Saturday, 23 April 2011

Atmosphere Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven

The Fifth War of New York

The Empire State Building was just a short walk from Grand Central, the dust from the Termini soldier's march still hanging in the air. He continued down Park Avenue and though the southern gate, the squad of guards all watching the extremely armed man strolling past at his own pace.

“You a mercenary, son? The squad's sergeant asked, looking Daniel up and down.

“Yes sir. Heading to the Empire State. Helping defend the rear of the Termini lines to stop Kingdom spies sneaking round.”

The guards looked to each other and shrugged, hearing no such mercenary group being hired for that but sounding plausible enough.

“Go ahead” The sergeant said and motioned him through “Good luck..”

The borders of The Empire State went from 6th Avenue to Madison Avenue and 32nd up to 35th . Basically every building immediate surrounding the empire state building. The streets and roads and alleys between the buildings had been bordered up with the spare parts from when the building was being sealed up. 36th street was filled with Termini soldiers, setting up tents already only after being there an hour, and occupying the buildings. Daniel scurried into an old lounge bar, hiding amongst the mouldy chairs and watched the Termini soldiers going about with their tents. They wouldn't shoot him for being here but they certainly wouldn't let him get close to the building.

He continued southwards along Madison Avenue, away from the watchful gaze of the Republic Soldiers, looking into the buildings beside him, ceilings caved in and plant-life growing up through the posh store and restaurants. One had a clear passage through to 5th Avenue, the view of the first few floors of the Empire State Building. Temptation became too much and he ventured into the store, flicking the torch beneath his rifle on and scanning the interior of the store, the shelves still stocked and posters, magazines and newspapers lining the counter-top. Daniel paused and looked at them for a moment and shining the flash-light at them one by one and tilting his head, looking closer at the last one- a copy of TIME Magazine from early 2050, him in the black suit on the cover below in white text “Times person of the decade: Daniel Blackwell. World's first trillionaire”. He went to open it to find the article about him when he head something drop to the floor the other end of the store, quickly turning and bringing his weapon up to his shoulder and moving the flash-light quickly about.

“Are you Kingdom or Termini?” An Irish-sounding voice suddenly came from behind, followed by a gun being loaded.

“Neither... just a mercenary” Daniel said quickly and keeping still, the person behind slowly walking round and looking at him. On his face a balaclava and a construction-worker air filter that only covered his nose and mouth, converted to use the air cannisters.

“You are far too well equipped to be a normal soldier of either. Maybe some sort of new elite unit?”

“I do no seek to take or destroy anything of the Empire State. If anything, what I am doing will aid you. I am trying to take a Kingdom soldier -a dragoon, one that'll like you cause you much trouble- with me on a venture northwards.”

The man lowered his weapon only slightly, inspecting the heavily armed mercenary closer.

“I'll let you live, and come and go as you please in the state if you will aid us with something merc"

“And just what would that be?”

“Won't tell you until you agree”

The man led Daniel through the rest of the building and out at the bottom of the Empire State Building. The first few floors had been heavily fortified with concrete and steel, all vegetation in the road around cleared away, barricades made from the cut down trees and pieces of debris. Beyond those first few floors though the next ¾ of the building was covered in thick green plant-life which thinned out the higher it got until the original building top and spire poked out above. The front entrance had been removed a large steel blast-door now it its place and an electronic keypad beside, some sections of the wall had metal-screens that looked like they could be slid away to allow the people inside to fire out, but wouldn't that let the oxygen escape Daniel thought. The man gave a cautious glance around before typing at the keypad and tapping his foot nervously as it began sliding open. He immediately grabbed Daniel and pulled him inside as soon as the door was open wide enough for them, typing at the keypad the other side and the door closing again.

Daniel went to pull his gas mask off before the man slapped his hand away.

“Not yet. We ain't inside. These are just the defence”

They were stood in the huge lobby, all the furniture and decoration taken out, replaced by racks of rifles and boxes of medical supplies, a few uniformed people sitting at benches in gas masks and looking to them. Another iron gate up ahead just before you got to the elevators, similar to the ones seen in all the other settlements. Passing through Daniel was surprised to see all the lights were still working, and even more surprised when the man pressed one of the elevator buttons and the doors slid open.

