Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 26
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
Gentle Reminders is being serialised right here on SFBook with a new chapter published each week.
Previously in Gentle Reminders:
The Jump Cannon has returned to Earth and Maur Rosewell to the side of his mother. Having pressed her for information, with the seconds before the Free Man Nation's arrival ticking by, Maur finds that there is more to his past than he previously knew.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
“This doesn’t sound good...” Marc 14 said ominously, drawing out the last few syllables.
“No no dear,” Margaret replied. “It’s really nothing that awful. I used to be a man... ha. No, it’s nothing that bad.”
Her joke fell on deaf ears, nobody reciprocating the sharp chuckle Margaret let out as she made it. Maur looked particularly concerned, sitting bolt upright. He tried to prepare himself for the worst, and the dedication with which he approached this task meant that just for a moment, the brief gap in time before she had laughed, he had truly believed the suggestion. He had even scanned his eyes over her jaw to look for left-over stubble.
“Ahem. I guess now isn’t the time for that,” Margaret deduced. “Well, the truth is rather more simple.”
“This farm was built on ground previously occupied by a military base, one that hasn’t operated since the Collapse happened. For as long as its been a farm its been in your father’s family of course, that goes back a couple of hundred years in itself, but its exact purpose before that isn’t something that I can give you much insight into. All I know is that the markings you find around the place definitely back up the old stories about it being a military base.”
“What markings?” Maur questioned, sure that he had explored every inch of the place during his time there as a child and an adolescent.
“Oh, you probably won’t have noticed them, but your father told me where to look. After his great-great-grandfather, or whatever you might call him, first worked it out, steps have been taken to make sure that nobody from outside the family ever found out. Particularly back in his day there was a strong trade in pre-Collapse items, the whole place would probably have been torn apart if they hadn’t hidden away the military stuff.”
“I’m not sure how this relates to Maur...” Thom said, the only one impatient enough to raise his voice.
“Anyway,” Margaret continued undisturbed, “the buildings, including this one, have always been maintained to fit in with people’s ideas of what was old and uninteresting. That’s why the house is built with replica brick, it’s supposed to look as if it has always been here. Unfortunately for Maur, some of the measures to protect this home, this home that has been in the family for generations I might add, are older than a lot of the buildings. Some of them haven’t always been up to standard.”
“If there’s one thing that the symbols indicate, without a shadow of a doubt, it’s that this place was important. It wasn’t a run of the mill base where a few soldiers lived and trained, it was more than that. Your father once even found a lock box in the field that contained nothing more than cryptic messages laced with warnings of lethal consequences for anybody that leaked the information. You don’t get many of those sorts of threats on barrack reports, I know that much.”
The room was certainly focused on what Margaret was saying, but the impending assault led by the Free Man Nation was weighing heavily on their mind. Itchy feet were starting to fumble, and people began adjusting themselves on their seats. Charles was brazen enough to stand up, folding his arms and trying to contain his growing agitation at the length of this yarn, however important it was.
“Mom, I think we need to move faster towards the point...” Maur said, noticing the movements.
“Don’t rush me Maur, this is important,” came the reply and a sharp look with it, “and don’t think I don’t understand the severity of this situation.”
“To continue,” she said, “Maur was unfortunate enough to find a weakness in the defences, so to speak, without really intending too. On his eighth birthday we held a party for him and a few of the children from nearby. It was a pleasant afternoon, the kids were playing nicely together and us adults were settling down to a glass of wine before the whole thing wrapped up. My son however, decided to spoil the whole day by throwing a tantrum. One of the kids, we never worked out which one, supposedly stood on one of the birthday gifts he had been given. Rather than taking it as a simple accident, Maur protested that it had been intentional. When I asked him to give rest to the issue, and explained that his father would take him into Karson the next day to buy a replacement, he decided that we were in cahoots with the children. Shouting that we were all out to get him, he ran off into the distance...”
“Mrs. Rosewell, I really do not wish to be rude, but we have a limited amount of time to prepare,” Champion said, crooning to try and avoid the same tongue-lashing that Maur had received.
