Three days after the rebel group had barricaded themselves into the old farm someone came knocking on the front door of the main cottage. It was very polite, without any sign of aggression. Atlantis went to the door and opened it, not even stopping to think how someone could have gotten in through the tall stone walls and numerous security lookouts. Mansonia and Culiseta, two of the three triplet brothers, stood behind him holding pitchforks pilfered from the shed across the yard and sharpened with whetstones found in the cupboard under the stairs.
Standing on the wooden porch was a young man dressed in a dark grey suit. His hair was shiny and neat and his black oxford shoes were mud-free and clear of scuffing.
“Who are you?” Atlantis growled, unwilling to let his surprise show, “What do you want with us?”
The young man smiled calmly at him, holding up his hands in surrender. In one smooth palm was the handle to a sturdy black briefcase, looking just as clean and tidy as the rest of him.
“I’m on your side,” he said softly, a strong Cheshire accent clear in his tone, “the rest of my firm went to serve Queen Ishtar, but I escaped. Please,” here he stepped forward slightly, and in return Atlantis took a step back, retreating slightly into the house, “help me,”
Behind him, Mansonia and Culiseta dropped their weapons to their sides.
“Should I get the captain?” Mansonia offered, already feeling uncomfortable in the present situation. Atlantis nodded, without turning his head from the man in the suit.
“Ask Melophorus to make some tea, while you’re at it,”
“Bro,” said Mansonia, and he saluted. He turned on his heel and disappeared quickly down the dimly lit hallway. It was late afternoon and already starting to get dark, so there were plenty of flickering candles sat upon dishes all through the cottage.
Electricity wasn’t wasted on lighting; it was far too precious for that.
The attention turned back to the man on the doorstep. An air of silence grew over the men until Mansonia returned with the captain of the rebel group, Scarabaeus.
“Wha’s ‘appening, Atlantis?” he said, a heavy drawl to his voice.
“Sir,” Atlantis began, but was interrupted by the man on the doorstep, who said,
“Scarabaeus, I presume? You must be the leader of this group, given your title. I heard about the I.A.I ages ago, before the second war had even broken out,”
“Tha’s right,” said Scarabaeus, eyeing the man curiously, “an’ you are?”
“Of course, how could I have forgotten,” he said, holding his hand out to shake, “Thaddeus Gloom, at your service, Sir,”
Scarabaeus hesitated for a second, but took the man’s hand anyway. His mind was made up. He invited Thaddeus into the house, and brought him and Atlantis into the sitting room. The three of them sat in pastel coloured armchairs, facing the unlit fireplace. Thaddeus rubbed his hands together as if he were cold, and Atlantis shifted around in his seat like he couldn’t get comfortable. Only Scarabaeus was still, with his feet planted firmly on the ground and his leather-clad elbows resting gently on his knees.
Melophorus came through the hallway leading to the kitchen, carrying a tray that held a metal teapot and three cups. A white ceramic jug contained milk and a small glass bowl was filled with sugar. She set it down on the coffee table and nodded to Scarabaeus and Atlantis, then gave Thaddeus a strange look and scurried off.
“Righ’,” said Scarabaeus, pouring himself a cup and adding one, two, three sugars. No milk. “Thaddeus,” the addressed man sat up straighter in his seat.
“Exactly wha’ the bloody hell do you fink you’re doing out ‘ere? And ‘ow the hell did you find us?” His voice was rough, and Thaddeus swallowed nervously.
“Well, Sir,” he began, “the accounting firm I came from went bankrupt just after the beginning of the Second War, and most of my buddies went to serve the Queen. I considered but I- I had a family to support. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving them, alone with no money. I just couldn’t,” he choked, his eyes glistening with tears.
“What happened to them?” asked Atlantis softly.
“Three weeks ago,” Thaddeus said, “the Queen’s Army stormed our city. They burned the school, they burned the hospital, they burned everything to the ground. Said there were traitors hiding there. They- they killed my wife. Shot her in the back while she was running away, trying to get to our son. One of them told me it was self- defense; he said he was scared.”
