This is an excerpt from the final book in The Earthborn Wars trilogy.
It was a garishly lit room. One wall was a solid bank of holographic schematics. They showed the Planet Earth as seen from various orbits, including a number of geosynchonous positions.
A number of men and women moved about the monitoring center, conversing little and in monotone. Occasionally they touched each other gently, hand to forehead, or brushed a kiss upon an ear. They possessed an air of self-contained efficiency and seemed to speak only when necessary. There was no chitchat here. No individual personality traits. Just order and precision and a profound kind of peacefulness, the kind sometimes felt in very old churches or cathedrals, but even there somehow lofty and more than human.
“We have a lock,” said one of the women. The main schematic’s colors solidified, revealing the shape of New Zealand some three miles below. In a series of rapid steps the schematic zoomed in on the eastern coastline of the north island. The Coramandel Peninsula was jagged with fiords and the dense scrub came to the edge of the sea, which churned against the rocks in a line of white foam that glared painfully in the sunlight.
The image shifted slightly and moved in further till a long abandoned seaside town could be seen at the left hand side of the schematic. A section on the right hand side turned green.
“The rebels are there. They have dug themselves in beneath that mountain.”
“We need plans of their position.”
“We know it was once a mining town and a geothermal power plant. But few records of those days exist. We have established the settlement as Waihi.”
“Then we must be thorough. Proceed with all diligence.”
Welkin moved quietly. He stopped often to listen but as usual there were no noises. Everything here-even the silence-had a deep muffled quality, as if holding its breath. Was it waiting for something? he wondered.
He reached up and adjusted the lamp fixed to his miner’s helmet, making it brighter. The dark eerie silences of the mine were starting to spook him. They always did on these nightly patrols but someone had to keep an eye on the sentries, keep them on their toes. That was the rub. As Sarah pointed out you can’t keep even a crack military unit at high alert for extended periods. Senses dulled, muscles tensed for action wearied, and the adrenaline stopped pumping. People became complacent. Why, just last week, he had caught two lookouts asleep. He had frosted them well and truly. It would be a long time before either of them slipped up again. He hadn’t reported them. He figured everybody should get to make one mistake. The only thing wrong with that was that the Family-now facing its most formidable enemy-would never get to make a second.
He brushed aside these annoying thoughts. As somebody once said, they had people, not angels, to work with. He took a deep breath and grabbed the metal rung of a ladder that led up through the ceiling of the mine tunnel he had been traversing. After his experiences on Colony he had developed a mild acrophobia but he shrugged away the sense of vertigo and gritted his teeth, climbing steadily. Within moments he was inside a narrow shaft that telescoped up for almost three hundred feet.
By the time he reached the top his arms and legs ached and his breath was coming faster but he was glad to see that he wasn’t completely puffed. He was getting used to all this exercise. The Martha Mine they now called home had fifteen levels and over 110 miles of tunnels. Cave-ins over the years had closed many of them, but there still were enough shafts to test even the fittest earthborn. And nearby was the Deep Well, where nanodiamond turbines still spun. The turbines here were only just beginning to wear out after more than a century. They were powered by heat diffused up from the magma tens of kilometres below, through exotic ancient compounds. Compression-expansion clappers geared into the turbines which operated in vacuum-sealed chambers using magnetic levitation to avoid friction. Unfortunately the turbines’ power was still largely inaccessible without a working knowledge of micro-electronic systems, at scales of one thousandth of a millimeter and below. Some of the Earthborn had begun to search out old texts and use the Elder-modified Colony shuttles’ equipment to try and begin to decipher them. There were problems, however, due to the vastly different types of computing tech. Meanwhile, much of the Deep Well was off limits, the very air sparking with discharging electrical potentials in many places, wreaking instant electrocution upon the unwary.
Welkin climbed from the top of the shaft and gulped fresh air. Above him, the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades punctured the smog-laden atmosphere. Myriad other stars littered the southern sky but most were invisible now to the naked eye. A lone satellite moved slowly, its light a hard point. Welkin shivered in the chill wind. Around him were the grey-black Andesite slopes and forested peaks of a small mountain range. The waste volcanic rock from the old mining town had long since vanished beneath rotted vegetation and shifting soil. Two or three diamondoid heat vents stuck out of the forest, curious angled structures higher than trees that glittered under the starlight, hot air wavering the dim night sky immediately above them.
“Tell me you’ve come to relieve me,” said a voice nearby.
