Wounded Crow Publishing

Light of Gabriel

Penury City ~ Light of Gabriel

Prologue

~ Paul ~

The first time I saw the old man in this insufferable city, he was sitting atop the same rickety wooden stool with three uneven legs on which he is perched today. The stool bobbles from side to side and front to back on the broken, grayish concrete sidewalk in a way that seems to delight the eccentric fellow. The tiny throne, or his cathedra as he so fondly refers to it, was carried here by me, his assistant. From street corner to street corner, neighborhood to neighborhood, this three-legged relic has been brought in for this kind and warmhearted gent to speak to the people in the city’s streets. Near the bottom of the legs, where the sidewalk punched its time, marks of scuff wore thin the wooden spindles. However, for reasons that seem to defy the laws of physics, the legs did not splinter or crack and held firm through the tides of time.

I remember the first time I met him, as though it were yesterday. I had not been in town for very long nor had I been impressed in the slightest regard to anything I had seen. The city definitely had not lived up to its famous and illustrious legacy, but then again, how many things really do live up to our dream’s expectations? I had been expecting a golden city filled with riches and people dressed in fine linens. I expected to see families walking together through beautiful parks filled with luscious greenery on a summer’s afternoon. However, what I saw was a place with impoverished-looking people, broken down buildings, swirls of dust and dirt, and barely a blade of grass. In all, the place was a total disappointment. However, this was before I understood the meaning of it all, before I met my wonderful guide, who had the task of taking me throughout the city to explain its meaning and teach me The Way. How patient that wonderful woman was with me. Even through all of my arrogance and complaints, she stayed with me. It was her strong faith that saved me. All of this happened even before I met our speaker, il mio Papa, and it was before I met the…. But then, there I go again, getting far too ahead of myself. A storyteller I am not; I am more of a man of academia, of facts and science. The old gent is really the passionate storyteller.

I will say that never in all of my life had I lived in a place as poor or wretched as this undernourished hole in the Earth. It is a city that was and still is so impoverished that it does not even have a local government or governor or mayor. This somewhat fascinating city of hovels seems to just get by on its own without the need for such oversight. And yet, in spite of all its poverty and strain on the community, the people who scamper about this forgotten parcel of dirt are not in the least saddened by their fate. In fact quite the contrary, they almost seem unaware of anything beyond the black gates that lead to the outside world. They want nothing but to live day to day in their city. They barter each day for work with which to receive that day’s needs for themselves and their families. They are the residents of broken concrete and mortar dust, and find their entertainment and comfort in the lessons from what the locals call the Doctore, or the teacher. These lost city folks live a simplistic life, but it is an honest one. The surrounding area is full of ancient stone from buildings that should have long ago turned to dust; and some of them have done just that, becoming part of an easterly wind that has since carried them off to become grout for some new structure.

The layout of this land is divided into seven distinct subdivisions or cantons. This particular canton is called Scientia, which means knowledge. This is why the Doctore and I are here, to teach these residents about The Way. Il mio Papa would say that it is a great honor and responsibility to teach and before I utter one word to anyone I must not only know this knowledge myself, but live it daily. The other six cantons have unique names as well; however I will wait until we come to those places before revealing their names. Everything, Papa says, happens in proper order and in due time.

It’s a good job being the Doctore’s assistant. I follow him from place to place taking care of him and learning from him. He is a terrific teacher and mentor. Had he been my professor at the university I would have graduated in half the time and with a great deal more knowledge. His teachings instruct from within using incredibly thought provoking exercises that drive a person to meditate on who they are and why they exist. Anyway, he really doesn’t require much help and mostly insists upon doing everything himself even at his age. Another benefit of being his assistant is that I get to see my old friends, the ones who took the journey to the city with me. In fact, today we are setting up just outside the shop of a couple of people who I had the pleasure of getting to know on that excursion—Domingo and Sevita.

Their shop, called Dom’s, is here, behind me, just outside the alleyway near the corner of Faith Street and Francis Avenue, and at a meager fifteen feet wide, it struggles to look bigger than its girth, like a small boy reaching with all his might to touch the next height mark on the inside of a doorjamb. Taking into account the small backroom, its length was a scant twenty-five feet. What it lacks in available space it more than makes up for in hospitality and meticulously grown produce.

When I had walked up to the storefront, I noticed only one large glass window, which displayed the bargains of the day. A single wooden red door, opened invitingly to its fullest extent, welcomed me as I walked past the hand-painted “open” sign hanging from a crooked, rusty iron nail. I wanted to talk about the supplies I would need today with Domingo, a sturdy young man from the northern country. Domingo, who spends his days stocking and restocking shelves, seemed temporarily distracted by his wife Sevita’s comforting smile.

I met them along The Way as they made the journey with us into the city. For the most part, they were inseparable, which still appears to be the case. Domingo fell completely into her brown eyes, which are even more prominent now, the way she keeps her thick strands of blonde hair pulled up in a bun held in place with a metal clip. She prepares her enticing appled dough treats for the city’s children, who tend to eat them so quickly she often cannot keep up with the demand. The other products in the store seem to leave just as quickly as the treats. When I told Domingo I was setting up the storyteller outside his shop, he was delighted. Not only did it mean that there would be more business for the store, but he too enjoyed listening to the insightful teachings of the old gent.

