The rusty brown sand glittered as iron particles caught and reflected the pale light from the twin moons. The night was completely silent apart from the constant hammering and grinding coming from the massive mining complexes nearby and the hubbub from the active city quarters far away to the west, the "rich district". He stood on a hill overlooking the city where all the miners and their families lived. Behind him was the gigantic palace of the local "governor", who, despite swearing fanatic loyalty to the Empire, kept a lot of the profits from the mining for himself to spend on whatever he liked. A cold wind swept across the rusty land and blew sand in his eyes. He rubbed them with the sleeve of his jacket, which had been modified to keep the desert wind and sand out. He could hear the footsteps, panting breaths and angry shouts of the guards chasing him. He took a last look at the palace before running down the hill, skidding and sliding where he could with a gracefulness that could only be achieved with years of practice. He heard the guards slip and fall in the sand, laughing to himself as he reached the bottom of the hill and took off running into the city streets.
The streets were dark, providing him with ample hiding spots and making it difficult for his pursuers to find him. He ran from cover to cover, a dumpster here and a crate here, tricking the guards into running right past him or in the complete opposite direction. He laughed to himself yet again when he fooled a burly guard into running right into a brick wall, knocking himself out. He vaulted over a low fence and walked casually out of someone's backyard, confident that he had lost them. Taking a look around and listening carefully, he concluded that the guards had given up. Grinning, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the treasure he'd stolen. A green jewel the size of his fist. Emeralds were rare on Sonna, and this particular one had pleased the governor so much he had kept it on display in the entry hall of his palace. It had been an easy target; at least, that's what he thought.
Foolish, if you ask me.
He strode confidently over a square, the moonlight reflecting off a giant, bronze statue of a miner with a pickaxe in one hand and some kind of metal nugget in the other. He was a strong man, with bulging muscles that seemed to rip right through his clothing. Graffiti logos and slogans covered it. Supposedly, the statue symbolised the spirit of the working class.
Load of bollocks. We're lucky to even have a small bicep the size of a pebble.
People were starving, and every day and night, long rows of thin, emaciated men and women would march into the caves and mines and hack away for hours upon hours before marching back to the city to collapse onto their beds. This was the reality away from Rydan, away from the luxury and comfort of the Imperial City. He hurried away from the hated statue, hearing quick footsteps approaching. He hadn't lost the guards yet, and every second wasted was a second closer to getting caught and branded as a thief – again. Once more, and he would be thrown in prison, or worse.
He ran into the maze that was the residential quarter. The apartment complexes were large and tall, easily able to fit hundreds of families inside, yet they still slept at least three in a room. Weaving in between the poor merchant stands, he made sure to leave little to no trace of himself, hoping the guards were too stupid to notice the fresh footprints in the sand. Shouting voices could be heard coming closer. There were more of them now; the original ones had undoubtedly gone after reinforcements. The governor seemed to be more attached to the emerald than he thought. He turned around and looked the way he had come. Moving lights appeared and disappeared between the buildings. They had torches, and that complicated things. He turned back and continued running, his breath coming in short pants. He brushed his hair out of his eyes and clambered over the fence into the industrial district. The industrial district was where all the ore was processed into usable metals, fuelling the Imperial war effort. Most of the refineries were silent now, the shortage of materials forcing them to shut down. Many of the mines were completely empty, the result of hundreds of years of digging.
He ran over a yard full of parked industrial machines made for digging or transporting the ore and metal. He saw that a group of buildings was fully lighted and made the decision to avoid them and turned left, intending to circle around the guards and return to the residential quarter, hoping that no one were left behind to guard checkpoints. He heard voices directly in front of him and froze in his track. There were lights bobbing up and down there too. He turned around and went to circle around the guards to the right, but stopped once again because of torches in the distance closing in. There was only one way open to him now, the lighted buildings. He ran as fast as his legs would allow him, racing for the distant buildings. He could hear vehicles now, the armoured kind used for breaching through walls and doorways so the police force could move in.
Does he like the bloody thing enough to send tanks after me?
