Daniel opened his eyes groggily, glistening ornate tiled ceiling appearing above, a light shade with a slowly spinning fan in the centre. He slowly sat up, his back sending a stinging pain through him as it went straight, letting out a groan and rubbing his sore head trying to remember the previous night. The wall of the spacious bedroom was half covered by shiny varnished wood panelling, the top half painted a pastel red and adorned with 19th century paintings which he couldn’t tell were replications or the real thing. A tall wardrobe and a chest of draws in perfect condition sat to his right, his clothes laying atop. He looked across to the left and jumped slightly as he noticed the half naked lady asleep beside him with the bed cover lazily thrown over the both them, looking to her face he couldn't remember a thing about her from the night before. Getting out of the bed as quietly as he could he turned and began dressing himself, the girl felt at the now empty space beside her in her sleep before giving up and pulling the covers tighter against her. Daniel slung his satchel over his shoulder and tip toed to the door, pushing it open as quietly as it'd let him before shutting it again and resting his back against it.
He stared wide-eyed at the space before him, coming out onto the second floor balcony of a what could have easily been a Mediterranean villa, a spiral staircase running down to the first floor before him, more paintings and various knick-knacks scattered about the place. He put his hand on the banister in front of him and slowly walked down the stairs, hearing some Schubert playing from somewhere outside as he reached the first floor. This had to be another dream of the past. Surely. A knock came at he door, a quick rap of knuckles against the wood. Daniel looked around, to the other doors in this strange place but no one appeared out of any of them to answer the door as another knock came. He walked over slowly and put his hand on the door knob, hoping so much that when he threw it open he'd be greeted with a view of some south French village and the cool blue Mediterranean sea in the distance. Opening it up though his heart sank upon seeing one of the soldiers from yesterday standing there.
“Good morning Comrade Daniel!” Powell bellowed, far too loud for this early in the morning. He thrust his hand out and immediately grabbed Daniel's putting a fistful of coins into his hand.
“From the shotgun, seventy cents. Enjoy it my friend” He smiled
“Where are we?” Daniel asked, rubbing one of his eyes and looking down at the small change in his hand with the other.
“Tower of 'Patriza.... still. I knew you had a lot to drink last night, but wow.” He chuckled and put his arm around Daniel's shoulder, walking with him out onto the walkway outside. Daniel looked around still unsure if he was dreaming, an entire row of Italian styled houses stretching out in front of him to one side, the railing and a drop down to the lobby the other side. Every even-numbered floor of this building had been taken out it seemed, so two-floored houses could be built all along the walkway. Stone steps and small archways covering every door and small windows dotted the row front all with their shutters still closed.
“They built them.” Powell cut in, knowing what he was going to ask as everyone acted the same way upon seeing the inside of this tower. “Hired people to take apart a lot of apartments in southern mid-town and bring all the materials here where other people were hired to remake them the same as the ones in the ancient pictures. Venetiza I think the place was called. Took them sixty years from the start of construction of the first house to the end of the final. Quite a place though eh?”
“Quite a luxurious place... for someone who has the supposed interests of the people to stay in...”
“We are heading north to the marketplace today” Powell continued, pretending he didn’t hear that and wrinkling his forehead “we heard of another from our wanted listed sulking about pretending to be a trader up there. We're heading up as an escort to a caravan and wondered if you wished to join us Comrade?”
They reached the end of the row of houses and the metal stairway down to the lobby beside them, another row of houses running off against the wall the other way. Daniel thought back to the United Arms building again and looked to Powell
“I'd like to.. but I never got a good chance to explore that building I wanted to”
“Well. We don't leave until eleven so if you do what you gotta do by then we're all waiting down in the lobby.”
They reached the bottom of the stairs and walked out across the lobby to the large café the other side that looked like it had been there as long as the building had, but obviously renovated and in keeping with all the house's styling. People hurried past in jackets and long coats carrying trays with sacks of grain and barley past, loading them up on one of the robotic horses standing in the middle of the lobby, a few more of them laying down over by a wall. The market was just opening up to their right, far larger with more stalls and more people than the one at Tower of Constance. Grant and Harper were sitting at a table in the café drinking cups of steaming coffee and three dirty empty plates stacked in front of them.
“He has said he still has to explore that building..” Powell said to the others, leaning forward and putting his hands on the table.
“I can't see why. That was a horrible place. But whatever.” Grant said, stroking his goatee “It is still early. He can go do... whatever it is he has to do there and still join us for our journey” He took another sip of his coffee, the big armoured man in his cowboy hat drinking from a tiny cup making it hard for Daniel to not snort and laugh. If he had stuck out his pinkie he would have lost it.
“What do you say Comrade Daniel?”
He thought for a moment, There seemed no reason to go to The Marketplace other than to see merely what it looked like.
“We do get paid of course. And after we finish our business there we head back to The Republic”
Daniel perked up slightly and nodded slowly.
“Okay. What time is it now?”
“Eight o'clock” Harper said, glancing to one of the two watches on his wrist.
“Then I will see you back here at eleven” He said and nodded to the three men before turning and looking to the market and the new money jingling in his pants pocket.
