Welcome to the Listening Room for a reading of “Ithaka”
In chapter 5, we found out the mystery man’s identity and things we getting tense between Anaella and Minos. In this chapter, the penultimate of the series, much more is revealed.
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Anaella fidgeted nervously in an armchair in Kane’s living room. It was getting harder to be at home under Minos’s sharp eyes.
“Let’s take a look at this,” Kane said as he sauntered over with a cup of steaming tea in one hand and a file folder in the other.
She leaned up and grasped the warm cup, inhaling a blend of sweet spices. Kane sat across from her and placed the file they collected in the Helios mine on the coffee table between them. He opened onto a small clipped photo of Cyrus, the man in the field. His vital statistics filled the first page, but there was also family, medical, and work history, everything they could never have know without Tory’s help.
“Do you mind if I stay here a couple days?”
“Of course. Get your things and come back.”
She sunk into the cushions and looked on as Kane flipped through the pages of the file.
“Wait, what is that?” Anaella asked, her eyes catching something at the back of a page.
“Shit. It’s blood.”His finger hovered over the spot which had imprint on the front of the next page.
“It says ‘plant seeds’. What does it mean? Who did that?”
“Maybe Tory. I don’t know how I missed it.”
“Maybe you didn’t.”
Anaella leaned over and brushed her finger against the maroon strokes.
“It looks old. Want to bet it’s from Cyrus?” she said with a creeping grin.
“That’s not all, Nae. Look at his date of death. He hadn’t been dead long when we found him, but this is dated two weeks before that. He knew he was going to die.”
She opened the door to find Minos sitting on the spine of the couch and staring in her direction. He held her heavy all terrain boots in his hands.
“Anaellaaaa…” he teased. “You’ve been busy. We should talk. Really talk. We don’t have much time.”
“You’ve told me so much about community and family. I’m doing what’s in my destiny to do. I hope you’ll understand.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You’re a bad liar. I knew when you came back the other day. That red dust was on your boots,” he said holding them up.
She swallowed hard and clenched her jaw.
“Let me fill in some things not even you know. The central dome’s construction was completed on Helios right before The Fall. Your people rebelled at the right time. You would have never known this planet if they hadn’t.
“We could have wiped out the population of Minos after The Fall. We didn’t. Instead, we spent all this time, well over a century, extracting ore in the mines. We let you have your world. It didn’t matter. You can destroy a world in a night. And with the weapons we’re building, we could level 2000 square miles just like that. Then we’d scatter soil from Helios that would grow plants like wildfire and start over.
“All this time we’ve been watching. Learning. And we were content to let you be until Cyrus. He’d organized an entire network of people, first for smuggling from Waystation, then negotiating with Vox. A ship was set to attack the mine and extract him. They’d get intel on just about anything including ships and weapons. Earth would find out and we’d be sunk. So we let them come, they attacked the mine, but Cyrus was off the planet before Vox got there. We destroyed their ships and they got no information. They didn’t even get a body.
“What’s Vox?” Anaella said trembling.
“The planet that Earth believes we’re developing. There’s only a small habitable area so far which helps us prolong the project. Ultimately, we’ll recolonize Earth as Icon. We will have saved the jewel of the galaxy, created a paradise right here in Ithaka, and developed powerful technology to help us travel farther than anyone has ever gone.”
Minos broke into boisterous laughter, throwing his head back and wiping his eyes.
“Oh man. I dumped Cyrus myself. You didn’t even notice that my hair still had flecks of dirt in it or that I smelled like fuel from stealing that hover truck. Investigating but not always observing, I see.”
Anaella’s chest was heaving and her face was drawn tight with agitation. “You’re a monster. And soon everyone will know it.”
She stormed to her room and stuffed clothes and supplies into her overnight bag. On the way out, she took family photos from the altar, grabbed her coat, and marched to the front door.
“I wouldn’t go out that way.”
Anaella turned to Minos with an ashen, horrified expression.
“My men will be here soon. I’d take my window to the roof, then head to the back of the building. There’s a door that leads off the roof to a maintenance connecting bridge to the next building. Better hurry.”
“Why are you letting me go?”
“I like you. And if you don’t leave now, you’ll be dead,” he said coldly.
He tilted his head and smiled, chucking softly as she clamored through the window.
She reached the connected bridge and slipped through a propped open door just as she heard the chatter of gruff voices and the pounding of boots on the street below. She scurried through the halls of the building narrowing avoiding angered residents. She pulled out her phone to call Kane.
“Come get me,” she said out of breath and frantic.
“Be there in five minutes.”
She ducked into a hallway broom closet a few floors from the lobby and locked the door, waiting in the dark. Soon her phone buzzed and she bolted down to the back door where Kane was waiting.
