The End of the World:
The Dead will rise and battle
in the city’s skies.
Solla peered at the command panel, as puzzled as his own officers. He wiped his sweating forehead and noticed that the others seemed to be perspiring as well. There was a cool breeze blowing through the broken window, but his body temperature was rising.
He snapped his fingers. "Microwaves. We're being bathed in microwave radiation. That's why there's no communication." The sounds of shouts and gunfire drifted up to him from below; if the window had not been broken, he would not have heard them.
Solla ran to the window, leaned out into the wind that whistled through the shattered glass, and saw the firefight going on in the courtyard far below. Prisoners were shooting down officers and stealing cars, fighting hand-to-hand on the catwalks and bridges, leaping into the canals and swimming for open water.
"Progeny, you sonofabitch!" he said. "Pilot, take me down there."
He climbed into the car. It rose from the floor, turned about, dragging chairs and tables with it, and nosed out through the smashed window. More glass cascaded down the side of the tower, furniture tumbled after, and papers fluttered out over the sea. The staff of the command centre hung safely back from the wind and the window, as the ship dropped down the tower and landed on the pad.
A prisoner ran for the ship and Solla shot him dead. He stalked across the bridge, shooting another prisoner who crossed his path, then pounded down the stairs to the cellblock. A prisoner came around the corner and Solla cracked him across the head with his gun butt, then shot him as he lay unconscious. He burst into the cellblock and discovered the guard trussed up and mumbling in his gag. Solla darted into Progeny's cell, found the tank empty as he expected, and came out again. The guard mumbled desperately; Solla bent down and undid his gag.
"What did you hear?" he demanded.
"Nothing, Sir. I held them off for a while, but no one answered my backup call; then the prisoners overpowered me. Too many to get with a stunner, Sir, and I was knocked out cold."
Solla waved away his explanation, bent down to examine the floor. Wet footprints. He followed them out and down the stairs and corridors to the sewage tunnels.
"The city," he said. He pounded up the stairs to the pad outside and climbed into the aircar with his pilot. "Take me to the city. Fly up and down every street, low enough that I can look into people's faces." The pilot almost made the mistake of laughing but caught himself in time. The car lifted into the air, banked, and sped off across the waves. Solla punched up a city map on the ship's computer and studied it. "There must be some kind of tunnel system," he mused. "But it's not on the map. Archives, get me..." He lapsed into silence. Archives was in the Citadel's useless mainframe.
As they descended upon the city, he saw crowds of people in the streets, chanting and marching. In places, there were fistfights in progress, and crowds surged back and forth in a strange communal dance.
"What are they fighting about this time?" Solla grumbled.
"Looks like it's the Progenists and the Lennonites against the Millenarians and the Mahdiites, this time, Sir," the pilot said. "Anybody trying to make his way through these streets is not going to be making good time."
Something sped by them up a parallel street and vanished behind a building. They had only a glimpse of it before it was gone.
"What the hell was that?" the pilot said, eyes wide with astonishment.
"I don't know," Solla told him. "It looked like a dead man flying a cruiser."
"Jesus, Sir, it's the end of the world."
"Oh, shut up."
"Loris," Johanna said over the comm, "they're docking right beside me."
"Karil!" Loris turned to him. "They're coming."
"Give me a minute." He punched keys like a madman.
"We don't have a minute. Can we stop them from boarding?"
"They're Quasi. They can override any lock on any High Company installation there is." Karil threw up his hands like a calf-roper in a rodeo. "Got it."
They punched open the door and started down the hall. As they rounded a turn in the corridor, laser-fire sizzled past them and blackened the wall, and they retreated quickly. They dumped Chen's unconscious form into the hallway and Loris sealed the door shut with her laser. In a moment, they heard gun-butts pounding on the door and soon the area around the lock began to sizzle.
"Jo, listen to me," said Loris. "Dump Ben in the corridor and cast off. Open the outer cargo hatch and let me know one second before you pass by the port here."
"For Crissake, Lor. Karil's not trained for this."
"I'll take care of him."
Karil's eyes went wide. "Are you crazy? That's suicide."
"Not if it works."
"I won't let you kill yourself for me, Lor. Your life's not at stake here; they won't execute you just for aiding and abetting an escape. You're a Galilean citizen."
"I can't let them put those chips in my head, Karil. I work for Galilean Security. Johanna too."
"You're a Galilean Agent!" The door began to turn black behind them, and smoke drifted into the room.
"Jesus, Karil. Why do you think we joined up with this harebrained rescue scheme? The Galilean Moons have been supporting the Martian Rebellion since the beginning. If Triple M does go bankrupt, the High Companies will have to trade with Belters. That's good for us."
"Does Kelley know?"