Four rows of stalls were laid out, selling everything from exotic spices to mechanical parts and high-grade weaponry. Two dozen or so other buyers were browsing the stalls, all of them apparently foreigners to The Kingdom as everyone except market and café staff were still asleep. Daniel walked straight to a stall with two long coat racks of various clothes behind it and all kinds of shoes in a laid out atop the stall. The well-dressed stall owner sat in a chair watching Daniel as he flicked through the clothes. He stopped at a cleaner version of the white overall the Justice soldier's wore, he turned it over and stared for a moment at the letters UABC on the back.
“Very good that one. Will protect against most things – except bullets.” The man on the chair said with a slight Italian accent. Daniel kept looking through and picked up out a pair of blue jeans in a somewhat good condition, hanging them over his arm as he continued. He turned round to the man a minute later with the jeans and a thin hooded dark grey-blue coat, the man stood and looked to them then up to Daniel's face.
Daniel nodded and rummaged through his picket before looking over to the shoes on the stall
“A pair of hiking boots as well”
He felt in his pocket for more money as the man went and picked up a pair of well used boots and came back to Daniel, handing them over and taking the money.
“Graci” The stall keeper said with a smile and turned to a new customer approaching. Daniel went behind a sheet and changing into the jeans, tucking his big white shirt into it before putting the coat on and trying the zip. He walked back out, handing his old pants to the stall owner who looked down at them disapprovingly the kind of people that shopped here used to better. Daniel was about to head off when his eyes caught the attention of the large weapon hanging over a stall in another row. Four shiny well kept after assault rifles were laid out on the stall, spare magazines and even their manuals beside them. Their price-tags had far too many zeros on them for him to even consider purchasing. A shelf with far cheaper but rusted weapons sat behind the counter behind the owner, dressed in a red tunic like the Kingdom soldiers, a tiny shield with a lion on it on his chest but with camouflaged pants and a pair of glasses and woolly cap on his head.
“Aight. anything in particular ya seekin'?” He said and folded his arms.
Daniel looked over the weapons again and back to the man.
“Which tower do you come from?”
“That o' Lord Barrett. Any reason?”
He made a note that the blues of Constance were Spanish, the black-reds of this tower Italian and the reds of Barrett were British if this guy was anything to go by. He wondered how each of the towers had managed to develop so differently, and then to what culture and language the other towers had taken on.
“No.. just browsing”
He picked up a black leather holster from one of the boxes in front of him, opening his satchel and pulling his pistol out by the barrel and holding it against the holster to see if it'd fit.
“Fiver.... ta mate”
Daniel strapped the holster to his leg and slid the Cascade inside it's new home. Making his way back across the lobby he nodded to the three Justice soldiers who were looking at a sheet of some sort and walked up to the gate guard.
“Will I have to pay to get back in?” He asked, already getting his gas mask out his bag. The guard looked him up and down and shook his head slowly and motioned him though. Daniel pulled the gas mask over his face and walked on through the gate as it closed behind him and sealed shut, getting a chill as he approached the large ornate doors and pushed it open, a light frost covering the ground but was sure to melt away in the next hour as the sun rose. He had no idea what the season was or if even the seasons were the same now but pulled the hood of his coat up none the less.
He retraced his steps back through the hi-rises of lower Manhattan, seeing peasants from other towers climbing to the rooftops in the distance already so soon. Reaching the building with the upturned oil drum with the trash around it he forgot about the fact that last time he was here a bridge was needed to cross the alleyway. He walked to the edge of the building and to the hole in the wall, worst that could happen would just be a bit wet surely? Taking a deep breath and stepping back a few feet he lowered his head and ran to the edge of the building, diving across and clearing the gap rather easily. Smiling to himself and nodding before he stopped, his eyes setting upon the body of the murderer from yesterday. Laying just where they left him full of holes and his cold eyes still staring upward at the ceiling.
Daniel walked quickly past him and to the door to the stairwell, pushing it open and looking up, maybe fifty or so floors up to the top. The uneasy mood that surrounded him yesterday in the building slowly crept back into his mind and began playing tricks on him, every glimmer of light reflecting off an old computer screen on each passing floor or creak from the floor boards making him stop dead in his tracks and turn his head. He pushed the feeling out of his head and concentrated on just getting to the top, clearing the stairwell in just a few minutes. As he pushed through the door to the top floor some distant memory slipped into his mind, the years of dust on everything vanishing and long streaks of light suddenly spilling in from the windows as his ears filled with chatter and busy fingers tapping across keyboards.
He walked at a quick pace, gripping the folder tightly in his hand and pushing his way gently past the two suited ladies gossiping at the water cooler, a few of the seated people glancing up from their screens to Daniel as he strode past. He looked through the half-closed blinds of the glass to the separated office, pausing with his hand over the door handle and looking to the name on the door 'Financial Director. Joseph Everett' before shoving the handle down and barging through the door and closing it behind him again. The well-dressed man inside quickly looking up and standing up, taking his glasses off in the process.
