The Gathering

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					                    The Gathering
                                        A Short Story

                        Published By Victorine E. Lieske at Smashwords

                        Copyright © 2011 by Victorine E. Lieske

 All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any
                                      form whatsoever.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales
                    or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


         Danielle smoothed her black uniform and strode along the endless, white hallway.
How had she gotten turned around again? The outer ring followed the perimeter of the
Holodome, just a huge circle. But for some reason she was always going left instead of
right. And since the Holodome encompassed a large area, it took quite a while to circle
the entire structure. She ended up having to double back a lot.
         A yell from ahead made her slow down. The resequencing rooms…unease swept
over her and a lump formed in her throat. She never liked walking past them, but usually
they were quieter than this. As she approached the door she heard another scream.
Several soldiers marched past. A couple of them stared at the door but no one stopped.
         It wasn’t any of her business—she was supposed to be finding her partner—but
the sound unnerved her. What was happening? She pressed her palm against the metal
sensor and the door dematerialized.
         A dark-haired teenager was strapped to a resequencing table. His muscles bulged
against the thick white bands. Purple veins stood out on his neck as he struggled to break
free. He was naked from the waist up except for a silver nose ring. He jerked his head
and let out another frustrated scream.
          The two Dyken soldiers on either side of him scrambled. “He’s not responding,”
the tall one said.
         The guy twisted on the table, his eyes finding hers. His gaze bore into her. “Help
me.”
         Danielle’s heart pounded in her chest. She wanted to tell him they were helping
him, but he wouldn’t have understood. Instead, she turned away, unable to look any
longer. What was wrong? Why couldn’t they subdue him? He should be out cold until the
end of the procedure. She’d never seen anyone awake in the resequencing room.
         She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Someone swore, and she couldn’t
stop from looking again. The table had risen a foot off the ground. The soldiers grabbed
onto it, struggling to push it back to the floor.
         “How can he still have his powers?” the younger soldier asked.
         “I don’t know. Give him another dose of liquid trimeninite.”
         The young one paled. “We don’t know what that will do to him.”
         “Just do it!”
         Metal clinked as the soldier threw his neural inhibitor on the tray and grabbed the
injector. Danielle’s gut twisted. She fingered the gadgets on her belt. Guilt pressed over
her like a thick blanket.
         “Danielle.”
         She turned to see Benit, her partner, walking toward her down the long curved
hallway. He waved the small handheld computer at her. “Our next assignment.”
         Danielle glanced back at the teen before allowing the door to materialize and shut
out the scene. She took a breath and tried to clear the images from her head.
         “I’m glad you found me,” she said. “I get all mixed up in here for some reason.”
         “You’ll get used to it,” Benit said. His eyes crinkled at the corners. He was in his
late thirties, older than a lot of the Dykens who volunteered to come. Like most
volunteers, Danielle turned eighteen just before they left their home world for this
assignment.
         “I’m sure I will, if I don’t take a wrong turn and end up being resequenced first.”
         “Your mother wouldn’t appreciate that, would she? Having her daughter think
she’s from 21st century Earth?”
         The thought made her smile. “Especially since she was so thrilled with my
decision to leave Dyken and come to Maslonia. I swear her lectures lasted longer than the
trip here.”
         Benit put his hand on her shoulder. “She was just concerned. I’m sure you’ll feel
the same when you have children.”
         She hadn’t thought of it that way.
         He held up the computer and scrolled through the list on the screen. “Looks like
they’re keeping us in Hailsburg. We’re on the opposite side of town this time, though. I
think we can split up again, judging from the addresses they want us to hit.”
         “That’s fine. I know they prefer we stick together, but we get so many more done
when we split up. And it hasn’t caused any problems so far.”
         Benit’s chuckle echoed off the bare walls. “Well, I always stick close to you just
in case.”
         The implication that she would be the one to get into trouble gave her the urge to
say something snippy, but she held her tongue. She took out a hair tie and pulled her
shoulder-length brown hair into a loose knot at the base of her neck. They turned and
headed to the exit. Benit put his hand on the metal sensor.
         The cool evening air hit her as they stepped through to the lush forest outside.
They picked their way over to the clearing where the hovercrafts were parked. Small and
sleek, they looked like jets without wings. Benit clicked his ignition button and their craft
sprang to life, rising a few inches off the ground.
         Danielle slid into the passenger seat and fastened her restraint while Benit
lowered the top. He tugged the lever and the craft rose several feet into the air and glided
