The future is already here. Just not evenly distributed.
Resistance Archives 2
Jac eased silently through the trees, her rabbit-pelt hunting jacket perfect camouflage among the soft charcoals and browns of trailing lichens. A stray shaft of sunlight glowed brief flashes of gold on chestnut hair before fading once more into the shadows, leaving a faint echo of agile movements against the dappled forest.
She activated the tiny neuro-implant at the back of her skull and paused to let the heightened awareness come into sharp focus on the pulse of life around her. The rhythm of it hummed through her body like a song, so many strands of life-web flowing through the shifting leaf-patterns; shapes for her eyes, taste on her lips, secrets of medicine plants, food plants, animal prey…
A long slow breath held her body still, exploring a new cadence in the information-song. Searching for the source, she followed the waveform to fresh spring shoots of woundwort, bright against the moss. Six full stems dropped into the herb-bag at her belt.
Don’t lose the second thread…
This one, animal that would feed them all that night.
Jac sensed rabbit before she saw it, a smudge of grey-fawn in the fresh grass of the clearing. She paused again to nock an arrow, draw her bow, check focus and aim…
Release. She ran forward, knelt to withdraw the arrow and gave a moment of silent thanks to the creature for giving them food. Two on her belt now.
Enough. Time to get home.
The twisting paths through the leaf-litter were easy to follow, etched sharp in her mind. On the edge of the wide clearing that encircled the farm she stopped, enjoying one last quiet moment to take in the solid red-sandstone farmhouse with its barn set at right angles. The open space between the buildings basked warm in yellow afternoon sunlight, the great oak at its heart casting a pool of shade on the heavy wooden table and four chairs set beneath.
Everything in place, in good repair. Maybe even a full harvest and enough food for all of us this year, if the worst of the storms hold off…
That last word whispered in her mind even as she wondered why she needed to keep reminding herself how much she loved this place, reminding herself that the restlessness would pass as it always did, even if it seemed to return a little sooner each time.
Six people from her adopted family were here, weeding spring vegetables at the edge of the clearing. They wore the same hemp-drab Outlander work shirt and jeans as her own, minus the grey hunting jacket and the bow and quiver at her back.
Jac knew they risked discovery by spy-drones or ground patrols with the crop so close to the house, but everyone in their Outland community was already working every daylight hour coaxing food from the forest. Hail, floods and droughts often took out half the food they planted and it was hard to find the time or calories to cut a new clearing where it needed to be, hidden deeper in the trees. Further away from the road. Planting directly under the tree-shade had only proved that food crops never grow well without sunlight.
Arianne looked up from her work and waved as Jac walked into the clearing. The young southerner straightened her back, pushing aside her long dark braid with a muddy hand that left a black smudge across her face. She looked younger than her twenty years, mainly through the sense of mischief she had never quite outgrown, in spite of the hard work of a clandestine life in the forest. The others looked round at her shout of welcome. They instantly spotted the rabbits and a ragged cheer of congratulation echoed across the clearing.
Jac smiled. She could see Arianne already describing the culinary wizardry in store for the catch before they were even skinned. They would eat well these next two days.
A high-pitched whine erupted from the black digital-alarm strapped to Jac’s wrist. She glanced anxiously at Matthias, Arianne’s father. Yes, his wrist alarm was screaming too…
“Spy-drone!” Matthias’ warning shout was hardly necessary. Everyone was already reacting to the harsh alarm, grabbing camouflage nets and expertly dragging them over the fragile new leaves. Jac ducked into the house with her illicit catch and watched from the doorway.
Matthias and Arianne sprinted across to the barn and scrambled up the fixed ladder onto the roof, working together with the ease of long practice to pull the sheet of brown canvas over the solar generators before diving for cover under the rough wooden shelter on the edge of the roof.
The last shadowy figure scuttled out of sight under the trees as the pigeon-sized drone glided above them, its tapered wings dark against the sky and its red navigation lights blinking. The camera rotated, scanning the area, a sinister warning of activities recorded, reported, noticed. Jac held her breath and waited. When Fischers from the next Outland holding had been drone-spotted five years earlier they said the thing made a second circuit when its program registered illicit food-production.