“Daniel? What are you-”
“Sit down” Daniel said, pointing back to his seat.
“I beg your pardon, You can just barge into my office and-”
“Sit the fuck down Joe” He ordered, closing the blinds and walking over to the desk as the man took back his seat and immediately pressed a finger against his intercom on the desk.
“Security to my office” He said quickly, glancing up to Daniel
“They suddenly had to take the day off”
“What is this about? What do you want Daniel?”
Daniel slapped the folder against the desk and opened it up, throwing a few of the photos across the desk to the man.
“Wh-what are these?” He asked, his hands beginning to shake as he caught one of the photos and looked down at his, his throat going dry and his eyes widening.
“Photos. Mr Everett. Photos of you with the senator's daughter. The senator's... underage daughter. It would be a great shame if they were to be leaked wouldn't it? A high ranking executive in the most prestigious company in the country... doing such depraved.. sinful acts ”
“How much do you want?”
“Well, you see that's the thing. It's not money I want Joe. ...It's your job... your office. You see I have a little plan in mind for United Arms. And unfortunately you're in the way of making that plan see the light of day.” He bought a finger up as the man was about to but in “Ah, no. Let me finish. Here's what you're going to do. You're going to.. take all your money, you're going to get into your nice European sports car, and you're going to just.. drive away. Leave this city, this life behind.”
“You're full of shit” He sneered, chucking the photo back at Daniel.
“You think this is all I found on you? This is tame. Some of it would have you spending the rest of your days in some CIA camp with your balls hooked up to the power mains.”
“And what if I don't go. You think I can't just make little upstart shits like you disappear?”
“Tell me Joe, do you happen to recall the most unfortunate car crash that befell the liaison between us and the Pentagon last week?”
Daniel leant in over the desk so he was a foot away from the man's face, staring into his misty eyes
“Cut the brakes myself” he whispered, reaching into his suit and placing his hand down on the desk, a silenced TSA-12 pistol held underneath. “You so much as breath a word when you step out that door and my contact will release ALL the info. NYPD... FBI will be raiding this building for you before you can even get to the ground floor.”
Daniel walked slowly around the top floor office, picking through the random draws of desks and filing through all the old discarded papers, nothing of use which he could find. He glanced up to the office he just remembered, neither his name or that of it's previous owner on the door, in fact no name or title on the door at all. He opened the door and peered into the darkened space, the single desk no longer there but two, with one chair either side and old computers atop, the room seemingly no longer serving the same purpose as it did from the memory. Walking around it for a little while longer and looking around the desks it turned out there'd be nothing here which would give any more clues, at least just seeing the place triggered that distant memory, thought it made no sense to him.
He made his way back down the stairwell, slightly disheartened but knowing there was at least the two other buildings on 55th and 110th street to find. And if he really had to – he could just return to the building with the cryo-chambers, at least then he could pay Owen a visit. But that'd mean going through Lincoln Tunnel again, something he had no intention of doing any time soon. Reaching the second floor he again he gave the dead murderer's body a kick and walked back to the hole in the wall. He took a few steps back and ran and jumped from the building again, only now realising this floor was slightly lower than that of the other building's second storey. Quickly putting his arms out and his elbows catching on the other floor, letting out a groan and holding himself up as best he could. Cursing and kicking his legs he tried to climb back up to the floor, unable to grip anything on the old dusty ground as he flailed his hands desperately. After a minute and only slipping lower and lower he figured he wasn't getting back up, looking down to the swamp water and closing his eyes as he lifted his arms and leant back, falling down into the murky water.
He bobbed back up onto the surface and swamp slowly out of the alleyway back into the street, his his new coat clinging tightly to his body and at least keeping him warm. Turning his head one way then the other he saw no way back up to the drier floors other than swimming down and into the submerged entrances of these buildings and climbing the stairs. And visibility beneath the surface was close to zero. Swimming to the nearest tree he grabbed one of the thick roots and clambered up and sat at the base of the tree, his feet dangling in the water. He quickly raised his head and looked down the street as an air boat about the same size as a minivan zipped round the corner and caused a big wave to slap against the buildings. Four blue-tunic clad soldiers sat inside, one at the back beside the big engine, one standing at the front and manning a machine-gun and the other two between and looking out either side and holding small sub machine guns. The boat flew past completely unnoticing the drenched Daniel sitting in the tree until it came to a stop a few dozen yards ahead. The soldiers heard mumbling to each other before the boat slowly backed up until it was beside Daniel, the gunner at the front looking to him.
“Nice swim amigo?” He asked and all four of the soldiers burst out laughing as the boat roared off again and disappeared around a corner. It appeared again a moment later around the original corner and stopped in front of Daniel again.
“Nah, we just messin' with you esse. You wanna ride?” He asked, having gotten off the MG and crouching at the side of the boat, Daniel nodded slowly and the soldier looked to the others then back to him.
“Got twenty cents then?” He asked, Daniel unsure if this was another joke or not until ten seconds passed and no one said anything and he buried his hand in his pocket. Another of the soldiers leant closer and looked at Daniel clearer through his gas mask.