Crossing another yard filled with machines close to the lit buildings, he saw a cigarette butt still smoking. He wanted so badly to pick up the tiny roll of tobacco and inhale, but his breath and the guards closing in behind him made him ignore the urge. He jumped over a pile of planks and ran into a small ally between two of the buildings. He saw a water bottle that had recently been emptied against the wall judging by the still wet stains on the wall. He heard the footsteps again and ran up small scaffoldings, giving him a view inside the largest building. He saw a group of men – armed men – standing around a table, flanked by another group of armed men and a pair of miners, easily identifiable by their bright orange overalls. He leant closer to the windows, trying to see what was on the table. Suddenly, he felt a pair of hands grab his shoulder and haul him away from the window.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" asked an angry, harsh voice.
He panicked and thrashed against his assailant, who struggled with him for a few seconds before coming to better thoughts and pushed him – through the window. The glass broke and he fell into the building, landing on top of a pile of sand, the remains of the rock ore was processed from. His breath was knocked out of him, and he rolled down the pile, coming to a stop on the concrete floor on his stomach, desperately trying to breathe.
Before he managed to get his wits about him, he was grabbed by the arms and pulled up from the floor by strong arms, after which he found himself staring down the twin barrels of two assault rifles.
"Who are you? What are you doing here?" asked one of the men. He was wearing green power armour, clashing heavily with the general tan colour of the environment. The other soldiers wore it as well. The two miners looked at him, one of them confused and the other panic-stricken.
"I'm…I'm…" He tried to speak, but found his tongue repeatedly trying to tie itself into a knot. "I'm sorry!" he yelled.
"That doesn't help!" yelled one of the soldiers back.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, calm down," said a steady voice from the general direction of the table. "Our benefactors are becoming nervous."
He looked at the table and saw a man in a dark, green uniform holding his hand up. He looked like an officer. Suddenly it clicked. "You're rebels," he said, trying to ignore the rifles being shoved in his face.
The officer nodded. "Indeed we are, young man, but you still haven't told us who you are?"
Young man? You can't be much older than me, you bloody…
Regaining a bit of confidence, he drew himself up as far as he could – which wasn't very far at the moment. "My name's Jas'Ui Onika, and I—"
"You're that thief!" exclaimed one of the miners, spittle flying from his mouth and getting caught in his greying beard. He turned to the officer and looked ready to fall on his knees. "I'm so sorry, sir, don't listen to him, he's just a no-good thief and—"
The officer held up a hand. "Relax, old man. This…unfortunate interruption won't ruin our deal, if that's what you're worried about." The old miner calmed down considerably. "Thought we'll have to do something with our guest, won't we?"
Jas looked up. "What?"
The officer walked over to him from the table and stood in front of Jas. "You've just seen a secret meeting between the representatives of the mining community and the rebels. For all I know, you can be an Imperial informant—"
"But I'm not!" shouted Jas.
"—of course, there's no way for me to know that, but the captain is not willing to take any chances. Now, there is no easy way to say this, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to eliminate you," the officer continued and pulled his handgun from his holster. "I'm doing this personally to let you know that…well, there is nothing personal in this, only necessity." He raised it to Jas' forehead. "I'm truly sorry, Mr. Onika, but you were just in the wrong place at the wrong ti—"
"Intruders!" shouted a guard from one of the platforms. He raised his sniper rifle and fired off a silenced shot. It was answered by a hail of bullets that blew him right off the platform and threw his destroyed body to the floor. The soldiers surrounding Jas sprung into action and took up positions at the windows of the warehouse, firing at the unseen enemy.
Jas looked at the body on the floor, unable to do anything but gape at the blood slowly seeping out on the floor, mixing with sand that got everywhere.
That's my fault, he thought. He's dead, and I led his killers here.
Suddenly, someone pulled him to his feet and herded him behind a stack of crates along with the two miners. The officer handed Jas his handgun before going after the dead soldier's rifle. He returned and spoke to Jas. "Protect the miners. They're our liaisons to the community, and if they die, our deal is broken."
