Wilds, 324 Era Vulgaris, Centennial 39
The lights of Quarantine fade out the blackness of the night into a bright grey. We are twenty miles from the fortress, and no longer shielded by the high walls of the gorge. We have nowhere to hide, and the light pollution only makes it worse. They will see us coming long before we strike. The element of surprise is our best hope, but it is impossible to approach Q unnoticed. We need a distraction, something that draws the attention away from the East wall.
“Darius?” I call for my only male soldier. He is quite popular among the women of our troupe, if for no other reason than he is shy and does not want the attention. He is relieved to be pulled away from a giggling trio of women.
“Antista?” he says as he reaches me.
“It is too bright,” I say.
“Yes,” he agrees.
“What do we do without surprise on our side? You have seen the information Aron obtained from the airship, but I had not the time. I confess: I feel terribly ill-equipped to lead all of you to Quarantine.”
He takes a knee beside me and considers his answer. He traces his finger in the dirt, forming waves and hills. Then, he brushes his hand over the dirt and begins again.
“What is this?” I ask.
“A map,” he says, pointing to the tallest hill in his drawing. “On the tallest hill to the east of Arcis, there is an array of towers that attract lightning and harvest the electricity for both Arcis and Quarantine. If they are disabled, neither can draw in power from their substations and they both go dark.”
“How does that help us?”
“All magnetic doors in Quarantine will release and the prisoners will be able to leave their cells,” he says.
“How do we get them out of the fortress?” I ask.
“The front access can only be opened with a set of three keys,” he says. “If our people overpower the officers, they might be able to take the keys and get out by themselves. If not, we may be forced to draw officers out, in order to get in.”
“I see,” I say, rubbing my eyes. “We therefore must disable the array, and then hope our people rise up.”
“In essence, yes.” Darius stands.
“I do not like to put my faith on a feeling,” I say. “I want a clean and efficient plan.”
“We do not have the time to devise the sort of plan you desire, Antista.”
“I know,” I sigh. “Gratulari, Darius.”
He nods and looks over his shoulder at the three women anticipating his return. Darius decides against rejoining the women and instead stands several feet behind me. He is mystified and frightened by women, a fact they use to their advantage. Darius is safe, for now, with me to shield him. They will forget about torturing him when the fighting has begun. The way I will forget about Aron when I am standing in a cell again because we do not have a solid plan.
The trouble is, I will not forget him, or the rest of the Cerani, no matter what happens. I will always feel guilty for letting them down, for breaking my promise. Something must be done. Something bold that is neither sure, nor safe. We do not have the luxury of the larger gun. But we are Sparks. We are fire and light and vitality. What is more, we are one body, and we must be whole again.
I rise to my feet. “Darius? Who is the most capable Spark?” I ask.
He steps forward. “Hali, aside from you, Antista.”
“Do you believe you are both capable of disabling the array?”
“Antista, we are both able Sparks, surely. But I do not know if it is possible to disable the array. In truth, I am not sure how men could have constructed such massive towers.”
“How many towers need to be taken down?” I ask.
“Three, and seven shorter antennae,” he says. “Ten in all.”
“Can you do it?” I stand and face him.
“We do not have the muscle, but perhaps—”
“Darius,” I say, holding up my hand. “Can you do it?”
He smiles. “You would have me destroy Arci technology on a whim?”
“If that is necessary in order to power down Quarantine,” I say.
“Whatever it takes?” he asks.
“Just do not die,” I say. I smile to mask the ache of saying those words to someone other than Aron. I miss him. “Take Hali, and two others, and leave for the array immediately. When the towers are destroyed, set out for Arcis. We will need you when the fighting is done.” I clasp Darius’ shoulder and he flinches, but returns the gesture.
Darius selects two adequate Sparks to accompany him. I do not question his choices; if that is who he wants, I trust him. His team departs at first light, and mine gathers before me, a ritual that is a sacred part of our travel routine.
Sometimes they sit silently, but this morning, they are buzzing.
“Antista, what is our next move?” Pera asks, placing her hand on my knee.
I cover her hand with my own. The faces of the women who surround me are eager for an answer. They are fierce and hopeful about something we have little chance of winning.
“My sweet Sparks,” I say. “There is a lightning storm brewing.”