“Ey, ain't you the guy hanging out with Emanuel the other day?” He asked, the other soldiers also leaning closer.
“Yeah, it is. Get ya hand out of your pocket and get on here man” The man at the side of the boat said and leant out and holding his hand out. Daniel sat up onto his knees and leant his hand out, grabbing the man's and jumping onto the boat.
“Any friend of Emanuel's is a friend of ours!” The man said, helping Daniel onto the boat.
“Yeah, cause then he hanging round with us” Two of the other soldiers said and laughed
“You don't like Emanuel?” Daniel asked, looking round at them and trying to wring his soaked clothes out.
“He's alright... a little funny though”
“Can ya blame him after what happened?”
“Dios mio! Not again with the story Hermandez...”
“Well it seems our friend would like to know. So Im telling it again. Just sit down and drive” 'Hermandez' said to the driver before turning to Daniel
“Well it was about ten.. eleven years ago”
“Fourteen” The driver said, starting the engine back up and driving the air boat.
“Yes, fourteen. Thank you. Anyway. It was around the time we were finishing up the Brooklyn Bridge, and the tribes of Brooklyn had been fighting us unrelentingly for weeks. They'd send wave after wave of warriors armed with just spears and clubs against us, and obviously they were no match for out machine-gun posts. So they got smart, they organized and they set up encampments close to the bridge so they could attack at night. They got up right close to us without us seeing them and then they'd ambush us. We sorted that our with more men and bringing some flood lights with them to light up the area around the Bridge entrance. But then they began swimming out into the East River in the night and putting some kind of home-made explosives on the base of the bridge. Now, one or two of these didn’t too very much at all to such a grand and well build structure. But if they persisted the bridge support would soon be weakened and it could collapse into the river. Almost two centuries of work wasted, and one of our sacred bridges lost! So of course we had to go into the jungle and hunt them down like the animals they are. Now, we had sent squads out before, but usually alone. And one squad at a time proved ineffective as the tribals would set up traps and run about the rooftops and across the trees to disorientate and confuse the soldiers and make them think they are facing more than are really there. So, we got together a whole bunch of squads, one from each tower, we got all the best weapons and armour and we all set off as one into the jungle. Each squad would take a separate street running parallel to each other. When a squad reached the next intersection they'd wait there for the other squads, if one didn't show up they'd know they were facing trouble and quickly go help. We managed to move through a great deal of Brooklyn like his without losing any men and we took out a number of tribe patrols. But then somewhere along the way Emanuel who was in the Tower of Constance squad had somehow got separated. We don't know how but he had been left behind somewhere and the rest of the squad had realised they were down a man despite not fighting any tribals in thirty or so minutes. At the next intersection they asked the other squads if they had seen him, but no one had. Unfortunately it was getting dark and the soldiers had no way of illuminating the pathways, so they doubled back and came back to the bridge to continue their search in the morning and just pray that Emanuel would be okay. Well, throughout the night we constantly heard gunfire off deep in the jungle -and the tribals don't use guns you see-. As soon as morning arrived all the squads set off again, and every so often at intersections we would find whole groups of tribal warriors slain across the ground. And then further ahead we found Emanuel rifle, all mangled and with a spear poking though it so we feared for the worst. It was then we spied a camp through an alleyway in a courtyard behind some apartments. And of course, taking out this camp was a higher priority than finding just one soldier. All the squads filed into the apartment buildings around the courtyard and we all charged into the camp as one, screaming and rifles ready to fire. But it was abandoned, not a soul there. All the tribe's tents smashed and covered in blood and their equipment and bomb-materials scattered all over the place. It was then, in the biggest tent – the chieftain’s or something- that we found Emanuel! We almost shot him at first thinking he were a tribal. He was almost naked, his clothes torn to shreds and he was covered from head to toe in blood! Not of it his own thankfully, but he just stood there, shaking with his sword gripped tightly in his hand. We got him back to the bridge but we couldn't get a word out of him about what had happened. In fact it was almost half a year before he even said any words at all. The last weeks of the bridge sealing were almost completely unhintered. But Emanuel was never the same since, he was always very loud.. very eh.. outlandish. And you can't ever go mentioning the 'B-word' around him, he'll go off on one”
Daniel now understood why Emanuel almost looked like he was readying to kill him after he mentioned he was from off the island and the thought that Daniel could be from Brooklyn entered his mind.
“He's a hell of a fighter though eh” The gunner said looking back over his shoulder.
“Yeah. Like he's whole different person when he gets into a fight. You just gotta get outta his way and let him do his thing”
“Where do you want dropping off compañero?” The driver leant forward and asked Daniel, knowing the story was over.
“Um.. Tower of Patriza?”
“Maltido. We just passed it!” He groaned and yanked at the steering lever, sending the boat sharply around a corner and down a new street, zipping around the trees and through the tall reeds. They passed under a series of walkways now busy with peasants donned in gas masks and carrying farming equipment, the odd soldier walking amongst them that gave a passing glance to the boat as it passed quickly -and nosily- underneath. The driver turned another corner and brought the boat to a stop at the mound of dirt rising from the swamp water before the Patriza doors.
