The WatchPlumes of smoke drifted across the clear summer sky, carrying with them the acrid smell of still-burning fires. Below, narrow streets winded among facades riddled with holes, pavement stones upturned by tank treads wherever the lumbering mechanical beetles had struggled to turn some corner. Here, a lamp post leaned against a partially collapsed house, where an artillery shell had pierced the wall and exploded, scattering blackened bricks every which way. There, water gurgled out of the exposed pipework of what had been a lovely public fountain, forming pools in the tattered shadow of an awning.
There was no sound but for the crackling of flames; at least, not until the rapping of boots echoed among the endless files of three-story buildings. Two dozen soldiers marched as orderly as the torn ground allowed for, peeking nervously at the gloom behind broken windows while they fingered the straps of rifles. But there was nothing to see, not even the flapping of a pigeon's wings.
InvaderIt was a beautiful day at the beach, with not a cloud in the sky and just enough wind to temper the burning sun, the piercing cries of seagulls breaking up the heartbeat of waves washing up on hot sand. The meteor shower was just a bonus; nothing like that had been announced, but still they came, strings of silver sparks streaking across the sky. People pointed, watched with binoculars, filmed with their phones, shouts of excitement punctuating the bigger fireballs. But none of them ever came closer than the horizon. For a while, the show seemed to have ended. Then the wind picked up, bringing with it small dark clouds that churned furiously as they raced low over the water. People began to panic, swimmers racing each other ashore while those sunning themselves grabbed their towels and ran. A couple fell off their jet skis, narrowly avoiding one of the clouds that swept close to the shore. For a moment its shape suggested a bird of prey as it hovered above a hastily deserted jetty made
Vryheid prologueA curious person strode the halls of the royal palace in Stichting that morning: under a meter and fifty tall, with slick blond hair held back by large pointy ears, blue eyes and most strikingly a lion tail swishing behind him, which added playfulness to a youthful appearance. Heads turned at the sound of steps on the granite floors and the creaking of shiny, elegant space age clothes, as sunbeams streaked through the ornate windows. A couple of robot maids standing in a doorframe bowed in unison, receiving a nod in response. A middle-aged man in a tailcoat stopped in his tracks. "Magister," he greeted. "Chief Secretary," was the amiable answer. From a perpendicular corridor which seemed gloomy by way of contrast came a woman with a sour expression, in a conservative skirt suit, passing by without so much as a sideways glance, a large tablet in one hand, briefcase in the other. Without hesitation, the short figure turned left, away from the light, casting a long shadow ahead.