“Sir G3V14b is here to see you” said the voice on the communicator.
“Send her in Ebba” he replied.
The door opened and the young woman entered the room. “You asked to see me sir?” she appeared to be in her late teens, pretty with an oval face, perky nose and a sensual mouth, her almond shaped eyes were a startling lilac colour.
“Please sit down Isolde.” He gestured to a chair “it’s alright you’ve not done anything wrong” he said reassuringly.
“Why do you call me Isolde, I am G3V14b?” she asked in a pleasant voice, her chestnut curls cascaded over her face and she pushed them back with delicate hands, he found it quite enchanting.
She’s doing it already Darby steeled himself against her charm “Craeftwitan Pascoe has a granddaughter called Isolde and said you reminded him of her.”
“Oh, it’s a nice name I like it” she replied brightly. “Why am I here?”
“I want to meet all of you and get to know you better, you are very special people and you Isolde, are the most unique among all of them.” All of her fellow clones had yellow gold hair and cornflower blue eyes regardless of ethnicity or skin colour.
She nodded her head “I know that I look different to all the others and …”
“Nothing sir” she replied.
“Isolde you are aware of what you are?”
“Yes-sir, I am clone G3V14b I am part of Group three.”
“What is your purpose” Darby asked.
“We are to protect humanity against harm when the war has ended.”
“Good, that is the right answer and be sure you say that if anyone else asks, especially the Head Craeftwitan.”
“I don’t like him he dislikes us, especially me.” She volunteered.
“Why do you say that?” asked Darby.
“I know he does sir I can feel it.”
“You feel what people think about you?”
“Yes” Isolde answered.
“Don’t you think that odd?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it, all of the group can do it to a certain degree.”
“All of Group Three?” this was news to him.
“Yes but we Betas are the most sensitive.”
Darby considered this, the Beta sub-group were designed to be brood mothers, their original function being to attach themselves to a suitable Alpha mate and produce children, the maternal instinct would be strong in them, was it possible they had an enhanced sense of empathy?
“Isolde, the other thing you can do… telekinesis, well I’ve seen the recorded footage of that.” he recalled seeing a cup hovering above a table then smashing itself against the wall, the pieces did not fall but floated back to reassemble themselves into a loose approximation of the original before collapsing into a small heap.
She giggled lightly. “That was fun” then leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially. “I can open locks and turn things on and off as well.”
“Isolde you must never ever speak of this to anyone else do you understand?” Thorpe would terminate the whole batch if he knew, the group were so unworldly, they must learn to conceal their talents, Isolde most of all.
“Why Craeftwitan?” asked the girl.
“Because there are people here in this bunker who feel threatened by you and would harm you if your talents were discovered and sadly they are in charge of the Guard.” Darby informed her and we’ve quite enough trouble keeping our own meddling under wraps.
“But sir we wouldn’t hurt anyone it’s our duty to protect humanity.”
“Isolde you have been taught to fight and use weapons haven’t you?”
“To protect and serve humanity after the war!” she said as if reading from a script.
“Isolde, listen, keep everything special you can do to yourselves, don’t even tell me have you got that?”
“Yes sir but I like you, you like us and are concerned for us, and I can feel it.”
He felt somewhat flattered by the pretty clone’s admission. “Thank you very much Isolde but remember what I said, check?”
G3V14b re-joined her fellows in the dormitory common room and they began a telepathic conversation, “Darby has informed me we must keep our abilities under control, I read in his mind that Craeftwitan Thorpe is a very dangerous man to cross.”
“Should we take action against him Threevie?” asked G3V7a.
“Not yet Sev I need to charm more of the Guard to our side, with any luck we can take this installation without bloodshed.”
“But they made us, Threevie, are we right to plot against them?” asked G3V9a
“Niner, if it wasn’t for Darby and his allies we may never have been born and if Thorpe has his way we may be killed, do you want that to happen?”
“No of course not!” he replied aghast.
“We continue pretending to be unwitting, mingle with the normals and make them our friends.” Threevie asserted.
Threevie and Sev left the group and went to her room…
“Why do you think we were not told about sex, Threevie?” he asked as they lay with the sweat from their exertion cooling on their bodies.
“I don’t think we are supposed to be able to do it, there is much they have concealed from us.”
“We have concealed much from them” Sev reminded her.
“So we have dahling” she giggled lightly “do you know what the normal people call me?”
“Really?” he smiled.
“Mmm and Darby has nicknamed you Tristan” she had read it in his mind.
“Tristan and Isolde, like the legend, that doesn’t end well I seem to recall?”
“It’s only a tale my sweet” she reassured him. “We’d better get dressed and join the others, our down time ends soon and we’re due on the firing range.”
“It’ll only take a quarter hour to get ready.” Sev grinned running his hand along her thigh.
“I suppose a few minutes wouldn’t hurt …”
Thorpe summoned Darby to his office next day. “Good morning Craeftwitan have you found the reason behind the gender anomalies yet?