“Tower D'Patriza. Safe journeys amigo”
Daniel stood back up and clambered onto dry land and thanked the boatmen as they stormed off again and disappeared into the distance to continue their patrol. He walked through the big doors again and shut them behind him and taped at the iron gate which opened a few seconds later, the gate guard looking to and motioning him through with his head. Making his way across the lobby once more he could see almost all the robots has been loaded up with the big bags of goods which were held down to them with thick rope. Men with similarly styled brown-dyed coats and baseball caps stood around them talking and checking the goods giving a glance to Daniel as he passed on his way back to the café. The three Justice soldiers still sat at their table, the pile of plates and cups on the table substantially taller now. They had a wide piece of unfolded parchment on the table with a very crudely drawn map of Manhattan, different colour lines drawn along the streets from down in lower Manhattan up to either the marketplace or Termini land, each line a different trade route. They looked up as Daniel approached and smiled, pulling a chair out for him.
“Hello again comrade. Did you find what you wanted?” Grant asked, rolling the parchment back up.
“Sort of. There's still more places I need to visit it as well. Further north. What time is it?”
“Nine fifty-five” Harper said, pulling his sleeve up and looking to his watches again, curiosity becoming too much for Daniel.
“Why do you have two watches Harper?”
“One is local time, one is the time in Moscow” He replied proudly, the answer seeming obvious now to Daniel,
“You know.. you don't have to be Russian to be a communist. I mean, you had the Cubans.. the Chinese, Vietnamese-”
“Ey, ey past' zakroi. We ain't picking apart whatever your beliefs are, so stop pissing on our parade” Grant said annoyed and jabbing his finger in the air towards Daniel
“Sorry. Who are they?” He asked, looking over to the people by the robots
“Brown-coats. Part of the Merchants Confederation.” Grant said “The biggest trading organization in the city. They travel around to the different settlements, buying all the best things as cheaply as they can before going up to The Marketplace and selling them at outrageous prices to mainlanders. And then doing the opposite for goods FROM the mainlanders to sell to us. Schemers and crooks the lot of them. And when we... you know what” He winked to Daniel “They too will be... removed”
“...And just who are you escorting today to The Marketplace?”
Daniel went to criticise that before shutting his mouth again and just nodding, not wanting to lose any more favour with these men. They sat for the next hour, discussing The Marketplace and the area around it, protected by The Militari, who never demanded any kind of toll or bribes so passing them would be easy.
“You keep mentioning mainlanders, what are they like?” Daniel piped up, having been sitting listening for a while. The three soldiers looked to each other than back to Daniel
“Well you tell us comrade, you said you were from the mainland wouldn't you?”
“Ah.. yes. But uh, where I come from – Chicagocia, it is also separated from the land by water. And when I journeyed here we did not stop in any settlements.
“Heh Chicagocia? Is that what they call it now. My friend from the Chicago Islands is always telling us of how dangerous the Great Sea of Ohio is, especially with the recent Detroitian Privateers plaguing the waters now their feud with the Queen City Ranger Corps is over.”
“Uh.. yes. Very dangerous!” Daniel lied, hearing all these things for the first time. Across the table Harper glanced to his watch again and looked up to the others, tapping his wrist.
“Right. Time to go” Grant announced, standing up from his chair and pushing it back under the table, waiting for the others to stand as well before walking over to the brown-coats and talking to the caravan leader. Powell and Harper standing nearby and checking over their weapons and gear, Daniel feeling a little unsure at what to be doing and apprehensive at going at all.
“Okay!” Grant called ou, turning back to his men -and Daniel- and rubbing his hands together “We are heading north through Hell's Hundred Acres and The Black Village, staying way clear of The Orient City. We shouldn't be facing any opposition and we'll be at The Marketplace before dinner. Easy pay”
Daniel leant closer to Powell “Why does the name of every place sound so sinister? And what's wrong with 'The Orient City'?”
“The leaders of the factions gave such terrible names to the wasteland and spread such lies of mutants and monsters to scare the people into wanting to stay inside and never try to escape.” He replied, putting his large-rimmed hat on and turning it slightly to fit his head better “Of course it's all bullshit. The only beast that roams the surface is man. And that is the worst thing you will ever face. Deceitful, unforgiving murderous man” He said dryly, pulling the cocking lever of his rifle with a loud thunk.
“..And the Orient City? Is that China Town?” Daniel continued, looking to the others and seeing they were all ready to go.
“Some terrible thing happened in that place back before the Ancient Ones were wiped out. No knows what. No one wants to know what.”
“Ready Comrade Daniel?” Grant suddenly said, walking over and clapping his hand on Daniel's shoulder “Where is your weapon?”
Daniel looked round then pointed to the holster on his leg, thinking that answer were obvious
“Just that? Why do you not have a rifle or a sub-machine gun at least by now? How do you expect to defend yourself out there with that pea shooter. How much money do you have?”
“Twenty five cents..”
