Read Warden: A Novel Online

Authors: Gregg Vann

Warden: A Novel (7 page)

The war is won, Sergeant Barent. And the Collective have emerged as a very strong faction. They enjoy a great deal of support among the people, so I’m playing along with them until we’re ready to spring the trap. But they grow more powerful every day, and if they aren’t stopped soon, there is every reason to believe the Collective will gain complete control of the new government.

These traitors are well placed and secretive, Sergeant Barent, and it will some take time to ferret them all out. But until then, you are in grave danger. When this is all finally over, and I’m confident that you’ll be safe, I will return to free you. But if I fail and am killed, I’ve set the timer to awaken you after five years. By that time, this will all be over…one way or another.

The Collective voted to authorize this tomb as a celebration of your life—even though they are the hypocrites that sought your death. But I made certain to supervise the construction myself, and there is a secret passageway beneath this pedestal that leads out beyond the walls. A failsafe, in case everything goes wrong.

It’s hard to know who to trust anymore, Sergeant Barent. And the wrong word to someone may cost me my life. So I ask that you forgive me for what I’ve done, and please know that—come what may—I only meant to protect you.

Corporal Ennis

 

Barent’s face fell as he read the last few words, and then he folded up the piece of paper neatly and placed it in his pocket. He turned to look at Tana.

“How long?” he asked her.

“Five hundred years.”

Barent’s eyes widened in disbelief, but then he looked around the room again and discovered a few pieces of unfamiliar technology. And he examined Tana as well, noting her unique physical characteristics. Her eyes were brilliant blue in color, and so radiant that they had an unnatural glow around the outer edges. Barent had never seen
anyone
with eyes like that, certainly not on Earth.

And though her skin was extremely pale, it wasn’t the pure white of the original colonists and guards—nor was it one the host of other skin colors present in the prisoner population. And strangely, it had absolutely
no
sheen at all. Tana’s skin was perfectly matte, and seemed to absorb the ambient light. But perhaps most telling were her words. She had a peculiar accent when she spoke, and while Barent could understand Tana perfectly, her pronunciation was…well, odd. Barent’s intuition, and the evidence, led him to conclude that what Tana was telling him had to be true.

He’d been in cryo-sleep for more than half a millennium.

“The timer must have been faulty,” Barent said. “These chambers were only designed for a single use—for the trip out to this planet.” His face softened and Tana heard a somber tone invade Barent’s voice. “What is Le’sant like now?” he asked. “What has become of everything as I slept?”

“The city has grown much larger since your time, Sergeant Barent. But not much else has changed. The strong still prey on the weak, they all just go by different titles now. I’m afraid things didn’t turn out quite the way you’d hoped.”

“And the Wardens?”

“They’re still around. And they remain true to your memory. In fact, they’re the ones who sent me here tonight to…”

“To what?”

“They sent me here to free you, Sergeant Barent. But that’s not what they told me. They must have known that you were still alive when they snuck me in past the guards. But they didn’t care to share that information.” Tana shook her head and smiled. “The Wardens are much sneakier than I thought.”

Barent felt the outline of Corporal Ennis’ note in his pocket. “Then that much hasn’t changed, either.”

“It sounds to me like Ennis saved your life,” Tana said.

“I realize that. But if everything you say is true—and my instincts tell me it is—what the hell am I to do now?”

“I honestly don’t know, Sergeant. But I’m sure the Wardens have a few ideas, and I’m supposed to meet them not too far from here. What I
do
know is that the Collective sure as hell won’t be happy to have you back.”

Barent’s eyes went cold and his voice turned angry. “This Collective Ennis talked about, they still exist?”

“They do. And they control everything.”

“And exactly who are
you
?” Barent asked.

“A thief. Your Wardens blackmailed me into breaking in here. They’re holding my girlfriend and my freedom hostage to guarantee my cooperation.”

“Girlfriend?” Barent remarked.

“Certainly homosexuals were not unheard of five hundred years ago.”

