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Cambria’s scalp stung with nicks and small cuts - her nether regions, too. No
matter how she held herself still, Sienna deliberately scored her skin as she snipped,
as if Cambria’s hair was a personal offence.
If they thought she’d be upset, they hid their disappointment. To Cambria, it
was only hair, and it would grow back – although one area would torture her with
Sienna, with a sweep of the blades, explained it was a ‘health’ issue – a
requirement against lice and other noxious vermin. The accusation was clear, as was
how they thought of her. Cambria kept her embarrassment to herself as Sienna got
down on her knees and considered the next lot of hair to remove.
Sienna finally declared herself done, but Will didn’t release her. Louisa showed
Cambria the tweezers and Sienna held her head to the side while Louisa tugged out
the stitches Anna carefully, if painfully, inserted.
The cut hadn’t quite healed enough, or Louisa was too rough, and warm blood
oozed thickly down the side of her face. Cambria gritted her teeth against the
obscenities she wanted to express.
“Yeah, that’ll do.” Sienna muttered.
“For what?” Cambria asked.
Will finally released her, but Sienna slapped her hand away as she tried to dab at
the blood. “Leave it.”
Louisa got in her face, studied the injury and the bruises. “We’re having an
inspection, right before lights out. If you want to avoid being dragged out of here
and worse, you gotta look like shit.”
Cambria stared at her, puzzled. What kind of a place was this?
“Ah, don’t worry about her, Lou, she ain’t worth it.” Will said.
Louisa turned her head, looked up at him. “You know what they’ll do to the rest
of us, Will.” She looked at Cambria. “She’s gotta play ball or we all pay.”
“With what?” Cambria asked and Louisa grinned, displayed poor dental
“That, you don’t wanna find out and we don’t wanna go through again.”
Sienna grabbed her arm, hauled her upright. “Get your clothes on. We’ll get you
fed and when the Blaggies show up, you act like an idiot.” She grimaced. “I’m sure
you’ve had plenty of experience.”
Teresa lifted a shoulder in irritation. “Short for ‘black guards’.”
“Don’t say anything, Hunter. You want to live, you do it our way.”
If she wanted to live? Lincoln Grant was going to trade her for the ludicrous idea
of his own piece of freedom. And he was going to drag as many people as he could
into his conspiracy.
Questions could wait until later.
The clothes felt scratchy, especially without underwear, but she wasn’t putting
on her... own clothes which had vanished, her boots, too.
“Where are my clothes? My boots?” She asked.
The three looked at each other, grinned, and then shrugged.
“Time to go.” Louisa twitched her head and led the way.
In the long room, the workers scooped their meals as if they’d never see another.
The three left Cambria with Teresa and moved past her to their own stoves,
towards the middle of the room.
“Come. Sit.” Teresa invited.
Cambria looked at her and Teresa’s expression turned hard.
“You’re bed is behind you.” She said.
Like everyone else’s, the narrow cot had a grey blanket, two sheets and a pillow.
Someone had made it up for her. Sitting meant rough cloth rubbing where she didn’t
Teresa handed her a tin plate with a pool of grey goo spreading out from the
“It’s not much, they don’t give us many rations, but it’s good for you.”
“Why would you be on rations? Is this some sort of prison?” Cambria asked and
Teresa stared at her, surprise unwrinkling her features.
“Prison? Lord, no, this is an agricultural facility and we’re the farmers. We work
the farms, bring in the harvest and take it to the distribution facility.”
Farmers? “But... why are you under guard? Have inspections?”
“We’re part of the farming collective.” She said as if that answered Cambria’s
questions. “Eat up. They’ll be here soon, and you need to be... less than intelligent.”
Cambria scooped up a portion with a plastic spoon, sniffed the grey goo and
tasted it. Bland, smooth, like eating slippery paste, but it was better than nothing.
“How often do they do a bed check?”
“Once a week.”
Cambria finished the gruel in half a dozen spoonfuls.
Teresa handed Cambria her plate and indicated the bathroom.
Cambria went back in and washed the plates and spoons in the basin, flicked
them dry and returned.
