Consolidati - By W. Bjorn

Book I

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke


Shadow enfolded this house in the Outskirts of London. The streets forking their way around the structure were dusty, without electricity, without so much as a rat to scurry in their corners. Like a pair of lungs saturated with tar, the area fought a losing battle for its own existence. There were other houses, but no longer a neighborhood. No one lived there but the small party hiding in this house—and they wanted desperately to remain undiscovered.

Inside, Sefu’s chair creaked in relief from his colossal weight as he stood up and picked his way carefully through the sleeping figures lying on the floor. He reached the window, using his index finger to draw back the thick black tarp that they had installed to prevent their heat signatures from escaping into the street. In the last hour a low hanging fog had obscured all light from the moon and stars. The grey pressed down like a falling ceiling. He glanced quickly in all directions, hardly breathing, and let the tarp fall back again.

Nothing. Nothing visible. Then why was he so on edge? A long time they had run, and a long time his instincts had kept them alive, and now it was only them, their little group, hiding in this tiny cage like insects under grains of rice.

He turned around to find his wife, Nkiruka, sitting up. She was watching him intently. He knew she recognized his tension.

“He is here?” she mouthed to him. Her eyes betrayed little fear. She only looked ready—ready to run.

He could only bite down hard on his jaw and shake his head. For years they had lived in the Outskirts and escaped detection in the nights with cautious migration. Every night of the month a new squat, and never in the same order. Their ward against evil was the systematic erraticism. He sighed quietly in his chair. Their system was proven to work, but what can be proven to work forever? Nkiruka rose from the blankets where their son Faraji was still sleeping and made her way over to him, putting her arms around his neck and head, as if to help him think.

“Something is wrong?” she whispered in his ear. “We should wake them?”

Sefu looked across the floor of the room where the others slept. They were all long-time friends or family. Stephen, Afia, and Amadi under a pile of blankets in the far corner. Agni and Nara were sleeping together near the door to the hall. The huge figure of Gus was coiled in the middle of the room next to his tiny daughter, Jess. Jozef and Wit slept apart not far away.

There were twelve of them in total and they all knew what to do in the event of their discovery. If their party was set upon, most would stay to fight, while Gus would take Jess, Nkiruka, and Faraji and run for the old tube tunnels, from which they would try to navigate their way into the city proper. The old tubes were dark and dangerous, and most of the adults knew their chances of even reaching the city were poor at best. This had been their plan since the day Gus’s wife Katherine had failed to return to them one day the previous summer. She was not the first to vanish but the whole group missed her painfully, so much that some suggested they call their pursuers to them and mount a last stand. Sefu had persuaded them away from that suicidal course. This plan had been their compromise, and he knew they would stick to it—most were tired of running.

“I don’t know. I feel he is here, but I do not see him.”

“We should prepare for him, or leave now,” she said quietly. Her eyes were sad, and she tightened her grip on him.

“To go outside,” he said, “even to run away, is not a safe thing. What if he does not come? We will be split. We will have no shelter. We will be less safe out there than in here. You know this.”

She looked at him slowly, nodded.

“I will keep watch the rest of the night,” he said, “Stay with Faraji. Be ready to leave quickly. That is all we can do.”

He rose once again and went to the window to peer outside. This time he remained there with one eye at the side of the tarp. The fog rolled slowly past them, moving ever downward. The other buildings