Equilibrium I: The Earth Lords
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Part One: Affliction
Just my luck that the end of the day is going to turn bad. Why me, God? Marcus rolled dark blue eyes to the ceiling of his math classroom and wondered when the period was going to be over. It did not pay to listen to a dull repetitive lecture on a fine first summer day of 2035. He should have bought a watch a long time ago when the other died out. There was no school digital fixed atop the wall near the door beside the P.A. speaker, only a hastily erected blank tile covering where the clock had once been. Mr. Dekratz pet peeve was watching students glance up at the clock, yawn, then look back at him as they tried to be attentive. Bored faces were all around at the back. The next day the digital was gone. Dekratz, or The Klutz as many of his students like to call him behind his back with accompanied sniggers had a smug look on his face ever since then when he caught others glancing up from habit.
"That's all for the review before your examinations. Now let's get rolling onto checking your homework," Mr. Dekratz quipped. Marcus merely flicked his eyes over then run a frustrated hand through his smooth jet-black hair. Donna had whispered there was a mere three minutes to go, and this teacher was carrying on about homework!
"Know what?" Donna whispered to him from behind. "I've just had about enough of this course and this teacher. Thank God that there's only a few more weeks to go."
"Got that right," he muttered back.
"So who's got the answer to the question?" asked Dekratz. The class was silent and no one raised their hands. It stretched with the teacher patiently waiting, drumming fingers along the textbook.
A string of slang and swearwords became audible as a group of guys in the hall bypassed the room. The class burst into laughter as familiar curses and intelligent choice of words filtered in. Dekratz looked nonplussed and attempted to regain order, but right at that moment the three chimes that sounded for a school bell came through the P.A. and the class immediately got up to leave, packing bags and hurrying out the door before Dekratz had anything more to say.
Marcus escaped with the rest of his grade eleven counterparts. He was grateful for the sudden interruption that got him out. School was over for the day. Bolting over to his locker with Donna after him. She was surfing the Net through her handheld, she downloaded music off the digital wireless networking system and soon had her strawberry-blond hair swaying to the rhythm, brown-blue eyes in half trance.
His older brother would be home tonight from the University of Toronto, taking to the Skyway. It was basically a suspended highway that reached several kilometers high supported every few kilometers in length by giant pillars and stretched from city to city, from province to province, domed in a type of glass a group of scientists specially called Metra-glass. It was a sort of safety and security measure. Basically a long transcontinental highway was what it was built to be ten years ago.
His brow knotted as he thought of how Thomas was often treated as the prodigal son returned home, and how the entire family would dote on him, even his young sister of sixteen at times. Martha, who went to a separate school, was more often than not annoyed with Thomas's attitude. His mother had enrolled her in a Catholic school when she took the chance. Not that he had anything against Thomas, but his brother's activities and popularity were getting to his nerves. They had been rival siblings, with Thomas the slyer and craftier between the both of them. Yet he thought that someday he would show that snobby twenty-three year old what stuff he was made of.
"Thinking of your brother again?" asked Donna with a quirking smile. "You always frown when you think of him."
"Yeah, he's coming home again to show who's boss," he said, sighing minutely. "What can I do? Shall I go and jump into Lake Huron while I'm at it?"
"The lake?" She looked amused. "No, that's too good for you. I'm thinking of hanging you up at the Danshire town square, just for kicks. Maybe then they will pity you. Of course, this kind of thing almost always backfires on you."
A toothy grin was his reply. Dumping most of the day's books and picking up a few binders, he stuffed them in and zipped it shut. Donna caught sight of her other friends and quickly said goodbye to him as she ran up to them. Other than Donna, who wasn't really what he would call a friend, all his relationships with the others were acquaintances. They saw him a loner, someone who didn't want them nor need their companionships, and Marcus would heartily agree. He walked down the stairwell alone and into the streets, thinking of home.
His father, Jonathan Matanrev, was a successful businessman in his late fifties. He owned a large business that produced unique computer hardware, made from the cheap raw material of Metra-induced resources. He was a multi-millionaire in truth, but did not exactly bask in it's splendor. Though they owned three modernized hydro-cars, the newest clothes styles, and the best of every household furniture and electronics, he liked to keep himself humble.
Or so he said, Marcus thought sardonically, for they never gotten to see the full bag of money. Jonathan Matanrev had picked out the small town of Danshire as a place for him to hold his homestead and bought and mortgaged off the bungalow they lived in now. It was more like a small mansion than anything else, and it was modest. Rachel Matanrev took charge of the house and her own small company of fashion styles.
He walked on past the town-square, where as most often in any town-square stood a statue. This one was of a man surrounded by flying loons in bronze, and during the night fancy colored ambient lights were aimed at the man and the loons. Marcus thought it strange. Why would anyone in their right minds put something like this up? What relation with the town did a man surrounded by loons have to do with Danshire? Why not something that fitted this town, this community? A man with loons all over him was not the case. He shrugged and walked on.
Danshire was a bustling, growing town created sometime in the early 2010s. It was a mere decade old, and already it was aging and expanding. The good thing, he admitted, was that the place was modernized and much more peaceful than the bustle of Toronto, several kilometers away southeast.
