Chapter 1: Rebellion
“Come on Jacob, hurry up. The soldiers are coming!”
Karl Langdon waited anxiously for Jacob, the older man struggling, his breath coming in short gasps as he tried to match the pace of his younger friend. Not too far behind, Karl could see the government troops exiting the old wooden barn, spreading out across the field, advancing, their blue uniforms clearly visible in the light from Frihet’s moon.
Someone had informed on them. There was no other way the troops could have known about the rebel meeting in the barn.
The meeting had finished, the agreement on revolution in two weeks finally met, and their leader, Ian, had just pulled open the old, heavy doors. Karl could still hear the sudden burst of gunfire, still see the bullets tearing through Ian’s body, exploding from his back.
The others round the table panicked, some running, others trying to hide inside the barn itself. Karl, being both cautious and paranoid enough to have examined the barn carefully beforehand, grabbed Jacob and pulled him towards the back wall. Pushing his way through rusted farm machinery, he reached the boards he knew to be loose. It still took much pulling and pushing, and too much time, before enough of them gave way for Karl and Jacob to crawl through and begin their run across the field.
“You have to leave me behind,” gasped Jacob through spit-wet grey beard and moustache. “I’m old and sick. I’m just slowing you down.”
“Don’t be stupid,” said Karl angrily, not least because similar thoughts had gone through his own mind. Guilt tugged at his conscience. “You can make it with my help. Just try.”
He grabbed the older man’s arm to pull him on but his friend resisted.
“It’s no use Karl. This way we’ll both get caught. And do you really think those screams we heard from the barn were our people being taken prisoner?”
Karl shook his head. The soldiers were not interested in taking prisoners.
“I can’t leave you,” said Karl, stubbornly refusing to go on alone. “We can still do this. You just need to try.”
Gunfire brought all talk to a halt. The ground behind them spat earth into the air.
Karl took a tougher grip on his friend’s arm for one last effort.
“We have to move…”
Jacob screamed as large caliber bullets ripped his lower left leg apart, chewing through muscle and fat, shattering the bone.
As Jacob fell, Karl let go. There was no helping Jacob now. Karl knew that, but still he was reluctant to leave him.
“Go!” screamed Jacob through the intense pain as he lay helpless on the ground. “Get word out. You have to make sure the revolution happens!”
Karl slowly began to back away, struggling with his conscience. More gunfire ripped through the nearby ground and screamed through the air around him. He knew it was pure luck that he had not been hit.
He turned and ran, not looking back. His last memory of Jacob was the old man cursing and swearing at the soldiers as they reached him. Then a single pistol shot and he was silent. Karl knew the old man was dead, executed, and, as he ran, he shed some tears for him. But he had to focus on escape.
Up ahead was the shell of an old farmhouse. It was the only cover within reach and if he didn’t find some soon, those bullets chasing his steps and drilling through the air would get lucky and hit him.
He ducked through the open doorway, the door long since fallen off its rusted hinges, and skidded to a halt on the rubble-strewn floor inside. There was little left of the building now, leaning walls of loose brick the only evidence of rooms, the stairway fallen after the first two steps. Nothing remained of the ceiling and the only evidence that there had ever been a second story were the stumps of floor beams jutting from the walls, and the ever-open eyes of the upper windows, the glass long since fallen and smashed.
There seemed nowhere to hide. Already he could hear the voices of the soldiers, shouting to each other as they came ever nearer.
Desperately he searched the ruin, knowing that to continue his run was suicide. The soldiers would catch him easily. His only option was to somehow hide. But where?
He had almost given up when he looked once again to the missing upper story and, beyond it, the roof. There, to one side, was a small section of intact ceiling. Between it and the tiled roof there would be a gap. It would not be much, as the farmhouse had not been built with a roomy attic in mind, but for Karl it was his only chance. He would fit. He had to.
Not giving himself any more time to think, and with the soldiers almost at the farmhouse door, he used the two steps of the stairway to launch himself at the nearest stump of floor beam.
He reached and grabbed hold, ignoring the jagged edges tearing his flesh, splinters burrowing into his hands. As he pulled himself up, he was grateful, for once, to the long hours of manual labor that had strengthened his arms, his whole body.
Crouching on the stump like some grubby, sweating gargoyle, he made a desperate leap for the edge of the ceiling patch, hoping that it would hold and not just snap away.
He stretched until it hurt, his fingertips reaching the edge and holding. As his body began to fall, the sudden weight-shift pulled his left hand from the ceiling and he hung, precariously, holding on with only the very ends of his right-hand fingers.
Swinging his left arm upwards, he grabbed hold again and managed to shift his right-hand to a better grip. He pulled himself up and slid into the narrow gap formed by the ceiling patch and the roof beams.
He heard the soldiers entering the abandoned house. Had any immediately looked up, they might have seen his foot disappearing into the gap. None did.
The soldiers searched the rubble thoroughly, and Karl could hear the clatter of them turning over any section of collapsed wall big enough to hide beneath. At one point he thought he heard boots on the shortened staircase. He imagined a soldier eyeing the beams above with interest, and for long seconds he tensed, holding his breath, willing his every muscle to stillness. Then the boots descended, and he was able to breathe again.
The soldiers were soon heading out the back of the ruined building, no doubt convinced their prey had continued to run.
Karl lay still for a long time after the soldiers had gone. Several times he heard people enter the building below and search, again, through the rubble. He had no doubt they were soldiers or, worse, members of the Secret Police. Either way, he was glad he remained hidden above them. No one seemed inclined to try and repeat his athletic journey to the roof and, after a while, he started to relax.