Now, standing just a few feet from the store, I see he has moved to the open door, and is leaning against it, awaiting the beginning of the tale, as are we all.

Sevita’s voice rises from within. “I’m coming!” And there she is in the doorway, pulling the apron over her head and pulling at the strands of her hair that have fallen out of the clip, quickly pinning them in place before settling against the doorframe beside her husband.

“You made extra treats for them, didn’t you?” he asks with a grin as he put his arm around her waist.

“Just a few.”

“I’m sure the kids will appreciate it. Look at them; they’re really excited right now, and he hasn’t even started yet.”

The days when the teacher is in town are always special for those who come to enjoy his narratives. No one ever knows when he might show to tell his stories, but when he does arrive, he is seen as a giant in the community. He stands patiently with his thinning white hair curling gently at the sides of his head in a somewhat disheveled fashion watching the people of the city with his forgiving eyes that are surrounded by bushy, white eyebrows. With a friendly “hello” or a hearty handshake, he looks fondly on his flock. He has a very kind and understanding face, but at the same time it is a face that wears a serious expression full of concern and worry that the years have scored across it. At full height, when he is able to stand upright, the elderly gent measures only five-foot-seven inches. But leaning as he is against the corner of the store with his cathedra in place, he appears much shorter and yet full of wisdom despite his diminished size.

People begin to pour in all around him, filling up the alleyway and the street just in front of Dom’s market. Pushing, pulling, or dragging various sitting arrangements, they all come with their boxes, crates, cardboard, blankets, or whatever they can find to make themselves comfortable. They sit on the sidewalk in their tattered clothing or put together makeshift benches from planks of wood found in dumpsters from the back alley. The women hold tightly to their children as they sit by open windows in the buildings along Faith Street to listen. Somehow, the entire town became aware of his presence and mystically show for his street-side sermons. His podium is the morning dew, his spotlight the sun, and his microphone the gentle breeze that carries his voice to the people standing across Francis Avenue. The last of the night’s chill is driven from the air by the day’s light; thus the silent grips completed their tasks, once again setting up perfectly the “Grand Hall”.

What an absolutely peculiar gent he is with his tattered Jesuit garms all wrinkled with holes and rips throughout. One might think he has slept every night in the home of moths. Wearing a pair of what looked to be homemade sandals; his feet are colored with dirt and dust. The sandals have very thin leather soles in which enters and exits a leather strip as it encircles his foot. He ties his humble dirty-white robe across his rounded belly with a knotted rope that has an arrangement of clusters in a somewhat predictable pattern. The configuration has ten smaller knots in between larger knots, except at the one end there is just three smaller knots between two larger knots. I once thought it to be some sort of time keeper to remind him of the history he so elegantly spoke of during his stories. Some have said his commentary is the embellishment of a story that at some point was of historical importance. It is of no matter; that Jesuit with his magnificently smooth and calming voice really knows how to capture an audience. Even now, his melodic arrangements of poetic verse still captivate me….

~ Doctore ~

“My dear Domusi (people of my house), this legendary account is not for the weak of heart. Oh no, the message it brings is not watered down to make it palatable for the masses. It was inked to stand as record and handed down through generations of believers, its certainty gives to mankind what truth is said to offer—a momentary pause allowing one to think and to feel. Man’s intellect aspires to discover those ancient building blocks once used to create the universe and all things in it. The cosmic carpenter’s tools were left behind in the seas and in the sands of the Earth. The Divine builder entrusted this creative power to Man to discover over time and to wield them with honor and purity of heart. However, distrustful of Man’s predisposition for weakness and his thirst for power, He shredded those blueprints and tools into minute pieces then scattered them unequally throughout the universe so no one nation would find them and know their secrets. As an equalizer for the mind’s thirst for discovery and its lust for power, the Creator took a small piece of His own entity, and with it, constructed Man a heart to ensure balance. Its constant rhythmic beat keeps Man in tune to nature’s gifts; a pulsing metronome reminding him of the need for charity, integrity, honor, and love, driving its song through the veins of existence with the sounds of an effervescent brook. The balladic message is that mind and heart must be kept at equilibrium, else they consume one another in an epic battle over ownership of the soul.

Mankind’s perpetual dual between his head and heart is like two princes ruling over a small plot of land each seeking to inherit the empire. If the younger, the Prince of Intellect, defeats his older brother, the Prince of Sentiment, the northern prince will consume the body and drive out its very soul. Eventually this triumphant new king will wither through self-pride and arrogance into a pile of dust. However, if the southern prince is victorious over majestic discernment, this conquering but naïve royal will be led down darkened alleyways in pursuit of romantic whims without regard for truth. This lustful king, having gotten lost in murky passages, will be consumed by the very desires that led him there. If only the two princes would share equally in ownership of the kingdom, it could flourish with discovery and great cities might be built where magnificent art would don the subjects’ happiness, chefs might prepare exotic dishes that whet the appetite of the most finicky palate, and architects would design and construct cities unequalled in all the land.