“There’s guys crawling all over. We can’t stay here. Stay down,” Kane said.
They cruised out of the city with Anaella tucked on the floor of the back seat, just as checkpoints sprung up. The swarm of soldiers and confused citizens shrunk in Kane’s rear view mirror.
They drove for miles on smooth pavement, then rough and bouncy terrain, then what felt like crumbled roads that came together. They finally parked and she could hear the sound of an impossibly large door shut and lock.
Anaella climbed out of the car and stepped into the large open space of the Kinney Compost Center.
She smiled with relief. “Why here?”
“Me and Laurence stayed in touch. He’s been teaching me a few things.”
Laurence emerged and strolled over with a hand already outstretched to vigorously shake Kane’s.
“Let’s let Nae know what we’ve been doing.”
“Okay, let me show you. So Kane here was asking me about what we do with all this compost, about the systems we use and whatnot. Once y’all got back from Helios, he phoned to ask about explosives.”
Laurence slid open a storage door to reveal a menagerie of crude weapons and stacks of cylindrical metal cartridges.
“What are these?”
“Ammunition or the closest we can get. We have no gunpowder so we have to use fertilizer, some acids courtesy of your friend Felix, and a few other secret ingredients. We even got a little help from Old Man Jan on Norwood.”
Anaella’s lip trembled as she scanned the room to see honed swords from scrap metal.
“If they come, we can be ready.”
Laurence led them to a closed off part of the building to a small room with two beds and a desk.
“It’s not much, but you can stay here. It’s well protected and you have a clear line through that door out into the trees if you need to leave in a hurry.”
The two men stood just outside the bedroom door in animated conversation. Anaella leaned back in the made bed and was soon fast asleep.
Her shoes were at the door and her sweater folded on the desk. She’d been tucked under the covers. She followed the sound of an excited exchange to the main office area.
“I don’t know if they’re monitoring communications. I have nothing to pick that up, see what I’m saying? So we’ll have to just send something that looks like junk.” Laurence’s voice boomed through the high ceilings.
Anaella sleepily dragged over to the desk where the men were already sitting. Kane gave her a quick hug and fixed his eyes on the computer screen. Code lapped down for pages.
“We’re sending a message to Earth but we have to pad it with something,”Kane said.
“We don’t want an outright distress signal, but a hidden one.”
They glanced one to the other for ideas, silent as they scribbled on scrap paper and crossed things out. Anaella rolled her thumb ring around and sunk her head in thought. Her eyes suddenly lit up.
“We’d like to send a big supply for the coming season: Some soil, usual amount, one cotton fabric bolt please, ten bags flour, take our fruits too. -Russ”
“What the hell is that?” Kane chuckled.
She pointed to every fourth word. “‘Send for some one please take… us.’” She underlined the middle of the name. “Anyone paying attention will quickly figure it out. But we need it buried with other signals. Tory gave me some relay codes to a planet called Vox. If we send it there, they can get to Earth.”
“How the hell did you think that up?” Laurence asked.
“Read it in a detective book,” she smirked.
Just then, a low rumble shook the building and the lights flickered, slowly dying down, then springing to life. Kane looked up toward the ceiling and peered around the arched metal roof. It buzzed and rattled, then lay still.
“The Alignment is coming.”
Days passed with no movement. The eerie silence cut through the compost center as they waited for some signal or some attack. They had sent their message to Vox with no response. Somewhere they knew Minos, in command of a small armed group, was shoring up for a conflict.
A concentric, blue-green distortion hung low in the sky, advancing in brightness, growing and growing until it looked like a cauldron of flame. Three battle ships sped through and came to abrupt stops, hovering down over the airfield just outside the compost center before landing.
The rumble and air rush of landing ships beckoned to the three inside. They peered out to see soldiers in navy blue flight suits approaching.
“Identify yourselves!” Laurence yelled.
“We come from Earth!” the leader yelled.
Laurence motioned for Anaella and Kane to step back as he kept the door ajar and hid an enormous wrench behind his back.
“We got your supply order. We’re here to help. I’m Captain Lorey.”
“How do I know you’re not with the enemy?”
“We have an eye on Minos. He’s got men and weapons. We’re here to offer assistance to your citizens.”
Laurence let the captain in while the others guarded the entrance outside.
“I’m Laurence Kinney. I own this site. These are investigators Anaella Bahn and Kane McCullough.”
Anaella stepped forward and shook hands with the captain. “I last saw Minos a few days ago. He’s planning to recolonize Earth but also to destroy our world with some kind of bomb. Do you know what’s happening here?”
