Friday, 22 April 2011

Atmosphere Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten

Grand Central Termini

Park Avenue was a straight line to the Termini Building. A huge canyon of steel and concrete stretching hundred of metres into the skies, trees and vines climbing up them and spilling leaves out into the space between the buildings, all stretching down to the MetLife building at the end. Now completely windowless, the bottom half green with plant-life the top half completely bare except for the top few floors sealed up and with TERMINI written in white paint in huge letters. Isaac was silent, still fazed by the revelation in the United Arms laboratory, he clambered over the old cars abandoned millennia ago and turned to help Daniel across them without a word. Up above amongst the skyscrapers massive vines ran from one to the other on opposite sides of the avenue like a bridge and Daniel wondered if they could take the weight of a person, they certainly looked big enough. Unlike the raging river that spilled into Times Square from the water fall on 58th street only a tiny stream trickled down Park Avenue that barely reached half way up the wheels of the cars, those of which were covered in a blanket of moss and small leafy plants. Small colourful flowers with petals of reds and blues lined the banks of the stream and the bushes behind were so thick you could barely see the first few floors of the buildings. If it hadn't been a most horrific apocalypse that had paved way for all this he would have thought it were beautiful.

A tall barricade appeared up ahead made of metal sheets and iron girders that had collapsed from buildings with a few cars piled up against it. No one was stood on guard at it, only a small door nestled between a school bus and a truck cab. Through the door another barricade was up ahead, again with no one on guard but another door this time the other side of the avenue. Beyond that a third barricade though this was manned, and much taller and fortified than the last two. Daniel figured the previous two were just too slow any hostiles and force them through the barricades one at a time to get shot down the moment they appeared before the third. The soldiers atop the wall looked down with indifference, gas masks with big visors and cannisters coming out the bottom on their faces, and an assortment of rifles and SMGs in their hands. They wore light tan or olive-drab clothing with black assault-vests or chest-rigs filled with spare ammunition and caps on their heads and bandanas around their necks, a big white-T on either of their sleeves.

They approached the gate and found it already open, a couple more soldiers lounging on crates and benches the other side trying to keep cool in the humid jungle heat. A crashed helicopter stood a few metres behind the gate, the minigun on the side of it still operational and a soldier sitting behind it flicking through a tattered and old playboy magazine. One of the soldiers stood up, taking a clipboard from beside him and walking to the two arrivals.

“Names. Travellers, traders or residents?”

“Daniel Blackwell and Isaac.... “ He looked to the robot

“Just Isaac. They were never kind enough to give me a last name. Though I imagine the first name is from Asimov-”

“Just names and why you're here. I don't need your life story” The soldier said, taking his cap off and wiping his brow just above the gas mask.

“..Isaac. Travellers”

The soldier wrote down on the clipboard and motioned them through, going back to his seat propping his elbows against the top of the bench. Daniel looked to Isaac a little bemused, expecting it be harder to enter The Republic.

They continued on past the entrance and closer to the MetLife building. The buildings that once stood between it and Park Avenue, that of the Six Flags Entertainment Corporation and the PB Capital Corporation, were now gone – dismantled and taken away to be used for new buildings in the Republic – except for the giant metal support beams which were now used as transmission pylons, all kinds of antennas and satellite dishes amassed around the top, though how many of those were still working was anyone's guess. The jungle had given way to a long row of huge tents that looked sealed to the ground and had an airlock entrance, pipes running from each one to one with an air filter beside it the side of a truck.

“Is this it?” Daniel asked, looking to Isaac

“What? Of course not. This is just the rear military camp. It's all inside Grand Central Terminal and in some of the surrounding NY Subway -what of it they've managed to clear and drain so far. Where you all hid and cowered in the immediate years after the apocalypse. Its any wonder you managed to survive."

They passed under a covered walkway beneath the MetLife building and came out onto the large raised platform that surrounded Grand Central, the lower road-way that ran around it now purposely filled with water as a defence. The only entrance stood at the southern facing side surrounded by a sandbag fort with a heavy machine-gun post at each corner, the roof of the Termini building covered in solar panels, their power cables spilling over the sides of the roof and disappearing into the wall. The original window frames remained but were bricked up the other side. Another series of barricades were visible further down Park Avenue down on the other side of Grand Central beyond the viaduct.

