The first week of the new age had split Taviksaad in two, and The City lay squarely on the fault line. The days were spent in running battles that swept through every district and the nights belonged to the gangs, free to run rampant while the Enforcers were overstretched.
The third day saw fire bombs hurled into the grounds of House Tavik, the founders of the colony. The next day, Lord Governor Vaskal issued martial law to bring the Houses and their militias onto the streets. Two days of clashes followed, pushing the rebels further and further into the slum districts and the wastelands beyond the dome. The final push was focused primarily Vices and Outer Tenements, but by then the rebels had begun to draw the criminal class of The City to their cause.
For many loyal to the Lord Governor it was not a question of whether victory would be achieved, but at what cost. Even if the rebellion ended there and then, the mask had slipped - the power of the Nobility was not absolute, and if enough could be convinced of that, then perhaps a new order could arise...
The Hall of Corrections was in lock down.
The night before four patrols - the sum total of the precincts operational strength - along with the Slaver Company security detail and a platoon of civic militia under a Houseguard of the Lord Governor found themselves besieged by armed insurgents. Four hours of bloody fighting drove them off, leaving dead and wounded on both sides. The Enforcers and militia were treated on sight with surgeons or rejuvenation. The rest made a pyre in front of the Hall, casting the bodies of their enemies onto it in plain view of all. Many of bodies screamed as they burned.
Kas had been in the thick of it since the Inner Tenements car bombings. He had endured three days of fire and blood. Three days of fighting to exhaustion and sleeping it off in the locker room. Three days of being too scared to leave the precinct for fear of being torn apart in the street...
Now he was sat in the break room counting rations while the Captain yelled at people next door. Every time he reached for one of the grey packets of mush the silver 'M' on his hand seemed to catch the light and shine bright toward him.
"Look at the bright side: at least you didn't change sex," the speaker was a six year old boy with dirty blond fur. Until recently, he had been a twenty-two year old woman from the militia.
"Why are you a boy now anyway? Those machines can make girls, I've seen them in the cells." Kas asked.
"It's due to the crystals used by the machines," Kadan explained as he entered in search of a drink. Much to his disappointment, he found only water. "The machines are running on low crystal mode to ensure we can rejuvenate anyone who needs it. That means everyone comes out a boy of about six. With more crystals, more power and more patience, you can fine tune the age and choose the sex they come out as. Even heard a rumour some crazy bastard was trying to 'fix' mongrels."
"How do you know all this, sir?" Kas asked, quietly impressed by his officer's technical knowledge.
"I read the paperwork. You know paperwork, right? That thing you've never done?" Kadan gave the Medicalos a fleeting scowl before turning his attention to the third child in the room. "Skal, stay here and don't cause trouble."
The Penny barely acknowledged the instruction. He slouched with his chin against his chest, ears flat and tail lifeless behind him. He clutched his own body tightly, kneading himself through the grey shirt he wore. The boy only looked up for long enough to find somewhere to sit before returning to his melancholy.
Kadan, satisfied, turned back to the Medicalos. "How are we looking?"
"Not finished yet, but I think we've got maybe three days worth, providing we don't feed the Pennys." Kas answered.
"I'm trying to get rid of them, but it'll take time. For now they go hungry. You, soldier boy-"
"-Yansa. When you're done here go recruit some of your men for cell cleanup. I want water brought to them, I want them showered and clean clothes provided if we have them, if not they can go bare. Cells will need hosing and shit buckets emptied. Slavers are getting upset that we're not looking after their stock properly. Got all that?"
"Yes sir!" Yansa snapped a quick salute.
"Good. One last thing; make sure the men know that anyone who samples the merchandise will not be leaving my precinct alive. I've been summoned, so keep everything intact until I get back." with that, he disappeared in the direction of the motor pool.
Yansa gave Kas a nervous grin, "My squad leader makes death threats all the time, but I feel like your Captain really means it."
Kas' ears flattened as he answered, "he does. Ever since the old Captain was shepherded his temper has been getting worse. Sometimes he's like always, but then something snaps and..." he dropped the explanation with a guilty whine.
"When did the old guy go?" Yansa asked.
