Part III - All That's Left is Blood :: 75
Ber Brunon pulled at his coveralls’ collar as he stared through a slit in the boards of the derelict window by which he stood. As a canine, he was appointed as one of the listeners. When the midday shift change siren rang at the Machine, it was the listeners’ job to give the go signal at each Unionizer weapon cache hidden in the Machine district.
His thick dark brown fur was heavy with sweat; the day would likely be a scorcher. The perfect day for the offensive on the Machine.
As a listener, he had the “honor” of being a part of the first wave of attackers that stormed the Machine’s South gate. The entire attack hinged on surprise and chaos, muddying the combat zone for the better equipped Machine guards and Foremen. Quell the attack or wind up killing a bulk of your day work force. A tough decision that the Union planners hoped would allow for a quick and violence-limiting seizure of the gate.
With the gate seized, the second wave would have an established front to safely travel to in order to prepare for the storming of the three sections of the large factory. Luck on their side, they’d have mostly empty Production and Shipping facilities to commandeer. Keep the momentum up, keep the front line moving towards the Administrative building.
Koph’s plan had come off on Ber as risky and needing a lot of good fortune to succeed. The Union had done some wet work to lower the amount of Administrators that could oppose the coup, leaving only Calor, Weber, Winkler, and Schroder left. And rumors were flying that at least two of those may have been handled in the early hours of the morning.
The feeling in the cache overnight had been a myriad of anxious and jovial. Many of the younger members looked forward to the operation while the older, recently fired former Machine workers were more anxious about the potential for death. The specter loomed large over the older set, Ber included. They had lost so much just a few weeks ago and were here, laying their lives on the line to ensure that the young people around them would have a better time of it when all was said and done.
And what if they failed? It was a good possibility. They could reach the gates, get decimated, and then play catchup the rest of the day. What if they didn’t even take the gate and got mired in a stalemate? What good would the second wave even be at that point?
Ber sighed and raised a floppy ear. The sun was about as bright as it was going to get for the day and the heat seeping in through the many slits and cracked boards adorning the abandoned inn was nearly unbearable, especially those with thicker fur such as his.
He had seen what these kind of urban trifles could do to a place. Ber had been front and center in the Siege of Millewhist, just fourteen short years prior. His apprenticeship at a blacksmith had just begun when the city was closed and the waiting game started. From far off, skirmishes looked like loud, dusty arguments. He had no idea what it would be like to be in the middle of one of those dust clouds. He didn’t exactly look forward to the prospect either.
Ber had no family outside of his parents who still resided in Millewhist, though the need for smithies had lessened greatly as slugthrowers continued their rise as weapons of choice. His father had written him months back complaining that all he could make a living on was shoeing horses and even now, the technology of the Machine and the Alchemists was threatening that with the steam carts. Once they got faster, and Ber knew they would having built a few of them himself as a line man at the Machine, horses would be a thing of the past. It was only a matter of time.
The idea of settling down had been strong in his mind when he had moved to the Chop shortly after the Purge had occurred. The Rebellion promised equal rights in the former Capital city for all races, not just Humes. Ber had never liked smithing and the idea of working for his father had not been a favorable pursuit. So he had packed up, rented a horse, and made the eight day journey to the Chop. His rudimentary skills as a smith had gotten him a metal working position along a line of assembly for long barrels at first, and then having shown skill at the trade, he had been moved to the Steam Cart line, assembling the metal frame of the cart itself. Script hardly justified the long, dangerous work hours in the Machine but he had felt pride in his work nonetheless, happy to have done something on his own instead of relying on his father’s reputation to net him success.
Somewhere along the line, after being passed up for Foreman promotion after the umpteenth time, he had grown more aware of the truth behind the Machines purpose. He saw it as a large circle of money where only those at the very top, in the Administrative offices, ever made any progress in life. They dealt in gold, he dealt in Script, their make believe currency that allow him to reach a level of uncomfortable subsistence. The thoughts of marrying, having children, owning a home...all dashed when at the end of the month, his script barely brought enough food to feed one person, let along multiple, to his meager Machine-provided lodgings. One would have to slave away and starve to make any forward progress. The Machine deliberately kept its workforce in a state of near-poverty. Work hard to earn the right to continue to work hard. An endless cycle that had been forcibly broken by Parton when he turned the weapons made in the Machine on the workers that made the weapons. If Parton was willing to throwaway the workers with such lazy disregard, then his control of the Machine had to be ended.
