Beyond Infinity [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Ross Richdale
eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: Brittany Forbes does not know that she is human, nor that she is carrying a transmitter that emits a signal to her ancestors and others that are racing to find her...
eBook Publisher: SynergEbooks, Published: SynergEbooks, 2003
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2007
17 Reader Ratings:
A cold mist hung over the ancient city, so thick that the streetlights appeared as a hazy circle every twenty meters along the narrow street. By three hundred hours only the most foolish citizens would be out of their homes even if they could bear the close to zero temperature.
This was the time the IMPACT forces were on patrol. The Internal Monitors of Peace and Citizen Tranquility ruled the city-state of Sympia with an iron fist since the continental wars four decades earlier. Their authority now superseded that of the original police force, who were now relegated to directing traffic and keeping streets tidy. Everything within the hundred-kilometer perimeter wall was under their iron fist. At first the IMPACT forces were welcomed to Sympia and the other five city-states within a six hundred kilometer radius. They provided security war weary locals needed. It was only after the military enforcement policy was given another five-year mandate that the all-powerful organization began to step over the thin line between a protector and ruthless enforcer of IMPACT's ideology.
In an expected pronouncement a year earlier, the Grand Marshal of the United IMPACT Commonwealth stated that the humanz, the z added to distinguish loyal citizens, of their land had been polluted by invaders two hundred years before. These invaders had contaminated the genes of loyal citizens by interbreeding. The only way to stop further pollution through future generations was to halt it now.
By default, all male citizens over a meter eighty in height and females over a meter seventy were declared possible bearers of alien genes and ordered to have DNA samplings. Other defects were those with light colored eyes, fair hair and skin pigment that burned in the summer sun.
During the following months, random arrests were extended to full scaled roundups. Few talls, as the unfortunate citizens became known, passed the test. Those who did were from prosperous families who, it was rumored, bought their right to freedom. Talls declared as having defective genes were sent to internment camps that were set up on the coastal badlands. What happened there was unknown but those who entered a camp never came out. The official news that they were sterilized but treated humanly and deported to off shore islands to live out their lives in peace and tranquility was not believed by even the most loyal citizens.
In the xenophobia that reined over the land, the other intelligent species that lived in and around Sympia was ignored. There were few of them and they were known for their neutrality in all the intercontinental wars. The so-called fuzzballs were spherical creatures the size of a large orange who had the power of flight that was sustained without having wings. Four body openings expelled air under pressure to propel the fuzzballs along. They had small arms and legs, eyes and a mouth but all other organs were hidden by a fuzzy fur that covered their bodies. They were highly intelligent and could speak in a high pitched almost squeaky voice. Humanz had difficulty telling whether individual fuzzballs were male or female for there were no external differences in their appearance.
But the fuzzballs were not as docile or harmless as the IMPACT leaders believed.
* * * *
Quig, a dark brown fuzzball, flew twenty meters above the street and observed the actions of the IMPACT forces below. Their movements were unusual in that everything was quiet and done in the shadows. The sirens, loudspeakers, floodlights and hovering helicopters were absent. Instead IMPACT military police sneaked from building to building until only one was surrounded. Again, this was unusual. Usually a whole block was surrounded and the citizens within brought out. Residents were usually examined and those within the gene criteria and with no criminal or political points against their names were allowed to return home. Everyone else would be forced into closed vans and taken away for more interrogation.
"It's going to be close," Quig muttered to himself.
The tall girl he was assigned to protect was hiding in the building. Quig knew only that it was imperative that the humanz never interrogated Brittany Forbes who lived in the attic of this house. The fuzzball gritted his small spiky teeth and dropped down on the dark roof of the building where the woman lived.
* * * *
Brittany tossed in a fretful sleep caused by the uncertainties of the time. Since the new laws she had had to give up her college studies and was now a virtual prisoner in the attic apartment. Two men who could be considered tall lived below her but rather than providing a security shield they scared her. Innuendoes and comments had been superseded by frank demands by the younger guy for so-called favors otherwise he'd notify the authorities that she lived in the building. She had double locks, a security camera and other precautions but knew this would not stop the men if they wanted to enter. In fact it was the Gridmyres, a humanz family on the first floor who really protected her. Old Neechon watched the two guys like a hawk and she had heard him once telling them that if she was designated a tall their own heights would also become suspect.
She woke from a deep sleep when something shook her toe. Immediate thoughts were that of panic. Why hadn't the alarm rung? She forced her eyes open but in the dull reflected light from outside she could see nobody.
A cough made her heart leap. "You must get dressed, Brittany," a high pitched voice whispered. "IMPACT has this building surrounded. Hurry! There's not much time."
The girl turned and saw a fuzzball standing on the end of the bed. His dark fur was almost a perfect camouflage,
You're Quig from that group that patrols the city aren't you?"
It was the fuzzball's turn to look surprised. "You know?" he said.
Brittany managed a smile. "You are one of our few allies in the city. Whenever I see you or one of your friends flying above me it gives me the strength to go on."
Quig nodded, well really his whole body vibrated above his tiny legs, but Brittany understood the movement. "You must get dressed and come ... now!"
