“Guys, we have a problem,” Petr said, looking at his computer screen. He picked up a video feed and piped it to everyone’s screen. They all stopped when they saw. It was a massive demonstration of force stretching as far as the camera’s field of view. They had always known that they were outnumbered, but it was rare to see such a gathering as this, and to see their full strength all in one place was a sight that put fear into the hearts and eyes of all those who saw it. Kaiya glanced quickly at it and then shut it off.
“They’re flexing,” Brig said, pointing out the obvious.
“So they have found a way to communicate with their machine too?” Kaiya said.
“They have always been able to communicate with their machine in some capacity. It was what gave them power initially. They could never do it the way you do though. They had to build an interface. I wonder if anyone can use that cube structure or if it’s only the Emperor that’s able to.” Eros wondered out loud.
“Destroy the Emperor, destroy the kingdom, or destroy the cube, destroy the kingdom?” Hasinth propositioned the group.
“Neither, we need to get Wran to connect with their machine.” Kaiya said, eyes closed, the green threads of her own dancing into her outstretched palms. She shut them closed and the tethers evaporated effervescently.
“How do we do that?” Hasinth took his reading glasses down to the bridge of his nose.
“I don’t know yet. Those threads you see, they’re partially organic. She’s been able to build them up since the Awakening. Their machine seems to have a similar system, though it doesn’t reach as far as Wran’s does. Its power is located centrally, and it’s only built branches throughout the city. My guess is that their power is exactly limited to the walls of Imperial City. If that cube were placed outside the city, it wouldn’t do anything. It wouldn’t have an effect. Wran wants us to connect her to their machine and then I suppose we see what happens.” Kaiya didn’t understand where these words were coming from. It was as if someone else was speaking for her.
“Where do we begin?” Hasinth nodded.
“We’ll need access to the machine’s main power source. We’ll have to get in there and I guess I’ll have to be the conduit between Wran and the other machine.”
“I don’t like the sound of that. What happens when the two sources connect?” Arryn sounded a little too concerned for Kaiya, and Ayala looked like she was about to kick him.
“Guys, I don’t know, okay! Wran doesn’t always give me clear answers. Sometimes all I get are pictures, or a kind of recording. Even when she does speak it’s short and clipped. There’s something preventing her from thinking and speaking clearly, and I think that once she’s connected to the other machine, I don’t know, maybe she’ll then be able to speak clearly.”
“I know where they keep the machine,” Piper stood up from the couch, “I think we could get two, maybe three people in at the most.”
“And there’s going to be a fight,” Kit added, “I don’t know if they’ve figured out our plan since we’ve only just come to it, but if and when they do, that place will be guarded better than the Emperor.”
“Then that’s it, we go after the Emperor while Kaiya gets to the power source.” Hasinth chimed in, it was a decent plan.
After several days of hashing out the plan, they were ready to test the Sikka defense. They’d sent word through their network in the city about the plan, or rather, they sent different messages to different groups about their part in the plan. Kit coordinated it all. He ran the show inside the city. They dispatched a small group. The purpose was to enliven an already active protest to turn violent by showing the protestors the Sikka could be killed. They’d decided on using small explosives that would scare, and perhaps immobilize the Wraiths. Terrified Wraiths could wreak a lot of havoc as Kaiya and her friends knew well. The protest location they chose was quite close to the Emperor’s building, who had since gone back inside. Since that day they demonstrated their strength, thousands of soldiers began canvassing the city, breaking into each and every home, and then leaving an officer to monitor each and every person that came and went. The longer they waited, the tougher it was going to be to get close to the building that housed their machine.