"Over a year ago now. I turned fourteen when he left. I hadn't been on the streets with Kadan before then, but I was on site for two years and he was, well, happier."
"How come the old guy didn't hold out?" Yansa asked, duties forgotten. "He must have known this rejuvenation stuff was coming up."
Kas shrugged, "Maybe he just didn't want to. My mother doesn't. She says that I won't either. 'The life you've chose will eat you up inside until one day you'll run to the temple and beg for the Shepherd to take you away!' I mean, it's like she's telling me to kill myself. It's messed up."
A heavy silence fell over the room. Yansa glanced over to Skal and watched him for a while as Kas made a token effort to resume their work. "He's not moved at all."
"Good, means he's not causing trouble." Kas replied, but Yansa was focused on the Penitatas. Skal was crying, his sobs silent.
Yansa knelt down in front of the weeping boy, placing his hands on his knees where they could be seen. "Hey, you alright? I'm Yansa. Your name is Skal, right?"
Skal looked up a fraction. "Yansa? Are you a girl like Sam?"
"I was a woman before I got these, if that's what you mean," he held out his hands to show the Ms. Skal flinched at being reached towards. "Hey, it's okay. You don't need to be scared."
Slowly, carefully, Yansa caressed the side of Skal's muzzle. The boy closed his eyes, and after a few soft strokes began to nuzzle against his hand. "You've had a rough time of it, haven't you?" Yansa asked. Skal opened his eyes. The look said enough.
"Hey, you have work to do!" Kas scolded, but the look he got in return made it clear Yansa wasn't interested.
"I have raised three children. It's not in me to ignore a kid who's hurting." As the Penny's breathing calmed, a look of shock flickered over Yansa's face. "Has anyone told my family? Gods, how do I explain this?"
Yansa let out a sob of his own, caught off guard by wild surge of emotion. He quickly wiped his eyes and gave Skal a smile full of false confidence that his wet eyes undermined. "Hey, how about you help us count rations? It's a lot less boring than it sounds. I'll even let you steal one."
"No you won't!" Kas snapped. "I'll go straight to Kadan if you do."
Yansa let out a long growl, teeth bared and ears turned to the side. "Go ahead. After I'm done tearing your Captain a new arse hole, I'll make sure the whole militia knows you're a dickless brat who can't fight his own battles!"
The two Medicalos stared and growled at one another, but behind Yansa's childish physique was thirty years of experience staring down headstrong young men. Kas, for all his bravado and experience, was still a child where it mattered. He clenched his lips together and huffed irritably. "Whatever, I don't care. Why don't you go deal with the cells like the Captain told you to?"
"A fine idea," Yansa grinned, savouring the victory. "Come on, Skal. Let's go help some Pennys in need."
Lord Governor Vaskal took the meeting in the library. It was a somewhat archaic room, a place of ink and engraving in an age of digital information, but he made considerable use of it. The books were well used, many of them largely unreadable to the improperly educated due to the use of kysklaat inkscript: a written style long since obsolete, but preserved as an elitist eccentricity; if it was not written in inkscript, then was it truly a written word?
The materials he'd been reading that day, and indeed for several days were all on digital tablets in standardised ruljic runes. Multiple such devices were splayed across an antique work desk, their arrangement and displayed content forming a partial map of the developing violence that gripped The City.
"Where do we begin?" he asked the assembly. "We have a name for them at least - Black Iron. Perhaps then we should start with the priesthood?"
The Temple Keeper of Vorhol shifted uncomfortably under the Lord Governor's gaze. "I don't see how we can be in any way to blame for this. If we, or indeed any shrine had any issues with rejuvenation we would have said so."
"My men on the ground think the rebels consider rejuvenation to be sacrilegious tampering with our divine form," Vaskal offered as an explanation.
"Preposterous!" the holy man countered. "The same argument would be equally true of space travel, terraforming or cybernetics! We were given souls so that we might overcome all obstacles to our ambitions, even Gods if that is our will. These people are simply using the faith to give themselves false legitimacy!"
The Lord Governor nodded slowly as he moved around the desk towards the next suspect. He looked at two women in turn: Avyyr of the Royal Slaver Company, and the Broadcast Guild envoy. "You both assured me that my efforts were widely supported by the lower orders. How were you so mistaken?"