There was a Net tower nearby, arch and aloof from the small apartment buildings where information was traded and linked up to satellites. It was used to connect every person using computers to each other around the world. Each place had their own communications and informations line. The bandwidth and data bank capabilities were enormous, and of course it was built of the mysterious Metra-based materials that looked too much like the normal, everyday steel, concrete, and whatnot. Just how it worked, he as among many that didn't know.
Marcus kicked a pebble away moodily as he turned the corner and headed for the residential area where his home was. Dubiously he thought the house also made out of Metra resources. Many years ago the same group of scientists before their making of the Skyway had mysteriously created the special all-purpose raw material. With the exception of food it could be turned into anything, it was rumored. With Metra, wholesale economies rose and fell. It was very cheap since it was easy to make, but the companies that made the material were under the scientist's control, since they jealously guarded the formula. They monopolized the metals and in a world where fossil fuels were becoming rarer and rarer and natural resources in the brink of exhaustion. Companies had no choice but to buy from them, but at least it was cheap. At least, that was what the media said, and he couldn't be sure about the media anymore.
He wondered how they made Metra. To him, it almost seemed as if they magicked it. He grinned to himself as his imagination played out a scientist in a magician's costume babbling silly nonsense words like "Bubba-dubba" "Hocus-pocus" and "Abracadabra!" waving a poor excuse of a magic wand. Rather it was more like a bent iron stick with a radioactive end glowing green. Comically an imaginary rabbit indignantly popped out of the hat the scientist was hovering around and made a rude gesture. He imagined the scientist getting angry then shooting himself down with his own lightning.
His daydream vanished as he encountered a massed lot of cars parked here and there. Too many of the hydrogen-powered cars were near his house. A Mercedes was right in the driveway. He groaned as he realized it was most likely his brother's friends, holding up a party again down in the basement, drinking and dirty dancing to the music.
Of all the brothers I was born with, why did it have to be this one?
Quietly he made his way to the back. His parents weren't home was what the party meant. That also meant Martha was all alone somewhere, and he didn't like the thought of them running around with a free rein. He didn't trust any of them in the house. Cautiously he entered the back door at the kitchen.
The kitchen smelled as it always smelled: with a musk odor of burnt cookies. Other than that, it was in order. No sign of anyone taking out beer from the pantry, or trying some of the wine that his parents strictly said to be reserved for important moments. He flipped his mind over the thought of the possible chance of a hidden cache at the basement by his own brother.
He crept out and saw the basement door to the stairwell was closed and locked. Pressing an ear, he heard faint sounds of booming music and shrill -lewd- laughter. It never did any good to hear that, especially what with all the possible dirty things happening down there. Hastily he hurried up a set of stairs leading to the hall of bedroom doors.
Martha was usually early at arriving from her Catholic school. He knocked as quietly as he could and asked softly, "Martha? You in there?"
He heard a muffled yes, and the door being unlocked. Martha, her blond hair astray from lying on her bed with a book, was a serious minded teenage. Clad in her blue pajamas, she looked as if she was ready for bed, thought it was merely four o'clock in the afternoon.
Marcus let out a sigh of relief that he didn't realize he had been holding. "Is Thomas down there and with how many friends?"
"I saw him bring in about fifteen," she replied quietly, black eyes boring into him. "They were carrying drinks between all of them. I had locked the door when I saw them come into the house. He doesn't even know that I'm home."
"He done anything rash so far?" Honestly, if you thought he was going to get mature when he got older…
"I heard something crashing downstairs. Probably some of mom's ornaments," she shrugged nonchalantly, a hint of a smirk on her face.
"What a brother," he growled, causing Martha to start a fit of giggles that belied her nature. "I better go talk to him. Oh darn, the door was locked." He thumped a fist on the door then regretted it. He didn't want his brother to suddenly come down upon him like a demon from hell. Then again, maybe he was too busy partying to have noticed the audible thump of flesh on wood that had resounded throughout the deceptively empty house.
"You know when Mom and Dad will be back?" he asked of her.
"I have no clue," she said, looking up at him. She was shorter than he was by a few inches. "I would say until ten, but I've never been good with timing."
"Perfect," he muttered to himself as she closed the door and locked it again. He strode over across the hall into his room. "Just what a need today, and it's supposed to be a fun Friday with the weekend. I had plans, but no, the prodigal son had to come back and ask for more money with wonderful lashings of forgiveness. This makes me sick. Guess I'll have to spend all the weekend with him."
He unpacked his bag and strewn the contents on his desk. He dropped the bag behind his chair and turned on his computer. With a sigh, he plopped down on his bed and stretched like a lean tomcat. It felt so good that he did it twice, flexing weary fingers and toes. Outside, the sun was beginning it's descent over a horizon of green coniferous trees that signified the local park.
"Ah me, time to work on a summer's day." He sighed as he got up from bed and resignedly sat over at his desk and opened his math binder.
There was a rattle at the door as someone tried to jiggle the door open, but found it locked. It was followed by a loud smart knock. Marcus shot up and peered into the spyhole and gawked. It was the toughie Jack, a burly jock and captain of the University's varsity hockey team. Behind him stood a few others of similar build.
"Yeah? Who the hell is it?" Marcus snarled behind the door. At least they weren't pounding in on Martha.
