Two days passed. On the two square miles in which the twenty-four ramshackle buildings of the Lakeshore Apartment Projects hunched and huddled darkly, all was quiet as a tomb. Fourteen-year-old Naith Threlt sat at his window, looking out and doing some hard thinking. He was in his bedroom in Building 18 of the Lakeshore Projects. The criminal quarantine was still in effect, but oddly, guardians were no longer storming through apartment after apartment. They continued to patrol in squads of eight , and had at least fifty officers stationed around the perimeter. But they no longer seemed to be questioning anyone.
Most of the residents were already starting to relax. They actually believed the Guardians were ready to give up due to everyone’s stubborn unity of defiance. Naith suspected the GF was probably just regrouping and formulating a different strategy than merely going door-to-door and arresting suspected Deathboys. They’d never even gotten to the Threlts’! Naith had to grin wryly at that; it was his own brother Yunto, after all, who’d led the gang that instigated the whole thing.
Yunto, though plenty brutal and vicious, was no mastermind. The enforcer named Fractar Roeh was the one who’d organized the event and kept everyone in line. And he was surely far and long gone. He didn’t live in Lakeshore anyway.
Theoretically, Naith could appreciate what had happened; he’d watched the action from this very window, in fact, but hadn’t felt like going down and participating—Yunto had smacked him for that. It was just that Naith abhorred violence. He did hate the Guardian Force, who were excessive in their war on crime. After all, Guardians killed as many criminals as all other kinds of killings on the planet combined. Naith felt, as most right-thinking people did, that the Guardian Force was at least as bad as the disease it had been created to cure. And they only seemed to get worse with time. The collateral damage and loss of peripheral life in their brutal reactions to crime grew every year. So, yes, Naith hated them.
Almost as much as he hated his brother.
On cue, Naith’s door crashed open and Yunto stomped in.
“What’s on your mind, little brother?” Yunto demanded.
“What?” Naith replied lamely, thrown by his brother’s sudden appearance.
“I heard you don’t approve of what we did last night,” Yunto said, looming over him with clenched fists.
Naith’s mind went into a whirl. What had Yunto heard? The only thing he’d said to anyone had been to his best friend Tala, and that was only that killing the girl on the street had been sad.
“Wait,” Naith began to protest, but Yunto’s fist flashed into his ear and he fell out of his chair.
“Your little girlfriend Tala came to me,” Yunto confirmed. “She got worried you were gonna give me up.”
“No,” Naith gasped.
Yunto kicked him in the ribs.
“I lost four of my crew!” Yunto screamed down at him. “And you’re crying over that stupid girl we wasted. Just some shopgirl. She was on borrowed time anyway. Stop crying over that waste!”
Yunto kicked him again and Naith was crying. Not over the dead girl, though.
“I’m not gonna give you up!” Naith protested. “I swear, Yunto. Tala and I were just talking. That’s all. I’m sorry!”
He was grabbed off the floor and yanked to his feet by his angry brother.
“I lost four!” Yunto repeated. “I paid in blood. It was worth it to see eight guardians get dusted, but I paid!”
“I know, I know! I swear I’m not gonna tell, Yunto! I hate the Guardians, too. I won’t give you up.”
Yunto punched Naith again, then dropped him back to the floor, throwing in another kick for good measure.
“I’ll kill you, little brother,” he promised. “You even talk about last night with anyone, I’ll kill you. If you’re even in the room with someone who brings it up in conversation, you shut your mouth and walk away. You got me?”
“Yes!” Naith cried.
“I’ll kill you, Naith. I swear. I don’t care who you are.”
“I’m not gonna give you up, Yunto. I’m not gonna give you up. I’m not.”
Yunto turned and left his terrorized little brother curled up on the floor.
• • •
The precinct commander of Craltor, the equivalent of a city police chief, had just finished the summary report from four days of quarantine at the Lakeshore Projects. No names of any actual leaders of the guardian ambush had been uncovered. Thirteen residents had been killed in skirmishes with guardians. Over a hundred arrests had been made. But not a soul admitted to either being a leader or knowing who was one. The commander felt like throwing his desk through the wall.
Suddenly, without ceremony, Craltor’s public commissioner entered his office. The commander jumped to his feet.
“Commissioner!” he exclaimed, betraying his surprise.
“Sit down, Commander,” the commissioner said, taking a seat in front of the commander’s desk. “I’m not officially here.”
“Of course, sir,” the commander quickly agreed, sitting back down.
Public Commissioner was the highest civilian position in the city bureaucracy, approximating the job of mayor. Nominally the preeminent authority, the Public Commissioner’s office was still subordinate to both military and guardian authorities, though not outranked by any one official in those services. In other words, the Public Commissioner enacted the will of the military and guardian forces while being granted the courtesy of being treated as an autonomous authority. As a matter of fact, it was a carefully maintained illusion that really fooled no citizen of Dargniion beyond the truly gullible. Everyone knew that Dargniion was under perpetual martial law imposed primarily by the Guardian Force.