Both women were silenced before began by a loud scoff. All eyes turned to the offender, "Something to say, Enforcer-Captain?"
"I just don't see how you could ever have expected this to work. I mean, you took the advice of a sociopath whose sole concern is amassing money, so she was never going to say anything that might impact her profit margin! Then of course you have the Broadcast Guild, a gaggle of sycophants if ever there was one."
"I don't recall any warnings of rebellion from you, Captain." the interjection came from Noble Dasat of House Dasat, a man who Kadan had developed a deep and lasting hatred of.
"Because I only asked my own Guild, and the Guild were steadfast. We had some doubters, yes, but as a whole we were behind this. Yes, some of that was selfish; the promise of more money and power was always going to play well for us, but either way the Guild was bought and paid for. Nobody asked us to interview the people we dragged off the street what they thought!"
Dasat sneered as only the high-born could. "Perhaps if you were less concerned with personal power and more attuned to the feelings of the Thralls you wouldn't have missed the signs."
The air in the room changed. Every man and woman present saw the fury boiling off the Enforcer as he stepped up to the Noble. "This coming from you? The man who owns Vices? The man who met with Lady Sin and let her dictate how laws should be written? Let me tell you about the Thralls, Noble: if I burned that woman alive in her own child brothel they would parade me up to the gates of this Palace and demand I be given a House of my own! I argued, day after day, week after week that if you gave rejuves the legal status as adults we would see the most debased, degenerate dregs of society prey upon them on a scale never seen before! I went to the Doll House, sir! I saw the girls after the perverts had their fun! I saw things that used to be hidden in the deepest, darkest pits of the lawless underworld and I saw it in a business with your fucking House crest on the fucking wall!"
As the echoes of Kadan's rage died away, and before Dasat could make a reply, the Lord Governor's calm, yet threatening tones brought all eyes back to him. "Let me see if I understand this correctly. This rebellion occurred because every party involved either never bothered to consider anyone but themselves, or upon discovering signs of dissent promptly suppressed that information for their own gains. Am I correct?"
"I fear the Captain is allowing personal-" Avyyr's reply was cut short by a barked order for the Houseguard to secure her.
"Captain Kadan, my men will escort you and the Slaver to the nearest precinct. I want to know how much she knew and how much she made a fool of me. Make the interrogation thorough, and make it hurt."
"Yes, sire." Kadan growled.
He turned his gaze to the Broadcaster who shrank beneath his scowl, pale with fear. "I'm sorry!" she whined. "We... We thought we could persuade the people! A majority-"
"How much of a majority? How many people were adamantly supportive? How many passionately against? You told me month after month a majority were behind us! How many truly believed in me?" Vaskal's anger gave way to despair as he spoke. He had the look of a man who had seen the faces of the Gods, only to be told he was unworthy."
"We... We asked the people how many supported the prospect of Rejuvenation. We found... Ten percent were in support, twenty-five strongly opposed. Most simply didn't know or understand... But we found that around sixty to seventy percent of the people were supportive of your reign as Lord Governor, so we assumed..." her words trailed away, drowned by the tears that streaked her ruler's muzzle.
She left the room sobbing tears of her own as Vaskal sentenced her. "Execute this traitor. Death by boiling pole."
The remaining souls; Kadan, Dasat and the priests all watched in silence as Vaskal paced his library. He slowly found his way towards the stained glass window at the far end and gazed into the glittering impression of The City dome as seen from some distant vantage. The window was false and did not allow a view of anything beyond, but the play of light through it was quite convincing.
"Do you know why I pursued this venture so passionately? I was contacted by King Ank T'uoda himself. He had seen what a wondrous civilisation Icara had forged, and dreamed that we might all share in it one day. He dreamed of bringing Rejuvenation to the Homeworld, but felt it wise to see if it were possible in the colonies first. I knew there would be complications, but never this. I owe you an apology, Captain. Now I see why you allowed such slaughter to occur in Blister."