"You know who it is." Jack's voice was a light tenor. "Now get this door open, will you?"
Marcus figured that either way, he would be caught up into another of their mischief. If he kept the door closed, they could break it down. If he opened it, he would be lured for something, a usually unpleasant scenario. He decided to go for it.
"Good of you to see reason." Jack smiled at him, a bright false smile. His breath smelled of booze. A few nondescript towering muscled tall shadows stood waiting. His hands were suddenly onto the scruff of Marcus's neck and picking him up, none too gently. "Let's get him out of here. Don't blame us," he said as Marcus glared at him, "it's Thomas's orders."
Marcus was dragged kicking and punching out of the house. Once on the porch they unceremoniously picked him up and threw him out into the green lawn. "You aren't staying here while the party is on," called Jack, then slammed the front door.
He picked himself up, dusting away some of the earth and checking himself for any bruises. Lucky for him that he still had his shoes, jacket, and wallet on him. A painful bruise was swelling near his elbow when he had crashed and landed. The grass had thankfully broken his fall.
What kind of a brother does this to his younger? He was coldly furious. I should have raided then trashed that cache he had put away when I found it.
Grunting as he massaged his bruises, he fixed up his disheveled hair and picked off some small pieces of grass from his light leather jacket. Hands in his pockets, he walked away as if nothing had happened. Neighbors nearby had peeked out their windows just for a moment then back to whatever they were doing.
He could do with a walk in the park to calm his jangled nerves and anger. The trees always had a calming effect on him. It was probably seeing them all standing so still, swaying in the wind from time to time, needle leaves rustling, the squirrels running around up and down trees and some cocking their heads to look at him curiously then scamper away. If only it was closer to his home he would have spent most of his time pondering the unknown, but that would earn him a name of 'head-in-the-clouds'. The park was a block away from his school to the northwest.
The pathway was free of people, and he was all by himself. He listened to the whisperings of the tall grass, the leaves, and the small furry animals. He spotted a hedgehog disappearing from the path, it's painful pricking needles flat in calm. He let the woods drown him, overwhelm him in their essence. He asked for nothing more during a day like this, sheer peaceful bliss of blotting his mind of all the day's events.
The path began to slope upwards into a low hill, and on the top he sat down on a stump by the path and looked around him, marveling at the glorious sunlight. A vagrant breeze blew by, ruffling his loose jacket. From here he could see just a little bit more of the park.
He was no longer alone on the path. There was an old man, strolling along and whistling cheerfully a small distance in front of him, slowly getting closer. His short silver hair bobbed as he walked with a rolling gait. Tucked under his arm was an old, battered book. Marcus wished that he were as happy as this man was.
"Good day to you," the man said as he got closer to Marcus. Marcus smiled faintly in greeting.
"Nice view from up here, don't you think?" the old man asked, his hawk-like eyes twinkling. He was now humming a tune under his breath. "I've come up here many a time myself."
"I like how you could see the sun on the trees," Marcus replied. "See there? It looks as if the forest has a highlight."
The man chuckled. "So 'tis! I never saw that before, mind you. What's your name, lad?"
"Marcus. And you?" he asked politely.
"Call me Hans. That's what everyone knows me as."
For the next thirty or so minutes Marcus forgot about his demise and talked with Hans. The old man turned out to be in his spry seventies, but he acted as if he was in his late fifties. He was in good health and very well fit, due to various workouts and constant harassment from good-natured friends.
"I wish that Thomas isn't so…aggressive," he began after they lapsed into a contented silence.
Hans curled his eyebrows. "Really? Who is this Thomas?"
"My brother," Marcus rasped in a sullen tone. "He's an annoying man to have around, and always picking up ways to have me uncomfortable at home even though he was supposed to have left and found himself a place down in Toronto. He came back, you see, for the weekend."
"How exactly is he annoying?" Hans drummed long fingers on a pine trunk thoughtfully.
"Let's just say that he got his goons to throw me out of the house a scant few minutes I got in."
The old man shook his head and chuckled low. "I suppose you could say that now. Me now, I was the eldest between four, and we all got together well enough. If one got in trouble, we would jump in and beat the crap out of anyone that tried to do their worst."
"You think you can still do that with your old flagging joints?" Marcus asked with a crooked smile.
"I'd have you know that I am well fit!" Hans replied mock-indignantly. "I can lick any man worth his salt down to the ground, aye, and make him eat it too."
"Try my brother," Marcus suggested. "It should be easy enough for you."
"What, me? It would be fifteen against one, and those are high odds, especially for my age."
"You old conniving cheat," Marcus grinned gamely. "First you say that you could beat anyone to a pulp even with your age, and now you complain about your age. Make up your mind, which is it?"
"Ah, well, I'd say it's somewhere in the middle," Hans cackled. "I'm not so old as to walk around limping with a trolley or cane on one hand, the other on an aching back, hmm?"
"Youth is the best age to be in," Marcus bragged.
"Really? You lot are more inexperienced and apt to do a lot of stupid mistakes."
"Hey old man, you sure you haven't done a few yourself at your senile age?"
Hans glared at him but couldn't resist a laugh. "Get on with you, young rascal. I'd have you know that with youth comes foolishness, and with age comes wisdom."
"Don't be sure of that. I'd say that with age comes senility."
