In the future following the Collapse, former rebel Zaq Martial just wanted to get away from his problems. But it turns out that's not so easy. He finds himself pursued not only by an oppressive government, but also by a vengeful ex-girlfriend. If he can survive that as well as superhuman enemies, a violent split personality, and even his own quirky allies, he may just become the hero the world needs. Can he stop the ruthless Benefactors, led by dangerous beauty Yamiyo? Or will humanity be led down an eternal dark path devoid of free will?
Chapter V—Welcome to Rockhorn
Yamiyo entered the operations center on the station, hopeful for any new information which would put her mind at ease. Dissident forces were in possession of the Zenith—and they were capable of using it. This was almost more than she could bear.
Men and women wearing Benefactor uniforms sat at computer consoles positioned around the spherical, sterile room. They promptly stood at attention as the beautiful administrator entered. I hate these cold metallic environments, she thought to herself. I hate them because I have seen pictures of Mirai. That beautiful planet beckoned her to come down there. Soon! They promised me that. There weren’t even any windows in this room to look down at the captivating blue ball.
“Report,” she said. Everyone stood at attention, and her lieutenant stepped forward. He was a tall, athletic individual and a firm by-the-books type named Reed. He was as professional as they came.
“We have all our forces on the Western Continent on alert. It’s only a matter of time before the rebels are found,” he said.
“Don’t forget: our primary objective is the recovery of the Zenith. Most everything else is insignificant. Tell our forces on the Western Continent that they may dispose of the two Camisards only after they retrieve the sword,” Yamiyo said.
“So then the Grand Design is now secondary?”
“Not exactly. Both operations can go on simultaneously but our focus is the search for the Zenith. Simply keep the Grand Design going as best you can but remember it is not to impede our search for the Zenith.”
“What is the current progress of the Grand Design?”
“We believe we have discovered a suitable match just off the Eastern Continent.”
“Good. Prepare a report and have it sent to my office. I’ll be waiting.” And with that she left the room. No one wants the Grand Design to be realized more than I, but there’s no telling how much damage Zaq Martial could cause with the Zenith. It must be found. She sighed and clenched her fist when she thought of him. Zaq Martial. Why did you have to come back now?
Well, perhaps she could still turn the situation to her advantage.
Morning had now come to the Dry Soil Zone of the Western Continent. The sun beamed down upon the desert and the sparse plant life that managed to grow there. This was a rocky region with numerous mountain ranges and an arid climate.
Now that it was the scheduled time, the ticket-taker came out to do his job. A middle-aged man with graying hair, he took pride in his job and in his white-and-red-striped RailWay uniform. When he got to the last passenger car he felt good. As he recalled there was only one person to check in there. Sure enough, the only one in there was the man he expected to find.
“Can I see your ticket, sir?”
“Here you go,” he said, presenting his ticket.
“Thank you.” He then left the room. Looking out the window the passenger saw the mountain ranges coming very close and soon spied the one they were headed for. It was round—though sharp edges still jutted awkwardly up from it—and eight sets of RailWay tracks rose up into it. Those tracks came together from all over the continent and merged into this particular mountain. Within minutes the tracks rose sharply and the train entered the mountain via one of eight openings in the massive rock wall. The train had arrived in Rockhorn.
Zaq and Reima snuck out of the train and into the massive cavernous area (it actually was a cavern) that was the RailWay station. The dome-shaped cavern held the main building of the station. Many lights built into the ceiling provided ample illumination for the whole area.
They looked over the place; they saw the various sets of tracks (only about a third of them had trains on them at the moment), the rock walls and high rock ceiling, the support beams that lined the area, and finally the brick-laden multistoried building lined up against the far wall that was the main complex of the station. It was through there that passengers entered the city of
They stepped out into Rockhorn. They had been here before on missions, but Zaq was always amazed at the unique design of the whole place. The Benefactors were said to have scooped out this mountain with their orbital canon Kenosis long ago. What they then filled it with was a multi-tiered environment that resembled nothing anyone had ever seen before. Essentially a gargantuan inverted cone built in the middle of a mountain, Rockhorn was composed of ten levels (not including the ground floor), each of which was located fifty feet above the previous one. The top floor, which they were now on (and which was called First Floor), was three miles in diameter, but the levels became narrower the lower they came to the ground. The center of each level was a ring of open space that looked down upon the lower levels, and each ring became smaller the closer they came to the ground. The ground itself—the bottom floor, as it were—contained only one structure: a large mansion of gothic architecture. He remembered having to break into that mansion on a previous mission to steal various documents.
