Kevon Leonard looked out over the tortured landscape with open contempt on his young face. Not for the blackened and scarred earth—no: for the soulless fools who had caused the planet to come to such a fate.
"This has to stop, Lani," he had said to his best friend. They had stood together and looked out over this same field not two years ago, when the grass had still been green and the factory that was now no more than a pile of contaminated slag was still pumping its noxious fumes into the air.
Theirs was a world slowly falling apart. For long millennia, it had been prosperous and peaceful under the planet-wide governmental network, with technology advancing in leaps and bounds, but in the last few centuries the gradual depletion of once-abundant natural resources had become a problem. Not only had these resources been arrogantly wasted, but misused as well. The means to produce important machines like computers and medical equipment were unsafe and unhealthy to the workers who, though the final products were clean, and the discharge from the assembly plants poisoned the earth. The world leaders covered it up for as long as they could in the interest of the continuation of "progress," but it became difficult to ignore the fact that people were dying premature because of numerous forms of cancer that were previously unheard of or very rare. Babies were born with strange disfigurements. The oldsters' tales of "back in my day" took on a disturbing validity as the soil became more polluted and the general quality of produce fell. Now there were precious few places where relatively clean water and earth could be found. They were guarded jealously, and political corruption was getting to be an elephant in the living room. Everyone knew it was there, but no one talked about it.
Lani Christoph had agreed totally, his black eyes hard as onyx.
"This planet badly needs someone to come in and take charge of the situation," he said.
They were in their late teens. Kevon with his dark hair and soft hazel eyes was lanky and unbalanced yet, but promised to sort out with adulthood. His heavy eyebrows emphasized the strong lines of his face. Lani was deceptively soft in appearance. His jawbones were rounded outwards and gave him a babyish look; his legs were longer than they could have been, and the fact that he carried some extra flesh about his short torso didn't help, either. Only his eyes betrayed the shrewd mind that lurked under his jet hair. The two had been friends since they could walk. They had done everything together—Kevon leading, Lani acting as lieutenant. The two shared their deepest, darkest secrets with each other, from childish fantasies to preadolescent crushes to the very real fears and doubts of approaching adulthood.
Kevon stood alone now. In the distance, the slag heap was burning again. The last lighting storm must have set it off; the air smelled of chemicals and electricity. He waited for Lani. He had said he would come. Out of respect for the deteriorating bond that was their friendship, he had to.
Minutes that seemed like hours passed before Kevon turned at the sound of heavy footfalls crunching the parched rock and grit that was the ground. Lani strode up the rise, head down, hands in the pockets of his black canvas trousers. His eyes flicked once at Kevon from under his heavy brow. A jacket was draped over his right arm.
When he saw that Lani would not meet his eyes, Kevon knew. Denied it with all his heart—no, he wouldn't do that—but knew.
"You did it, didn't you? You went and did it."
Lani understood what Kevon was talking about, of course. It had been a bone between them for months, ever since the new organization had made itself open to volunteers. Put together by the remnants of the failing government, it was supposed to be an autonomous force for the preservation and fair distribution of the planet's remaining resources. Kevon believed it would be the biggest scam ever run and flat-out refused to have anything to do with it. He strongly discouraged his friends from getting involved.
But hang it all, Lani was tired of following him around like a faithful canine. He had a mind of his own, and he had used it. This organization was the very thing his world needed. He would be a part of its salvation. He carried the top part of his new uniform over his arm as a sign of his new position. Lani Christoph would save the world.
"This is the very thing we've been waiting for, Kevon," he said almost warningly. "This group is going to maintain the resources we have and make sure everyone gets a fair share." His eyes were hard; his mouth set in a determined line.
"Everyone in power, you mean!" Kevon snapped. "Can't you see what this is? Who are the people in charge of the operation?" he demanded, holding out his hand as if asking for the information to be given to him that way. His navy tee shirt clung to his arm and showed up his smooth muscles.
Lani didn't answer, but turned to look at the flaming refuse beyond. Why did Leonard have to be such a prat? Of course the more influential people in the government's ear got chosen for the job. They were the ones with the power and information to be effective. Why shouldn't they be given the chance? It was logic—pure, simple logic—that men with experience in dealing with people be put in command of a social reform operation such as this.
"It's a scam," Kevon insisted. "Do you honestly think those jackals are going to share? With their grunts; with you, even—let alone the rest of the planet!"
"Look," Lani spun around angrily, his hands held out stiffly before him. "If I work hard at this I could rise to an influential position. Then I could make sure everything is square!"
"By then it will be too late!" His first words and Lani's last overlapped. "Why can't you get it through your skull that you're being played for a fool?"
"Don't insult me, Leonard! You-" he stabbed the air with his left index finger-"have no right to tell me what I can and cannot choose to do with my life." He instinctively widened his stance in preparation for battle. His dark eyes smoldered.
"Damn it Lani!" Kevon shouted. "I'm not telling you to do anything! I'm asking you—as a friend—to see reality."
