Home>>read In a Time of Darkness free online

In a Time of Darkness

By:John Ringo

PROLOGUE


The girl washing clothes by the side of the rushing stream might once have been pretty. Now, with the exception of her forearms, she was filthy and skinny, her long, brown hair hanging in tendrils around her face. She wore the remains of a fine, blue cosilk tunic, which had been tied up in the heat, and matching pants that had been cut off at midthigh. She was barefoot and her feet were heavily calloused.

Less than a year before Megan Samantha Travante, like all the humans of her time, had lived the life of a god. Before the Fall, with the omnipresent Net to care for every need, humans wallowed in almost inexhaustible luxury. A person could live anywhere, even under the sea or in the photosphere of the sun, Change themselves into almost any form. Food was available with a word, replicated in any form. Safety was guaranteed by personal protection fields capable of surviving in any possible conditions.

Megan's life had been slightly different from the norm. Her father was one of the few remaining "police" of the era, a man who tracked the limited criminal element that sprung up even with enormous luxury. And he was very good at his job. Good enough that he had pressed his only daughter into studying more than was normal for the period and developing a high degree of personal paranoia, not to mention defensive capabilities, which made her strange to many of her friends. Joel Travante knew that even in Paradise the serpent always lurked in the human breast, and he was sure that his daughter knew it as well.

With pressure from her father, and her mother who was an expert on preindustrial art, Megan had used the resources of the Net to develop herself in ways strange to many of her peers. She attended few of the innumerable parties; she, in fact, had very little social life. Her life had been dedicated from an early age to intensive mental and physical training. Teaching methods had advanced along with every other art and science. Besides audio-visual systems that practically hammered knowledge into the young mind there were direct input methods available. Between the two, no realm of knowledge was closed to even the youngest. At first under her parent's pressure, and then on her own for the acorn does not fall far from the oak, Megan had used them to amass an education that would have astounded most professors of previous eras.

The Fall, though, had caught almost everyone by surprise. The Net was managed by the Council of Key-holders, thirteen people who between them held the keys to the program that managed the Net. They had fallen out, the reasons given ranged from their own statements to wild rumors, and started a civil war that had drained the power from the Net and thrown the world into a state of instant barbarism.

Megan had been seventeen at the time of the Fall, not yet officially "released" by her parents, but free to wander at will. She had been visiting a friend in Ropasa when the Fall came while her mother was, presumably, home in the Briton Isles and her father on assignment "somewhere" in the world. Thus she had been left to her own devices. She had managed, through the smarts and paranoia that her father had inculcated, to avoid the worst aftereffects of the Fall. She hadn't been raped, unlike some of her friends, and she hadn't been one of the women chosen as "consorts" to the Changed legions of New Destiny. But it hadn't been easy to avoid either. Finally, she had found work as a washing girl and general servant for one of the elders of the local town. It wasn't a great job, but she had plans. She had skills that were rare in the post-Fall world. Most of those skills required an industrial base that was sorely lacking in the small town she had stumbled into. So she bided her time, watched for opportunities and kept her head down. In time, she'd work her way out of squalor.

In the meantime, she had clothes to wash.

"Excuse me, young lady," a quavering male voice said behind her and she sprung up, holding the stick she had been beating the laundry with as if it were a club.

But the voice had come from an old man who was leaning, wearily, on a stick. Even with the stick, he was no threat.

"Excuse me for startling you," the old man said. He was dressed in rags and his feet were as worn as her own. "I was hoping that you might help me across the ford."

The girl cocked her head at him and, keeping her hand on the stick, walked to support his off-side.

"This is very kind of you," the old man said. "There is not much kindness to be had in this Fallen world."

"It's okay," the girl replied as they entered the stream. "I'm surprised you're able to survive."

"Well, I make my way, you know," the old man replied. He was skinny and his long hair hung in greasy locks over his face and he stumbled on the round stones of the knee-deep ford. "Food is where you find it and I can work, sometimes. Not much to steal from old Paul so no trouble from bandits. I could wish that that damned Sheida hadn't caused all this trouble, though."

Recommend