Only, Man has had trouble in the past keeping his balance; often stumbling over his arrogance and pride as he struggled to share equally with his brother. One such instance of this dire effect of a throne not shared is twenty-first-century Earth, which became home to despair where there would be no consensus on a faith-based belief. Words of the ancient cosmic truth were abandoned altogether in favor of a secularist approach to the moral scheme. All evidence of God and His word, His teachings, the relics of saints, and the truth were removed or destroyed from public life. This new structure led to relativism where there was no right or wrong.  Existing was only what is and what was desired. The spread of this selfish mediocrity darkened more than the home from which it started. It became an epidemic cancer, grown from spores in the American capital, infecting all that came into contact with it. There was no passion, no care, no love or hate, no harm or foul, no good or evil, and all was dependent upon instant gratification. The once great kingdom of the Northern Continent that grew from European persecution of its subjects had forgotten its core faith. How wicked they had become in their ways, all in such a miniscule turn of the celestial clock. How tiny must have been their memories, for had they been but the size of a mustard seed, they could have remembered the story of their ancestors.

O malicious pendulum, your western liberal swipe to recklessness was often followed too quickly by an eastern conservative rave of callousness.  How is it you never knew enough to stay at center’s home, but instead grow weary from lack of stimulation and frantically swing about in search of drama? Why after completing your sway from the passionate and creative few of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did you not come home to rest? No, instead the anxious keeper began its shift backwards producing the weakened and desolate society of the twenty-first century. The history of their ancestors and the magnificent word that once gave men meaning and courage to seek out the path to their purposeful end had long been trampled underfoot, buried deep into the archaeological record. Most had forgotten all about the old ways. However, what has been forgotten, history begins to repeat, and the mistakes of Man come to know their place once again. Often becoming restless themselves; the gaffes of arrogance awaken to play their part in the nightmare, forging their participants a fearful and deadly recollection.”

~ Paul ~

And so the wise Doctore is off to a magnificent start while his audience settles in for the morning’s tale. As for me, I’m leaning against a broken street light eating half of a cantaloupe purchased from the fruit stand. From time to time, I find myself searching the crowds for my adored guide. This would have been just the kind of story that would have engaged her soul.

I am Paul by the way; Paul of Chicago. But that is neither here nor there. There will be plenty of time for introductions later, as there is still so very much to tell.

 

Chapter 2

Citizen’s Air Defense

 

~ Paul ~

I met Li’Quari not as a child, but as a young woman during my journey with Domingo and Sevita. She was quite poor and had lived a hard life. The unfortunate girl never seemed to catch a break. Somehow, Papa knew her story. To this day I have no idea how he does it, but he can read people as if their lives were playing out across their irises. He opens their hearts and reads their minds. Thinking back upon the story Papa had told me, it still saddens me how much pain that poor child had to endure right from the very beginning….

In an older part of St. Louis, a city displaced of its history, hid a building nearly falling down around its innards. It stood, barely, at the corner of Lewis and Dickson Street, wavering in strong winds that came from the Northlands. The stone-red building seemed to have more bricks missing than it did holding the structure together. Nearly all the windows had been shattered and the roof leaked rain water in various places throughout many of the interior rooms. However, there were still parts of the roof that were intact and held steadfastly, allowing a few dry areas to remain inside the industrial edifice. It had been these places that the self-proclaimed equalizers, better known as the rebel forces, commandeered their headquarters. The three round windows at the back of the building were port holes facing the sludgy, mud river, in which the rebels could test fly their homemade unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In the darkness of night, it gave the rebels some protection from being spotted while they maneuvered their crafts over the black water.

The Citizen’s Air Defense, or CAD, headquarters was right at the edge of the Mississippi River in St. Louis, which was considered part of the central United States. Of some importance, just across the river from this building, was Bloody Island, the infamous spot where duels were acted out when men could not resolve their differences in peace and instead chose to resolve them in death. Many men came to this island to prove their muster or defend themselves against the slanderous words of another. Mostly, men came to die, but there have been times when men survived their wounds and would get a second chance at life. In one instance, that same lucky pair of duelers came back a second time, too arrogant and proud to realize the gift they had been given. They tossed life to the wind and shot once more. This time, however, fate did not look so kindly on their decision amidst the rising gun smoke. In another incident, there had been a pair of foolish men who heralded that the duel was to be held five feet from one another. Both men shot and killed one another in a senseless act that resulted in two dead participants. Such seems to be the landscape of Man; mistrust and hot tempers encourage foolish and senseless acts of violence. History has proven time and again that violence only brings more mistrust and worse acts of violence.

At the dawn of 2033 AD, in a rarely found dry room, stood what served as a long table—a  sheet of plywood lying across two large garbage cans. Upon the surface were strewn small tools, electronic components, wires, and several dried silver-solder splashes that resembled some type of deformed butterflies. To the right of those stood two electronic test units, a digital multi-meter, and an oscilloscope all which were in easy grabbing distance of Trevor, who diligently worked with the tools and the tiny parts despite the stoutness of his fingers. His eyes, though somewhat awkwardly placed close together, strained to see the electronic components through his thick glasses, which in the most annoying manner would slide continuously down his Roman nose. This was due in part to the humidity in the room and in part to the perspiration that accumulated excessively on his face.