“Govno, you will never get anything decent with that. Stop buying these nice clothes and maybe you can shop like a man and buy guns and booze eh? Here-” He put his hand in the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out a quarter and flicked it up in the air so it spiralled over and over, Daniel quickly leaning in and catching the coin with a hand.
“I saw a cheap SMG for fifty over on the weapon stall. Go tool yourself up” Grant said and dismissed him with a wave of his hand. Daniel hurried back to the market and rummaged in his pocket for the rest of his money, seeing the same red tunic-camo pants man from earlier.
“Back again are we, mate?”
“Yeah, uh. Do you have an SMG for fifty cents?”
The man nodded and held up a hand for him to wait, turning his head and looking through the rack of old weapons behind him, squinted his eyes and pulling his glasses closer to them with his other hand before reaching into the rack and pulling out a small green coloured gun. Putting it down on the stall.
“I'll chuck in a spare mag for ya as well as you're a repeated customer.” He said and pulled another long straight magazine from under the stall. “EuroFabrik Bulldog, 4.6x30mm calibre semi-automatic and full automatic sub-machine gun with telescopic stock and 40mm under-slung grenade-launcher. Though God knows where you'd find a grenade for it anywhere round here. Magazines go in the grip -here- and here's the button for them to slide out again. Enjoy”
He handed it over with another magazine filled with bullets for it in his other hand. Daniel took it, surprised at how light it was, almost the same as his pistol and took the other magazine and put it in his satchel. He walked back over to the others, looking his new weapon over and wishing he had enough for a sling as he'd have to hold it all the time now unlike the Justice soldiers who let their weapons hang freely while they could still use their hands.
They had made their way out and along the wooden platforms up the side of the Patriza tower to the fifth floor, Grant and Powell right at the front with the brown-coat leader of the caravan , three of the 4-legged robots keeping pace behind with a brown-coat walking beside, also burdened down with bags of goods slung over their backs and Daniel and Harper watched the rear. They crossed through familiar abandoned buildings and offices until they reached the edges of the swamp in TriBeca, the 'Orient City' just a few streets over from their right. They returned back to the ground and walked down a long road heading north which was well used, a clear path through the trees and bush visible for almost a mile ahead.
At one intersection a group of Kingdom dragoons in hunter-green tunics were sat on the side-walk in a clearing, sat on lawn chairs with their robotic steeds laying down to rest, one of them strumming away on a guitar -what Daniel could have sworn was a Hendrix song- as they looked up and nodded to the caravan and said something in a language Daniel didn't recognize.
“Out of Kingdom land now” Harper whispered, leaning over to Daniel for a moment. The grass got longer and longer the further they continued until it was half way up their bodies, Daniel stumbling and tripping constantly on rocks and bits of debris underneath which he couldn't see, the others walking forward with any problem, seemingly being able to sense when something was coming from the partings in the grass and step around it. The tall tree canopy high above blanketed the road in a cool shadow as the midday sun began to glare down and began to roast in his coat, unzipping it and fanning himself with the magazine from his Bulldog, everyone else wearing just as much clothing and in some cases more but seeming completely unaffected by the weather.
“So is there really nothing but humans left?” Daniel asked, looking to Harper whose face was shaded with his big cowboy hat, his own face getting damp with sweat as the sunlight was magnified through the glass gas mask cover.
“Cause I been underground near here, and I could have sworn there was something chasing me.. and the other day when I was crossing the Lincoln Tunnel something strange below me was making sounds but I couldn't see what”
“Who told you there isn't anything else here?” Harper asked, slightly perplexed “All manner of horrible things dwell in the ruins and the shadows, Daniel.” He took his hat off and put it on Daniel's head. “There. You look like you could keel over any second. Anyway. Hideous monsters lurk this world now, in our absence beneath the ground many moons ago just after the Ancient Ones were wiped out they appeared. They needed no oxygen, no water.. just flesh. Human flesh! They crawled through the wasted cities and towns on all fours, with twisted and deformed bodies black as coal and hard as steel, no eyes or ears just a big toothy grin of razor sharp needles at the front of their bulbous heads. And then the 'greys' that inhabit the sewers and the catacombs beneath the earth, long limbed completely smoothed over bodies slick with slime and with giant beady eyes, I cant even imagine what those things do”
“Harper... how many of these.. monsters have you actually seen?”
“None...yet. But there are so many tales from different places across the island. And they all add up so they must exist! And people say they hear similar tales from mainlanders. And how do you explain people disappearing when they go out alone? And the sounds.. and the-”
“Harper!” Suddenly came from the front, one of the two Justice soldiers -Daniel couldn't tell which, but probably Powell as he didn’t have a cigarette hanging from his gas mask- had turned back and was glaring at Harper “..Enough. Not when we're out here” He said and pointed to his eyes and way behind them, signalling for them to keep watching their backs.
The sea of greenery above parted for a moment and Daniel got a good look at the skyscrapers of mid-town in the distance, the rock feller centre, MetLife and Chysler building and Empire State Building all still standing proud.
“Do the people of the Termini live in those like those in the Kingdom?” He asked. Harper looked over to the towers and shook his head.