“How is it there's power when near enough every other building doesn't?” Daniel asked, taking his gas mask off and putting it in the satchel, standing beside the man as he took his mask and balaclava off, long dark brown almost red hair and a small goatee on his chin.

“Cause quite simply this is the greatest building in all the city. Before or after the apocalypse. And, other buildings do have power, from solar panels or windmills... but that’s all used filters and purifiers. This is the only with working lights and elevators.”

The elevator only went up a few floors before stopping again, the doors opening out onto what looked to be the central command of the Empire State. A huge table stood in the centre with a map of Manhattan, charts and reports of the latest troop movements and patrols of either the Kingdom or Republic lining all the walls beside intelligence photos as well as a few flat-screen monitors showing CCTV footage of the street outside. There was a sombre mood filling the room, depressed silent soldiers sitting at benches in far corners of the room not talking or looking to each other, a couple of people in construction worker's overalls with assault-vests over the top looking over the big map, making notes and drawing in where the Termini was setting up, a couple of radios sitting by their side. They looked up as Daniel and his captor approached

“Who is this? Some sort of Republic negotiator come to demand our surrender?”

“Easy there Burke. This is a mercenary I found sulking at the edge of our land, says he's willing to help”

“Oh. Is that so?” 'Burke' a female soldier said, putting down her pieces of paper with reports and looking to Daniel “Do you even know why we fight?”

“Should it matter? I have not come here to pledge my allegiance to you. Nor have I come to destroy you. I am merely trying to take a person away from the Kingdom's army. If helping you means I get to that sooner then so be it”

“We are fighting for our very right to live.” She started, ignoring what Daniel just said “Our independence from the unjust monarchy and the corrupt republic. For seven years we have worked -and died- sealing up and renovating this building, just so it can be handed off to either of those two. Ever since we first crawled from the earth after the great fires that killed the Ancient Ones if it were not for people like us we would not be standing here today. Do we not deserve a home just as much as them, where we can make our own rules of governance”

“Just what do you want me to-”

“We will fight every soldier they send against us until they get it clear we are our own people now. Every man, woman and child in this building will give their lives for the freedom of the empire-”

Daniel grabbed the soldier's collar roughly and pulled her close, her bravado attitude disappearing at the first sign of aggression.

“Tell me why you need a god damn mercenary already!”

Burke quickly composed herself and stepped back from Daniel, brushing her overalls and pretending she wasn't intimidated.

“The Termini garrison just on the other street has a communication post they use to keep in contact with their commanders in the Termini building. Destroy it for us and it'll keep them off our backs for a few days while they repair it or find a new one somewhere.”

Daniel nodded, turning and walking back over to the elevator, the soldiers on the benches now watching him closely.

“What about your pay?” Burke called out

“I don't need your tainted money” He replied, glancing over his shoulder and pressing the elevator button. The doors slid open immediately and he stepped in and pressed the button for the ground floor, everyone in the command room staring at him. Putting his gas mask back on he made his way back through the airlock and to the large blast door, a guard quickly coming over and typing at the keypad.

“When you want to get back in and we don't pick you up on the cameras, signal with two fast knocks then two slow knocks on the door”

The sound of The Kingdom's detachment could already be heard approaching in the distance, the sound of five hundred boot-clad soldiers marching up Broadway Avenue echoing around the tall buildings. As he made his way round the base of the Empire State Building he began to notice more and more of the State's soldiers hiding in the shadows in all the buildings surrounding it. They weren't much of soldiers though, construction works with a few pistols and sub-machine guns. Their previous attempts to hire mercenary groups had been unsuccessful as no amount of money would get them to openly engage the Kingdom or Republic. He went back out the same store he entered through, going straight north would have had him shot by the Termini soldiers. Back into the old lounge bar he went, crouching and walking behind the counter until he got to the other-side, peering round the corner and seeing the Termini forces- their camp now fully set up. He couldn't go fighting them, he had to go back through their main building later that day, so let go of his rifle and let it hang from the sling, stepping out into the street. He ran toward the camp, a line of soldiers behind a sandbag wall along the width of the street all shouting to him and raising their rifles. Daniel waved his arms and shouted not to shoot, stopping at just before the wall, one of the soldiers jumping over the wall and approaching him cautiously.

