Davon felt the hum of its approach long before he could actually hear it. He had lived two decades within its enveloping comfort before returning to the Earth below. Now, he felt comfort only with the daily struggle to survive. To those who learned who he really was, he always said those years were a nightmare to be forgotten. Truth be told, if only to himself, he missed it just a bit.
Once he was their greatest warrior, commander of all their armies. Nation after nation had been subjugated to their power. Some, they took to rule. Others, they simply crushed and left so their rule would go on unchallenged. He regretted every minute of what he’d had to do. But if he hadn’t been the one to do it, others would. And they would have been far more brutal.
That was his gift, his genius. Strategy and tactics were second-nature to him, like eating and sleeping. For each country he’d been ordered to crush, he had spent days analyzing intelligence reports to come up with a means of defeating them with a minimum of casualties on both sides. After China and Cuba, though, most nations that became targets simply surrendered.
Now, he had only his daily battle with the Earth about him. Fighting it each day to make it grow corn, beans, apples, berries. Farming did not come nearly as easily to him as swords and rifles and hand-to-hand combat. Even so, he still usually won enough battles against old Mother Earth to provide food for himself, with some extra to share with the community.
He steps out the front door into the yard of the small house. He closes his eyes, reaching out with his senses. He can’t hear it, not yet. But the nervous chirping of birds and insects about him tells him that they can feel its approach as well. He focuses in on the feel of the hum, turning in a slow circle.
“East, as expected,” he says aloud, though no one is around to hear. He opens his eyes and turns to face the rising sun. There, on the far end of the horizon, he sees the tiny speck of the approaching Monolith. He has time. It is still two or three hours away. The enormous size of the floating structure gives the illusion that it is closer than it appears. Four miles wide on each side and nearly 4 miles in height, it can be seen from more than a hundred miles away as it drifts through the clouds.
Envisioned by Canadian engineer and inventor Daniel Reynolds, the Monolith was designed as a solution to the global population crisis. It is a self-contained floating city capable of housing more than a million people. At least, that was the intent. However, shortly after he released his concept and announced that he had invented the power and anti-gravity systems needed to make it work, Daniel disappeared.
Davon knew what had happened to the inventor. After all, it had been his job to make Mr. Reynolds, and all of his research, disappear. That’s the problem with creating something brilliant. Someone powerful is always trying to figure out how to take it away. And the powerful had wanted Mr. Reynolds’s tech for themselves.
Mr. Reynolds wasn’t the first genius that Davon had been assigned to abduct, and he wasn’t the last. But he was the key. His inventions made all the other tech they “obtained” practical. Energy weapons, shields, water and waste processing, propulsion, hydroponic food production, high-speed automated construction drones. It was all possible now, thanks to Mr. Reynolds’s stable, high output fusion reactor. The anti-grav tech just made it mobile. And in the minds of Davon’s masters, that was key.
Davon was a soldier and a patriot. The problem was simple. Washington was a target with a big bulls-eye on it. A couple of nukes through the air or in the back of a van and the entire government could vanish in an instant. When his superiors assigned him to help in the creation of a mobile floating fortress, he instantly latched on to the idea. What could possibly be safer than a government floating 5000 feet in the air? With the global threat shifting from opposition governments to terrorism, it was a simple equation to his mind.
There had been investigations, of course. You can’t make that many brilliant minds disappear without someone questioning it all. But none of it went anywhere. While the FBI, Interpol, and others chased around looking for suspects, the ones behind it all made sure it went nowhere. And the public, as they always do, eventually lost interest and moved on. And the Monolith project continued.
One might ask how you can hide the construction of a 4-mile sized cube. It turned out to be fairly easy. First, micro-fusion reactors had enabled the construction of a large number of automated drones, further enhanced by anti-grav technology. The project was built in the Nevada Test Range, an area already restricted from any civilian air or ground traffic. It was resourced by a number of mines in the zone that the government had kept hidden as strategic reserves. Altogether, construction took just over 5 years to complete. And it was all kept hidden by some amazing hologram technology. Thanks to technology, fewer than 10,000 people had even known about the project. And they had been kept on-site and on a tight leash.
And it had all been a lie. The true powers behind the Monolith’s creation never intended it for the U.S. government. They saw its true potential. A new nation, peopled by the world’s super-elite and wealthy. A floating fortress free from any government’s influence and control. It had all been planned out so well. By the time the government had realized what was going on, the fortress and its defenses were already online.