“Almost there Earnest,” she replied far more civilly than she had to Maur. “Once again, I understand the urgency, but it is important to be accurate in these matters.”
“To conclude,” she looked quickly in both Maur and Champion’s direction, “Maur’s father chased after him, but was too far back to stop him from falling into a shaft that was hidden within the old, although not ancient, orchard on the edges of the farm. It had been covered years ago with a wooden grate, most of the concrete blocking around well covered with ivy and whatnot, and that grate had become rotten. It broke under his weight, no doubt assisted by the stomping of angry little feet, and Maur went tumbling down.”
Maur remembered the incident now, his mother’s detailed recollection helping him pull back a memory that had long been filed away in the deepest parts of his mind. He recalled desperately grabbing onto whatever foliage lined the wall. It worked to break the fall, although he had still ended up with several broken bones to be repaired.
“When we pulled Maur up from the hole and took him to the doctor for his injuries he broke the medical scanners. Your father demanded more industrial equipment was brought in to check you out, all they could tell us was that you had become irradiated somehow, but not any sort of radiation that they explicitly recognised.”
“We were told to keep bringing you back for check-ups, and we did, your dad insisted, until eventually the levels fell and they were happy that you weren’t suffering any side-effects from whatever it was that you had come into contact with. The hole was closed up but I still had my doubts, and when you told me these people were chasing you, I could only think...”
“That it was because of this radiation,” Charles interrupted. “I think that you may be entirely correct Mrs. Rosewell. It would be reasonable to assume that the particular patterns of this radiation are not a mystery to everybody, as you yourself have said military secrets from the time before have leaked into the world. The information those doctors disregarded as a mystery must in fact be of incredible value.”
“Well, even I know that such unusually strong radiation comes from something of interest. With this being the site of a military base it seemed reasonable to assume that it might be related to a weapon. I'm sure your father would have known more about it, he knew more about this place than me. He never really explained why he had pushed for so many tests."
“It seems reasonable to further assume,” Charles continued, “that the Free Man Nation have become aware of the radiation you must still carry in your body, although how is unclear, and that they have simply filled in the gaps. It would appear that you have indeed come in contact with this power they speak of, but you were merely unaware of it, a fact which in turn they were unaware of when they first attempted your kidnap.”
Maur tried to let this sink in. He struggled, wrestling with the story as presented by his mother and the inferred meaning that Charles had more succinctly explained. He felt foolish and lost in the face of elements that he had no control over. It gave him no comfort that he would never have been able to placate the Nation, that the facts they desired had never been within his possession. Instead it played on his mind that the pain they had inflicted upon him and his adopted family had all been futile.
“Despite your thoroughness,” Champion said, “I feel it sensible to corroborate this information and make adjustments to our battle plans accordingly. The Nation will no doubt pursue the radiation signature if they are able to detect it.”
“Of course,” replied Margaret. “I have to make final preparations here, do you intend to use any of the farm buildings?”
“Not if we don’t have to,” Champion replied, “although the proximity of the orchard to the house may force us to fall back in this direction depending on how events unfold.”
“I understand, you have my support. This can all be rebuilt, but lives lost are lost forever.”
Maur stood up and hugged his mother, lacking any real confidence that he would ever see her again. Her story about the history of the farm made the Nation threat all the more real. It could no longer be explained away as a simple misunderstanding – there was a credible reason for his capture, the sabotage of Annie and the impending battle.
This hit him hard, literally bringing his fears home.
Arms held tight around her, he felt Kerra’s hands come down on his shoulders, a gesture of support but also one designed to move things along. The rest of Beta Crew, as well as the Captain and 14, stood in the corner of the room and tried to understand. Unfortunately, all they could focus on was the trouble ahead. Maur broke away from Margaret, and turned to Kerra with a look of understanding.
“Myself and Marc 14 will head back to the Jump Cannon,” Champion said, bringing an official air back to proceedings. “We will be required to co-ordinate the attack against the enemy. You will all head to the orchard, locate this entrance and attempt to locate the source.
