At the start of the twenty-first century, largely as a result of the invention of the microprocessor, the Wardens and the Seekers of the Satchel were poised for war. Both sides had been hoarding weaponry and expecting something to happen at any moment. However, neither side was ready to take the first move. It seems likely that, as argued by Langsville, “The methane stench of war was in the air, waiting only for a spark to set it off. There could have been no stopping it.” (Langsville 2089) However, were it not for the Katarina incident, war would have been delayed and it is hard to predict how much that would have changed the outcome. In this chapter, we will take a look at the sequence of events that triggered the war and took Katarina Hill from a common thief to one of the most significant figures in recent history.
―An excerpt from Twenty-First Century History, From the War of the Satchel to the Fall of the American Empire by Professor Trent Ortego
Kat scanned the busy street, looking for the flash of green hair. She saw it about thirty meters behind her and still following, in spite of the crowd. The intense midday heat meant that the two of them were the only people running, which made her a hell of a lot easier to follow. She felt sweat running down her forehead and actually noticed each heart beat. Kat forced a few deep breaths into her lungs, trying to calm herself down. She told herself that she wasn’t going to start letting her fear rule. This was her turf and no some security bitch was going to get the better of her. She took another couple breaths, breathing in the familiar combination of sea air, fish and sweat as she weaved around the meandering pedestrians.
As the smells of home helped her regain control, a plan began to form and she veered left, past the docks. She was heading down to where the smugglers tended to hang out. As she turned around the corner, she saw exactly what she wanted to see: Hank, with the large scar across his face, playing with his beard while telling a joke for the thugs sitting around him. Kat found it easy to put the appropriate panic in her voice as she started screaming: “Feds! The green-haired bitch is with the feds!” The crowd erupted, scrambling to gather up their contraband and high-tailing it out of there. A few of the tougher guys ‘accidentally’ stepped in her pursuer’s way.
Kat smiled as she slipped away in the chaos. Of course, it would only buy her a moment. There had to be a tracker in the merchandise or she would have slipped away ten minutes ago. She could ditch the merch, but that would mean all of this was for nothing. Besides, there were some decent stones in her pouch and she still didn’t know why Chris had asked her to hit that place. She had to disable the tracker and with her brother out of town, that meant magnets.
Ryan worked out the kinks in his hands as he waited for the freighter to come in. He shifted from foot to foot as he leaned against the rails beside the crane controls. He was staring out at the water, but not really seeing the vista. Instead he was planning the barbequed salmon and braised potatoes he’d make this evening. He’d snapped at his wife this morning, so he felt he should make something nice for her.
He’d just been rather stressed after yesterday, when some girl had slipped past him out onto the crane and then fallen off into the water. Thinking she might have died, panic had set in as he worried about getting fired. When he had gone down to check on her afterwards, there was no sign of her. He assumed she was fine because otherwise there’d have been a body. He felt guilty at that point for worrying first about his job, but he still decided not to tell anyone about it. He just couldn’t afford to risk unemployment. The stress had built up and he let it out by snapping at his wife.
A horn sounded, nudging Ryan back to reality. Daydreaming was probably what got him into this mess in the first place. He pushed himself up from the railing and stepped over to the crane controls. After making his spot checks, he flicked off the safety and turned on the giant electromagnet at the end of the crane. Shaking his head to dispel fatigue, Ryan got down to the business of moving the crates onto the dock. And that’s when he caught it out of the corner of his eye—a blur of motion. It was the girl from yesterday: lithe, brunette with short-cropped hair and running full speed towards him.
“Hey!” Ryan shouted as he turned to intercept. He planted his feet firmly and struck his best pose of authority. “No fucking way!”
The girl smirked at him. The arrogant nut-job actually smirked as she started to slide. It was one of those slides you only see in action movies, or maybe baseball. Her feet shot forward, right between his legs and her body followed them. As he turned around to try and grab her, she did some weird coiling motion and was back running on her feet.