Davon had been to blame for that. Part of his job was to make the Monolith impregnable against America’s enemies. Little did he realize that the list of enemies included America itself. He had done his job too well. And those powers had prepared for the moment that Davon would figure out what they were up to. Over time, they had replaced most of the troops loyal to Davon with troops loyal to their new order. They hadn’t killed him. Instead, they imprisoned him. He spent his first two years on the Monolith locked up with the scientists he had ‘collected’ for them. But that was more than enough time for them to deal with the immediate threat: America.
They hit Washington first. Still trying to grasp the implications that they did not control the Monolith, the Federal government wasn’t ready for the first strike. The President, Vice President, the Cabinet, and more than 80% of Congress were killed in the first 10 minutes. The Pentagon was hit 15 minutes later. In less than 30 minutes, the United States of America effectively ceased to exist.
By the end of the first two weeks, the majority of the individual states capitulated. All it took was wiping Philadelphia, Columbus, St. Louis, and Chicago off the map. After that, no one resisted. The rulers of the Monolith had taken to calling themselves the Masters. A new government was formed. All of the existing federal and state government entities were dismantled, replaced with the dictates of the Masters. Cities and other local governments were allowed to continue as is, so long as they in no way contradicted the laws of the Masters. Boston and San Francisco had to be taught that hard lesson.
Columbus. He turned and looked west. On a clear day you could see what remained of downtown Columbus from here. The only recognizable building left was the LeVeque Tower. The first real skyscraper in town, it was also now the last. He thought back to his youth and pictured the skyline as it had appeared when he was a boy growing up here. So many buildings he remembered had been destroyed while he rotted in their prison. Nearly 200,000 had died that day.
Hundreds of thousands more had emigrated away from the area as vast segments of the local economy collapsed. Further, the Masters had moved all upper-level government offices to Cleveland and Cincinnati. Thankfully the freeway systems and Rickenbacker airport survived largely intact. That had preserved central Ohio’s status as a major shipping hub for the eastern states. But most other industries, and thus sources of employment, had picked up the pieces and moved elsewhere.
For those that remained in central Ohio, the only benefit was in real estate. Apartment complexes were largely abandoned as homes could be had for 10% of what their value had been a couple years previously. Even 22 years later, when Davon left the Monolith and took up residence in the town of his youth, 2 out of 3 homes had remained unoccupied.
By the time they came to see Devon for the first time, it was done. While the United States of America existed in name under the Masters rule, the ideals of what America had meant were already a fading dream. It hadn’t taken long. Freedom is a wonderful idea. Being able to feed your family is a better one. The economy had largely recovered. Mostly that was due to the fact that the Masters had seized all financial institutions and foreign-owned property and businesses. They followed this up by forgiving all existing debt for citizens and making all schools completely free. Wonderful for surviving citizens of the new America.
Not so wonderful for foreign governments and banks that had held debt and property on America. China was hurt the worst, their economy sent spiraling into three years of steep decline. Their economy in tatters, jobs evaporated and riots began to spread. Slowly, the Chinese government began to see only one solution: war.
It was a simple equation. A devastated country, still largely on uncertain ground and disorganized, America would surely be an easy target. After all, the Monolith could only be in one place at a time and the Chinese generals were confident they would find its weakness eventually.
That was why the Masters had kept Devon around. The United States had been easy. Surprise and chaos, shock and awe, had made their conquest a quick one. But the Masters knew at some point a foreign government would challenge them. Strategy and tactics were Devon’s genius. They knew the odds were much better with Devon than without.
It was getting closer now. Perhaps an hour out. The soft hum of the anti-grav engines could be heard, carried on the morning wind. “What’s that? Say 60 miles or so?” he says to the squirrel hanging on the trunk of a nearby tree. The creature’s only response was to scurry up into the supposed safety of the tree’s lofty branches.
He closes his eyes again, remembering that first meeting. Their arguments had been well planned and laid out. Yes, he could hate them for what they had done. But in the end, was this not still America? Were they not all Americans? Davon bit down on the answer he would have loved to give them. But yes, America was facing a foreign threat. He should help them defend it.
And yet he had refused. Four times he had refused. Then the first landings on the Hawaiian islands had come. Devon regretted the necessity of sacrificing the state to the Chinese military. It had been necessary, a part of his plan. If he agreed too quickly, they would not trust him. They would be far too suspicious of him. It needed to look like it was a painful choice for him. That part was easy, because it was.