“We have some idea,” Captain Lorey said. “From the very first ships to travel to this part of the galaxy, there was evidence something strange had happened. A trailing ship, the Hermes, captured garbled audio from Poseidon that we always thought was caused by magnetic interference. Static. Turns out it was slew of scrambled messages.”
“What did the messages say?” Anaella asked.
“They told an operator they were landing and were heading to base. An engineer on the bridge had the foresight to scan the planet surface right before they fell back and uncovered the primary crater Icon planned to excavate from. It was already crawling with drones and rovers. She kept that video and handed it to her captain.”
“And what happened to it?”
“It was classified for 100 years. Government officials fought against release for another 50. By that time, Waystation was already built and Icon had spotted Vox. We were way behind. Once we decrypted the signals, we got the shock of our lives. They’d developed a planet on the Earth’s dime and shared virtually no resources. Add to that, we didn’t know what was happening on Helios. We knew about Vox, but not you.”
“Have you always been able to come out here?”
“Theoretically, yes, but practically, we weren’t sure it would work. Icon has been squeezing governments around the world, threatening to starve the people until their leaders complied. It’s largely worked, but we’re holding on by threads. We had to try. When we got your message, we knew it was time to blow open the curtain.“
“What are we going to do?”
“Solarians, as we call the Helios captives, will likely be mobilized as soldiers to this planet to recolonize it. Now, we were able to get pretty deep into Helios. Our undercover team, code names Cyrus and Tory, got close but didn’t make it. Our operations have failed, thus far, but our agents provided what they could.”
“I think there’s something else you should know, Captain. They’re mining a metal called zelium. It’s the strongest metal we know of. When it’s charged with electricity, it hovers.”
“Do you have a sample? We’ll have someone on Waystation take a look. In the meantime, your people should take cover. Better to be underground if you can manage it.”
Anaella and Kane looked at each other and smiled, mouthing the words in unison: “Plant seeds.”
Along the horizon, what looked small as fleas glided along strands of golden sunlight at dawn. Soon they were much larger birds of prey. The low rubble shook homes and buildings, waking everyone inside. The citizens of Ithaka held still, all frozen in their gazes up to the sky. In a sudden blitz, warships split off, charging toward the ground and firing.
Shells hit an apartment building at its midpoint and an exploding cloud of dust and fire rained down onto the streets below. Another ship hung low and fired upon crops, setting them ablaze.
All was still quiet at Kinney when Captain Lorey got a report of an invasion in progress.
“We’ve got to move out. Solarians have begun an attack in Ithaka. I suggest you stay here but if you want to join in, make sure you’re armed.”
Laurence, Anaella, and Kane hopped into a hover truck with sheet metal swords and welded projectile launchers. They pushed off the ground with a steady force. They floated off toward Ithaka to rally survivors. A team of truck operators had been mobilized and joined the convoy.
“She’s not quick, but she’ll get us there safely,” Laurence yelled over the engine.
The town was a hell scape of smoke, fire, and rubble with people huddled in edifices which were only partially intact. A fleet of compost trucks came to shuttle citizens from Ithaka and parts of Community to Myer Hills, where they’d hide underground. Earth’s ships had done their part driving the Solarians out and providing cover for the rescue team. The Alignment had complicated matters, with more frequent tremors and weather anomalies that had grown worse.
The evacuations took hours, but finally the burnt out city was silent and smoldering. Others found refuge elsewhere as word spread of the air strikes. Anaella walked along the familiar streets with crumbling towers of brick and stone. Herod, Tophi, and Janus formed a near eclipse of three crescents that shone bright against even the morning sky. No one was was left and she headed back on foot to meet the others.
The cave opening was in sight, much to her relief when droplets scaled upward passed her face. A fierce weather system billowed in the sky and she could feel her body become momentarily weightless. She flailed and suddenly dropped onto the ground. Then she took to her heels and ran.
Anaella ran against thrashing wild and raindrops pummeling her body. The cave was just up ahead. She could feel her feet lifting off the ground and she fought against the gripping air to get her balance and remain planted.
“You can make it! C’mon!”
The wind knocked her sideways against jagged rock and stabbing pain thundered through her arm and up the side of her neck. She lay for a moment disoriented and face up to a swirling sky. The sound of pounding atmosphere rose above the sound of commands being screamed near the cave’s opening.
Kane’s voice cut though the wind and jolted her. The atmosphere was heavy now, building and building, crushing her labored steps under its weight before carrying her up in a flurry and hurling her down. Dizzy and gasping for breath, she vomited alongside the road. She was weakening now and the blurry, dancing images of waving hands were like fading spots of light.
She gave one last herculean effort, throwing herself forward to meet air that carried her just a bit closer into someone’s arms before she blacked out.
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