The Enforcer kept his mouth shut, but only just. Vaskal continued, "I believe House Dasat has outlived its usefulness. You will meet me in the ring of honour in one hour. You, not your champion - I invoke my right as Lord of the First House to face my rival directly. I will see your family stripped of its land and title. Every son of House Dasat will be culled like animals, and every daughter sold to the whore houses whose opinions you value so much. There will be nothing left of you save what is written in record... And those too I will cast upon your pyre."
"And what does House Dasat receive as reward should I defeat you?" Dasat snarled in reply.
"You stand upon the shoulders of champions, Dasat. I stand upon their corpses. Return in one hour, and prepare to die. Get out."
Once Dasat's footsteps had faded, Vaskal turned back towards Kadan. "You have an interrogation to perform," he said coldly. "Return when you are done. No, return when you have put the last rebel to the sword, then we shall discuss where I was mistaken. Make her suffer, Captain, and when she has confessed all she knows, make her stand to boil."
It didn't take long for Kas to come around to Yansa's way of thinking. The task of tending to the Penitatas fell primarily to the Medicalos, as every adult was either tending to the wounded, wounded themselves or preparing for deployment. It was easy to hate criminals in cages, but when they were children, and him a child also, that hatred was less forthcoming.
It wasn't the cells that broke him, despite their unpleasant nature. He saw the Pennys crammed into their cages, hungry and fearful and stinking, and was just about able to tell himself they deserved it. No, it was the showers where his mercy took hold - every boy and girl they sent to scrub themselves clean stood beneath the spray and drank the water first.
It was Kas who decided to bribe the Pennys with food - cells whose occupants behaved got rations. If a Penny so much as spat at their jailers, the whole cage went hungry. The cleaning and washing went smoothly with the promise of a meal, and an hour after finishing the Royal Slaver Company came to empty the cells and restock the precinct with food, ammunition and rejuvenation crystals.
With the job done and evening closing in, there was one more thing to do - set up beds in the locker room. The Medicalos would be staying the night, and the only real beds had to be kept empty for any casualties brought in from the fighting. This led to some discussions about who slept where, factoring in such vital aspects as light, foot traffic and sleeping partners.
Yansa had picked a good spot in the utility cupboard. It was dark, warm and had just enough floor space for three to squeeze up tight together, especially now that she was smaller. The technicians had protested wasting power on rejuvenating her a second time, but with the help of her squadmates she got her way.
Now three, with grey fur and cute brown speckles across her back and shoulders, Yansa settled down into her bed of coats and thermal blankets with Skal at her side. They'd found a game pad from somewhere and whiled away their free time giggling at the antics on the screen.
"Mind if I join you?" Kas asked, and Skal waved him over. The Penny had been useful once coaxed out of his shell. Kas wasn't sure if they were friends, but he didn't hate having him around.
The three played together until the call for the evening meal rang out. The three hurried to get their share, giggling and shoving each other playfully only to run headlong into Captain Kadan and Bast.
"Hey! Just had to hear first hand, huh?" Kadan asked with a grin. He took Kas' puzzled expression as confirmation, "come on, I'll talk while we eat."
"We're going to see some changes boys!" the Captain laughed once they had their plates of meat and bread. "I've had a wonderful time talking to Avyyr in the Palace precinct cells! I have sent the full report to the Lord Governor himself, but suffice to say that we're not working for them anymore. We aren't working for Lady Sin either!"
"What changed?" Bast asked eagerly.
"Nothing yet. Well, by now some other Noble is going to have the deed to Vices, but the Lord Governor is looking to make some big changes! We put this rebellion down and it's silver and sweet-meats from here to the end of days!"
"Do these changes include not abusing your Penny?" Yansa's scolding caught the captain completely by surprise. "He's a child! He needs more than beatings!"
Kadan examined his Penny charge, who was now completely engrossed in his meal. "Maybe I have been a little hard on you," he relented.
"He needs emotional support as well as discipline. You can't just-" Yansa's lecture was cut short by a shrill alarm from the operations room. Moments later, senior members of the militia were shouting for their squads to form up.
Kadan and Bast both headed for the armoury without a second thought. The new world order was close, but it had to be won with blood. Kadan hoped it was a price worth paying.