The King of New York
The city was amazing this time of year. The snow slowly floated down from the calm white sky at its own leisurely pace and gradually filled the streets, this wouldn’t perturb the early Christmas shoppers though. Who filled all the stores and spilled out into the streets beneath the hanging lights and the gaze of the coffee shop patrons sitting in the upper level plazas. Blissfully unaware or just willingly ignorant of the disease, slowly working its way across Europe. China and India had gone and Russia was in a state of emergency with millions adding to the death count with every passing day. But the North America countries had closed their borders to each other and to the rest of the world. They didn't have to worry about the disease, far more pressing matters -like Christmas- were just around the corner. Every year shops were going out of stock quicker and quicker meaning shoppers had to get in quicker for the better deals, and this year with the borders closed things were going to go off shelves even faster.
Daniel took a bite of the piece of sizzling steak on his fork and let it sit on his tongue for a moment before chewing it, looking out over the offices of lower Manhattan from the classy upper-level restaurant, a classic Christmas tune that was almost a hundred years old now playing softly through the speakers. He was back in the nice suit, a PDA no bigger than two fingers sat on the table beside his plate. The dockyards over at Jersey City and Brooklyn to the other side were full with ships, most from other countries that now had nowhere to go. The border lockdown applied to things only coming into the country. But who'd want to leave? With United Arms at the helm the people of this land will be safe.
“How can you sit there?” A voice suddenly came. Daniel slowly turned his head to the side still slowly chewing the next piece of steak. A twenty-something male with a scruffy goatee sitting at the table beside his, only a small salad-y meal in front of him which he hadn’t touched, only spending the past ten minutes watching Daniel and getting more irate.
“Quite easily, I make a reservation and show up. And by some divine magic a table happens to be waiting” Daniel replied dryly, stabbing another piece of steak with his fork and chewing on it.
“How many more innocent people must perish before you end this madness?” He said louder, slamming his hand against the table.
“Sorry, Afraid I'm haven’t the foggiest idea what you're talking about” Daniel looked the man up and down dismissively and turning back to his lunch and the winter view.
“You know damn well!” The man said, standing up loudly from his chair “You may deny it. But you don't think the rest of us really believe-”
“Sir. Is this man troubling you?” A waiter quickly hurried over, standing beside the man and preparing to point a finger to security to call them over.
“No. No, it's alright I was just about to leave anyway. I've suddenly been put off my meal” Daniel said and turned up his nose and strolled out of the restaurant, heading to the elevator to go back to his car. He looked up to the flat screen TV in the corner of the elevator, watching along with the few other people in there with him, a weather report of snowy weather and Christmas cheer all across the state, and then onto some soap opera. Until half way down the lift ride and the program suddenly cut out, replaced by a shaky looking news anchor in the CNN studio.
“We interrupt your normal transmission to bring grave, breaking news report. In the past minutes we have received reports from our studios in California that Los Angeles has entered a state of emergency as numerous -supposed- cases of the 'Shanghai Virus' have been logged at hospitals in the Long Beach and Downtown areas. It is not yet known how the infection has entered the country or what the impact of this will be on the border closings. Homeland Security has issued a statement to all US citizens to avoid the LA metropolitan area and to remain calm and stay tuned to your news network. We will keep you posted on updates as they come in. That again, supposed reports of the-”
Daniel turned away from the TV, his PDA buzzing for attention in his pocket, quickly picking it out, unflipping it and switching it on, seeing he had over a 100 messages, and the number rising exponentially every second, the other people in the elevator taking their own phones out and frantically calling their loved ones. The elevator stopped at the ground floor and the doors slid open revealing the still shopping mall that took up the building's ground floor, crowds of people staring unbelievably at TV screens in a hush silence. Daniel walked hurriedly through the mall and out onto Wall Street. Cars stood still in the roads as everybody watched their in-car screens, the snow building up around their tyres, people rushing across the road to other buildings to see if they had heard the news. He held a speed-dial button on the PDA and held it up to his ear”
“It's Blackwell. Yes I saw it too. So it's finally happened... Begin the preparations for the cordon and tell Napoleon to meet me in my office”
Daniel groaned, his mind spiralling, some distant memory spilling in then sinking away again. He opened his eyes blinkingly, a huge bright light above him that he almost mistook for 'that' light for a moment, replaying the last moments of the run in with that Kingdom cavalry again. Was he now in “the dungeons”? Lifting his head slightly and looking around this sure didn't look like it. He was laying atop some old hospital bed which was stained with years and years worth of patient's ...bodily fluids. The walls were covered with dusty tiles, a few missing here and there and showing corrugated metal behind., a series of old faded medical diagrams and charts lining the walls. That with closer inspection were covered with question marks drawn with pencil after almost every sentence and phrase which wasn’t reassuring to say the least.
