The Chthonic Manifesto

Senator Hutchens checked the device hidden inside the ordinary looking electric shaver. He remembered the exercises, he breathed long deep gulps of air and counted to ten each time and he counted ten of these breaths in a row. His heartbeat returned to its resting state. He passed though the security checks unhindered but for the suspicious eyes of security.

So far so good.

The precautions might be unnecessary, he did after all carry the privilege of rank but nonetheless so much depended on this mission, no chances could be taken. He checked his watch, he had eight hours to plant the device. Eight hours to remain undetected. Then he would have his moment of triumph over his enemies.

What could go wrong? His co-conspirators made it clear that what happened here in Siberia, at the Zolzka Facility, would have global, world changing, repercussions. His people could not afford to let it succeed. Hutchens thought on this and the coming events that would unfold.

"This isn't where I expected us to be." Samir, his loyal intern, said. He checked his phone and the signs glimmering overhead.

"Where should we be?" Hutchens tried to keep the edge of fear out of his voice. Samir muttered an expletive and replied.

"They told me we were landing at the eastern terminal but it looks like the pilot got diverted, we're in the south. It'll take an hour longer than we scheduled for to get to the administration offices."

"And the bioforge?" Hutchens kept his cool and made it sound casual.

"Not sure yet, we might have to wait until tomorrow. " Samir must have heard something in Hutchens voice.

"Is it important? I thought the tour of the tech wasn't the priority. It's the station chiefs we need to speak with, isn't it?"

Hutchens thought fast to avert any suspicion and said, as casual as he could.

"C'mon Samir, I want to see the toys these guys are playing with. Besides the folks back home need to see we're doing our job. Talking heads won't seal the deal, they need to see the machines in action. See what we can screw outta these guys." He regretted the words, kept his body still to resist the urge to look around for any monitors nearby. It would achieve nothing if he was overheard and the tour cancelled because the locals took slight.

His instructor warned him about this, about nerves and paranoia.

When he and his staff made it outside at the airport collection terminal he let his mind wander a little, certain he had evaded scrutiny and suspicion.

They waited for transport to the inspection site. His entourage, a secretary and intern tended to his luggage and their own. All of them endured the cold. His thousand-dollar overcoat with the latest in ballistic protection and heating technology kept him comfortable but it annoyed him to see his staff so visibly distressed by Siberia's climate. He checked his watch and said nothing, expecting his staff to make the necessary arrangements. Gladys Smyth called over to him.

"I just got through to station Zolzka, our ride should be here any minute." Hutchens checked the time on his phone and clucked his tongue.

No new messages.

Hutchens pulled his coat tighter around him. The world may be heating up but out here in Siberia that did not mean a whole lot. He watched the traffic and looked at the peoples around him, all kinds, workers, businesspeople, even families, it all had the feel of a thriving commercial hub. He noted the clothes were all plain and desaturated, devoid of life or personality. Presently a small bus arrived, and Gladys waved over to him. Hutchens noted the bus was of Korean manufacture, its electric motors had a muted whine. The driver stepped out and helped Samir stow the luggage. Odd that there was a need for a driver when this vehicle had all the sensors indicating it was autonomous. Hutchens suspected it most likely the driver was there to observe them.

The midday sun was just a brighter orb of grey in a dull blanket of sullen cloud. It kept the temperature a bare pip over freezing. Hutchen's eyes scanned the horizon as they travelled. The first hour or so they kept to well maintained highways and he took in the sights. Towers of concrete, hard angles and brutal old-world architecture came and went. They bypassed a city and he wondered what state their economy and politics were in. He wanted to know, his people indicated that many of the local townships and even cities were all but abandoned. People were migrating to the vast new city of Zolzka because of the long summer. In other parts of the world it was droughts or weather patterns so unpredictable that floods and heatwaves stood cheek by jowl.

Hutchens made a call to the chair of the committee that dispatched him here but there was no answer. Instead, he began to draft a message. He was certain that the intelligence of his government told him most of the information he needed. But it was for the Volga regeneration project to prove him wrong.

He resented this assignment, it should have been delegated to an expert team, people who knew the technology. It was his own reckless youth brought him here. If the reports were correct, then this regeneration project had global significance. His data pad still had the now famous media article title: The Advent of Cornucopia.

