Authors: Norma Hinkens
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, the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions after careful thought: the end of the matter.
Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.
J. R. R. Tolkien
've barely had
time to think since we toppled the Craniopolis. It took the best part of three days to burn all the bodies, including the participants from Sektor Sieben. To their credit, the scientists oversaw the entire operation and I never even had to venture down to the Crematorium. Disposing of the participants didn't seem to phase the scientists, but cremating the bodies of colleagues they had worked alongside for years proved a more gruesome task. We gave them no choice but to finish what they'd started--a fitting penance for their involvement in the atrocities that took place under their watch.
"Ready?" Trout says, barging into Jerome's office where I'm scribbling down my half-incoherent thoughts for the meeting we've scheduled to elect a Council of survivors. Tucker raises his head from his paws momentarily before flopping back down beneath the desk.
"Ready as I'll ever be," I say, crumpling the sheet of paper in my hand into a ball. "I'm putting my name on the ballot too. I can't assume everyone will agree to me leading the Council and all the factions."
Trout perches on the edge of the desk and studies me from beneath his shaggy brows. "If you put it to a vote we're doomed. The Ghost will take control of the Council at the first sign of weakness."
"Isn't that what I'd be doing--seizing power?"
Trout shakes his head. "You brought the factions together and led us to victory. You earned the right to lead the Council. People expect as much."
I lean back in Jerome's chair, gripping the arms. I've come to rely on Trout's common sense perspective on most everything of late. He hasn't left my side since we overthrew the Sweepers. Without him, I'd have no one to help me figure out the resettlement issues bubbling beneath the surface of our newfound peace. Big Ed always has a nugget or two of wisdom for me, but the events of the last few days have taken a heavy toll on him–he's been bedridden since Panju’s funeral.
We carried Panju’s remains back to the city and buried her in the little cemetery behind the riders' barn. Trout was adamant about not leaving her ashes behind in the Craniopolis. I understand, more than most. I've been carrying the pouch with Mason's ashes around for weeks now. I thought about laying him to rest beside Panju, but I want some part of him with me to give me the courage I need to keep going in our fight for freedom.
Big Ed presided over a makeshift funeral service of sorts for the Undergrounders we lost. He didn't preach revenge like some had hoped, especially after they learned about the sovereign leader's deception and the existence of the outposts.
"We'll hold the scientists accountable, but revenge ain't a vision worth rallying behind," Big Ed insisted.
I suppose he's right. At some point, we will all have to let go of past wrongs, and learn to forgive, but until the Sweepers have been stopped, we won't give up the fight to save those who can't save themselves.
won't, at any rate.
I'd hoped Owen would have been on board but he's a lost cause. He and Nikki spend every minute together, oblivious to anyone else around them. I suspect they're both too traumatized to be of much help anyway.
I haven't seen much of Sven since we got back to the city. His hands are full integrating the new residents and overseeing the cleanup of the Craniopolis. At least I tell myself that's why he's keeping his distance. The truth is I think we're both afraid of what might happen between us now that we finally have a chance at a relationship.
Finding out that the sovereign leader is alive shook the Undergrounders to the core. Everyone assumed he had died in the meltdown. The revelation that he was in communication with Lyong all along, and sanctioned what was going on in Sektor Sieben, shocked and nauseated us. The mega ship he's been transmitting from was built years before the meltdown, which means the world government knew the earth's core was overheating long before they issued that fateful thermal radiation warning. The Undergrounders can't accept that the sovereign leader abandoned them to their fate on a crippled planet. There's been a lot of debate in the city about how to locate the ship, the
as we've started calling it. There's no doubt now in anyone's mind that the sovereign leader is the black heart of the Sweepers' operation, and that heartbeat must be stopped.
"I'll ask a representative from each faction to serve on the Council with me," I say to Trout. "Everyone should get a vote in how things are run, even the deviations."
Trout raises his brows. "How's that working so far?"
