerry, where’s this compactor?” Inqe said standing and fingering the tears from her eyes.
Jerry cautiously opens the door and looks around. He silently motions for her to follow him. He leads her into a series of tunnels and over thin wood bridges. “This isn’t the quick way but we’ll avoid those damn robot things,” he said. “It’s right down that tunnel,” Jerry pointed straight across a deep expanse that was a hundred feet deep with water splashing into the cesspool at the bottom. As they carefully cross over the rickety wood planks connecting the thin stone sills they could hear the familiar clanking of the Golem Guards echoing all around them. Then directly across from them a lone guard emerges. It holds up a giant arm and spreads its fingers exposing a large hole. Plummerman pushed Inqe ahead, “get past that compactor and open that door, and do it quick I can hear its mates.”
A shot rang out from the Golem’s hand and it struck the plank Jerry was standing on. Inqe watched in slow motion as Jerry’s feet dropped beneath him and then his whole body fell with the shattered debris of the wood plank. She closes her eyes and hears the heavy splash echo through the tunnels. Breathing hard as she runs tears stream down her cheek, streaking her mascara with it. She didn’t care, she had to get to the compactor and shut it down to get past it and unlock those doors. She knew that above her at the rear entrance to the Hepsite broadcast room Kuz, Jack and Ms. Revel were already waiting, counting on her.
The machine was huge but as she looked at the moving pieces she realized it wasn’t too different that the automobile plant. The main piston would compact the garbage then another piston came from the side pushing the garbage away. There must be an off switch, she thought. She looked around and there on the wall was a big red button and a small sign that read E-Stop. She ran over and pressed it. Nothing happened. She pulled it out and pressed it again. Then she noticed the keyhole below it. She thought of Plummerman, no of Jerry and a pang of guilt wrenched up her throat. He probably had the key, but now he’s ‘” she shook her head and tried to think. The clanking and hissing of the Golem Guards echoing off the brick walls distracting. Then she thought of poor Dunn Mack, who sacrificed himself doing what he thought was right. And she pictured him behind the guard telling them to run if he couldn’t do it. What was he trying to do exactly? That’s it! He was trying to short it out. She reached out and grabbed the panel around the button and ripped it off. It dangled from several colored wires. Reaching in her overalls she produced a pocket knife and quickly cut the wires and stripped away their protective coating, waited until the main piston was all the way back then took two exposed wires and touched them together shorting out the machine and it stopped with a whine.
The clanking was closer and louder now, she knew there wasn’t much time. She jumped down into the compactor and landed in shin-deep wet garbage. It soaked her pants and leaked into her shoes. She shook off the shiver going up her spine and trudged ahead. As she reached the back of the machine she could see the angular metal feet of the Golem Guards coming to a stop and turning towards her laboriously. She looked up and there was a ladder its rungs thick with grim from years of garbage being dumped past it. Something in the distance was rushing towards her, the it occurred to her to move and quickly. As she sought the shelter of the machines open gut the garbage hit the ground next to her. She scurried up the ladder and crawled into a small tunnel, there beside a very small door was a dial. It read simply; lock and open on either side of the dial. She turned the dial to open and heard a clank above her. She had done it the door was open and now Jack, Kuz and Ms. Revel could now do their part. Inqe smiled and tears ran down her cheek. Then horror stuck her as she heard the clanking of the guards, it sounded like they were jumping into the trash. Could they climb a ladder? She poked her head out of her small hiding place and barely missed a shot fired from one of the guards. They fired several times. They couldn’t climb the ladder but they would keep firing until the tunnel collapsed on her. Suddenly the sound of the compactor started up again and she looked down to see the guards being pushed by the giant piston, a satisfying crushing noise followed. She was safe for now.
The door unlocks and Kuz, Jack and Ms. Revel cautiously make their way into the building, then down stairs.
“Okay, everyone stay close we only have a vague idea of what kind of traps are in here.” Jack said ushering everyone in. “The Hepsite room is about five stories below according to our quidam. Night vision on everyone.”
Taking a moderate pace down the stairs everything is illuminated green through their goggles. Jack stopped and checked the map and pointed at the door. As the door swung open they could hear the heavy clank of metal on concrete. As Jack peeked around the figure standing over several Automaton Guards turned to face him. The face was unmistakable.
“Friction! What are you doing here? Where’s Jessie?” Ms. Revel yells at him. For a moment Friction stood over the bodies of Automaton Guards, then turned to Ms. Revel. With a smack to the neck she’s down.
“Jessie what are you doing? Kuz take Friction out!” Jack bellowed. Kuz was nowhere to be found. “Fucking coward.” He said rushing at Friction. Friction’s gloved fist buried itself in Jack’s abdomen knocking the breath from him, he falls to the ground passed out. Kuz witnessed from the partially open door. Friction looked around then disappeared down the hall.
In the containment room just down the hall from where she betrayed her friends, footsteps echoed in the darkness and Jessie held onto Friction, standing perfectly still. It’s not really betrayal, she thought, I’m saving them and everyone else. A voice reverberated off the metal pipes and brick walls.
