Genet watched from the balcony. He was out of tears and prayers. Only bitter outrage remained.
The pilgrims sought escape back through the Ring. Turiq and his men fired on them. Alien machines rolled and flew through the streets.
Then he heard the distant sound. He identified it simply because it was unheard of in this place: a jet. He could see it far above moving across the sky.
He could not see the bomb. It was too small and fell too fast. He saw the light of its explosion: the last thing he saw before being consumed by fire.
“Is that Chinese?” asked Luiz.
Monica hushed him with a hiss. Jordan said, “Korean,” during a lull in the conversation coming from the radio.
“What are they saying?” asked Luiz. Ellie hissed this time. He looked to Hutch, who only shrugged.
Jordan spoke in short clips. “It’s a pilot. And a base. A boat, maybe. Shit. The plane’s a bomber. Shit. A nuclear bomber.”
“Where is it?” asked Monica. Everyone wore the same terrified expression.
“I can’t tell. Over a Ring city.” Jordan swallowed. “They are counting down.”
Hutch paled. “We’d see it right? Right?” he said then ran outside.
Miss Ryu took a deep breath before entering General Namgung’s office carrying a tea tray in one hand and a file in the other. She hated his leering and disdainful gaze.
The General was in conference at his desk display. He waved at her dismissively when she approached with the tea and file, but still ran his eyes over her.
She bowed and backed out of the room, thankful he did not have time for her. As she left she heard him say, “Redirect the bombers to Ethiopia.”
She hurried to her desk. There she sent a message to Hyong.
Genet walked the bloodied street. The dead were removed but the squirming, furry scavengers lapped up dried blood and viscera. The wind carried wailed prayers from the alleys but no one dared come out into the lane. The rows of alien machines waited motionless.
At the edge of the Pit he prayed, “God, show me my path.”
In the black there was a spark. He thought it was just a reflection but then it shone again. It was followed by a deep hum. Suddenly, the lines of machines turned away from the Ring to point at the Pit, at Genet.
“Explain it like I’m five,” said Ellie.
Jordan sighed, then said, “I used math. How isn’t important.”
“Based on the speed and trajectory of the satellite, combined with what we know about the size of this planet and the distribution of the Rings, I am almost certain that satellite was launched from Pyongyang.”
“Shit,” said Ellie.
“Shit,” said Monica.
“How did that isolationist regime survive?” asked Hutch.
“I think you answered your own question,” said Ellie.
“There’s more,” said Jordan. “Ever since the machines turned on, the transmissions from the satellite have increased. Something is about to happen.”
The sphere floated in the air, bobbing slightly. Lajos set his crystal tipped arrow and drew.
Beneath the sphere, Eberardo crouched. He held his spear, also tipped with crystal. When Lajos whistled the signal he tensed, ready.
Lajos’ arrow found the narrow gap with perfect precision. Electricity flashed and popped and the sphere dove toward the ground. It glowed with an angry light. Eberardo found the wide crack Lajos had made and thrust. He released the spear and hurled himself away.
The explosion shook Lajos’ teeth. He held his breath until he heard Eberardo laugh and then he laughed, too.
The tent was a mile from the Ring. Inside, Hyong stared in silence at the screens that displayed the drone feeds.
The machine approximated a humanoid shape immense in scale. Data overlays measured it at nearly a kilometer in height.
Length, rather. It lay in the snow severely damaged. Much of what would have been its back and most of both legs were missing, sheared off precisely and cleanly. It remained operational despite the damage and appeared to be crawling away from the Ring.
Captain Kim said, “It is emitting a signal.”
“Yes,” said Hyong. “It has woke the rest.”
The throng chanted. Genet tried to speak but his voice crumpled against the admonition of the masses. Finally he retreated from his balcony.
“Enlightened One, the guardians are ready,” said Turiq. “Just give the word.”
Genet paced. How could they have turned against him? Did they not see that the heresy of Ajani and Jazarah was to blame? Did they not understand what was at stake? Could they not feel God’s wrath?
Genet nodded. Turiq raced off to give the order.
Minutes later the sound of gunfire erupted. Screams. Prayers. Genet remained stoic. He knew God’s will flowed through him.
Hutch kicked the heptahedron and then threw the control unit. “It ain’t doing shit!”
“Okay, okay” said Ellie evenly. “Now we know.” She looked sidelong at Luiz who only shook his head.
“Well, they aren’t rolling through the Ring in a takeover, so that’s something,” said Ellie.
“Yet,” said Hutch.
“If they were going to do that, why did they wait until now? It’s been years.”
“Hell if I know.”
Luiz looked up from his book. “Something’s different. Whatever changed it was right after someone launched that satellite.”
Ellie nodded. “Yeah. We need to know who launched it, and why.”
“Something has happened,” said Miss Ryu.
Her image pixelated and her voice warped. Hyong slapped the tablet to no avail. “What happened?” he asked. Her response was inaudible and then the signal was lost.
He took a moment to compose himself then stowed the tablet. He zipped his parka and stepped out of the shelter and into the cold.
The Ring loomed in the sky, backlit by aurora. Its immensity made it seem just out of reach.
Captain Kim dashed over and said, “You need to see this, sir.”
“The machine. It isn’t like the others. And it’s operational.”