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Book 5, Chapter 16 - Sudden Attack

 There were several ways Greenland residents could acquire new housing.

The first was commercial. Since there was no standard unit of currency in the wastelands everything was done on a barter system. The Governor put out a list of items their city needed - for instance food, weapons, vehicles and so forth - and entrepreneurial sorts could purchase housing with their wares.

The second was service. Contributing one's time as a soldier, scavenger or builder came with benefits. With enough meritorious service, one of those benefits was free housing.

Finally, there were a few special cases. These were unique in that a person didn't need to pay in any fashion, with the one requirement being that they had a unique and highly sought-after skill. For instance, being a very skilled fighter or a particularly brilliant scientist. These folk were given priority for housing along with the others.

Copperhide had only recently joined Greenland's army. He was a grunt, not of any particular importance, and without any commendations to boast of. He was just a mutant trying to make his way. As he looked up at the brightly lit homes he would never occupy, he was full of envy.

Much to his surprise, however, he was called out. Him and his family would be given a home.

At first he thought he was dreaming. As far as he knew, he'd done nothing to qualify. And he was right - the home was for his son. Ironspike had a rare and impressive talent, or so they said they had discovered at the Institute. Thus he fell under the third condition, one with a unique skill.

When Copperhide took the key he couldn't stop his hand from trembling. Life in the wastes had taught him never to expect good, so something like this was taboo for him to even imagine. He took his son and quickly went to find his wife, who was working on the outskirts of the city. She was working in a steel factory and when they arrived she was helping to move two hundred pounds of steel they were planning to use for the railway.

She was just as stunned to hear the news as her husband had been. Her son, who yesterday was a normal mutant, was actually hiding such an important talent?

The foreman of the plant, a former Talon captain, gave Stonepetal the day off so they could move their belongings to their new home. Overcome with joy, the small family quickly gathered their things.

These new neighborhoods were guarded by soldiers. Anyone had to verify their identity before they could enter. Copperhide and his family were happy to see this, since one of their main concerns is always safety. For the first time, the leader of a city set guards and patrols in a residential area. At last they wouldn't have to fear. No other city in the wastelands could match this.

It also made the Governor's ambitions clear. If he could create a safe place in the hostile wilds, it would undoubtedly attract many capable warriors and talented scientists. Sooner or later Greenland City would be a hub where the gifted gathered.

Three timid figures trundled up the stairs.

"Ironspike!" A voice called out to them. "You're so late! I've been waiting for you!"

An adorable little girl was waiting at the top of the landed with her arms crossed. She watched the family approach with dazzling blue eyes. Copperhide and Stonepetal looked at one another. They didn't recognize the child.

However, Copperhead could tell right away there was something special about her. Although she didn't even up to his knee there was something... dangerous in her presence. An inkling in the back of his mind wondered if he'd been able to stop this little thing if she meant them harm.

Ironspike immediately presented himself respectfully. "Monitor?"

Azura had been selected as class monitor of Greenland Institutes' gifted program. Her small, frail frame belied great talent. During their training Ironspike had sparred with her on a couple of occasions, each time he was thoroughly trounced. What really gave him pause, though, was the sort of support Azura got. Word was she was the Governor's personal disciple.

"Let me help you." Azura very politely offered to share their burden. She approached Copperhide and picked up a sack nearly twice her size without issue. "I'm staying with Headmistress Claudia on the fifth floor. Come find me when we're not busy and we'll play!"

Ironspike was excited. "The Headmistress lives here, too?"

"Yup! Next door there's a man named Uncle Roc. He's also really strong. Maybe you can ask him for some pointers, right?" Azura spoke as she helped them move their things inside. "Uncle Rio lives on the fourth floor. He's really good at martial arts. Maybe he'll teach you some things, too."

Copperhide and Stonepetal were silent, but listened in amazement. They'd both heard of these people she was talking about. They were important people in the city, but instead of living in the fort they were here. In the same building as them.

"Here we are!" Azura led them to a door on the third floor and pushed it open. "Welcome home!"

It was very simple, but not unfurnished. There was a stone table, chairs, and even a bed. Even a kitchen and a toilet. And most importantly - electricity!

Azura pulled a cord dangling from the ceiling and the lights sparked to life. The mutants dragged their eyes around in speechless appreciation.

The sound of them shuffling around attracted their next door neighbors. Each floor had four units. To their left was a family whose child was one of Ironspike's classmates. On their right was an elderly man working in the laboratories. Across the way was a group of Talon soldiers.