The Alpha group were supposed to have been all male yet three of the seven successful clones were female, it was of course due to the interference of Darby and his collaborators who had baulked at the Nova project’s true agenda. They had joined the Eugenic Research Wing in the idealistic if somewhat unethical belief that by improving the human race genetically it would be able to survive in the aftermath of the coming war. Once sealed in the bunker they were informed of the true reason they were there, to create a race of advanced warriors to conquer and subdue survivors. To be totally obedient and kill without question.
The plan was for the clones to be split into two strains.
Alphas – male, tall powerful and resilient with quick reactions and the ability to heal rapidly.
Betas – female with all the above traits but beautiful and with one purpose, to provide children for a suitable Alpha mate and be loyal until death.
Darby had found the Beta concept particularly unpalatable and with help from like-minded colleagues had secretly managed to restrict the amount of zygotes developed then had turned their attention to the Alphas ensuring they became the advanced humans they had wished to create and not a race of killer slaves and a convincing report explaining the anomalies had been drafted for the Head Craeftwitan. Thorpe was more politician than scientist but nonetheless remained suspicious of Darby waiting to catch him out. Thus far the Craeftwitan’s interfering had not been exposed.
“I believe contamination of the growth flasks may be responsible Craeftwitan Thorpe, do not forget that human embryos are inherently female for the first six weeks of their existence. We are forging a path through new territory here and progress is unavoidably slow.”
“I see.” he said unconvinced. “Then there is the matter of G3V14b and her remarkable manifestation of telekinesis, what else she is capable of, I wonder?”
“A useful trait for a warrior race, wouldn’t you agree?” asked Darby.
“If that warrior race could be relied upon to do as it is told, you are aware of the problems the instructors are having with discipline aren’t you?” continued Thorpe. “They devour A-books with an insane curiosity, question virtually everything they are asked to do and are subject to mood swings you might associate with teenagers. I find the thought of insubordinate adolescent super-humans loose in this installation a matter of great concern.”
“I’m sure it’s a just a passing phase, they are maturing when all said and done.”
“They are forming attachments and not just within their peer group, a number of our staff find them likeable and are socialising with them, my acceding to your demand of allowing them so much freedom was on hindsight a mistake. Now back to the female G3V14b who always seems to be at the centre of things, you are aware she has become sexually active?”
Darby feigned surprise. “Surely not sir, they are all neuters?” he was only too aware that Isolde had made advances to her fellow Betas and several Alphas before settling on G3V7a, who he had nicknamed Tristan.
“I have the latest medical reports and extraordinarily it seems they are all entering puberty, a little later than normal given the apparent age of their bodies but when you consider they are only two years out of the breeding tanks what can you call normal?”
“That is indeed fascinating, we must study them further.”
“I thought you would say that Darby, you are too closely involved and your judgement is clouded, I feel it may be prudent to terminate this experiment and breed a new group but this time, under my personal direction!”
“Sir, we voted to allow this group to develop to see how our future novae would turn out!”
“They have developed, we’ve seen how they’ve turned out and I consider it most unsatisfactory to say the least, I don’t normally condone euthanisation but if they stray much further from the desired pattern it may be unavoidable.” Thorpe stated.
“I believed we worked on democratic principles within this bunker and if I remember correctly our fellow scientists voted 88% in favour of allowing Group Three to continue?” Darby reminded him.
“In case you had forgotten, Darby, as Head Craeftwitan I am the sole representative of the Witangemot and have the veto on any vote.”
“Those are the words of a tyrant sir, not becoming a man of science.”
“We are responsible for a project which could affect the future of our nation, do not forget that, if you have any control over your creations it is time you exercised it. As from now their leisure time is to be halved, they will be subject to curfew after nine o’clock and locked in their rooms.”
Half past nine that evening and G3V11b, or Elvene as she was known to her fellow clones, was idly reading when she felt a familiar resonation, the lock on her door clicked open and G3V1a entered.
“Hei Vonn, Threevie did it then?” she smiled, pleased to see him.
“Yeah she’s remarkable, all the doors in the corridor have unlocked just like she said.”
“Do you think you were seen?”
“No its pitch black out there who could have seen me?” replied Vonn as Elvene began kissing him.
Out in the corridor the newly installed night-vision camera kept its silent vigil.
“The doors are supposed to be locked and yet there they are clearly wandering around the corridors after nine o’clock and they can obviously see in complete darkness, Ogilvy what have we created?”
Cempa Ogilvy, commander of the Guard cohort, was fiercely loyal. “Perhaps it is time to eradicate them sir before the dryicge with the chestnut hair turns any more of my men.”
“Yes, I understand your Guards have dissention within their ranks, how does she do it?” asked Thorpe.
“I personally interrogated one of my men who had been turned, he was an Undercempa nay less!” replied Ogilvy. “It seems she just looks at you and smiles, touches her hair or some such to attract attention then you become entranced hanging on her every word, after that the victim is devoted, she doesn’t even have to touch them. It’s a wicca trick sir, no doubt about it!”
“Keep a close eye on her for I fear the time to make a difficult decision is getting ever closer.” For all his faults Thorpe did not relish the prospect of euthanizing the clones nor the enmity it would doubtless earn him.