"Oh, shut up!"
Marcus grinned and did a mock stagger of what he thought was an impression of Hans. The other walked around with a pompous youthful exuberance that mocked Marcus.
"Say," They had stopped laughing at each other and looking out once again at the woods. Hans turned to Marcus. "You an avid reader?"
"Sort of. I read when I have time."
"Good. This day and age what with all the entertaining visuals, many of them lewd, mind you, I'm surprised people can read." Hans shook his head in disgust. "Practically no one reads for pleasure now. Maybe when they get bored of watching the television or the holos in their computer do they pick up a book." He reached for the book he carried with him and showed it to Marcus. "This here is a rare read, a classic, I should say."
The book was worn with age, but there was an air of solemnity around it. The leather tome, though plain, was in good condition. Marcus hesitated. "This looks pretty old. You sure that I won't be ripping it or anything like that?"
Hans chuckled once more. "Of course. Well, you wouldn't be able to anyway." There was a secretive look on his face. "Rare as this book is, it is even rarer because this is the only copy. You go ahead and read the story if you can. Keep it. It's…interesting. Well, I'm off. The sun is getting low." There was something cryptic about his words, but Marcus did not notice. He watched as the enigmatic old man walked down the hill and back to where he came from.
A book hmm? Amused, Marcus stuffed it under his armpit and looked around for a place to read. He knew he was being a coward not to go back and berate his brother, but it was the smart thing to do when there were fifteen drunk and dizzy university students dancing themselves to oblivion. He found a bench to sit on, leaned back, and flipped to the first page of the book.
The first thing he noticed was the way the words were written in a neat, scripted flowing handwriting. The pages were yellow with age, but the ink seemed to be as fresh as it had been made. There were strange glyph-like letters on the right hand top of the first page, and he couldn't make heads or tails of it. Shrugging, he read words that looked as if they had been subtly rearranged.
The glyphs at the front flashed, and he covered his eyes. Was this some sort of new special holographic effect added to the book? "Lords of Balance," he read aloud the title, which was in fancy lettering, then carried on, ignoring the fact that there were more weird letters below it that he couldn't read. This truly is a strange book. It went as follows:
'Balance. It is one of the most important factors that affect everyday happenings and why things happen in a certain way. You should not have more or less of another, meaning that each should be equal. If one was to outweigh or outdo the other, events happen which can be either good or bad. Wars, creations, life and death in itself, if there was to be no balance, all would be in chaos, and you could question; would we be here if it weren't for it?
Try to imagine yourself out of the world and looking down on it from above like a god, and see how things are played. Now say it was a time of war. You see little beings with weapons marching against another force coming straight for them, but that is all that you currently know. Now ask yourself: what caused the war? How did it begin? Which side of the balance had been tipped that provoked this into action?
If you get the answers, then you are truly a wise sage worthy of praise. More often than not these simple questions never get answered truthfully, always being covered by a veil of lies and treachery, false pretenses.
Some questions are answered only because it is obvious. With chance, fate, and luck thrown in, it had never been easy to predict what would happen, but nonetheless, it is possible, but most of the time they are only possibilities.
However, what is to happen to a dying race was no possibility. It was truth that was going to hit them all, the truth of a meteor coming down and smashing into a world that once was known for it's gentle people and tropical climes. Our world is passing away minute by minute ever since the crash, and this shall be my last great work, an important work.
To whoever is reading this now, you may either continue reading or drop the book to where it once came from if the book itself allows you to read on. It is a choice, and it won't be given to many. If you think you are able, grasp these words carefully and read.'
Marcus's curiosity was stirred awake as he kept on reading the book. It talked of a race of a lizard-like people, highly advanced, able to predict possible futures and do magic, were all going to die from a meteor storm that they would not have the time to prevent. This Maeriki, their oldest sage by their standards, had predicted the truth of the future in the first place and had warned them, and thankfully, they had listened. They built great ships that could weather space and time as they began to prepare a great exodus.
He learned that they had attempted to destroy the incoming meteors, and they had picked off all but the biggest that would crash into a tropical grove called the Rainforest and wipe out all the dragons living there.
This is such a weird book, he thought as he read a bit more of their history. A world that was devastated by a meteor strike and dinosaurs that had flown away on big shiny spaceships was unnerving and outrageous, but of course, it couldn't be real, could it? He stopped himself right there then wondered why he thought it real. The past avid descriptive pages sounded too much like…old theories for Earth? Suddenly his mind snapped as it flew fleetingly back on the description of the dragons and the sketches imprinted on the pages.
Many of the dragons were small, short, and stocky, and were not what you could call intelligent as the book described them. Certainly the giant predator types were fierce and with seemingly endless strength, but could think little and only on survival. The lizard race that Maeriki belonged to, a tall, proud people had their skin commonly fused with organic metal armors for more protection against encounters and were very quick and precise. When they hunted, it was for sport and delicacies. They were carnivorous from the small sketched picture he got of what looked like a lizard in wizard's robes. It was sleek and standing upright, it's claws gesturing at something unseen. He flipped to the page where the giant dragons were and again he was hit with a vague sense of recognition.