Who the hell did he think he was? How had Lani put up with that arrogant prat as long as he had? 'I'm not telling you, I'm asking you!' What cheek! That was it—that was the last straw.
"How dare you imply that you're better than me?! Mister high-and-mighty: so gallant, so noble!" he sneered. "We're through!" He made a cutting gesture, only slightly hampered by his uniform.
"What?" Kevon was taken aback.
"You heard me," Lani growled. "I am going to do what I feel I have to do. You don't have to like it. You don't have to agree with it. Just leave me alone!" With that he spun on his heel and began striding back the way he had come. He got a fair distance without questioning himself and was feeling quite smug about it when Kevon found his voice again.
"Now hold on just a minute!" He jogged after him. "Lani!"
Lani kept walking. No way was he turning back now that his mind was made up. Leonard could say what he liked. Then, suddenly, a strong hand was on his shoulder, turning him around against his will.
There was Kevon. Right in his face!
"Get out of my way." It was a silly thing to say—his way was behind him and at the moment Leonard was in front of him—but it got his point across. He would not be hindered.
"Look, would you just—"
"I said leave me be!" At this point Lani flung Kevon's hand off his shoulder and away from him and turned violently to get away. If he was pushed any further, something nasty was going to happen!
"No!" Kevon was going after him again, but before he could do anything Lani shouted an unintelligible sound of fury and took a swing at him. It was only Kevon's quick reflexes that let him duck out of the way of the blow in time to avoid it. It had certainly been aimed at his head. Then Lani was running at him and he had to maintain his crouch and whirl away to one side to avoid being pummeled. The aggressor had to work to keep his balance and not fall over, and Kevon used those few seconds to stand up and think of what to do next.
This was not unlike his friend Lani, unfortunately. He had seen him fight before now. His long legs, out of proportion to the rest of him, often put him at a disadvantage in a tackle if he missed as he had just now, but if he made contact it was like being rammed with a two-by-four. Lani had a hard head and carried a lot of mass in his bones. Despite this, he was quick. A formidable opponent, but Kevon knew his weakness.
When he got going, Lani Christoph didn't think. He let his emotions take over and never knew when to quit. He would persist in a fight until his enemy was unconscious or someone stopped him. Kevon was canny. He would watch and wait until he saw an opening and then go in for the attack with all the power in his wiry musculature behind him. Lani knew, but he would forget.
"Come on, Leonard!" he taunted. "You're so eager to have me; come and get me!" He charged Kevon a second time.
"No way! I don't want this; I don't want to fight you." He dodged to the side again. He couldn't avoid this brawl now, but he could end it quickly. End the brawl… and end their friendship for good.
Lani came tensed to hit him this time. He walked stiffly, building power throughout his frame. His face contorted into a grimace as he pulled his fist back…
Kevon didn't want to do it, but he had no choice. Lani was focused on what he was doing only, wasn't watching his target. Kevon Leonard darted forward, coiled like a spring, and let his one-time friend have it.
He howled in pain and rage and reeled backwards, clutching his face. Judging by the liquid warmth he was feeling, his nose had been broken—and badly, at that. He was in shock: Kevon had actually managed to hit him? How could he? His own best friend—no, not anymore. He drew himself slowly upright, stolidly ignoring the pain he was in and trying to staunch the flow of blood from his nose. No, they were more than through now. Leonard would regret this, Lani would see that he did! So much for friendship. Now they would be enemies.
"You haven't won this," he snarled through his hand. "You haven't seen the last of me!" He stumbled towards his uniform jacket (which he had thrown to the ground earlier), retrieved it, and retreated as quickly as he could.
Kevon watched him go with a heavy heart. Again, he noticed that Lani hadn't been able to bring himself to meet his eyes. Well, he supposed that meant there was still a chance of reaching him. Probably not any time soon, he knew Lani to be too stubborn for that, but eventually, when he realized that his precious group wasn't giving him his dues, he'd wise up.
But until then, Kevon had lots to do. He had to adjust to the fact that he and Lani were no longer on the same side, as it were, and he had to prepare for any revenge the other might take. Kevon knew that Lani would, if he got the chance. He had to remember to think of him as 'foe' now. In the heartless clutches of the corrupt beast that called itself a government, Lani would forget that they had once been friends and allies in the same cause. It was too late to stop that now, Kevon thought sadly, but there was something else he could do. This… this theft of his right-hand man solidified his resolve. The war began today.
He looked one last time at the wounded landscape, the burning skeletons of the creations of humankind. All of it made Kevon want to throw up in the worst way. I have a score to settle with you now, he thought at the dead factory building. Not only are you killing my planet, now you've stolen my best friend. Well, you haven't seen the last of me. He turned angrily and stormed off in the direction opposite to the one Lani had taken. He still had Marius and Theo, and his plans—plans that he had nursed and mused over for years—would still take form in reality. Theo had the technical mind and Marius the ominous presence he would need to get started.
The Resistance was born today.