Barnus was busily performing his own surgery at another table. Without taking his focus off of a tiny integrated circuit (IC) chip, he plucked a small pair of needle-nose pliers from the tabletop and carefully maneuvered the IC into place. His tall stool rocked slightly as he leaned forward, but he braced himself, one foot on the stool’s footrest and the other stretched out on the floor directly in front of it, and continued to concentrate intently on lining up the pins of the chip. As Barnus lowered it with steady hands into the socket, he was startled and jerked the chip away from its desired position.

“Barnus, we’re out of AD9-9383 drivers again!” Trevor swiveled around and rolled out several feet from the bench to glare at Barnus.

Annoyed that Trevor couldn’t have waited ten more seconds, Barnus leaned his six-foot frame back from the dilapidated countertop, he gnawed at the side of his left index finger while puzzling over the distance between the antennae trace and the five volt power trace before responding without looking up. “There are a couple of bags of parts in my desk that I lifted from the junkyard. Most of those old cars used the Northstar system, which had similar drivers. They’re old and not very efficient, but they get the job done. They’re just a little slower in processing time.” With his left thumbnail, he scraped at the loose skin from a callous on the outside of his index finger, a casualty from constantly gripping small hand tools a little too tightly, but it seemed to help steady his hands while placing the smaller components into position.  “Use a couple of CAC-213 iso-caps in parallel to level out the voltage.”

“Right, yeah, I can do that.” Trevor forced himself up from the comforts of his castered chair and marched across the floor with the sound of a team of driven oxen pulling their cart up a steep hill. Pausing at the desk, he pushed several strands of his thinning bronze hair away from his eyes as his mouth struggled to form a question.

Barnus sensed the question floating between them. “Yes, you should ground yourself on the static discharge mat so as not to short them out,” he said, and continued with his task. With his right hand working the pliers, he held the processor chip tightly and lowered it into the socket. Lining up the pins of the chip with the holes in the socket, he extended his left index finger and eased it into place. He then relaxed his grip and removed the pliers. “Ah, there she is, all tucked in nice and secure.”

As Barnus admired his work, Trevor searched the desk for the treasured parts. He tugged open the swollen drawer on the top left, shuffled a few papers and cartons around, and shoved it closed again, and then searched the three drawers below, but to no avail. In the last one, six-inches deep in well-labeled bags, he found the components. The drawer, however, seemed to have been booby trapped. It slid out too far and crashed to the floor. The bag in question had opened during the incident and parts spewed across the floor. Trevor, annoyed at having to get down on one knee, called out in pain as he knelt on a component. It cracked under the weight. He began picking up the parts and setting them on top of the desk. After gathering up his supplies, including the cracked part, he stood up again and hovered over the top of the desk. Spreading out the various bits, he started picking out the needed drivers. There were ten of them altogether from both bags. Well, actually there had been eleven counting the one he destroyed by kneeling on it. He put them into a separate pile on the desk and gathered the remaining spare parts into bags that he stuffed back into the drawer.

At his workbench, Trevor began to solder the drivers into the printed circuit boards.

Barnus was just giving his work a last speculative examination. “Find what you need?”

“Yeah, I got ten of ‘em. I can put ten more weapon boards together. That’ll be enough for these units, and we can test flight them tonight.”

“Ten? I thought we had eleven drivers left?”

“I, uh, dropped the bag of parts and accidently knelt on one of the drivers. The pins broke through the casing.”

Barnus looked at him with great contempt. He shook his head in disbelief. “Trevor, you know how hard these parts are to come by and what danger I put myself in just searching for them. How could you…it’s not like I can steal the GIT’s conductive polymer resin and start feeding it into the 3d printer to make my own boards you know!” He screamed out waving his arm towards the corner of the room where the 3D printer stood covered in dust and cobwebs.

Trevor lowered his head. Standing slightly slumped over and in his docile way stared at the cracks in the concrete floor as he took the admonishment being dealt out to him.

Barnus felt bad for him and pulled back his anger. “All right, what’s done is done. Don’t worry about it. We’ll find some more on our next excursion. How many do we have left?”

“I can put ten more weapon boards together. That’ll be enough for these units, and we can flight test them tonight.”

“Okay, remember no more than eight minutes. We can’t afford to lose any more flyers to patrols. Especially these units. It’s getting harder to find weapon parts that are still functioning. Fly one at a time let’s not get careless. Soon we’ll make history as we can stop playing defense and start playing a little offense. I’m tired of getting our butts kicked all over the city by those arrogant thugs.”

“Yeah, we got it. Why don’t you take off and go home. I’m sure Isabella is wondering where you are by now.”

“All right, Trev. Stay under cover.”

Barnus made his way to the backdoor of the factory carefully avoiding the puddles of standing water. Looking up at the surveillance monitor that took in video feeds from around the outside of the building, he checked for any movement or patrols. After seeing that all was clear, he cracked the door just enough to sneak through and then quickly shut it behind him.

He travelled along a grayish-white serpent of concrete blockades that had once been a breaker against the Mississippi River. The large, broken wall had taken quite the beating from its rival, but in the end neither of them emerged the victor. The mighty majestic waterway had been reduced to barely a small creek for quite some time. The massive concrete structure had been withered and broken down piece by piece via the harsh elements brought down from the northern territory.

Using the break as camouflage, Barnus made his way through the darkness until he reached his neighborgate; a small enclosed housing community where he and Isabella lived.