“You have ten seconds to turn around and go back to where you c-”

“The southern gate!” Daniel cut in


“Southern gate to the Termini building – under attack! The other soldiers behind the sandbag wall now paying attention. “Kingdom cavalry, attacking right now! They must have thought it'd be the perfect time with you all here”

The soldier beside Daniel motioned to the others behind the sandbag wall and they all jumped over, following him closely as they ran down the street and around the corner towards the Termini building. Daniel smiled to himself and stepped over the sandbags, strolling into the Termini camp uncontested.

The camp looked near enough the same as the one at the rear of Grand Central. Large tents of metal and fabric with airlock entrances. A couple of the soldiers gave him passing glances but figured he'd been let in as no one heard any sounds of conflict. Their equipment and machinery spread out into the buildings, they looked as if they were prepared to siege the Empire State for months if they had to. A large antenna poked out from a side of one of the windows, huge cables leading from it into a nearby window, a communications post if he ever saw one. Two soldiers stood either side of the door into the building, they wore cloaks over their amour and had full-face gas masks with sunglasses underneath. They looked like they would be harder to trick than the other soldiers and Daniel was about to turn around and find another way in when a voice came from within the building.

“You a merc? Get in here”

Daniel looked around for a moment before he realised that meant him, quickly walking to the door and the two soldiers stepping aside. The voice belonged to the white-haired officer that had given the speech in the Termini building, still wearing his smart uniform with an assault-vest over the top and a full-face gas mask.

“General Stone. Now I don't care where you came from or how you round up here” The officer started, he was getting on in his years, deep set wrinkles along his face but with fierce eyes “But you're a godsend right 'bout now. State's scouts have the area under tight control, we greatly underestimated just how fortified the building would be and now The Kingdom's sending a force that makes our detachment look down right puny. We can't afford to take any more troops away from guarding Termini territory so all that's here is all we got. 4th and 5th Guard battalions, Four hundred of our best soldiers” Putting his hands behind us back he slowly paced up and down “We've got to better our defences this side of the state now, in sight of what the Kingdom's bringing, and heaven forbid if the shit hits the fan and we end up fighting the Kingdom again I wanna know where all my soldiers are” He folded his arms and looked Daniel up and down “And then that's where you come in. You're gonna go to the other side of the state, the Kingdom will almost certainly occupy the old hotel on the corner of 31st street and 5th Avenue as it has the quickest route to the building if they want to assault it. So here-” He opened one of the large metal containers stacked against the wall, rummaging about inside it for a second before chucking something to Daniel. He caught it clumsily and looked down surprised, C4 in his hands.

“Don't go dropping it now y'hear. Three more in the crate for you. I want that building gone. But its gotta be before the Kingdom arrive. If that building goes down with a hundred Kingdom riflemen inside guess who's gonna get the blame. And then the Empire State will be the least of our problems.”

“Why does the Republic want the building so badly?”

“Cause when you pay a group over 100,000 cents to do something for you, you damn well expect them to do it! Every month we get maybe a hundred or more immigrants from the Mainland and we don't got no place to put them. We can't let these rebels keep it, its far too great a security risk, and we sure as hell ain't letting The Kingdom get their hands on it.”

“Just how many times as the Republic fought the Kingdom?”