Teresa took the plates from her and stowed them on an open shelf next to her
bed. Cambria saw she had a similar shelf, but empty.
Everyone arranged their gear and themselves, then the lights flickered and they
all stood at the end of their beds.
“Follow my lead, Hunter, and you might even survive. Just... don’t look at them,
don’t make eye contact unless they force you.”
She stood in front of her footlocker, waved her hand at Cambria as the door at
the far end opened.
Cambria hunched in on herself, dropped her head at an angle and half opened
Out of the corner of her eye, two guards, dressed in black uniforms, walked in.
One kept back while the other’s gaze brushed over the workers and their areas. He
strolled down the centre aisle, moving easily around the stoves.
The workers didn’t - quite - stand to attention, but they focused on the guards,
watched them both warily.
No one spoke until the guard reached Cambria’s bed.
“So, we’ve got a new one in?” The man gripped her chin in hard fingers, lifted
Cambria whimpered and turned her head, kept her gaze lowered and moving as
if she couldn’t bear to look at him.
“Teresa?” The guard shifted his grip, forced her head to the side to examine the
scar and the blood trail down her cheek.
“She, uh, transferred in from 3790. She had an accident that sent her silly. Can’t
do the books or any complicated labour anymore.”
“Huh. Shame. Well, I’ll get more rations in. You keep an eye on her,” he
dropped his hand, “she doesn’t look too clever.”
Cambria eyed Teresa. She didn’t look happy. Then the guard stepped in front of
her, blocking her view.
He ran his hand over his dark buzz cut, green eyes curious, but she saw a deeper
emotion, one she’d seen before. A small white scar bisected his left eyebrow and
another marred his upper lip.
“You got a name?”
“Uh, uh, C... C... Kerry.”
“Well, K... K... Kerry, you’d best be getting a good night’s sleep. We’ll set you up
with something easy to start with, something that won’t tax that addled brain of
yours.” He flicked a finger against the scar on the side of her forehead; she just
looked at him with dead eyes.
The guard smiled and stood straight and glanced at Teresa. “Not much in there,
but that’s okay. You take good care of her, Teresa.”
He pivoted and strode down the centre aisle, nodded to his partner, and left.
Neither guard looked back.
The door slammed and the workers climbed into their beds.
Cambria rolled her shoulders and neck.
“You need to watch yourself tomorrow.” Teresa said.
“I will.” She promised and dabbed at the blood, drying on her face.
“No, I mean, really watch yourself. Those two, they’ll come looking for you and
try to play, to taunt. You can’t show any emotion, even if they get rough.”
Cambria rubbed her tired eyes. “Yeah, nothing new there.” She said and shook
her head. “Why do you put up with this?”
“Put up with what? This is what our lives are like, from cradle to grave. We
work hard to feed the world. It’s what we do.”
The lights went out.
“Go to bed, Hunter.” Teresa said and Cambria obliged.
Although, she didn’t consider it a ‘real’ bed, more a narrow camp stretcher. She
climbed in, lay back and stared at the dark wood ceiling.
Camp 3790. Three thousand, seven hundred and ninety. Was it a coded number
or how many camps in the county, in the Province? She closed her eyes. It didn’t
matter - she was here. Somehow, she had to escape before Grant set his alternative
plan into action – and she had no doubt he had one.
She wondered if the people in this longhouse knew of the reward money. She’d
not seen any newssheets or info-units, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any, just
she hadn’t seen any.
Cambria drifted off to sleep with the firm wish that Caparossi would find her...
* * *
Caparossi had never been a student of history, content to live in the here and
now. History was history, and there was nothing he could learn that would affect
the future, unless in a militaristic way.
Now he knew just how wrong he was, how selective his education had been.
Now he understood the importance of history and how far the ruling body went to
Caparossi always knew he’d be in the military; he’d been encouraged since the
day he’d picked up his first plastic rifle and run around the house in Desenzano Del
Garda. The surrounding streets and countryside provided perfect fighting grounds
for him and his friends.