over the foliage, weaving through the trees. “Go ahead and turn on your cloaking
device,” Benit said. “I’ll be cloaking the craft soon.”
         Crud. She’d forgotten to put in her contacts, but she didn’t want Benit to know.
She pretended she’d done it on purpose. “Guess I’d better put the contacts in then.”
         He raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t put yours in at the Holodome?”
         “I don’t like them.” At least that was the truth. They made her queasy. But she
couldn’t see her partner without them, at least not while he was cloaked. “Don’t worry. I
can put them in while you drive.”
         He smirked but didn’t say anything. Danielle opened a small container on her belt
and slid out the contact case. Then she placed one lens on her index finger and held up
her eyelid. In. That wasn’t so bad. The second contact slid off her finger and on to the
floor of the hovercraft. She bent over to feel around for it.
         “What are you doing?”
         “Nothing.”
         The corner of Benit’s mouth twitched.
         Embarrassment heated her face. “I dropped it.”
         “Next time don’t forget to put them in.”
         She turned away so he wouldn’t see her pink cheeks and continued to pat the
carpet. “Found it.”
         She cleaned it off as best she could and then popped it in. Everything around her
now had a pink tint. She turned on her cloaking device. The familiar tingling sensation
vibrated over her skin. Benit followed suit, cloaking himself and then the vehicle. The
trees thinned as they approached Hailsburg.
         Once they entered the city, other cloaked hovercraft passed by them. Quite a few
of them.
         “They’re hitting Hailsburg hard this evening,” Danielle said.
         “We don’t have much time before we’re supposed to have the people resequenced
and settled in the Holodome. I think they’re sending everyone out for The Gathering
now.”
         Their craft slid silently down the street above Maslonian citizens walking in
nervous clusters. The Maslonians knew the Dykens were here, even though they couldn’t
see them. The thought forced guilt to rise again in Danielle’s chest.
         This is all for the best.
         Benit turned down a quiet street and slowed the craft, descending, until it stopped
in between two houses. He pointed to the house sitting on top of a slight incline. “You
take this one. Just a kid and his aunt live here. No one’s home right now, so you’ll be able
to sneak in and wait for the kid. His name’s Shayne. He should be here any minute. We’ll
have to come back for the aunt. I’ll be across the street. An elderly couple there.”
         “All right.” Danielle raised the restraint and stepped onto the pavement. She
started up the hill. It wasn’t hard to see in the dim light of dusk. White lacy curtains
framed the windows. No lights were on. Everything appeared to be dormant inside. She
circled around to the back of the house and stepped up the stairs. Taking her molecular
reconstruction unit from her belt, she dissolved the door and slipped inside.
         The door materialized behind her. She stood still for a minute letting her eyes
adjust. She was in a small mud room that opened up into a kitchen. The kid would be
coming in any second now. It was a good bet he’d head for the kitchen to get something
to eat. She crossed the room and waited by the arched doorway.
         It didn’t take long before she heard the front door unlock. Right on time. Lights
flipped on in the living room. A few noises and some footsteps, and then the kitchen light
flickered on.
         A guy about her age entered the room and Danielle’s head jerked. This was no
little kid. He was tall and had dark blonde hair with highlights. But it was his ice blue
eyes that stopped her heart.
         Dear heavens. He was gorgeous.
         He wore a dark purple uniform, and she couldn’t help but notice how nicely it fit.
He walked over to the fridge and opened the door.
         Through the fog clouding her brain, she realized her partner would be coming to
look for her in a second. She didn’t want to give Benit another excuse to look down on
her.
         Her hand shook as she pointed her incapacitator at the back of Shayne’s head. The
image of the teen strapped to the resequencing table struggling to get free flashed through
her mind. She lowered the gun. What was she doing? Why was she questioning her duty?
The Gathering was necessary…to save their lives.
         Yes. She must do this. She took a step closer. The floorboards creaked under her
weight and her blood ran cold.
         Shayne didn’t move. Maybe he hadn’t heard. She raised her gun, determined to
follow through with her mission.
         Shayne ducked and something flew at her, hitting her hard in the stomach. She let
out a gasp and doubled over. Great. A telekinetic. Why didn’t Benit warn her? She
staggered and Shayne turned and did some kind of martial arts roll, crashing into her shin
and knocking her down. Pain shot across her back side.
         “Ouch.”
         Shayne bolted into the living room while mentally sending knick knacks flying at
her head. She stuffed her incapacitator into her belt and raised her arms in front of her
face, following after him. She couldn’t let him get away. They’d take her off field duty
and stick her in a cubicle somewhere in the Holodome. She was determined not to let that
happen.
         A heavy porcelain figurine smashed into the cloaking device clipped to her and
she felt the tingle dissipate. She was visible.
         Shayne spun around and stared at her, his eyes wide. He looked terrified.
