Gyana Banerjee, a genius girl who would be queen, loses her inheritance to invading foreigners. For awhile she plays the part of dutiful student and citizen. But as she gets older, her need for revenge increases. An unexpected discovery at a science lab may aid her in her cause. But she will still be up against the largest nation the world has ever seen. If she fails, she will be enslaved with countless others. If she succeeds, there will be a war like no other.
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The once future queen stared across the war-torn land she was stolen from, and realized that if she delayed any further she would be tardy for history class. Normally Gyana wouldn’t mind making up for the infraction after school, but lately the faculty had seemed less forgiving of her misconduct. In fact, if she wasn’t at the top of the advanced class, she would have already been suspended. Multiple times.
So, wishing to avoid the wrath of Mrs. Robinson, Gyana slid down the second-story roof onto the balcony below. But before she could even brush the dirt from her dark-green uniform, she saw what she had tried to avoid. Mrs. Robinson, the least forgiving of the faculty, glaring disapprovingly from the doorway.
“You’re late,” Mrs. Robinson pointed out as she crossed her arms over her chest. “Again.”
“Oh,” Gyana replied with a smirk, “am I? I could’ve sworn I still had a few minutes.”
“No, but you do have to see the headmaster now.”
If it were any other educator, Gyana knew she would’ve had a chance at talking her way out of trouble. But, being the youngest educator in the nation, Mrs. Robinson was exceptionally strict with her students, regardless of academic or athletic achievement.
Gyana tried to chuckle her way past Mrs. Robinson, but was halted by a hand placed on her shoulder.
“I’m worried,” Mrs. Robinson began softly, “it’s like you don’t even want to try anymore.”
Gyana’s smile fell as she shrugged off Mrs. Robinson’s hand and flatly said, “I’ll be sure to think on that, ma’am.”
Mrs. Robinson sighed in disappointment as Gyana crossed the room in front of the twenty-one occupied desks. The teacher had hoped for a pupil as promising as Gyana, but the teenager wasn’t what she expected at all.
From the first day Gyana arrived at Woodcreek Academy, her intellectual superiority had been evident, but so had her apathetic nature. Most of the faculty assumed it stemmed from a deep depression, brought on by the recent loss of her family. But Mrs. Robinson, who had gone through something similar at the same age, wasn’t convinced that was the answer. She had tried conversing with Gyana about what had transpired, but never felt that positive progress was being made. In fact, even when Gyana was ten, Mrs. Robinson sensed an anger that seethed within the girl. She thought that perhaps providing Gyana with an academic challenge would help take her mind off the troubles she was going through. But no matter what challenge was presented to her, Gyana overcame it with little more than a sigh of boredom. Mrs. Robinson was even beginning to suspect something inside the teenager had, in a sense, broken.
Once she made the short walk through the hall and down the stairs, Gyana stood before the oak door of Headmaster Sotkin’s office. A small smile tugged at the corner of her lips as she recalled the day she arrived. As a ten year old heiress who was sold as a symbol of faithful negotiations, the thick door seemed like a monolith signaling the end of everything she knew. Though she would come to stand before the door countless times, a part of her still felt intimidated by it.
Gyana reached a hand forward, but before she could knock, a smooth baritone voice beckoned her to enter. So, after taking a preparatory breath, she slowly pushed the door open. Cool air instantly rushed from the strangely spacious office, causing her to shiver as she stepped into the dim room.
“Gyana,” Headmaster Sotkin greeted with a sigh as he ran a hand through his thinning white hair.
“Headmaster,” she replied with a slight nod.
“Close the door, y-”
“-I’m letting the heat in, I know,” Gyana finished as the door clicked shut behind her.
Headmaster Sotkin huffed in annoyance and waited for Gyana to take one of the two chairs opposite his file-covered desk. Even after she sat down, his hazel eyes seemed to burn right through her.
“I would say it’s good of you to visit,” Headmaster Sotkin sighed, “but I assume you’ve angered Mrs. Robinson, yet again.”
“Something like that.”
“Really, Gyana, what’s gotten into you lately? You’re tardy to almost every class, you hand in assignments late, you’ve even been caught fighting!” The disappointment was evident on the headmaster’s face, and Gyana stared at the floor to avoid looking at him. “I’m not even sure what to do anymore. It’s like you d-“
“-like I don’t even care. I’ve been told.” Guyana interjected impatiently.