Again, he had refused to help them. But it had been slower, carefully, with a twinge of angst about the decision. No, he thought, Los Angeles. That would be the time to step in. The next landings would come there. After those landings started, they would come to him again. Then, and only then, would he reluctantly accept. And so they did. That was when his plan started. Today was the day it reached fruition.
The approaching steps draw him out of his memories. He listens for a minute to the familiar steps. For 15 years the footfalls of his second in command were a frequent companion. Even after all these years, he still knew them.
“I thought I’d taught you better than that, Kasey.” He opens his eyes and turns to look at the soldier approaching up the crumbling street. It had been 10 years now since Davon’s insubordination had resulted in his exile and Kasey had ascended to command of the Master’s Army. “Command has made you forget your lessons. Or have you not come to kill me?”
“Naw, boss. I didn’t come to kill you,” comes the smiling reply. So, he’d let someone else do the dirty work then. Probably a sniper in one of the other nearby houses. Kasey always was a coward. Real soldiers took care of personal matters themselves. Davon knows he still has a few minutes. Kasey would want to gloat and mock him a bit first. It reminds him of the comic books and superhero shows of his youth. The bad guys always wanna monologue before enacting their doomsday plan.
Davon returns the smile. “In that case, it’s good to see you. What brings you to my door? Is it time for Ohio’s tribute already?” The Masters exacted an annual tribute in goods, money, and foods from each of the states. Enacted during the war with China as a means of ‘paying for and supporting the Army in the defense of America’, it had never been rescinded. The Masters call it a tax, but taxes were supposed to be used for the public good. What was given to the Masters only benefited the Masters.
“You still haven’t learned your lesson. Did you forget that mouth is what got you here in the first place?” Kasey frowns as he removes his helmet and sets it on the fence post next to him. He’d meant it as a move to put Davon at ease, but all Davon could think about was that he really needed to repair that gate to his yard.
“You know me too well,” Davon responds, slipping his smile into a knowing grin. “I never learn. I just go on assuming I’m right.” Turning back to look at the approaching Monolith, he continues. “So why are you in Ohio, then? The tax collection isn’t until September. You should be in Toronto right now.” The fall collections were always from Canada first.
When the invasion from China had been repelled, the Masters felt they needed to expand their defensive borders. They held a press conference to declare their intent to seize Canada, Mexico, and most of the Caribbean. Once it became clear that NATO wouldn’t lift a finger to stop it, most countries surrendered within days.
Only Cuba resisted. Now, the once beautiful island no longer exists. At some point along the way, the Masters and their collection of scientists had created a weapon that had the destructive capacity of a nuclear weapon, but without the radioactive fallout. They decided that Cuba was the perfect target to demonstrate their new weapon. While Davon was busy planning strategic strikes to break Cuba’s will with minimum destruction, the Masters ordered their own strikes.
They launched 10 of the missiles, which they had code named the Hulks. The rebels called them the Abominations. When the dust cleared, the entire island was gone. The blasts had been so powerful that every cubic meter of land above sea level had been blasted away, leaving the ocean to sweep in over what was left.
Davon had been furious when he learned what happened. He had stormed into the Masters’ Chamber, shouting threats at their stupidity. He grimaces at that memory. He’d spent a month in prison after that outburst. And it had set his plans back years. Davon’s worst enemy has always been his own mouth.
It had taken him a few years to learn not to mouth off to the Masters. Eventually, he had learned to tame it down to mild sarcasm. Far too many nights spent in the Monolith’s prison had eventually curbed his tongue. He knew he could push them a bit. It had just taken time to find that balance. It was all a cost/benefit analysis for the Masters. So long as Davon kept winning battles at a low total cost, they would put up with a certain amount of insubordination.
He turns back to the marine, who merely gazes silently at him. As he does so, he catches the brief flicker from a house he knows is empty. The morning sun reflecting off of something moving. So, a sniper there at least. “All this? Just for little ol’ me?” he mocks. “They’ve decided it’s time to deal with their former pet. Even delayed the eastern Canada tributes? I’m impressed. I thought they didn’t care about me anymore.”
“Times change,” comes Kasey’s suddenly somber reply. “You’ve been seen in the company of known rebels. We know they’re trying to recruit you. We can’t let you provide them with any information. It’s simple. You come back to us, or you die.” Davon watches with mild curiosity as Kasey’s hand drifts toward his sidearm. Maybe Kasey wasn’t as big a coward as he used to be. Is it worth the gamble to see how far he can push him, he wonders?