         She held out her hand, her fingers spread in what she hoped was a non-threatening
way. “It’s okay. I’m not here to hurt you.”
         He studied her face, his eyes squinting. Those stunning blue eyes made her catch
her breath. “You’re here to kidnap me.”
         True. But the alternative was worse. “It’s not what you think.”
         He stepped back and his mouth opened in shock. “You think what you’re doing is
somehow…helping us. How can that be?”
         He was reading her mind. She knew the Maslonian people were supposed to be
able to do that. She had thought it might make her feel somehow violated, but it didn’t.
She took a step closer to him. “We are here to help. There’s no need to worry.”
         Shayne frowned. “If your friends and family were disappearing in droves,
wouldn’t you worry? Wouldn’t you do everything in your power to stop it?”
         “Of course I would.” Danielle lowered her voice. “Unless…I understood the
whole picture.” She inched closer. If she could keep him talking and distract him, she
could grab her incapacitator.
        They stood for a moment, regarding each other. Something shattered in the
kitchen behind her. Instinct made her turn and Shayne came at her, pushing her hard up
against the wall and pinning her arms above her head.
        He pressed against her, and she could feel the muscles in his chest. He smelled
clean and rugged like laundry detergent mixed with a woodsy smell. It was intoxicating.
        She gasped. I can’t believe he smells as good as he looks. She couldn’t stop the
thought from popping into her head.
        Shayne broke out in a wide grin and chuckled.
        Heat flashed to her face. He’d heard her. She narrowed her eyes. “This isn’t
funny. You’re only making this more difficult for yourself.”
        His smile faded. He cocked his head to the side as if trying to figure her out.
“Why are you doing this?”
        Benit entered the room behind Shayne, still cloaked. A bit of relief flooded
through Danielle, though she hated to admit she couldn’t handle this on her own.
        “Let me go,” she said, trying to look like she had some power over the situation.
        “Tell me what’s going on. Where are you taking my people? Where is my
mother?”
        All natural questions, but they made her defensive. “We haven’t hurt anyone.
They’re safe. We’re not the bad guys here.”
        “You think we’re the bad guys? Why? What have we ever done to you?”
        Benit raised his incapacitator and motioned for her approval. She signaled with a
nod. Benit fired and Shayne crumpled to the floor. She made sure he didn’t hit his head.
        “What are you doing, Danielle? You weren’t supposed to decloak.”
        Here it comes. The lecture.
        “It was an accident.” She knelt over Shayne, took her injector and pressed it
against the back of his neck. He stared at her, unable to move.
        Her stomach clenched. She was doing the right thing, wasn’t she? She pushed the
button, injecting liquid trimeninite into his bloodstream.
        “Don’t worry,” she said, putting the neural inhibitor against his arm and activating
it. “He’ll forget all about this once the resequencing is done.”
        Benit folded his arms. “I know. Lucky thing I came in when I did, right?” The
corners of his mouth turned up into a cheeky smile. “Looks like you were having a little
too much fun.”
        “Funny.” Danielle clipped a locator device to Shayne’s arm.
        The sound of the teenager screaming in the resequencing room echoed in her ears.
        “Sometimes resequencing doesn’t go so well, does it?” she asked.
        Silence. That couldn’t be good. Benit frowned while he studied her face. “What
do you mean?”
        She shrugged and looked down at her hands. “I saw a guy. I guess he woke up
before the resequencing was done. He still had his powers…”
        “Danielle,” Benit said, crouching down beside her, “I’m sure they can handle it.”
        “I know. It’s just…he looked like he was in pain. I was told there would be no
pain.”
        The muscles in Benit’s jaw worked for a minute. When he spoke it seemed
measured. “What we’re doing here…it can’t be avoided. You missed the first day of
training, otherwise you wouldn’t be questioning this.”
        Yeah. The first day of training. The day her mother locked her in her room and
wouldn’t let her out. She didn’t think she’d ever convince her mother to let her join the
force. In fact, if it weren’t for her father, she probably would still be locked in her room.
        She shook her head. “I’m not questioning anything. Well, not exactly.”
        Benit’s face softened. “Listen, I understand. This is big. We can’t take it lightly.
But each person we gather is another person saved.”
        She nodded and took one last look at Shayne before swallowing her doubts and
pushing the locator. He vanished, transported to the outer ring of the Holodome.
        Benit stood and messed with his handheld. “I’d better let them know Shayne saw
you.”
        “What will they do to me?” Her throat felt tight. She was hoping her superiors
wouldn’t have to find out.
        He shrugged. “I don’t know. Nothing, probably. He didn’t get away. We fixed it.
But they should know for when they resequence him.”
        That didn’t make her feel much better. “Oh, by the way, thanks for keeping
Shayne’s power a secret.” She rubbed her sore back side. “He caught me off guard.”
        “Oh. Telekinetic. Sorry.” A smile cracked his face and he chuckled.
        She hit him on the arm with the back of her hand. “Yeah. You’re taking the next
telekinetic.”