"They are dinosaurs," he gasped, then looked up self-consciously, but no one was walking around in the park as of yet. He couldn't believe it. His mind was playing tricks with him. Yet why was he finding himself believing in all this? Marcus felt that something had sneaked into his mind and warped him as much as these words looked warp as if to fit his language.
Did Hans read this before? He had to know, but he didn't know where he lived. He cursed himself for not even getting his e-mail or palm-phone number. He remembered at the second page how whoever had written it that he had a choice to either keep on reading or passing it on. Hans had passed it on. Marcus Matanrev had not, however, and he was stuck with it.
Marcus did not know that the book was probing, choosing the wielder carefully. It had come a long way from the dust of earth after the makeshift excavation and had been passed from fifty hands in all, none of them suitable for it's sense of duty. It had a job to do, and with it's limited spell-guided sentience it thought it had found a likely candidate and let the man keep on reading it. So far he had the qualities and was probably the only one that could become what Marcus would soon become.
The thrilling sound of a bird awoke Marcus form what had been a trance. He looked up and saw that the sun had set, and it's dying rays were giving the clouds a pink, fluffy texture like that of a cotton candy. He judged that he had been reading for three hours already.
He thought of giving the book back to Hans. Yet when he thought more and more of it he knew he couldn't give it back. The book was much too interesting.
Where did Hans get it anyway?
Cradling the book close to him as if it was a precious gift, he walked slowly home in the fading light.
* * *
Creeping up to the house made him feel as if he was breaking and entering. Marcus finally had the nerve to dare entry. He shoved that thought from his head as he relaxed quietly into bed with the book. The party was still going strong down below, but no one bothered coming up.
He sighed and settled on the bed again, studying the plain leather cover and bind that held the pages together. It was an interesting tale. Now that he had stopped reading, he couldn't but feel amused at thinking how he thought it so realistic. He placed the book under his bed, turned off the lights, and tried to go to sleep. He didn't feel like doing any work, since the book had incited a thoughtful mood on him, something that rarely prevailed whenever Thomas dropped by.
He was startled by a loud crash coming form the living room, followed by a stream of curses and a few yells of anger, which meant that someone had broken something very valuable.
Let him face the consequences. If his 'friends' are that drunk, I'd have no problem knocking them out cold myself, he mused. He tossed and faced the other way, studiously ignoring the racket being made, and closed his eyes.
* * * *
"You fools! Why did you have to go and do that?"
"Search me," mumbled Jack, sheepish as he faced an angry Thomas. "We was jus' tryin' to find a place to-"
"Well you didn't have to go and break this," Thomas said coldly as he picked up the pieces of what had been a flower vase amid the water, earth, and dying flowers, and a broken holo-portrait. "Go up there or something, like say my brother's room. Not here." He faced a silent Sandra, a girl of eighteen from down a block away. "Understand?"
"Yes," she said quietly, green eyes flashing. She flicked back some of her stray ebony hair that fluttered down in front of her face. "But that's not what we were going to do." Among all of them, she was the only one who hadn't gotten drunk on vodka. "I need a place to rest. All that drumming has given me a headache. Butterfingers here was just trying to help."
"Like I said, go an' get upstairs." Thomas blinked twice at her before he could clear his vision. He himself had drunk too much and had barely any control on his senses. His speech was just starting to slur.
"I'll be goin' back downstairs," rumbled Jack. Thomas followed right behind him, helping Jack from stumbling. A thrumming beat blasted into the living room as he opened the basement door then it was silent again as Thomas slammed it behind him.
Sandra shot a contemptuous face at the door. The party wasn't exactly what she had expected. Too many things were going on all at once. A girl like her didn't seem to fit in with a bunch of twenty to twenty-three year old men and women wearing suspiciously see-through clothing. She clutched her head blearily as the headache reminded her that it was here and not going anywhere. She clambered slowly up the stairs to the bedroom hall.
One door when she tried it turned out to be the master bedroom where his parents slept. Another door was locked and when she knocked all she got was a murmur of a "Go away." Thomas's sister came to mind, sixteen and an inconspicuous girl. Her headache was getting worse. She thought of getting an aspirin but those things were useless if she depended on them too much. At the moment she felt like a modern day Goldilocks exploring the bedrooms.
The next door she tried opened. With a sigh she thought it empty. She looked around her with some air of surprise. Bedrooms often signified a person's personality and this was for one thing not Thomas's. She knew he would not hang a picturesque scene of a tropical landscape on one wall and the Rocky Mountains right across and he was not the type to be doing any reading whatsoever as the shelf of books on the corner proclaimed the person did. The place was neat and swept. A small desk and computer were also positioned at the far corner and nearby was a bed. There was a light hum of an air conditioner circulating cool air and keeping the air from turning humid. Other than that the room was plain. With a small sigh, she sat down and flicked away some dirt on her long leather boots that reached up to her calves and stretched some of the wrinkles on her short black skirt.
No sooner was she on it that she realized the place was already occupied. Behind her a young man, breathing lightly and camouflaged by the blanket that covered him up to the chin was fast asleep. Sandra slowly got up so as not to disturb him. He looked like a younger, softer version of Thomas, except with black hair that matched her own than dark blond of his older brother.
What was his name again? She remembered seeing him walking on past her a couple of times in the halls in school. She narrowed her eyes in concentration, headache forgotten as she tied to remember the name Thomas said with scorn.