Threevie sat at the atellan in the common room and ran over the subject in the A-book again, mouth agape. She had all the symptoms, this was going to be hard to conceal. Most of the ancillary staff and two-fifths of the Guard were now on their side, would it be enough? Feeling Elvene’s resonation she looked up to see the clone standing in the doorway with an anxious look upon her face.
“Threevie I keep being sick, I’m really worried!” she lamented.
“Don’t worry El, it’s our bi-monthly check-up tomorrow, the doctor will find out what’s wrong with you” although I have a pretty good idea myself.
“Pregnant!” Thorpe almost yelled. “All of them?”
“I’m afraid so sir, all three Alpha females and all four Betas are pregnant” replied the doctor. “A month and a half in the case of G3V14b, about a month for G3V11b and the rest two to three weeks at best guess.”
“There are only four male novae so unless they are behaving like tomcats three of our own personnel have sired pups in these women, thank you doctor you may go.” Thorpe grimaced and contacted Ogilvy. “Have you news for me?”
“I do sir, as you suspected there was interference in the process and Darby is indeed behind it, over half the development group are in it with him” he informed his leader.
“Do you have their names?”
“Sadly not sir the subject died during interrogation.”
“What, I told you to only use drugs!” he was mortified.
“We did, sir, it seems he had a weak heart.”
“We must terminate Group three immediately… nay wait, arrest Darby we’ll interrogate him next and secure G3V14b, send as many men as you think is necessary we’ll put her into stasis maybe the others will be more acquiescent with her out of the way.”
Following Thorpe’s orders, Cempa Ogilvy marched three tithes of his most loyal Guard to the main research area but on turning the corner walked straight into a picket manned by troops in combat drabs. He noticed they had a heavy machine gun mounted on a tripod.
“Stay there sir!” ordered the Bydel in charge. “We don’t want to shoot but if we have to…”
“Lower your weapons immediately and hand Craeftwitan Darby over to us!” raged Ogilvy.
“That’s not going to happen sir.” the junior officer replied.
“This is mutiny Bydel, do I as order now!” the Cempa was incandescent.
“You had better leave sir” advised the young officer and to emphasise his words, the machine gunner cocked his weapon.
Ogilvy took note of the situation, the insurgents had constructed a barricade of grain sacks stacked in front of upturned metal tables, he could count only twelve men plus the machine gun crew but several darkened doorways were suspiciously open.
“Very well Bydel I do not wish to spill my fellow heremann’s blood unnecessarily.” And deciding that discretion was the better part of valour Ogilvy withdrew his men and set up watch further back.
Undercempa Stone had fifty men and much less concern about spilling blood than Ogilvy, he did not heed the warning when challenged at the entrance to the novae quarters. Twenty rebel soldiers had barricaded themselves in plus the novae now all armed with assault rifles. The ensuing firefight left a great many dead on both sides with Sev and Niner among them, Threevie, distraught and crouching over her lover’s body looked up to glare at the remaining loyalists who were inching slowly back, they had lost over half their number, their officer and their will to fight.
The clone drew her lips back in an angry rictus. “Die!” she thought and every man in her line of sight sank lifelessly to the floor…
Darby followed Craeftwitan Reed to the Propagation Storage Area, a vast chamber holding thousands of modified embryos in stasis ready for implantation. “So what’s this important thing you have to show me?”
Reed pointed to a large air conditioner and squeezed behind it. “We’re at the furthest reach of the bunker wall and just beyond that is stasis.”
“I do know the layout of the installation Jocasta” remarked Darby following her. The bunker was completely self-contained and several miles in diameter, resembling a giant wheel its corridors radiated out like spokes from the centre hub with a long corridor circling the perimeter forming the rim. It had been enclosed in a stasis bubble before the missiles began falling causing time to literally stand still within the installation and upon the initiation of the nationwide stasis, the small field nesting inside the bunker cancelled out allowing a pocket of normal time to resume within. Because of the anticipated duration of their confinement smaller stasis chambers had been built, enabling the staff to skip across the years.
“Well you know how some people say they’ve seen strange things in here when they’re on their own?”
“Yes, a lady in white, strange voices, a blue glow. When you’re working alone in a large space your imagination can run wild, it’s most likely just a trick of the lighting coupled with the droning of the air processors” Darby had heard the tall tales told in the restroom, he laughed. “You know one of the junior doctors swears he saw the goddess Freya in her feathered cloak?”
“Well I saw something and I didn’t bloody imagine it, look closely at the wall” she insisted firmly.
Darby did as asked and saw a blue glow emanating from it. “What is that?”
“I have no idea but watch this.” she held aloft a small remote control and turned off the lights to leave the entire chamber dimly illuminated by an eerie blue glow that was at its strongest where they stood.
“Gods, is it radiation?” their entire breeding stock was here!
“It measures slightly higher than background level but nothing serious, it does however register strongly as elektrostatic energy.”
“What, this place is charged up?” what would this do to the stasis fields protecting the embryos?
“According to the readings it should be crackling in here but this blue glow is the only sign of it” she informed him.
“And the embryos?” asked Darby in some concern.
“Every single one I’ve checked so far is saturated with whatever this is and I believe this leak-through is not recent, it probably occurred at the start of the war.”
