Daniel spent the next half an hour back down in the tavern making up as much as he could remember about Chicago but making it sound more fantastical to impress Emanuel. He drank a beer brewed locally in the tower that Emanuel bought for him along with a couple of cents. It seemed the money of the old world was still in use, but only the coinage; the pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and fifty-cent pieces - all the paper note bills had disintegrated in the floods. They had different value now, a single cent was about what a dollar was, and could get you most things you needed; two or three cents was enough for a days worth of food. Having just a hundred cents could buy a decent assault rifle, a couple of magazines and a suit of armour. Daniel wished he could remember where he used to live, he had a bowl filled with spare change in the kitchen and there was at least ten dollars worth of coins in there. He'd be living like a.. well a king. The average peasant in The Kingdom got ten cents a week, and the soldiers thirty. Of course they'd get more, but the Lord had to collect his tax for letting the people stay in his tower. And the soldiers would often pay high fees on traders and travellers entering The Kingdom. The peasants had their own... ways of getting more money, but if they were found out there were usually punishments at hand.
“I would like to stick around longer, but I've already been off duty long enough” Emanuel said, standing back up from his chair and putting his officer's cap back on.
“But before I go, you said you were looking for a building around here, si amigo?”
“Yes. A United Arms building on Pearl Street.”
“Well that name means nothing to me, but Pearl Street is just a few rows over. It is the same street as the Tower of Patriza. Seeing as they deal with traders a lot they are more open to outsiders than here, but I put in a word about you at the gate, so if you need you should be able to get back in here without trouble, might have to pay a cent or two.”
“Thank you Emanuel”
“Do not mention it. I'm around here in the evenings if you ever need me. And now. The street's won't protect themselves and my steed calls. Adiós amigo.” He patted Daniel on the shoulder and walked over to the gate, leaving Daniel to his thoughts. So soon after just cutting his back open he didn’t want to go rushing into danger again but it sounded like the area the Kingdom took up was relatively safe. It was just about three o'clock now, he'd go and find this building and if it looked safe enough go inside, but if not at least he would know where to find it in future and maybe try it again in a few days when his back was better. He was unsure though how he'd get more money, Emanuel had mentioned something about mercenaries much earlier. Was the Kingdom hiring people to do things to dangerous for it's own soldiers? But who was he kidding, he was no mercenary, as far as he could remember he worked in an office and never before fired a weapon in his life. Opening his satchel he had on the table he took out the Cascade and laid it on the table, looking over it. It was cold and heavy in his hand, if the tally chart on the side were accurate it had already taken eight lives, would he have to take any more now he was it's new owner. He slid the magazine out and looked at the eleven bullets -one already chambered inside the pistol from earlier- each one a potential life he could take. He shuddered and put the bullets down, not liking having such power in his hands. Sliding the top of the pistol along the twelfth bullet sprang out and he caught it in his hand, pushing it back into the top of the magazine and put it back into the pistol, quickly returning it to it's home in the satchel where he hoped it would remain, promising to himself to only ever use it as a last resort.
Making his way across the lobby ten minutes later he noticed the building had become a lot busier, the first of the peasants filing in through the front gates with dirty clothes and farming implements held over their shoulders. They kept their heads low and only gave passing glances to Daniel as he walked the opposite way with their gas masks hanging from their hands. The guard by the door, with a gas mask on his face and a few spares hanging from his belt held his hand out instructing him to stop, turning his head back and looking to the large iron gate and waiting a moment before it opened, motioning Daniel to continue. He opened his satchel and took out his own gas mask, pulling the straps over his head and getting it comfortably on, making sure it was sealed tightly against his face and taking a few big breathes in making sure the air canister still worked, which thankfully it did. Making his way into the chamber between welded together corrugated metal sheets and the original concrete walls of the building he was as the door closed behind him.
“We are proud today to announce the formation of The United Arms corporation. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Colt, Northrop Grunman, Armalite, General Dynamics and Raytheon from this day forth will be a single entity governed by the former CEOs of each prospective company. This marks a major change in the defence industry, one which we hope will revitalize the industry in America and help us to catch back up to our Chinese and European competitors. This is a plan which I and my fellow contractors have had in the works for a great number of years and it was our force's failure in the Third Kashmir War that sought us to finally put it into action. We aim to streamline the design and production of equipment for our forces here and overseas, allowing our buyers in the senate and the pentagon to better illustrate to us just what is it they need and for us to get it to our troops on the frontline quicker and easier.”