“And your son?” Atlantis probed, sharing a horrified look with Scarabaeus. Thaddeus hung his head in his hands and through muffled fingers he whispered,
“They took him. He’s dead,”
There was silence in the sitting room for some minutes, broken only by the clink of the teacups and the wind blowing and howling outside. It got louder by the second, becoming a constant white noise that sounded like radio static. The sky was grey, covered with clouds.
Scarabaeus was the first to speak.
“You said you came from an accounting firm, yea? You any good?”
Atlantis was thankful that he had steered away from the topic of Thaddeus’s family.
“You could say that,” Thaddeus said, a weak smile on his face, “I was employee of the month every other month; earned the company millions of dollars, I think. I did other stuff for the big bosses too-sometimes they’d get me to break into the computer networks of other firms and check out what they were doing. That’s helpful, right? I can break codes and stuff, ”
Scarabaeus snorted, “There ain’t much room for a coder at the moment, wha’ with electricity bein’ so scarce,” He was still for a moment, deep in thought. Finally he stood up. Atlantis and Thaddeus followed suit, jumping to their feet.
“Mr Gloom,” his face stretched into a broad grin, “welcome to Insects Against Ishtar, ”
Thaddeus Gloom fit in well with the rebel group. Within minutes of being introduced he was making friends, talking and laughing with others as he helped prepare the main cottage for the final meal of the day. He didn’t see Scarabaeus or Atlantis until the dinner was almost finished being served; they had disappeared into some side room- presumably to discuss his arrival.
The group had grown so large over the past few months that many people were forced to sit on cushions and stools around the room as they ate the thick pumpkin soup and fresh hot bread. Thaddeus was sitting perched on a tall stool in the corner, underneath a bushel of drying lavender. The bowl he had was made of metal and was burning his thighs through the thin cotton of his suit pants, but he didn’t care. He was safe now.
The room was filled with chatter as everyone ate, exchanging news about their days and other pleasantries. Two girls sat next to each other at a side table,reading a book on astronomy. Their heads were bent close, almost touching, and their hands were intertwined with one another. Thaddeus looked away, if only to give them some privacy.
The young man next to him saw who he was looking at, and leaning closer to him to be heard.
“The Queen’s younger sister, that’s her,” “What?” Thaddeus stared back,
“The one on the left, brown hair. Her name is Maggot,”
“O-oh. Right. Thank you?” he wasn’t sure what to say. Then it hit him, “Wait, the Queen’s sister? As in Queen Ishtar?”
“That’s exactly the one,” the man replied, “I’m Bobby, by the way. But you should probably call me Boopedon. Codenames and all, eh?” he had a canadian accent and wore a jacket with some sort of sporting logo on it. The knees of his grey jeans were torn, and there was a sticking plaster across his left cheek. He looked to be about twenty years old. Thaddeus was about to continue the conversation but only managed,
“Bobby, hi. I’m Thaddeus. I don’t have a codena-” before he was interrupted by Scarabaeus, who had climbed to stand at the head of the main table where he was always allocated to sit- being leader of the group did have its perks, after all.
“Ladies and gen’lemen,” he began, and everyone cheered, “ladies and gen’lemen, we ‘ave a newcomer in our midst,” cue more cheering, “Thaddeus Gloom, will you please stand up?” Thaddeus passed his bowl to Boopendon and stood, less nervous than he had expected to be. The group cheered again, some even calling his name.
“Thaddeus has become our resident accountant, alright? Any number problems you ‘ave can go to him, an’ I’m sure he’ll help you. As soon as we get a proper computer he’ll be the one to set it up so you can all check your emails or wha’ever it is you do,” he grinned at Thaddeus, clearly enjoying himself, “and now, before you can all go back t’ eating your dinner -prepared by the lovely Melophorus, I should add- we need to find Mr Gloom a codename! Can’t have him going around revealing his identity to everyone, yea? Anyway, back to it. Any suggestions?”
Someone from the back of the room called out, “What about Ochetellus?”
“Hey! That’s my name!” someone else replied,
“What about Tethea? The Figure of Eighty moth,” called another voice. From where he was standing Thaddeus could see it was the other girl who had been sitting with Maggot. Scarabaeus rubbed his hands together.