"How do you know I won't shoot you for trying to kill me?" asked Jas, gasping as another dead rebel crashed to the floor. The sounds of battle were intensifying by the minute, signalling the arrival of more guards from the city.
The officer smiled. "I don't, I'll just have to take my chances!" he shouted and opened fire at a window where a group of guards were trying to climb in. With five precise shots, five guards fell dead onto the platform or out of the window. "Don't use the gun unless it becomes absolutely necessary, I only have that one mag."
Jas didn't answer and looked at the miners. They were both old, both of the generation that boasted that the rebels would free them all from the tyranny of oppression they suffered at the hands of the governor. Jas had been taught all of his life that the rebels were the great liberators, that they would save the entire Rydan civilisation from the alien influence of the Ruxians, their supposed "allies" and eventually take everyone home to Sol. Jas had great hopes for the first two options, but he had strong doubts about going back to Sol.
"What are you looking at us like that for, thief?" asked one of the fossils.
"Will you stop calling me thief, old man!" exploded Jas. "I only steal from the Imperials and you know that!"
"Which is why they treat us so horribly. If you'd just settle down and wait, the rebels will come and save us all! Their presence here now is living proof."
"I wouldn't know about that," said the officer. "I think we're losing right now."
Jas peeked around the corner. Most of the rebel soldiers were dead, and the doors were being breached by the guards. He could hear the sound of the armoured vehicles outside the building. With a tremendous groan, the heavy doors gave out under the guards' weight, and a battering ram came through the wall on the other side of the warehouse. Guards rushed inside, killing any rebel they came over. They gradually got closer to the crates.
"Oh god, oh god," Jas repeated to himself.
"He doesn't exist, I'm afraid," said the officer. "Thought I've got something that'll look like divine intervention in a matter of seconds." He pulled out a small control of some sort with an antenna and flipped one of the two switches on it. A red light started glowing. "Take cover!" he shouted and flipped the other.
The world suddenly became a shrieking sound, and Jas was thrown to the ground, the officer and miners close by. Jas looked up and saw that he entire warehouse was collapsing, the explosions having torn out the beams that bore the weight of the entire building. He saw the platforms collapsing and the roof giving out before all went black.
He must have been out of it for no more than a few minutes, for the officer shook him awake, shouting and screaming for him to move, that more of them were coming. The ceiling was gone. So was the rest of the warehouse, only rubble remaining. He slowly sat up, his hearing returning to normal. His forehead was bleeding, as was his thigh where a sharp piece of concrete had embedded itself firmly. He pulled it out and breathed out in relief when he saw the main artery hadn't been damaged. He stood up and surveyed the area. The armoured vehicle had been crushed by the roof as well as the guards and the rest of the rebel soldiers. The only thing that had saved Jas, the officer and the miners…
The dead miners lay under a crate, crushed by the container. The officer came back and dragged him away, over the rubble piles and through the non-existent doorways.
"Come on! We don't have time to waste around here, we've got to go!" said the officer, dragging Jas along the ruined streets. On the way, he also slung a second rifle on his back.
"What did you do?" asked Jas, looking at the other collapsed buildings all around him.
"I collapsed the whole street," replied the officer, apparently delighted at the icy wind that blew over them, feeling it especially well since the warmth of the explosions and fires were gone.
"Because we needed to get rid of the guards quickly so we could run away?" asked the officer in a condescending manner. He almost stumbled over a piece of concrete and cursed loudly. He suddenly went very quiet and looked about him. "What was that?" he hissed.
"I don't kno—"The officer put a hand over his mouth.
Distant rumbling and shouting voices. More lights in the distance. More enemies. The officer quickened his pace. Jas also decided to walk faster and had to run to catch up with the officer, who was now jogging. "Where are we going?"
"To the rendezvous point," said the officer. "It's at the end of the industrial district, close to the oil pumps!"
Their progress was quick, and they soon reached the destination. There, Jas sat down on an oil drum as the officer fiddled with his radio. The oil wells had run dry after fifty years of loyal service, and the area was now being used as a graveyard for scrapped vehicles that awaited recycling.