Sitting up fully his arm pulled at IV drip leading to an empty bag on a stand. He gripped the piece sticking into his arm and yanked it out and winced. Shuffling to the edge of the bed he threw his feet over the side and looked down to the filthy gown he was wearing before standing up and stumbling to the door, putting his hand against the frame as his head stung. A man in a messy white overall walked past before stopping and turning on his heel to face Daniel
“Oh, no no no. You should not be up. You need rest.” He said softly, quickly walking over and putting his hands on Daniel's shoulder
“You lost a lot of blood, and we had to stitch up your back”
“I feel well enough.. wh-where am I?” Daniel let out
“The infirmary of the Tower of Constance. Please sit down.”
“But, a soldier, he said I was-”
“No. No. I assure you, you are safe”
He unreluctantly turned back round and sat down on the hospital bed, the man whom he presumed was a doctor came through the door with a glass of off-colour water. The water tasted funny and didn’t sit well in his stomach but he didn't feel like annoying the man who had just saved his life “What's.. the Tower of Constance?” He asked, putting the glass down and not wanting to touch it again
“The residence of our Lord, Sir Constance Gustavo and his loyal guard and serfs. You were brought in here around lunch time by Emanuel. I do not quite know how you managed to get shards of glass in you, there is naught a single window in the whole city.” He said, looking Daniel up and down again and seeing he was looking much better than earlier.
“Th-thank you.. um.. doctor?”
“No, no. I am the surgeon. Doctor is out. But you are welcome.” He said and smiled widely, also having a slight Spanish accent as well but nowhere as noticeable as the soldier's “I believe Emanuel still wants to speak with you, he's waiting in the tavern the other side of the ground floor. But uh, I'd maybe give it another thirty minutes maybe. Just don't be up and active for a while”
“I won't be diving through windows any time soon”
“Good” The surgeon said with a serious face, not realising he was joking. He patted Daniel's shoulder and walked back out the door, leaving Daniel alone again. What did the soldier want to speak to him about? He was probably going to continue cross-examing him. Daniel gave another look around the incredibly unclean surgery room and decided he didn’t want to spend any more time inside it. Standing back up and swinging his arms he took a deep breath and turned towards the door again. A small corridor led past some other rooms, another that was empty with a desk and a bookcase full of old decayed books, the next after also filled with hospital beds half of which had a people laying in them.
The infirmary led straight out into a huge impressive lobby, about twenty metres across with a tall half-broken fountain of what appeared to be a mermaid.. or maybe a seal in the middle and a space in the centre of the building that went all the way up to the ceiling some fifty or sixty floors above, banister lined balconies lining it on every floor. To his left stood what looked like a marketplace with a few mostly empty stalls selling random junk as well as some 'fresh' food as well as one guy with buckets full of home made bullets and a couple of insanely old and worn out weapons on display. Straight ahead was what must have been the entrance to the building, there was a large iron wall erected a few metres just before the real wall to the building, with a sealed door to it, a similar system to the entrance to Owen's bunker he presumed. A group of ten soldier's dressed in the same blue tunics and various pants stood chatting around the door, rifles slung over their backs -thought two seemed to just settle for swords. Then to the right was a tavern -as was sign posted with a big brightly coloured sign just outside, inside a couple of chipped plastic tables and garden chairs arranged around them and a bar that looked like it was an originally the receptionist’s desk. Just two people were in the tavern, the barkeeper, leaning on the bar with his elbow and eyeing Daniel trying to figure out how much money he might have to spend, and the soldier from earlier sat at a table drinking something from a tankard – most probably beer. Daniel walked over to the tavern, glancing upwards at the space that rose from the lobby, seeing every floor had been separated by metal sheets into separate 'apartments' and rooms, for what could have easily provided for a few hundred people.