When darkness fell, he cautiously exited his hiding place and dropped, via the floor beam stumps, to the ground. Everyone had long moved on by the time he finally made his way out of the back of the farmhouse and headed for safety.
Karl stumbled into the pre-arranged rendezvous point exhausted and over twelve hours late. He was surprised but relieved to see four of his comrades still waiting.
“I thought you might have left,” he said, gasping and snatching at the offered water bottle.
Damon Bell signaled to the others to spread out and be alert for any followers while he eased the water bottle away from Karl’s sweaty grasp.
“Another hour or two and we would have,” he said. “Any others with you?”
Karl shook his head. “Just me. How many made it?”
“Including you? Four.”
Karl sank to his knees, unashamed of the tears that welled in his eyes.
“That’s fifteen slaughtered by those bastards. Fifteen.”
“Karl,” said Damon. “I can give you a couple of minutes, but then we need to move out. We’ve already stayed here longer than we should.”
Karl breathed deeply, his spine straightening. Now was not the time to grieve. There was too much to be done. Too much at stake.
“Get yourselves sorted,” he said, taking Damon’s offered arm in help to stand up. “I’ll be ready.”
As Damon moved away, calling on the others to gather their few possessions, Karl pulled from an inside pocket a small holoslide and gazed at it, a slight smile twitching the corners of his mouth. The slide showed a young woman dressed in flowing robes of vivid colors. She looked slightly aloof, her mouth neither smiling nor frowning. But her eyes sparkled with humor, which made the official portrait unique in the history of Frihet’s royal family. To Karl it showed she had a genuineness about her, a humanity that her father, the King, did not possess.
Karl smiled, almost hearing Jacob’s gently teasing voice on the wind that slid softly through the surrounding trees.
“You’re always making eyes at that picture. Waste of time. It’s not like you’re ever going to meet her. The Governor has her safely locked up. There’s more chance of the Earth Empire becoming a democracy than there is of you meeting the beautiful Princess Thalor.”
He returned the holoslide to his pocket as the others, laden with weapons and backpacks, approached.
“I presume we stick to our plans, regardless?” said Damon, handing an automatic pistol to Karl.
“Of course we do,” said Karl, his face grim and stern. “Everything goes ahead, just as we planned.”
The soldiers had been too late. The desire for rebellion against the oppressive, dictatorial state machine went deeper than a few people meeting in an old barn. The conflict of state and citizens was inevitable.
Two weeks after the slaughter at the barn, Karl led Damon, and a group of twenty combat trained rebels, in a nighttime raid on the main barracks adjoining the Governor’s palace. As Earth’s representative, the Governor was the highest official on Frihet. He controlled the planet and, in turn, Earth controlled him. By default, he was the rebel’s principal target.
Using stolen Wave Blockers to confuse the alarms, Karl cut the wire fencing around the perimeter of the barracks and eased through the gap. He repeated the operation twice more, guiding everyone through all three alarmed perimeter fences without incident.
A laborer, working on a new building inside the barracks, had provided the rebels with a rough hand-drawn map. Having memorized it, Karl led the way quietly towards the small group of five main barrack buildings. Inside, unaware of the approaching danger, the soldiers of the Governor’s main garrison slept soundly. Their comrades on sentry duty already lay dead, their blood soaking into the ground.
For one brief moment, Karl hesitated, uncertain whether he could justify what he was about to do. But this was a war, he reminded himself. If he did not kill them, they would kill him. Perhaps not tonight, but eventually.
Steeling himself for what needed to be done, he waved Damon and the others forward.
The following minutes were filled with mayhem, blood and death as the rebels stormed the barracks. Most of the soldiers never woke up. Brief firefights erupted where soldiers were still awake, or had enough warning to scramble from their bunks, but they were too few to slow the advance.
Karl strode through it all with an impersonal brutality, killing everyone he did not recognize as being a rebel. He saw, without visible emotion, a small number of his troop fall. A few martyrs to the cause was to be expected. Only once did a flicker of sadness cross his face, as he saw Damon gunned down at the entrance to one of the barracks. Karl avenged him the only way he knew how, by ensuring every occupant of the barracks was slaughtered. He had no mercy for the occupying Earthmen and their Frihetian puppets.
When the killing was done, Karl radioed the success of his mission to other rebel leaders, and the people of Frihet stormed the Governor’s palace. Without his main garrison to call upon, the only resistance came from a small number of soldiers on regular guard duty. They could not hold out for long against so many people.
Thousands filled the streets, breaking into any government owned building, looting and vandalizing. They swarmed around the city, finally in control and reveling in it.
The Governor, his wife and three children, were all dragged from the palace, and the Governor was hanged from a lamppost in the town square. The inexpertly tied knot failed to break his neck. He slowly choked to death while the crowd jeered and spat. Karl never heard what happened to the wife and children, but he was certain they were dead. The blood-lust of the freed masses knew no boundaries of gender or age.
Karl avoided most of the massed protests and mob violence. He preferred to sit in silence, feeling satisfied that he had done his part in overthrowing the distant rule of Earth, a satisfaction only slightly marred by the death of Damon Bell. All that remained was to free Princess Thalor from house arrest and return Frihetian royalty to its proper place.
But he was under no illusions about Earth’s response. They would not give up a dependency easily and were bound to try and hit back. He hoped that Frihet’s rebellion would not be isolated for long. That other planets within the Earth Empire, their freedoms trampled beneath booted feet, their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, spirited away in the night by the Secret Police and never heard from again, would also rise up. It was time President Deaton of Earth learned he could no longer do as he pleased throughout the galaxy.