The officer cursed and threw his radio down on the ground. "It's not working," he said and reloaded his rifle. The lights were getting closer. He took the other rifle and handed it to Jas. "It's fully loaded. Fire in short, controlled bursts. Be careful though, the Mark VII is a bit more unpredictable than the VIII."
Jas took the unbelievably heavy rifle and tried aiming it at the lights. It was heavy, and the grip was uncomfortable. His arm disappeared into the cavity that served as protection for the operating limb, its edge digging into his shoulder. He looked into the aiming reticule and saw a bright red dot in the centre.
The officer fired his rifle, the shot disappearing into the dark towards the lights. The second shot was a tracer bullet, its fiery trail providing them with a view of where the shot headed. It hit one of the bobbing lights, and the light fell to the ground and didn't move again. Then the officer fired full auto, many lights going down. Jas fired as well, though his shots went wide more often than not, but he too got a few lights. Jas was able to empty about half of his magazine before his arm went numb and refused to work again. More lights were appearing faster than they could take them down, and the officer had just loaded his last clip.
"Keep firing!" he shouted. Whining sounds and small puffs of smoke now surrounded them, the shots from the approaching guards. The officer's rifle clicked, its clip empty. He ran over to Jas and took his and fired the remaining shots in that one as well.
Just as the first of the guards reached the perimeter fences, an explosion in the residential quarter lit up the sky, and a mass of voices permeated the night air. The guards stopped for a moment to look at the unexpected development. The sound of gunfire filled the night, and the twin moons peeked out from the cloud cover and illuminated the city, which had become an anthill of moving miners, all of them shouting and screaming, prepared to take down the invading guards.
"Looks like you didn't need our help after all," said the officer to Jas. "Watch out, here they come!" The guards were rushing the oil yard, storming across it. They came closer and closer, shouting and firing their weapons into the air, hell-bent on taking down the perpetrators of the night's events.
The guards were suddenly ripped apart by heavy machine guns, the kind that could only be mounted on fighters. Volley after volley was fired as fighter after fighter passed over the yard and shot up the remaining guards. Body parts flew everywhere as the heavy slugs crushed their bodies. The fighters then continued to the city, flying over the cheering miners.
A long, cigar-shaped dropship landed in the yard, rebel soldiers storming out and securing the perimeter. Another officer ran out, spotted the huddled forms and ran over to them. "Sorry we're late, sir, we were having a spot of trouble with our radio equipment. All the iron in the soil keeps bending the waves."
"Doesn't matter, sergeant, just get us out of here."
Jas' head shot up. "Wait, us?"
"Yes, us," said the officer and once again dragged Jas away, this time to the dropship. "The revolution has begun, and I'm getting you out of the war zone."
"But my family—"
"—will all be just fine. We need a liaison on the surface. As soon as you have been briefed about your duties, you will return to the surface and help us coordinate the battle for this planet. Now, come on!"
They hurried aboard and strapped down securely into the seats, the heavy shoulder guards lowering to keep them from flopping about. The dropship lifted as soon as the last soldier had secured himself and sped across the sky. Smoke filled the air as more fires broke out across the city and the writhing mass of people marched steadily across the desert sands on their way to the governor's palace.
"What if I don't want to be a liaison?" Jas shouted over the roar of the dropship's engine.
"You don't have a choice!" shouted the officer back. "I'm drafting you into the service!"
"You can do that?"
The noise suddenly lessened as the dropship exited the atmosphere of Sonna and into the calm darkness of space. Jas had never been off-world before, and he felt an odd sort of tranquillity wash over him when he thought of the infinity that lay beyond the thin walls around him.
"This is dropship 7-X35, requesting permission to dock," said the pilot at the front. Something muffled was heard from her headset and she nodded satisfied. "Thank you, Orion, we're coming in."
To be continued…
There we go, the first chapter of Kane's Folly, the action-packed sequel to Kane's Field. I hope you will enjoy the story, and please leave a review!