Daniel watched up at the now former CEO of Lockheed Martin standing at the podium at the front of the massive conference hall. All the other CEOs sat at chairs beside him behind a table, a massive screen with a new logo -the American flag, the stripes ending as the front of various weapons in the blue square and United Arms Corporation in white letters where each of the stars should be. In the rows of seats beside him were the other executives and board members of all the companies, a hushed murmur of nervous and excited chatter hovering over them, the constant barrages of camera flashes way behind them from the press.
“There will of course be some 'turbulence' in the first few months as we adjust to new workloads and new ways of working the members of some companies may already be familiar with which others won't be. But we are confident this new change will turn around our industry and put us back on top and we can expect a projected net gain of around seventy trillion dollars after our first year of operation, just over the yearly profit of BAE-EADS which has been monopolizing defence in the west in recent years.”
“Ey compañero! You okay in there?”
Daniel shook his head and blinked quickly and looked over his shoulder, the guard peering his hand through the gate and looking to him.
“You been standing in there for 15 minutes now and you're making people nervous. You coming or going or what amigo?” He asked, making a motion with his hands.
“I'm fine. Just.. just going” Daniel said, trying to remember the vivid memory he just had as the gate shut again behind him and the chamber changed pressure as the air seeped out as the front doors opened and a dozen peasants filed in with their gas masks on. Daniel made his way past them and walked through the front doors as they shut again behind him, slowly turning his head and looking around at his surroundings again, completely different from mid-town previously.
The soft green ground covered in grass and leafy plants were gone, murky brown water filling the street instead, but luckily the door had let him out onto a raised plaza maybe one floor high, the water stopping just below it, but looking down the street one could see the water going unto second and third story windows as the ground dripped down. The canopy of leaves above remained but the tree trunks were darker and their branches didn’t begin appearing until much higher up and sprawled out much further. The trees didn't begin as a single body but flayed out at the bottom, huge thick roots disappearing into the water like fingers gripping the river bed. Street lamps and the top halves of buses and trucks were visible down either way of the street, now two-toned with their bottom half rusted beyond recognition and the top half near identical to the day they were abandoned. Wooden walkways criss-crossed the swamp surface a few floors up, the distant silhouettes of peasants returning across them to their towers. None of the crossings were at water-level for some reason, and his answer suddenly roared into view as an air boat tore past the plaza, zipping through the middle of trucks and around the tops of cars, two Kingdom soldiers in different red tunics sitting inside it with a massive machine gun that looked as if it could cut a car in half with a few shots positioned beside the passenger soldier.
Daniel looked around for just how to get off the plaza -not feeling too up to swimming through swamp water- and saw a wide wooden plank leading up to a series of platforms that must have once been construction site scaffolding. He made his way up it and let a pair of peasants pass in the opposite direction before climbing another plank to the third floor, a rope bridge running across the street to the empty building the other side. The bridge was incredibly sturdy he guessed it had to be if it had to take the weight of one of those robots with a soldier atop it. The building the other side of the street was completely bare of all furniture and even all walls, only the floors and the massive metal girders that kept them up remained, meaning it gave a view in every direction of the surrounding area. He spent a few minutes walking about the third floor of the building and looking out in each direction finally settling after a while which way Pearl Street was.
Crossing over another street into a different building he paused upon seeing a view of Brooklyn across the East River, other than the first few row of buildings away from the river everything beyond was completely blanketed with trees and greenery, if you saw just Brooklyn from the air you'd never think it was once an urban area. He realised he had to move on, the sun already beginning to set. There wouldn't be any time to explore the building now, he'd just find it and then head back to Tower of Constance, or the Patriza one if he located it.