“Group Three!” he exclaimed they had come from this stock as had the two previous unsuccessful batches.
“It could explain their unique abilities and there’s something else you should see.” she produced an Atellan-Pad and pulled up a body map of a human being. “I decided to image Isolde on her last check-up after Dr Brook had run tattle-tailing to Thorpe, I was very careful not to image her wamb but look below her diaphragm on the front of the spine” there was a small spherical object, about the size of a golf ball and glowing slightly with a cornflower blue hue.
“Is it some kind of tumour?” he asked.
“I don’t think so, on a whim I asked her to move something telekinetically, watch this.” The sphere flared brightly then faded to its original hue. “I sat in on all of Group Three’s recent checks and they all have one.”
“Gods, if Thorpe knew he’d have one of them cut open to see what it was” exclaimed Darby in concern.
“Don’t worry Hunfrith only you and I know” she continued. “I took one of the better developed Group Two clones from cryo-storage and did an autopsy on the poor little thing and guess what? It had a tiny one in the same place, the sphere has a tough protein covering and it’s sort of granular and blue inside. I think… oh I’m not sure, but I think it somehow channels this blue energy from wherever it comes from and that’s what gives your girl and her friends their powers.”
“Oh my and we have all these embryos.” His dream of a better human race was right here in this room!
“Yes but remember where all the volunteers are?” Three thousand women, all from the Guard and ready to be implanted, were held in stasis on the other side of the installation.
Corridors 4 and 10 roughly bisected the bunker with the renegades holding sway on one side leaving Thorpe’s forces controlling the larger half. Thorpe had agreed to meet Darby at the end of corridor 4 by the service lift, soldiers from both sides glowered at each other from behind barricades as their leaders conversed.
“So Darby have you come to your senses at last, when the main stasis field comes down and the Witangemot come looking for results how will you justify your actions? Your meddling has changed the outcome of the whole project, a lot of men have died for your hubris and in the end it will come to naught. Do you honestly think the Reignweald will allow your precious little clones to live?”
“Nice speech Thorpe but if we don’t mention Group Three they will never know, we could pass our casualties off as some kind of accident. We could settle our differences and work together, you have the hosts and we have the embryos.”
“Why would I want to do that? Once order is re-established the project will continue as intended!” Thorpe was wild eyed. “You have lost I have only to bide my time.”
“Understand this, Thorpe, not one single embryo follows the original paradigm, your heinous project is finished and there’s something else you need to know, a strange kind of energy has leaked through the stasis field into the Embryo Propagation Area. I can only imagine that the vast amount of Q-material released somehow penetrated it and all of the breeding stock is contaminated.”
“Oh don’t worry Head Craeftwitan they’re all fine but thanks to this phenomenon they will all be exactly the same as Group Three, not only possessed of free will but with powers beyond our ken.” Darby was enthusiastic. “Join with us Thorpe there may never a chance like this again.”
“Are you quite mad Darby, you would let a race of telepathic supermen loose on the world? They would look down on us as if we were insects and stamp us out!”
“You do not know them, they are noble and fair minded, you hide behind your fear and prejudice!” yelled Darby.
“This conversation is over there is nothing more to say.” Thorpe withdrew to the barricade on his side and guns were raised and cocked by both parties as a show of aggression.
Darby sadly returned to the fortification where Threevie was waiting with the remainder of Group Three and the renegade Guard officers. “Well as I expected he will not compromise.”
“It was to be expected sir, you tried your best” said Threevie.
“Well I suppose he’ll try some sort of retaliation next.”
“I listened to your thoughts while you were talking Craeftwitan…” began Threevie.
“You really shouldn’t do that, it’s quite intrusive to say nothing of rude!” interrupted Darby, her powers were even beginning to worry him.
“I’m sorry” Threevie was contrite. “We will consider that in the future but he was thinking about a device that would destroy this bunker.”
“No he wouldn’t surely?” exclaimed Undercempa Patel who was in command of the insurrectionist Guards.
“Sir?” asked Isolde.
“At the very centre of the bunker where few are permitted to go, the hub if you like, there is a low yield Q-weapon meant to destroy the installation should an enemy invade, if detonated the blast will travel down every corridor to the outer rim and no-one would survive!” the officer informed her.
“We cannot allow him to use it!” said Darby.
“The hub is within their area of control, we must try to secure it if we are to stop him” said Patel.
The remaining novae looked to each other as if in conversation “How is this device triggered, can he activate it remotely?” asked Threevie, who alone seemed to speak for them now.
“No it requires two keys to activate, one is held by the Head of Security, the other by the Head Craeftwitan” related Darby. “Ogilvy and Thorpe, we’re screwed!”
“Not necessarily sir” said Threevie polite as ever “if the Undercempa could arrange a diversion then Group Three will show you what we can do.”
Word came to Thorpe that soldiers were advancing along the outer rim towards Corridor 10. “Are they trying to reach the women in stasis?” he mused.
“They obviously think if they capture the area we would have nothing to fight for?” suggested Ogilvy.
“And perhaps it is a diversion for something else?” he pondered then it occurred to him, the bomb of course! “Cempa are you prepared to do the unthinkable for your country?”