Their first attack came the following day. They’d spent the morning weaving through the underground of safe pathways through the city to locate other Wrannamen who each had a small amount of different supplies. Some groups had weapons, others had specialized equipment. It was too dangerous for Kaiya and Hasinth to be a part of the assault, so they helped with logistics remotely. By the end of the day, they had recruited 10 Wrannamen inside the city to engage in the assault that night. Kit and Piper led the way. They assembled just behind the massive force moving throughout the city, and only advanced once the Sikkas had left an area and posted a small group to leave behind. They approached the first group of soldiers holding a territory of two square blocks. In the dead of night Piper was at home silently slicing throats in the shadows. She led the group, and took down the first two soldiers by herself. The others in the group made sure none escaped alive, and that none of them were able to send off an alert. Once, they were spotted by an old man who had walked by the alley as they were cleaning up their mess. He looked at the Wrannamen, looked down at the soldiers, and nodded to them and went on his way. Piper went straight after the man, but Kit stopped her, “He approves of what we’re doing, he’ll do more good alive and spreading the word of what he saw than he will be dead.”
They did this several more times in the night. By morning the work the Sikkas had done was effectively useless. At this rate, without anyone watching the coming and going of people in areas they’d already checked, they could no longer guarantee that those whom they sought did not just dance around the roaming force.
Dredge stood stoically looking out over the city. All that power the Emperor carried, yet it was not going to be as helpful as he’d hoped. This was good old fashion guerilla warfare. He’d read about it. He’d known the Hybrids had practiced it successfully for centuries. He also knew that it would be very difficult for the Wrannaman to do material damage given how small the attacks were. Without a massive force to overthrow the entire city, they’d be a nuisance at best. And yet he knew not to underestimate them. To do that, at a time like this would be foolishness. Though he had seen in some capacity the limitations of connecting with their own machine, he wondered if Kaiya faced similar limitations. He still needed to draw her out somehow.
At first, the small crew celebrated the nightly assassinations. They’d gone out every night that week and had successfully killed many of the soldiers posted to keep watch on a particular area while only losing a few Wrannamen. After a week though, they realized the Sika could continue doing this indefinitely, while it was taxing for the Wrannamen to continue doing so. They’d need something more disruptive to try next.
It was Feathers that suggested bombing the power grid. The idea was simple. Strap a bunch of bombs onto drones, and send Feathers to fly with them to ensure the mission was successful and as a fail safe in case the Sikkas took down the drones with some tech. They loaded up two dozen drones and outfitted them with a special bomb that Feathers and Eros fashioned from supplies they were able to get access to. Kit and Piper knew exactly where to hit.
Feathers took off from a location far away from the apartment they stayed in. He flew with two large suitcases each holding a dozen drones. The weight put stress on his back where the wings had been grafted to his spine and other bones for support. It was right around his max carrying capacity, and twice he had to stop to rest and bite his shirt to prevent himself from screaming out loud in pain. He reached his maximum pain threshold well before his planned landing area, but he couldn’t continue on any longer. He knew he’d need strength in case something went wrong and wouldn’t have it if he continued. He relayed this back to HQ on his screen and set up the drones. Their quiet buzz filled the night and they were off. He ditched the cases and flew off after them. They flew for a few minutes.
Back in the apartment, Kaiya paced as she watched the live feed from Feathers’ body cam and the drones.
“It’s too quiet, I don’t like it,” Hasinth said out loud, looking for confirmation before pulling the plug, “I think we should abort.”
It was too late. All at once, nets flew up and around the drones. Feathers dodged one net, but another caught one of his wings. In mid-air, he twisted his wings into a point and sliced through it, regaining some altitude. He changed directions, sprinting now back towards the direction he came. He was nearly out of range when two nets flew up on both sides of him. Had his wingspan been shorter, or had he turned on his side, he would have made it through. The automated net deployment system was new. Piper had never seen it before outside of some very high security areas inside the main Sikka buildings on top of the hill. They watched from Feathers’ cam as he tumbled from the sky, and hit hard on a building a few meters below. He landed right on the body cam and it went static. They watched as each of the drones hit the ground and were destroyed on impact. “This is how we lose,” Hasinth thought to himself, “they’re big enough to wait us out, and patiently scalp us one by one.” If Feathers didn’t die on impact, then he was in their hands now. Even if his screen broke, and the data on it could no longer be read, what he remembered would do tremendous damage to them. They had to move out of the apartment immediately, as well as anything else Feathers had known about the Wrannamen. No, he knew too much. Their city operations were effectively neutralized for the time being.