Ber held the long barrel close to his chest. It was an old model, similar to the one that he had cut his teeth on the line with before moving on to carts. It was fully loaded. More slugs were stuffed all in the many pockets adorning his coveralls. The outfit was heavy, hot, and uncomfortable. Just as every other Union member, his left breast pocket had a red letter U painted on it in a crude, quick fashion.
Training had been slapdash. He knew how to point the weapon. Knew how to make it fire its projectile. Ber knew far more about making and fixing it than he did using it. Many of the Union members were the same way. He imagined that firing the thing in anger would be a difficult concept for many to grasp; they had all mostly be concerned with either making them, fixing them, or shipping them. The idea of now having to use those very things they had made against the very place that had forced them to make the weapons seemed perverse. Ber wasn’t really one for causes, or dying for one either. But he couldn’t stand by idly after hearing about the incident at the gate where his coworkers had been shot as they waited in line to enter work. It had made him angry enough to want to shoot back, but maybe not in the first wave of the attack. Not like this. Damn his strong hearing.
One of his ears twitched. The signal was here.
“Be still,” he mumbled to his racing heart.
“Shift end!” he shouted. A cacophony of sound and shouts came from the mass of people and weapons loitering behind him.
“Get the door,” someone yelled. Someone else obliged. Bright sunlight flooded the ruined inn lobby.
Ber found himself being ushered out of the inn by a wave of eager and anxious comrades. All of them were chattering with nervous energy, a flock of birds readying for their first flights.
He looked up the main street and saw the looming visage of the Machine, bathed in the midday sun and glittering, an iron and glass monument to the ingenuity of the races; a corrupted beacon of progress. They were going to save it.
Ber shot a look behind the line he was helping lead with three other listeners, and saw more flocks of Unionizers falling into step with them, creating a street clogging mass of usurpation.
Some of the workers that had left the Machine early were already started to mix and mingle with the river of rebellion. A few of the Union members berated the workers, yelling at them to lay down their lunch pails and pick up a slugthrower. Chants of “Stop the Machine” began in the middle of the marching line. The words caught a rhythm and traveled up to Ber’s position and back down.
“Stop the Machine” bounded off of the sides of the buildings along the street, careening back and forth, creating an odd delayed echo that boosted the shouts of the Unionizers. A few of the citizens came out of their homes or businesses to look on. Some smiled. Some repeated the words. Others ducked into their buildings and cowered.
“They’re the smart ones,” Ber told the listener beside him, pointing to a woman and child rushing back into their home and shutting the curtains.
“This is not their battle,” replied the listener.
Ber nodded and fell back into a determined silence, his eyes fixed on the materializing green and black gate that was their objective.
The way up the street grew slower with each passing minute as more and more workers heading to the gate and workers heading home from the Machine intermingled with the marching line. Most of them hurried to get out of the Union’s way. They were the scabs, the hired in help that had replaced most of the people in the Union’s ranks. They were afraid of reprisals and made sure to give the marching Unionizers as much of a berth as the street’s width would allow.
The gate started to stretch to its full height after nearly thirty minutes of marching. The shouts of “Stop the Machine” had grown louder as they had moved and it was beginning to annoy the listeners leading the throng.
“Can we order them to shut up?” asked the listener nearest Ber.
Ber shrugged. “I doubt they’d listen.”
“They better listen to us when the shouting is over and the shooting begins.”
“Are you that certain we’re going to have to do that much fighting?” Ber asked.
Two of the four other listeners looked at him with incredulity.
“What do you think we’re here for?” asked one.
“Do you think they’re going to just move out of our way?” asked the other.
Ber shrugged again. “Hoping for the best.”
One of them laughed. The other choked down his words and resolved a straight ahead stare.