The large front gate opened automatically as they approached, a series of cameras and sensors lined the top of the airlock and small valves lined the walls. As they entered and the gate closed behind them the valves opened and sprayed in a foggy mist along with the oxygen that hung in the air for a few seconds before a large fan in the ceiling

“Decontaminate” Isaac said quietly after leaning over, seeing Daniel shifting uncomfortably. The inner doors of the airlock opened and immense light spilled in from the concourse , huge orbs of light hanging from the ceiling amongst them the flag of the Termini Republic, which looked remarkably like that of the Czech Republic or maybe Texas from a distance. Just like in the Tower of Patriza apartments had been built on the inside of the building, following the outside of the upper level of the concourse. market stools filled the area between them at the edge of the upper concourse, similar ones would have filled the huge main level of the terminal’s concourse but instead they had all been pushed to one side as hundreds of soldiers stood in their place, in formation with their rifles held upright in their right hand against them and their left on the forearm. All gazing forward at a white-haired officer with medals on his chest, standing atop a podium in the middle of making a speech into a microphone that was hooked up to every speaker in the building.

“-marking the beginning of Operation Three-Fifty. The brave soldiers of 4th and 5th Termini Guard battalions will advance on the Empire State to begin pressuring the rebels to our demands. Cutting off their supply lines, water and if we must oxygen until they give into our demands and relinquish authority of the Empire State Building back to the Termini Republic. We will respond to any attacks on Termini men in kind. And if need be our men are prepared to assault and take control of the building by force.” He paused, looking around at the maybe two or three thousand people that were crammed into the upper concourse area and cleared his throat before continuing.“No doubt The Kingdom will too send a detachment of soldiers to the south side of the State's land. I ensure to you now, the noble people of the Termini Republic. Will we not back down to any demands or threats made by the mad King Maximilian. We pray it does not come to it, but if need be we are prepared to face the brutish menace from the south head on. If it is a war The Kingdom wants it is a war they will receive! They could not destroy us four, two or one century again. And they shall not destroy us now!”

The whole building erupted into applause and cheering. The officer shouted orders to the soldiers and they turned and marched out in rows, making their way beneath one of the staircases at one end of the concourse and into a tunnel to another part of the terminal, most likely another entrance for military only. Market stools and and well built huts immediately got pushed back into the concourse, the speakers going back to their usual program of playing music, Sinatra's New York New York begin to play as the buzz of the excited crowds talking picked up. Daniel had difficulty keeping track of Isaac through the bustling building, the robot pulling his coat hood tighter and keeping his head low. He followed as closely as he could as the robot walked to one of the lesser busy cafés and took a seat. Taking the seat opposite Daniel was still overwhelmed by the size and business of the Termini building.

“Is it always like this?” He asked, now able to hear himself speak properly.

“This is a quiet day” Isaac responded, looking around and resting his head on folded arms against the table.

“I suppose 110th street is the final building to explore. I understand if you won't want to come along on this one”

“Because of what I did back there? That is out of my system now” Isaac said “But now, I gotta go inform the Termini Robotics Pavilion that I'm not supplying them with parts any more. I will see you back here in the evening when you decided with whatever you're going to do regarding 110th” He stood up from his chair and walked out of the café and disappearing into the crowds outside. A waiter appeared by the table with a notepad and pen in his hands.

“What can I do for you this fine day sir?”

“Nah, it's fine, I was just stopping quickly.”

The lower concourse was filled with stalls and shops serving every kind of product or service imaginable – doctors selling cures and remedies of every kind, including some new ones -the validity of which were highly questionable, food-stalls cooking and selling spicy and exotic smelling foods, barbers, gadgets, furniture and books stalls even a photo developers -despite analogue photography being unheard of by 2050-.

Daniel stopped at the book store, looking through the shelves of well preserved books or rewritten with many mistakes. He picked up a history book about the first half of the 21st century and flicked through it, the text faded but still readable and the pictures still in good condition, stopping on a page with New York City at night and all lit up with it's old buildings and the new sleek modern ones built right on top. He looked at the price-tag, only 5 cents. He'd buy it to give to Owen the next time he saw him. Just as he was walking out he spied a rack of fold-out maps, one of Manhattan nestled between ones of Baltimore and Pennsylvania and bought it immediately for another 5 cents.