“No. Especially not the Empire State. Instead of living in lots of different towers they all live in fewer but much larger buildings. Easier to defend and easier to seal up than lots of separate places.”
“Why 'especially' not the Empire State?”
“Something bad is going to go down there any day now. All the major groups had hired people to seal it up as its a building of such significance. Only- when it was nearing completion just a few weeks ago the people that were working on it decided that after all their work, seven years I think, they thought they were the ones that deserved the building and broke away from the others. And now everyone is figuring out just what is to be done about this new Empire State. Kingdom want it to begin their expansion into mid-town, Termini want it to help strength their borders and to accommodate a lot of the people that try moving there from the mainland recently. Militari say they are only trying to defuse the situation but its obvious they would also love to have the building as a base of operations. Even our leader in the Committee has expressed interest in holding the 'very symbol of capitalism' so we may use it against those that'll wish to crush the people's dream of revolution.”
They continued on down the same street for what seemed like hours to Daniel but that couldn't be so. Harper's hat definitely helped in keeping him cool as the sun slowly arced in the sky, not a single cloud in sight. Up ahead Grant held his up arm up out, his forearm at a 90 degree angle and his hand clenched into a fist. The brown-coats stopped the robots and looked to him as he walked back and motioned Daniel and Harper to come closer. They gathered in the middle of the caravan, the brown-coats looking over their shoulders
“There's a wall -made of metal- up a head that wasn't there a few weeks ago. It's either been put up by the Militari as the next area is unsafe, which is unlikely.. or it's bandits trying to divert us off course for an ambush. We need to check it out before we proceed with the robots and if it does look like a trap ahead we'll just dismantle the wall and continue the normal way. Powell and Harper; safeties off and on my six as we go through those apartments there to the other side of the street leading away from the wall. Comrade Daniel, you stay and keep the caravan safe.” They all nodded and Grant shouldered his weapon and quick-walked over to the buildings to their right, looking through the blown out store-fronts until stopping at one and pointing forward before disappearing into the darkness with the other two soldiers behind.
“Where'd they go?” One of the brown-coats asked, looking to Daniel.
“To find traps..” He replied, feeling a bit annoyed that they left him behind to 'keep the car running' effectively, but they were far better fighters than him and he'd just likely get in their way.
“How long have you been with them Committee boys?” Another asked, adjusting his cap slightly to keep the sun out of his eyes, all of them were wearing the same styled gas mask to Daniel.
“I'm not really.. with them”
“You're not a soldier?!” Another suddenly shouted and throwing his arms up in the air.
“I've got a gun, isn't that enough?” Daniel persisted. He looked down at it and realised he hadn't put the magazine back in from using it as a hand fan from earlier, quickly opening up his satchel and taking one of the two magazines and sliding it back into the SMG.
“Do you even know how to use that?” The same brown-coat exclaimed.
“Yes. Of course!”
“Give me your pistol. We'll be better defended with two people with guns” He persisted, walking over to Daniel and leaning a hand down against his pistol holster. Daniel quickly backed up , his back against one of the robots which shifted slightly and let out an electronic chirp, the SMG aiming straight at the brown-coat's gut who looked down at himself then to Daniel's gun.
“OH! Oh, and now our own escort is going to shoot us!” He shouted, throwing his arms out and looking to the others like this was something he was expecting to happen all along.
“Pl-please sir.. just calm down and wait for the others to get b-”
“No one's seen your face around here before, you just suddenly show up and decide to help those soldiers. How do we know you're not a bandit eh?” He pushed his hand against Daniel's chest and looked to the other brown-coats again. “You and your little buddies set up an ambush is that it? The soldiers go on some wild goose chase while you stay behind and hijack the caravan? Is that it eh? Your little plan?”
Daniel quickly realised he'd have to get more assertive to keep the others in-line, pushing the rowdy brown-coat back with his gun and stepping back behind the robots, keeping his SMG tightly in his hands and looking between them.
“No. No that's not what I'm doing. Which I thought would be obvious due to the fact I haven't filled your lousy body with lead! And you're making it pretty hard you loud-mouthed prick”
“Just bidding your time...” The man said, brushing his coat off and looking to his fellow traders. “We can't trust him. Don't let him out of your sight men. He's just waiting for some sort of signal” He said, folding his arms and glaring at Daniel. “You'll see...”
Suddenly a massive explosion rocked the building at the corner of the intersection beside the obstructing wall. A cloud of dark smoke and debris spilling out into the street as bricks and pieces of rebar rained down. All the people around the caravan ducked down as the ground shook around them and the robots stirred and shifted about on the spot comfortably, unsure of what was happening.
“See! See! There's the signal!” the confrontational brown-coat shouted, his and everyone else's ears still ringing. Daniel quickly stood back up, walking around the robot horse and grabbing the man by the collar of his coat and throwing him flat against the ground
“Sit the fuck down and shut your useless mouth!” Daniel screamed, quickly wiping the dust from his gas mask visor and seeing the man staring up with terrified eyes at him. Looking up again Daniel quickly brought his SMG up and looked down the street, the plants and small trees still swaying slightly in the aftershock. Some figures appeared through the smoke and Daniel quickly hovered a finger over the trigger of the Bulldog ready to fire until it became apparent it was the three Committee soldiers. They sprinted as fast as they could through the grass, constantly looking over their shoulders and then forward to the others.
