A shadow fell across the workbench where Dak was disassembling an old motor. Nothing was wasted in Hel. Every scrap was carefully recycled into something useful, even if as nothing more than ballast for the pumps on the windmills. Dak looked up from his work and saw Kevin standing there, an unreadable expression on his face.
Dak set the coil of copper wire he was unspooling aside. “Need something?” he asked of the big man.
Kevin jerked his head back toward the settlement. “Michael wants to see you.”
“He doesn’t tell me everything. He just wants to see you.”
Dak rubbed the grime from his hands onto his pants and fell in beside Keven who was already heading back.
As they descended the low hill just north of the village Dak saw a small knot of people gathered in front of Michael’s yurt. He scanned faces and realized all the elders were assembled. Only one face looked out of place—his partner, Lin, was standing at the edge of the group, looking anxious. He caught her eye, gave her a quizzical look. She shrugged, evidently as clueless as he.
Michael, seated in the sole chair in all of Hel, waved Dak and Lin forward. They exchanged glances, and stepped before him. Lin looked at the ground near her feet in deference, but Dak looked right at Michael, refusing to be cowed.
“I’m glad you could come,” Michael said, as if the visit were optional. “We’ve been watching you two a lot.”
Dak gave Lin a sideways glance.
“You do good work.”
Dak relaxed a little. “I do what I can.” What he could was damned little. Resources were scarce as hell—one of the things that lent the village its name.
“Your assignments thus far have all been tests. We have been debating about you, whether or not to have you join us in the Elder Circle. It would be a big move. You have not been here all that long.”
“The windmill you designed is brilliant,” Kevin interjected.
“All of your work has been brilliant.” Michael shot Kevin sharp look. He did not like being interrupted. “Your windmills have given us the water of life to make the valley bloom. For that, we are forever grateful. In fact, we think you may be suited for a leadership position. We are going to make you our Chief of Engineering.”
It was all Dak could do not to laugh. He was the only engineer in Hel. Instead, he said, “I am honored.”
Michael nodded, as if it were only proper Dak should be honored. “If you perform admirably in your new position we will induct you into the Elder Circle.” He made a sweeping motion with his hands to indicate the offer included Lin. “Do you know what that means?”
“Immortality.” Michael shot Kevin another angry glance, for speaking out of turn.
“We have some of the Nano Juice,” Michael said, returning his attention to Dak. He was referring to the vitality serum, reserved for the ruling class in First City—self replicating nanobots which worked at sub-cellular levels to repair frayed ends of DNA strands. A shot of the ‘juice’ gave the recipient virtual immortality.
Lin leaned into Dak, gave him an affectionate squeeze.
“We will discuss your new assignment tonight, in Circle.” Michael looked directly at Lin, but spoke to Dak. “Come alone.”
Lin once again dropped her gaze to the ground.
“Lin will get the juice too?” Dak asked.
Michael let out a heavy sigh. “Yes, of course. But she is not privy to our discussions—yet.”
Dak came to bed very late. Lin listened to him enter the yurt, strip off his clothes, then felt him slide under the skins to join her on their mat. She snuggled up to him, ran her hand over his shoulder and chest. She could feel the tension in his body.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
He lay there in silence for a long time. Finally he turned from his back to his side, facing her. She could see naught but his form beside her, but knew the look on his face was not happy just from the way he breathed and the tightness of his muscles.
“They want me to build a bomb.”
Lin sat up. “What?”
He pulled her back down, shushing her, drawing her close. “They have been gathering the components for years. That’s why they wanted an engineer, Lin. That’s why they had you recruit me. They needed someone to make a bomb.”
Lin lay there in silence, tears forming in her eyes.
“He wants to sabotage the nuclear plant, cause a meltdown.” He pulled her to him, wiped the tears from her cheeks. “He thinks that is the way to overthrow the ‘tyranny of First City,’ Lin. I do believe Michael’s quite mad.”
She lay there, trying to make sense of it all.
“I can do it voluntarily, and get the juice, or they will use you to make me do it.”
“What are we going to do?”
He pressed her to himself until it nearly hurt. “We run, and hope to God they don’t hunt us down.”
© 2010 by J. M. Strother. All rights reserved.
This story was inspired by India Drummond’s Writing Adventure Group prompt, WAG Topic #28: The Little Things. “Sometimes a small, unexpected thing has the power to affect big changes.” I’ve been kicking around the notion of nanobot DNA repair robots for quite some time. They certainly are little things, so I figured, what the heck. Thanks for the prompt, India.
Organics – introduces the Dak and Lin characters.