No hesitations or detours. Another day safe.
She could feel everyone’s relief drifting through the air like a soft sigh. Relaxing, she slipped the grey hunting jacket from her shoulders as people cautiously emerged from the trees and painstakingly lifted and rolled the nets.
Matthias yelled a second warning from his perch on the barn roof.
Two heavy-plated black police-military transporters crashed through the young trees flanking the rough farm track, smashing and splintering everything in their path. Jac had seen the things a few times before on the roads but this was the first time they had held her frozen with fear in line of a direct attack.
Three times bigger than Outlander jeeps, the sheer weight of the snub-fronted monsters chewed up the crumbling forest roads which Outlanders then had to repair. Her habitual resentment at so much extra work turned to sheer terror as the transporters screeched to a halt, disgorging a dozen armed men in blue-black chem-resist body-shielding.
Three of the bulky figures hefted heavy backpack-guns that hissed nastily as they vomited orange spray over the food-crop. The role of the rest of the crew seemed to be crude intimidation, shoving workers aside and using their heavy assault rifles as clubs on anyone foolish enough to resist.
Jac watched four people go down with bloody faces. She was no fighter, but the nurturing instinct that had drawn her to train as a medic urged her forward, recklessly ignoring the insanity of challenging the overwhelming odds.
A firm grip on her arm held her back. Heavy farm work had left its mark on her grandfather, his sinewy strength still greater than her own despite his eighty years.
“Jac, what did I tell you about sanitizer patrols? Don’t resist! It only makes it worse.”
She struggled to break free.
“Gramps no! They’ll kill everyone!”
“Not if we act like we’re defeated. They feed off their commission on the fines––or else from the bounty payments for every citizen they sanction into debt-slavery. Dead people don’t pay––”
“Matthias!” Jac tried to pull away again, watching helplessly as Matthias scrambled down from the roof and threw himself into the melee. His efforts to protect two of the women who had been bold and foolish enough to defy the attackers failed in seconds as the invaders instantly turned on him, aiming their heavy blows at his unprotected head.
“I told him never to fight staz!” Gramps’ voice was tight with exasperation. Jac could feel the tension in his grip as he suppressed his own instincts to fight back. Trapped in a waking paralysis-nightmare, she watched the long weeks of their backbreaking work shrivel from green life to black toxic heap, their food-security rotting visibly under orange spume, the acrid stink of chemicals stinging her lungs.
She had lived in fear of the sanitizer threat her whole life but until now it had always happened somewhere else.
A careless Outlander. Vague stories from further north in the forest. Now the myth was here, solid and stinking and ugly, giving her restlessness shape and logic as poison spread through their food, creeping and killing deep into the earth itself. Her body recoiled as if from a sick pain, the urge to flee tugging against her instinct to hide. The protective cocoon her grandfather always tried so hard to weave around her was breaking open as the sudden sharp reality cut through her years of denial. A self-sufficient life designed for surviving out of sight would never work indefinitely.
That time was over.
Our home will never be safe in a system that inflicts this on its own citizens––but what can I do to change things? Part of me wants to go out there and challenge it… but at the same time I just want to hide from it all…
Unlike her grandfather, Jac had never known life any other way. Her last visit to the city had been as a skinny thirteen-year-old clinging to his hand. Restrictions were even more heavily enforced there, closer to Avarit HQ. It all felt too enormous and overwhelming for one person to resist.
The next few moments felt frozen in time as she watched Matthias beaten to the ground in a hail of heavy blows, the enforcers itching to inflict revenge on anyone daring to resist them. The C.O. raised a gloved hand, his voice within the helmet sounding metallic and inhuman through the com.
“We’re done. Move out.”
The bulky figures shrugged and headed back to their vehicles, inflicting a few parting kicks on anyone still moving feebly on the ground. The C.O. paused for a moment to take a few photos of the foam-ravaged food, logging proof of another mission successfully completed. He swaggered over to confront Jac, holding up the standard-warning notice as he read out the indictment.
“Land Sanitizer Fixed Penalty. For the Legal Outlander registered for this property.”