"Marcus," she said softly, "Your name is Marcus, isn't it?"
A light snore was her answer. She felt herself flushing and forced calm. Why would she be so shy to blush when she said his name? She didn't know, but before she wanted to even try to know just why she walked out of the room and closed the door resolutely.
She didn't belong here. The party was over to her. She would leave without saying goodbye to Thomas, for he would only lure her back and make her dance with him, and persuade her to do dirty moves. No, she thought firmly, no more for me. She had other things to think of, such as her gang members in the Black Wolves. They might be up to something interesting, especially their leader Wolf. He always did something exciting in the past, or talked of a thrilling experience. She pulled out her gang colors: a black cap and bandana and tied that on her left foot where her ankle should be.
Wonder what's up with the gang. The front door clicked shut from Thomas and his friends as she went out into the early night.
* * *
She arrived at their meeting place, a small out-of-the-way cafe. Most of the gang was there, eating, chatting, and laughing. The owner that usually served the place was an old man, a Dutchman named Hans that had immigrated a decade ago. He tolerated them and they to him in the beginning for two years, but now it was more than that. The Black Wolves were honest enough; none of their cash was counterfeit money or forged credit chits, and no one made trouble. Mostly, it were those that came into the cafe that were not Black Wolves that caused a few problems, but the Wolves acted like bouncers, tossing the belligerent, indignant customers out into the street. Lucky for them that they still had their clothes and wallets with their money since Hans was forgiving, but with Wolf, he would have had the punks stripped naked then tossed into Lake Huron in the dead of winter.
Through the Metra-glass windows she could see him talking with Hans. The man was probably doing another of his witty riddles for Wolf to try and figure out, and Wolf was one for puzzles. He was listening attentively as he sat on the stool with his head in his hands as he leaned on the counter. She chuckled, for to her it looked as if his whole body was into the cryptic words the old man was spouting out.
Sandra entered with a chime of jingles. Wolves turned to greet her "hi," and she waved back, shook hands, and gave the time-honored props. She looked around for a particular face and found Ralph sitting by himself on a table near the window, looking across the street in the night, looking as sober as ever.
"What's up Ralph?" she addressed and pulled up a chair to sit across from him. Ralph had a cowl that covered half his face that put it in dark and had the stare of a lion. She noticed his partly hidden right eye focusing and adjusting as he turned to look at her.
Ralph was a cyborg, maybe one of the first ones. A year back when he and Wolf were doing some discreet raiding in a couple of warehouses down in Toronto they had been spied and followed by an upstart rival gang. Naturally inexperienced, the green gang rushed up to them amid howls, cries, and a general clamor that announced their presence to the area and attracted security guards. Immediately the guards had attacked from behind them and hauled half of them away, leaving the rest to scatter. Yet in the end they left Ralph a gouged eye, a mutilated left arm and a maimed right leg, battered and bruised. Wolf was fortunate to have gotten off lightly, for Ralph had moved his leader behind him to protect Wolf and in so doing got the worst of the damages.
The guards called up an ambulance and rushed both into a nearby hospital were Ralph was treated well, but that was all. People did not take kindly to gangs, especially if the victims were gangsters themselves. Ralph was left all alone with Wolf as they nursed their wounds, and he thought that he would be useless from the day on, a foolish hero.
Luck was with him. There was a rare special geneticist mechanic in the hospital that heard about him, a person that tinkered with machinery parts to create synthetic limbs that functioned as would a normal arm or leg.
"Humph." The specialist, Doctor Jakerma, grunted diffidently as he examined Ralph carefully and said that it was possible for him to regain metallic body part replacements instead, but it would cost him. Yet the doctor was kind and only charged half his normal price for the whole lot, and Ralph was lucky enough it matched his savings. He had to drain his entire lot of credits in the online bank just to pay for it, but in the end, he had a new arm and leg, and an eye that acted like a magnifying glass.
"It'll take some getting used to, but trust me, it's worth it," Jakerma had reassured him. "This will turn out to be an asset to whatever you do in your…gang, and you will be useful."
"Yeah, sure," he had said dubiously, eyeing his arm. As if to reassure him, his metal hand flicked back and disappeared and was replaced by a fifteen inch long blade of Metra-steel. His hand flicked out again and the blade disappeared. He grinned up at the doctor. "This is so cool. Know what? I think you're gonna be right. How does it work?"
He sounded pleased. "When you think of the other use of your arm, the hand unlocks from the mechanism, slides in, and pushes out the knife and secures it in place. It functions by a direct connection to your nerves and it's wired to your mind's commands.
"Yet," the doctor had warned, "it might be better if you hid all that from everyone else for the time being. Some people don't really like cyborgs, makes them uncomfortable."
Ralph was testing out his eye. He was focusing in and out of the room and finding that doing too much of that would make him dizzy. He closed his one good eye to help his other sight. "You scared of me, doc?"
Jakerma grinned unpleasantly. "No. You see, I had to test out cybernetic limbs to see if it would work, and so I had sacrificed parts of me for the job." A strong hand suddenly grasped his own in a grip that no man could do. The doctor hadn't bothered to cover it with pseudo-flesh to make it look as real as possible, preferring to let it be. His left eye whirred and clicked as it focused. Ralph had understood and respected the man's bravery.