This current building still retained some of its old features, a few rows of office cubicles lining either side of the well used path right across the floor, piles of old computers and scanners and printers every so often, all their internals and electronics taken out to be used for some other purpose. One of the cubicle walls had been put by itself near the edge of the building, held up with a cinder blocks either side. On the wall painted with red paint was an arrow pointing forward with “Patriza” below it and another arrow pointing back with “Constance”. He looked down the street the arrow was pointing down, a view all the way down to the very bottom of Manhattan a few structures jutting out of the water beside the trees every so often, a few figures seen entering and leaving them and the occasional boat passing. The other way he could see the western end of Brooklyn Bridge, the top of which was sealed over with metal.
Crossing another bridge this definitely seemed to be Pearl Street now it was just a case of finding the right building. He crossed another bridge to the adjacent building and made his way down the office's old stairwell to the second storey An upside down oil drum sat in the middle of the floor with a lamp atop it, a couple of old logs laid out around it and some bags of rubbish and an old pile of rags covering something were around the drum. Daniel walked over to them to look for anything useful when he stopped in his tracks as the pile of rags shifted. He crouched down and looked over to it, seeing a person laying beneath them asleep with a full-face gas mask on like him. The man didn't look like he was a peasant or a soldier, dressed in a dark shirt and pants and hugging something underneath the rags.
“Hello?” Daniel called out, tilting his head slightly.
The man's deep set eyes shot open and he stared straight to Daniel before they darted around frantically, looking around.
“What time is it?” He suddenly croaked hoarsely,
“About Four thirty, why?”
The man quickly sat up, cursing to himself and pulling a shotgun out from under the rags, Daniel almost reaching into his satchel until it seemed obvious he had no intention of harming him. The man stood upright, his clothes torn and dirty and his pockets full of various things like canisters and covered up food.
“Fuckin' late. Lousy.. fuckin'-” He trailed off, looking around for something before looking to the stairwell then to Daniel, seemingly deciding against the stairs and then over to the nearest building, but no way across visible. He walked over to the edge of the floor, holding his shotgun by the barrel in one hand. Daniel stayed crouching where he was watching the man before he suddenly brought his shotgun up to his shoulder and shot-out the wall at the other building which crumbled and fell away with ease. He took two steps back and then sprinted forward and lunged off the building to the other, landing again safely and then quickly disappearing away into the darkness.
Daniel looked over to where the man disappeared, still crouched down and feeling a little confused at what he just saw. Standing back up he also walked over to the edge of the floor and looked across to the other building, seeing nothing off about it until he glanced up and his eyes set upon . NITE . .ARMS just visible through the leafs of the trees in big white letters ¾ way up the building. There was no way in hell he was going to dive across from one building to another though. And the there was water completely covering the entrance a floor below.
“STOI! Stay where you are” suddenly came from behind him. Daniel turned round and saw a man running out of the stairwell, a rifle in his hand, two more people appearing behind him. All of them raising their rifles and looking to him.
“Wh-what have I done?”
“You know what you pig! Hands up. No sudden movements” The middle one called out.
Daniel did as instructed and the man slowly approached him, not lowering his rifle for a moment. The man had a big rimmed brown hat on, a black gas mask with two canisters attached each side covering his face and an unlit cigarette hanging from the front of it. A red scarf around his neck that with closer inspection had a yellow hammer and sickle of all things stitched into it, a long worn coat ran down to just below his waist, covering the dirty white overall and bulky assault vest underneath. The man looked Daniel up and down and stared at his eyes through the gas mask before lowering his weapon and turning back to the other two.
“It's okay, wrong guy” He said before turning back to Daniel “My apologises comrade we mistook you for someone else” He put his hand out to shake but Daniel just stood motionless, staring at the man in front of him wondering just what was going on. A soviet cowboy? How someone had managed to smash together two of the most different cultures into one astounded him.
“Are you.. communists?” He eeked out, feeling silly just saying it.
“Da. If you mean do we follow the ideals of the ancient one: comrade Vladimir Lenin. And not like the ones I have seen so misrepresented in the old books of this land.” The man said.
“Those.. are the ones in the b-”
“Enough of that. We am looking for a man who may have passed through here.”
“Scruffy guy with a shotgun?”
“Da! Did you happen to-”
“Building behind me” Daniel said and pointed over his shoulder. The man nodded and motioned the other two over who were dressed similarly to him. He leant over the side then to the hole in the wall.