Headmaster Sotkin clenched his jaw in anger at the interruption. Few other students were brave enough to speak to him in a disrespectful tone, and none got away with it as often as Gyana. He knew the favoritism he showed her was out of pity for what brought her to his school. But any time he looked at her he only saw the scared little girl he first met.
“Since you prefer private solidarity,” Headmaster Sotkin began, “I think the best punishment for you will involve socialization. And as it so happens, Dr. Pearlman’s aide failed to show up today. So you will accompany him, as his assistant, to The Block.”
Though Gyana had wanted to see the many research labs in The Block since she learned of it, she wasn’t sure how she felt about being sent there as a form of punishment. While it would certainly be nice to witness the progression of science first-hand, baby-sitting two-dozen underclassmen would almost undoubtedly ruin the experience. But it wasn’t as if Gyana actually had a choice of going or not.
Once Gyana nodded in agreement, Headmaster Sotkin waved a hand dismissively and said, “Good, now hurry before you miss the departure.”
Gyana opened her mouth to apologize to her legal guardian, but decided to remain silent as she exited the room. She often felt bad when her actions caused more stress for Sotkin, and wished she could be everything he expected of her. But the more she tried to live as he and others expected, the more she felt like an imposter. Maybe it was because she was already playing the part of a dedicated student and citizen. She tried to push the thoughts of her seemingly endless deception from her mind, but the portraits lining the green-carpeted halls depicted the very thing that drove her actions.
In chronological order, the painted scenes depicted the front of the school from a high angle. At first each picture seemed the same as the last, aside from seasonal changes. But the more recent images, dating to a few years before Gyana’s arrival, detailed the effects of the war. The first painting commissioned during the war showed the school from a short distance, so that the smoke and fire of far off battles were visible. The next image depicted an aerial view of the grounds surrounded by thick concrete walls, and a company of soldiers dotting the landscape. Then the next painting once again showed the school from a low angle, only this time the elegance was lost to destruction. The walls of the northwest corner had collapsed, the door was blown open, and each of the windows were boarded shut. But in the following painting the school had been not only rebuilt, but improved. In place of the brick walls was reinforced concrete, and thick hard covered the windows. In fact the school was more representative of a prison during the darkest year of the war. In the few years after that the school kept the reinforced walls, but added a layer of decorative brick to restore its beauty. The bars were removed and colorful shrubbery was added below the windows. While it still looked formidable, it once again looked as prestigious as its inhabitants.
Gyana exited the front of the school, happy to be free of its overindulgent confines, and shielded her eyes from the morning sun. Waiting at the bottom of the steps, the lanky Dr. Pearlman stood beside the open bus door and tapped his foot rapidly.
“It’s about time,” Dr. Pearlman said impatiently, “we should have left four minutes ago!”
“Relax Pearlman,” Gyana smiled softly, “the labs aren’t going anywhere.”
“Yes, but if we don’t hurry, we'll miss the ignition of the antimatter reactor! Now please, take your seat.”
Gyana nodded her compliance and boarded the bus that seemed more fit for a pop star than a school. Though she had met each student present at least once, none of them were what she would consider to be a friend. Most of them were already preoccupied with spreading gossip among themselves, but a few smiled politely at her as they made eye contact. Instead of treading to one of the empty seats near the middle, Gyana took the window seat behind the driver. She knew Dr. Pearlman would sit beside her, and thankfully neither were the talkative type.
As Gyana expected, the thirty-minute drive to The Block was spent in silence. Which gave her time to ponder the vast changes of the city. The war had officially ended three years ago, when the Queen of Rinabas -Gyana’s mother- surrendered to the opposing Dilalie States. As a part of the surrender, the port city of Vardai became the new capital. And since the Dilalie States couldn’t have the capital of their newest territory in disrepair, rebuilding began and ended quickly. Within the last two years, the area surrounding the school had gone from a war-torn battlefront, to a gleaming metropolis. But despite the reconstruction, the skyscraper apartments were reserved for those with the most money and political power.