Either they had to move out of the city or they had to rush them now, even with their smaller numbers, and put their faith in Kaiya and Wran. They grabbed what they could carry and left the apartment. Kit and Piper had a second location set up for occasions like this that only they knew about. Further, each of them had separate third options that only each of them knew about individually. It was a byproduct of having lived in the city for years before this moment arrived.
They were each sent the coordinates of the next location on their screens before they hit the streets. It was located in a far corner of the city next to an exit tunnel. They weaved in and out of streets and alleyways. There were no protests they could easily hide in. There wasn’t the cover of the night. Hasinth, who by himself was a massive man, stood out no matter where he went. His presence turned heads. The more heads that turned the more likely they would be caught.
There was a drone that spotted them first, and it sent out an alarm before Kaiya could disable it. In disabling it, her green threads connected to her palms, and passersby gasped at the scene. Within seconds, a military truck turned the corner and spotted her. She disengaged and Shim grabbed her by the shoulder. The truck skidded in front of the alley they dove into and followed them on foot, yelling into their screens and sending their location to other drones and Sikkas in the area. Kaiya did her best to drop the drones before they could get eyes on them, but she knew it was a little too late for that. The best they could do was lose them momentarily and try and keep them guessing.
Dredge got the alert on his screen for a face match on Kaiya and visual confirmation his soldiers were in pursuit. They were spotted. She was in the city after all. He stood up from his chair and raced to get down to the scene.
They ducked into a known hideout, an abandoned building, betting Feathers had not known this particular address.
“We have to get out of the city.” Kit said, trying to catch his breath.
“I agree, where’s the nearest exit?” Hasinth nodded calmly. Kit went to his screen and clicked around for a second, and soon after everyone’s screens beeped.
“I’ve sent several options. We need to split up. I’ve also set a rendezvous up outside the city.”
“Drop everything that’s not absolutely necessary, let’s move.” Hasinth stood up, dropped his pack without looking back, “Kaiya, you’re with me.” Eros nodded to Hasinth, who carried a gun about the size of Kaiya herself. He’d protect her with his life. Eros knew he’d follow them anyways. Hasinth probably did too.
“I’ll stay in the city,” Wellington said suddenly. He’d slow down his son, perhaps get him killed. He couldn’t join Eros, he just wasn’t fast enough. “I’ll try to find some sympathetic ears from my previous life, I’d endanger you all if I went with you. I’m too slow.” He hugged Arryn, kissed him on his forehead, and left. Arryn didn’t protest. He was proud of his father’s decision and knew he would slow them down.
They left the abandoned building, keeping out of the main streets as much as possible. A few blocks into the change in direction, they had to pass an open street. There was no other way around it. They looked both ways down the street to see if anything awaited them, but the street was empty. Increasingly, the streets were empty as people either joined a protest nearby or stayed indoors to avoid any confrontations. Kaiya connected to Wran, and searched for anything nearby that might harm them. It looked clear. They crossed the open street. It wasn’t until a few blocks later, right near the border of the city that they ran into trouble.
Dredge stood before a group of two dozen soldiers. There was a large figure wearing an exoskeleton a few feet in front of the rest of the soldiers. The exoskeleton glistened, and hissed with life. It looked brand new in a world where nothing looked brand new. Dredge and Hasninth’s eyes met as Kaiya turned and looked at the stopped Hasinth, then following his gaze to what gave him pause.
“It’s been a long time, brother,” Dredge said walking towards them in his exoskeleton.
“It has,” Hasinth was stalling for time, and gently aligned Kaiya behind him with his massive arm.
“Hand over the girl, and many lives will be saved.”
“I find that option unpalatable, though I will make you a similar offer. Join us, and watch as we remake this world in the image of it’s better half.”
“Our philosophy divided us a long time ago. They are quite alike, as I’m sure you know. It is a shame. Together, perhaps this could have ended already. We’d be halfway to a better world.”
