This is the opening page to my Science Fiction serial on my Disqus channel. The story is now nine weeks old and can be followed on Disqus.
The elders remember a time when people were able to go to libraries to read the Word. Whether for information or pleasure the Word was available. Now, those once magnificent buildings stand desolate and unused; their innards were strewn to the far corners on the winds of our barren land; where we once had peace now there is noise and flashing lights; where we had books, papers, and learning materials; all which remains is a pile of ash. Each day the firemen bring out the books and burn them in the square of the Game Lord and each day more is lost and can never be found. Many of the great writers of our time have fled the cities in fear of being hunted or ridiculed.
The wars came about because the Game Lords feared their control of the minds of the young would never be total while books and the Word was available. So they sent machines from the skies with the ability to burn all things to cinders, what survived the war became ruthlessly hunted down by firemen, these men came equipped with flamethrowers to burn any remain books and papers. Some of us escaped to the deserted lands and tried to start again, to lead a revolt to combat this evil which had spread out of control.
Anyone who sought the Word was hunted and publicly decried as heretics to the new masters of the touchscreen games. Years have passed since the purges began, at first we thought this phase was not going to last but as the Word got less, the power of the game grew faster. People with inquisitive minds need to do things to be creative and these games began to choke our thoughts.
We at the Towers of Enlightenment remember how the terror started. One person saw a Game and started to play, as others nearby watched the enjoyment and ease with which pleasure had been achieved with little trouble; the craze grew. We thought at first “Just a craze which will pass,” sadly the phase did not pass but grew and the more the phase grew, the more the Game Lords controlled the minds of the young.
This new craze grabbed its addicts and spread like a fire, fuelled by the lack of the need for learning. The faster the games spread their poisonous ways, the faster the Word shrank and the faster our need lessened until now we were not allowed to be seen in public. We cowered in the shadows for fear those of us who wished to use the power of the Word, maybe be betrayed and our books burned in the square of the Game Lords; this is further proof of the power which their terror grips the cities.
Even though the Game Lords continued to try and crush our hopes, some of the writers fled to the deserted lands and wrote about the terror in the cities. Out in the desolate and barren wastelands, where nobody dares to travel without protection against ravaging hordes of gangs. The Word thrives as we send the Word across the airwaves and on to radio signals. In the hope more will receive the Word and turn away from the Game.
Our hope is for these few desperate words to have the ability to reach the minds of the young; some of the young may not yet be corrupted by the Game and wish to know the pleasure of the Word. To these young and very active minds, our true aim is to destroy the grip of the Game. The time of the return of the Word is our wish. We hope there are many who wish to follow in our steps. As they find our ways on the waves of the radio beacons, long since forgotten senders of news and entertainment, ancient records tell us these beacons are located, these had been the only means of contact and communication before the Word became available, people would gather near their receiver to listen to anything they may be able to hear. There are still a few who may be able to use these beacons, but they fear being found, so contact is brief.
Last night we picked up a brief and hardly audible signal sent from another city; the message was short and said, “Word seekers amass, our time is approaching. Meet at your designated areas.” This message gave new hopes to our cause. They were talking as though groups gathered in set zones. We realised they could not be seen in public, so we needed to send coded messages within the games.
The Game Masters who controlled the airwaves keep trying to block the signals but we can switch channels before they can track us. Always a step ahead of the Game, it is the only way. We are using old technology and long forgotten talents our message gets sent to the growing throng; eager to learn of the Word. We realised they dare not be seen, yet we hoped their numbers grew.
Our leader Kabel sat in her chair listening to the short messages coming over the air; she turned to James, the radio technician and said “Where do you think they are meeting?”
Listening to the broadcast for outward signs of the location he replied, “The only meeting places where they can listen safely would be the disused radio buildings on the outskirts of town; the buildings have alleyways which led to safe areas which are well hidden, from the days when the Game was young and violence became the creed. In those dark times, the alleyways gave us protection.”
Lost in her thoughts of the years gone and struggles fought Kabel commented, “We needed to keep guards out and have a signal to warn the readers. We were hunted like vermin until the only way remaining was to go underground. We had secret meeting places and designated areas- mostly in the houses of trusted friends and families.”
James continued her thoughts as he said, “Soon though; it got too dangerous even for those close to hide us. Always watching what we said in case somebody leaked our locations and Designated Areas to the Game; their reward for the information; a choice of a top game.”