Either way, Kasey clearly hadn’t gotten any smarter. Davon wasn’t in danger of becoming a rebel. He was the rebels. And he had been from the day he started recruiting people to the cause. For nearly 30 years they had planned and worked in secret, building their forces both inside and outside of the Monolith. All of it leading to this day. Whether he lived or died in this small yard, today the people would be freed from decades of enslavement.
More than three million freedom fighters across North America waited for his command, waited for the result of the next few minutes. It was too bad Kasey couldn’t see it coming. It was already underway. The orders had been given days ago, immediately after word reached them that the Monolith was on its way. Now he had only to distract Kasey long enough for his people to do their work.
Kasey’s hand drifts closer to his pistol. Davon has only his knife to defend himself. It wouldn’t matter. If he tried to react or strike first, the sniper would take him out. Maybe he still had a chance, though. If he moved fast enough. It would have to be soon. Kasey was getting anxious and would shoot him soon anyway. This wasn’t the plan. He’d thought, hoped, this would go another way. But it seems to him to be too late now. Might as well get this over with, Davon thinks to himself. Freedom will have to come without him.
Just as his right hand starts to move, he hears the step behind him. It’s a step he knows all too well. He has no chance to react or dodge as the long blade skewers him from behind, emerging from his chest. He stands for a moment, before dropping to his knees. He had been waiting for the strike. This was the plan. She had come through after all. It couldn’t be allowed to be anyone else. Despite the fact he’s been expecting the strike, the pain is immense and he can’t help the shocked expression that comes to his face.
“At least… you haven’t forgotten your lessons…. daughter,” he manages to gasp out.
Asha steps around in front of him, leaving the sword where it is for now. “No, father,” she says, her voice strong and resolute. As she faces him, he looks up at her face. Her expression softens a bit, as does her voice. “I told Kasey. If it had to be done, I would do it.”
Davon manages a grim smile. “Well done… my child. You remember… your duty.”
“Yes,” she says. She takes his head in her hands and leans down to kiss his the top of his head. Then pressing her forehead against his, she adds in a whisper, “The signal is given, father. Freedom.”
Just moments later alarms began sounding from the Monolith. Kasey turns to face that way as Asha steps back behind her father. “Something’s wrong, Kasey. We need to get back. Sorry, father,” she says while pulling the blade from his back, “but we need to get going.” Davon collapses to the ground, motionless as Asha strides past Kasey to the street.
Kasey watches her walking away and considers her for a few moments. Despite her record, he’d never trusted the Masters’ spymaster and assassin. As Davon’s daughter, Kasey had always thought she would be loyal to him first and foremost. But what she’d just done was both loving and cold blooded. And, truth be told, more than a little frightening. He no longer had doubts on her loyalty. And he could not be more wrong in that assessment.
As Kasey draws his helmet back on, he keys his comm channel. “Back to the shuttle. Right now!” he yells. From several nearby houses, nearly two dozen troops file out and double time up the street. Kasey and Asha fall in at the rear of the formation. To avoid being detected too soon, they had landed in cover of night nearly two miles away from the house. It would take them several minutes to get back to the waiting transport.
After they were well out of sight, several armed figures move from other nearby houses, the ones that had been “occupied”. Most of them began sweeping the yards and houses to ensure no rear guard had been left behind. Three of the figures run to Davon’s side.
“They’re gone,” the first says as they arrive. “No rear guard reported. They’ll be back to their transport in about 5 minutes. Remind me again why you had to die?”
Davon stirs and slowly sits up as the second of the trio kneels to tend the wound. When she finishes, she assists Davon gently to his feet. “That’s gonna hurt for a while,” he offers with a rueful smile. “And you know why. If they think I’m dead, they’ll underestimate the rebels until it’s too late.”
What Kasey hadn’t seen as Asha had removed the blade was the small button in the blade hilt she pressed just before pulling the blade free. It instantly heated the edges of the blade, so that as she drew it free it would cauterize the wound and prevent Davon from bleeding to death before the medics could get to him. It was a skillful stroke. She had practiced it in secret thousands of times over the last few years. Done correctly it will do no serious, permanent damage to the target.
Even so, Davon knows she will be worried, not knowing if she had killed him or not until they could get word to her. ‘Soon, daughter,’ he says to himself. Several of the Masters’ spies were actually rebels, feeding the Masters misinformation and half-truths. One of them will send the message via a pre-arranged code phrase to be included in one of their reports. She would know in a few days that he was fine.