“Then one day they came to my house and told me I was a prophet of a new age and they wanted to protect me. I planned our escape. One of my dear sons, Simon, Wanted to side with the people calling themselves Uruthenians, a mockery of our name. After heated debate, and many regrettable things were said, Simon left. My wife, Franklin and myself went to the docks. But they found us, first they took my wife! I made Franklin run, to get aboard the ship and go far far away. I let them take me. I write this to those who will take heed my warning. The stone is not of this Earth and they will likely return for it.” The clap of a closing book filled room.
“What a lovely story, don’t you think Jessie Gearchild? Or should I call you by your true family name, Jessie Uru?” Said the voice. It was a baritone and arrogant voice.
“That name is corrupted and I no longer claim it!” Jessie screamed into the darkness.
“The name stands for order out of chaos. Obedience from anarchy. Salvation from heathenism.” He was closer now. Jessie sent Friction out to find a light. A green glow bathed the room and cast deep shadows onto the floor, Jessie looked behind her and there stood the head of the church, Lord Veen. He had appeared on the TV and radio many times preaching the word of the Uruthenian tenets. She took in his aquiline features and decided they must represent the apex of evil in the world.
“It stands for absolute corruption and iron fist control, ignorance and the bliss of stupidity. You’ve killed all knowledge, rewritten the past and killed those who disagree with you.”
“Oh a small price to pay for safety.”
“You would sacrifice liberty and freedom for the appearance of safety?”
“We were liberators, and we were greeted as such! The country was in ruins we came and helped set things back in order. We brought you out of the darkness.”
“No you redirected the path to suit your own needs. You shut off the country, telling us it was for our own good then you make deals with other nations and personally profit off it. You tell no one of your camps in the west, of the poverty in the south the ultra rich in the north. Your wars with other nations, and the torture of innocent civilians.”
“We’ve known of your little underground group for a while now, Ms. Gearchild.”
“Then why let them succeed? I think you don’t know as much as you say. Your claims of omnipotence don’t work on me I’m not one of your blissfully ignorant ‘‹Å”believers’,” she said vehemently.
“Ms. Gearchild I am not here to argue with you, there is no argument. You are terrorists and this is your last hurrah. You are done.” He motions to guards standing behind him, who come forward and attempt to take Jessie but Friction appears seemingly out of nowhere and downs them with two deft moves. Friction is grabbed from behind by two huge metal arms. He struggles against the Golem holding him and Jessie’s eyes roll back in her head as she struggles to concentrate on Frictions movements but not lose sight of Lord Veen. In her mind she is surrounded by green light, the pattern more clear than it’s ever been. A part of her mind snaps off and suddenly her head is clear. She quickly opens her eyes fearful that Friction was broken but saw him still struggling with the Automaton Guard.
Everything seemed to be in slow motion as she looked around. The room was huge with massive moving disks of metal rotating and in the middle of the quagmire of parts was the Hepsite. As wide as her forearm and much taller. It glowed green from deep within and the outer edges were translucent, green light trickled over the perfectly straight lines flowing to its pointed extremes. Surely every other crystalline gem on Earth paled in comparison to this brilliant specimen, Jessie thought. She looked over to her nemesis, the Lord Veen and stood determined with a clear head. He scrunched his face in disgust and turned his robes jerking in the air behind him and started to walk out. Directly in front of him the door that hung from a single hinge thanks to Friction was suddenly torn asunder by some unseen force. Lord Veen quickly changed his direction away from the clattering door as it landed in the unseen depths of the room. A direct and tightly focused light beamed through the door frame shining on the floor straight and narrow and a shadow appeared slowly growing smaller as the unknown came closer to the doors breach. Jessie thought it might be reinforcements, and quickly checked on Friction. He was presently finishing off the Automaton Guard then rushed to Jessie to protect her. Why can’t I sense him anymore, she thought looking at him anxiously as he moved disturbingly independent.
From the frame emerged something that wasn’t human. It walked upright on two legs and had the basic shape of a human but that’s where the similarities ended. It’s orange and white stripped head was massive, it looked almost too big to fit atop its tall thin body. The line patterns on its face traced the contours to two widely spaced eyes. It walked toward Jessie crouched over as not to hit the pipes. She hesitated but fought her reservations and spoke up.
“Are you the creators of the Crystalline Web?” She asked delicately. The creature cocked it’s head and the frills on its head rippled from top to bottom. “I mean are you the owners of the um — stone?” She pointed to the Hepsite.
The creature looked at the glowing green stone then back at her. It’s long legs took only a few strides that brought it directly in front of the encased stone. From its robe it produced a square device. Touching it gently with its spiny fingers the Hepsite glowed brighter then simply became translucent. It reached into the chamber and plucked the stone from its base and walked gracefully to the door.
“Please help us!” Jessie blurted. “Please you have to help us! That thing has corrupted my people and we need help to restore what we once had.”