Any previous inhabitants who wished to return to the city were placed into temporary housing facilities, located in the, yet to be re-built, outskirts. To add to their distraught, the previous citizens were forced to complete a lengthy and complicated re-entry application. So, as the Dilalie States undoubtedly planned, in the following year only a few natural citizens were allowed back into the city.
Before Gyana realized it, the bus was passing through the guarded gate and into the shade of The Block. Covering a full square mile, The Block was an architectural marvel that housed researchers of nearly every area of study. While it was originally marketed as a global research initiative, the Dilalie States quickly placed their own scientists in lead positions. Despite the debatable actions of the Dilali States, however, none could deny the significant progress being made with the increased funding.
“Okay, children,” Dr. Pearlman said as he stood and clapped his hands together, “in a few minutes we’ll be inside the visitors area of The Block. But before we get there, I’m going to assign you to a buddy. Now you and your buddy will be responsible for each other, which means if one of you breaks any rules, you will both be punished.And, to further discourage any mischief, the pairs will be as follows..”
Gyana paid little attention to the names she didn’t know, but based on the reactions of the students, Dr. Pearlman avoided pairing friends together. A smart decision, Gyana pondered, but there was a fair chance it would increase deviancy for a want of distraction from the ill-paired partner. An amused smile spread across her lips as she considered the amount of responsibility Dr. Pearlman was facing. But, as quickly as the smile appeared, it vanished as she realized she shared responsibility for the class. So, with a sigh, she sent up a quick prayer of patience to the divine that may be.
Whether by accident or perfectly planned, the bus slowed to a stop as Dr. Pearlman listed the last pair. Knowing what was expected of her, Gyana stood and exited the bus. She remained just outside the door to group the students together while Dr. Pearlman ushered them outside with name tags. Once the class was labeled and accounted for, Dr. Pearlman led them through the eight-foot high sliding doors.
Cool air rushed to meet the group as they entered the brightly lit foyer and most of them shuttered at the sudden change. A slim woman, wearing a form-fitting lab coat, smiled from behind a small half-circle desk at the other end of the empty room.
“Greetings,” the woman said warmly, “and welcome to The Block. Here, the leading scientists of the world are able to advance their research at an unprecedented rate.”
Without taking a breath, the woman started into a perfectly rehearsed speech about the benefits and advances The Block has provided, and will provide. But the longer the woman spoke, the more Gyana noticed something wasn’t quite right. Then, a bit slower than she would admit, it finally dawned on her.
“Excuse me,” Gyana interrupted with a raised hand, “are you an A-I?”
The woman’s pleasant expression didn’t change at all, despite the interruption. She simply turned her automaton gaze to Gyana and replied, “Yes, I am a model-four-r-one assistant android. But you can call me Mari. My design was conceived and executed within these very walls, by Dr. Garneau.”
A handful of the class whispered excitedly about the realism of the robot before them, and even Dr. Pearlman was beaming with joy at the revelation. Each of them had to have had a dozen questions about the machine, but none of them were quick enough to ask.
“How much of the facility is automated?” The question came from a boy standing behind Gyana, clad in a faded school uniform. Since he didn’t quite reach Gyana’s shoulder, his hand was raised so Mari could identify him.
“There are four-hundred and twenty automated systems in this wing alone,” Mary replied with her pre-programmed smile, “including but not limited to: assistants such as myself, research equipment, and watch drones.”
Gyana stared at the boy, trying to figure out if she had simply not noticed him earlier, or if he was -for whatever reason- trying to pose as a student. The boy’s ginger hair hung over his face, obscuring the majority of facial features, so it was difficult to know if he looked familiar. As Mary went into a brief safety speech, Gyana quickly tallied up the students to find that there was indeed one extra body. So, to not raise suspicion, Gyana gently clasped Dr. Pearlman’s wrist and leaned slightly towards her.
“Pearlman,” Gyana whispered almost inaudibly, “I think someone is posing as a student.”
“Oh nonsense,” Pearlman chuckled too loudly for comfort.
Despite Pearlman’s apathy about the intruder, Gyana knew something wasn’t right.
“Now if you’ll all please follow me,” Mary began as she stepped fluidly from behind the desk, “we can begin the guided tour, which will be followed by a short time of free exploration.”
