Authors: Dean Murray
People need to be monitored, or they'll repeat the mistakes of the Desolation, a centuries-old war that killed billions of people and destroyed civilization.
Skye is part of the Society, the hi-tech, nanite-endowed group responsible for making sure that the millions of surviving people—grubbers—are confined to the ancient, decaying cities where they can be watched to ensure they aren't redeveloping the weapons technology that came so close to extinguishing life on the planet.
When the Society's monitoring programs pick up troubling developments in one of the grubber cities, Skye is ordered in to deal with the man responsible, but what—and who—she finds once she arrives will change everything.
by Dean Murray
Copyright 2014 by Dean Murray
Also by Dean Murray:
The Reflections Series
The Greater Darkness (
Writing as Eldon Murphy
A Darkness Mirrored (
Writing as Eldon Murphy
The Dark Reflections Series
A Broken World
The Guadel Chronicles
I wasn't there during the Desolation when the bombs started dropping—it happened nearly a century and a half before I was born—but despite that, I've never had any problems envisioning what they must have looked like. All I have to do is close my eyes for a moment and I can see silvery, flame-driven nails streaking out of the sky, barely visible in the split second before they impact.
The history books all say that the people of that time feared nuclear bombs—and they were right to do so—but it wasn't the shockwave or the heat that nearly destroyed the world as they knew it, it was the electromagnetic pulse.
Invisible, non-lethal, and perfectly suited to destroying the computers that were such an integral part of life even back then. The bombs did exactly what they were supposed to. They turned cutting-edge jet fighters into useless ornaments and immobilized tanks in a heartbeat, but that wasn't all they did.
Food production ceased, and pharmaceutical factories ground to a halt at the same time that radios and cellular phones stopped working with predictably catastrophic results. Relatively few people were killed in the initial attacks—the attacking nations all wanted to capture as much of their rivals' infrastructure intact as possible—but the societies of that day were ill-prepared for such rapid shocks to their ways of life.
They were selfish and petty. Rather than turning inwards to realize the highest possible version of themselves, they turned outwards. They wasted their time and resources pursuing profit and depriving their brothers and sisters of equal opportunities, and the results were catastrophic.
The bombs didn't destroy civilization, it was the people turning on each other who did that. It was surprising how fast it happened--within a few decades once-great cities were already starting to crumble. The survivors tried to leave the cities for a better life in the wilderness where food was more plentiful, but we didn't let that happen.
The precepts—the belief system that had seen us through the terrors of the Desolation—were clear that letting people rebuild before they'd come to accept our beliefs would just see the world consumed once again in another apocalypse—possibly one even worse than the Desolation.
We couldn't allow that to happen—even if it meant that some of our people would be forced to don uniforms and pick up rifles rather than pursue their highest self. At ruinous cost in lives and human potential, we embarked on a long vigil to ensure that the descendants of the men and women who'd come so close to breaking the world wouldn't have a chance to repeat their ancestors' mistakes.
We call ourselves The Society.
The sight of the city lights rising up through the darkness to meet me at more than two hundred miles per hour was nearly enough to make a proper Society girl regret agreeing to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. The sense of vertigo was threatening my ability to function—just like on the last jump—but I gritted my teeth and tried to focus on the explosions blooming like destructive roses all across the city.
The full-face mask I was wearing kept the wind out of my normally impassive brown eyes, and allowed me to breathe at an altitude where the thin air otherwise would have killed me, but neither of my other two jumps had been from such a high jump point. I was starting to feel like the goggles were closing in on me, like my air supply was running out.
Hot orange tracers swept upwards from more than a dozen gun emplacements scattered across the city. The thought of one of those heavy-caliber rounds ripping through my body should have sent me over the edge, but somehow it had the opposite effect—it meant that things were going exactly to plan. Everything was unfolding just like the strategists from the Society's military had said it would.
Another round of bombs went off below me and then a loud tone in my ear warned of the imminent deployment of my gravity chute. The buildings were terrifyingly close now, and I angled my descent towards an alley, counting out loud to keep myself focused.
The chute deployed with a whine as capacitors fed energy into the cylindrical device mounted to my back. Nearly a dozen different straps connected the chute to me, wrapping around my legs, chest, shoulders, and stomach in an effort to spread the stress of my deceleration across my entire body. It still almost wasn't enough.
The Society's doctors had long ago established that twelve G's was the maximum safe deceleration for the average human body attached to a grav chute. My chute ratcheted up to nearly twice that over the course of less than a second as the onboard computer used a laser rangefinder to confirm the distance to the ground and plotted a safe landing for me.
The shock as the straps dug into my flesh knocked the wind out of me, and forced my vision to narrow into an ever-narrowing tunnel, but I stubbornly refused to lose consciousness. The brutal stresses being inflicted on me were not without reason. The grubbers—the residents of the city—didn't have any proof that this particular attack was being used as cover to infiltrate their home, but that wouldn't stop them from watching the sky in an effort to locate any jumpers. We'd never used an attack like this to infiltrate the city with a spy—I was the first of my kind—but we had used them in the past to cover larger assaults where hundreds of soldiers were inserted into cities like this one.