Alanov Mexim, one of the top Russian thinkers, until he too got hounded across the Republic and became a non-person living outside authority. No right to anything and left to fend for himself continued on with the conversation, “I didn’t know what to do. The Word had been banned and my mind needed an outlet; never having had much contact with the Game I sought out others like me.”
From the far corner of the room, the tall and elegant Stevenarc Joyley commented, “Things didn’t get quite that bad here; we had been forced to accept the Game and we were forced to hide in corners and alleys as we sought the Word. The fight must continue, we have to win back the minds of those too young to realise the joys of the Word.”
James walked around the table, we could see he had something on his mind as he scratched his chin and ran his fingers through his hair in puzzlement, then said, “Those towers are still active and the technology is able to be used. We need the people to activate them, after that we can achieve widespread coverage.”
“Do you think those people are still around and if so how can we contact them, James?” Alanov asked.
James kept walking and thinking, but replied to Alanov, “I have some of my contacts from the early days; we use the old systems as we find it’s the best way to beat the Game. They use high technology to track us but our older methods can pick up the frequency flutter with a few seconds.”
Kabel got up from her seat and went to join James, who was watching the sands move across the deserts from a vantage point at the large window on top of the tower, “We can use the old systems to contact them and they can take it to those who can’t get to the masts.”
Alanov paced the room like a lion awaiting its next kill, his mind troubled by recent events in his former homeland, “I would like to add a word of caution, before we get too excited. How do we know this message is real and not a trap by the Game?”
James replied, “We didn’t want to build our hopes up; Kabel asked me track the signals for weeks. They’re always on old frequencies, lower than those used by the Game and never more than a quick burst and never from the same position twice in a row.”
Alanov said, “I’m still not so sure the message isn’t a trap.”
Before anybody had a chance to talk, Kabel said, “We understand your trepidation; you were hounded from your homelands. Believe me, I want to believe we have found allies as much as anybody but I am still airing on the side of caution.”
Stevenarc rose from her chair and said, “We are reasonably certain that they are genuine, Alanov. We listened to sounds of the sirens of the firemen in the distance in each call and I tracked their messages to remote beacons, which are long since disused, most of the beacons are in desolate areas and cannot be reached easily.”
“That is my point, Stevenarc, if you can track them; perhaps the Game located their signal too,” Alanov said as he nervously paced the floor.
James sensed an argument may be building, so he cut in to calm the situation, “With our keen antennae and listening posts, we are staying ahead of the Game; most of the time. Their problem is arrogance leads them to believe their ways are the only ways and they became lax in their searches for beacons, believing only the ones they are registering are working, whereas there are a small number which specialised operators were able to bring to life again.”
Alanov remained unconvinced the message was not a trap “Even so, we can’t take the risk of getting caught; only a few of us need go. The rest will stay in case the group gets compromised.”
James gave a wink to Kabel as he replied, “Spoken like a true resistant!”
Alanov turned on James and said angrily, “This may be the case, James, but I have seen men fall for the Game in front of me as we tried to escape such traps, brave men whose loss I mourn and will never forget.”
“WHOA!” James called out, “I tried to compliment you; there is no need to bite my face off.”
Meekly, Alanov apologized, “I’m sorry, I am still edgy; it’s taking longer than I hoped getting used to not be hunted every step you take or fearing a trap at every contact.”
James turned from his view of the dunes and the shifting sands and said, “No offence meant and none taken. I was at fault; I forget others get hunted down, whereas we get ignored unless we cause trouble; here we are viewed as an insignificance, little do they realise our strength is growing and with it our chance of victory.”
Outside the night was closing and darkness crept across the dunes, creating weird shapes in the sands; we sat in the viewing complex pondering what to do, the situation was clear we had to go, but who would go? That remained the question.
Stevenarc rose to address the group, “Friends, the night is upon us now and with the darkness comes our chance to make a start for the towers; the dim light gives us the edge as we are mobile in small groups whereas the Game move big vehicles and need the daylight. The night belongs to us! Our motorcycle teams, Wing Riders and Desert Raiders can get far in this light, using green light goggles.”
Alanov paused in his pacing and said, “In my country we are led to believe the Wing Riders were a myth and got destroyed in the early days of the wars.”
James replied, “We want the Game Lords to think the Riders are a myth, but they are out in the wastelands. We never see or hear them, but they are there for us. They act as scouting parties for the Raiders, nobody knows where they are or how they communicate; the only certainty is if we get under attack, they come to help us out within minutes.”
