LT Col Levinson formerly of the marines was the commanding officer of the convoy. He spent his extensive military career on the receding boundaries of a crumbling empire. He’d retired from the military to pursue a career with Hawkwood. It was similar work, with more than three times the pay, and with the added perk of being closer to home.
His eyes were covered by a translucent visor attached to his helmet where he could view, in real time the flow of intelligence being fed into the battlenet either through radio chatter, electronic messaging or through the electric eyes of the drones scouting ahead.
The majority of Levinson’s military career had been counterinsurgency work. He fought against guerillas in deserts, jungles, and cities. He had high confidence in his men and the automated systems, but one thing he knew about insurgents is no matter how tight you made the net they always found a way to slip through there was always a hole. There had been a few casualties in the no-mans land far outside the woods and from the city’s borders. Most of these were officially written off as “accidents.” Everything had been relatively calm though and from what Levinson understood about fighting that could be very ominous.
“Sir there’s no response from checkpoint alpha,” the driver informed Levinson.
“Shit, their comm equipment probably just fucked up again,” Levinson shrugged.
“What the hell?” Levinson muttered
A heavy layer of thick black smoke obscured the road ahead. A warning message in bold red letters flashed across his visor, and he was connected to the drones live feed. Less than two kilometers up the road was a barrier of burning cars.
“Oh, fuck,” said Levinson. “All units, all units we have a roadblock up ahead-”
He was interrupted by a rocket streaking out from the trees and striking one of the drones. The flying robot burst into flames and showered the area with jagged shrapnel. The gunners started laying down fire into the forests as they continued to drive head-on into the burning blockade.
“Fuck we’re stuck we gotta turn this motherfucker around!” Levinson shouted.
The forest was lit up by muzzle flashes. The automatic fire made a high-pitched clinking sound as the bullets struck the armor plating. The gunner fell back into the vehicle with his neck spraying blood.
Robert laid his yoga mat across the grass and inhaled the crisp morning air. It was a mild morning. The temperature was in the mid-fifties, but the bountiful sun combined with the slight chill in the air evened it out nicely. Billowy white clouds lazily drifted across the sky being carried by the wind as they slowly dispersed across the blue canopy.
Robert’s wife Rachel was already sitting cross-legged on her mat and well into her breathing exercises. His eight-year-old daughter Theresa was busying herself organizing irregularly shaped blades of grass on her mat. The only noticeable absence from the daily family ritual was Robert’s 15 son Chester.
Salutations to the sun was an integral part of the morning routine in the Pak household. Lemniscate sustained itself on the energy provided by the ever-abiding orb of fire. The city was built on the principle that settled society should be able to function on the resources nature provided. Exceeding these limits could only lead to destruction and thanks to some breakthroughs in engineering they had done quite well for themselves. Lemniscate had all the trappings of modern life and still even managed to provide the little extras the generation that built the burgeoning solar utopia were hopelessly addicted to.
There was no industrial agriculture in Lemniscate, in fact, most people didn’t even eat meat besides the occasional grass-fed beef. What could be grown in the vast greenhouses was distributed along with some perfectly safe nutrient-rich food substitutes boasting to taste just like the dishes they were imitating. They weren’t bad, but they usually fell just a little short on delivering the promised flavors.
People in Lemniscate had no use for markets like previous generations. They saw this system of food distribution as wasteful and inhumane. Instead, the nutritional requirements of a family were carefully calculated by an artificial intelligence that then delivered the food via a system of solar-powered drones.
Chester Pak was the fifteen-year-old son of Robert and Rachel Pak two of Lemniscate’s two most respected citizens and two of engineers behind the revolutionary solar technology that was the foundation of the high-tech bastion. Without their contributions, a self-sustained city that offered all the amenities of modern life would never have evolved into anything beyond a quaint idea. Their combined life’s work was the very existence Chester had grown accustomed to and in his adolescence had come to take for granted.
Thanks to the machinations of genetics Chester’s intellectual potential was a far sight more impressive than most of his peers. For the time being, however, the only way Chester could think to rebel against his brilliant goal driven yet very liberal and open-minded parents was to adopt an attitude of apathy. His ambivalence to the world around him was considerably exacerbated by the numbing lifestyle his parent's life's work had managed to keep going in their little corner of the country.
Robert knocked on Chester’s bedroom door. Robert was very conscious about respecting his son’s space and tried to remember this was just a phase. Afterall rejection of the way of life of his parent's generation was what lead him and Rachel to take such an active role in building Lemniscate. Despite this though he was irritated at having his authority as a parent willfully ignored. He knocked again more firmly.
“Chester,” he said in a stern tone.
“What?” the boy replied sleepily.
Robert rolled his eyes and opened the door. Chester was laying face down in bed with the shades drawn. The only light in the room was the LED light of the tv mounted on the wall.
“What, what’s up?” Chester asked not even bothering to turn his head on his pillow.
Robert pulled the shade up and sunlight flooded into the room striking Chester’s squinting eyes.
“Ah close that up,” Chester said turning away from the light.
“Why aren’t you up for salutations to the sun?” Robert asked.
“I don’t know I just feel like we’ve already said hello to the sun plenty of times already I don’t think it’ll take it personally,” Chester replied dismissively.
“Hey we didn’t raise you to be an ingrate,” Rachel retorted. Robert hadn’t even noticed her standing in the doorway. She arrived just in time and seemed to be in good parental form. Just from the tone of her opening line, she made it apparent she wasn’t in the mood for angsty teenage nonsense.
“We pay our respects because if it weren’t for the sun none of this, and certainly not you would be here now,” she said.