“Perfect!” he roared, “Tethea it is! Alright Thaddeus, you can forget about your old name from now on. ‘ere on out, you;ll be known as Tethea,”
“Uh, thanks, I guess,” he said, and Scarabaeus jumped down from the table and strode through the room. He took Tethea’s dark hand in his own and shook it vigorously, officially sealing the deal. He nodded to Boopendon and informed Tethea that Atlantis would be taking him for a tour of the grounds first thing the next morning. Tethea said he was looking forward to it. Scarabaeus returned to his seat and very quickly the room went back to loud chatter. Boopendon handed back the bowl and continued their conversation as though nothing unusual had happened.
Tethea went to bed with the taste of his new name lingered on his lips, as though he was finally leaving his old life behind.
He was woken just a few hours later by someone with a candlestick stumbling back into the room and tripping over his leg.
“Ah, hell!” the figure whispered, “Sorry about that mate, I’m not used to someone sleeping there,” he sounded Australian. Tethea told him it was alright and that he should blow out the candle before someone else woke up.
He rolled over and tried to get back to sleep, but to no avail. A few minutes later something loud crashed outside the window; it sounded like someone had thrown a couch off the roof. Everyone was awake immediately, frantically rubbing the sleep from their eyes and scrambling to find shoes. Someone drew the curtains open and
gasped; there was a large mob formed at the gates of the farm.
Tethea was reminded of old storybooks, where the villagers would come to hunt the monster with torches and pitchforks held high.
The whole house was alive, with people rushing through the halls left, right, and center. Someone handed Tethea a trowel, the edge as sharp as any kitchen knife. He was careful to keep it held close to his body so he didn’t accidentally stab anybody.
He bumped into Boopendon, who grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him close, out of the way.
“Alright, Tethea,” he said, speaking loudly to be heard over the rush, “you ready?” “What’s happening?” he shouted, confused and dazzled from lack of sleep.
“The villagers are totally against us,” he answered, “they’re trying to kick us out,” Suddenly Tethea was alert, realising that his new home could be taken away from him in an instant. His hand tightened around the handle of the trowel. He must have had a determined look on his face, because Boopendon took one look and chuckled.
“Come on, hacker man,” he said, “let’s get ‘em,”
The two of them somehow made their way to the front door and stormed out, rushing to catch up with a group who had just left. They made their way directly to the front gates and arrived just in time for the first of the villagers to get through. One of them came straight for Tethea with a wild look on his face and he lashed out with the trowel, striking him in the chest. Unfortunately it did nothing but knock him back a little, as Tethea was left handed and the sharpened edge was facing towards his own body. Nevertheless he fought with fists and even feet, helping to kick away attackers who had latched themselves to the rebels. All he could hear was the rushing of blood in his ears and the shouts of both enemy and friend. The air stank with the faint tang of blood and the rich invasive sent of sweat. Underneath his feet the ground was trampled, tearing away the grass and giving way to thick squelching mud. Someone charged past him and he stumbled, falling to his knees. Another stepped backwards and trod on his hand, grinding the knuckles into the earth. It stung like hell and Tethea had to bite his lip to keep from crying out, his eyes watering. He managed to get to his feet and was suddenly very tired, wishing that he could just pull a blanket over his head and sleep for a year.
The I.A.I outnumbered the villager group by many, and were soon able to push them back behind the walls. It took some time but eventually they admitted defeat, some of them even begging forgiveness from Atlantis, who Tethea found out was captain of the guards and the most skilled fighter of the whole group.
Everyone trudged back, muddy and exhausted. The australian who had woken Tethea in the first place now leaned on his shoulder, having twisted his ankle quite badly.
“Tethea, yea?” he said companionably, “I’m Myrmecia, pleased to meet ya,” he chortled to himself as he realised the sentence rhymed, “How’s it feel to have won ya first fight?”
“If I’m being quite honest,” Tethea began, “all I want is to go back to bed,”
Myrmecia threw his head back and laughed, a deep hearty sound that seems to fill Tethea with happiness.
“That sounds about right, mate,” he said, “that sounds about right,”
By Oliver Wood from Australia