The north side of the top floor of Rockhorn was home to Residential District A, and many houses and apartment complexes were packed together, often one on top of the other. Some of the wealthier houses stood apart, but mostly it was houses on top of houses. Directly below them on the next level was Residential District B and it was much the same, just darker because of the rock ceiling above them.
The south side was occupied by many quaint brick factories pumping out essential goods for the city such as shoes, clothing, concrete to build and fix houses, and metal beams for the RailWay. Smog billowed out of several of these factories daily. Only authorized personnel were allowed in that district, and a large fence blocked it off from trespassers.
Most of the east side was taken up by the train station. Storage facilities inhabited the rest of the district.
On the west side were the office buildings of city officials not important enough to get a job in the city mansion.
Almost all the levels below were a less-organized assortment of residential housing, businesses and shopping complexes. There was also the occasional playground for children (although even those were perpetually bathed in artificial light since not much sun reached them).
They proceeded to head down to the next level via one of the many sets of stairs scattered throughout the city. Once down there, they made their way to Residential District B. The houses down here were made of rock from the mountain and were inhabited by those less fortunate than the above dwellers. Zaq and Reima moved past these houses on their way to the Zinthral home.
“Didn’t you say once that your younger brother suffered from some sort of mental illness?” Zaq said.
“Yes, he has severe depression. He gets medication, but it’s not enough. The Benefactors keep the best medicines to themselves. It’s funny: I don’t remember his birth, but it was a turning point in my life. It was when my parents could no longer afford to support our family—making such a meager income as they did—and agreed to send me off to the Camisards via the contact they used to have in this city. The rebels would take care of me as long as I worked for them.”
“It was for the best. My parents were able to raise Truth and I got to grow up with you. And I get to come home and visit occasionally. All in all, not a bad deal. Except for having to deal with you.” She spotted the house they were looking for and, taking out a key from her pocket, she unlocked the door of the one-story adobe house.
Inside they found a sparsely decorated living room with an ugly mustard-color tile floor and a small hand-woven rug in the middle of the room. The only furniture Zaq could see was a wooden rocking chair in the corner and an old beaten-up couch sat against the wall, which he saw was now occupied.
“Wake up, Truth. I’m home!” Reima said to the figure lying on the couch. Zaq guessed correctly that it was her younger brother, as he slumped upwards into a sitting position like a lethargic slave. The eyes of the seventeen year-old drooped heavily and it was clear that he had been asleep. Zaq studied him carefully, noting his short, skinny frame, shaggy hair, oversized grey cotton shirt and khaki jeans. Apparently style wasn’t high on his list of priorities. Actually, scratch that; he didn’t seem to have any priorities.
He looked around him for a moment, and then said, “Huh? Oh, hey Reima. What are you doing here?”
“I’m your sister. You know I come home every now and then,” she said.
“Who’re you?” Truth said, referring to Zaq.
“This is my partner, Zaq. I’ve told you about him plenty of times.”
“Oh, right. Nice to meet you, I guess,” Truth said. Although Zaq had been to Rockhorn before, it was always on a mission, and neither he nor Reima were allowed to contact her family while on missions, lest they inadvertently jeopardize the safety of her family. Every once and a while Reima would be allowed to go home and visit, though only when she would not be doing any illegal operations. Zaq was never allowed to visit since it was deemed an unnecessary risk.
“Glad to see you’re all right,” Zaq said. Reima proceeded to hug her brother fiercely.
“Aggg! Cut it out!” Truth said, apparently not enjoying it as much as she was.
“This place seems kind of….barren,” Zaq said.
“Our parents never made much money. That’s why they had to send Reima away. Every city is supposed to be self-sufficient, with everyone working together to contribute to the greater good. Funny how it doesn’t seem to work that well.” In theory, the citizens of the city would work at their jobs to produce goods and services for everyone, and everyone would get what they need. Cities often traded with each other via the RailWay. While people received adequate supplies of food and clothing, the reeve (or official in charge of the city) got a lot more than everyone else and thus lived comfortably. In addition, the workers earned a meager income—not many yunos to go around—from their jobs which they could spend at the bar or other businesses in the city. The Zinthral parents were such citizens until a year ago.
“I was sorry to hear about the accident. I told her to send you my sympathies, but I don’t know if she did.”
“She did. Thanks.”
Zaq was referring to the explosion; their parents had worked in a factory that manufactured shoes. One day the reeve decided to temporarily store explosives—for Benefactor construction work—in the factory. It was inevitable that someone would eventually get careless, and unfortunately for Reima and Truth it was during their parents’ shift. The building was destroyed beyond repair and the Zinthrals were reportedly killed instantly.