In frustration, he almost turned off the electromagnet. If she had any metal on her, it could be disastrous, not to mention the large amount of electricity running through the coils. Shutting it off would be worse, though, since it was currently holding a crate above the boat. He could only watch in growing desperation as she ran towards the electromagnet and— vanished?
What the fuck was going on? Maybe she’d fallen off the crane again. No, he’d have heard the splash. Ryan took a moment to calm down and think. He didn’t want to move the crane in case she was inside the mechanisms somehow. Fairly soon, the workers on the freighter would start to get suspicious. Maybe he should –
“Hey, have you seen a brunette run through here?” Ryan turned and saw a woman with green hair, icy blue eyes and almost porcelain white skin staring at him. A gun was at her hip and her eyes were unwavering and didn’t seem to blink. Ryan had made a decision yesterday not to tell anyone, but the problem obviously wasn’t sorting itself out. Maybe this woman could help. Besides, he had a feeling that lying to her would be a bad idea. So he began to tell her everything.
Luckily, as a precaution against security scanners, Kat wasn’t wearing any metal. As such, she didn’t have to ditch anything as she ran toward the docks. She hoped the electromagnets there would be enough to fry the tracker. It wasn’t the best plan, but it was the only one she had.
As she rounded the bend, a heavyset man with curly hair and a scar across his eye stepped to confront her. Although he looked a bit tough, she could tell by his stance that he really wasn’t. He held himself completely wrong, so she slipped past him and out onto the crane. The surface was a bit uneven, but luckily he had the courtesy not to move it on her.
As she got out on top of the electromagnet, her vision got blurry and the world began to swim. Shit. She didn’t think that magnets did this sort of thing. She felt her feet go out from under her as she started falling towards the water.
Kat managed to pull herself together enough to get into a cannonball. Dropping from this height, a proper dive would be better, but this was all she had time for. The water slammed into her hard and she felt the air rush out of her lungs. They started burning as she desperately breathed in salt water. She madly clawed herself back to the beach and began coughing the water back up.
Kat knew that she couldn’t afford to rest while her pursuer could still be on her tail. She took a few desperate breaths of air, then leveraged herself back up to her feet and started staggering as fast as she could manage.
After about an hour of skulking around town, Kat felt confident no one was following her any more. She had slipped through culverts, crossed roofs and took shortcuts through back alleys, all without seeing any sign of pursuit. She supposed it was possible that the tracker was still active and her pursuers were waiting for it to settle down before they came after her. That was a risk she was going to have to take. She was going home.
Kat lived with her brother in a small, four room apartment – living room, two bedrooms and a bathroom. The living room had a dumpy old couch in it, with some of the stuffing starting to leak out. It was facing her computer screen, which they largely just used to watch TV and movies. Her brother Chris was the computer guy and his high-end computer, which she had picked up for him a year ago, was in the other corner. Behind the couch was a poster of FRUNG up on stage rocking out. Beside it was her calendar.
To the side of the couch was a small kitchenette: microwave, toaster and a beige monstrosity of a fridge she’d bought for nothing at a garage sale. Hidden behind the FRUNG poster was their safe. The safe was a high-end one with both a fingerprint scanner and a keypad, as well as sides thick enough that it’d be hard to cut through with anything short of a laser cutter. They mainly used it to hide their acquisitions until they could be sold, though a reasonable amount of cash was also in there.
Kat stepped into the room, popped the jewellery in the safe and grabbed a beer from the fridge. Thinking that she’d have to remember to burn it since it could incriminate her, she put the note from Chris down on the table. Glancing at the calendar, she noticed that she hadn’t ticked off today this morning, which was weird. She didn’t have a pen on her, though, so she’d deal with that later. Right now, her body was still aching all over and she needed to relax. Kat kicked off her shoes, settled into the couch and reached for the remote.
Then she froze. Noise was coming from her bedroom. Footsteps and fabrics moving against each other. Someone was in her house.