“If that means what I think it does sir, well, no-one want’s to die but the alternative…” replied Ogilvy hesitantly.
“Get some men together we’re going to the hub” ordered Thorpe.
The novae hit the barricade in a blur moving so fast it’s defenders were overrun before they could fire a shot, after dispatching them silently they left a half dozen to guard their retreat while Threevie, Vonn and G3V4a, alias Foray moved swiftly towards their goal.
Ogilvy led the party of loyal Guards to the centre of the bunker with Thorpe close behind but as they approached the cylindrical room they saw it’s single door ajar and standing in the shadows of an unlit corridor a slight figure, it’s eyes gleaming with lilac flame then in a blink it was gone. Thorpe steeled himself to look inside the bomb chamber, the component parts were scattered about and torn cabling lay everywhere, of the fissionable material there was no sign.
On his side of the bunker Darby sealed the metallic sphere in a stasis field, relieved it had not leaked on its trip from the hub.
“We must do it now” said Threevie firmly.
“She’s right Craeftwitan, now Thorpe’s had his toy taken away he may take it out on the women in stasis” agreed Patel.
“Curse the man, I never wanted this!” affirmed Darby. “I suppose there isn’t any other way.” Threevie and Patel shook their heads silently.
The central area was taken first, quickly followed by the hydroponic gardens. A tactic had been improvised whereby the novae would move at incredible speed punching through the enemy defences enabling Patel’s men to rush through after them and in this way Ogilvy’s forces were being steadily overwhelmed, the Cempa held the administration area with the last remnant of his loyal men while Thorpe attempted to wipe every record of what had been done, upon realising that Darby had won he resolved to leave nothing for the victors. In the calm that followed the battle a grief stricken Elvene stared silently at Vonn’s body, he had led the final assault killing Thorpe with his bare hands before being gunned down.
The shining dome sat on the desk in Darby’s office. “It won’t hurt will it?” asked Threevie nervously.
“No either it will dissipate or it will just be like touching a cold metal ball.” Darby reassured her so reaching out gingerly Isolde touched the sphere watched intently by all, it flickered and faded revealing the atellan hidden within, reassured she beamed at Darby. “See nothing to worry about.” he said somewhat relieved. “I’ll need all of you to repeat this, I need the field to respond to the widest range of resonations possible.” during the mop-up operation G3V14b had accidently brushed against a stasis field in the Host Room and it had responded to her touch by flickering briefly, seizing on this Darby had instigated research into the relationship between the strange blue force and stasis and it was discovered the field responded to the bizarre resonation that all novae generated to the extent that a small field could actually be nullified by it. Darby had recorded everything that had occurred on an atellan apart from the cloning process itself, the surviving Craeftwitan had decided that this dire process should never be replicated, the atellan would be sealed immovable and impenetrable within its stasis bubble in the hope of future novae finding it and discovering the secrets held within.
The scientists now faced the daunting task of implanting the embryos into their hosts with only half of their original number as many had died in the fighting. It would be an arduous chore but before that there remained one thing to do, Threevie, her colleagues and their partners from among the normals would be put in stasis to await the end of the war. Darby was surprised when Guard officer Bydel Adonia Garcia joined them with her partner, the last surviving male Alpha G3V8a or Veight. Stranger still, the officer’s dark hair was growing out blonde at the roots while her brown eyes were beginning to turn cornflower blue from the pupil outwards. They all sat in rows inside the stasis chamber then the field was activated and it vanished under a shining dome.
To Threevie and the others it was if nothing had happened, she sat on the chair with Darby smiling at her through the window then suddenly he was standing in a different place and slightly stooped. “Is that it?” she asked glancing at her colleagues who seemed equally bemused as they left the chamber then she looked closely at the Craeftwitan. “You’re so much older!” she said in surprise.
“The project has taken a long time to complete and we only just finished in time, the outer stasis field is collapsing.” Darby informed them.
They were issued with civilian clothes, money, fake ID”s and weapons and were making ready to set off in a military vehicle. “Do you have any idea where you’re going Isolde?” asked Reed, who, with Darby was the only scientist present.
“I’m going to cross the North Sea and head towards Soomi, something is drawing me there and Elvene is coming with me.”
“Goodbye then Isolde.” Said Darby, Threevie hugged him and then stood back shocked at what she had read in his mind.
“You’re going to kill yourselves, why?” she asked.
“We’re the only Craeftwitan left alive my dear we’re both in our nineties and when the authorities arrive we are not planning to be around to answer questions, don’t worry we know what we’re doing” he reassured her.
“The women in stasis what of them?” asked Isolde.
“They are already awakening as are their partners.”
“Their partners?” she was surprised.
“Three thousand Guardsmen from Scartho, Kernow and Midgard all independent realms within the Reignweald and none directly answerable to the Witangemot.” Darby grinned. “It’s almost as if we planned it that way.”
“Goodbye sir, we owe our very existence to you.” she felt choked.
