The Heretic Lives: The Heretic of the Federation Book #1
Sometimes the world around us ends up looking like something we never thought possible. It’s in these moments we must decide if the chance to make things better is worth dying over.
Paint peeled on the walls and the carpet underfoot was threadbare. John sat on the edge of the old couch left by previous tenants, careful to balance on the frame and not rely on the cushions.
Things moved in those and they stank of age—not to mention a pet that hadn’t been toilet-trained.
He rested his chin on his hands and his elbows on his knees and stared at the broken television. Despite his fixed gaze, he didn’t see it, nor did he see the wall or register the stench rising from the couch. His mind was a long way away.
At the top end of the city and in the foothills, to be precise. It seemed to have somehow returned to an upstairs room above a row of derelict shops from which he’d stormed out. He hadn’t been thinking all that clearly when he hurried down the back stairs and headed swiftly but cautiously into the night.
When he reached the alley behind the shops, he made sure his route was clear, bolted, and sprinted to prevent his mates from catching up. He knew they would try to change his mind.
They needed him, they said. The mission couldn’t go on without him.
Well, good, because he wanted them to live. The mission shouldn’t go on. It couldn’t if they were to survive. With him gone, their plans would hopefully fizzle and come to nothing.
He sighed, scrubbed his face with his hands, and ran his fingers through his hair to massage his scalp. It did nothing to ease the tension.
With him gone, he had honestly hoped they’d give up on the idea, scrap it, and forget he’d ever raised it.
John’s stomach churned and it had nothing to do with the burrito he’d lifted off an unattended plate at lunchtime.
His friends didn’t have the…the strategic know-how? The savvy? The… He hunted for the word and couldn’t find it. Well, whatever it was they needed to succeed and come through the mission alive. That was what they didn’t have.
They’d always relied on him for it. Without him, they should have given up on the idea and simply gone back to secretly wishing ill on the Regime like everyone else. They would have been disappointed and unfulfilled but safe.
He left and they abandoned the plan. That was how it should have gone.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t.
John stayed on the move for three weeks and in doing so, had effectively abandoned his final school year as he’d left before the exams. He had Talent. If he’d stayed, the Regime would have known for sure, so he’d put an end to all plans for the raid and left.
His friends should have settled into school again and would be close to graduation if they had kept their dumb heads down.
By now, he should have been gone long enough for the Regime to lose interest in them, but that wasn’t what he’d heard the last time he’d checked the underground grapevine.
Rumor had it that a group of kids from the North Shore were about to do something crazy. The news had stopped him cold but try as he might, he couldn’t pin down where on the North Shore they were from or exactly what they intended to do.
All he had was that it was crazy and he recognized Natalia and William from the descriptions.
“Fools,” his informant had confided and shaken his head. “There’s one born every minute, right?”
One of the others had snorted. “Yeah, and one dies every minute or so too. The Regime makes sure of that.”
That had changed the course of the conversation.
“But they’re only kids!”
John had faded into the background and moved carefully away.
That kind of talk in an open space?
Like the man had said, one died every minute.
The words that followed the protest still haunted him. “The Regime doesn’t care how old they are. They won’t put up with anyone who stands against ʼem. That girls’ choir a few years back—you know the one…”
Memory made the nausea stronger.
While he would much prefer not to, it was impossible to forget the girls’ choir. Rumor had it that a Talent had sung with them—or maybe more than one. Either way, they’d all been sent for re-education, his girlfriend among them.
And it had been two years before, not a few. He knew that because he’d looked forward to his girlfriend coming back and the Regime saying it had all been a mistake, but it had never happened.
They were always on the lookout for more Talents.
The Regime. He’d grown up under it and he hated it. When he was little, he’d admired their Enforcers but that hadn’t lasted long.
His parents had been deathly afraid of them, and once they’d started taking kids out of his school, he’d learned to be afraid of them too. Anyone with Talent had an instant place in the Regime’s Navy—or instant death.
The Regime didn’t mess around and his friends intended to raid one of its facilities—the one he’d chosen—and probably used the plan he’d outlined.
John rested his head in his hands and stared at the floor. The churning turning into a lump at the base of his throat and the nausea grew worse.
This was all his fault. He should never have left them unsupervised.
Finally, he pushed to his feet and dragged his hands through his hair before he retrieved his jacket and pulled it on. Memories of their last conversation still haunted him.
He’d tried to get them to give it up and when they’d refused to listen, he’d told them he was out. As in gone, quitting, and good luck to them living through it on their own.
While he hadn’t meant it to be a challenge, at least one of them had taken it that way.
If he were smart, he’d leave them to it. There wasn’t anything he could do. Like everyone said, “You can’t save the stupid, mate.”
Except there was a difference between the stupid and his friends. Even if they were the same, he couldn’t simply leave them to face the Regime on their own.
The problem, however, was that he couldn’t work out what he should do. It wasn’t like he could defeat a Regime enforcement patrol on his own, not even with the Talent he’d hidden thus far.
John groaned and slung his pack over his shoulder. It was time to move.
He’d gone to the meeting ready to do whatever it took to keep his friends out of trouble and extended it into running away from home and the final round of Regime testing. Now, he would have to go back.
Concern for them helped to keep his frustration under control. He hoped he could come up with a plan to save his friends before he got there. While he was Talented, they were not.