Hasinth fired the first shot. The exoskeleton was strong, but it was bulky and slow. When the shots were fired, the Sikka soldiers behind Dredge began firing, but Dredge put his hand up to stay them. He would fight Hasinth by himself. While the soldiers were firing on them, Hasinth pushed Kaiya to run. She started off back the way she came, then stopped abruptly and called Wran. The green threads came in volumes this time. She ran back to where Hasinth stood. Kaiya was quickly enveloped, and placed her glowing palm into the ground. Dredge’s exoskeleton suit started spewing sparks, and showered them onto the ground like rain. Then the soldier’s guns were sucked from their hands and flung to the side. With a final burst of energy, the soldiers flew backwards as the green threads came up all around them, Dredge, still inside the exoskeleton was knocked off his feet and scrambled to disengage himself from it. Kaiya winked at Hasinth and ran off.
As soon as she turned a corner, Eros was there.
“You think I was going to leave you on your own again?” He smiled as they made their way to another exit out of the city.
The soldiers laid in a semicircle around Dredge, still recovering from Wran’s burst of electricity. Dredge wiggled free of the exoskeleton and stood facing his brother. Hasinth approached him and threw his gun down, seeing his brother was unarmed. Neither of them wished the other dead. Quite the opposite, each longed for the other to join their side. It was a difference in philosophy, but circumstances had brought this encounter to them both, and they both knew that neither of their respective parties would not let them part ways amicably.
Kit and Piper led the rest of the crew in a different direction. Everyone had the coordinates of where they’d be meeting if they made it out, and sneaking through the city in broad daylight was hard enough, let alone with a large group. They ducked through alleys, walked briskly through public courtyards, with the eyes of busy business people glancing right over them, far too concerned with the politics of the day to get into anyone else’s business. The group seemed to weave through the streets unnoticed as most of the people on the street walked with their attention towards their screen, ignoring what was around them. The Sikkas had tried to avoid the financial center of the city as much as possible. Pissing off the wealthiest of the Imperial citizenry was not a wise approach to running a monarchy. Even with absolute power, it was much easier having the buy in of the elites. The group put Piper at the head, such that if any concerned citizen looked at them, they would see a Viper, and would likely be deterred from looking any further into the matter. A Viper having business in the financial sector was unusual, but the idea of standing in between her and the reason for her visit would be foolish at best, and deadly at worst. There was a fine line between fear, and respect in the relationship between those that thrived in the city outside of the government, and the government itself. They walked that fine line to the other side of the luxuriously spaced courtyard and safely ducked into a side street as soon as they were able.
Just as they started to gain confidence and proximity to an exit route, they stumbled upon a dozen soldiers standing guard at the exit. The guards spotted them immediately and called it in. Kit and Piper shoved the kids away, and sent them on a different path towards another exit. They’d distract, and hopefully disarm this group, and give the others time to make it to another underground exit nearby.
“We just want to talk,” Kit yelled at the soldiers, while hiding behind a metal dumpster.
“Come out with your hands in the air,” a soldier responded back.
“I’m afraid we can’t do that yet. We’d like to speak to Dredge. Tell him we have a deal we want to strike. We have Kaiya. We want to turn her in for immunity,” with this, the soldiers saw reason, and their captain paused to call it in, requesting his presence.
“I’ve called it in, we’re waiting for a response. Show us some good faith and throw aside your weapons so we can see them.”
Kit and Piper looked at each other across the alley and pulled a spare knife and pistol and tossed it into the alley. Piper tossed her pistol with a spin and the muzzle pointed out towards the soldiers, who relayed their satisfaction. It put them slightly more at rest and gradually, they dropped their guns down. Piper looked on her screen and saw the soldiers through the camera on the pistol. She changed the mode on the pistol and the gun fired a small cylinder that caused the pistol to spin backwards. The capsule opened and out poured a white smoke. The soldiers began coughing and soon toppled over, one by one. Piper stood up and straightened her outfit, picking up her gun and knife. Piper winked at Kit.
“The things you make me think of, if only we weren’t in the middle of a war,” he shook his head. Together they sprinted through the dead guards covering their face and exited through the tunnel.