"No. His little excavation gave us an opportunity to keep an eye on the Citadel from close up. We charmed him."
"I'll bet you did. Horny old bastard. Does Shag know?"
"No, and don't you tell him. If he finds out I'm a cop, he'll never trust me again."
The lock behind them burned through and fell off. The hatch began to open, slowly, under manual control.
"Loris," said Johanna. "We’re coming about."
"No," Karil said. "You get down there and pick them up. There’s still a lot I can do here to stall these guys."
Before Loris could recover from her shock, Karil was gone, darting through a hatch into the next room and slamming it behind him.
"Loris," Johanna said. "We’re coming now."
"Fuck!" Loris said. She whipped out her laser, aimed it at the viewport, and fired. The port shattered into a thousand pieces and erupted into space. Loris dove through the port into vacuum; as the pressure in the room dropped, the hatch behind her automatically slammed shut in the faces of those who were opening it, and she felt her ship-suit tighten around her to protect her vital organs from the decompression. Loris did a half-gainer and slipped into Annie's lock like a high diver slipping into the water. The hatch began to close behind her with agonizing slowness as she clung to the handgrips inside the lock. In a moment she was able to breathe again and drank in the air with gratitude.
Then she was flattened against the wall of the lock as the drivers burned and the ship leaped into space. She made her way to the bridge, crawling against the punishing acceleration, in time to see the Quasi cruiser tumbling away from the station.
"I slipped her moorings," said Johanna proudly. "They can't use their ship-comm now and they won't get into the command centre unless they suit up, go EVA, and crawl in through the port. Then they'll have try and undo Karil's programming in a p-suit. With luck, we'll be able to pick up the others long before they can get the word out. Where’s Karil?"
"He got away from me, locked himself in another control room. He wants to maintain command of the SPOT as long as he can."
"I know. I know."
Anais fell into the sky. She blazed like a falling star, lifting her nose to allow the plasma to burn safely beneath the arch of her underside. Earth came up to meet her and she levelled out over the Atlantic, streaked in past the SPOT-lit Citadel, and headed for the city. The skyscrapers zipped past, and she levelled out to come into port.
"Anais Nin, requesting permission to land."
"Negative, Nin," said Control. "We have a state of emergency in the city."
"We have a state of emergency too, Control. We must land."
"Anais Nin, this is Armand Solla of High Security. Where have you come from in such a hurry?"
"Uh, sorry, Security. We have difficulty hearing you, and serious engine problems. We must land." Loris hovered over the centre of the city, desperately searching for a glimpse of the rover in the surging crowds below. "Again, I say... What the hell is that?"
A ship hovered before them, the empty eyes of a rotting corpse staring out at them from the port. Its guns swivelled in their direction.
Anais Nin rose straight up and darted off between the skyscrapers. The death-ship banked and roared after her. They streaked down the canyon, buildings flashing by with a whirring sound. They banked and turned and roared off down another canyon, the crowds below stopping in mid-riot to watch the pursuit. Laser-fire flashed by them and etched the sides of buildings; glass shattered and cascaded into the streets, as the crowd ran screaming for cover. Loris and Johanna were crushed in their couches, hurled painfully into their restraints, and crushed in their couches again as Anais performed evasive manoeuvres at high speed.
"This is the Morg ship that shot down Atalanta in the mountains," Anais said. "She told me all about it. We cannot outfly this vessel."
"We can try," Loris said, switching on manual control.
Loris looped up with a sickening lurch and came down again behind the ship. She let fly with her weapons, but the target banked more swiftly than human flesh could stand and flipped out of the way, letting the rockets plough into a building. Flames and masonry rained down about them as Annie darted through the smoke. People in the streets below screamed and ran for their lives. In the rising dust-cloud, Loris could not tell if anyone had been hurt.
"Loris, it's Atty," said a familiar voice. "I'm trying to communicate with the Morg. I talked it into breaking off an attack once before, and I should be able to do it again."
"Where are you?"
"Heading up Park Avenue to the Sheepmeadow. Everyone is aboard, including Proj. There's panic in the streets, Lor. A lot of people think this means the end of the world."
"It will be for us, if you can't stop this thing. Shit!"
The death-ship roared up the canyon after them and Loris darted off, banking and slipping between the two steeples of a great cathedral with mere meters to spare, then dropping into a walled enclave and hiding between tall buildings on a side street. Below them, panic-stricken diners screamed in the wash of her fans as their umbrella-tables were overturned and waves from the fountains washed over them in the plaza. After a moment, Anais rose slowly between the buildings.
The Morg-ship was lying in wait for them. The guns beneath its wings swivelled toward them.