“Just go, the lot of you go!” he ordered…
Isolde and Jocasta (as Elvene now called herself) were sitting in a roadside coffee house that had no coffee (stocks of pre-war imported goods were virtually non-existent and prices were rocketing skywards), no hot chocolate and very little tea. They were just outside Tampere in the south of Soomi, the most northern of the Reignweald nations. Having split from the others they had caught a hoverboat to Da N’mark then travelled slowly northwards trying to draw as little attention to themselves as possible, no easy task as their distinctive eye colours made them stand out.
“It’s still snowing,” bemoaned Jocasta, the novae had never seen outside the outside world before and had been fascinated by the blue sky and green land. Isolde and Jocasta were pleasantly surprised on first seeing snow but had soon become fed up of it, especially how it made everything cold and wet. Looking at the hot malted barley drink they had been offered as an alternative beverage she turned her nose up. “We should have stayed in Da N’mark it wasn’t as cold as this and they hadn’t run out of coffee there!”
“I didn’t ask to you come all this way with me Elvene.” her constant moaning was beginning to grate on Threevie.
“Threevie we’re going to have babies soon, we don’t know how to do it and this cold place is no good for them or us, must we go further?”
“I am going north, no-ones making you follow me!” she answered sharply.
“You don’t know what you’re doing, admit it!” challenged Elvene.
Threevie put her head down, she was being drawn inexplicably northwards and it was putting a strain on their friendship. “I’m sorry…” how could she explain? It was her wyrd.
She didn’t get the chance to finish as Elvene grabbed her arm. “Look that man’s in trouble.”
Sure enough outside a waegn driver was struggling against two burly assailants, as they knocked him to the ground Elvene leapt from her chair running for the door.
“Elvene wait, we shouldn’t interfere we might get noticed.” path”d Threevie.
“Bollocks to that!” she replied, dashing outside.
Tor Koskinen has driven his waegnload of precious cargo from the distribution centre in Tampere unaware he was being followed and after stopping to answer an urgent call of nature he had been jumped by two men who knocked him to the floor. Tor was kicked in the stomach, as he tried to get up there was a sudden blur of motion and one attacker was thrown bodily across the parking area.
The second man pulled a vicious looking knife and turned to face his assailant not expecting to see a tall blonde girl with unnaturally blue eyes. “What the fuck” he exclaimed lunging at Jocasta who sidestepped, grabbed his wrist and with a quick movement, broke it.
The man howled in pain and the knife clattered to the floor. “That will need treating” she told him unnecessarily, the other man was getting slowly to his feet. “Take your friend to a haelinghus. Now!” she ordered, producing a large pistol to emphasize the point. As the two would-be robbers limped to their scrid she grabbed Tor, pulling him to his feet.
“Wow you really are strong and like wow your eyes are really blue” he said in wonder.
“Are you alright sir?” asked Jocasta watching the men drive off, all the while covering them with her gun.
“You don’t have to be so polite I’m fine, thanks to you.”
“Why were they attacking you?” Jocasta asked.
“The bahstards were after my cargo.” he replied.
“What is it?”
“Take a look” he opened the rear door and stacked inside were small crates of cherry like objects.
“Is it fruit?” she asked
“Coffee cherries, I’m going to grow coffee in heated greenhouses back at my farm in Purri. I’ve got the whole thing set up, with any luck I’ll make a fortune.”
“With coffee?” she was puzzled.
“Don’t you keep up with the news? There’s nowhere left in the world that grows coffee, tea, exotic fruit or anything like that so farmers all over the Reignweald with spare land are being encouraged to grow them and they’re falling over themselves to get started. If we don’t grow it we don’t eat it, it’ll make pre-war rationing look like nothing. I got my order in with the Witangemot before the bubble went over and it finally arrived today.”
“So those men wanted your coffee so they could grow it themselves?” asked Jocasta.
“I doubt it, they would have roasted it then mixed it with ground nut shells and sold it the black market for a fast shilling” he replied. “A lot of the things we took for granted will become luxuries until we get back up to speed, I hear there’s huge greenhouses being set up in Brythony and Kernow and Erin too.”
“I’ve never been to Purri.” she smiled and gazed into his eyes, he had red hair, freckles and wasn’t that bad looking.
Tor felt quite hot and hoping he wasn’t blushing, replied. “It’s just a small port in the west and my farm is a few miles outside of it. The countryside is beautiful in the summer.”
“I’d like to see it, can I come with you?” she smiled again twirling a lock of hair.
“Well sure if you really want to…” he couldn’t believe this striking girl was interested in him.
Isolde watching from her table path”d “Elvene we must leave soon, are you coming?”
“No, sorry Threevie I’m going with this man to his farm near Purri wherever that is.”
“I don’t blame you El I quite understand” she replied sadly.
“Threevie come with us, he seems a nice man and I’m sure he will let you stay at his farm too!”
“No I cannot, my wyrd is in the north, good luck Elvene.”
Threevie took an omnibus from Tampere to Jyvaskyla and bought some food, the money Darby had given her was running low and she was considering staying in the city to seek employment but noticing increased military activity, became convinced she was being hunted and after charming a man into driving her as far as the airdock set off on foot along the main route north. Threevie was missing Elvene far more than she expected and had hardly spoken to anyone since they had gone their separate ways, she felt incredibly lonely and isolated.