“Should the Jump Cannon fall, and this power they speak of is real, then we must not let it fall into the hands of our enemy. We need to get to it first. They are an insidious evil, one that has been allowed to grow for far too long.”
The team nodded in unison before stepping out into the sun and setting off in their separate directions. An hour or so had passed, and each of them felt the passing seconds mounting anguish against them.
“I still believe we can do this Earnest,” Marc 14 said as he walked alongside his partner, allowing arms to bump into each other as they walked. “We don’t really know how much power these people have.”
“Well, we can only hope that their assault on this place will not lead them to more,” Champion replied.
Maur gave the lead to Charles, who had already scouted the location of the orchard. Kerra walked alongside him as they crunched their feet over the sun-scorched ground beneath them. There was a wind building up behind them, and it pushed Beta Crew on further in search of this newly discovered goal. Whether it was the wind or his own growing fear of what they may find, Maur felt as if he were being pushed towards something that he had no desire to encounter.
“We can not assume,” Charles said, speech steady and without the heavy breathing of a man less fit than he, “that there will not be anything to greet us when we breach this place. Your mother’s account was certainly useful, but it is evident that no living soul has a true understanding of what lies below this farm.”
“On the other hand,” Thom added with a note of positivity, “we might be greeted by nothing at all.”
“Regardless, there will be enemies upon us soon enough.”
They reached the edge of the Orchard and began to break their way through the dense trees and ever-growing foliage. Maur’s memory of the place did not offer a steady path through this maze of greenery, but bizarrely he felt an impetus of direction, stepping forward to take the lead. The other members of Beta Crew looked at each other briefly, aware of how unusual Maur’s command of their route was.
Shafts of light broke through the cloud cover, offering them enough light to see in an increasingly dense forest. The leaves and branches all seemed to darken, the exterior light greens replaced with more inhospitable palette. Describing the place as an orchard became more of a stretch too, the fresh fruit disappearing as they headed deeper into this place. There was a few cores, rotten but without maggots or other such beasts to feast on the corpses. Instead they were dried, filthy brown. The ground, a blanket of dense flat grass seemed uninterested in reclaiming this nutrition too, evidence that it was sustained by some other force.
With very little warning they broke into a circular clearing. With fewer obstructions they could see how dense and healthy the crunchy grass beneath their feet was, it seemed almost knitted together as if protecting the soil below. Of more import though were the large concrete blocks that surrounding the clearing. Sharp lines broke the camouflage of the heavy greenery, and despite the efforts of this seemingly sentient foliage the stark man-made grey of the blocks was still visible in cracks.
“I find it surprising,” started Yazram, “that you ran as deep as this as a child. I have no shame in saying that a younger version of myself would have turned back far earlier than this clearing. This place feels wrong, it does not seem natural. I have a strong desire to raze it, to burn everything to the ground.”
“Given the pattern of growth, I expect that the orchard has grown significantly over the years since Maur’s encounter with this place,” Charles said with confidence, ignoring the latter, more violent part of Yazram’s statement.
“Pattern of growth?” Kerra asked, distracted from her previous preoccupation with the concrete blocks. She had been running her hands over them, trying to move away some of the foliage to look for evidence of this supposed military base.
“You didn’t notice?” Charles said with surprise. “The trees, the shrubbery, in fact all growth once we breached the outer wall of the forest, had grown in sequence. Maur ably led us through – as concerning as that is – what I would have no issue in describing as a maze.”
“Did you not notice the absolute dead ends? Where the foliage had joined itself together to create insurmountable walls?” said Yazram.
The truth was that Kerra had been far too involved in Maur’s silent drive towards the clearing to notice much that was going on around her. Charles was evidently pointing this out for a reason, reminding her that the mission was what was most important, that she could not become too embroiled with what Maur might be doing at any one time if they were to succeed.