                                                 ***

        Danielle hopped out of the hovercraft and beat Benit to the Holodome door. The
light of dawn was cresting over the horizon. “I can’t wait to get these contacts out.”
        “Go ahead, but don’t sign out just yet. Stott wants to speak with us.”
        “General Stott?” Fear edged its way into her chest.
        Benit flashed a guilty look at her. “It’s nothing. He just wants to go over a few
things you missed on the first day.”
        “What did you say to him?” She pressed her palm against the cool metal sensor
and the door vanished.
        “Nothing. I mean, just that you would benefit from some of that stuff.”
        “Liar.” She whacked him on the shoulder. “You told him I was having doubts,
didn’t you?”
        “Not doubts…just concerns.” He ran a hand through his thinning hair and peered
at her a bit sheepishly.
        “Whatever.” Danielle stalked down the brightly lit hallway. “I’ll be in the
bathroom.”
        Luckily, no matter which way you turned you eventually found a bathroom.
Danielle shoved her hands under the faucet and splashed cold water on her face before
taking out her contacts and returning them to their small container.
        When she stepped out of the room, Benit was leaning against the wall waiting for
her. “I’m sorry.”
        She gave him a sideways glance. “You did what you thought was best.”
        Benit motioned for her to follow him down the hall. The white stone walls of the
outer ring appeared sanitized and sterile. A shiver went through her and she rubbed the
sides of her arms. When Benit stopped, she almost collided with his back.
        “Stott’s in here.” He stepped aside.
        She took a breath and entered the room. She’d never met with General Stott one-
on-one before. He sat at a large desk with a glass surface and he stood when she entered.
Being in his early fifties, she had always imagined him as a father figure. His light hair
was buzzed short and he wore a crisp military uniform; she’d never seen him in anything
else. She wondered if he slept in it. Not that the Dyken people had a large military. Quite
the opposite. Stott and a handful of men had been the extent of the force before they came
to Maslonia. There had been no need, since war had been eradicated for centuries on her
home world.
        “Danielle. Benit. Come on in. Have a seat.” General Stott waved to a couple of
metal chairs pushed against the wall.
        “I’m sorry to bother you, sir,” Danielle said, shifting on the hard seat.
        Stott’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. “It’s no bother. I’m told you missed the first
day of training.” He clicked his tongue against his teeth. “Someone should have corrected
that oversight before we left the surface.”
        Heat rose to her cheeks. “I was given an overview of what I missed. They said it
was just a basic history lesson about Maslonia. I didn’t miss any actual training.”
        Stott’s lips pressed together and Benit squirmed in his seat. “I think what Danielle
means is she didn’t miss any of the physical training exercises.”
        “This is true. However, I would like to show you some photos from the history
lesson you missed. They’re important, or we wouldn’t have taken an entire day to go over
them.”
        Danielle felt like a child being scolded, which wasn’t fair. She knew how
important this mission was. But Stott stood there staring at her so she put her hands
between her knees and nodded.
        Stott clicked a remote, and a large photograph appeared on the opposite wall.
What once were buildings now lay crumbled and scorched, large jagged metal pieces
reaching up from the rubble like skeletal fingers. “If you didn’t know any better, you
would assume you were looking at the surface of our own planet. You would assume
wrong.”
        He clicked again, and this time a child stood in front of the rubble. She wore torn
and dirty clothes, her blonde hair matted. Smudges of dirt and grime marred her face. She
couldn’t have been more than five years old. Danielle’s chest constricted.
        “This is Gabby,” General Stott said. “The undercover Dyken who took this photo
spoke with her for about an hour. She told him how she wanted to grow up to be a doctor
so she could help people.” He paused for dramatic effect. “She died in an explosion the
day after this photo was taken.”
        Danielle’s heart ached for the precious child. “How sad.”
        Stott ignored her and clicked his remote again. A photo of a little boy appeared on
the wall. He had no arms. “This boy was sent into an enemy camp, small bombs strapped
to his arms. He was to send them a message. ‘Get off our land.’ You can see that the
enemy didn’t comply.”
        She blinked back tears. “Who would do that to a little boy?”
        General Stott turned to her. “His father was the one who strapped the bombs on.”
         She sucked in a breath but kept quiet. Stott clicked through several dozen photos,
each one as shocking as the last, most of them pictures of children. Some were picking
through trash to find food. Others had missing limbs or serious burns.
         “This is why we are here, Danielle. These are innocent children. The hatred these