Welkin peered at the large youth hugging himself and stamping his feet. The Kiwis’ accent wasn’t as bad as he had been led to believe. They pronounced some vowels differently, especially the “e” which sounded more like the “i” of “it” than the “eh” sound. Lesley became Lisley, sex became six and vice versa. The other thing the Australians noticed was the appendage of “but” and “eh” at the end of some sentences. Nonetheless, it was decipherable. More so than the trouble he had had with the Australian dialect when he had first been rescued by Sarah. Everything was abbreviated and ran into a long continuous line of babble.
Welkin snapped back to the present. “No such luck, Zinn. But I come bearing a gift. Hot soup. Where’s your mug?”
Zinn, a solidly built youth man with an eye patch and a big grin, snatched up a tin mug and held it out. Welkin took a thermos from his knapsack and filled the mug with steaming thick ham and pea soup. Less than eighteen months earlier this would have been a celebratory dinner. But now, what with subterranean vat and hydroponics farming and data retrieved from siphoned Colony files, it was almost standard fare. Zinn held the cup tightly in his hands and started sipping, swearing softly every time it burned his tongue.
“What’s the report?” asked Welkin peering around. Four miles away to the west the sea glittered. Slightly further away but to the north he could see the lights of a small seaside town, Timora. In the harbor, heading back to the town, were several fishing boats, visible by their cluster of lamps. No doubt they would be bringing back rich catches of barracuda, hoki, red cod, and schnapper.
Zinn continued to sip his soup as he answered. “All clear, Welkin,” he said. “Only movements I’ve seen are the fishing boats, eh. No airborne activity, but.” He waved his hand at the horizon. Somewhere over there, a thousand miles away, was the coast of Australia. The land of their new enemy, the Hiveborn. The Family had come to this place, this gouged and rugged east coast of New Zealand, nearly a year ago. At first they had entertained hopes of immediately siphoning the power of the geothermal sink, but progress had been slow. A year in which they had frantically fortified the adjacent old gold and silver mine, discovered by Ferrik and Arton on one of their reconnaissance missions, a year in which they had trained and armed themselves, then waited for the expected attack to come. Only it hadn’t come. It was what Sarah called a Phony War and it was the hardest war to fight because after a while you started to fight yourself, as Welkin had discovered with his sleeping sentries and a host of other infractions. Luckily for the Family, the Kiwis hadn’t seen their arrival as an invasion, and many of the smaller, roaming communities had actually joined them.
“Only thing moving up there are the satellites,” said Zinn morosely. “Hey, there’s another one.” He pointed and Welkin followed the outstretched hand, spotting another pinpoint of hard unwavering light sailing across the sky, oblivious to the other more distant sparks of light that made up the Milky Way. This satellite had fine hard filaments extending around it, barely visible - ancient nanotech solar arrays. “You think they’re watching us from them things?” Zinn asked, gazing at the satellite with a grim expression.
“We have to assume the worst,” said Welkin.
“Seems to me that’s all we been doing,” Zinn said with some asperity. “No offence, Welkin, but nothing’s happened all these months, eh. Maybe the Hiveborn don’t care about us. Maybe all this hiding and watching and sneaking around is a waste of time …” Welkin’s face went blank and Zinn quickly added, “I don’t mean nothing by that,” he said. “Just … you know … that’s how most people feel.”
Welkin nodded. He knew that was how most people felt. He felt it himself. Except he knew it wasn’t true. He had jacked into the Hiveborn computer net via his own neural jack and had downloaded gigabytes of data that were still stored in the rod logic nanofibers that were spread through the fluid of his brain case. There the memories waited to be accessed, perhaps by accident, the way a smell or a song could suddenly retrieve a long forgotten memory of childhood. Even though he could not directly audit the alien data there was an odd kind of “leakage”, as if a door had been shut tight, locking away all the information, but allowing some of it to seep out through the cracks. He knew without knowing how that the Hiveborn had not given up on them, had not forgotten them. With the same terrible conviction, he knew they were ensconcing themselves on Earth, doing just what the Family was doing: fortifying, building, preparing. All for a day that would soon come.
“It’s all right, Zinn,” Welkin said, clapping a hand on the big youth’s shoulder. “I hear the talk. What are they calling me now? Worrywart Welkin?”
Zinn stifled a guffaw. “At least it’s better than Wacky Welkin.”
Both laughed quietly in the dark. Welkin packed away the thermos and moved back to the shaft. “Eyes open, Zinn,” he said.
“Eyes open, Welkin. Thanks for the soup.”
Welkin swung his legs over the open shaft.
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