“Quite a jump. We won't make it in our gear” He said to them, letting his rifle hang from his sling “Make the ladder” The other two -acting almost mechanically seemingly having done this a hundred times- opened their bags and pulled out a pole each which they extended out, holes all along it, they laid them down and pulled out tiny metal bars which were also extendible, connecting the holes in the two longer poles, the first soldier watching over them.
“If you're communists why are you dressed like-”
“Vigilantes.” He cut in “A police force if you will. For real justice in this city, unlike the Militari. We are the Committee of Justice. A small part of it at least.” He said abruptly, his arms folded and watching the other two.
“If you are heading into that building is it okay if I join you?”
All three of them stopped and looked up to Daniel.
“We are chasing an armed and dangerous criminal from the Termini Republic. He is wanted for the murder of 4 people. 2 of them children. He has harmed countless others in our pursuit of him, he shows no restraint and is most likely deranged. Why, comrade, would you possibly want to join us?” The leader said, keeping his arms cross and turning to Daniel.
“There's something I need to find in there” Daniel said and shrugged slightly
“Your funeral. Just don’t get in the way” The leader said and motioned to the other two soldiers as they finished the ladder. They pushed the five metre long ladder across the gap between the two buildings and onto the floor across from them, taking their hands off it slowly making sure it wasn't going to fall.
“Good to go comrade commissar” One of them said with a thumbs up. The two stood back up and closed up their bags, throwing them over their backs again and shouldering their rifles and charging across the ladder into the other building.
The leader nodded to Daniel and made his way across the ladder as well before looking around the darkened inside of the building and turning back to Daniel again, the other two soldiers crouching down beside the ladder and getting ready to pull it across.
“If you are coming then cross now or turn back”
Daniel looked down at the rickety ladder bridging the gap between the two buildings and back up to the broken sign way up above making sure this was definitely the place before proceeding. He put a foot on the first rung and the ladder creaked and shifted slightly, making him step back immediately.
He took a breath and went for it, staring unblinkingly down at his feet and as the solid floor beneath him disappeared, replaced by tiny metal steps and the swamp water below. His foot slipped on the last rung and he fell forward, closing his eyes tightly and bracing for impact until a pair of hands grabbed his shoulders.
“I have you comrade. Do not worry”
Daniel opened an eye again and the leader had a firm grip on him. He took a step forward and he was back on solid ground. The two soldiers pulled the ladder across and began dismantling it again with the same speed and precision with which they put it together.
The inside of the United Arms office was extremely dark and unwelcoming, still filled with furniture and electronic appliances, a giant Happy New Year 2051 banner hanging from one of the distant walls. Seemingly not a thing here changing since the day the world changed except everything covered with a thick layer of dust. Everything being so untouched by time and the environmental change somehow made it more unsettling than the completely striped and bare buildings. As if a world changing apocalypse was even too scared to dare touch this place.
“Did you hear what I said?” The leader repeated, looking to Daniel
“Sorry, I wasn't paying attention”
“Do you have a firearm?”
“Yes. A pistol, a uh.. Cascade”
The other two looked to each and chuckled, having put the ladder away and holding their guns again, ready for action.
“Well it's a start I suppose. Stay behind us and just call out if you see anything” The leader said and made a motion with his hand to the others before shouldering his rifle again and slowly making his way down one of the row of cubicles. He carefully leant his head around the corner of each one, his rifle up and ready to fire, the other two right behind him. Daniel opened his satchel and pulled the pistol out and loaded it, looking around the darkened office space nervously.
He followed closely behind the communist cowboys... commieboys? And tried his best to keep quiet as they weren't making a single sound despite carrying what could have been 30kg or more of gear in their bags. They had done one row and moved round to do the next one going back in the opposite direction. Daniel was looking into each one for as long as possible to try and see something -anything- but there was nothing of any significance in any of these cubicles. Maybe higher up in more important floors. They circled round and did the third and final row, reaching the end a minute later and no sign of the gunman so they relaxed slightly. One of the soldiers walked over to the door to the stairs and peered through, looking up and down.
“Water comes right up to this floor so he had to go up. We have him cornered.” He said, shutting the door again and putting his back to the wall. Daniel figured now would be the only time to question these men further before they all continued onto the next floor.