Maslonian factions have for each other is staggering. They will not stop killing each other
until every last Maslonian is dead. The resequencing will stop the hatred and pain. All we
do when we resequence is change a few memories. They wake up and no longer
remember the war. There’s no need to kill because they no longer remember that they
hate each other. Isn’t a world without war better than what we have here?”
         “Yes.” She knew war was bad, but she hadn’t known how bad.
         He clicked again. This time a family appeared on the screen. They were huddled
in a corner of what looked like a partially bombed-out home. A dirty mattress lay to one
side of them. Piles of rubble took up the rest of the photo.
         “This is how most of the families are living here on Maslonia. Now, I’ve been
told you’ve been stationed in Hailsburg.”
         Danielle nodded, feeling numb.
         “You are lucky. Hailsburg is one of the last cities unaffected by the war. Other
Dyken soldiers are being sent into these bombed-out wastelands. Unfortunately, there
aren’t a lot of people left in most of them. We’re saving who we can by creating a new
life for them in the Holodome.”
         Stott sat on the corner of his desk and folded his hands in his lap. “I heard you
were distressed about a young man you saw in the resequencing room. You’ll be happy to
know they adjusted his treatment. He’s doing fine…already relocated to the Holodome.
He’ll wake up today with his family, living in a comfortable home. He will know nothing
of the war or the devastation that has been a part of his life up to this point. Finding a date
for the homecoming dance will be his biggest concern.”
         She thought about the teen on the table. He didn’t seem like the dancing type. But
she could imagine him at school, getting into his locker and talking with friends. “That’s
such a relief.”
         General Stott placed his arms behind his back. “I’m sure you’re both tired. Go
ahead and sign out. Get some rest. We’ve got a busy few weeks ahead of us. And if
you’re volunteering to stay on after The Gathering, it will be even longer.”
         A rush went through Danielle. “I’d like to stay on and be stationed in the
Holodome. Right now I’m on standby, and I haven’t heard anything.”
         Stott’s mouth curled up into a smile. “I’ll see what I can do.” He dismissed them
with a nod, turning back to his desk.
         Benit followed her out. When they were several yards away, he leaned over. “I’m
glad the young man is okay.”
         Danielle breathed out relief. “Me too. I hated seeing him struggle like that.”
         They continued in silence down the long curved hallway. A group of portals were
ahead, but before they got there, they passed by an open door. Another resequencing
room. There were more tables than usual crammed in there, sleeping Maslonians strapped
to them. Danielle almost swallowed her tongue when she saw Shayne among them.
         She tried not to stare as they walked past. Benit stepped in front of a portal and
placed his palm on the sensor plate. The screen lit up, and he typed in his coordinates.
“Good night.”
          Danielle stood in front of the portal next to his but didn’t activate it. “See you
later.”
        She waited until Benit disappeared before turning around. Could she get into
trouble poking around where she wasn’t stationed? She wasn’t sure, but she could always
fake being lost. It wasn’t that far of a stretch.
        When she got to the door, she peered around the corner. Quite a few Dyken
soldiers were bustling about the far end of the room, none of them paying any attention to
the tables where Shayne lay. She took a few tentative steps toward him. No one noticed
her.
        She maneuvered around the tables toward him. His chest rose and fell with steady
breaths and she froze. He looked so peaceful, even though thick straps held him to the
table. His uniform had been removed, and he now wore white shorts with no shirt. She
wondered what his life would have been like if they hadn’t come to his world. Would he
have lived for another year?
        The last words he spoke to her echoed in her mind. You think we’re the bad guys?
Why? What have we ever done to you?
        She took another step and reached out with her hand, her fingers coming in
contact with the warm flesh of his arm. She felt the tension of his muscles under his skin.
Nothing, she thought. You’ve done nothing to us. It’s what you’re doing to yourselves.
        She picked up the small ID card attached to the table. Shayne Bartlet. Telekinetic.
She imagined him living in the Holodome, going to school and doing normal teenage
things. She grew up inside a Holdome. She knew what it was like. No one went hungry.
There was no homeless. And with the resequencing, Shayne could live a normal life, not
knowing about the horrors of Maslonia.
        Yes. She was doing the right thing.
        She placed the card back on the table and slipped out.

          The End

       This short story is based on The Overtaking series by Victorine E. Lieske. Book
One, The Overtaking, is available for purchase right now. Book Two is scheduled to be
released in the near future.

          Website: www.victorinelieske.com

				
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