The group turns to face the Monolith as they began to hear the whine of shuttle engines. Ship after ship flies out from the structure. Davon knows most of the shuttles will be filled with rebels. They had all been instructed what to do when the time came and the action message received. Much of the last 25 years had been spent infiltrating rebels aboard the floating fortress. A few here, a few there, they had come. They never knew who any of the other rebels were unless absolutely necessary to complete their mission. They were only taught how to communicate with their handlers, and what shuttle to go to after they had completed their mission on V day. There they would give a code sign to the pilot and escape with them.
Over the years a dozen or so rebels had been captured on the Monolith. Each was interrogated for months and each would reveal the same thing. They knew no other rebels. Their mission was to await a signal, perform a specified act of sabotage then escape on a shuttle. Each time, all the shuttle pilots on board underwent extensive interrogation as the Masters tried to find the traitorous pilot who would fly them to freedom. The thing was, not one of the actual pilots was a rebel. The rebels intentionally avoided recruiting them. Instead, the rebels had acquired some shuttles of their own and trained many of their own to fly them. Then they were always infiltrated on board as something else entirely.
As the trio watched shuttle after shuttle depart the Monolith, Davon smiles. He imagines the surprise as each rebel arrives at the shuttles to discover that instead of a few of them, there are nearly 10,000 of them on board. Each shuttle can hold up to 200 people if they were cozy. And each would be packed before taking off.
More than 70 of the shuttles had flown from the fortress when the first explosions erupt from the underside of the machine. Explosion after explosion follows across the base as the systems which power the Monolith and keep it aloft self destruct.
As shuttles continue to flee the fortress, they watch a single shuttle flow against the tide towards it. No doubt that was Kasey and his troops returning. The shuttle pauses and hangs in mid air as the disintegrating power and grav systems on the Monolith cause it to weave and tilt and bob slowly back and forth. The fortress is still nearly 15 miles away and the trio on the ground are in no danger. However, concern still shows on their face.
There had been no way to precisely calculate what would happen when those anti-grav systems ceased to exist. Their best engineers had designed the destruction pattern so the tower would fall straight down and minimize death and injury as much as possible. If it toppled onto its side instead of straight down, the death count would be much, much higher. Unfortunately, it was all theoretical. Now, in the reality of it, they can only watch and pray and hope for the best.
Just when their plan seems to be in doubt of success, the Monolith suddenly falls straight down. Not at full speed, thankfully. The residual energy field from the now destroyed anti-grav generators was not dissipating all at once. But, it would be enough. That much was clear. The Monolith would suffer severe structural damage from the fall. Even if they rebuilt the destroyed systems, it would take years, if ever, before it flew again.
Just as the rumble of the structure hitting the ground reaches the trio, explosions erupt from the top of the structure. “That would be the missile launchers and their factories,” Davon states grimly. “There will be no more Cuba’s.” That assumes the rebels on board had carried out all their missions successfully. But Davon was confident. They had trained extensively. And the best of his troops had been tasked this final mission. It was the one above all others that absolutely must be carried out successfully.
Three teams had been tasked with blowing up the launchers, three more the factories. That would take care of the immediate threat. But that was not enough. Two additional teams had also been assigned to prevent the Hulks from being re-developed. The first was a team of hackers who were to destroy all digital and paper records stored on the Monolith. Thankfully the rebels had fully infiltrated all the tech and clerical functions on the Monolith years ago. They’d used those years to carefully prepare the records for easy destruction when the time came. They would have been among the first shuttles to depart this morning.
The last team was somewhat more controversial. Their mission was the scientists and engineers who were made to work on the weapons. While some disagreed with the orders, Davon had been clear. The scientists & engineers must be taken from the Monolith. For most that meant taking their families as well. Any scientist or engineer who could not be taken into rebel custody would be killed. The rebels couldn’t risk any chance that the Hulks would be rebuilt.
One of the fleeing shuttles approaches their position. It circles, once, then lands in the street nearby. As the rest of his troops complete their sweep for stragglers and board the shuttle, Davon takes a minute more to watch the smoke rising from the crashed Monolith. Even dead on the ground and miles away it was an imposing structure. But it would destroy no more cities, and that was enough.
Davon turns to the aide on his left and says, “Send out the success code words. Begin all attacks.” The aide begins speaking into his wrist communicator as the trio stride towards the shuttle’s open hatch. As the message goes across North America, nearly 3 million rebels begin attacks on hundreds of the Masters’ bases. “After 30 years, it’s time for freedom to reign once more.”
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