“I understand the investigation at Lakeshore is a dead-end,” the commissioner opened.
“Afraid so. We’ve got no leads. The community’s tightened up. I’ve already pulled out investigators and just ordered patrols. Most of the guardians deployed on the site are just holding the perimeter.”
“That’s fine. We’ve got all we need from that place. We know who led the ambush on the ground. It was Fractar Roeh.”
The commander’s eyes widened.
“How do we know that?” he gasped.
“We know,” the commissioner replied simply.
“It makes sense,” the commander decided after a moment’s rumination. “My investigators certainly suspected his involvement. He runs the Deathboys, after all. We figured Roeh had his slimy hand in this incident. But we couldn’t convince a single soul to give him up.”
“Calm down, commander. Roeh’s not the man at the top. We have hopes that he may lead to the top, however.”
“We’ll place top priority on finding him and bringing him in alive–”
“He’s to be killed,” the commissioner interrupted.
The commander shook his head, confused.
“Killed?” he repeated. “But–”
“Killed,” the commissioner snapped. “But the lead investigator should be told to bring Roeh in. A partner can be assigned to your lead who will carry out the true mandate.”
“That sounds very convoluted to me, sir. If that’s the order, I’ll see to it, though.”
“We want a record that shows we tried to apprehend Roeh,” the commissioner elucidated. “So a very dedicated and clean investigator must lead on this. The backup we assign will also be killed. The lead is expendable, as long as the proper record is established.”
“So we don’t need Roeh to find the leaders at the top of this diabolical scheme?” the commander wondered. “Do you already know who they are?”
“We do,” affirmed the commissioner. “They will be dealt with at the proper time.”
“That’s all I need to know,” said the commander. He leaned back, satisfied. “Very good. Very good.” He sighed like a soothed cat.
“I am primarily here to give you your orders for what to do with Lakeshore,” the commissioner continued.
The commander came back to full attention.
“Oh, yes, sir. What about Lakeshore then?”
A small slip of paper appeared between the commissioner’s fingers. The commander took it and read the six, secret words upon it. As he glanced back up, the commissioner tipped him a sharp nod. Sighing once again with satisfaction, the commander slid the note into a slot on the edge of his desk where it was instantly vaporized.
“That’s very good, sir,” the commander finally remarked. “Very good.”
“Thought you’d approve,” said the commissioner with a thin smile. “It’s to happen tonight. The moment night falls.”
“One more thing on the Roeh matter. He’s probably already buried his head in the sand. It will not be easy to turn him up. Still, we’d like you to wait about a week before assigning the investigation. It’s possible he’ll be eliminated by the conspirators if he hasn’t been already. But we can’t wait long. As soon as the matter is assigned, we’ll want Roeh found quickly. Very quickly indeed. You will be notified exactly when to place the assignment.”
“I understand, sir,” said the commander to his superior’s departing back.
• • •
The guardians were unnaturally still today, Naith thought as darkness began to fall. I wonder if something’s happening tonight.
Naith had his scope trained on the nearest trio of guardians who were standing by the perimeter close to his building. He’d been at his bedroom window watching for most of the day.
Suddenly, as if signalled, the guardians began setting devices at roughly ten meter intervals around the edge of the projects. When triggered, golden walls of light shot up about two hundred feet in the air, well over the tops of the scattered apartment buildings. Jumping out of his chair, Naith moved his scope around all of the area. The light walls were on the perimeter of every section of Lakeshore that he could see. He had to assume the entire projects were now contained by them.
“Contained…” he murmured. “Those are containment walls!” Feeling sudden terror, Naith yelled out for his parents. “Mom! Dad!”
Moments later, Yunto burst in angrily.
“Where’s Mom and Dad?” asked Naith quickly.
“They’re at the neighbors’,” Yunto growled. “I’ve got a bunch of my crew over here tonight, so you’d better keep quiet in here or we’ll all come in next time and take turns beating on you.”
Naith disregarded this horrible and believable threat.
“Yunto, come here,” he insisted.
“Shut up, Naith. I’m not playing.”
“Out the window,” Naith said, pointing. “Look!”
Yunto, noticing a strange tone in his brother’s words, grudgingly came over and looked out the window. He gasped audibly at the sight of the golden walls of light.
Naith looked up at him. Yunto’s face looked as stricken as Naith felt his own must look. And a moment later, his hated brother wordlessly put an arm around Naith, the first tender gesture to pass between them since Naith was very small. Together, they watched and waited.
It wasn’t a long wait. At exactly 1217 hours, a lone warmech flew over the projects. Precisely over the center of Lakeshore, it ejected a small black box from its chest and continued on and out of the area. The containment walls finished sealing themselves then in the air over the projects, creating a dome which completely sealed off the zone. Right before touching the ground, the box detonated, incinerating the entire contained area in a split-second. Thousands of lives gone in an instant, most without knowing that the end had come for them. Living one second, dead the next.
…to be concluded