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Wrannaman Book — Prelude
I’m writing an open source sci-fi novel. You can follow along here or https://wrannaman.com
They left at sunset. Eros put his hand on the railing near the stern of the ship and watched the Y grow smaller behind him. He remembered the first time he laid eyes on this bay. He thought he had found paradise. A pocket of the world not yet totally corroded. All those years ago, he came with the tiny bundle wrapped in his unconscious arms. He thought this was the place where he could protect her, keep her safe, keep her hidden. He had to acknowledge to himself that he had not failed, that he had in fact, kept her alive for a longer time than he would have been able to in Imperial City, or on the run. Or perhaps longer than anyone else could have. He had given her a real childhood, one he never had. And he trained her. In a thousand subtle ways, he prepared her for this moment. His only regret now was that he wished he had told her everything he knew. It didn’t matter now. These forced, positive thoughts weren’t helping. He’d failed her now, and he’d fix it.
The ship was busy. Half of their crew had been slaughtered in battle and the remaining half couldn’t have been happier to be out on the open sea doing something they knew, smelling familiar smells, going through the ropes. Eros couldn’t blame them, nor could their captain who appeared to be feeling the same way. It was in that spirit that they left the Y, heading towards the Ark mountains to trade and drop Eros and Wellington off.
South of the Y, the Arc was a place where feral humans, animals and other savages roamed. You resided there if you had nowhere else to go or if your business wasn’t the kind you could do openly. The Arc was a death pit, but it was also a treasure hunters paradise. Centuries of electronic waste had been dumped near there. It was one of two main dumping grounds for Imperial City. If there was a part you needed, you’d find it somewhere in the Arc. If you needed a bomb, you could trade for one. If you needed a motor, you’d find it there too. If you needed to kill someone, there were a myriad of devices to choose from or people to employ to get it done. Twice a year there existed a truce, and a market took place. Aside from the typical market which ran nearly 24/7, the bi-annual markets attracted vendors from all over to sell whatever they had made since the last market. Every other day of the year it wasn’t a place you wanted to spend much time in, though vendors did continue to sell and the permanent citizens tried to sculpt a life. Even the most ruthless human needs food to eat and shelter from the elements.
The other dumping ground was in the desert to the east. The Sikka dumped waste both biological and inorganic in the Dunes. Over the years of executing on their mission to unite the world, the Sikkas found themselves in need of better soldiers. They experimented on people, fusing technology and biology both at the DNA level as well as through surgery. Each experiment was done in batches where a particular process or upgrade was tested. They took the poor and unwell and surgically enhanced them. They made them as well as they could, though not to last. No, they’d save that for the production run. The experiments that failed or those who didn’t make the grade were tossed, dead or alive in the Dunes. These people were once human, though their humanity had been stripped from them when the Sikkas began their search to build the ultimate soldier. Their goal was to find the perfect balance between the biological and the technological. These half-human, half-machine creations were known as Hybrids and they ruled the Dunes in tribes thousands strong, making their living from trading discarded scraps.
Night came and they sailed by the stars and moonlight. Eros and Wellington were swinging in hammocks below deck, passing a flask of Hikka between them. They would sometimes look at each other with nothing to say. Other times they would just stare at the roof, passing the flask back and forth, back and forth, and swung just the same.
Wellington had decided to come. The paunchy governor of the Y wasn’t known for his physical prowess; it was his intellectual and political poise that won him the office. Though that hadn’t always been the case. Wellington, though slower now with his girth and years, still knew how to carry himself. He recalled his own decision to leave Imperial City and settle in the Y. He too didn’t regret it for a second.
Just like Eros, Wellington also had contacts he had not spoken to in a very long time, in some cases since he arrived at the Y, before Eros. Like many who left Imperial City, he had broken off all communication when he moved to the Y to protect his son, his wife, and his young daughter. “From the East,” he would say. “I’m from the East”.
That was as close as anyone came to knowing truly what he did in the East. It was farther than Eros had ever travelled. Another city like Imperial City presumably. The same, but different. Eros had a good sense of where his friend came from. His courtliness never quite left him, but exactly what he did for the city he came from had scared him enough to move his whole life away from there. Eros never asked him about his past unprompted. Over the years Wellington learned to trust Eros with his life and his family. There was a tremendous amount of earned respect that each of them had built together over the years they poured into turning the Y into the robust, bustling city that it was becoming. They set up the emergent trade networks, and personally went down to the Arc to negotiate the deals. Though nobody knew exactly when the leaving of the light ceremony started, they were among the first and loudest to try and make it a commercial event, to invite outsiders to join. Though the Y had long been formed, they were formidable in transforming it into a modern city.
Wellington knew his way around a ship. He had left Eros a few clues like this. Since he knew his way around a ship he was likely from the far East. He looked like he was Eastern too. Having grown up in Imperial City, Eros became familiar with all kinds of people from across the world. He could identify the major six, by both accent and look. Wellington had come to the Y three years before Eros. It was said when he came that the only people left of the ship’s crew was his family, two pirates, and a dog. Everyone else had died. The ship landed with arrows sticking out from all kinds of directions, and a hole in the hull that would surely have been fatal in a few days’ time. In addition to the Sikkas, there were others that roamed the seas looking for easy prey. It was a profitable business.
