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Equilibrium Fan Fiction by Reveria
Corrupting the Incorruptible


(This story will be completed in a series of installments)


1


It was early morning in Libria.

The sun hadn’t risen yet when the vast city-state gradually began to come alive again to face yet another day. As lamps were switched on in countless households all across the endless metropolis, the nightly blackness of the extensive conurbation slowly turned into a sparkling ocean of lights.

Double-checking her briefcase to make sure she had everything she needed for the day, Grace Partridge exited her bedroom and made her way downstairs to the dining area for a quick breakfast. She was late; her alarm had gone off on time, but she’d been so tired that she hadn’t woken up right away. Brushing some lint off her black coat as she walked past the bathroom, she briefly checked her appearance in the mirror to make sure her blonde locks were safely contained in the strict bun worn by all working women who had long hair. Satisfied, she moved on.

A quick cup of coffee and a slice of toast later, she left the kitchen and proceeded to the living-room, where her mother was getting ready to leave the house. Approaching the dining table where her father was sat reading the paper, she pulled a file and a pen out of her briefcase.

"Could you please sign this?"

Looking up from his morning issue of Emancipia, Errol Partridge gave his daughter a questioning glance. "What’s that?"

"My political theories assignment," Grace replied as she slid the plain white cardboard folder across the table so the Cleric could reach it. "It’s a lawful requirement of the College that underage students notify their guardian or parent of their progress."

"I see."

Putting the newspaper aside, Partridge took and opened the file, speed-reading through the first paragraphs of the essay for a couple of moments before he turned his attention to the professor’s comments sheet at the back.

‘This is a satisfactory piece of work from Grace, who has previously struggled with logic-related topics,’ it said. ‘While she still needs to improve the significance and accuracy of her arguments, it is obvious how much time and effort she has put into this project, and I am pleased about that.’

"You have improved," he stated matter-of-factly as he added his signature at the bottom. "But you still need to work harder. This is not enough."

"I know. I will." Grace nodded her head as she reclaimed the folder and pen, and put them back in her briefcase. Looking at her watch, she subsequently spun around on her heel. It was high time to go. "Are you coming, Helen?"

Her mother merely nodded laconically as she gathered her belongings.

"Goodbye Errol."

There was no emotion whatsoever in Helen Partridge’s voice as she spoke the words. It was simply a pro forma farewell, and her husband’s reply was equally flat. Then the door fell shut behind the two women as they headed for the elevator, leaving the apartment block shortly after.

 


 

2

The multitude of commuters stood and waited patiently behind the yellow lines of platform one as the seven o’clock train from Outer Libria to the City entered the station. Once it had come to a halt and when the doors slid open, hundreds of Librians simultaneously boarded the vehicle. It was morning rush hour; there was not a single working citizen left who wasn’t on the move at this time of the day.




Grace struggled to keep her eyes open as she stepped over the gap and got on the train. Spotting the two women in their Administrator uniforms, two lower-class khaki coats immediately vacated their seats. Sitting down next to her mother, Grace gingerly chewed on the inside of her cheek to force an impending yawn back down her throat. She was so tired that she momentarily wondered how she was supposed to muster up enough energy to get through the long day that lay ahead.

Her first semester at the College of Administration had started only a month ago, and even though most of the classes she had attended so far were still considered part of ‘orientation’, the workload that she was going to have to put up with for the next four years was already very real. She couldn’t remember the last night she’d slept for more than four consecutive hours, but she had no troubles at all reciting the full list of books she’d read, the string of assignments given, and those that were still to come.

‘Deal with it,’ she rigorously lectured herself just a moment later. ‘You are very fortunate to be given the opportunity to attend the College.’

Only graduates of the College of Administration were to become Administrators, the crucial assistants to Libria’s Clerics, and only a handful of exceptionally capable women had ever been admitted. She knew that the Department for Education and Employment chose certain people for specific careers for a reason. If she were considered inadequate, she wouldn’t be there. It was the first of many challenges, and only the very best students would succeed at meeting the high standards of the Tetragrammaton.