He checked his messages one more time. Since he was out of the country and entering a nation with dubious regard for the dignity and security of foreign envoys, he could not access his most secure email servers. It is for the sake of security a solemn IT technician told him.

They turned onto a solitary highway that cut a straight line through the new marshes, ancient tundra now turned to slush. Towns and cities had to be re-engineered and adapt to the global temperature changes. The horizon was a barely perceptible line underneath a darkening sky.

Hutchens saw the first signs of the new city, a key to surviving the future. Soon he would see Katherine, a woman he had not seen or spoken to in thirty years.

They passed a long and orderly line of people, poorly dressed and by the dim lights overhead they seemed wan and pale, unhealthy.

"What do you make of the people?" He asked it of Samir, his bright and too eager intern.

"We're hearing about this, the steppes are becoming uninhabitable. Flooding and crop failure, I hear there's thousands coming to the Zolzka."

"Just thousands?" Hutchens pointed into the distance and both men saw tents and mobile shelters stretching into the darkness. "This is a lot more than thousands, haven't seen a refugee centre this big since Georgia after the floods. Must be one twenty, one fifty thousand here. Why come here? Why not the cities?" Samir cleared his throat and Hutchens knew it meant a lot of information on the region was about to be delivered.

"The cities are turning people away, nearest port towns here have sealed their perimeters. At Barnaul alone there are two hundred thousand in makeshift encampments."

"That bad?"

"Sure, worse here than the old US."

"Shit!"

A face in the crowd as they passed. A man, hard to guess as his age, maybe his sixties or maybe thirty and exhausted and starving stared at him as the bus slowed down. Hutchens held the gaze and it reminded him of his own countrymen he saw in the crises back home.

He looked away and steeled himself for what was to come, it would not be easy, he was no warrior and the step he would take would have far reaching consequences. He looked at Samir and his secretary Gladys, he saw in her the same resolve he felt.

Pity about Samir

Gladys's phone rang, she answered and in the dim hum of the electric bus she spoke for some minutes and called over to Hutchens.

"We'll be met at the entrance to the parking bay by Director Flynn, head of security."

Hutchens thought it over a moment and replied.

Did they know, would he be confronted, defeated before he made it to the target?

"Is Doctor Reilly not meeting us herself?"

"No, no explanation for that. I'm told we can take a quick tour of the facility before you meet her." She stopped a second and checked her phone. "I have an invitation sent through the systems net. She can meet us in two hours."

Hutchens shook his head. The indignity of it, he represented the confederate states, this slight was unacceptable. He thought again of his real intents and their necessity.

Before he had time to respond or make a decision a light passenger car with a glass bubble canopy for maximum visibility pulled up. Its sole occupant a man about Hutchens age but gone to seed. Overweight, a sight uncommon in these times and he wore a stained parka over a crumpled business suit. The man exited the vehicle and waved to Hutchens and his people.

"Senator Hutchens, I'm Sean Flynn. Sorry for the run around but its all hands on deck here. Thanks for coming." The man held out his hand for Hutchens to shake, Flynn's grip was solid and did not linger. The hands were dry.

"Just to let you know, we have checked the route, there's nothing to worry about."

"What about the attacks?" Hutchens asked and Flynn flashed a quick smile.

"That was a minor issue, some graffiti and vandalism, it's well under control."

"I heard there was an assassination attempt. Flynn looked bewildered, but not in the way the senator thought he understood. He just shrugged as he replied, as though such a thing warranted little concern.

"There's extremism everywhere, the assassination attempt was unfortunate, but there was little actual threat, our security protocols are effective." The answer did not tell him much, the senator pressed Flynn further.

"An assassination attempt isn't regarded as serious?"

"It was your news channels that made it serious, I believe the group involved are extremists but with little weight behind them." Flynn shrugged. The senator found his attitude annoying.

"I'm here trying to negotiate a decent economic relationship, those men, those extremists were intent on my assassination, and you think its of little concern?" The hand in his pocket clenched and unclenched.

"It's like this senator, we have done the research and you know as well as I that your whole movement is doomed to fail. We brought you here out of courtesy, the vain hope being we might dissuade from enacting policies that will doom the people you control. Those extremists, as you call them, is just a bad faith tactic to engage with us. You know that and I don't have time for your denials."