Ralph flicked the hood back. "Wolf has an issue."
"Of course he has," Sandra grumbled impatiently. "Wolf always had a few issues that could do with fixing, and some I don't dare mention," she said aloud, a mischievous glint in her green eyes. She saw Wolf's head perk up on the sound of his name, and glanced at her with an equal look of mischief in brown.
"And Sandra had always a few issues whenever she's got pms, which she just happens to have most of the time. You got too much heat."
Raucous laughter broke out in the small café. A small group of other, non-gang related customers looked up from their coffee and pastry then back into their conversations.
The laughter lulled and everyone returned to past discussions. Wolf muttered something to Hans, who nodded and went to the kitchen. The Black Wolf leader picked up his expresso coffee and sauntered over to them.
"Tell her," Ralph told him bluntly.
"Couldn't you be more diplomatic, Ralph? You're always so blunt that it hurts sometimes."
The cyborg merely grunted then continued to stare out the window, hood over his face again. Wolf pulled over a chair with a sigh and smoothed his curly red hair.
"So what's really up, Wolf?"
"Well Sandra," he began, then looked around him and saw that his gang was creating enough noise to drown out his conversation to prying ears, "it's like this. Remember DOT?"
"Dynasty of Terra. An anti-Metra group of some sort," she answered, leaning forward.
He nodded amiably. "That's right. They aren't exactly anti-Metra, only they are against the usage of it to make weapons and protest over the scientists hogging the Metra formula. But the real reason is that they also want them to share it, which the scientists haven't been doing since it's discovery. The thing is, they want to meet up with us on Monday at the park in the old cabin, here, in town."
Sandra instantly came alert, and her eyes danced. "What do they want? And how did they find out that a certain metropolitan gang hid out in a backwater town?"
Wolf shrugged and took a gulp of coffee. "I don't know, but I could guess many ways of contacting us. It might be a weapons and munitions deal they're after, since it's hard to get it through their ways."
"But how did they know you would be here?" she insisted.
"They did not know. The message was passed on from one of the lower pack-leaders. I have it here, look." He showed her the e-mail on his handheld. Sandra downloaded it off him and was reading it on hers.
"I don't like this, Wolf." She put her handheld down to stare at Ralph. "What about you, robo-boy?"
"I have nothing to say in this."
"Come now, you have to," she said, leaning over slightly to put a hand on his shoulder. "What do you think? Please Ralph, I need to know."
The muscles on his shoulder stiffened, then he craned his head to her. "You both know that this is a dangerous thing to be doing, even if it is supplies they are after. Our holdings in the city are vast, but can't be wasted. Wolf, you should know, I handed you the stats on our territory."
Their leader nodded grimly. "Good," he continued, "then you know that I don't want to help them, for you don't know what they'll be using our ammo for. How many people will die? They are terrorists, and I wish that we had nothing to do with them. We all remember in the history lessons about 9/11."
His companions grew silent. The tables nearby with their comrades also grew contemplative and less noisome as some of the conversation drifted in.
Wolf cleared his throat. "Yes, we remember the fall of the Twin Towers, and the aftermath. Yet," he eyed each one of them, "we have to help, risking being branded traitors. The scientists had that formula for too long without sharing it for what, a decade? That's too long for me.
"When I made this gang, years ago, I had one purpose in mind: expand and demand. I demand that we find that formula someday and share it to everyone else. We expand to stretch our forces. How many are in the gang, the city alone? Thousands, am I right? Thousands teamed under sub-leaders and pack-leaders, and those sub-leaders follow me alone, for my opinions, for our shared views. Never mind that some are different, you all came to me because you didn't like how the government is letting those bunch of fools keep the secret, because with it comes power. People, we can't let them have that power. We have to distribute it."
"Only we don't have the guts to go head to head with them, because they have those freaky fast-fire lasers that burn through everything, and they got army backing," Ralph put in honestly and bluntly. There was a twinkle in his cybernetic eye. "I still can't believe that this peaceful country of Canada does have an army, small though it is. Remember what some of us thought when we were younger? We used to joke it off that all Canada had was a bunch of men with water guns and good old Ross rifles that kept jamming in the trenches of WWI, paper airplanes for an air force and a little leaky fishing boat as a navy. It's practically more high-tech now and serious, you know? Lasers, anti-cruise missiles, seeker napalm weapons, and the list goes on and on. Most people don't think this country even has all this. It's all because of the Metra.
"Anyway, we only got ammo to spare, tons of it lying around, but I haven't been checking around the warehouses yet if we have any weapons of some sort."
"Just make sure that none of it blows up in your faces. Frankly, that would be a bit too much to bear," said an amused voice behind them. They looked up to see Hans with a tray of coffee balanced on his right and a chair on the other. "You lads are pretty interesting. Let me in, I say."
"No Hans." Wolf shook his head. He was about to open his mouth when he recognized the challenging look in Han's face. In the time the Dutchman had been here, he had earned a reputation to be as hard and tough as the rest of his countrymen. His glare plainly stated, make my day.
"So what's the real problem?" Hans cut in.