Looking over at Helen, Grace straightened up. One day she, too, wanted to be Head of Administration. However, the only way to get there was to be better than the rest. Just like her husband, Helen Partridge had worked harder than anyone else to earn her primary position in Libria’s hierarchy. Despite the fact that her father had been a member of the Second Concilliary of the Tetragrammaton, she hadn’t automatically been considered suitable to handle responsibility. Outstanding efficiency and always being two steps ahead of the competition had gotten her there eventually. The constant pressure of always having to prove herself to her superiors and colleagues in a nearly all-male elite had left the petite female with frequent grey strands in her blonde hair at only thirty-seven years of age. She had made it, but the amount of time and the effort she’d had to put in were a constant reminder for Grace that being born into a prestigious family was not even nearly enough.

"I will be home late today," she told Helen as the train advanced towards the grand tunnel that led to Central Station. "I need to go to Freedom Reading Room to do research on my religious studies paper, and I won’t have time to do that until after my scheduled evening session at the Hall of Exertion."

"Do you have sufficient identification on you?"

"Of course."

During her first week at College, Grace had been stopped and nearly arrested by a sweeper team on her way home from the library after nightfall. Due to increased Resistance activity, a curfew had been enforced that forbade Librians to be outside after dark unless they were authorised otherwise. She’d been aware of that, but it was only when half a dozen guns were pointed at her head that she’d realised she’d left her Inner City All Access pass at home on her desk. Lucky for her, the captain knew her father and had recognised her, and her status as first class citizen and offspring of Libria’s highest ranking Cleric had saved her then. But it had been an entirely unnecessary incident, and she wasn’t going to let that happen again. Minor slip-ups like this were enough to jeopardise her career.

"Same time as – "

She was about to ask her mother whether they would meet for lunch, as usual, when a sudden deafening noise abruptly cut her off, and only a split second later a forceful blast wave catapulted her out of her seat. With the back of her head harshly colliding with the metal wall of the train, she barely felt anything when she slumped face down to the floor. Groaning inwardly, her eyes fluttered shut as she slipped out of consciousness.

 



The rebels did not have a chance.

It was just after sunrise when a convoy of vans pulled up on the square in front of a run-down warehouse and two elite sweeper teams kicked in the main entrance door. With their guns cocked and loaded, the soldiers spread out swiftly inside the building, raiding the empty storage rooms on the ground floor within seconds before moving on to the first storey. By the time the tired, caught-off-guard group of sense offenders were awake enough to stagger onto their feet, they were cornered. Staccato gunfire put a quick, merciless end to their existence before the men had even reached for their weapons.

Outside, a small white car pulled up just as the first rays of the morning sun reached the Nethers. Looking around briefly as they got out, two Clerics emerged from the vehicle. The older one was dressed in the black coat that unmistakably identified a Grammaton Cleric First Class. His younger partner wore a grey uniform. Together they approached the sweeper captain, who was waiting for them at the door.

"Offenders exterminated," the superintendent reported tonelessly as he saluted. "Illegal items located on the second floor. Evidentiary team’s ready."

Partridge nodded simply before stepping inside. The sound of his heavy footsteps echoed throughout the empty building as he slowly made his way down the main corridor. Knocking on the walls ever so often to check for hollow spots, he stopped whenever he passed a doorway to take a look at the respective room on the other side. Preston was close behind him, also automatically scanning his surroundings for possible hideouts.

"Nothing down here," the older Cleric concluded when they got to the staircase.

Nodding his head in agreement, Preston followed him up to the second storey. They came to a halt in the doorway of the first room on their right-hand side, which was crammed with EC-10 rated material of all kinds. There was an extensive shelf that struggled to hold nearly twice as many books as it had been designed to. Boxes of what Partridge identified as "children’s toys" were piled up in the corner, just behind half a dozen containers of apparently random photographs. Candles, crayons, colourful masks, miniature statues and other clutter littered the floor, and a stack of framed paintings was put up against the wall opposite the southward facing window.