Everyone took a moment to introduce themselves.

Amazing. Unbelievable, except here it was before everyone's eyes; mutants, scientists, and Elysian soldiers all living together. This sort of thing would be laughed at as ludicrous, or met with jaws hitting the floor.

Azura happily helped Ironspike arrange his room. When they were finished she gathered them together. "Now remember, if you need anything feel free to talk to your neighbors. But don't start any fights or cause any trouble. The rules here are pretty strict and violators will be punished!"

Copperhide and the others nodded in understanding. Azura nodded, bade them farewell, and left.

That night, the family of three settled down for dinner in their new home.

Every neighborhood had patrols and guards at the gates. The buildings inside were a mix of Elysians and wastelanders living together, too. Claudia, Roc, Rio... only an idiot or someone looking to get themselves killed would cause trouble here.

For the first time this humble group of mutants felt a sense of belonging. They were joyful and encouraged by the wonderful turn their lives had taken. Greenland had done well by them, so they were determined to work as hard as they could to pay that back.

The next morning Stonepetal was up early and on her way to the steel factory. Ironspike literally ran to school for his training. Copperhide returned to the barracks to report for duty. Word had spread that his family was moved into one of the new neighborhoods so he was greeted with congratulations and a lot of questions.

When he explained what it was like, everyone's eyes glimmered and they rubbed their hands in anticipation. Copperhide was the first of their group to live in those wonderful homes, a fact which filled him with pride.

A soldier's life was simple. Every day was comprised of two things; train with Talon troops, and go on patrol. From time to time they'd have to deal with an escaped animal, but that was about it. Today was turning out to be a calm one.

Then, after lunch, their captain called everyone together. They had a special patrol mission.

His explanation of their job wasn't very clear. Copperhide and the others were marched to the outskirts of town where they'd cleared out an area for expansion. In the middle of the clearing was an enormous mushroom twenty meters high, with threads of blue through its white stem.

Copperhide wasn't surprised to see it. They were starting to crop up all over the city. They looked like giant mushrooms but were incredibly tough. Cutting through them with a sword or axe took a lot of work, so they tended to grow very tall.

Lately, a few seemed rather different. They were surrounded by fields of dense mushroom growth that were smaller and collected almost like bushes.

Their mission was to protect this mushroom and its field of miniatures from being disturbed by wild animals. One important instruction was that they were not permitted to get close to it under any circumstances. Watch and protect, that was all.

What a strange mission...

Copperhide was confused, so he didn't pay it much heed. They were a small unit, but like any military they were trained to follow orders without question. So it was that he and the others settled in their patrol rout.

Several groups of wasteland scientist came and went while they performed their duty. They muttered and pointed, and scribbled notes.

What puzzled Copperhide was that the scientists didn't dare come near, either. Mostly they used tools to apply fertilizer from a distance. Bucket after bucket of a black substance were poured onto the ground and quickly swallowed up by the mushroom field. They could see the big mushroom growing before their eyes.

Before they left, they would use more instruments to pluck some of the small mushrooms. Another patch would grow to replace those that were taken in the blink of an eye.

Dusk was approaching. Soon, they would hand over their watch to the next patrol. With so little for them to do, Copperhide and the others were relaxed and ready to go home. They spent their time chatting about different topics, but all of a sudden their talking stopped when a palpable sense of danger fell over them.

"Ahh!"

The scream came from somewhere in the forest. One of their companions!

Copperhide's face stiffened and he hefted his battle ax. "Something's wrong!"

The other guards were alert but couldn't see the threat. Then a salvo of bullets came ripping through the brush, knocking several off their feet.

"Those aren't beasts!" "Sneak attack! We're under attack!"

"Copperhide, sound the alarm!"

His captain shouted the order just as something separated from the trees. This translucent outline passed right through the officer, severing his head from his body.

Fear seized Copperhide. Without a second thought he turned and ran. He didn't know how, but whatever that was had gotten right up on the captain before he could react. The captain's head was cut right off like he was made of paper. Copperhide was no match for this enemy.

That power was more like what the Governor commanded. This was no ordinary foe! But what the hell was it?!

1. Every class in China has a 'class leader.' They weren't part of my schooling grow up in the US so the closest I could come up with was a class monitor. In essence, class leaders are drafted by the teacher to act as an assistant. They snitch on bad kids, relay orders, pass out papers and take notes when there's a substitute, etc. The teacher always picks their best student for this job. In selecting Azura for class leader it shows that she is excellent in a class full of excellent students.

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