His parents enrolled him military school as soon as he was of age. He’d learned
the basics of language and numbers, then moved on to strategy and everything a
soldier needed. He did not study political or social history – the reasons why people
went to war were less important than how the military achieved success or failure.
People, those not in the military, were pawns to move around the field. Politicians
directed armed conflicts to benefit of themselves and through them, the people.
He’d learned that citizens would sacrifice much for the benefit of the collective;
all the military had to do was use them as an asset and victory followed.
He loved it. Loved the study of previous military campaigns, rooting out why
one side prevailed over the other. His problem, and the military’s problem, was that
with the World Council, armed conflict didn't exist; politicians fought for the hearts
and minds of the people in the People's Chamber of the Parliament - or in private
meetings between delegates. The citizenry were happy with their lives, productive in
the collectives, working for the betterment of the world.
And so the Council separated the standing army into various local units, to
protect and encourage productivity. Of course, there were specialised units, like the
Hunter facility, like the Colonial Marines, like the Global Security Unit and others
designed to keep the peace.
In his pursuit of solving Lord Montague’s cryptic comment about ‘slavery’ he
discovered a history too pristine, too focused on how wonderful the World Council
was and its predecessor, the United Nations. He read works detailing glorious
victories on the fields of ideology, of countries willing to join the organisations
dedicated to working towards equality for all.
Together, the texts were treatises of how well collectivism worked. Individually,
they added up to a conspiracy of epic proportions.
He found Earth’s history impossible. Where was the dissent? The arguments
against forming the World Council? No one in their right mind would believe the
world’s population suddenly decided that one organisation deciding their fate was a
Humans were naturally belligerent, wanting to protect their own territory. For
those countries to fall into line, governments had to be similar to make leap and give
up sovereignty. And the people would be pissed off about that.
But there was no record of any debates, either for or against, just the signed
agreement and the declaration of global peace and co-operation. Yay, celebrate,
The process must have taken decades. Proponents must have constantly
undermined any opposition, or the removed those against the idea. He could work
out how to do it, too. Sacrificing the few for the benefit of the collective didn’t just
work in military terms. Form enough civilian groups to intimidate the unwilling,
and eventually, the unwilling were either converted to the cause, or removed.
He leaned back in his chair and pursed his lips. What he’d read was the official
version, the version taught in schools and universities by zealots of the cause.
Sanitized history and they’d kept it that way for... generations.
So. Being a smart, clever and intelligent officer, where would he find the true
history? Would the governing body eradicate all evidence of the past?
No self-respecting government would want the proletariat to read the true
history of the world, but they would want to keep it for gloating purposes. Whatever
system came before must have ruled for centuries, if the idea that countries should
give up sovereignty was true. Countries had populations and populations never
wholly agreed on much. Individuals had opinions, opposing views. He doubted
anyone would form a consensus long enough to make such a major change.
His experience in the military told him that, while he and the other soldiers
followed orders, someone had to create those orders, decide what the best avenue
forward was. He knew the ultimate control lay in the top echelons of the Armed
forces. They had to discuss the protocol, what units to use, when to use them, where.
But life outside the military, within communities, was different. They had their
elected officials, who formed Boards designed for the ultimate performance of the
counties, then up the chain to the Provinces –the Provincial Governor - and up to the
Given the Council controlled the digital information flow, where would he find
what he needed? Where would he go to find original texts – if any survived? A
library? He knew most of the population went to libraries and the Council controlled
the publishing industry. They decided what people could and could not read. Most
of it involved some sort of political correction, cautionary tales, celebrated the
political system or regaled tales of heroes of the Council.
He wouldn’t find what he wanted in the public domain. What about archives?
Again, Council controlled. Only those at the top level could access those documents,
and way above his pay grade.
Lord Montague obviously wanted him to find out, but from where?
Hmm... Maybe he could find a short cut. Combine his two pressing needs and achieve a
solution for both? What was that saying about two birds and one stone?
He reached for his com unit, hooked it around his ear and dialled.
“Captain Nero, Colonel Caparossi. I wonder if you have time to stop by my
office? I think I have an interesting mission for you and your boys.”
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