Partridge stopped for a moment, staring down at the one on top. It showed a skinny, sexless figure on a pier set against a flaming red sky, its face distorted as it appeared to be screaming in terror. Not even knowing why, he frowned softly for the briefest moment, then turned around to face Preston.

"Get the evidentiary team in here to collect those items," he told his partner, who went to do as he’d just been told, before he himself proceeded to the adjacent room. There the bodies of the dead offenders were piled up in the corner, in a puddle of blood.

Slowly walking towards them to take a closer look, Partridge realised that they were all very young; two boys who had barely finished their teenage years, a woman perhaps in her mid-twenties, and three other men of about thirty years of age. All of them could have had a bright future in Libria, but instead they had turned against their own salvation, had turned against Father. It just made no sense to him at all.

Finding the remaining rooms empty except for a provisional living room with furniture made up of wooden boxes, and several old mattresses on the floor in an attempt to create some kind of bedroom, he returned downstairs, meeting Preston at the door just when he was about to send an additional team of chemists in.

"What’s going on?" Partridge demanded.

"I found it quite strange that the entire ground floor apparently hadn’t been used, so I double-checked the downstairs storage rooms," Preston explained. "There are traces of some kind of … powder that I’m curious about."

He beckoned his partner to follow him, leading him back into the room at the end of the corridor. Squatting down close to the dirty, shattered window, he ran his gloved palm a few inches along the ground, then held it up so Partridge could see it. Most of the particles that had come to stick on the black leather were just ordinary dust and dirt, but there were a few white crystalline ones in-between that didn’t quite seem to belong.

"Good work," Partridge acknowledged as he got back up. He knew very well that his young apprentice was very intuitive. It wasn’t the first time that his instincts had led him to discover something that even an experienced Cleric such as himself might have overlooked because it’d slip through the patterns they’d been taught. His mind just did not work that way. "Perhaps that will explain why there are only six offenders."

"Six?" Preston was surprised. "Intelligence estimated there’d be at least two dozen barricaded in this building."

"They also assumed they’d be fully armed," the older Cleric replied. "But there are only six of them, and all they have is a few old Kalashnikovs."

Shaking his head, Preston followed his mentor back outside. "This is odd. Intelligence is never that severely mistaken."

"I know."

Heading back to the car, Partridge pulled out a metal folder of paperwork to be done immediately on location. Flipping it open, he found a pen and began to run through the forms, his mind still working hard trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

"What if we’re too late?" Preston suddenly said.

Partridge looked up. "I beg your pardon?"

"What if intelligence was right, but the sweeper teams did not get here in time?" the young Cleric wondered. "Or maybe they were somehow warned. Part of the group may have gotten away."

Nodding slowly, his partner paused the paperwork for a moment. "That is possible. Unlikely, but possible."

Partridge was concerned about the large quantity of weapons that wasn’t there. Considering the facts they had – not even half of the expected offenders, and a mysterious white powder in one of the storage rooms – he couldn’t help but thinking that something had gone terribly wrong.

The question was just what, where, and when.

 




4

When she woke up again, Grace couldn’t tell for how long she’d been unconscious, or that she’d passed out in the first place. But the moment she opened her eyes, she instantly wished she hadn’t regained consciousness all that quickly.

Thick black smoke was everywhere, causing her vision to blur as tears flooded her eyes and started to run down her face in an attempt of her body to ease the horrible sting. Then she drew her first breath, only to break into a coughing fit that seemed to break her chest.

She did not move at first. Too delirious to grasp the actual situation, she closed her eyes again, wanting to convince herself that whatever had happened, whatever was going on couldn’t be real. This was Libria. There was no violence, no assaults, no suffering! But then her air supply was suddenly cut off when a boot crashed into her stomach as someone tripped over her, literally kicking her into action.