Emanuel looked up from his drink and put it back down, smiling to Daniel and standing up, a head of short cropped black hair creeping out from underneath the officer's cap and a thin handlebar moustache covering his top lip.
“AH, my amigo. You gave me quite the scare!” He said and laughed merrily, clapping Daniel on the back before quickly taking his hand away after seeing him wince and rub his back “Ah! Perdón, my apologies. I did not know what happened to you back there friend, at first I thought you had been shot or something! But I got you back here just in time according to the surgeon” Even when trying his best to talk in a hushed tone to Daniel standing just two feet away the man seemed stuck in exclamation mode. “Anyway, after consulting with my peers we came to an agreement those were definitely not Termini clothes you were wearing. But they were veeery similar so we had them burnt me temo que”
“That's.. okay. I wasn’t too attached to them anyway” Daniel said and forced a little smile
“But uh, now amigo I'm afraid I must let the question fall upon you again. Just what ARE you doing in Kingdom territory?” The soldier said, putting his hand in a fist beneath his chin and looking to Daniel inquisitively.
“Truthfully, I don't. I’m trying to find out something. A-about my past! ...Not the Kingdom. I’m not a spy as we established. I don't remember a lot of my life and I think I can find out the things that happened, here in Manhattan.”
“Oooh. So, you are from.. off the island, si?”
Daniel thought for a moment before nodding slowly “Yes. This is my first time on Manhattan”
“Fresco, fresco... wait a second” The soldier paused, his eyes widening slightly and his other hand looking like it was readying to grab his throat “You mean you came across from The Scorched Shore si? And not from Brooklyn”
“Yes, yes. From Jersey.. the Scorched Shore. I've never been to Brooklyn in my life. I hear.. its quite bad”
“Incredibly bad! Ever so bad!” Emanuel said and nodded heavily, his hand resting back beside him. “We have lost a great many men fighting the barbarians that reside in that wild place”
He clasped his hand down on Daniel's shoulder -gentler this time- and started walking with him towards the stairwell the other side of the tavern that lead up to the next floors.
“We will go and collect your things. Your mask, you satchel and firearm and then what you do next is up to you amigo. We also burnt your cap. Sentimos, it bared the symbol of a very brutal tribe up north, but it is obvious you were not one of them. You are not jumping up and down and waving a spear now are you!” He said and laughed loudly to himself before immediately switching mood and going deadly serious “Dios ayude a any man who faces them in combat”
“So, does everyone in the Kingdom speak Spanish?”
“¿Qué, What is Spanish?”
Daniel looked to Emanuel for a moment thinking he was joking before seeing his serious face
“Again, I not no of what you speak friend. I am not familiar with these main-lander terms.”
“Forget about it.” He dismissed with a wave of his hand, looking around the homes of the 'serfs' as they passed by them on the second floor. They were all near enough the same, a straw bed or if they were lucky enough a hagged old mattress on the floor, beside it a wooden table with empty bowls and forks and knives and a small stove the other side, either butchered from a full-size proper stove / cooker or an entirely new looking one made from junk, a few farming tools hanging from the wall and a single candle either in a holder on the wall or table. Only two of the maybe thirty houses they passed had any books or writing implements.
“Where is everybody?” Daniel asked, looking to the soldier
“The roofs! It is the daytime, so they must tend to the crops. It is in shifts, west side of building work one day, east side work the other day, whoever is not working has other tasks to do, repairing soldier's equipment, making the food and drink, helping the technician maintain the purifier and the filter.”
“So. They're always working then?”
“Ha ah! Yes. We must keep them occupied see. Their judgement and their loyalty waivers if they have to much time to think and converse, they get such silly notions in their heads. Revolutionary notions, sigue?”
“But they do get time to rest right?”
“Si. The evening they can rest and drink and eat and all other form of merriment. At a cost of course”
“They have to pay for the food they grew?”
“It was never their food in the first place! The lord paid for the seeds, the peasantry merely watch over it and make sure it comes to fruition.
“Amigo! You are not from these parts so I will give you the benefit of the doubt. But you are starting to ask questions that would make people of this Kingdom suspect you of something”
Daniel nodded quickly and moved on from the subject
“Are there many towers like this in the Kingdom?”