The senator took umbrage at this and was about to defend his people, but Flynn kept going

"The labour camps, the censorship of media, all of it. It can't last. Your system is collapsing and you, and the rest of the leadership won't face the facts. At this stage the biggest security threat we face is going to be the fallout when your government collapses." The senator, laughed, as he had before at this preposterous charge.

"I assure you mister Flynn, our nation, our people will prevail against all of this." he waved expansively over all the machines and systems towering above them.

Flynn shook his head and remained silent. The senator thought ahead to the satisfaction he would feel when his mission reached its end. It was critical the Hutchens read him right, too much was at stake and he needed to be sure this Flynn did not become suspicious. Decisions had to be made.

"Gladys, can you take care of our accommodation? I think its best Samir and I take the tour and figure this place out. "

"Sure thing" She said it and immediately took charge of the luggage and the manpower needed to get it to their rooms.

This seemed to put Flynn on the wrong foot.

"I'll have an auto here soon, we have VIP on the north tower." With a wave of his hand he drew her eye to the shining tower of glass. Hutchens knew he had to lead the conversation, take charge.

"Great, so what can you show us? I've seen the broadcasts and read the literature. I'm keen to hear what you can offer us." Hutchens wanted to ask why you, why send the chief of security to greet him? He couldn't say it, he would have to figure this out himself.

Flynn spoke in what Hutchens guessed was a thick rural Irish accent, he met several before back in the home country and they were valuable allies in their dealings with an aggressive United Nations. This was first he heard of any heading east to find their fortune and he was surprised, puzzled really as to how an Irishman ended up here with the post he had. He cursed the handlers; he was supposed to know all this and yet again his own people left him with the deficit of intel.

"Now you're here Katherine asked me to bring you to the control centre's observation room. We'll pass through the research labs on the way and I'm told you already know some of the teams there." Hutchens listened and watched for signs Flynn might know more than he let on.

"I sure do." Hutchens said.

He meant the defectors, his scorn he could conceal, he was a seasoned politician after all.

Flynn drove them into wide open tunnel and Hutchens saw it was not intended for pedestrians. Now they were here Hutchens began to appreciate the scale of the Zolzka complex. A city, or something new. What cities in this dark new world were destined to become.

They left the tunnel and entered the Volgograd proper, the most prominent, noteworthy objects the Cthons. In this case hydrogen powered earth moving machines. Hutchens saw them in the distance, scooping out swathes of sodden earth and arranging them into terraces. A marsh was now a land of hills and lakes. The people occupied the hills, he saw the lights from hundreds of new hamlets, each home to thousands. Machines even performed much of the intelligence needed. The hamlets resembled beehives at a distance, the inefficiencies of a building per function were dispensed with. Instead, the village was a modular arrangement of structures all bound together. Hutchens wondered if the people there were happy. Maybe they were just relieved to be on the benevolent side of technology for once.

They took another form of transport, the maglev. He saw the images, the photos published and those secured through espionage. He thought he was prepared but he was wrong. He did not, even after seeing the video feeds, appreciate the scale. Before they approached the tower, the nominal headquarters of the development foundation they passed the factories, where the autonomous fabricators were designed built and assembled. He expected to see empty vistas thronging only with the various mechanoids required to keep the place running. He did not see this however, in the vast avenues separating the fabrication centres, he saw crowds of people beneath bright canopies of light.

This made no sense, why include the people in the manufacturing, surely they would only introduce inefficiencies into the system. It might be that there were valid reasons but his own intelligence people had not yet figured it out. He was not the only one to ask themselves that question. Samir, silent and seeming restless asked Flynn a question.

"Why so many people involved in fabrication? Surely the assembly systems would produce more without human inputs."

"True, a lot more. So far we only build to stay in front of demand. We feel too much output would hinder human cultural development."

Flynn said it with a knowing smile, like there was more he could say but chose not to reveal. It irritated Hutchens.

"Is it really working? Your propaganda feeds are saying you can take an additional three million refugees per year. Is that realistic?"

"We don't do propaganda, we are telling the truth, at our current rates of expansion and food production those are realistic numbers."

"But where is the food coming from?" Samir interjected.