As he walked back out into the crowds and looked at the various stalls he couldn't shake the feeling some one was following him. Well there were – about 200 people all walking the same direction as him, but every few seconds he'd constantly check over his shoulder. He turned down a side-street between stalls which led to a small courtyard with a large potted tree and benches around it. Walking right to the middle he turned and faced the only way into the courtyard, ready to face whoever was following him. There was a rustle from behind as one of the stall's tent covers was opened and a figure crept out and behind Daniel, he quickly lunged at him and grabbed him in a choke-hold, another two figures quickly running down the side-street with guns raised.

“We have you now you scu-... Comrade Daniel?” The front soldier stopped in his tracks and lowered his weapon, lifting his balaclava and revealing his face – that of Grant. The soldier that had him in a hold let go and looked to him, recognizing Powell's eyes through the mask.

“Daniel? You are the backpack murderer?”

“The what?”

“The Militari had a person with a murdered man in his backpack at the gate of The Marketplace. After we dealt with our target there we had to do this one. But it's you?”

“That was... just a misunderstanding”

“Is this one we can cross off the list comrade commissar?” the soldier behind asked

“Absolutely” Grant replied, pulling a tattered notepad from a pocket and passing it to the soldier who was presumably Harper before putting his arm around Daniel's shoulder and walking back down the side-street with the other two following.

“So tell me Comrade Daniel. Did you find what you wanted in 55th street?”

“Yes and no. Only one building remains on 110th, in The North”

“The North? Comrade you have been in this city for only a few days, the Scorched Shore may have its dangers but nothing compares to what you find up there.”

They sat at a bar and Grant ordered four beers before turning to Daniel again

“So how do you intent to tackle The North alone? I noticed you have a new weapon, quite an impressive one. But do not think that alone can help you...” A 50-something bearded man with a ushanka across the bar suddenly looked up, taking interest in the conversation.

“Well, I'm not going alone. I saved a robot at The Marketplace and now he's travelling with me.”

“A robot?... That's a ticking time-bomb waiting to go off.”

“He kinda.. already did.”

“Well why didn't you shoot it? Never mind. Have you even determined how you will get to 110th street?”

Daniel opened his satchel and took out the map he just bought, unfolding it onto the table and looking at it for a moment.

“Well it's just the other side of central park. I'll just walk through th-”

“No you won't. They don't call it The Killing Fields for no reason.”

“Surely that's just a name.. like Black Village, there was nothing bad there”

“The Killing Field is a barren lifeless no-man's-land which the Militari has filled with military drones used by the ancient ones. One that used to soar through the skies and drop bombs and fire machine-guns. Now litter the ancient park and shoot everything that moves. And once they begin firing, the Militari on the Barricade begin firing.” He looked down at the map looking for 110th street and began drawing a line with his finger along various streets.

“If you're going to The North. You don't want to take the surface at all.” A voice came from across the room, the bearded man finally speaking up, another person sitting beside him with a thick balaclava and black goggles on.

“And then just how do you get there?” Grant snorted

“Tunnels. You can follow the subway right below Park Avenue and it comes out onto the surface just beyond the park, you might have to sneak past a couple of Termini soldiers. Or there's always-” He glanced around before leaning closer “M42

The group at the bar glanced to each other before shrugging

“Secret sub-level of Grand Central. Deep below the ground. Below even the lowest platforms, you will not find it on any map. It has passages leading to the tunnels and sewers beneath the city, but you best have a bright light”

“And how do you know so much of this? Grant asked, sceptical of the man.

“I have used them many times, it was my friend here that found the entrance for me.”

“So why ain't he telling us?”`

The balaclava'd figure looked across to the men at the bar before turning back and sitting motionless again.

“He doesn't talk. We are using the tunnel tonight and it is not often we find others willing to go to the North, so we can take you. Always much safer with bigger numbers.” the man stood up and walked over. “I am Finley and this is Caliban”

“How can I trust you?” Daniel asked looking to the man and over to his friend still sitting at the table.