The Russian became more interested in the conversation and the direction it took, Alanov was learning a new perspective on the struggle as he said, “I am intrigued, with all the firemen and the burning; how do you get the Word out here?”
Kabel replied, “Once a month, we get news from inside the city of a large convoy which travels to the old marshalling yards, about thirty miles from the city; the area is open country. At first they arrogance led the Game to believe they thought they were untouchable; at this time we hit them with Motorcycle raids for three months, which caused them to start to send escorts out to try to find us.”
“We are usually ahead of them,” James remarked, “we allow a few of us be spotted in order to draw the guards from the trucks. Then we swoop for the attack; hit them hard and be out of sight before they realise what happened.”
Not sure if this tactic would be sound, Alanov asked, “Isn't that a big risk?”
Stevenarc walked across to him and patted him on the shoulder as she commented, “No, we always plan well ahead. All routes of escape are memorised, there is no need to worry; we are of the same mind here.”
“I’m sorry, even after years away from my homeland I still see many ghosts in the shadows.”
Stevenarc tried to calm the worried Alanov by saying, “You have nothing to apologize for; you are better to be vigilant than complacent; complacency may lead to your being captured or killed, and we need more like you to join the fight.”
“What happened about the raids?”
“We do one, once in a while. The main thing is our threat keeps them off guard not knowing if we will hit the next convoy and by doing this we hope to slow the mass burnings and rescue more books,” Stevenarc remarked.
Kabel stood up, hands on the table and looking around she said, “Okay, this is our chance; they will close the city gates in a few minutes, and then we can ride out the distant beacons at Fire Ridge and try to get a fix on the signal.”
Stevenarc commented, “I have the signal boosts ready, Kabel, remember at the Ridge you’ll be on the edge of our range, and this won’t give you much more range; perhaps enough strength to pick up the signals.”
“Thanks, Stevenarc, we need everything we can get our hands on. Reports on the wires are saying the Game close more stations every day and soon we may be isolated. We need to make contact and quickly so as we have a backup beacon ready in case ours gets cut off.”
“Is there any news from the Skimmer squads, Kabel?” James inquired.
“Not as yet, they were out so far I had trouble getting the range to contact them and I don't know when they’ll be in range again.”
“Skimmer squads” Alanov remarked, looking puzzled.
James went on to explain, “In the early days, there were groups of people who lived beyond the city, they could move quickly across the desert as their vans had wheels at the front for steering and tracks on the rear for power.”
“I heard rumours of them, but thought that is all they were, rumours,” Alanov commented.
“Oh. They’re very real, Alanov.” Stevenarc replied. “We would be cut off and vulnerable without their help; the riders and bike teams need to stay close to bases, but the skimmer squads tell us when the Game move. These people living way out in the deserts are rarely seen yet the Game realise they exist.”
Kabel added, “These people have mapped the dunes and sandbars for generations and are able to track people across the shifting landscape as easy as if the tracks had been in mud. Their vehicles may be slower, what they lack in speed, the drivers compensate for by having an unparalleled knowledge; which is why escape routes are planned out so accurately, our bikes can travel carefully over light sand and rock which the Game trucks would sink in.”
Alanov gazed at the vast dunes outside the towers and said, “What about their history? Does anybody remember when they came here? Or why they live in the dunes?”
“Some say, they were Game Lords themselves who got bored with playing and decided to leave; others say they get ejected because of their attitudes; the truth is hard to get at as nobody makes contact with them; the only certainty is they despise what the Game is doing, as much as we do.”
“I am interested in the structure of the groups,” Alanov queried, “do the groups elect a leader or do you act independently?”
James was standing close by and took a second glance at Alanov, before he said, “I realise you were hounded out of your country, but for a newcomer you ask a lot of questions and not all are surface either. How do we know you are genuine?”
Alanov paced the room, he realised he was getting into deep and troubled waters as he replied, “You make a good point, James, you only have my word as nobody here can vouch for me. I am a scientist eager to gain knowledge of how the groups co-exist and communicate, that is all as there would appear to be no radio links between the outer groups. I realise your need for security and I hope to gain your trust soon.”
Stevenarc commented, “You can see James's point, Alanov.”
Alanov replied, “Yes, you are wise to question my motives.”
“For now, I think you know all you need to about us for now,” Kabel commented, “and we have a job to do, we need to be out soon, Stevenarc.”
“Kabel, all the equipment is ready,” Stevenarc replied, “James will be on the radio listening for any signals and hopefully you can contact the other group.”