"We have developed new agricultural technologies. I have been asked not to discuss that until you speak with Katherine."

Finally the maglev deposited them at another terminal. The base of the tower. Squat at a distance but only when up close could the scale be appreciated. Well over two hundred meters in height and nearly as wide in diameter. It imposed on the landscape and only troubled Hutchens all the more. It easily beggared the scale of projects in the confederate states and for all their promises of exporting aid and technology he knew they, people like Flynn and Katherine, were actively preventing the uptake in his own country.

The crowds they passed earlier, uncertain and desperate were gone. Here he saw people comfortable, confident and professional. The wore tailored clothes in the new style and were clean and healthy. Something else, they moved with purpose, like they mattered.

Another foyer, warm lights over panels of rich dark woods. Flynn brought them to a stop and made a show of checking his timepiece.

"Katherine has time to see you now senator. She is on floor twenty seven at the dining hall. Hutchens just nodded and he too checked his timepiece. He had hours yet, the plan was still on schedule, still viable.

They ascended in an elevator that over-looked the central atrium. They passed floors and vaults, he saw there were no floors per se, the tower was assembled from organic hive like modules, each module self-contained and with its own functions.

The dining hall, part of the recreation centre was much the same. They walked in though a grand entrance and he could hear music. He and Samir followed Flynn and then he saw her, dressed in a dark suit, low cut around the chest and tailored to emphasise her figure.

In the thirty years since he last saw her, she had changed little. Not physically anyway. He was struck by her apparent confidence. She was standing beside a group of diners. He saw that they were in what appeared to be a high-end restaurant a sub section reserved for VIPs.

They waited and it seemed Doctor was ignorant of their presence. He carried the device, its function unknown for the sake of operational integrity and as a bead of sweat trickled behind his ear. He reckoned the mission was already doomed. He would survive, the semblance of diplomatic reality meant at worst he would be returned to his homeland a source of embarrassment to his people, a propaganda triumph for his enemies and worse for him, he would be a failure.

Airborne security micro-drones idled above them, almost invisible in their ubiquity. The sensor pod whirring about and observing and those electronic eyes burrowing deep under the skin for signs and portents AI would not doubt see that he was suspicious, carrying something even if it was only malevolent intent. In that moment he was doomed, he felt it in his bones. Then the call, from his enemy, though she did not know that yet. He listened to the voice mail.

"You have arrived, good. I will have you waived through security."

The drones changed their trajectory and moved to newly assigned waypoints. Hutchens smiled at his good fortune and took some grim satisfaction that thanks to his nemesis he evaded detection.

They were kept waiting, not wanting to look awkward and out of place, Hutchens left Samir and Gladys who joined them after depositing their luggage in the guest quarters. Hutchens walked to the viewing gallery leading to an open balcony and he stepped outside. The wind whipped at his face and it was bitter and cold and exhilarating. The maps he saw earlier, the flickering renders of the world outside, at this height and with this location he looked over the basin. The scale, all this is less than two decades. It was awesome to behold and he felt humbled by it and felt, for a moment, remorse at what he came here to do.

Samir poked his head out of the door.

"She is taking her seat now, Flynn says she is ready to see you."

"She can wait." Hutchens gripped the railings and kept his eyes on the vista beneath. He did not doubt that she kept him waiting deliberately, a petty power game and he would not play it. He represented a powerful nation, and he would not be made a fool of and he would certainly not be cowed by her current advantage. It occurred to Hutchens that Flynn might be able to tell him something, even if inadvertently. He turned back to speak to him and saw Flynn heading towards a service elevator. There business was done or so it seemed.

He checked his messages and even answered some of the more routine missives. Only then did he return to the eatery and join his host. The first thing he noticed about her was the gleaming eyes, shrewd and calculating. She smiled and it was a knowing smile, like she was in on a joke she chose not to share. He smiled, to be polite.

"Katherine! We meet again all these years later."

"Richard, I just checked my social feeds, I can't believe its been thirty years." She reached up from her chair and placed her hand on his neck when he got close and pecked him on the cheek."

He sat down and his companions took their respective seats.

"Sorry I had to keep you waiting, the last meetings of the days ran long and I had to say goodbye to the Hong Kong counsel before he left."

"No problem, I had other business to attend to." He made the lie casual and obvious.