"An anti-Metra, or should I say anti-capitalist? Never mind, it doesn't matter I guess," replied Sandra. "This group calling itself DOT or Dynasty of Terra want the Metra formula given out into the world, or the scientists wiped out. Either way, it would prevent the scientists that are monopolizing the creation of Metra to experience heavy losses, either in life or in money. It's not a good situation."
"I see." The old man looked away distantly. His voice took on an odd tone. "How does DOT want to achieve its intentions?"
"It's obvious," answered Ralph, toying with his cyber-arm, "they could bomb the scientists or something, if they had the munitions, and we do. None in this town of course, since this is our peaceful residential side of places. They have already tried all peaceful demonstrations for the past few years under a different banner with them working behind the scenes, but it had been no use of course."
"They will resort to violence?" Hans sounded thoughtful.
"Yeah. Damned if I don't think they won't," someone else muttered nearby, sotto voice. Wolf got up, reprimanding, but Hans told him that all the others that were not in the gang had left since they smelled trouble in the wind and wanted no part in it. Reassured, Wolf sat down again with an apologizing look to his comrade that had spoken aloud.
"I think it's better if I looked closed. Ralph, do the honors, will you?" Hans winked at the cyborg.
"With pleasure." Beside the window he opened a panel with a bunch of circuits. Delicately a tiny chip sneaked out and planted itself in the nest of circuits.
Groaning from their moorings, Metra-based steel plates half an inch thick cascaded over the windows and the door like a rippling waterfall of metal. Everyone looked up with alarm and surprise to a grinning Hans. "Like my security? Metra-armored cafes are always left alone."
"How did you do that Ralph?" Sandra asked, wide-eyed. The young man looked shy and murmured his reply. "It was simple really. Hans showed me how to do it and where to put that null-chip in place to activate the security screens."
The cunning old man spread his arms wide. "Now no one can peek in at us, or hear us. You can yell as loud as you can, but that won't do anything."
Grins and shared laughter scattered in the room.
"I think I'll get to like this. Hmm, I'm getting a few ideas."
"Better than the park, it is. The log cabin don't got this kind of flick."
"You want to know how it works? All it takes it a switch of some sort that leads to an digitally programmed system of levers-"
"Anyone got pastry? Hook me up, man."
"Listen up!" Wolf roared. "Calm down, all of you, before I dunk you in Lake Huron then throw you into the Atlantic! I've still got a good throwing arm, I do!"
"Yes, that's enough lads," Hans conceded. "If any of you want to have a snack, line up in an orderly file and help yourself to the kitchen. It's on the house."
Cheers greeted this decision. Soon a line of black-clad senior teens were helping themselves to coffee, pastry, small dishes of delicacy, and ice cream. A general mood of contentment and summer happiness prevailed in the café.
"Now what was it I was talking about? So will they resort to fighting?"
"Yes Hans," Sandra said slowly, since her mouth was full of Danish. "They will."
"It's a pity that it has come to this," His face fell. "If only they need not do this, if only the scientists would listen. I have a relative there, working as one of them, but I have had little contact in a year."
"Power corrupts us all, even me," Wolf quipped. "Why do you think I chose to live here in privacy away from the temptation in the big city? So I won't be drawn into a Net trap of lies and deceit."
"How is your gang managing there in the city?"
Ralph answered for Wolf. "They are doing well enough. They hash the street crime and keep it down more than the police could do with their fancy laser-pistols and stunners. Other gangs think we aren't tough and attack, but they learn their lessons, all of them. They either die because of their foolishness or the smarter ones are warned away from Toronto, or keep a low profile. You see," he smiled craftily, "it takes organized crime to control crime."
"Not exactly. I have my other viewpoints, but this is not the time." Hans moved his chair so that he was facing Wolf directly. "So are you going to help DOT or not?"
"I will, for even if indirectly I am attacking the Metra monopoly at least I am doing something against that policy. I have no other choice but to do so, and it is a willing choice."
"I think," Sandra said, sipping the fresh hot coffee that someone had passed her, "that we first ought to know what DOT wants to do with our ammo. I want to know what they will do and how they will do whatever they plan."
"Yes, that's exactly what I was thinking," Wolf said, getting up. "It's a bit early of me leaving tonight, but I have some business to take care of. Namely," he flashed a smile, "a situation where a bunch of green recruits are running around frantic at the thought of us doing a gang-bang on them, which we are not. Such is not sport." He turned to the rest of the gang. "The rest of you can do whatever you want. There is nothing important as of now, but in a couple of days we might see some action. Who knows." Opening the café door with careful grace he stepped out into the night, tugging his black leather jacket closer to his chest, but before he closed the door he heard the sound of his gang cheering and yelling, "Party! Party!" and finally glimpsing Hans get up with a smile and a few choice words that made them even happier.
Hans was a good Dutchman/Canadian. Old he may be, but that didn't matter, for Hans knew more than all of them combined having lived seventy years of life and still going. He admired the man for his wit and the growing respect he was getting with the gang. Respect wasn't something to be taken lightly, for people outside and inside the gang had to earn it.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see him skydiving," Wolf muttered and smirked as he walked quickly to his home.
I-Guardians[The Earth Lords]: rough draft 100%
II-DeathWitch: rough draft 100%
III-Time Fire: rough draft 5%
IV-Pangaea: rough draft 0%