“Of course not, thief. In fact, it was the preferred orientation of the prisoners sent out to construct the colonies. And here on Torvus, after the second ship was lost, it was even encouraged as a passive form of birth control—because the sterility agent wasn’t 100% effective.”

Barent’s eyes went vacant for a moment, as if reliving a distant and unpleasant memory, and then he focused in on Tana again. “When the other colony ships didn’t show up ten years on, there was even talk about making it compulsory for the prisoners…along with some other less savory solutions to keep the population down. Regardless, my remark didn’t concern your sexuality, thief. It was a reaction to the Wardens taking hostages—and having criminals do their work for them.”

“First off, my name is Tana, not
thief
. And I’m not a crimin— Well I am, but—”

“You can explain yourself later,” Barent told her. “If the Wardens had to sneak you in here, then that means the guards outside are no friends of mine.”

“And how do you know that I am?” Tana asked.

“I don’t. But if you’d wanted me dead, you could have easily just placed a bomb on the sarcophagus and left.”

“Good point. And by the way, Sergeant, I’m bisexual—not a lesbian. Although the government still encourages homosexuality as a means of population control.”

“Let’s go,” Barent replied.

Why did I feel so compelled to point that out to him,
Tana asked herself.
Get it together, ‘thief’. This is neither the time nor the place to lose focus.

She leaned in to help Barent push the heavy sarcophagus aside, and as it slid across the floor they saw the darkened stairway hidden beneath it. They gave the pedestal one final shove, and the base of it cleared the opening leading deeper underground.

“Are you armed?” Barent asked Tana.

She smirked, pulling a pistol out of her backpack and throwing the safety off.

Barent nodded his approval, and then the founder of the Wardens pointed his own pair of weapons straight ahead and began moving down the steps.

“Stay behind me,” he ordered. “Just in case it’s a trap.”

Tana started to inform Barent that she didn’t
need
his protection, but then thought better of it and just silently trailed down after him. He was the Great Betrayer, after all, and accustomed to bossing people around. Did she really expect him to act any differently with her?

She grinned as they descended further underground; the expression lost in darkness as the light above them faded in the distance.

So he’s handsome, heroic, and chivalrous?

Oh, you’re in trouble, Tana.

Big trouble.

And then they both disappeared into the black.

CHAPTER EIGHT
The Collective

The door opened abruptly and one of the Collective’s junior representatives rushed into Minister Golen’s office. The leader of the Collective, and by extension, all of Le’sant, noted the anxious look on the man’s face. He suspected that Jacob was bringing news he didn’t want to hear, but Golen put the document he was reading away and stood up from his chair, placing his hands down flat on the desk in front of him.

“You’re in early today,” Golen remarked. It was only 4:30 in the morning, and still dark outside.

“Yes, Minister. I was called in by one of my assistants.”

Golen himself had arrived at the Ministry building around three—to read the minutes from the Collective Assembly meeting he’d missed the prior evening, and to make a list of potential enemies in this latest iteration of the five-hundred-year-old governing body. He’d expected problems from the powerless members from the Outland and the Common Ring, but a few Middle District rabble-rousers had surfaced to join them in their moaning. Golen intended to teach those troublemakers their place in the greater scheme of things, and explain to them just how tenuous that
place
could be.

“Well, what is it, Jacob?” he said impatiently.

“The informant we placed with the editors of the Vade Mecum copied this message sent to the Wardens. It makes an astounding claim, Minister.”

Golen motioned Jacob forward and he handed over the report. As he began skimming through the document for any hint of importance, Golen absentmindedly read a few snippets from the message out loud.

“New algorithm…errata lines…decoded the dying words of Corporal Ennis. See attachment…” Minister Golen was starting to lose his patience; he was a busy man, with much to do.

Why is Jacob wasting my time with this nonsense?
he asked himself.

And then he saw it.

 

The Final Testament of Caol Ennis

The Vade Mecum: Chapter 104. Verse 11

 

Original Version:

(Errata)
elll ardens

Nt Ileum

Rent siva

Lee eeps

Ey O Sus

Decoded Entry:

(Revised) Tell the Wardens.