Then silence between them, the bustle of the restaurant, the clink of glasses, but no words uttered. The held each other's gaze and it was Gladys who interrupted.

"The senator can't be kept waiting. I'm sorry Doctor Ryan but we're completely off schedule. Another thing I want to query is the change to our flight, you added a four-hour bus ride to our itinerary. We are supposed to visit the bio–forge complex before eight pm. We have a live feed with the president!" Gladys, as they say, had little by way of a filter. Her obvious displeasure and raised voice broke the spell.

"I'm sorry for the inconvenience, Ms Fontaine. We can still keep to the schedule. The bio-forge never sleeps." She checked her timepiece. "We can eat first. I see you were scheduled to see the complex at twenty one hundred. We have a couple of hours yet. How about we eat? I will arrange for transport."

Gladys, placated nodded and turned to Hutchens.

"Is that okay with you senator?"

"That will be fine, does that put us back on schedule?"

"It should, we tour the Tundra marsh reclamation in the morning, is that still going ahead?" She said the last to Katherine.

"Of course, unless you had other plans Richard?"

Richard shook his head.

"No, we'll stick to the schedule."

They ordered their food, only then did Hutchens see the food being served was oriental fusion. He picked something random of the menu. Distracted by his regard of the woman sitting opposite.

She looked after herself. He remembered, back in those days of lost youth she was curvy, a little on the heavy side even. Not now, lithe and toned. He traces of the woman he knew back then, the same fire in the eyes but now more considered, thoughtful. When they, when he, ended their relationship they parted with harsh words.

"You're a zealot he declared when she mentioned her political affiliations. You have no soul."

The best she managed back then was to call him a bigot. Hutchens wondered if she remembered.

She took a sip of wine, he did not join her. Twenty five years and not a drop. He would not tell her this.

Katherine watched him, her eyes sparkling with apparent amusement.

"I hear you're married she said What's she like?

"She's good, for me, for the children."

"Sure, sure."

"I'm impressed." Hutchens said when he had the chance to speak. "All this, its amazing, all this in only ten years."

"Only ten years, for the last twenty we've been burrowed in here scraping by. It was a gamble but it paid off."

"So why won't you give us the licences we need for back home?"

"Home? It's not my home anymore, you saw to that. Am I still on the dissident list?"

"Oh that. We can negotiate on that. I'm sure once the trade deal goes through, I'm sure we can come to an understanding."

"Sure? You're sure? That's not what my people tell me. I'm curious of all the reps of your government you have been the most vocal opponent of taking a trade deal with us. No matter that its obvious you won't survive without our technology. But you, I can't figure you out, you have a brain, at least you did, so why did you come, all but alone and without any formal acknowledgement from your chief of staff. Why?"

She still had that air of detached amusement, like he was a distracting enigma but nothing of any consequence. He gritted his teeth and replied.

"I'm here to test the waters, see what kind of deal you're willing to accept. The rhetoric, the tit for tat broadcasts and rivalry is one thing but we are open to discussions but not unconditionally."

"We have conditions too."

"You'll find the American people hard to convince that your new socialism is a better solution."

She rolled her eyes and looked at him with obvious disdain.

"Fuck off with that shit James You're done and you know it. You have nukes and you're throwing your weight around on the world stage but as a force in global affairs you're done. If I look out the window, I can see the vultures circling the corpse of what's left."

"Your nation too!" Hutchens teeth gritted as he spoke.

"Not anymore, I'm a dissident remember."

He was aware that Gladys and Samir looked embarrassed to witness this.

"As you can see," He said "Myself and Katherine have a history."

"We do," she said and she looked admonished. "But anyway, for all your bluster the truth is you need us more than we need you. We'll survive and prosper no matter what you do. Your people can't say the same."

"The concessions you are looking for is something we can't agree to. You're talking about a new, and untested economic system. You think I can sell that?"

"We can't support the status quo and you know it. For chrissakes you brought back segregation and the indenture system. Its no wonder you call yourselves the confederate states."

"Say what you like but those systems work, law and order has been maintained."

"More horseshit, and what about the detention camps, if even a fraction of what I hear is happening there then you're on the wrong side of this." Hutchens regretted keeping off the drink right now.