“Where do you all come from?” He asked walking over to the leader who was running a finger along a stapler and wondering its purpose”
“We have no permanent base, though we mostly frequent the Districtian shelter over in Termini territory. It is big, not many people.”
“No. I mean. Which country. Did you all come from Russia?”
The leader hesitated for a moment before turning to face Daniel
“In our hearts. And that is all that matters”
“You can't just sprout off a few Russian words and call yourself communists and expect it to be so”
“Does every man not deserve to be equal comrade? What right is it that allows the bourgeois to own the towers, the land and the tools and food, to own the very people and hold them in servitude all their lives. We the people control the means of production.”
“Its -workers- And that's Marx, not Lenin”
“It is all the same. We fight for the people.”
“Then why are are you chasing scum about abandoned buildings and not bringing down the bourgeois King Maximilian.”
“We are few. They are many. And we have all the time in the world to chip away at the Two Bridges regime. For now we help the people however we can. I am Comrade Grant. That is Comrade Harper” He pointed to the soldier by the door. “And that is Comrade Powell” Pointing to the other.
“Okay. So why the wild west gear then?”
Grant shrugged “Saw some old pictures of the west and they intrigued me. Plus we're distinctive enough in this.”
“So do you follow the ideals of the Lone Star and Comrade Buffalo Bill?” He jested, the joke going right over the man's head. “Nevermind.."
“You ask many questions but just who are you, hm?”
“Daniel Blackwell. A... historian from out of town. I came here to find out about the group from the old world called United Arms. How come the Kingdom aren't mercilessly hunting you down?
“They do no understand the very concept of our group. They believe us just another mercenary group. So we pay their tolls and come and go as we please”
Harper turned and looked to the door again before whistling to get the attention of the others and pointing a finger up to the ceiling. They quickly filled in behind him, Grant motioning to Daniel to stay put as they opened the door and crept up the stairwell. Daniel looked around the office again and strolled slowly back down the isle of cubicles. He walked into a cubicle and leant against the wall, wiping the dust from the screen and looking at his own reflection. Rummaging through the desk draws in the cubicle yielded nothing interesting and he turned to walk into the next one when some balls of plaster and dust fell from the ceiling before him. Looking up the ceiling tile just above him was shaking slightly and shifting about. He quickly took a step back from it as it fell down and clattered onto the ground, a dark figure jumping down and falling onto his back, hacking and wheezing as dust fell around him.
Daniel stood frozen looking at the man as he stumbled up onto his feet, brushing himself down and picking his shotgun back up. He was facing away so Daniel quickly brought his pistol up and trained it on the man's back.
“Ya wouldn't shoot a man in the back would ya?” He said with a cough, sensing the sights on him. Daniel didn't reply, breathing heavily and gripping the pistol harder in his shaking hands. The man turned around slowly and faced Daniel, shifting his shoulders and trying to make himself look taller. He stared into Daniel's eyes and a small sly smile appeared at the corner of his mouth.
“I'm not the only one whose done things he regrets” He jeered
“Ya got a pretty cold pair of peepers on ya. Like my eyes. A murderers eyes” He sneered and quickly brought his shotgun up to his hand before Daniel closed his eyes tightly and a loud bang filled the office.
He slowly opened one eye then the other, the man still staring at him, still with his mocking face. He coughed and a line of red ran down from his lips. The shotgun tumbled from his hands and he fell to his knees, his eyes still fixed on Daniel's face as he collapsed onto his back and a pool of blood slowly seeped across his chest. Daniel looked down at him, his pistol falling from his trembling hands as the Justice soldiers quickly ran through the door from the stairwell. They walked over beside Daniel and kept their weapons trained on the body before all three unleashed a torrent of bullets into him to make sure he really dead. Daniel covered his ears and shirked away, his ears ringing and the sound of his heavy breathing filling the gas mask. A hand clapped against his shoulder and Grant appeared in front of him.
“Nice job comrade!” He announced merrily, patting his shoulder and picking the pistol back up off the floor and handing it to him. Daniel looked to it and slowly stretched his hand out and took it back, quickly hiding it away in his satchel ashamedly.