“Stop the Machine. Stop the Machine. Stop the Machine.”
The shout was giving Ber a head ache. He keen hearing could separate about half of the total amount of voices shouting it to the air and it was far too much information for him to process and remain focused on the objective at hand. When the fighting started, he was one of the elders that would be looked to for guidance as they moved through their attack. He only hoped he could keep strong as people came to him for answers. Again, he hoped, inwardly this time, that no violence would be needed.
An angry bee buzzed by his ear. He looked in the direction it had traveled. Some of the Unionizers behind him had dropped to the ground, sprawled on top of each other. Another bee buzzed by and he whirled back around just as a bit of the dirt street shot up in a cloud of dust near his shoes. The air was cracking over and over, as if someone was brandishing a thousand-tailed whip and swinging it about above his head.
Something hollow burst next to him, coating him in warm, wet viscera. The sound was unknowable, beginning with a “fwip” and ending in a sound similar to what a dousing bucket sounds like when kicked, had it been made of flesh instead of metal. The listener next to him fell to the ground in an agency-free heap, his head more akin to a half-finished puzzle than a body part.
For just a moment, Ber stared at the gory spectacle. People were rushing past him and the air was under attack by more and more cracks and pops. More angry insects buzzed by at varying distances. Some of them impacted the Unionizers trying to get by him, others found their way into the street or adjacent buildings.
He turned his whole body and faced the gate. It was only mere paces away. Along the top stood Machinist guards, brandishing long slugthrowers that were firing at an intense rate. He had never seen or heard of such a nightmarish thing as a non-bolt action long barrel, but alas there they were, tearing into the Unionizers like a serrated blade.
At that moment, the urge of the cause left Ber Brunon. He looked left, then right, then left again, then down. Cover. He needed cover. He didn’t want to die. Couldn’t die. Not today. Find somewhere safe. Nothing’s safe.
He ran towards the gate, the buildings on each side of the street thinning out the closer he got. The ground was bursting at every step, the sharp slugs parting the atmosphere trying with all their might to collide with his fragile body.
A Unionizer put his hands on Ber’s shoulders, stopping him. Ber looked past the man, trying to break his grip. The man was shouting something. Ber didn’t care what it was.
The man’s head, just above the bridge of the nose, magically disappeared in a cloud of red. Ber shrugged off the now-weak grip of the man and shuffled to the side of a pair of Machinist guards beating a Unionizer’s face to a flattened, mushy pulp.
He passed broken bodies wearing both uniforms. He justed needed a place to be safe, a place to get away from the angry bees and the mean people. A place to call home until it all just went away.
A tall Machinist guard tried to swing at Ber. He dodged and took a glance back, witnessing the guard receive two slugs in the neck.
Ber had reached a frantic pace, having to leap over the dead and dying as he searched for a safe spot.
Something grabbed his leg. He almost toppled over but caught himself on a hard, cold bit of iron and wrenched his leg free. A Unionizer, hand still in the air, gave him a shocked and pained expression. It was one of the young ones from his weapons cache.
“I can’t hear,” the young Unionize yelled at him. “It feels so cold. Help me.”
Ber looked down. There was not much left of the young man’s left leg. Blood was still spurting into a large pool from the shattered limb.
“It’s not safe out here,” Ber shouted back and ducked into a small room near his dying cache mate.
“What?!” shouted someone beneath Ber. He looked down and saw a Machinist guard huddled underneath a desk.
The guard fumbled with his waist band. Ber saw the handle of a slug thrower side piece and reached under the desk.
“Oh Humboldt,” shouted the guard. “Don’t kill me. Please!”
Ber hoisted the man up and stared him in the face. “This place is mine.”
He tossed the guard from the room and shut a door he had not seen until now. He locked it. The man started banging on the door.
“Let me in please!”
“Go away,” Ber shouted and started to stuff himself under the desk, letting his long barrel drop to the floor, unused.
Ber heard a few shots and the guard stopped screaming.
Good, he thought and brought his knees up to his chin. He crossed his arms across his knees and started to shake.
Tears welled at the corners of his eyes.
He didn’t want to die.