“More than can be counted. Ever since the factions of mid-town formed the Republic we've been in a constant state of aggression with the monarchy to the south. All out war has only happened a few times, but in between those times there's always a heighten state of readiness on both sides, skirmishes and small fire-fights aren't unheard of between patrols from the two sides that bump into each in the city. The biggest war was the first, the one that saw us fend off the Kingdom when they wanted mid-town for themselves. Back then we had barely the equipment nor the men and had to rely heavily on guerilla tactics. But now they got the numbers over us, but we have the superior weapons, and that's all that really matters. One man with an AR-34 can easily handle four or five with equipped with Varselles or NR-2029s. Just gotta be careful of their dragoons though, those'll get ya good. Anyway, you got a building to bring down. If I hear Kingdom trumpets before I hear I loud explosion you ain't getting cent. Also I'll probably kill you” He made a gun with his fingers and pointed them to Daniel before laughing “No, but seriously, fuck this up and I'll hunt you down to the ends of this island and slit your throat. Run along now”

Daniel quickly opened his satchel and put the C4 in, going over to the container and seeing the other three, amongst enough explosives to bring down the Empire State Building and every building around it. It was only then he suddenly remembered the very reason he was here. Well not the first reason, the second newer one.

“General, would I be allowed to quickly familiarize myself with the base? I hope to be serving the Republic a lot, and it'd be better if I knew where everything was, Sir”

“Go ahead, but be quick” Stone said with a wave of his hand, busy looking at a map of the area with an advisor who was drawing in pencil lines for various plans.

Daniel looked around the room quickly after grabbing the three other C4, finding the stairs to the upper floors behind an unlocked door. He quickly glanced through the door of each following floor looking trying to find where the cables from the antenna led to. Eventually on the eight floor finding a large system of computers and monitors, a single soldier sitting in front of it in a fold-out chair. The soldier with a headset on seemed engrossed in the monitor in front of him, unable to hear Daniel creeping past behind him to the window. A number of cables came in through the window over to the computers, and one went along the floor and out another window and disappeared to the roof and what could have only been a solar panel above. Glancing again to the soldier he still hadn’t noticed him, he grabbed the cable leading to the roof and followed it until it came to a socket, where the mass of cables merged into one just before meeting the antenna, glancing again and unplugging it. The computers or monitors didn't immediately cut-off, some sort of small reserve power stored inside them it seemed. He looked to the unplugged cable in his hand and out the window, quickly chucking it out and shrugging to himself. Good enough.

Going back downstairs and out of the Termini's make-shift command centre Daniel had no idea just how long it'd be until the Kingdom arrived. He could still hearing the marching, louder than before. He wait straight south, finding a gap in The State's barricade and walking across their land. As he passed through the darkened interior of an old restaurant a figure appeared in front of him, shrouded by the darkness but the obvious silhouette of a gun in his hand against the light outside. Daniel didn't slow his pace, pushing the person aside unhesitatingly and walking to the front entrance.

“Termini communications gone. Got other stuff to do. Can't explain” He shouted quickly, disappearing out into the street. He gripped his rifle and ran across the bush covered street quickly to the hotel the other side. It had faded and chipped white walls going up about ten or eleven storeys and covered in huge airy windows which the plant-life seeped into. He had maybe only minutes before the Kingdom would show up and he had to find the best places to place the C4. Flicking the flash-light on the bottom of his rifle on he ran about the lobby of the hotel, looking at each of the columns that disappeared up into the higher floors. He stopped at one of the thicker columns, what must have been a main support beam and grabbed a pack of C4 from his satchel and placed it on, the sticky back keeping it in place. Looking all over it he only saw one button, cautiously stretching a finger out and pressing it, a 00:30 appeared on the front which immediately changed to 00:29. Daniel stared at disbelief for a moment realising he had only that long to place the other three or he wouldn't get a big enough explosion to bring the building down.