I give a resigned shrug. It still startles people to pass a clone or a deviation in the street. Trout and I try to engage them, but the rest of the Undergrounders and the Rogues, and even the riders keep their distance. The Ghost has made it clear that the deviations have no place with us. He's leery of the military clones too, convinced they'll turn on us and annihilate us in our sleep. Truth be told, I'm more nervous of The Ghost exercising that option. I don't think he's forgotten that Rummy escaped under my watch. He might even suspect we had some kind of a deal. The only reason any of us have co-existed peaceably over the past seventy-two hours is because we had one agenda--to bury the dead.
"Not everyone wants a vote in things around here," Trout says, getting up from the desk.
I draw my brows together. "What do you mean?"
"Now that the Craniopolis is immobilized, some of the Undergrounders are talking about moving out of the city, starting over with their own land."
A flicker of disquiet seeps through me. "We don't know yet if it's safe."
"Safer than it's ever been. No sweeps, even with the Superconductor turned off."
"But if there are other outposts the sweeps could resume."
Trout scratches the back of his neck. "If they exist at all, they could be on the far end of the globe for all we know."
I straighten up in my chair. "What about the transmission from the Megamedes that the scientist intercepted?"
"It was a year ago. Everyone on the ship could be dead by now." Trout furrows his brow. "Including the sovereign leader."
"I still think it's too soon to start a new settlement outside the safety of the city." I tap my fingers on the arms of the chair. "If there is a Megamedes, and other outposts, we need to find them and eliminate them first."
"Remember that freedom you fought so hard for? "Trout gives me a reproving look. "It's theirs, too. You can't hold people here against their will."
I twist my lips and get to my feet. "Then let's hope they'll listen to reason."
rom the stage
in the main hall inside the courthouse, I survey the seating arrangement in front of me with a sinking feeling–it's not exactly the integrated community I dreamed of after our victory at the Craniopolis. The deviations are nestled around Jerome at the back of the hall like frightened young. Rogues line the peeling walls around them, striking a decidedly hostile stance, accentuated by their scrunched lips and scowling eyes. Riders and Undergrounders occupy the front rows of splintered pews as the city's rightful residents, and the scientists sit stiff-backed behind them, unsure of their place or role in this new world order. The clones are crammed into the back rows–an impressive lineup of strength, agility, intuition and intellect, all ticking down to their expiration dates faster than we can rebuild the city. The segregation in the room grates on me, but now's not the time to address it--there's a familiarity in it that soothes the factions' suspicions of each other. Suspicions I need to eliminate before we can build a real and lasting community.
Jerome welcomes everyone and goes over some updated housing arrangements, before nodding to me to proceed. I slide my chair back and get to my feet. "Today marks a new beginning for us. We've laid to rest all those who died for freedom. Each one of us here is a survivor and we will always have that in common, despite our differences. With freedom comes a responsibility to others. The time has come for us to elect a Council of survivors to lead this city. Within these walls, we welcome all who wish to contribute in whatever way they can. Those who can't, will be cared for. Those who won't, are free to leave."
The Undergrounders and riders stare back at me with skeptical expressions, while the scientists trade wary glances with one another. The Rogues scare me the most. One careless word out of my mouth could be the match to ignite whatever boils beneath their dangerously bored expressions. The Ghost rubs his fingertips back and forth across his lips like there's an aftertaste of something repugnant from my speech on them. But I won't back down. He may not like what he's hearing, but I suspected all along that The Ghost would resent playing by any rules other than his own.
Blade taps his tattooed knuckles to his chest in a familiar gesture of intimidation when I catch his eye. Knowing him, he's taken what I said about people being free to leave as a threat.
I focus my attention back on the rest of the room. "Some of you are eager to leave the city and begin homesteading. Many of you left possessions you wish to retrieve from bunkers. But it may not be safe yet to settle beyond the barricade."
A murmur of disapproval ripples through the front rows where the Undergrounders are seated.
"Who says it's safe here?" a bearded Septite calls out, gesturing in no uncertain terms to the sullen lineup of Rogues.