“The sun didn’t build the solar cells,” Chester mumbled.
“That’s not the point,” Robert said with frustration.
Rachel sighed. “Look I know you’re going through that phase where it’s cool to think everyone else is an idiot but believe me there is a fine line between being rebellious and independent and just being a jackass.”
“What does that mean?” Chester said defensively
“If you had any idea what it’s like out there you would never question why we express gratitude to the natural world,” said Robert. “You have no idea how good we have it.”
“Yeah? And what is it like out there? Why is it so terrible compared to here?” Chester asked.
Robert’s ringtone interrupted the conversation. Robert knew it wasn’t the best time to take a call, but it was from a number designated strictly for emergency purposes.
“Shit, I gotta take this,” said Robert. He didn’t see his son rolling his eyes.
“This is Robert Pak,” he answered as he stepped out of the room.
“Robert this is Greg you have to get here quick. Hawkwood packed up and left this morning. We don’t know what to do. We need you down here now!”
Greg was an anxiety-ridden individual, but his voice conveyed genuine panic.
“Just hang on. I’m heading over,” Robert replied authoritatively.
A driverless car was pulling up in front of the house just as Robert was walking out the front door. The car greeted him with a friendly female voice.
“Hi,” he replied.
“I have calculated the shortest route to your destination. Is this ok or do you have a preferred route?” Asked the computer.
“That’s fine,” replied Robert reaching for his phone to dial back Greg. The phone rang one and a half times before Greg answered sounding even more terrified than before.
“Robert are you almost here??”
“I’m on my way now.”
“You have to get here fast none of us know what to do,” Greg wailed.
“Greg, what’s happening over there?”
“There's some kind of army heading this way. Apparently really well armed and they’re almost here.” Greg explained in a shaky fluctuating voice.
“What about Hawkwood what are they doing about this?” Robert asked calmly but firmly.
“They left Rob! the assholes fucking left,” Greg sobbed.
Rob shook his head. “They can’t just leave we have a contract this is the kind of thing they’re supposed to deal with.”
“I know that’s what I told them,” Greg’ wined. “I guess they got attacked this morning. They said it wasn’t worth what they’re getting! “We’re so fucked, we’re so fucked!” Greg said as he broke down into full on sobs.
“Greg calm down. We can’t panic. Remember there are always solutions it’s just a matter of finding them.”
Rob ended the call and looked around with confusion when he saw they hadn't moved.
“What’s going on how come we aren’t going anywhere?” He asked visibly frustrated.
“Sorry I didn’t want to interrupt your call,” the car apologized. “I noticed your phone only has fifty-six percent battery life. Would you like to plug into my power source?”
“What the fuck? Just drive this is an emergency!” Rob snapped. The car pulled away from the curb and sped down the road. Robert pulled out a tablet from his shoulder bag and started going through his messages hoping to get some better idea of what was happening. Through the windshield, he could see the sleek metallic body of a small jet gleaming in the sunlight as it ascended into the sky. Another followed in the wake of its exhaust trail, and another closely tailed that one. The exodus was underway.
Robert’s presence only provided momentary relief. The brain trust got down to the business of thinking about how they could save their city from the wave of marauders and morale quickly plummeted. Despite the robust, cutting-edge security systems and protocols they put in place they never had any idea the dangering forming out in the wastelands. Now all they could do was watch helplessly as an army of barbarians marched towards Lemniscate.The rats were quick to desert the ship. After every break, they took one or two fewer of them came back. Soon word came the city’s airfield was going to be out of aircraft before the day was through. Robert had dedicated his life to Lemniscate but now the time had come where the safety of his own family superseded the much-lauded greater good. Now it was time to break the news to his wife. He didn’t know how such a willful woman would react to the idea of abandoning her home. So he made sure to make all the arrangements beforehand.
“I arranged passage for you and the kids on a plane out of here,” he whispered into the phone.
“Just leave? Where would we even go, Robert?” She asked in a tone that was a combination of fear and anger.
“North to Vancouver,” Robert replied calmly.
“This is our home!” Rachel fired back. “I’m not just going to let a bunch of militia assholes tack it form us!
“We can’t stop,” Robert sighed. “The security forces left already. We don’t have the weapons or the expertise. There’s nothing we can do.”
She was silent for a moment. “Robert how are they moving?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” Robert asked.
“Are they marching single file or are they moving as a large huddled mass.”
Robert thought about it for a second. “I suppose they’re pretty close together,” he said.
“Well if there are no guns we can still use explosives,” she suggested.
“How?” asked Robert. “We don’t have any bombs, and even if we did, we have no way to use them.”
“The food delivery drones,” Rachel said. “We can fly them right into the middle of those assholes and blow them the fuck up. I bet they’ll disperse and run off if they had suicide robots coming down on them.”
Robert was skeptical, but it was the best suggestion he had heard so far. He brought the plan back to the rest of the committee, and by default, it went forward. Instead of food, the drones were loaded with makeshift bombs. They launched the fleet of suicide machines and watched from the basement of the office complex as the flying bombs headed east to find their target. They had a bird's eye view of the morbid pyrotechnics display. The drones flew over the mass of people hovered for a second before plummeting to the earth and exploding.
It was just like Rachel said. The fiery explosions broke the enemy’s cohesion and sent them scurrying in all directions. Robert and his colleagues cheered as they watched the fire destroy the horde, but the celebration was short lived. The fires didn’t stop burning. The flames began to consume the surrounding forests, and soon the landscape was set ablaze, and the wall of flames began its own march towards Lemniscate.