The rest of the columns in the lobby were all smaller so he barged into the next room, a long dinning room with a stage at the end, a thick column right in the middle of the room, old and broken chairs and tables around it, the floor cluttered with plates and cutlery. He ran to the column as quickly as he could, slapping the next C4 on it and arming it. 24 seconds left on the original. Smashing through the door on the long left side wall he ran through the ruined kitchen and into a corridor the other side with stairs and elevators leading up to the hotel patrons rooms. The column was built into the wall almost all the way, between the two elevator doors making him almost miss it at first. Another C4 on and armed. 16 seconds. He quickly ran into the next room, already taking the last explosive out of his back and scanning the waiting room looking for a big column, but only small ones going in two lines down the room. 10 seconds. No matter how hard he looked he couldn't see a support beam in this room, it was most likely built into the wall somewhere. He pressed the button on the C4 and carefully placed it on the floor hoping it'd be enough. He forgot count of how long he had left, only looking for the nearest window and sprinting for it, not caring what happened last time he dived through a window as he lunged through the opening and into the street outside again. Picking himself up off the floor he glanced behind him, no explosion yet, more running then. He only got three steps before he was thrown forward flat on his face again, feeling the immense heat as a massive fireball consumed the first few floors of the hotel. If he weren't in the military overall and back in the coat he was sure he'd have burnt his back. The explosion dissipated immediately, a short cloud of black smoke drifting upwards. He turned over on to his back and stared back at the building, haven forgotten that without any oxygen there'd be no fire after the initial explosion. The columns groaned and shook one falling and then another before the entire building crumbling and collapsing in on itself, Daniel quickly rolling back onto his front and covering his face as the huge wall of smoke and debris cascaded into the street.

Opening his eyes again a pair of lances appeared in front of his face, leading up to two Kingdom soldiers one in blue the other red sat atop their robotic steeds.

“Rise, you cur!” the red tunic one ordered loudly, moving his lance so it were just centimetres from Daniel's face. He slowly lifted his hands and sat up onto his knees then stood fully.

“He does not look like a Termini, signor. Wrong colours” The blue said, looking over to red and raising his lance slightly

“None the less. What just happened in that building?”

“The State!” Daniel lied, trying to think quick on his feet“I was just staying in there a few days after finishing an assignment to escort traders from the Marketplace, I'm just a mercenary you see. Four of them came in and started placing explosives fearing you might use the building. No matter what, I couldn't talk them out of it! I had to run upstairs and grab my gear, when I came down they had gone and the building was about to blow so I just had to get out as quick as possible.”

“Where did they go afterwards?”

“I do not know I am afraid. Like I said, I had to dive out a window, I did not see them”

The red tunic rider slowly raised his lance as well.

“I must report to the Marshall at once that our staging area is gone. Stay put Hernandez”

The red soldier turned round and galloped off on his horse, the rest of the Kingdom army now visible coming around a corner. Daniel slowly lowered his hands and looked closer to the other rider.

“Hernandez? I was in the air boat with you the other day.... you picked me up from a tree remember? Emanuel's friend.”

The blue rider stepped closer on his robotic steed, looking closer at Daniel's face through his gas mask.

“Oh, so it is. Hello again amigo

“And speaking of which, I need to find him again”

“Well, wait a minute and you'll have the entire army here to talk to”

A minute later and the Kingdom's army came to a halt in the street, hundreds of soldiers in different coloured tunics organized into rows, carrying their rifles over their left shoulder, an assortment of different headgear and helmets on their heads, far less organized than their Republic counterparts. They stared forward and the destroyed building they were to use, a murmur of nervous chatter and suspicious glances being thrown at Daniel until whom he presumed was the Marshall rode to the front on his ridiculously armoured robotic horse and shouted for order amongst the ranks.

“It is but one building! We have a whole street. You will follow the original plan but just apply it to the next building or the one after. Patriza soldiers on me, Constance and Julian set up our camp in one of these buildings, the others secure and set up defences along the street front facing the state. Move out!” He turned and galloped off down the street parallel to the Empire State Building, twenty yellow-clad riders following after him as the others methodically filed off into the various areas of the street and began doing their assigned tasks. The blue rider beside Daniel made a hand signal to another that was passing in a group of blue-tunic dragoons, one of them looking to him and quickly coming over.

Si Hernandez?” He asked, Daniel immediately recognizing the voice of the Emanuel

“Your amigo wants a word”

The other rider turned and looked to Daniel, eyeing him up and down before leaning close to his face, the first rider going back into formation and following the others into the street.

“Daniel! My amigo. I did not recognize you in those clothes. Why does a historian need such armour and weapons?”