As the doors to either side of Mary slid open with a gentle hiss, Gyana matched pace with the young redheaded stranger. “Can you believe it,” she began nonchalantly, “they don’t let natives inside, but welcome rich foreigners with open arms.”
“Yeah,” the boy scoffed, “I think you mean robotic arms.”
Gyana smirked, partly at his mild humor, but more at the useful information the simple sentence provided. The way she saw it, if the boy wasn’t a native - which was a safe bet based on his hair - then he was either impoverished and genuinely seeking knowledge, or more likely, a supporter of the native rebels. Several possible scenarios flooded Gyana’s mind as she fell a few steps behind the boy to study his movements. Unlike the others of the class, Dr. Pearlman included, the boy’s shoulders were tense and his gaze was fixed straight ahead.
Unsure what would unfold, or even when, Gyana started glancing quickly around the room. Aside from the door they came in, there were four other doors that were marked as exits within adequate running distance. Approximately twenty-five ovaloid drones hovered near the twenty foot ceiling with domed cameras that watched almost everything. Most of the research within sight was either simple energy extraction or prosthetic based, but nothing that seemed like it would be a target for thievery.
Before Gyana could narrow down the possibilities of what was going to happen, an explosion at the entrance rocked the building. Smoke and debris flooded into the vast room. Those outside the cloud of smoke began screaming in terror and shouting names in panic. But everyone else coughed violently, some even started to vomit, due to the chemicals blinding their eyes and burning their lungs. Alarms started to ring as the sprinklers on the walls extended and gushed out a yellow foam. Then the drones above started flashing bright sequences of lights that made the incident seem all the more terrifying.
With so many people screaming or coughing, Gyana couldn’t understand the emergency announcement that accompanied the alarm. But when she felt a strong arm wrapped around her waist, she assumed she was being led, or practically carried, to safety. It was only a few moments before the air around her started to clear, but it felt like much longer. Her eyes still burned, as she expected they would for some time, but the blaring alarms had softened to allow for the repeating evacuation announcement. But not only that, now she could hear the voice of the one carrying her.
“-at damn explosion,” a feminine voice grumbled, “now we have to run everywhere.”
“Wh-” Gyana began with a hoarse voice before coughing violently.
“Try not to talk,” the woman recommended softly. “It’ll make it worse.”
“Shouldn’t we, I don’t know, like knock her out or something?” An ambiguous voice, while barely louder than a whisper, was almost like a shout to Gyana. She had made a tragic mistake.
She thought she was being rescued, but it was now evident she was being taken as a hostage. Instincts told her to try and run away, but her still limited eyesight was a severe disadvantage. So she decided it was best to wait for a better opportunity, even if that meant being knocked unconscious.
“Shut it,” the woman carrying Gyana commanded in a harsh whisper. “You know that’s not how we do things!”
Gyana breathed a sigh of relief that the woman carrying her wasn’t prone to violence, unlike the ambiguous companion. And even though The Block was filled with potentially world-changing research, the hurried pace suggested there was a specific target they were after.
“C’mon Macha, if she’s awa-”
“-shut up!” The woman carrying Gyana, apparently called Macha, was obviously the leader of the two.
“P-please,” Gyana started with a scratchy voice, “let me go.”
“Quiet,” Macha barked, “you’ll be fine.”
Though countless questions clouded Gyana’s mind, she knew it was best to listen to her captor. Thankfully the burning in her eyes had subsided as she was dragged through a maze of halls. She couldn’t make out the exact details, but she could tell her captors were clothed in light blood-stained and mismatched armor. Apparently they weren’t with an official, or even funded, organization. Which, in Gyana’s mind, meant there was a high chance they had little in the way of a plan. Maybe it was a hope more than an assumption, but she started to form a plan of escape nonetheless.
Barely more than a minute passed before the trio stood in front of a large elevator. To test Macha’s reflexive strength, Gyana feigned falling forward. But to her dismay, she hardly started to move before Macha tightened her already firm grip around the teen’s waist.
“Please don’t make this any harder,” Macha sighed as the elevator door started to open.
Gyana briefly considered spinning out of the muscular woman’s grasp just as the doors were closing, but knew if she failed that would only worsen her standing with the already tense pair.
“Hey,” Gyana began as she pushed against Macha, “I understand I’m a hostage, but do you have to hold me so, close?”