“Look at me, I am just an old man and we do not even carry weapons”

“Fine. I'll meet you at the café beside the main entrance at seven. Name's Blackwell”

He shook the man's hand and he went back over to his table and began talking quietly to his friend, Daniel turning to Grant and the others.

“And I was wondering if perhaps you, Powell and Harper would be interested in coming?”

“Us, Comrade Daniel? I do not possibly see what we would achieve by going to The North with you I'm afraid”

“The place I'm going, the United Arms tunnels and facilities beneath the ground will be filled with all manner of things from the old world. Things you can sell or use for your cause, for the people.”

“I will go! Even if the others don't” Harper piped up, Powell about to chastise him before Grant sighed and spoke “Fine. I too will join you Comrade Daniel.” Powell unreluctantly joining as well afterwards. “Committee leader will not like it, but we will just say we were pursuing a target.”

“There is one more person. But I am not sure how to contact him.”

“Who is it?”

Emanuel a Kingdom dragoon, from Tower of Constance”

“If he is a dragoon he will no doubt be on route to The Empire State now that the Republic has sent its own soldiers.”

“Then we will go get him.” Daniel said boldly

“You will march across the Empire State? Though a warzone, just to get one man?”

“He is an excellent soldier and guerilla . He will prove useful”

“I may have agreed to join you in your little expedition to The North, Comrade, but that does not mean I have lost my mind.”

“Then I will go alone. Be near the Termini building entrance at seven and I will have us our final member.”

Daniel made his way back through the crowds, now busier than ever as the big clock in the centre of the concourse chimed for 12 o'clock. He passed various weapons and armour stores and stopped at the biggest most expensive one, two people at opposite sides behind counters, on the walls behind them maybe a hundred different weapons, boxes of explosives and weapon parts everywhere and racks of armour and headgear and gas masks. He unslung the AR-34 from his back and stood between the two counters.

“How much will you give me for this?”

The two store keepers stared at the weapon with wide eyes before the one on the left spoke

“Is that a Militari rifle? How could you have – 500 cents!”

The other on the right immediately joining in, leaning across his counter



“Ya breaking my balls here Steve, 950. Final offer”

The one on the left opened his cash register and glanced down at the money he had, his eyes darting about anxiously and starting to sweat.

“1,125!” He exclaimed, presumably all the money he had.

Daniel put the rifle on his counter and smiled as the man poured countless quarters and fifty-cent pieces into his hands. The man turned and put the rifle on display right above him proudly, putting a 2,000 cent price-tag on it, knowing someone would buy it. Daniel left the pile of money on the counter as he turned and began walking around the left-side of the store, picking up a digital-camo overall with UABC written on the back, a black tactical-helmet and a black chest-rig. He put them down on the counter and looked at the weapons on display behind the dealer, his eyes scanning the various rifles and sub-machine guns and shotguns all kept in near perfect condition.

“The Aesir Industries NR-2049. And four magazines”

The man gladly took it down from the wall and placed it on the counter atop all the gear, taking four magazines already filled with ammunition and putting them into the pouches on the chest-rig as Daniel looked around the store again, picking up a torch and red-dot scope that could attach to his new gun and putting them on the counter.

“Thank you sir, that'll all come to-”

Daniel put up a finger and pushed the massive pile of money back towards the man and picked up his gear and walking out the store “Keep the change” The other dealer grumbled and cursed his friend as he laughed and put all the money back into his register, all the gear Daniel bought only just over half of that. Daniel found a rest-room and took his coat and jeans off, pulling the overall on and putting the chest-rig in place and clipping it around him, putting his new helmet on and walking out back into the crowds, chucking his old clothes in a bin which a couple of people immediately went to inspect. He took his new rifle from the sling and slotted the torch beneath it and flicked it on and off to test it before slotting the scope on top and switching it on, letting the rifle hang from it's sling again. The airlock doors opened automatically again as he approached, stepping inside and the door behind not closing again until he put his gas mask on. The valves opened again and let out their steam before the outer gate opened up and the scorching mid-day sun streamed in. He gripped the rifle and strode out into the street once again, next stop The Empire State.

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