"We do what we have to keep our nation from descending into chaos, I won't apologise for that."

She looked like she was about to stand up, just like her to avoid confrontation. Then he saw she had changed, she stayed put and she chose her next words with great care.

"We do what we must too. We won't permit licensing of any technology that will prolong the corrupt regime you represent."

He nodded for those were the words he expected to hear. He pivoted.

"I thought that would be the official line. You realise I am only one man. Won't you try to convince me that accepting your deal is the best thing for us?"

"Is there any point even trying to? You seem sure yours is the only way."

"Won't you even try, for old times' sake?" It was the wrong thing to say, he saw that immediately. "What do you want?" Katherine said her voice hard. He could tell what he said now would determine everything.

"We need proof, the bio-forge technology, is it safe? Can it do what the feeds say it can?"

"So it's true then? The famine?" Her eyes pierced deep and he knew he had to give her something.

"There are food shortages, problems with logistics and supply."

"I'm told there are crop failures for the last harvest and more expected. You can't import because your credit lines have dried up. You're fucked and you know it."

"So that's your plan? Starve us out until we have no choice but to accept whatever conditions you impose?

"It's the smart thing to do. If we agree to your terms we'll be lending tacit support to a regime that's doomed and, may I add, naught but a tyranny that's close to collapse."

"It doesn't have to be this way. If you can persuade your people that what we offer is fair and in your best interests then," Hutchens cut her off.

"We can't, won't accept socialist dogma to sway our righteous cause." Katherine shook her head.

"What happened to you? what led you to this?" He did not answer and the words hung heavy in the air.

Finally Samir, his food untouched as he witnessed the exchange said.

"The bio-forges, maybe if we could see them, it might change our minds?" Hutchens kept talking.

"That is what we're here for. Katherine, you have us here, show us this miraculous technology."

"Sure, if you think you can bear to hear me crow about it for a few hours, we'll leave now. I don't think anyone here has much appetite."

She waved over a member of staff and whispered in his ear. Little more was said and she bid Hutchens and the others to follow her. She summoned an elevator and they proceeded to the transport bay.

Not much longer.

Hutchens thumbed the small object in his pocket, he checked the time on the station clock, forty five minutes.

"Why do you want to see the bio-forge, you make it seem urgent, important, we know you want it, I mean all the sabre-rattling and the oh so tiresome rhetoric. What's your game? What will you get out of this?"

She knows, she must why else would she ask that.

He faced her, there in the terminal and an overwhelming rage threatened to engulf him. Gladys replied, she too showing traces of the anger he felt.

"You think you're so smart, people are dying and you know it and you're here in your fancy clothes and your fucking Asian fusion cuisine."

Katherine recoiled her eyes wide.

"Is it that bad? Truly? We aren't spying on anyone, we're too busy keeping ourselves alive to think much on you. Besides you're keeping us busy with domestic security, we don't have the resources to for offshore espionage, that's your gig." A realisation on her face now that Gladys had revealed their feelings.

"How bad is it? We're hearing of food shortages but how many are affected?"

He had to say something, something that would distract her line of questioning. The device he carried, he could almost feel it burning in his pocket. The only recourse was the truth.

"The harvest yields are dropping, fast. Another season and we'll be relying on imports for all the major crops." Katherine nodded, saying.

"We had no idea, we knew there are issues in the region but this? I don't get it, why the secrecy, the public denials all the polemic?"

"If we accept the conditions for the bio-forge technology it will," Katherine interrupted, like she always used to.

"Of course, the schism, all you rich white folks at the top of the pyramid. When the system topples you'll be at the bottom and all the shit will fall on top of you. You'll be crushed. You think they'll even have trials? Or do you think it will be a lynch mob that comes for you in the night?"

"You think I care? If the current administration falls, millions will suffer We can't even guess how many that will die!"

"Always so arrogant, as if nothing better could be possible without you at the helm. You haven't changed at all have you?" The question was rhetorical. "So again, why are you here, why is the bio-forge so important?" This time Samir answered on his behalf.

"The high council, some are in favour of accepting the technology but there are conditions."

"Such as?"

"We need to know it works as they say it does, we need to be sure its not a ruse to topple the administration."

