I force them to consider this, emphasizing that only by a miracle would all of them reach their destination alive. I speak of the carriers which, even if enough of them are found to put in service, may be overloaded and crash, or succumb to the action of sand and wind in the desert storms. I speak to them of the many hundreds of kilometers to cross with no access to cover or water. Of roaming tribes of black people who hunt down trespassers in their territories and ritually kill them to eat. Of giant snakes in the badlands beyond the borders of the desert. But the gravest danger remains the possibility of discovery by computer sensors and being chased by Hyrete police, Elbre military forces or worse, hunted down by bounty hunters. A shiver passes through me as I remember, so vividly, my first encounter with these hunters of human beings. The group gathered around me feels my pain and remains silent.
End blog post #101
Start blog post #102
Chapter 40 – The Great Escape and Aftermath
After a peaceful and restful sleep, my bony frame tucked gently between the soft bodies of the young Tieka and the fighter Zel morning finds us going through our rituals as if nothing had changed. But they have changed. Many less men in the compound. Less guards for these are weapons trained and were called to defend Hyrete from the Estáani attack. We can still hear the firing of heavy guns far away to the north. The unmistakable sound of military booted feet running through the streets can be heard even through the walls as men are brought from near-by towns to bolster the city’s defenses.
Being simply trainer and handler, both Hudu and Huntu are again in the compound. They acknowledge their women with the briefest of nods as Tieka files into the kitchens undoubtedly happy to escape the weapons training and Zel takes her place in the training line-up. Hudu walks behind us then takes the place of the female trainer to spar with Zel. Undoubtedly he wants to know what we spoke about and it’s relatively safer than usual to exchange words today. I engage some of the trainees to teach them basic custom tricks that have been useful in saving many women’s lives in two-on-one combat situations. Yes, our brave men still believe that if two men fight one woman they are being honourable. It’s amazing what you can convince yourself of if you really believe in something.
A skimmer carrier sporting the Hyrete flag glides gently down by the doctor’s office after coming over a low wall. Two men get out and disappear inside to emerge soon after, remount their carrier and disappear over the wall again. Cydroids? Most likely. I continue the training with half a mind on my job. I receive a stab wound for my carelessness and the young trainee who inflicts it appears devastated. She freezes until I press her again, smile at her and give her the “Job well done” signal. Hudu walks away pensive and racks his staff, rejoining Huntu at their table. They talk rapidly and seriously. Huntu signals for me to stop and come to their table.
Huntu speaks low while Hudu pretends to be giving me hell over something. “We have better plan now. Have access to repair hangar for carriers. Four large ones in for drive upgrade and one for burned flue. Have friend in hangar, knows of plan, wants to join. We can get carriers repaired, tested and ready in five, maybe six days. Four carriers for sure, maybe five.”
“You trained in carrier piloting?” I ask him.
“No, only in yard, not in difficult conditions or terrain or when in heavy load. Need trained pilots. Friend in hangar, he good. Need three, maybe four more pilots. Or I can do if I get instruction and follow leader.”
“This is good,” I say, “do you know anything about the attack on the city? Is it going to last?”
“Enemy dug in and using mid-range weapons on walls. We are training ground troops to flush out and try maybe do what call pincer movement on them. Cut off reinforcements. If enemy get no additional support from Estáan battle last maybe couple weeks, no more.”
“That is good too. We are moving in the right direction. This is time of big storms now so we can prepare to move in the next one. There should be desert storms at the same time; there usually is. I can get many women to join the escape but we need as many men preferably. How many can a carrier transport take with weapons and provisions?”
Huntu replies, “Eight would be best. It could handle ten depending on supplies.”
“Does this include the pilot?” I ask him. I need accuracy here, to get my complement of women together.
“Yes counts include all bodies. So if get four vehicles, we take forty people. Better like thirty two to thirty six.”
I return to the training until it is time to rack up the weapons, wash and eat. We sit silently at our tables and soon the servers bring the food. Tieka brushes my neck and whispers the kitchen Cydroid wants to know about transportation. I quickly tell her we have a guarantee four large carrier transports with the possibility of five. I add that each can carry eight to ten people depending on load of supplies. She tells me that two other kitchen gorok want to join our escape and have been briefed by one of the YBA Cydroids. Again, this is good. I enjoy the challenge but also the smoothness of this crazy plan.
Two days later, with storms galore in the offing and the battle intensifying to the north of the city I have my complement of 18 women for the escape. All are young and tough, including Tieka, for her desire not to fight has nothing to do with heart. Quite the opposite. She has declared her willingness to fight as well as anyone to defend the group. News from the hangar indicate that the transports will be ready. Three have already been tested but to avoid conscription by the military the head engineer has declared them as yet unfit for use. They are parked, fuelled and ready. Two to go.
Via Tieka I hear there’s activity in the doctor’s place. He has returned and gone to the false King with our plan. We will get three of our pilots directly from the palace and they will join our escape. So for the male complement, I’m still short. I’ve got Hudu and Huntu, two from the hangars, both pilots, three from the palace, also pilots so we have extra should something happen to one of them. Two Cydroids will also accompany the escape and will return with one of the carriers afterwards, crashing it into the deep desert and finding their way on foot to their landing site where they will join seven others in the ship and return to Koron.
Meanwhile under orders from the King much work is being done on the sensors and alarm systems all over our compound ostensibly to bolster security against infiltration by Estáani special forces. That’s the other part of the plan happening. The shunts are being installed by Bal’s trusty crew right under the noses of security people and the small complement of guards, mostly older men judged unfit for the rigors of open warfare in the sands.
It’s time for me to risk it all. I carefully approach trainers I’ve done favours for over the years and explain our plan, one to one. The life of trainers is boring, dull and dangerous in its own way. They are often held responsible if a fighter fails her owner in some costly way. They can be killed or ‘punished’ in a number of ways. I offer them the dangers of freedom. I gain five men that way. I need three more at the very least and more if possible; if we get the fifth carrier repaired on time. Two of the handlers I consider close to friends and trustworthy, within limits.
I approach them with my crazy idea of being free men to live with their own woman on an island in the sea with nothing to do but fish a little each day and wait for her to bring the cooked and prepared food. “You could build a boat from trees that grow there and go sailing around the island and no one would ever be able to tell you where to go or what to do. You can have your son to be with you, to teach and become your heir. As it is none of you can ever afford to buy a son from the crèches, right? You can’t have your own woman to lie down with in the night or to chase on the warm sands to catch and make love to whenever you feel the need. What future do you have in this place? If the wars get worse you will be sent out in the desert to get killed for people you hate anyway and what will you be protecting here? None of it is yours. You are as much slaves as we are.”
They have simple minds and I’m not really lying. It could be the good life they all dream of sometimes. I gain three men that way and stop my recruiting. That’s it; we have our complement and are set. Now it’s up to the engineers, the Cydroids and the weather. We wait. Was it too easy? I feel serious discomfort in my mind but cannot locate the source. Maybe I’m nervous. Maybe I just want it all to be over.
End blog post #102