In these turbulent times, as most of the metropolitan areas became increasingly violent, many of the communities had taken it upon themselves to provide their own security measures. Gated communities became more and more prevalent in the most affluent areas of the city. These lavish green botanical gardens had twelve foot concrete walls built around them to discourage outsiders from entering unannounced. If that alone didn’t ward off trespassers, the top of the wall had been furnished with embedded explosive caps. Anything that brushed across these caps would set off the small charges, which became an effective deterrent for not only the criminal element, but also for any squirrels, birds, or various other creatures that belonged to nature’s ignorant habitat. In addition to the community’s physical structure being reinforced, sophisticated alarm systems were put into place, hired guards performed twenty-four hour armed patrols, and no one was allowed entry unless proper identification was presented.

While these city fortresses appeared quite intimidating to the outside world, the inside of these gardens were quite beautiful. The perimeter concrete wall was painted green with Parthenocissus Tricuspidata, known to commoners as Boston Ivy. Various maple, oak, willow, and evergreen trees dotted the inside of the neighborhood. Fountains were fed by small manmade creeks and whatever wildlife managed to breech the security wall found a haven worth the risky effort. The beautiful park also featured paths for walking and park benches where the residents could sit in the sun and watch their children play. Though these secured and luxurious environments were available for the upper class families that could afford them, the middle class communities often were not so blessed. However, they too saw the need for providing a more secure neighborhood for their families.

The not-so-well-to-do people of the lower and middle class also began to build their own version of a secured community. With a strong iron fence dug in around the perimeter of these neighborhoods, a whole new level of segregation began to culminate in the city. The tops of these iron monstrosities were sharpened to a razor’s edge, thus discouraging anyone from attempting to climb over them. The gates were fitted with electronic entry systems that allowed only the local residents access. While they were not as secure as their more affluent counterparts, they did provide a level of protection that discouraged most of the amateur thugs and thieves. As more and more citizens became fearful of their fellow man, these neighborgates became more common throughout the city. The once great societies of old that had been a melting pot of all people where different cultures and knowledge blended together for the betterment of mankind now became an environment of suspicion and locked gates.

Moving his digital key across the lighted scan beam, Barnus unlocked the security gate; the only thing he actually liked about living in this neighborhood. He hated the three-story bungalow-style flats that were typical of the buildings in the area. Each with a basement, first floor, and second floor apartment, the ugly and impulsive reddish-brown brick made up most of the nearly one-hundred-seventy year old structure, except near its foundation, where wide, white river stone was used for fortification. After ensuring the gate closed, he darted up the wooden steps to his flat, taking them two at a time.

“It’s nearly ten-thirty. Must you always be so late?” Isabella asked as he came in through the back door.

“We were getting the last of the flyers together.” He dropped his knapsack on the floor by the coat hooks and went into the kitchen.

She followed him, still dressed in the light-blue polka dot sundress she’d favored. Though it was somewhat out of style, he didn’t mind. Clothing options were not a priority, and if anyone could make outmoded fashion dazzle, it was her. Even barefoot as she was, she held herself with the grace of royalty. It was a trait that first attracted him to her. He never ceased to wonder how she’d fallen for a techie lunk like him.

“There’s stew on a plate ready. You just need to regenerate it.”

“Great. I’m starving.” He pushed the plate into the regenerator and selected the reheat option.

“I thought you were going to be home early tonight?”

“I’m sorry, Bella. I finally got the weapon’s boards together. We’re testing them tonight.”

“I don’t like it, Barnus. It’s not right. Two wrongs never make a right. You shouldn’t do it.” She turned away as if she didn’t even want to know him.

“Look, it’s not like we’re using them on people. We’re just going to use them to defend our UAVs against the thug units. We need to keep our neighborgates safe. If we can’t defend it, then how are we going to stay living here?”

Isabella turned back around and looked frightfully at him. “Let’s just leave. Let’s go to the country. I don’t feel safe here anymore.”

“There are no jobs in the country. All the money is here in the city. Unfortunately, that’s also why all the crime and cop attacks are here too. The police can’t tell who is good and who is bad anymore, so they shoot at anything that moves from their safety zones. We have to defend this place. There’s no one else to do it.”

“Violence will just breed more violence. History tells us this is true. Someone has to stop it.”

“And who would that be? Who is going to stop it, Bella? His fists were clenched and his knuckles turned white. “You can’t stop it by pretending it doesn’t exist. We need to fight for our homes and neighborgates; otherwise, they’ll eventually just kill us all.”

“I can’t talk to you when you’re like this. As I said before, history has shown us that violence will just get you more violence. I’m going to bed.”

She kissed him on the cheek and walked off towards the bedroom. Barnus finished his dinner and tossed his plate into the sink. Leaning over the basin with his hands on the counter, he shook his head in dismay over his quarrel with Bella. She had a point to be sure, but a man has got to make a stand at some point in his life. What is the point in continuing to run? Lifting his head up, he stared out the kitchen window across the city. He could see the small moving lights in the night sky. The Police UAVs were patrolling the bad neighborhoods and high criminal activity areas.

“It’s just a matter of time before they get here, too,” he said aloud. After rinsing his plate, he left the kitchen, but not before turning out the lights.