The girl moved in a well rehearse movement. Within seconds she was in her street clothes. She stared at a small wall monitor that pulsed green. "Nobody's downstairs yet," she whispered. "What way? Down the back steps to the alley?"
"No. Every entrance is covered. We have to go out the way I came in." Quig glanced around. "Bring a blanket?"
Brittany frowned. "But how?"
"I came down the chimney. There are iron rungs that go up the inside. I guess they were used by chimney sweeps hundreds of years ago."
A buzzer sounded and the monitor light changed to a pulsing yellow.
The girl nodded and grabbed a small backpack from under her bed, strapped a blanket on the top and slid it onto her back. She moved across to the monitor and pressed in a code. The words Armed flashed on the screen.
"A couple of hundred volts are going through the door handle," she explained. "It'll take them a while to get around it."
"Good for you," Quig whispered, "but we must go."
* * * *
Brittany knew the chimney towered above a steep tile roof but had no idea what would happen when she reached the top. The iron rungs were freezing to touch and every movement she made brought a cloud of soot down on her.
But she kept going.
A small rectangle of lighter gray appeared. In the center was a circle of black and two shining eyes as Quig looked down at her.
"Almost there," he whispered.
Below, the alarm beeped; there was a shout and the hiss of a laser pistol.
Brittany shivered and increased speed. Soot stung her eyes. She sneezed. Surely someone must have heard the sound! A light flashed below and she heard more thumps and crashes. Voices echoed up the chimney.
"She's gone, commander."
"Look at the bed. It's still warm. She's here somewhere..."
The voice became indecipherable when Brittany turned her head up and reached for the next rung. Soot tickling her throat threatened to create another sneeze. She swallowed and willed herself to keep quiet. Fresh air replaced the soot and she reached the top. Now her fear returned. What would happen next?
She slung one leg over the top ledge and heaved her slim body up so she straddled the chimney top. Freezing air engulfed her and the lights in the fog below appeared close, too close. A patrol wagon at the front door had its lights flashing. Four IMPACT guards stood on the sidewalk; their black oval helmets and dark glasses recognizable even in the gloom.
Without warning, a beam of light shone up the chimney and someone shouted. A laser pistol fired and the bricks across from her cracked open. Pain, like a white-hot needle shot through her leg. Brittany stifled a scream, gritted her teeth and slung her inside leg over the ledge. The shrapnel or whatever it was that hit her must have bounced away for the pain disappeared as quickly as it came. Now she was outside the chimney but not out of danger. The guards below could look up!
"Your blanket!" Quig whispered in an urgent tone. "We need it, Brittany. I called for help and my friends are here."
"It's tied across the top of my back pack, but I can't reach it."
Her position was precarious and she was too afraid to let go. Another laser beam hit the bricks where her leg had been seconds before.
"You are surrounded Miss Forbes," a voice called up from inside. "If you surrender peacefully you shall be treated with respect. We know you are there."
"Bastards." The girl's voice shook. She clung to the bricks while tiny hands undid the backpack straps and lifted the blanket off.
She glanced down. A search light on the patrol wagon's roof cut through the white fog only a few meters away. In seconds it would find her.
"Roll forward, Brittany," Quig directed. "Do it now!"
The girl turned and saw eight fuzzballs hovering below her. They held her blanket out like a stretcher.
"But!" Brittany was terrified. How could these tiny creatures hold her weight?
"Go!" Quig shouted. "You have no choice."
Brittany shut her eyes and let the chimney go ... just as the searchlight lit it up.
She dropped, stifled a scream and expected to crash three floors to the cobblestones of the street below.
But she didn't!
The blanket held her. The eight fuzzballs held the edges with tiny hands. Quig gave an order and the tiny creatures propelled themselves up into the night sky. Brittany could feel a freezing breeze buffeting her, see the swirling fog around and the shimmering searchlight off to her right.
"Thank you," she whispered when they slowed and changed to horizontal flight. "If it wasn't for you.... "Her voice cracked. "May the power of a galactic cruiser help you all."
"Why do you say that?" Quad asked.
Brittany swallowed. What had she said? Of course ... "It's just an old saying we have. It's is a charm of good luck, I guess."
"And it has helped us, Brittany," another squeaky voice said from near her left ear. "That and your courage." The girl moved her eyes and saw a speckled black and white fuzzball studying her.
"Meet, Pepper" Quig said. "I guess you'd call her my partner in human society."
Brittany noted the absence of the zee sound at the end of the word and allowed her tense body to relax a little. "Hi Pepper," she said. "You don't know how pleased I am to meet you."
"I do," Pepper replied in a serious voice. "We couldn't allow another human girl to be taken. Our reports.... "She left the sentence unfinished and her tiny lips turned up in a smile. "It's the least we can do."
They were flying across the city. The fuzzballs showed no signs of weariness or distressed but except for a few curt commands from Quig, became quiet. Brittany could see a patchwork of streetlights like pinholes in the fog. Ahead, darkness showed that they were almost above the security wall. She had long ago realized that it and the more recent the security fence surrounding the newer suburbs was to keep citizens in, not undesirables out. She swallowed and took a cautious glance over the side of her blanket.