“I feel foolish for saying it,” Charles continued, taking Kerra’s silence as agreement enough, “but I believe that this forest may have grown to protect this opening.”
Thom had moved forward carefully in the time that they had been speaking, originally sweeping his foot left and right to try and clear the ground. When this did not work he used the small laser cutter found in his boot, exactly like the one that Maur had used to escape the Free Man Nation back on Pura, to start slicing a grid across the ground. Now, with the interlinked grass split into small sections he was able to begin separating chunks of it from the ground. Each slab of turf was hurled back into the forest, and the rest of the team moved up to assist.
Within the course of twenty minutes they had lifted and moved the majority of the grass from the clearing, despite the blades apparently attempting to reconnect in the places that they were left in proximity for the longest. Framed by the patchwork edges of the disassembled grid was a large circular metal covering whose diameter matched the width of the clearing itself. Yazram knelt down and looked at the surface. It was black like coal, with specks of silver scattered across it.
“This is telernium,” Yazram stated. “It has its origins on Seeon. It is a blend of natural metals and synthetic substances that is notorious for its ability to fool modern scanning equipment. There are very few in the possession of technology that would be able to detect anything through it.”
“Seems that your dad knew what he was doing...” Kerra said, fully aware that her statement gave the suggestion of even deeper family secrets.
"Hmm," Maur replied vaguely.
“Can we break through it?” Thom asked.
“Yes, it is no stronger than copper,” Yazram replied. “A few of my satchel charges will create a big enough hole for us to go in. We are going in aren’t we?”
“Set up the charges,” Maur replied.
Yazram complied, slinging them off his shoulders and beginning to place three of the charges. He put short distances between them, but focused them around the telernium cover’s centre. Beta Crew stood back, and prepared to face the unknown.
The noise of the explosion was heard as far away as the Jump Cannon. It caused Champion to turn his head briefly, scanning the sky for signs of an early assault by the Nation. Suitably convinced that it was just the audible impression of his team’s progress, he returned to the preparations.
Annie’s defences had now been laid out in their entirety. Banks of cover had been placed just to the front of both her port and starboard side, and further banks assembled to the rear of this to allow a place to fall back. Automated turrets had been carefully placed in an attempt to disrupt the forward facing attack that they expected. The farm’s layout demanded that of any landing craft, as the long stretches in front of the buildings were the only reasonable approach available. Surrounding ground was littered with the remnants of farm life, such as abandoned vehicles that stood at least two stories tall, which blocked any other landing without being required to slowly position your ship. The Nation would not attempt this, Champion knew, as any ground based force would quickly blow a hovering ship out of the sky.
The positioning of the Jump Cannon reinforced the importance of the buildings, and Margaret’s home in particular, and he hoped that this might focus the Nation’s attention from any further commotion within the orchard. He had been charmed by Margaret Rosewell too, and felt just as compelled to protect this innocent bystander as he did the prophesied weapon.
“Captain, I think we’re ready,” said a crewman who had appeared in front of him. Her cheeks were red and she looked as though she needed the comfort of a friendly embrace. Champion did not feel able to offer this small favour.
“Good, return to your post,” he said.
It was the best that he could do, he felt compelled to say that them being ready for the fight was extremely unlikely. As the few crew he had milled around, the sight of their bleeding bodies flashed before his eyes; it was a startling vision of a future he was desperate not to see. The brief pang of guilt was replaced quickly by an overwhelming desire to see his crew through this, to overcome this bigoted organisation. He resolved to do so even at the cost of his own life.
* * * * *
I can not breathe,
There is no hope left in my lungs,
I wish for darkness,
The right kind never comes.
This place is barren,
We drown in the death of our land,
Is there no other choice,
Will I never be redeemed by the same fate dealt by my own hand?
I am a soldier,
I have killed to defend your basic rights,
But the shame of this is all that remains,
I can only hope for the end to come this night.
A poem found on the body of a soldier who fought in one of the conflicts that preceded the Collapse. The original document is preserved in the International Conflict Archives in Karson.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Twenty Seven of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)