"We're thankful for what you did, overthrowing the Sweepers and all," a red-headed woman calls up. "But we don't want to live here with all these strangers. We have our ways and they have theirs."
"I understand your concerns," I say, "but first we need to send out scouting parties and make sure it's safe. In the meantime, we can find a way to make things work here. We'll begin tonight by setting up a Council to represent the factions."
"What's there to be afraid of out there?" the bearded man calls out. "The sweeps are over."
I grimace. "The intercepted transmission from the Megamedes for one."
"No one's heard from the ship in over a year," he replies. "If the sovereign leader didn't die in the meltdown, he's probably dead by now."
Several people clap in response.
I raise a hand to quell them. "We can't make those kinds of assumptions. If the Megamedes is out there it won't be long before the sovereign leader discovers the Craniopolis has been compromised."
The beaked-nosed scientist who intercepted the transmission from the sovereign leader steps out into the aisle. He runs a finger nervously over the distracting mole on his cheek. "Maybe he doesn't have to find out. We can monitor the CommCenter in the Craniopolis for transmissions. If the Megamedes makes contact again we can respond as if we are still an operational base."
"But Lyong's dead," I say. "The sovereign leader will want to communicate with him directly."
The scientist shifts from one foot to the other. "Lyong's own notes document his self-inflicted cell damage when he attempted to reverse the DNA structure of the aging process. I could report his death as a direct result of his experimentation."
I throw a quick glance over at Trout. He raises his brows in a subtle gesture of approval. If nothing else, it would buy us some time to figure out our next move. It would be easy enough to house a small group of scientists in the Craniopolis to scan the CommCenter for any incoming transmissions. Now that the clean-up operation is over, what's to stop us using the Craniopolis for own purposes? Or the Hovermedes for that matter.
As much as I detest everything the Craniopolis stands for, the truth is it may turn out to be a better housing option for the deviations anyway. The city's proving to be full of hazards for them--even the sight of a horse spooks them, and a simple neigh or whinny sends them running. They're struggling to adapt to sunlight and wide open spaces, and they aren't sleeping properly, which makes them even more agitated.
Dividing the city into zones is an option, but it goes against everything I had hoped to accomplish. Moving the deviations back to the Craniopolis temporarily might be for the best, especially if it stops a mass exodus of Undergrounders from the city.
"I'm willing to return to the Craniopolis and man the CommCenter," the scientist offers.
"What's your name?" I ask him.
"You seem to be an expert on communications." I give an approving nod in his direction. "I want you to put together a rotation of scientists to monitor the CommCenter. We'll also need a communications line set up between the city and the Craniopolis. Can you handle that?"
He nods. "Give me a couple of days. It shouldn't be a problem."
"Good. Let me know when you're done." I turn back to the crowd. "It's time now to vote in our new Council."
hen the results
come in there are no big surprises. Jody is elected to lead the riders' faction, and Sven to lead the military clones. The Ghost takes the Rogues' unanimous vote–although I suspect none of them dared vote otherwise. Trout is chosen to be the Undergrounders' spokesperson because Owen wanted no part of it. Jerome is selected by the deviations, and the scientists pick Viktor as their representative.
"I'll put the elected Council members to work on housing arrangements and schedules right away," I say. "Tomorrow I'll lead a search party to comb the bunkers for any other survivors. We'll give them the option of joining us in the city. With the Superconductor turned off we can stay here as long as we want. Once the search party returns, we'll make plans to locate the Megamedes and resettle the land. Until then, I ask you to be patient. Thank you all for your efforts over the past few days. Go home now and enjoy some well-deserved rest."
The crowd converses among themselves for a few minutes, and then begins to trickle out of the courthouse. Trout gives me a quick wave and disappears after them. I have a hunch he's heading over to Panju's gravesite. It was emotional for him to be elected to represent the Undergrounders--Panju was an integral part of the original Council and he's bound to be wrestling with memories of the time they spent together.