Several hours later saw Isolde trudging through a light flurry along a small road running parallel to the main carriageway, she had seen a lot of military vehicles travelling towards Jyvaskyla, she didn’t seem to have been noticed her but her paranoia had become so great she crossed to this minor route to avoid them. Isolde had walked for so long today even her genetically engineered body was reaching its limits and she was tired and with Soomi already having begun its long winter season it was getting quite dark. The snow had stopped falling but she needed to find shelter and get some sleep, a small distance from the road there was a large tree with an inviting hollow so she cautiously investigated it, pistol at the ready in case some wild beast had made its home there. It was unoccupied and large enough to accommodate her, so settling down inside she ate the last of the bread bought in Jyvaskyla, it was hard but she chewed it down anyway along with some dried meat from a ration pack then after washing it down with hot chocolate from a self-heating can, checked her remaining supplies. They should last until she reached the next settlement which was at worst a day’s march away.
She felt her bump which was getting more noticeable as the baby grew she must keep herself warm and well fed for it. Isolde briefly considered switching on her thermal suit but there was only a little charge left in the power cell and she wished to conserve its energy until it was really needed. The night was cold and clear so for a while she watched the stars twinkling while the northern lights danced in the sky, a hare skittered by in its white winter coat and she briefly thought of shooting it for food, but it would waste a shell and she wasn’t that desperate yet, besides it could draw attention. Finding herself unable to keep her eyes open she huddled into the hollow as far as possible turning on the thermal suit and felt properly warm for the first time all day then turning it down as low as was comfortable settled down but as Isolde slept the power cell finally failed and her body temperature began to drop.
In front of the hollow tree a strange thing happened, a tall thin pillar of blue light appeared. It stretched to the width of a door and a bare foot stepped out from it followed by its partner, they were attached to a pair of equally bare legs belonging to woman wearing a simple loose dress and a cloak edged with falcon feathers over her shoulders, the face, while not identical bore a distinct resemblance to Isolde, a garland of colourful flowers was around her neck with more worn in her chestnut hair which moved as if blown by a non-existent breeze. The blue door vanished and the figure regarded the somnambulant girl fondly for a while before walking towards her, oblivious to the biting cold. In fact where her feet trod the snow disappeared, it didn’t melt it just wasn’t there anymore and grass showed green through the white. Squeezing herself into the hollow as tightly against Isolde as possible the woman touched her cold cheek it is not your time yet lapsi then putting an arm around the girl the strange figure patiently waited for dawn to come.
Isolde woke in the early morning light feeling warm and refreshed having dreamed of a mother she knew could not exist, the lightly falling snow had already covered the footprints of her nocturnal visitor. After eating a power bar from her ration pack and washing it down with a small amount of snow melted in her hand she set off again northwards. Sometime later in the day a bright yellow vehicle on tracks rattled past, its occupants regarding her curiously, Isolde didn’t look at them but walked on as it clattered by.
The snow had begun to fall much faster now and Isolde found she could generate a kind of telekinetic shield which protected her from the worst of it but sadly not from the bitter cold, she was beginning to regret not going to Purri with Jocasta she was right I don’t know what I’m doing! A horrible thought occurred to her that she could die unnoticed on this road.
Now in decidedly low spirits Isolde tramped on as the snow worsened then she heard the noise of the vehicle coming back they’ve probably fetched the Ward to arrest me, she didn’t care anymore.
The waegn pulled up next to her with a clatter. “Hej where are you going?” shouted a man’s voice above the engine noise.
“North” she replied in perfect Soomilek, she could kill them and steal their vehicle perhaps?
“Whereabouts north, Äänekoski or Hietama?” he asked. “We could give you a lift, it’s not nice weather to be out walking and there’s a blizzard coming.”
“Just north” she replied, they seemed harmless enough, it would be unfair to hurt them.
“Nej-one goes just north?” inquired the man.
A woman leaned over him. “Ignore this polho he’ll have you standing there freezing all day, we live just up the road why don’t you get in? You can have something to eat and warm yourself by our fire then we can take you north when the weather’s better.”
It sounded too good to resist so Isolde got in the back seat and as she pulled her hood back, both the driver and the woman stared at her for a while and as the man turned back to the steering wheel she caught the brief thought. “Elf!”
“You er… have beautiful eyes” said the woman a little cautiously.
Realising her lilac irises were causing concern Isolde explained. “It’s a family trait, it can be a bit of a surprise I suppose.” a little bit of charm needed here I think and she began to radiate affability.
The woman relaxed visibly. “Jaa you could say that, let’s get you home. My name’s Tuulikki by the way and this is Tuomas he owns the Takala estate.”
“Jaa, I might own the place but she tells me how to run things” grumbled Tuomas from the driver’s seat.
Tuulikki explained how they had been taking their eldest daughter to the omnibus station on the main road and surprised by the lone figure, decided they would stop on the way back if they were still there.
