They were coming in, and it was well too late to stop them.
Always was, wasn’t it?
They swung their metal arms like pendulums, battering indiscriminately the doors, walls, windows. They were dull colossi: fifty-foot-high and steel plated; age-faded logos hammered into their armour. Bolts and bones: they only looked clumsy until they started moving: then a cocktail of strength and precision became the irresistible force — immovable objects fell down in their path.
And now us, Eric realised. Now us.
The ground thundered as the Levellers moved in.
The bones of the dead — or so everybody whispered — brutally awakened, wrapped up in reinforced steel; birthed at their core by the blackest black magic.
“Twelve. At least twelve.” Tania’s voice was trembling.
“And so they come,” Dianna stood in the doorway, her witch-eyes serenely boring into everything. She looked as if it had all been foretold, that she’d seen this moment coming exactly as it was now unfolding.
Arms like battering rams thudded one by one against the building, shaking it, bringing down dust and plaster, making the walls lurch and shudder. The Levellers worked with a soulless malevolence — one born from the patience of not thinking. Of not being. Their darkness lurking deep-deep-deep inside the metal.
It’s over. Eric’s mind couldn’t really let it in. It still seemed impossible. Unreasonable.
“They’re going to break it down!” Simon was pointing at the wall.
They would. And soon. Every sight and sound seemed brighter, sharper, deeper as Eric’s timeline shifted from years into minutes and seconds. Disbelief occupied his heart — even with the contrary evidence hammering its way through the walls. He fought for his sanity — barely won — turned his full attention on Simon: “Send a signal. If this base is compromised the others will be too.” His eyes snapped back at the towering machines: “They’ll find the co-ordinates.”
Eric grabbed him by his collar, shook him. “Send the fucking signal! We have to warn the other bases!”
“We might save some of them!” Maybe. And some truth along with them. Maybe.
Simon was a deer caught in headlights — his eyes told Eric: I don’t want to die. He no longer gave a fuck about the bases, about the cause, about anything except this looming, iron-suited death. But he was the only programmer still alive, the only one who could get a signal past the Levellers’ sensor sweeps.
Eric shook him harder. “Now! Simon, now! There’s nothing else we can do.”
The weedy little programmer gathered up some small kernel of courage — no mean feat in the face of what was happening. He slid into his seat and clicked in his chip.
“You two.” There was no chain of command here. These were amateurs. Raised from civilians into hardly more than civilians — ragged rebels fighting for survival — lovers of a lost cause. He had no authority beyond what the moment gave him – the vacuum that he filled by being the one to speak. So he said: “You two:” — he chose at random — “get the big guns firing. Silver bullets, okay? Aim for the joints, wherever it looks darkest.
“Tania, empty the shelves. Get everything.”
She was already doing it. “Wire us up big, right? Go out in bright colours — blow them to scrap?”
Good girl. Her head, at least, was level. He turned his attention back on Simon. “We need a signal.”
“Eric, I can’t!”
“They’re blocking us.”
“Punch through them.”
“I can’t!” His face was wet with tears.
Eric turned no faster than he had to, coming face to face with Dianna’s gleaming green eyes. “Can you do anything?”
“Pah!” she said. “Now you want the old ways! Now you have the time to listen.”
No time. None at all. “Can you do it?”
“As it happens: yes, I can.”
It was all too late. Even Tania’s explosion might not destroy the data completely. Foragers would find the scraps and threads, would weave them back into ones and zeros; Miners would carve out the secrets — it was probably too late to keep that from happening. A last warning then — at least let me get that much right.
Behind him the walls cracked and buckled.
Dianna crept down into the basement. Her cobwebbed refuge. Her dark place away from the modern world, from the world of computers and machines, of necromancers, of savage technocrats who’d given away too much of their humanity — this world that betrayed its people. She wished for a moment there might be time to mourn. She wished for a moment that she’d chosen another life, one that had never turned down the path of rebellion. A life that had her living comfortably a little while longer; watching while a dark breath came down across the world like a veil — but watching at least in a warm room, with good food in front of her, with music playing in the background, patterns dancing on the walls.
She knelt beside the chest, flickered her fingers over the lock-spells, and lifted out a bundle of rags. Inside the rags: a golden bird. It was cold and smooth to the touch — but she knew that for an illusion. Its fine covering of runes and age-old symbols: those were the truth of it. Dianna held the bird against her lips, she breathed her message into it. She could feel it come alive at her willing, she felt its wings soften, its body begin gently wriggling. It was imbued with all the purpose she could give it.
“Good luck,” she whispered, and raised it into the vent from which it would fly.
Rosalie Kempthorne has no idea what it takes to write a good Writer Profile, and all her previous attempts have so far come to nothing. She has much better luck writing stories. You can read more of her short stories on 365 Tomorrows, ABC Tales, Flash Frontier, or on her website: www.RosalieKempthorne.name.