However it went down, he knew he’d be fine. The Regime wanted to control the Talents. It gave them a choice when it caught up with them. Anyone else?
A shiver whispered involuntarily up his spine. Anyone else, not so much. Not from the rumors he’d heard. If those were true, he hoped trying to negotiate would buy his friends enough time to escape.
The idea made him snort. “Yeah, and maybe the Regime will let us all go and live in peace if we promise to be very, very good from now on. Give it a rest.”
His choices would be to join the Regime Navy or die, and they wouldn’t mess around. He’d be free, all right, in the Navy with a solid career and a gun to his head every remaining second of his life.
An uncomfortable churning in his gut contracted to form a heavy lump, and he swallowed to keep it down. Since they hadn’t given up, he hoped they had stuck to the plan.
At least that way, he’d know where to find them.
They would target the Regime Communications Center.
Before the Disaster, it had been open to the public. Now, the whole facility was surrounded by concrete walls some twenty feet tall and ten feet thick. The Regime had added guard houses on the hills overlooking it like it wanted to make sure no-one could take a peek inside.
That was what had drawn his attention to it. It became even more intriguing when he heard the rumors that destroying the center would do more than screw up the Regime’s communications capability for Australia’s east coast. He’d heard losing it would damage their international communications too.
John had found the idea appealing. Maybe if their communications went down, people would be able to—
He shook his head to cut off the wishful thought. The idea had sounded good the first time he’d bounced it off his friends but then he’d done some digging.
That was what the argument had been about. Destroying the Snake River complex would do jack to the Regime’s communications. There were back-ups.
All that would happen would be the Regime launching their retaliation with a vengeance and people in the northern suburbs would lose their Internet access for a couple of months.
He’d told the guys this, but William wouldn’t hear of it.
“You’re wrong, John,” his friend had said. “Dead wrong.”
“You’ll be the one who’s dead,” he had retorted, “and they’ll be able to phone home and brag about it.”
“You’re simply chicken.”
John remembered being shocked speechless. Chicken? Like, how old are they?
He set his pack down at the door, took the bottled water and an energy bar out of it, and shoved them into a jacket pocket. Leaving the pack on the floor, he looked around the room to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything.
A small box of tinned food stood on the table with a six-pack of water, and he’d left his blanket rolled beside it. He thought about taking them with him, then shrugged.
Even if he reached his friends in time, the chances that he could come out of this alive were slim. It would be better to leave it for someone who would get some use out of it.
Quickly, he felt in his pockets to make sure he had his keys. While the tenement was officially abandoned, someone made sure people paid to stay there and a couple of extremely big someones enforced it.
The keys were a passport in.
With his fingers curled around them, he headed to the door. The last time he’d seen his friends still played through his head.
Natalia had stepped in.
“Are you sure, John?” She’d sounded disappointed, but he couldn’t tell if it was in him or in the news he’d brought.
He’d nodded. “As sure as I can be. Even if we get in, all we’ll do is annoy them. They’ve got contingencies—”
“And you know this how?” William had challenged.
“It’s called research,” he had snapped.
“That’s not what you said when you first raised the idea,” Trevor had argued.
He was the sidekick, the one who was supposed to keep William in check and be a voice of reason if John’s ideas got too ambitious. That time, he’d challenged the safer path.
William was quick to follow his lead. “Yeah, man. You said it was the best plan you’d thought of so far.”
“And it was,” he agreed, “right up until I looked into it and discovered how many things I hadn’t known.”
“So why didn’t you look into them before you raised it?” Amy, Natalia’s friend had demanded.
“Because it might have drawn attention and I didn’t want to risk it unless you were interested.”
“So you got us interested without knowing all the facts?” William’s voice had risen and his face flushed with anger.
That was the moment when he had known the argument was lost, but his friend hadn’t finished.
“And when I say you might be wrong again and that there’s only one way to find out, what are you gonna do about it?”
That had been when he’d left. He’d honestly thought that would save them.
John sighed and pulled the apartment door closed behind him. He knew now that what he’d assumed had been dead-wrong. His friends were good kids but they didn’t think much before they did something.
All heart and no head, as his dad once said. He couldn’t remember why now, but it still rang true.
His mates were hot-headed and the girls weren’t much better. If he didn’t get to them fast, they’d vanish exactly like Lucia and he didn’t want to think about what it might mean.
The fact that they’d surfaced in the underground news was a sure sign of that. Everyone knew the Regime had agents everywhere. In addition, all kinds of people made money by selling what they heard.
His friends were in more trouble than they knew.
He took the stairs two at a time and pushed out the side entrance into a narrow street. A guy huddled in the doorway and scowled at the rain.
“Do you live here?” John snapped and the stranger jumped and looked guilty.
Before the man could say anything, he held his room key out.
“Apartment Twelve. It’s open. I’ve paid until the end of the month and left food on the table. It’s yours. I won’t be back.”
The vagrant hesitated like he was looking for a catch, so he tossed him the key and kept moving. He heard the jingle as he reached the narrow sidewalk and assumed the man had caught it but he didn’t look back.
A bus was about due.
He flipped his jacket hood over his head, thrust his hands into his pockets, and hurried to the bus stop.
The Federation can’t be that bad can it? John wouldn’t have suggested the plan if he didn’t think it had a possibility to work, right? Stay tuned to see what plan John and his friends have come up with to disrupt the Federation.
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