Her eyes fluttered open again with some difficulty. Wiping the tears and dirt away with the back of her hand, her vision cleared just enough to give her a vague impression of the destruction that was all around. Her body failed to obey her at first when she tried to roll over and sit up, but willpower eventually triumphed over her shaky arms and she popped herself up on her elbows.

It took her a while to realise that the train was gone. Not that it had miraculously disappeared. Instead, it had been completely torn apart. What was left of the first three or so compartments was spread out along the tracks in bits and pieces of different sizes, as though a giant had crushed the vehicle by stepping on it, and afterwards kicked it around until it fell apart. Some of the larger remains were burning furiously. The rear compartments were mostly still intact, but the powerful blast had thrown them off the tracks, crashing them into the pillars of powerlines and parked trains nearby.

Staggering to her feet, Grace took off her black coat ...




...and held it in front of her nose and mouth to filter the poisoned air. Still coughing and rubbing her eyes as she walked away from the burning train wreck, she tried to figure out where she was. It seemed impossible to tell at first because the surrounding area was a complete mess, devastated by the explosion. Then she spotted the opening of the grand tunnel in the near distance and realised they had to be just outside Central Station.

‘What in Father’s name happened?’

Gradually, her mind shook off its temporary state of inertia, and her senses slowly began functioning again. It was only then that she fully registered other survivors stumbling about as helplessly and confused as herself. The sudden onslaught of images, smells and sounds was brutal, and she struggled to keep her balance as dizziness took a hold of her. Groans and shrieks of pain echoed in her ear, and the sickening smell of burned flesh penetrated her respiratory system. Gasping for breath in-between coughs, she ventured on, trying to get away from the disaster zone.

However, Grace had only taken a few steps when she stopped in her tracks. She hadn’t boarded the train by herself. Someone was missing.

‘Helen.‘

Turning around, she soldiered back to where she’d regained consciousness, trying to find her mother. She’d been through enough fire alarm drills to know that smoke inhalation, not burn injuries, was the true danger and cause of death in most fire-related incidents. What if Helen was unconscious and unable to head for a safer spot? It would be considered her fault if the Head of Administration had survived the attack itself, but died of carbon monoxide intake afterwards.

"Helen, can you hear me?" she yelled as she looked around, but her words had barely left her mouth when they faded into the same unidentifiable noise as everything else.

"Helen! Answer me if you can hear me!"

But there was no answer, and in the chaos that surrounded her, wanting to find anything specific at all seemed like madness. Still, Grace searched the wreck for what felt like forever, turning over bodies of both injured and dead passengers, but Helen Partridge was nowhere to be seen. Finally, she gave up.

Slumping to the ground, she leaned back against the cabin of a semi-intact compartment further away. It had taken her body a while to process the impact of the attack, but when the shock eventually began to taper off, pain quickly took its place. The bloody scratches and deep cuts all over her body were burning cruelly, her heartbeat resounded in her pounding head, and the agony she felt when she put even the slightest pressure on her rib cage was torture. Groaning, whimpering and crying silently, she shifted her weight until the pain became somewhat bearable, then her eyes fluttered shut.

Not long after, she passed out again from exhaustion.

 




"When did all this happen?"

"The first bomb detonated at 7:11am, just as the train approached Central Station. There were two subsequent explosions at 7:13am and 7:14am, when the wreck had already come to a halt. We assume the station was the real target, but the train was three minutes delayed because of a defect signal."

"How many citizens are affected?"

"We don’t know yet, Sir. The Railway Control Tower immediately contacted nearby sweeper teams; they’re clearing the area now. Backup is on the way. I have also requested all available medical staff to be sent in. I assumed that would be the right thing to do."

"Of course. I will contact the monastery and send all available Clerics to secure the area. Do you think it is necessary we shut the City down for the day?"

"Unquestionably."

"Fine. Keep me updated on everything."