Kaiya and Eros found a way out of the city a few blocks from where they left Dredge and Hasinth. The impeccable skyscrapers reflected blue in the sky as they approached the massive wall surrounding the city. Every fifty yards the wall extended out like a voluptuous triangle providing a platform for the Sikka to man the entire wall. Because of the unrest, and technological progress they’d moved from physical soldiers on each section to drones, Trackers and other sensors. Below the wall was roughly one hundred yards of hard packed dirt and rock with light grass growing over it. It was elevated off of sea level by about one hundred feet. Out of the side of the elevated platform on which the city rested jutted the sewage drain pipes into what became a mote. The mountains surrounding the back of the city, where the Imperial palace sat, threw off massive amounts of water from the leaky glaciers. The pipes were a convenient means to keep the city from flooding. It gave the city the impression that it was an island. Just outside of the small river around the city were the suburbs, whose wooden builds and modest buildings felt like a drastic juxtaposition next to so much planned architecture and impressive structures. The fashion of the day was to build large triangular buildings, with wide bases that narrowed at the top. They were hundreds of stories tall with pathways scaling up the wider base of the building, narrowing with the height. As they were running, Wran attached to Kaiya on her own and blacked out all the sensors that would have been tracking them as they ducked into a sewage outlet. As they went further into the sewage drain, the incline became steeper and the water rushed more rapidly as the drains consolidated. They slid in the dark with ice cold water from the mountains, and some city run-off. They dropped with the water out of the sewage line that protruded out of the elevated earthen platform and into the river that wound around the city. They slowly and deliberately made their way across the river, which thankfully had a reasonably mild current. They didn’t speak as they went. No talk of the separated group. No mention of nearly losing their lives a few moments ago. It was execution time, and they both responded to a challenge in a similarly dogged way. They landed on shore on the other side of the river and rested in the grass near the rocky shore. There was no sand here. The ground was a hard dried lakebed shore whose depth a level ebbed and flowed with the seasons. Looking up at Imperial City from the outside made their task all the more daunting. How could they defeat such a massive force? Kaiya quickly shut the thought out of her mind. Eros was thinking about it too. They’d been gathering momentum up until this point but now they were separated. Not defeated, but disbanded. They’d have to wait to see who showed up at the house and figure out the best way back into the city. As it stood now, even if Hasinth killed Dredge, what would that do to the empire? They’d not be any better off than they were now. It was another disheartening thought. The shrubs turned into trees and bushes as they made their way up the open ridge. In the nearby suburb, one of dozens that sprang up around the city, they made their way cautiously to the safe house. It was well hidden in the woods just outside of the village. The village itself was a small, dense town. It was a refuge for those who did not want to live under the thumb of the Sikka but who needed to be close for work. Practically speaking, the Imperials still ruled their lives in more ways than they were comfortable with. Nearly all food and water came from the city, as well as jobs, commerce, and even the materials they built their homes with.
Eros and Kaiya made their way along the periphery of the city after they had dried off a bit. It wouldn’t do them any good to stick out by being soaking wet walking suspiciously through town. They stuck to the edges of the town, taking footpaths through the trees when they could and found the cabin through a thinly walked path through the trees. They did a small perimeter check, or rather, Wran did automatically. Kaiya’s vision overlayed all networked devices within the cabin and Wran showed her which she had checked out already, and which were disabled. There wasn’t much there as the cabin had no electricity. They stepped inside the cabin. It smelled musky like it hadn’t been aired out in years. This was likely true. It wasn’t long before each of them showered and then stood together in the living room, trying to get tabs on each of their friends. Kaiya called Wran and was pulled deep inside. She could see through Wran’s access to cameras throughout the city, and where she couldn’t see, Wran could compile a vision like experience for Kaiya using any and all sensors she could find. She caught glimpses of Arryn from a security camera positioned on the corner of a tall building near the edge of town. Good, she thought, they’re still free. She tried to get Wran to show her Hasinth and Dredge, but she was only able to see an assembled version of Dredge. Wran found the disabled exoskeleton but they were gone now. Whatever happened to Hasinth was over now. Wran paused at the scene and tried something Kaiya hadn’t seen before. She used the history of the sensors to roll back the time and provide a compiled, grainy version of what happened based on the movements of their feet position and other time of flight sensors nearby. Wran finished processing and let the recording she made play for Kaiya as if she was there.