Three years had gone by since the Citizen’s Air Defense upgraded its AOV machines to become more of an attack device that had differed from its predecessor model, which strictly operated in a monitor and defend mode. With a weapon’s grade AOV in the hands of the citizen’s rebellion, the AOV wars escalated. The police had lost a great deal of units and money to the rebellious forces. The city became an even more dangerous place, especially in the evenings, when most of the attacks took place. Missilets, or gas-propelled projectiles, as well as bullets, and lasers flew through the air lighting up the skies. They often missed their targets and hit buildings, homes, and various vehicles. There was an incredible amount of damage to personal and business property as a direct result of these combat missions.

Later in that same year, 2036 AD, Isabella was at the medical clinic delivering their first child. Barnus was sitting beside the bed holding her hand as she was going through the pains of labor. She had dilated to ten centimeters and she was ready to deliver, so the digital nurse notified the doctor.

“Oh, my heavenly stars. I’ve never felt so much pain in my life!” she called out.

“Just grip my hand tight; you’re almost there,” Barnus said.

“I’ve changed my mind. I want the drugs.”

“You know that’s not possible. They would do more harm than good. The baby’s heart rate is already fast and the drugs would just exacerbate that condition.”

“I know, I know. A girl can wish can’t she?” She stuck her tongue out at him before her face contorted in pain and she clenched Barnus’s hand tightly.

A few minutes later, the young, halved-buzz cut doctor came into the room staring at the m-pad on his forearm. After momentarily looking up at Isabella, he went back to his m-pad to view all the statistics from the room’s monitoring devices and cleared his throat several times, as if he were about to break out in an Italian operetta.

“So, we’re ready to go, yes? The contractions are every couple of minutes, yes?”

“I don’t know if I’m ready, but this kid sure is ready to make an entrance. She’s been pounding her fists at the curtains for the past three weeks! And doctor, if ooooohhhhh owwwwwwww!”

“Good, good. I think we’re ready right now. I will just put on these gloves and be ready to catch ‘em.”

“Her! It’s a her, doctor,” Isabella called out.

“Yes, yes. That’s what I said, ‘em.”

Isabella turned her head and looked directly at Barnus with a somewhat angered and disgusted expression. Her face was flushed red, her lips chapped with dryness, and her bangs that normally swayed to and fro stuck to the perspiration on her forehead. She gripped his hand hard.

“It’ll be all right. Are you having another contraction?”

“No, but there’s a neck here I’d like to squeeze in a very harsh way,” she said glaring at the doctor out of the corner of her eye.

Barnus’ eyes wrinkled at the edges and he pressed his lips together as he tried not to break out in laughter.

“Okay, okay. I can see the head. Give me a push. Remember to breathe. Push, push.”

Isabella bore down and pushed hard.

“Yes, yes, that’s it. I have the head. Okay. No pushing. Wait, wait.”

“Is there a shrapping echo in here?” Isabella asked Barnus.

Barnus grinned broadly and kissed the outside of her hand.

“Yes, yes, now push. Push hard. And breathe, breathe,” the doctor called out.

A few moments later a baby girl was born. The doctor raised her up to the digital nurse who suctioned out her mouth and nose and cleaned her up. After fitting a little pink cap on her head and wrapping her in a warm cloth, she was given back to Isabella, who placed the child on her chest.

“Oh, look at her! She’s beautiful and so very adorable,” Isabella said, as she caressed the side of her baby’s face with her index finger.

“She is beautiful, Bella, just like her mother,” Barnus added and leaned over Isabella, kissing her on the forehead.

“Well, hello little one. Hello, my little Li’Quari.” Isabella gazed at her daughter and wondered how someone who had caused her so much pain could instantly take her heart. She snuggled in close to her and pressed her cheek against Li’Quari’s cheek. “We are so blessed to have her, Barnus,” she said and closed her eyes.

“She should rest now,” the doctor said. “I’ll be back in a little while to check on her.”

“Okay, thank you,” Barnus replied. He turned back and stared at the two of them; so beautiful and innocent they both were just lying there together happily, safe in the hospital room. Turning towards the windows, he stared out into the city. He saw the UAVs flying over the city streets patrolling the neighborhoods, ready to pounce on anything that looked suspicious. How could he possibly keep his family safe from all of the danger out in the world today? How could he protect them? What about his own involvement in the underground Citizen’s Air Defense group? Surely, he could only keep that a secret for so long before they eventually found him out. He had absolutely no problem putting his own life in danger. He had the resolve to do so for the betterment of the neighborgates. However, putting these two beautiful people in danger was a risk he was unwilling to take. He didn’t know how else he could protect them either. There were no simple answers. Perhaps Bella was right and they should just move out of the city and away from the threats. They could move into the country where there weren’t countless UAVs dotting the skies.

His mind raced with thoughts and he struggled to come up with a solution that would keep his family safe in a world that was run by indifference and remote control. The human heart had been removed from the decision-making process. Society had turned life into some kind of digital game where the players often confused gaming concepts with real life and real people. If the game wasn’t going well, they simply hit the reset button.