Jac stepped forward, her grandfather only just managing to snatch her illicit hunting gear from her and conceal it behind his back as she moved. She scarcely noticed, her attention fixed on hiding her fear as she faced the menacing figure, shapeless in heavy layers of protective shielding. He raised his dark visor, the human face and voice somehow incongruous in the reinforced hulk of artificial shell.
“Unlawful crop production spreading destructive pests. Fine to be paid immediately or three years’ debt-slavery will be automatic for all registered persons…”
He looked around suspiciously at the half-dozen bodies strewn across the ground. “How many persons do you have registered here?”
Jac tried to keep her voice steady. “Two. Myself and my retired grandfather.” She could sense his disbelief even though he made no comment. “The others… They came in today to help with spring planting. Not their fault. We promised them food.”
His lip curled as he glanced from the devastation around them to the old man standing in the doorway, then slowly, threateningly, back to her. The cynicism was palpable but she knew he was enjoying her fear and the power it gave him to leer at her body. He handed her the form and thrust the payment register at her, gripped aggressively in a gauntleted hand.
“To be paid immediately.”
Jac folded her arms across her chest as defiantly as she dared and waited until her grandfather arrived to pass her their registered payment sefet-card. She tried to suppress her breath of relief as she swiped the card through the battered device. Evidently the Avarit surveillance patrols on Outland detail had not yet been issued with handprint recognition on their payment registers. Retired persons were no longer permitted to earn or pay and there had not been enough time for Gramps to collect Arianne’s fake-print glove as well as the card.
The C.O. shoved the sefet-reader back in his pocket and returned to his vehicle, giving his crew the signal to move out.
Jac watched them leave, her legs shaking and refusing to take another step. Gramps stomped past her, grim and efficient, heading for the nearest casualty. She made an effort to break free of the shock and followed him, kneeling next to Matthias and checking his vital signs with the automatic reactions of long practice. Gramps looked up as the rest of the workers cautiously emerged from the forest to help their injured friends.
“Sanitizers.” He spat the words like a curse.
Matthias groaned and stirred, trying to speak. Jac quieted him, pushing his blood-matted dark hair aside as she attempted to close the streaming cut on his forehead.
“Shh. Matthias, lie still while we get you fixed.” She looked up at her grandfather, guilt and unease in her voice. “Gramps, the staz didn’t believe me. Now they know we’re sheltering southerners.”
He tried to sound reassuring. “It should be all right. He’ll have worked out that the two of us wouldn’t survive without their help, and that’s one less cash-cow for his patrol.”
“Jac, arresting people without citizenship into detention camps makes them someone else’s profit instead of his. It’s citizen arrests for non-payment of the fines that collect the highest bounty––and in any case those patrols get a fat commission on every fine that does get paid. Their profits are their priority. Reporting details that would simply get him sent on a hunt for more non-citizens won’t have the same rewards.”
It made a warped kind of sense. It was probably why so many southerners still survived on scattered holdings in the western forest––but there were so many conflicting stories it was hard to know which versions were accurate. The experiences of the military patrols that the Outlanders shared among themselves were so tainted by fear and confusion as to be half-useless.
Living in tiny scattered communities without phones or decent roads didn’t help either.
“How did the patrol get here so soon after the drone came over?”
The old man shook his head. “They didn’t. They must have noticed something from the one that came over five days ago. Todays’ drone was just to confirm we were all in the line of fire when they attacked.”
“But Fischers said the drones circled when they spotted something!”
In spite of the wreckage surrounding them, her grandfather almost laughed.
“Jac, I told you before not to rely too much on anything Fischers say!”
Matthias finally managed to gasp a few words past the bruises on his neck.
“Arianne… we were uncovering the solar…” He gave a painful choking cough as the words caught in his throat.
Jac looked around the devastated clearing.
“Where is Arianne?”
The casualties were being helped or carried into the house but there was no sign of Matthias’ daughter. Jac scrambled to her feet and ran to the barn. Arianne’s slumped body lay unmoving at the foot of the fixed ladder.
Jac was still checking for fractures when her grandfather caught up.
“Gramps, she’s alive but unconscious. She must have tried to hurry and fallen. Help me get her into the house.”