“Down! Get down! Grant shouted, motioning to the ground. Daniel froze up, watching them get closer before all dropping to the floor again and disappearing below the plant-life. A loud high-pitch whine erupted from within the cloud of smoke and a rocket spiralled out and overhead, arching way over all their heads and slamming back down into a rooftop of some near building.
“They have a rocket launcher?!” Daniel exclaimed, dropping to his knees, the two huge explosions and rocket obviously enough evidence to that. The three soldiers stood back up and continued sprinting until they were beside the caravan.
“Get into cover, move the robots into that store-front over there and don’t move until we give the all clear” Grant barked, picking the brown-coat up off the floor and pointing to the nearest store to their right. The others quickly got up as well and herded the robots into the cover, keeping their heads low and moving as fast as they could.
“Should I go and-”
“No Daniel. Stick with us!” Grant ordered and pointed to Harper and Powell and then to a building across the street before pointing to Daniel and back to himself. A few seconds for Daniel to register what he meant before nodding and giving a thumbs up.
They split up and ran to buildings on opposite sides of the street, a bit further down where the grass was taller, crouching down behind the old busted shelves and counter-tops of the ancient stores. The smoke standing to disappear from the street and the sound of many footsteps approaching rang out down the roadway, the tall plant-life rustling and moving about as unseen figures moved through it. Grant sat up on his knee and flicked his rifle to full-auto, bringing it to his shoulder and squeezing off a burst of searing lead into the grass. Daniel flinched and almost fell back at how loud the rifle was inside, still unused to the ear shattering roar every time Grant squeezed the trigger- being inside a small closed space not helping. More gunfire could be heard coming from the other building before finally it began coming from the middle of the street, firing off into either direction and blindly hitting the walls and floors inside the store.
“Comrade Daniel! Fire back Svoloch'!” Grant shouted as he was loading in another magazine into the front of his rifle, looking to his comrade and seeing he was just hiding behind cover and not moving. Daniel lifted his head slightly and a shot ricocheted off the counter-top they were hiding behind making him immediately duck back down but the Committee soldier didn't budge, bringing his rifle back up and beginning to fire again. Someone ran out of the grass into the store, screaming and holding a shotgun at his waist before a shot from Grant's rifle send him spiralling to the ground.
“They're getting closer. We need to fall back a little” Grant said, looking behind them for something else to take cover behind and seeing nothing before looking to Daniel again cowering behind the counter-top.
“Come on sookin syn” He grabbed Daniel by the collar and pulled him, dragging him through the store until they went far enough and he let go, quickly putting his hands against one of the shelves and trying to slide it round so it faced the entrance to use as cover. Another bandit rushed in through the entrance, dressed in a grey coat and desert camouflaged pants, a WW2 gas mask and a woolly cap on his head. Daniel quickly raised his Bulldog SMG and fired off a shot, managing to clip the bandit in the shoulder as he too fired a shot, just missing Daniel and hitting the wall behind him. The bandit crumpled to the floor and tried to aim his weapon again at Daniel before another shot smashed into his body and he went limp. Daniel looked to Grant who had finished moving the shelf and nodded to him, crouching down behind it and looking out over the side at the store-front. The gunfire seemed to cease almost immediately but Daniel and Grant kept their sights trained on the opening, the grass outside was still and the slight echo of the gunshots still slowly reverberated round the walls.
“Ssh” Grant whispered and held up a finger, still staring forward at the entrance as he slowly rose to his feet, shouldering his weapon and slowly walking towards the grass. Daniel staid behind the shelf for a few seconds longer before walking around it and following closely behind the soldier. They crept out of the building and back into the street, Harper and Powell visible the other side walking towards them as well.
“All okay?” He inquired.
“Fine comrade commissar!” Came back from the two other soldiers in unison.
Daniel looked down at one of the bandits laying motionless in the grass and nudged him with his foot, jumping back as the bandit's eyes shot open. Half the 'dead' bandits suddenly sprang up, bringing their weapons to bear and shouting at the top of their lungs when another loud sound erupted from down the street, the wall burst open and the bandits screamed out and crumpled to the floor one by one as ultra-sonic bullets zipped through the grass and a second later the sound of them passing hit Daniel and the others like a strong gust of wind. Through the destroyed smoke choked wall strode a dozen figures. Daniel stared to them as the they appeared in the intersection, almost a foot taller than him and the three committee soldiers, clad in thick green beige camouflaged armour plating that conformed to their body and led up to the full-face helmets -similar to a motorcycle helmet except if the full thing were the visor- which reflected all the surroundings. Badges with faded American flags sat on their upper arms and strange electronic devices sat round their wrists. Dozens of ammo pouches and grenades decorated their chest and in their hands sat massive black assault rifles with sniper scopes.
“A-are those more bandits?” Daniel asked, slowly turning his head to Grant.
“No. They are the Militari”