Eventually, the UAV worries and Barnus’ thoughts on the inhumane world blurred away as their lives had been reset since welcoming their new daughter. His focus had now shifted to something much more precious to him. They brought Li’Quari home to their flat in the city where they loved her and tended to her every need. As the months passed, Barnus softened. He became less concerned with the estranged world outside of his life and more involved with his inside world. Their new daughter melted his heart whenever she looked at him with her soft eyes. He spent less time at the CAD building and didn’t seem to have the need to go out quite as often on his late night scavenger hunts for electronic parts. Staying at home with Isabella and Li’Quari was increasingly more satisfying to him than skiving around for parts in old General Motors vehicles.

It wasn’t until she turned five years old in the year 2041 AD that the question of moving out of the city came up again. Li’Quari was coming of age, and they refused to subject her to the treacherous city schools. They could use the online schools, but that lacked social interaction.  There were no children in their small neighborgate, which would mean that they would have to visit other communities to have her play and interact with others. With the UAV wars getting worse in the city, it was an unacceptable risk commuting from neighborgate to neighborgate in search of friends for little Li’.

Barnus could only see one option. “We will move out in the fall, right before Li’Quari starts school. We need to save a little more money before we quit our jobs. The savings will have to last us a long time, Bella.”

“Let’s just leave now, Barnus. We have enough. We can live modestly. I don’t have a good feeling about staying here any longer than we already have. Let’s just go,” Isabella pleaded.

Barnus couldn’t resist her entrancing stare from behind her dark brown eyes nor the humbleness of her slightly tousled hair. Li’Quari, clung to her mother’s skirt with one hand and onto her small blanket with the other hand, and looked up at him with large, innocent eyes. Barnus sighed. “Okay, we’ll leave tomorrow. I’ll tell the guys tonight is my last night.”

Isabella threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. Li’Quari, seeing her mother so happy, did the same and hugged his leg so hard he nearly lost his balance.

“Thank you! We’ll be fine, you’ll see. It’s all going to work out just fine,” she sung out.

When evening came, Barnus went to the small, red brick building that sat just alongside the river, to turn his leadership role over to Trevor Marcois. Trevor had been with him since the beginning and knew how to scavenge for parts, how to put the UAVs together, and was a good electronics engineer. Barnus knew he could trust Trevor to carry on the cause and make good decisions.

Trevor paled at Barnus’s announcement. “Are you sure? I mean I totally understand especially with Li’Quari now and everything. But are you sure about this?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Every night that I come here it frightens me to death that I’m going to be found out and put my family in harm’s way. I couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to them. I’ve done all I can do here and it’s up to you to take it wherever you decide to go with it.”

“It’s not going to be the same around here without you. Who’s going to have that sixth sense for finding those scarce AD9-9383 drivers?” Trevor smirked.

Barnus grinned. “It’s not really that hard. You just have to follow the oil trails from those old Cadillacs.” Barnus moved closer and held out his hand. “Be careful, man. Keep your head up.”

Trevor shook his hand and hugged him. “Take care of that family, Barnus. Good luck.”

Back at the flat, Isabella was tucking Li’Quari into bed. “Okay, little one, it’s time for you to go to bed. We’re going to be leaving tomorrow for the country. It will be a real adventure.”

“Really? We’re leaving home?”

“Yes, really.”

“But I don’t want to leave our home. Where will we go?” asked Li’Quari.

“We will find a place that is much safer and more beautiful than here in the city.”

With watery eyes and a worn baby blanket clenched in hand, Li’Quari sat up instantly. “But it’s not safe leaving the house. You told me it wasn’t safe and not to go outside.”

“I know I did, but it’s time for us to leave here now. And I have a little present for you.” Isabella took a card out of her sundress pocket and handed it to Li’Quari. “I believe you are old enough now to keep a secret. This will keep you safe no matter where you go.”

Li’Quari’s face lit up and she took the card from her mother and looked at it. “Mommy, who are they in the picture?”

“It’s God, sweetheart, and his son Jesus. He will always be there to keep you safe. He has great power and can do many things. I waited to show you until you were old enough to understand. The world outside doesn’t like God. We must keep this our secret.”

“Why don’t they like him?”

“People have a hard time believing what they cannot see or explain. And they don’t want to give up their bad ways.” Isabella lifted Li’Quari’s legs and pulled back the cover from underneath them. “Okay now, get under the blanket and get some sleep. We’ll be up early tomorrow.” Isabella bent down and kissed her.

“Good night, Mommy.”

“Good night, honey. I love you.” Isabella left her room and turned on the small light in the hallway.

Barnus was on his way home following the concrete wall along the river when he suddenly stopped in his tracks. Did I check the monitors before I left? He looked around the night sky to see if there were any UAVs around. He saw nothing and continued to walk home, however he took a different route and walked a few blocks out of the way just to be sure. I can’t believe I forgot to check the monitors before I left the building. It’s a good thing I’m getting out of this business. I’m getting careless. He was relieved to see his neighborgate community and was excited about leaving the city and getting a fresh start with Isabella and Li’Quari in the country. Spending far too long at the CAD, his nerves were shot and he felt as though he hadn’t slept in five years. It would be a great relief to just be a normal family.

After entering the gate, he bounded up the stairs and into his flat. Isabella was waiting for him in the living room, her face bright with anticipation.

He went directly to her, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her. “Well, that’s it. We’re free! Tomorrow, we leave for the country.”

