Alex Reynard

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Alex Reynard's


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No matter where or who you were, if you were among the millions who saw it happen live, you remembered the broadcast forever.

At the same moment in every area of the country, all screens went dark. From the lowest Pred slums to the most affluent Prey heights. People got up and banged on their televisions. People shook their cell phones. Internet users checked their connections. Patrons in digital theaters looked around, puzzled and angry. No matter what it was, if it could receive a signal, there was only one signal to receive that day.

After five seconds of darkness, an image appeared.

It was a desk in a dim office. The camera lingered on it just long enough to draw in the viewers' attention. In their homes, people leaned in closer to their screens. In the streets, crowds clustered around TVs in store windows, or craned their necks up at digital billboards.

Then the image was intruded by a man. A Pred. Half the country felt mild curiosity, while the other half flinched as if stuck with a pin.

He was either a small wolf or a large fox. His fur was dazzling white; a powerful contrast to the gleaming black vinyl of his uniform. Its style was a ridiculous parody of military regalia. It started with with a sweeping hat, complete with chinstrap and goggles on the brim. His jacket's sleeves were festooned with tiny, purposeless belts. His collar recalled old Dracula movies. The white canine strode casually to the desk, his knee-high boots clunking on the carpet, buckles and spikes jangling. He sat down, intentionally highlighting the most obscene part of his costume: an enormous golden codpiece engraved with a spread-eagle rooster, worn over black leather bicycle shorts.

He could not have looked more like a cartoon supervillain if he'd tried. Some viewers turned away, repulsed. Some laughed. Some felt their cheeks flush...

The video continued. It was a single shot which drew in closer so gradually it was almost imperceptible. The white Pred picked up a red rose from a glass on the desk, twirling it in his fingers, regarding it wistfully.

Then he looked up and said, "Oh. Hello."

Just like that. As if appearing before an audience of millions was merely a pleasant surprise.

He grinned, then looked directly into the camera, as if meeting the eyes of every single viewer. From this point on his gaze never wavered.

"Behold the face of your enemy."

A knowing grin unpeeled across his face as he spoke. "I am the voice of the Great Predator Army. You will know us well in the coming days. We have our eye on your society, Preys. We have had our eye on you for a very long time now, and we do not like what we see." His voice was clipped; more of a reprimand than a threat.

"For generations you have kept us segregated into filthy ghettos. We starve, and become the literal skeletons of your closets. Meanwhile you grow fatter and weaker and more fearful of us. An irony so measureless it... can't be measured. You? Afraid of us? You've herded us into pens, and every year you tighten the borders. You always need more land. We wait behind the Fences and wonder when the day will come when you'll simply bring the gas and bullets and end us once and for all." His grin became quite smug here. "Could it be you're just playing with us? The way a cat... plays with a mouse?"

He paused, either to let the irony of his statement sink in, or to bask in self-pride for thinking of it.

"But dear Preys, please do not blame the Preds, whom you have already abused so much, for tonight's broadcast interruption. We are not they. What we are is quite separate. We are as much their enemies as yours. We have nearly as much contempt for their weakness in not rising up to oppose you, as contempt for you in causing their pain. You are the cruel master, yes, but they are the cowed puppy who has forgotten his teeth." Here he bared his own. They were even whiter than his fur.

The canine sat up straighter. His vinyl jacket squeaked. "This is a formal declaration of war," he said with relish. "Neither of your societies is worth saving, so they won't be. Our aim is to smash the old and ring in the new. A new and glorious dawn ruled by the Great Predator Army! Fear us if you like." He tossed such a blatantly sexual 'come hither' smirk at the camera, it was a wonder it didn't melt. "...But we'd much prefer you join us."

Then his melodramatic mannerisms fell away and, for once, there was sincerity in his eyes. "All of you watching: you know this world is old, dead and ending. Choose to come with us. Choose our new beginning."

But the savage grin soon returned.

"Only we can win the war."

Here his stare into the lens somehow deepened, making every viewer across the country feel as if they alone were being personally spoken to.

"If you don't believe me, dear viewer," he whispered lovingly, "Let me prove it."

He blew a kiss to the lens.

"Be seeing you."

And here the transmission ended. There was static for a few seconds, followed by regularly scheduled programming.

Pred and Prey citizens from coast to coast felt like they'd just exhaled after holding their breath. For an instant, the nation was paralyzed. For a few brief seconds, most people were only capable of staring, thinking about the Pred's words, and feeling dread close its hand over their hearts.

It took only a few seconds for the screens to go dark again. Many people screamed or passed out; certain that awful canine was returning to taunt them again. But it was the emergency broadcast channel; the reason the All-Screen Override had been created in the first place. A rabbit at a desk summarized the previous illegal broadcast and personally apologized for his channel's first-ever failure in protecting their outgoing signal.

Seeing the newsman helped calm many citizens, even if most of the Preds grimaced at yet another reminder of which side was fully in control. The presence of the newsman meant things were getting back under control again. Things would revert to normal. It was easy to begin believing that the man in the silly uniform had been playing a massive hoax.

Then, another man in a headset rushed into the shot and whispered something to the newsman, handing him a tablet. The rabbit read it and, even before he spoke, the look in his eyes demolished all hope.

"I've just been informed that the president has been abducted. Along with several hundred citizens, security personnel and police who were attending his speech."

A nation of people stopped breathing.

They listened as the newsman related how the speech had been progressing normally, then, from outside the lecture hall, citizens had noticed clouds of gas emerging from every door and window. Cameras inside showed everyone present, including President Kincaid, suddenly rise up out of their seats as one. Then a voice instructed them to walk, and they obeyed. By the time police had been able to break down the doors, everyone who had been inside the building was gone.

The newsman's voice shook. "One of the officers on-scene was reported saying, 'It was like they were stolen by ghosts.'"

The nation had only seconds more to process this, when the newsman was interrupted again.

Five members of the Predator territories' parliament had been vanished away in exactly the same manner.

For the next twenty-four hours, the country shut down. Those who were not dispatched to face the new threat could do nothing but continue watching the news. As the hours wore on, the nation saw a man slowly losing his mind as he was forced to report on disappearance after disappearance. Some were reported in real time, others hadn't been noticed until people started looking. Sometimes there was video. Again and again, citizens watched as some of their most powerful leaders willingly surrendered to unseen abductors.

The gas, a simple command, and gone.

By midnight, 2,500 had disappeared.

As the days passed, panic took firm control. The Great Predator Army issued further videos. The white canine taunted them all, each time ending his little speeches with the words, "Only we can win the war."

By the time a single week had passed since Broadcast Day, one hundred and fifty thousand had gone missing.


Chapter 1