“Dangerous ruins.. I need to talk to you about something. Something big”

“Well be quick, I am needed, we all are”

“I want you to join me on an expedition to The North”

“Eh.. when amigo? If you had not noticed I happen to be quite busy this second”

“Right now. I know this is a bad time to ask it of you, but the place I am trying to get to, there will be things there that could easily help you win this war. And any other you may find yourself in.”

“The North is a dangerous place. We would never survive such a trip”

“We won't be alone. There's six others already, three Justice soldiers, two travellers from the Republic that venture into the North regularly and a robot.”

“One that walks on two legs not four? Hah, I love those locos. But you expect me to abandon my men, mis compañeros? On the eve of what could be the biggest war since the first against those Republic dogs”

“You will only be gone a day, two tops. You will be back before any real fighting has begun, you will still be able to fight and serve for the Kingdom and make King Maximilian proud. …I could also teach you how to get that girl you liked.. Isabella wasn't it?”

“You could make it so my sweet Isabella is in my arms? Demasiado buenopara ser verdad. Hop on amigo!”

He shuffled forward slightly atop the robotic horse giving enough room for Daniel to get on, clumsily climbing atop it and hanging on tightly as it shifted about and adjusted to the new weight before Emanuel quickly galloped off and around the corner before any one could see them.

“So where is it we head?”

“The Termini building”

Emanuel brought the horse to an immediate stop again and looked back to Daniel.

“You expect me to walk up to the Termini gates, dressed in this uniform and for them to just let me pass?”

“Oh.. I'll just get you some new ones -just while we pass the gates. Wait right here!”

Daniel hopped off the robot horse again and quickly tried to figure out which way the Empire State was again, before almost slapping himself and merely looking up, seeing the tall skyscraper to his left. He passed through the old store before him, kicking in the rotten wooden door that was once a fire escape and coming back out into the street below the Empire State Building, quickly running to the huge blast-door and knocking twice quickly and twice slowly. The door groaned into life and slowly slid open, stepping through and ignoring the State's soldiers around the door, making his way through the airlock and into one of the elevators. Burke and the other leaders and advisers of the State's make-shift military all looked up as the elevator doors opened and Daniel strode out.

“Termini communications are gone. Also I blew up a building the Kingdom were going to use, how kind of me. I changed my mind about that payment. But not money, I want a uniform, and some armour. Now.” The soldiers and commanders looked to either other, a little bemused at Daniel bursting in and making these claims and orders.

“But.. you already have that, far better than any we could give you”

“Don't care. Maybe I need back-up clothing? Hm?”

Burke shrugged and looked to one of the soldiers beside her, ordering him to go get spare clothing from the armoury, re-emerging half a minute later and handing them over to Daniel. He held the clothing under an arm and did a two-finger salute mockingly and turned on his heel and went back into the elevator.

“Here Emanuel” Daniel took the clothes and handed them to the Kingdom dragoon who looked down and them in his hands and back up to him.

Qué es esto? They look so old and tattered”

“Just put them on.. it'll only be for a little while. Once we're below Grand Ce- … The Termini building you can put your uniform back on. And we cant go galloping in on your horse. Termini don't use their ones as cavalry so they'll know who you are the moment you show up”

Dios mio. Why don't just take the rest of my dignity while your at it?” Emanuel eventually changed into the dirty old overalls, grumbling and groaning the whole time and walked beside Daniel, ordering his horse to go back to the Kingdom front lines. They blagged their way southern Termini building barricade, the guards remembering the mercenary from before. Coming out through the airlock entrance of the Termini building Emanuel was awe-struck at the size and business of the building, even now in late afternoon, he had probably never seen so many people in one place before. Daniel dragged him along despite him wanting to stop at every other shop to look at something he had never seen before in The kingdom, eventually finding his way back to the café from earlier, the others already all sitting there waiting. They all stopped and looked to the heavily armed mercenary standing at the front of the café, only recognizing it was Daniel as he walked closer and took his gas mask off.

“Whose ready to go to The North then?”

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