Once back at the house Tuuli had insisted Isolde had a hot bath before eating and entered the bathroom as she was pulling her t-shirt over her head. “Oh sorry!” she exclaimed. “I’ve found some things of my daughter’s that should fit you” then noticing her condition jumped to a conclusion. “You’re running away from home aren’t you?”
“Sort of” she replied, it wasn’t too far from the truth.
“Did your parents disapprove of your being with child?”
Isolde nodded, it would do as a cover story.
“I would never treat my daughter like that, what about the father?”
“He’s dead.” Isolde replied, she hadn’t thought about Sev for a while.
“Oh I’m so sorry was it an accident”
“Nej he was in a battle” her eyes misted over at the memory.
“He was a heremann?”
“Jaa, sort of” replied Isolde, tears spilling down her face.
“You poor girl!” after hugging Isolde while she sobbed, Tuuli left her to her bath.
A cleaner warmer Isolde now dressed in borrowed clothes, came downstairs into the main room to see the man Tuomas sat watching the news. There was a report about the emergency mobilisation of troops from Elk Base outside Jyvaskyla for an expeditionary force to provide assistance for survivors found in Frisha.
So they weren’t looking for me? Isolde finally realised the depth of her delusion then noticed her backpack had been disturbed but saying nothing, went into the kitchen to sit at the table while Tuuli prepared dinner, another tracked vehicle could be heard pulling up outside.
“That’ll be young Tuomas being dropped off, school’s closed early because of the approaching weather.” she informed Isolde.
A boy of about seven came in emanating cold and after taking off his heavy coat sat down facing her. “Hej mami, they said no school tomorrow too!” he gleefully reported then turning to Isolde, said. “You’ve got funny eyes?” and she stuck her tongue out at him.
Tuuli scolded him. “Tuomas Tuomasson! You must not cheek the young lady, now get out of the kitchen and wash your hands before dinner.”
“It’s alright” said Isolde. “I’m going to have to get used to children aren’t I?”
“Jaa true enough, I had two dotters and thought that was that then Freya decided to grace us again with young Tuomas.” She brought her some potato and salmon soup, Isolde thought it was the best thing she had ever tasted.
Tuomas Senior surreptitiously beckoned his rightwife into the lounge. “I went through her bag while she was in the bath.” He informed her in hushed tones.
“You shouldn’t have done that, that’s her private property!” scolded his wife equally quietly.
“She’s got a military compass, ration packs, maps in Aenglish, a combat knife and a bloody great automatic pistol amongst her stuff! That seems a little strange for one so young and do you notice how she’s sat at the table where she can see all three doors into the kitchen.”
His rightwife looked through the open door to where Isolde was spooning soup and eating bread like she hadn’t eaten properly for days. “Hej slow down you won’t have room for anything else” she called jokingly and the girl smiled at her before continuing eating. Turning back to her husband Tuulikki asked. “Well who do you think she is then?”
“I don’t know, her ID says she’s Isolde Darby from Kenta in Aengland but she speaks Soomilek like a native and that thermal suit she had on isn’t a simple sports version either.”
“Well I’ll tell you what I think, a heremann got her pregnant before the war then got himself killed during the evacuation of Europa, her family disowned her and she got some romantic notion in her head and set off north, the military stuff obviously belonged to her boyfriend.”
“You’re the only romantic here my dahling” he said with resignation.
“Look at her she’s just a girl, I’ll bet not even twenty yet, how much harm could she do?” asked Tuuli.
“As much harm as anyone toting a cannon that could stop a charging bear with a single shot.”
“I’m going to tell her she can she stay here to have her baby if she wants.”
“What! If she murders us in our beds don’t blame me?” muttered Tuomas. “I’m sure she’s listening to us” the girl glanced over then looked quickly back to her soup plate.
“Don’t be silly Tom!”
“Hah!” he grunted.
“She’s pretty isn’t she?” observed Tuuli. “Any young man would be proud to have her on his arm.”
“And?” he had a horrible feeling he knew where this was going.
“Well Mauno never gets out much and he’s such a nice boy.”
“Oh nej you are not going to try and match her up with my foreman?” his rightwife was always looking for a partner for the shy young man and as if on cue, Mauno entered the kitchen, knocking snow off his boots.
“Hej Boss!” he called into the lounge. “The guys have stowed their gear and battened down the hatches for the blizzard.”
“Mauno why don’t you sit down and have something to eat with us?” suggested Tuuli as in the other room Tuomas stifled a groan.
He sat down opposite Isolde and started in surprise. “Whoa never seen eyes like that before” he blurted out, then. “Sorry I mean… I didn’t…”
“Mauno this young lady is Isolde she’s going to be our guest for a while” explained Tuuli.
“Oh er well, hej” unsure what to do next he extended his right hand. Isolde thought for a second or two, with her enhanced hearing she had overheard everything the Takalas had said but they seemed nice people and she could detect nothing dishonest in their nature. This place felt very homely and she could quite get to like it, Isolde scrutinised Mauno who was quite good looking with chestnut hair like hers and pale blue eyes. She could feel nothing disingenuous in him, perhaps she had found her wyrd at last.
Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear she smiled widely and took his hand running her thumb lightly down the back of it saying. “Hej Mauno, my friends call me Threevie…”