“Well that's another asshole cleansed from this world. I say a round of drinks is in order, don't you comrades?
“What of his weapon?” Powell asked, picking up the shotgun by the barrel and holding it up.
“Let our new friend have it. He can finally have a real gun”
“I.. d-don't want it. I don't want to think of the people he murdered with it, while I hold it my hands” Daniel said quickly, still shaken up.
“Mm, understandable. We'll sell it for you and give you the cents from it” Grant said and took his hand from around Daniel. “Okay. Its too late now to get back to mid-town before night fall so we will have to spend the night in the lovely company of Kingdom soldiers at Patriza Tower.” He said to his men, making a hand signal to them and the two others immediately building the ladder again to cross back to the other building.
“Comrade Daniel. Will you join?”
Daniel looked around the office again, there had to be something which could give him some clue of his past up the upper floors but like Grant just said it was getting dark soon and he didn't really feel like walking around this swamp at night, besides he knew where the building was now.
He followed them back over the ladder and they made their way through the same few buildings again before diverging off and walking at a fast pace through some new ones. Grant and Powell were up ahead discussing their next target and Harper slowed slightly so he was walking beside Daniel
“Comrade. You spoke earlier of Marx. Do you know of the proletarian struggle of the ancient ones?” He asked, looking to Daniel with great interest.
“I know enough.” He replied
“You said you were a historian. Do you think you can teach us what you know. Its just that, well only the leader of the Committee is the only one actually allowed to read the ancient text and he preaches it to us. Neither of us three here are actually gifted with the ability to read or write past the very basics and its... sometimes I am doubtful of the words he teaches us”
Daniel looked to the soldier, wondering what their leader aimed to achieve by deceiving them or whether he actually believed he could get the people to rise up. It seemed like it would only cause yet another faction to vie for power and drag this island into even further war.
“Sorry. Comrade Harper. It is not my area of expertise. You will just have to trust the word of your leader”
The soldier nodded slowly and looked down slightly disheartened as they continued walking. They Crossed over onto another wooden platform beside a building that led down to dry ground. A mount of dirt rising from the swamp water which led to the big pair of ornate door of the Tower of Patriza. They filled in and closed the door behind them again, knocking on the iron gate in front of them, a second later the lights inside flicking on and fresh air spilling in. They all took off their gas masks and walked in, meeting the Kingdom guards donned in dark red and black tunics with floral designs on them.
“Hello again Grant. Another one with you this time? That'll be extra”
“Yes, yes. Ten do it?”
The guard nodded and held out his hand, Grant producing ten cents and placing them in the Guard's gloved hand and he stood aside and motioned them through. The lobby of this tower was far more extravagant than that of Constance's tower, the walls were lined with huge paintings most probably looted from the Met, crates and sacks of various goods and types of food sat in piles along the walls with a couple of guards standing guard and chatting. There were all manner of dressed people milling about the lobby drinking and conversing as classical music played from somewhere.
“This place doesn't seem so bad” Daniel, said looking around and seeing a huge chandelier hanging a few hundred metres above filled with candles.
“It is the worse of the Kingdom's towers.”Grant whispered “The nobility live here. Greedy, pompous, no good- Patriza! So lovely to see you” He immediately switched moods, holding his hands out and walking to an woman in a insanely extravagant and revealing dress.
“Oh, ciao Grant” She said and smiled widely, taking a sip from her glass of wine and putting her hands out as well and hugging the soldier. “I trust your most dire business with that madman from the north is dealt with?”
“Yep. All done and dusted. With a little help from out friend.” He said and nodded his head towards Daniel. She leant over and eyed the filthy Daniel up and down in his baggy dirty clothes.
“Well, I'm not one to judge the company you keep Grant. Just make sure he doesn’t go starting any trouble. Chiaro?”
Powell leant over and mumbled something to Grant before turning back to Harper and Daniel.
“Okay. Let's hit the bar! Some good food here so I hope you bought you wallet comrade Daniel” He said and winked “Comrade commissar will meet us in the bar a little later.”
He walked over to the bar and Daniel and Harper followed behind, Daniel leaning over
“Only once.” Powell said, quickly cutting Daniel off “And let's leave it at that. Now let's get drunk”