Didn’t kill him.

Barent lives.

He only sleeps.

Cryo-suspension.

 

“I want General Malves in here now,” Golen said coldly, not looking up from the document.

“Yes, sir. I saw him entering the building at the same time I did.”

“Now!” Golen barked, and then his head snapped up to give his subordinate a withering look.

“Yes, sir.”

As Jacob ran out of the room Golen fell back into his chair, glancing out through the large window to the right of his desk. His office was directly across the street from the Tomb of the Great Betrayer, and because it was still dark outside, the monument was lit up like a beacon, marking the exact center of the Central District.

It would only take Golen a few minutes to walk over there and confirm whether or not this insane message from the past was true, but an unannounced visit by the Minister of the Collective just didn’t happen—not without raising suspicions that something truly untoward was going on. Had he known about this yesterday,
before
Golen attended the ceremony at Barent’s tomb, maybe he could have made up some official reason to go inside it, discrediting all of this nonsense himself. But as things stood now, the military would have to do it.

And how could it really be true, anyway?
Golen thought.
That was five hundred years ago.
Barent can’t possibly still be alive. Those were just the fevered last words of a dying man.

General Malves strolled into the office—interrupting his reverie—and Le’sant’s highest-ranking soldier noticed the worried look on Golen’s face at once.

“What is it, Minister?”

Golen handed him the message and Malves smiled as he read it. “This is impossible, of course. Even
if
Ennis lied about Barent’s death—and there were many who saw his corpse—the Betrayer would still be long gone by now, even with cryo. It’s been over five hundred years…”

“I agree with your assessment completely, General. But something inside me is screaming that we need to be sure. The Wardens have this information as well, and will no doubt try to exploit it for all it’s worth. I’m sure they’ll make it seem as if we’re hiding something, so we have to open up the sarcophagus and document the fact that Barent is truly dead. We may need that proof later—to counter the Wardens if they attempt to make something out of this.”

Malves gave Golen a grave look. “This can’t be done lightly, Minister. If the people ever found out that we opened up Barent’s tomb, we would have a riot on our hands. I may command an army fifty thousand strong, but there are over a million people living in Le’sant. How many of them would I have to kill before order was restored?”

“Your heavily-armed troops against that rabble?” Golen scoffed. “I wouldn’t worry too much about that, General Malves. But there’s no reason to take any chances either. Contact your men at the tomb and get it done quickly, before the city awakes. And let them know that they’ll forfeit their lives if they ever tell a soul.”

Malves nodded, and then he withdrew a secured comm device from his jacket to issue the necessary orders. He directed the soldiers stationed at the tomb to execute Golen’s wishes to the letter, but when he gave them clearance to open up Barent’s sarcophagus, and obtain proof that he was really dead, they made General Malves confirm the order twice—just to be sure they’d heard it correctly.

“They understand their instructions,” Malves said, switching off the comm channel. “And the consequences of not following them exactly. They’re going inside now.”

Golen looked out the window again and saw the increased activity at the tomb. The lights had brightened appreciably, and the tower guards were now focusing their attention toward the interior of the elaborate structure.

Ten minutes later Malves’ comm unit beeped loudly, and he shared an expectant look with Golen before answering it. The general spoke with the person on the other end in rapid, clipped tones, and then he switched the device off again and slowly placed it back in his pocket. He looked over at Golen but the minister found his expression unreadable. Even more frustrating was the fact that Malves remained totally silent—as if he were desperately combing through his mind for the right words, but what he’d just learned defied all attempts at explanation.

“Well?” Golen snapped.

“He’s gone, Minister. They found Barent’s coffin open. And he was
gone
.”

“You mean his body’s been taken?” Golen said.

“No, Minister.” Malves looked Golen in the eyes—still struggling to process the information. “I mean there
was
an active cryo-chamber inside the coffin. And my men found fresh DNA samples, confirmed to be Barent’s. He is
alive.
They also discovered a secret passageway hidden beneath the pedestal, and they’re exploring it now.”

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