Wellington meditated on that journey as he stared up at the ceiling while rocking in his hammock. Before he left he had sent sixteen sparrows, all with different encrypted messages. The sparrows formed the bedrock of communication across wide distances. They were networked, semi-biological birds. When they could, they would transmit a message to another bird traveling in the direction the message needed to get to. When there were no other birds nearby, or they were all out of range to transmit the message, the sparrow would fly until it encountered another sparrow, who would carry the message from there. There was no guaranteed delivery. Sparrows could get full of data and not be able to carry any more messages. Unsurprisingly, they were often captured, shot down, targeted, hunted by Trackers, and were of general interest to the Sikkas. Hence the need to send many of them. He sent them in all kinds of directions to all kinds of people he didn’t know were living or not anymore. Even those that lived, he wasn’t sure where they were located now, nor was he sure they would be able to get a message back to him. The sparrows formed a simple kind of network. They were able to communicate with most wrist screens. Getting a sparrow wasn’t a crime in the city, and when intercepted most often the only information one could gather for sure was the origin device and the destination device. Even in the message, he didn’t quite know what he was asking for yet. Information, of course, but they would need more than information to pull this off. They were going to need help, allies, and supplies. Wellington was born wealthy, though he did have a successful venture of his own in the east before giving it all up. When he fled, he managed to bring most of his wealth with him, though not all of it was in traditional forms. Wellington had a knack for knowing what was and was not valuable, and perhaps most importantly, when it was valuable. Though he could fight, he was much better poised to fight his battle with words, influence, and politics. He had a feeling that this would be just as helpful as knowing his way around a weapon, perhaps moreso.
A gentle knock came from the side of the boat. It sounded like a large raindrop. Several other gentle knocks hit the side of the boat. There were a few shouts above, but there were always a few shouts on deck. Slowly, what sounded like rain became apparent. The arrows came faster and faster. They both scampered out of their hammock, and knew immediately who it was that was firing the arrows. The Sikkas had found their ship.
The Sikkas were truly masters of battle and destruction. They were straightforward in their approach, which made them somewhat predictable but no less effective. In this case, a single ship lagged behind the fleet. It was to serve as the fleet’s canary. The Sikka ship was not a military vessel per se, it was a scouting ship built for speed. Since bullets were scarce, and precious, they often would use arrows at first to try and get the job done.
In controlled groups of two, each sailor on the boat ducked down below deck and visited the boat’s small arsenal. The arrows were flying in both directions now. Eros saw the sailors aiming exclusively at the Sikkas comms antenna on the top of the mast. It’s transformer blew up quickly. Wellington jumped to his feet and rummaged through his bag to find a weapon of his own. He managed to bring up his own bow onto the deck. It was collapsible, and when unfolded, it was as tall as he was. He grabbed a fistful standard, exploding arrows and began doing his part. Eros was slower to get up to the deck. He had spent a significantly longer amount of time rummaging through his bag and his coat. Wellington knew what he was doing, he was trying to find something better than arrows. It didn’t take him long. He scrambled up to the deck and found Wellington. In his hands was an impact grenade. Upon sufficient impact, it would explode. As Eros came on deck, the Sikka’s turned their mounted gun towards the ship. They were ready for the kill.
“How true are your arrows flying today,” Eros asked Wellington, adventure in his eyes.
“True enough,” Wellington shifted his attention back onto the other boat.
“Can you hit the boat?”
Eros took a standard exploding arrow and disabled it’s exploding capabilities. He installed a tiny wench on the arrow and set a coil of clear plastic line next to it. Wellington understood and loaded the arrow into his bow. With a nod from Eros, he shot the modified arrow straight into the side of the boat now racing towards them. The coil of plastic line zipped out. Their boat evened out parallel to the other ship to give the archers room to fire and hit. As they swung wide, showing the side of their boat, Eros opened his wrist screen and activated the tiny wench. With just a little bit of extra wire left, Eros catapulted the grenade into the air. It charged toward the Sikka ship. The wench pulled hard and the grenade arched right onto the deck of the ship, ripping a huge wedge out of the deck and hull. The men manning the mounted gun flew back, and their massive gun itself crashed onto its side. Men below deck suddenly looked out at them with black soot on their face. One took an arrow to the chest. Rapidly, the Sikka soldiers tried to bucket the water coming into the boat. Several men rushed the open area with wood and metal. In under a minute, their hull was mostly repaired, and the fire from the explosion was mostly out, with only a handrail still smoking and glowing red. The ship wouldn’t sink.
Eros glanced at the explosion, looking satisfied at it’s angle of attack and damage. He had set up two more arrows with wenches and gave one to Wellington and the other to the captain who had joined them to see what they were doing. The captain had watched the first attempt and understood. Two more grenade arrows were fired at the front and the back of the ship. The wenches were activated again and two fresh holes were put in the ship, one in the front, and the other in the back. The fires it caused burned hot.
From the initial explosion, you could see heads below deck frantically moving back and forth between the two new holes. Several Sikka on deck went below to help, abandoning the cannon momentarily. Their wave of arrows became less consistent.
The captain ordered the ship to gain some distance away from their attackers. They glided out of arrow range. Sikkas were jumping from the ship now as the fires reached the deck of the ship creeping towards the mast. Their escape pods were damaged. As one covered dingy lowered into the water, it’s wench snapped out of place and the damaged boat began sinking with a few men inside. The captain looked back at Eros and gave him a gratitude nod.
As night came the burning boat became smaller and smaller, eventually rounding a corner until it was out of sight. The men stayed ready. It was unusual to encounter a single Sikka ship. Very unusual. But the night came without incident, and slowly the watch crew lessened until they went back to a nominal skeleton crew.