DuPont waited until the Head of Intelligence had left his office before he picked up the phone. His fingers flew across the keyboard as he dialled the shortcut number to the Head of Clergy, briefing him about the situation. Once he’d passed on his orders, he pressed the conference call button, then dialled again.

It was time for a Council meeting.

 




6

They had almost reached the dead zone between Libria and the Nethers when the beeping alarm of the radio broke the silence that had travelled with them, momentarily startling Partridge and Preston. Reaching over from the front-passenger seat, the older Cleric pressed the receiver button

"Clerics, the City will be closed down shortly due to terrorist activity," a man’s voice announced. "If you need to return to the CBD at all, do so as quickly as you can. You only have one hour."

"What happened?" Partridge asked.

"Three bombs exploded on the seven o’clock train this morning. We do not yet have a definite number of casualties, but the Council and Intelligence have ordered to shut down the inner city as soon as possible to ensure maximum safety for all citizens. Over."

As he switched the radio back to standby, Partridge looked over at Preston, frowning ever so softly.

"What’s the matter?" His younger partner gave him a brief questioning glance before focusing on the road again

"Helen and Grace took that train," Partridge replied. For a split second, there seemed to be something about the sound of his own voice that he didn’t quite like, but it passed so soon that he forgot about it almost immediately. "I wonder if they’re stranded somewhere."

"Can you contact them somehow?"

"Possibly. I’ll try and message them."

Getting his communicator out of his pocket, Partridge opened his contact list and selected the appropriate two recipients.

WHERE ARE YOU?

Then he pressed ‘send’.

They had just passed the security checks at the southern gate when the small apparatus beeped, signalling an incoming message. It was from Grace.

MEET ME AT EQUILIBRIUM.




"Gentlemen, I must say that this attack is very convenient."

DuPont smiled diabolically as he looked at his eleven fellow council members. There was no doubt that the bombing had caused extensive damage and devastation, had shaken Libria to its core. But at the very same time, the assault had stabilised the internal house of cards in an instant.

It had been a complete shock surprise for all of them when Father had unexpectedly died of a stroke earlier that month. His doctors had failed to explain why a healthy, middle-aged man could just drop dead without any warning, but retrospectively, that was hardly relevant. The fact of the matter was that Libria had been leaderless for three weeks. Emergency precautions such as realistic holograms for public appearances and pre-recorded television messages had been installed years ago, of course, but they were more of a short-term fix rather than a long-term solution. Ernest Goodman, as the council members had known him, had not planned to retire for a long time.

His sudden death had left the elite in a power vacuum that threatened the integrity of the entire system should the resistance somehow catch wind of the event. It seemed impossible to imagine Libria without Father’s guidance. He had created the great society the way it was; he had based his citizens’ faith in the system mainly on him as a person. Libria’s citizens were sedated, but nobody was truly immune to doubt. When a strong leader was taken away, nothing was the same, not even under a suitable heir. Napoleon, Alexander, Stalin, Hitler… their works and visions had crumbled all too quickly after they were gone. Without its shepherd, the herd was in jeopardy, and DuPont knew that.

"We needed a reason to justify Father’s late reclusiveness. Gentlemen, here it is. On a silver tray, if I may say so."

Acts of sabotage against Prozium factories and agricultural production units were nothing new, but never before had the aggression been targeted at Librian citizens. Nobody would doubt that now the threat of assassination was just too great to allow Father the same exposure as before. It would make perfect sense for him to appoint a deputy who’d act in accordance to his wishes. The council had already decided that Father’s favourite son would carry on his paternal tradition.

"I want a video message from Father ready within twenty-four hours," DuPont commanded. With the computer programmes that currently existed, it would be challenging, but possible, to produce totally new material. "He will express his concern about the situation, his faith in his citizens, his regret about having to retreat behind the walls of the Tetragrammaton… and he will announce my ascension to Vice-Council on Libria Day."


To be Continued










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