“Si. Each controlled by a lord and guarded by his vassals. And the serfs work for them. They get shelter, the lord gets a workforce and the soldiers get somebody to mess about with” He joked and elbowed Daniel playfully in the ribs.
“When ever a major threat to the Kingdom arises or when the Kingdom goes to war all the lords and there men are required to report to the King for military service. Only once did the peasantry have to take up arms in our fight, and it was not a pretty sight.
“The great sco-” Daniel was cut off as Emanuel quickly covered his mouth with his hand
“Shh. We do not talk of those dark times friend” He said and nodded waiting for Daniel to nod along as well before continuing walking “Many good people that did not deserve to die met their end and many we thought were such close friends turned on us. But enough of that. Where was I? Ah yes! Each Lord is in-charge of a certain aspect in the Kingdom, here Lord Constance is head of all religious matters in the Kingdom, Lord Julian is head of food management overall and has most of the tools for turning crops into better food, Lord Barrett is in charge of historical research, philosophy and the creation of new devices and machines which may benefit the Kingdom, Lady Patriza is in charge of major trade in and out of the Kingdom. Aaand the others I think I cannot tell an outsider for security reasons.”
The soldier stopped in front of a small inlet between the rows of houses where what looked like a guard's booth to a parking lot was situated, a young lady sitting inside in a in a similar blue tunic with a freckled face and brunette hair that covered her face as she looked down at the table, reading an old brown piece of paper, rows of miscellaneous items sitting on shelves behind her. Emanuel licked his fingers and tweaked the ends of his moustache making sure it was nice before winking to Daniel and strutting over to the booth.
“Isabella! He mencionado alguna vez cómo se iluminaría mi día cada vez que mis ojos puestos entu belleza?”
The girl glanced up from her paper and looked to Emanuel letting out an audible sigh and sitting up properly in the chair and flicking her hair back.
“Yes Emanuel. You already mentioned that one...” She groaned, lowering her eyelids and staring at him
“Well then I doubley mean it!” He announced and grinned “But alas, I did not come to gaze upon your pretty face, I belive you have some things of my amigo's here.” He stood with his hands on his hips and looked to her, and she only looked back, shrugging her shoulders slowly and waving her hands.
“And those would be what exactly?”
“Ah yes! Ah ha.. um. The brown satchel, that full-face gas mask aaand a pistol.” He said, pointing out Daniel's possessions amongst all the crap. The girl turned and picked up the satchel and gas mask and stood up, passing them through the front window of the booth to Emanuel before leaning under the counter and heaving up an iron container and opening it, three or more dozen pistols inside it which Emanuel looked over quickly
“The.. cascade I think it was” He muttered stretching a hand out and contemplating if that was really it.
“Just take one! This is heavy, idiota.” The girl groaned, straining under the weight of the container and all the guns, Emanuel quickly taking the EWS-2014 and looking over it before nodding and placing it down beside the satchel and gas mask. She closed the container and put it back underneath the counter before glancing to Daniel.
“Oh, Emanuel. You didn’t burn another one's clothes did you? He can't leave here in a hospital gown”
“Ah. I had my reasons this time! they were Termini looking” Emanuel quickly said, holding a finger up to somehow improve his point.
“So just dye them a different colour or something. Here, no one ever collected these, he can have them” She said, rummaging in a big box beside her seat and pulling out a pair of baggy and worn out olive drab coloured cargo pants and a muddied white T-shirt, Daniel took them and pulled the pants up beneath the gown and took it off so he could get the shirt off, putting the satchel strap back over his shoulder and his gas mask hanging from his neck.
“No lo menciona” The girl said with a wave of her hand.
Emanuel put his arm around Daniel's shoulder and walked beside him back over to the railings
“So amigo, what do you plan to do now? How are you going to find your answers?”
“I think I'm gonna stick around The Kingdom for a little while, I think there's a building on a street around here which could prove useful”
“Espléndido! Then you can tell me all about where it is YOU come from” He said with a smile “Just where was it you said again?”
“Uh.... Chicag.. ocia... Chicagocia. Yeah”
“Never heard of it. So you will have to explain it all.”