"Bullshit! You want to own it, you want to use to enforce a status quo that keeps millions in poverty and close to starvation. We're offering the tech to anyone and you want to limit it, put so much legislation on it only the most capitalised corporations can use it and for what to keep the whole crooked system running for another few decades."

The bio-forge complex loomed closer. The automated constructors crawled around it and its hivelike modules towered into the sky. Hutchens remembered the leaked images and he could see now the scale beggared anything back home. He thought for a moment about his wife, would he ever see her again?

"Here it is." Katherine said the electric vehicle they rode in crossed the threshold at the base of the squat tower. Hutchens was amazed at what he saw. The outer surface of the building was just a thin skin. He was inside a vast hollow structure almost a mountain in size. He took it all in. The bio-forges, three massive towers and through gaps in the mesh of metal work he saw rich lush green crops.

"How much do you know already?" Katherine asked, regarding him with that same calculating stare.

"We know it works, you're selling the produce but not the tech, we want to know why."

"It should be obvious to a power player like you, agri-produce is sky high right now we make a lot more money selling the output than we do if we sold the tech. Besides the world is in chaos and we can't guarantee we'd get paid. That's the bind we're in, we can't sell we can only give it away. Right now, that would only calcify the status quo, the rich would get richer and as for the poor,"

"Don't you believe in the natural order?"

"Don't give me that line, there is no natural order, you're just frightened bitter old men that can't take their hands off the reins. You're losing control, it doesn't matter what you do at this point. It's falling and that's how it is. All that's left to figure out is the body count when it ends."

"Ever the cynic!" Hutchens derided.

It was nearly time, minutes were all that remained.

"You should see the control centre." Katherine said.

They ascended via elevator and Hutchens looked out over the towering structure and was amazed. Such a feat of engineering, how ignorant of it all his own people were. There was power here, power that could rebuild his nation and he had no choice but to be part of its destruction. Hutchens took a deep breath, for the first time in an age he smelled the lush scents of thriving plant life.

"What do you grow here?"

"At this facility, grain and roots, elsewhere we have stock in bio-commodities. Oils, rubber, cotton, anything where humans are less susceptible to contaminants."

"Haven't you solved that?"

"Just about."

The elevators doors opened and Hutchens looked out over the control room. He made it, with minutes to spare.

They were not alone, dozens of technical staff went about their activities, paying no mind to the visitors. Katherine was called away and it was just the three of them standing by the door. He hesitated, was this the right thing to do. His people convinced him there was no other choice, that the plan was in motion and nothing could prevent their final stratagem. Sensing his opening, he walked to the unit his intel people assured him was the inlet feed where he needed to insert the pathogen

"Wait!" Gladys shouted out and Katherine and all the others turned to face him. Another Elevator arrived, he saw Flynn and behind him three uniformed security officers.

They knew, they had always known.

How did they get to Gladys?

It did not matter, they missed Gladys because he knew they spent all their time investigating Samir. He was the always the weakest link and only because Hutchens' vouched for him and that they failed to find any dirt he came with the senator. Samir was loyal and all that time, Gladys was feeding intel. Strange, he mused in those last few seconds before he committed the act. What did she give them? Katherine seemed genuinely surprised at the scale of the calamity back home, so Gladys must not have sent that intel. He was the sole focus of her betrayal. They wanted to know about him, hell, they must have pressed Gladys to get him here.

Katherine looked up and saw him, he stood over the feed-tank with the small capsule in his hand.

"Go on! Do it!" Katherine shouted at him.

Those were not the words he expected and it could mean only one thing.

They knew, they always knew. Then why all this pretence?

"They lied to you!" Gladys said. "The administration, they set you up for this. They will disavow your actions."

He thought of his own party, his nation. Piece by piece his inner world began to crumble.

"What are you waiting for Hutch! We're ready. We can always rebuild."

"It was always part of the plan! Wasn't it Gladys."

"I had to Senator. You know what's happening, millions will die without their help."

The weight of it hit him, it was over, it didn't matter if he poisoned the bio-forge. This betrayal by those closest to him . It was all for nothing. This, these towering machines and the hard minds of those that built them. For a moment he thought of swallowing the pathogen.

"You can work with us Hutch." she always called him that.

Inside his mind, the ways of the past were already dying.

The security guards raised their stun guns.

Hutchens dropped the canister.