Cyberpunk Challenge: Nightfish Part 12

Story Part 8

Sohl’s dreams haunted him that night. He envisioned taking a bath in the stream. Everyone in the village was there, chatting in their assigned areas. Sohl stood in the water with the other young men from Blue Building. He observed Brittney Valeta watching him from a short distance away. She laughed at him for no reason at all.

Rory appeared out of nowhere, trying to pick a fight with him, but Rory’s body was disfigured. Sohl’s rival had two heads, his own, and another head Sohl couldn’t see because it was behind the first, hiding in its shadow. He figured it was Dirk’s head back there. Rory challenged him in front of everyone, and Sohl did not back down. They started fighting in the stream, just as they had in real life.

As they fought and wrestled in the water, Rory’s second head started shouting at Sohl. The voice was his father’s. The second head was his father’s. It admonished Sohl for fighting, even menaced that it would take away all of Sohl’s merit points so he would never again afford to buy anything he wanted.

Sohl began to fear the two-headed creature he tangled with. When he realized his fear, he fought back against it. His fear became rage and he threw his heavy fist at Rory’s face over and over, but really he was trying to strike the second head that kept hounding him, barking at him.

The second head would not shut up.

Explosions went off on both sides of the stream, huge explosions that blasted the bank and uprooted trees and grass and tossed them into the air. The air was filled with dirt and gray-white smoke. Pebbles rained down on Sohl, and dirt, and also splashed into the stream.

Sohl’s bed shuddered. He sat up on his bed, the lower of two bunks, grasping that the explosions had not come from his dream, but from outside his room. He jumped out of bed, nearly falling over because his legs were tangled up in his duvet.

“Lights on!” He called out to the room’s vocal command sensors. “Open the curtain!”

Neither command worked. Sohl went to the curtain. It was secure from the top and bottom sills, but it did have a manual turning rod. In the dark, Sohl found the rod and twisted it to cause the curtains to slide over a little at a time. He almost couldn’t believe it when he looked outside. Yellow Building was on fire from two places: one end and the middle. People were running back and forth outside. People were screaming.

Sohl made his way to the door. “Door unlock!”

The door refused to open. He realized the electricity was out, or had been deliberately shut off. Another explosion went off outside. Sohl ran to the window, quickly making his way across the room because of the light flashing outside. This time, part of Silver Building was damaged and burning. Someone was trying to blow it up! Someone was attacking the complex!

He heard the pop, pop, pop of fireworks. It took him a few seconds to understand those sounds came from gunpowder weapons. He was used to handling electric shock weapons, not used to hearing real gunfire. Grab your bow, he thought, grab your lance!

As fast as he could, he retrieved his weapons. He was so filled with adrenaline by then he’d forgotten about changing out of his sleeping clothes, but he had no time to spare. Sohl went into the room’s single desk. There was a key inside, a key that would unlock the door. He fumbled, nearly panicked when he didn’t find it right away, because that side of the room was still dark, until his fingers gripped the small box that held the seldom-used key. He went to the door; the key was coded magnetically. Sohl set it against the door lock and heard it click. Flinging the door open, he leaped out and tried to run while guiding himself by putting his hand on the wall.

Once he was outside, Sohl witnessed a bright flash in the sky. An ultra-bright glare appeared and hovered in place, leaving a long trail of smoke behind it. That was a flare, he knew what a flare looked like. A lot of things wrestled for his attention: he heard screams, he heard a man shouting, a man who sounded like Buddy, he heard more pops from real guns, and the loud whir of flying drones. He saw Dirk Diluh sitting on the grass, his back against the wall, open-mouthed and looking terrified.

“Dirk, what’s happening?” Sohl asked.

When Dirk didn’t answer, didn’t even acknowledge him, Sohl ran into the open middle of the arcology. The light from the overhead flare enabled him to get around, but the shadows of small trees and from the various bushes created moving figures, as if other lights were active and competing with the flare for brilliance. He heard screams from Blue Building, and also the quick shoosh, shoosh of shock rifles in another direction. For a moment, he was undecided over which direction to go on in. Since he had weapons, he ran towards where the fighting was.

Another explosion rocked Silver Building, incredibly loud, shattering an entire corner of the structure and sending debris flying into the air. That was the end where the meditation room was. Sohl veered directions, heading that way, cutting across freshly plowed gardens with seedlings just put in. From the rubble, he saw the priests bringing out the Holy Flame. The flame flickered wildly from the sudden movement, near to dying out on the candle it clung to.

Sohl heard the sharp reports from weapons firing bullets, watched the forms of the priests holding the flame flung back, onto the rubble they were trying to clamber away from. So many rounds were fired that Sohl didn’t think they would ever stop.

Someone big and heavy pummeled into Sohl’s side, nearly knocking him over. Strong hands grabbed his arm and kept him upright.

“Have you seen Dirk?” Rory shouted into his face.

“He’s at Blue, sitting on the ground.” Sohl answered.

“Shit! We’re getting hit from the east! That’s why Yellow and Silver were hit first! We don’t have enough guns, Sohl! Dirk was supposed to go to Blue and get the women and children to safety. You have to do it, Sohl! Take as many people as you can up the stream! Hide them in the hills, in the forest!”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know! All I have is my knife!”

“Take my bow!”

“I’m not good with a bow!”

“Take my lance! All you have to do is press the trigger and touch somebody with the end!”

“Thanks! Go north, Sohl! They’re trying to swarm around us by going south to west!”

“They shot some of the priests!”

The glow from the flare died out, dousing most of the light.

Only one side of Rory’s face was seen, from the heat of the burning fires. “Don’t try to help the priests or else you’ll get shot too! Go help the people in Blue while you still can!”

Rory pushed him, hard enough that Sohl fell on his ass. He scrambled to his feet, wishing he had cloned himself so one of him could see if any of the priests were still alive. And the Holy Flame, he had to get that lighted up again as soon as possible! As long as the flame lived, the god Mazda would watch over them.

Halfway to Blue Building, a light shone in his face.

“Sohl!” His father called out, standing next to another man. “What are you doing?”

“Rory said to take the kids up the stream!”

“We thought he was already doing that!”

“No, I just passed him like half a minute ago! Dad, they just killed the priests!”

His father came up to him, on a rare moment setting his hand on his son’s shoulder. “I’m sorry to hear that. We have called Triumph City to tell them we’re under attack, but we’re not out of danger yet. Take the kids, and your mother and sister! We’ll hold them off as best we can here. We’ll come and get you when help arrives!”

“Go! Go now!” The other man urged.

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