“I really am sorry for you both,” Zaq said.
“Death changes you. Did you know that? You aren’t the same person after someone close to you dies,” Truth said.
“Yeah, I know. Most of my friends died recently,” Zaq said. Reima nodded grimly, and they proceeded to explain the situation.
When they finished, Reima said to him, “And that’s why we have to get out of here quickly.”
“Blast. Well, I guess getting out of this place isn’t so bad. Not like it’s a palace,” Truth said.
Reima harshly scolded him. “Our parents did the best they could. This house may not be that great, but its home,” she said.
He waved her off. “All right, all right. Let’s just go.”
“Is there any food in the fridge?” Reima said.
“A little. Mostly celery and pork.” He went into the next room, which was the kitchen, and grabbed all the food that was in the house. They put the refrigerated food in an ice chest, the rest in a bag which Truth carried, and the trio left the house.
“How are we supposed to find this contact we’re looking for?” Zaq said as they walked through the streets of the second level of Rockhorn. Reima walked beside him, with Truth following behind.
“Fox said the contact would be wearing an ‘intelligent hat’.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Zaq said.
“I’m not sure. Let’s just look around for anything that could be an ‘intelligent hat’.” At that moment they passed by a particular building and Truth stopped to stare at it intently. It looked like an ordinary doctor’s office sitting against the massive rock wall. There didn’t seem to be anything special about it.
“Truth, what’s wrong?” Reima said.
“I hate this place.”
“Why?” Zaq said. They saw a woman with a very full and round stomach enter the building in tears, accompanied by a man they presumed to be her husband. “This place….”
“In order to control population, the Benefactors have placed very strict limits on the size of families. No household can have more than two children. When a third is conceived, they are required to come here to have the pregnancy terminated,” Truth said.
“It’s so cruel,” Reima said.
“If the expectant mother does not show up here by the designated date, they execute her,” Truth said.
“How can they do that?” Zaq said.
“They can do this because no one stops them. Life is precious, but those in power can’t see that. Those that can lack the means to do anything about it,” Truth said.
“We’ll stop them,” Zaq said.
They wandered around the city for a few hours before finally stopping to rest outside a bar. While they sat there they discussed the current situation.
“Oh come on! How on Mirai are we supposed to find one person in a city with twenty blasted stories?” Zaq said. All three of them were tired and frustrated.
“Weren’t you given any other clues?” Truth said.
“It was so long ago! I don’t remember,” Reima said, obviously frustrated.
“After all that walking, I’m hungry. Let’s have lunch,” Zaq said.
“The only food we have ready is celery and bread. The rest needs to be cooked,” Truth said.
“It’ll have to do,” Reima said. Underneath the shade of the massive floor of the previous level they dined on a lunch of bread and celery, and drank out of thermoses of water they took from the Zinthral house.
“Now what do we do?” Zaq said when they were done. Truth didn’t seem to hear him, as he was looking across the bar at something.
“Look over there,” he said.
Zaq and Reima turned their heads to where he was pointing. They saw an olive-skinned man on a bench reading a book. He seemed completely unremarkable except for his glasses. He was wearing one pair, but he had another pair resting on top of his head.
“Those glasses are on his head, almost like a hat,” Truth said.
“OK, kinda weird, but it’ll do,” Reima said.
“How do we find out if it’s him? I can’t see him opening up to complete strangers and admitting he’s part of a rebel movement,” Zaq said.
“Don’t you remember anything we were taught? We’re supposed to give the password.”
“Oh, right.” They walked over to the multi-spectacled man and stood in front of him.
“Err, can I help you?” he asked with an innocent and somewhat confused tone.
“These wayward travelers seek sanctuary in thy embrace,” Reima said. Oh man, thought Zaq. This better be the right guy or I’ll never survive this humiliation. Suddenly the man’s eyes narrowed as he seemed to be scrutinizing the three of them. He looked around, perhaps to make sure no unwanted parties were listening in.
“You are Camisards?” he said. Two of them were, up until recently, they said. “My name is
Devon. We lost contact with your group a few weeks ago. What happened?” They explained the situation to him, at which point he seemed to go pale, if it were possible for someone of his complexion.
“It can’t be,” he whispered. “If what you say is true, we could be on the brink of annihilation. Mr. James must be told.”
“James?” they asked. He referred to Erik James, the leader of the Scholars. He then instructed them to come with him to his house. He didn’t say another word, but began walking. They followed behind him.