“I’m so happy! I’m not going to sleep a wink all night. I’m too excited. It will be so good for us to get out of this city.”

“I can’t believe how relieved I feel just not having to be so tense all the time. It was really taking a toll on me. I think I’m just as excited as you are, Bella! What if we go into the….” He stopped suddenly and directed Isabella to his side as he shifted a couple of steps towards the front door.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” she cried out.

Barnus stared at the doorway of the flat and saw a shadow move across the crack underneath the door. He went to the kitchen window and threw open the curtains. Four UAVs were right outside the window. “No!” he cried out.

He started back towards the living room when a loud explosion came from the entryway. He flew into the room and saw that the front door was off its hinges and lay beside the sofa.

Two unmanned patrol vehicles rolled through the doorway belting out orders, “Stay where you are. Don’t move!” These vehicles were somewhat small in size. Weighing about forty pounds, they stood about eight inches from the ground so they could easily maneuver under things. They were nearly fourteen inches wide by twenty-two inches in length. Equipped with a caterpillar track, like on a military tank, they could move over any surface. They were fully armed and completely remote controlled. It was death by radio signals.

“Isabella, no!” Barnus called out through the smoke.

She had already turned and was heading towards Li’Quari’s bedroom when shots rang out from the UPVs. They hit her in the back and legs and she tumbled to the ground motionless. Barnus ran to her and dropped to the ground beside her. He turned her over and held her in his arms. Her eyes were open and motionless. Blood ran over his hands from where he held her around the back and neck.

“Bella! No! I’m so sorry, Bella!” he screamed out.

“Stay where you are and don’t move,” called out the UPV.

Barnus’ eyes turned wild with hate and anger. His irises grew large and the black pupils shrank to a fraction of their normal size. Every muscle in his body tensed and contracted with emotional rage. The blood boiled inside his veins with such force that he became desensitized to all that was around him. His hardened heart stalled and darkened with blackness. He became the “machine”, the very same machine he had despised and fought against. Barnus had now joined their ranks. The device had just one single purpose: to destroy. Time had ended for him, and sound no longer traveled. There was only a deadened silence in a thick fog of smoke and flame. His vision became so narrowly focused that it was as if he had only a pinhole allowing in what little light remained in the world. With one motion he let go of Isabella, the only conduit that had recharged his field of benevolent capacitance, and kicked out his left foot to strike the UPV, turning it on its side. Then reaching out, he picked it up and held it away from his body. It was spraying bullets at the ceiling and walls when he ran to the window and thrust it out into the night where it struck one of the flying UAVs. They both blew up in a fiery cloud of orange, red, and yellow. He felt the shock of the sound wave, but he heard nothing except the dull hum of violence. He felt neither pain nor pleasure in his actions. He was completely numb and didn’t stay to watch his small victory as it fell from the sky, hitting another UAV flying just below it. It, too, burst into a fireball.

The second UPV rushed in from the living room and showered the area with bullets and missilets. Barnus dove into the kitchen, tucked his head under, and rounded his shoulders as he hit the floor. He pushed himself into a somersault, rolled out of it, and came back to his feet all in one motion. After grabbing the iron pipe from behind the pantry door, he exited the kitchen from the other doorway. The UPV turned left into the kitchen and started a second attack with a stream of bullets and missilets that exploded through cabinets, tore through appliances, shattered glass, and left the entire room in smoke and fire. Dishes fell to the ground. Pipes had burst and water was spraying from the sink. So many rounds of ammunition were fired into the walls that they tore away from the ceiling and fell to the ground. The UPV stopped to survey the damage while waiting for the smoke to dissipate. A bright beam of light came on and scanned the area. However, the light was merely reflected back as it tried unsuccessfully to penetrate the thick, dark smoke. By this time, Barnus had come in from behind with the pipe raised above his head. He came down hard on the UPV and took out the video and communication devices. He then picked up the disabled vehicle with his left hand and heaved it out the kitchen window right through the glass. With the electronics smashed, it fell to the ground helplessly and blew up upon striking the pavement below.

After turning away from the broken glass, he started for Li’Quari’s bedroom, determined to get her out of harm’s way. A UAV crashed through the alley-facing window spraying rounds of bullets into the apartment from behind him. The hot metal slugs pierced his body entering through his back and head. Silence engulfed him as a red darkness dripped across his eyes. He had no thoughts or feelings. Everything seemed to just stand still in some dark fold of an empty void. He took several more steps before dropping to the ground in a pool of blood just a few feet from Isabella.

“Secure the flat. Foot patrol is en route. Suspects are down. Repeat, suspects are down.”

 

~ Paul ~

When Papa told me about Li’Quari, my heart just sank and my legs felt weak as if they would give out. I know what it means to lose a parent at a young age. The pain is something I have always carried with me; the devastating experience defined me in ways I couldn’t even comprehend until much later in life. I don’t know how the Doctore reads a person’s history, as he wasn’t there when any of this happened, but somehow he knows and can recall it in great detail. After waking up on a thin mattress in the corner of a dirty state ward, little Li’Quari was forever damaged as well. However, she did have a thread of hope – a single remnant from her mother that she would always treasure and that would eventually come to save her. She kept her holy card close to her heart.

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