Black clothing, jumping under the cover of darkness, the self-destruct mechanism on my chute, it was all designed to make me as hard to spot as possible, to let me cross the danger zone as quickly as the limits of biology and technology would allow, but it still wouldn't be enough to save me if I collapsed into unconsciousness once I hit the ground.
Twenty G's was a crushing burden to put any human body through, but I had advantages that normal humans didn't.
The whine on the chute took on a softer edge as the sonic baffling went to full power, and then the ground reached up and slammed into my feet with the force of a twenty-foot drop. I reacted as I'd been trained, throwing myself forward to convert the fall into a roll at the same time that my left hand slapped the release button that let my chute collapse flat against my back.
The cobblestones under my shoulder were cold and gritty, and despite everything I still hit hard enough to add to the impressive set of bruises I'd already acquired from the chute's straps. I rolled through two complete rotations and then stood, slamming my palms into the building in front of me to bleed off the rest of my momentum.
It took exactly two seconds to shrug out of the harness connecting me to the chute and then arm the self-destruct mechanism on the face of the flattened cylinder. I waited for the readout to flash twice and then took off at a sprint—I had less than thirty seconds to clear the area before a bomb would be arriving in the alley.
I almost didn't make it.
The bomb landed two seconds before it was supposed to, and the blast from the shockwave slammed me into a nearby building as my outer layer of clothes started smoking.
I ripped off the black jumpsuit, revealing a set of much bulkier garments underneath—still black, but worn and holey so as to blend in with the grubbers. That last bomb—like most of what we were dropping that night—had been armed with an incendiary warhead, and I could feel the heat building behind me as the buildings that had survived the initial blast caught fire.
I double-checked the position of the moon to make sure that I was still heading north and picked up my pace to a three-minute mile as my straight brown hair fluttered in the wind from the speed of my passage. It shouldn't have been possible—almost wasn't possible even for me—but it was the minimum speed required to stay ahead of the waves of smart bombs even now headed down from the Society planes above me.
The first wave came down less than a hundred yards behind me, and bits of shrapnel shot past, nicking my arms and legs. Not fast enough. I was already breathing hard, but I forced my legs to push off from the ground with more force. I managed to pick up nearly five seconds before the next wave of explosions tore through the night behind me.
Glass windows shattered from the force of the concussion, and one of the ancient buildings listed to one side, slamming into its neighbors before twisting and crashing into the ground with enough force to knock my legs out from under me. This time even my unnaturally quick reflexes weren't enough to save me. I led with my face and felt the skin over my right cheek tear as it collided with a solitary island of asphalt in the middle of the cobblestones.
I pulled myself back up to my hands and knees, dazed. The bombing was supposed to stop now—the only other explosions would be secondary events, ancient gas lines or overloaded electrical panels, but I wasn't out of danger yet. I needed to get back to my feet and make my way further away from where I'd landed.
Bombing my entry point into the city into a hellish inferno was supposed to make sure that nobody would believe anyone could have survived, but it was still possible that someone had seen me moving impossibly fast through the city. I needed to clock another mile or two—at much slower speeds—before I could hole up for the night and assess my condition.
I made it only two more blocks before a horn sounded from deeper inside the city. The horn was quickly followed by a series of mechanical whistles from somewhere much closer. Within seconds people started emptying out of the buildings.
"There's a fire moving this way from Jenks' territory. I want every citizen of our fair province on the border with a bucket!"
The speaker was surrounded by half a dozen burly men armed with everything from clubs and swords to ancient-looking firearms. In the flickering light of the approaching fires, I could see that he was wearing a top hat like something out of the bootleg historical movies I'd watched during my citizenship tenure. It was obvious that he was mocking a speech given by some long-dead president of the Society, but he seemed no less serious for the levity—at least not based on the way that the unarmed people who'd been gathering in the street started moving toward the fire.
I was still too close to my insertion point; there was still too much risk that someone would think I was from the Society, but going against the flow of people would just make me stand out. I couldn't afford that, not if I wanted to survive.
I joined the stream of dirty, frightened people and it took no acting ability to appear just as worried as they all were. As we got to a rickety barricade in the street—a barricade that I had blown past by the simple expedient of running through one of the many holes at street level—some of the 'citizens' slowed as though thinking that they'd arrived at their destination, but a quartet of armed men rolled a section of the barricade back and waved everyone else through.
"Jenks is going to need our help to secure this block. As faithful citizens and honest neighbors, we will do exactly that."
"By secure you mean steal, don't you, Piter?"
The comment came from somewhere off to my left, but whoever had made the wisecrack was smart enough to have kept their head down. That didn't stop the guy in the top hat from frowning.
"Sedition is a serious crime, one that weakens us all against enemies inside the city and the ants who just finished bombing us. Anyone who can provide my men with information about who just said that will receive double rations for a week and an upgrade in their living accommodations."