Yes, they were over it. A long strip of floodlit soil appeared in front of the high stone wall. This was the neutral zone that nobody was allowed to cross. Armed IMPACT patrols shot first and asked questions afterwards if anybody or anything ventured in the area. This security was the one thing that had stopped her from leaving the city months before. Some of her friends had tried to escape but were never heard from again. The rumor of internment camps and a fate worse than death didn't help when one had to decide whether to stay and hide or try to leave.
"We're safe, Brittany," Quig said. "Oh they know we're here but they will not risk trying to shoot us down."
"Why?" Brittany asked.
"A balance of power," Pepper said. "We have the power to wipe half this city off the face of this world and they know it. That's why they tolerate us. It's not by any act of kindness, I assure you."
Brittany lay back, deep in thought. So there was truth in the old stories? But what of the story that fuzzballs never interfered in the affairs of other species? She'd had known fuzzballs all her life but really knew so little about them. In some ways they were like moths fluttering around a light at night. You knew they were there but they never harmed you so you ignored them.
But now the moths had grown teeth it seemed.
"We'll reach our destination in twenty minutes." Quig said. "There will be food and a bed you can rest upon so relax, Brittany. You need never return to the tyranny of the city again."
Brittany looked back and saw the city as a square of light in the distant fog. Something deep inside told her she was in safe hands, even if those hands were hardly more than two centimeters wide and connected to little balls of fur.* * * *
The man who sat behind the oaken desk was a typical officer of the IMPACT military arm. If the word wasn't banned in the city, Colonel Slovinof, like the rest of the humanz, would have been called a dwarf. He stood a meter twenty tall, had wide shoulders and a full white beard that jutted out like an inverted broom. His dark green uniform carried a row of colored triangular awards that signified his bravery ... and ruthlessness. At the moment his eyelashes were creased in a frown cemented across his leathery face.
"Your troopers allowed her to escape?" His volume was a mere whisper but the tone was like poison.
The major who sat opposite still managed to appear to be at rigid attention. "Your orders could no overrule the directive to avoid hostilities with any fuzzballs, Colonel Slovinof," he said. "We tried to get a clearance to shoot them and the girl down but all communication was blocked."
Slovinof leaned back in his chair and nodded. "I believe you, Major Kross. You are ordered to tell nobody but we know the fuzzballs have the ability to block out radio and video transmissions over all frequencies for up to ten minutes. No doubt that is what they did tonight."
"And the border guards at the main gate?"
"By the time orders could be transmitted to them, the girl was beyond the city." Slovinof clenched his fist in suppressed anger. "We are about to re-establish landlines to use, not that it will help us now."
"So what are my orders, Colonel?" Kross asked.
"Search and apprehend, major. All clearances are through. You are to find that woman and bring her back here. She is of no value to us dead as the electronic chip she carries is programmed to delete itself if her heart stops beating."
"That makes it difficult, Colonel."
Slovinof's expression turned into a determined grin. "The kid gloves are off Vlademyre. If any fuzzballs get in your way, they are expendable."
The major's eyebrows rose slightly. "And risk breaching the treaty? Is the girl that important, colonel?"
"Not her," Colonel Slovinof nodded at the monitor on his desk. "It's what she carries. I doubt if she even knows she has the microchip embedded in her body."
"But why has it taken us so long to find her, Sir?"
"Oh her ancestors were clever, Vlademyre. If a carrier is killed, before the microchip self erases it sends all the information to a dormant receiver that then becomes activated. To find anyone with a dormant microchip is as valueless as it is to kill the carrier of the active one. We think there is only one microchip active at any given time. We have found other dormant chips on talls and the last active carrier died under interrogation before we could download information from the chip. Forbes became the active carrier at that time. It took us two months to trace her."
"Can I ask how, Colonel?"
"No it's classified Vlademyre."
"So the fuzzballs will use the microchip information and all will be lost, Sir."
The colonel shook his head. "We believe they have no knowledge of the actual microchip. Their new policy seems to be that of helping any talls. This is a disturbing change from their former neutrality in our affairs."
"So where will they take her, Sir?"
"As you know, the fuzzballs have no mechanical airplanes or helicopters at their disposal. Nor do they use animals such as horses. They can only carry the girl a short distance. They will need to land and accompany her as she walks."
"So an interception should be easy."
"Through the eastern forests and mountains, Major Kross? They won't be foolish enough to keep to roads or open land. Oh yes, there's another point; most of your electronic tracking equipment will be useless within a fifty-kilometer radius of the girl. We were lucky with one shot, though. It could come in handy later."
Vlademyre Kross stared at his superior but the other man didn't elaborate so he stood and saluted. "I shall pick my men and be ready to move at dawn, Sir," he said.
"And by then you'll be six hours too late, major. I want yourself and your three best operatives ready by midnight." He glanced up. "And that's a direct order from the Grand Marshal"
Kross paled slightly. "It shall be done, Sir." He saluted again, turned and marched out of the room.