“Corrupted — ” it said. It’s mouth seemed to appear across its face in a great organic rip, seemingly having no lips or any indication of a mouth until it talked. “We have watched you since you received the ‘‹Å”stone’, as you call it. We thought that if you could use it for good we would let you keep it. We watched for a long time. We had not studied your species much so we did not know how your society worked, but now we are sure that this technology is beyond your comprehension. We know that this is not the natural state of your atmosphere, you could have used it to clean your air, but you did not. You used it to augment your current technological level creating even more pollution.”
“It wasn’t all of us, just a small portion who used it to control others who didn’t know any better.” Jessie said, sensing the conversation was not going the way she wanted.
“And what of you? Do you claim ignorance as well? Did you not know any better?”
“We fought them. We wanted to rid our society of their corruption.”
“So you alone speak for your people?”
“No. But we work to put the world right. To give the people their freedom back.” She desperately wanted the alien to understand that she wanted the best for everyone.
“You have betrayed and killed. We have seen no indication that your people as a whole want anything other than to be ruled.”
Lord Veen steps from the shadows. “Ah yes my Lord,” he says with open arms attempting to gain favor with the alien. “You speak true and wise.” The alien’s frills danced and it’s eyes seemed to narrow, it was hard to tell because it’s eyes were so non-human and hard to find among the patterns of its face. “May I ask,” he continued, “why one so powerful would want to take such an insignificant piece of technology away from ones who could truly use it for the betterment of the world?”
“You speak like the one who once had power and is pleading with the gods to not take it away.”
“You want our worship then. I can arrange that. We will worship your for all eternity my lord.”
“Worship — no. What I meant to say is that you are a small and broken creature. I am sure that once I leave you will use those lying lips to talk to your subjects as well, as you attempt to coax them into your world view. By taking the stone we will help. By taking the object of your ardent desires you will perhaps find something else to long for.” The Alien looked to Friction, “Now this is an interesting creature you have created. We will take it as well.” It ran a finger across the stone and Friction stepped to him. “It seems to have a will of its own when not being controlled by another. I doubt you truly know what you’ve created here.” With Friction in tow the alien leaves the room and Jessie crumbles to the floor and weeps.
She pounds the floor with her fists until her arms are numb from the impact. She curled up and wept inwardly. Feeling a hand on her should she looks up and through teary eyes to see Kuz crouched over her. He doesn’t say a word, he only holds out a hand inviting her to him. Together they leave the room and the complex. In the hall they could feel the vibrations as the tower is destroyed and hundreds of fragments falling to the ground. The call has been sent and soon the police would soon arrive. As they emerged in the cool night air they could see the smoking rubble of the tower in the not so distance courtyard. Kuz helped her into a steam powered car and drove her away. Flashing lights from police cars could be seen in the distance speeding toward the scene of the broken tower. Kuz knew exactly what he was doing and where he was going. No one else mattered to him, only Jessie. She lay in the seat next to him, her arms limp beside her. He could see her hands starting to turn purple, the results of her tantrum. Tears running down her face. Now was the time to take her away, to leave the next steps in the hands of younger more capable and passionate people. He was sure that in her mind she was a failure, but in truth is was never up to her. They would have taken the stone anyway. But she had done her part in inspiring a revolution, one day she would realize that her job was completed as the tower went down. Her bright light had flashed across the land and now the people’s hearts stirred. The revolution would come, and the people would be free and so would she. He would free her.
Kuz was sitting in his den reading a book when the alarm rang out. A warning that someone was nearing their house. He walked to the screen door sure that it was a transient. Wearing a long brown coat and wide brim hat and carrying a large brown bag, the transient made his way up the earthen drive.
“Stop!” Kuz yelled. The transient paused, the wide brim of the hat obscuring his face. “Who are You?” Kuz said emerging onto the porch small gun in hand.
“Just a Speaker, sir.” Came a woman’s voice, slow and sultry. Kuz’s eyes widened as she took off her hat.
“Inqe Speaker!” He said.
She walked up to him dropping her bag with a thud and they embraced. The screen door creaked and Inqe looked over Kuz’s shoulder and there stood Jessie. Her beauty had returned for the most part but she still looked tired beyond her years. Inqe steps around Kuz and embraces Jessie, both weeping.
Sitting in the den Inqe recounts her experiences after the visitors reclaimed the stone. The following revolution, and struggle for power. Lives lost and lives saved. Ultimately ending for better or worse.
“Barry Box is Chancellor now, but he’s set a date for a democratic election. Supposedly he’s set everything up so that the system can never become as corrupt as it was. I wonder how that experiment will go?”
“Only time will tell.” Kuz said sipping tea.
“No cigars, Kuz?” Inqe smirked.
“I don’t want anything polluting my beautiful air, besides they’re bad for little lungs.” He said and smiled at Jessie.
Inqe gasped, “You mean'””
“Four months in.” Jessie blushed.
“Where to now Inqe?” Kuz inquired.
“Actually'”I was hoping you needed a farm hand.”
“Not really.” Kuz said matter-of-factly.
Inqes shoulders dropped, “Well that’s alright I suppose I could find something in'”” she started.
“But I could use a mechanic,” Kuz smiled putting down his cup, “those machines could really use some work.”