“Sorry,” Macha half-apologized, “I didn’t know if you were able to walk at first.”
Just as the doors started to slide shut, Macha released Gyana, but stayed ready to grab the teenager if the need arose. The ambiguous partner, though mumbling angrily, kneeled to the left of the door and opened a hidden panel. As they worked with the exposed wiring, Gyana’s eyesight finally cleared entirely. It was then she realized the boy who had snuck in with the class was the one kneeling beside the panel. And what she had thought was bloodstained armor, turned out to be a swirling design of the resistance that formed during the war. In an instant Gyana went from hopeful, to worried. Composed mostly of untrained laborers, the resistance was known to take their actions too far. So if they were involved now, there wasn’t much hope for a peaceful resolution.
As adrenaline started to flood through Gyana, she thought through everything she had read or heard about physical combat. Based on what she knew, incapacitating the smaller of the pair would be fairly simple while they were kneeling. But the real challenge would be outmaneuvering Macha’s strength in such a confined space.
“Got it,” the redhead declared excitedly.
The elevator lurched into movement, throwing the trio inside off balance. Assuming there wouldn’t be a better advantage, Gyana rammed her shoulder into Macha and succeeded in toppling the larger woman. But before Gyana could lunge into the redhead, they struck her with surprising strength across the side of her head. And despite having been in a few fights at the academy, it became painfully clear she wasn’t prepared for actual combat.
A soft groan rose Gyana from her unconscious state, and it took a brief moment for her to realize that she was the one making such a pathetic noise. After gathering her thoughts and recalling what had happened to her, she became uncomfortably aware of her position. Not only were her hands and feet tightly bound, but she was being cradled as if she were a child.
“Good,” Macha exhaled in relief, “she’s waking up.”
Gyana wasn’t sure how long she had been out, but Macha’s relief was a bit alarming. Even with Gyana’s minimal knowledge of health, she knew that any more than a minute unconscious could have serious effects.
“How long was I out,” Gyana questioned softly.
“A bit,” Macha said with a hint of annoyance, “we didn’t keep count. Now I’m going to set you down while I work, but Percy’s going to keep an eye on you.”
Without waiting for a response, Macha leaned over and half-dropped Gyana onto the floor of the concrete room. Had she not just woken, from what was no doubt a concussion, Gyana would’ve voiced how she felt about her treatment. But with the violent redhead - apparently called Percy - watching her intensely, she thought it would be best to remain silent. At least in her silence, she was able to ponder her surroundings.
In the middle of the plain concrete room was an enormous metallic box, covered in a tangled mess of wires and pipes. At first Gyana thought it to be a fusion reactor, but the shape of the machine, and lack of anything else in the room, quickly dismissed that theory. Whatever the cube was, or whatever it contained, it wasn’t meant to be directly observed. And as Macha worked on something hidden to Gyana, they both sent up a silent prayer of protection to the divine that may be.
“What, uh,” Gyana began cautiously as she stared at Percy, “what are you even doing? The Dilalians have an outpost a few miles away, there’s a high chance they’re at least half way here already.”
“Quiet,” Percy commanded softly as they took a threatening step forward. “Ain’t none of this concern you. You’re just a tool to escape.”
Gyana raised a judgmental eyebrow and reflexively scoffed, “Really? A teenager is your escape plan?”
“HEY” Macha shouted before Percy could respond, “I’m opening a very deadly machine, so both of you shut the hell up!”
Gyana wanted to question what made the machine deadly, but the new fear her voice might actually make a disastrous difference kept her silent. And, for a few excruciatingly long minutes, the only sound was Macha’s mumbling as she tinkered. But the silence was broken when the unmistakable sound of the elevator’s motors whirred into action.
“Company in two minutes,” Percy warned as they yanked Gyana to her feet. “Whatever you’re doing, do it now!”
“I just ne-” Macha’s sentence was cut short when the machine started to shake violently. She stumbled back out of panic and started to fall as a blinding light erupted from the machine.
In that instant Gyana knew she was a moment away from a painful, but hopefully instantaneous, death. She wished desperately that she could’ve been more than just a political purchase. That she could have claimed her birthright, and freed her people. But her death at the hands of terrorists was going to end any chance of that.