Suddenly it banked and moved leisurely off between the towers. "I've got it," Atty said. "I'm trying to explain to the machine that its human master is dead, and it should stand down. We're pulling onto the Sheepmeadow now, Lor. Come and get us before..."
Solla's ship roared past them, all guns blazing, and opened fire on the death-ship, which leaped up into the sky, too late to avoid the attack. It erupted in a ball of flame and began to tumble uncontrollably, trailing smoke behind it. Solla's pilot turned, but Anais was gone. They sped after her, up the avenue, and burst out into the open space above Central Port. Anais was already on the ground, and the rover was backing up the ramp into its interior.
"Dive," Solla said. "Blow them all to scrap metal."
"But they're surrounded by civilians."
"Do what I say, dammit!"
The ship banked and went into a strafing dive. Loris looked up and saw it coming. And then she saw something else. Solla looked up as well, just in time to see the death-ship coming down out of the sky, black smoke billowing behind, straight at them. "Bank," he shouted to the pilot.
The last thing Solla saw before the impact was the expressionless face of the dead pilot, its head wobbling on its skeletal neck as its cyborg arms tried to control the craft. There was a sickening crunch and the two ships careened away from each other, the Morg ship plummeting toward Anais. There was no time for the rescue party to do anything but throw up their hands before their faces as the ship ploughed into the Sheepmeadow, skidded across the landing surface, and crashed into a parked freighter only a few meters away. The cockpit cracked open on impact and the cyborg pilot was catapulted across the tarmac in a tangle of steel and rotting flesh. Loris saw Solla's ship, trailing smoke, disappear behind the trees as the pilot tried desperately to take control of the stick.
The rover backed up the ramp and Shagrug and Loris clamped it in place as quickly as they could. A crowd gathered in amazement about the downed death-ship and the ruins of the pilot; some people crossed themselves and superstitious murmurs swept through the crowd. Someone pointed. "It's Progeny. He's free."
"Keep them away, Shag," Loris snapped.
He pounded down the ramp. "Please, people. We have to get Progeny away from here. Keep away from the ship or you'll be injured when it takes off."
A shot rang out and Shagrug spun to the ground, grabbing his upper arm. The crowd scattered, screaming, and Solla was revealed, standing none too steadily with a rifle at his shoulder. His clothing was torn and burned, his face blackened and dripping with blood. Loris had run to Shagrug's side, and she straightened up, reaching for her weapon, but she froze as she realized that Solla had a bead on Progeny: a tiny spot of laser-light rested on Progeny's chest.
"I want my prisoner," Solla said.
"For Crissake, Solla!" Progeny's laugh boomed across the tarmac. "Don't you ever give up?" He stumbled down the ramp and stood shakily between Solla and the others. He held out his arms. "Come with us, Armand. You know your masters don't know the meaning of gratitude. No matter how hard you work, you're just a cop and they're the fantasy class. They don't give a damn about you. Come with us."
"Into exile? I don't think so. You're right; I'm just a cop and you're just my prisoner. I'm taking you back or I'm shooting you down during your escape. Your choice." His rifle clicked. The guns of the rover clicked and swung toward him. The guns of Anais followed suit.
"I know all about your kind," Solla said. "You can't kill me. I know who the rest of you are too, but I'm not interested in you right now. I just want my prisoner."
The crowd gasped with astonishment and stood transfixed as the cyborg corpse slowly rose from the wreckage of its ship and stepped forward. Its head lolled on its broken neck and one arm was missing, but its power-suit had two good legs and it moved inexorably forward. Solla heard the whispers and saw the crowd shuffling nervously out of the corner of his eye, but dared not turn away from Loris, whose hand was millimetres from her laser; he kept his bead on Progeny.
"Come on, Proj. Your choice."
The Morg walked up behind Solla and placed its skeletal hand on his shoulder. He whirled about, swinging his weapon, and the Morg decked him with a right cross. Then it collapsed in a pile of bones and rusted steel.
"Nice work, Atty," said Loris. She dragged Shagrug up the ramp. "Proj. Come on."
"Wait a minute." The crowd surged forward toward Solla, but Progeny held up his hand. They stopped. "Leave him alone," he said. "I think it's time human beings started behaving with the same moral restraint as their robots. We program them not to kill; let's try programming our children the same way, instead of passing on our quarrels and vendettas and making them as monstrous and miserable as we are. Please. Do it for me if you believe in me and do it for God if you believe in God and if you don't believe in anything but yourself, do it for yourself."
"Jesus! Come on!" Loris grabbed him and dragged him up the ramp, and it shut behind him. Anais rose into the air and vanished, streaking off between the towers and shrinking into the sky. Solla lay unconscious on the ground beside the smouldering wrecked ship. The cyborg, finally at rest, lay beside him. A man took off his jacket, rolled it up, and put it under Solla's head.