Francis Marr is a simple young man from the lower levels. He knows nothing about the revolution and even if he did he wouldn’t want any part of it. Life is hard enough, in his mind, without adding to your problems. The work is long and unrewarding, but at least he has a roof over his head and food to eat. Not much food mind.
He wonders why there are so few people on the streets of the lower level as he heads for one of the farms so he can start his shift. He’s a potato farmer, one of hundreds, and works on a massive field that is both dark and damp. The light is artificial on the farm, seeing as above him are the upper levels of Shamballah. He has never been there. No one of his standing is allowed, but he’s heard tales about it. It’s supposed to be a wondrous place filled with light, flowers and colour. The buildings are glass and metal and the streets are clean, as are the people and their clothes. In the lower levels the water rationing means he can only have a single forty second shower a week. The water is almost always cold and he has no soap. He stinks, but then near enough everyone in the lower levels stinks. It isn’t by choice of the people that it is this way, but he doesn’t know if it’s by design. He’s heard the chatter of others who criticise Donald Cain, the man that commissioned this place, built by Francis’ grandparents. They died many years ago when he was a small child and he misses them. He misses his parents also. They haven’t been dead as long, a few years, but the passage of time thus far hasn’t made it any easier. Their loss meant that he has left him to fend for himself in a place not made for anyone to survive long fending for themselves.
Unlike others he’d been lucky enough to be given a job at sixteen working on the farms and with the job came his tiny abode. It contained little more than a shower tray, toilet, bed and set of drawers, but it was enough for him. He spends most of his hours working shifts anyway. It means he is often exhausted and drained, but at least he never starves. Work is rewarded in the lower levels. He understands others want more. Maybe even want what the zealots and Cain Guard have, but he doesn’t. He’s quite content to have something however little it is.
He continues to wander down the streets but is sure now that something is wrong. Several of the alleys he takes to get to his shift are blocked. Not by some drunk or unfortunate, but by barricades. They don’t look official, Francis thinks to himself as he tries another avenue. He winds down its twists and turns only to find this path is blocked to. Haphazardly so, but still blocked nonetheless. He reaches for the barricade and pulls at one of the planks of heavy wood, but it doesn’t budge. He frowns. How can I get through? He wonders. I could try the next alley, he quickly decides.
He knows that at this rate he’s going to be late. He doesn’t like that. He knows his rations will be docked as a result. His head drops low at the thought of losing out simply because of a few blockades. Once back on the main street he quickly crosses the gap to the next alley and dives down it.
Francis is walking at a brisk pace now. He really doesn’t want to be late. But he soon finds this alley is blocked to. His head falls back as he looks up at the mishmash of angles above him. Each is a building and none of them are uniform. Apparently, that too is something that cannot be found on the upper levels, at least from what he has been told. He isn’t sure whether he believes such things he thinks as he reaches out to tug on the barricades highest wooden length. It too does nothing in response to his light tug. He shakes his head. He knows the next alley is several hundred feet away and he doesn’t want to walk all that way just to find that is blocked too.
What else can you do? The voice in his head asks. He has to admit it has a point. Still that will make him very late. So maybe instead he should try and get past this barricade. Problem is it looks heavy and he is on the wrong side of it. That means someone blocked this from the other side? He thinks confused. It doesn’t make much sense to Francis but it’s like someone is trying to keep others out. Is there an infection here? He wonders. A plague? An outbreak? He really hopes not as he tries to tug harder on the thick wooden beam. It moves, barely, but nevertheless Francis smiles in response. He hadn’t expected it to do anything when he pulled on it, but he’s pretty pleased that it did. Though, he will still have to use quite a lot more effort if he is to get through. He glances at his battered, faded watch, which was a gift from his grandfather. He’s late now he realises and curses his misfortune as he gives the beam another tug. This time it actually moves. In fact, he actually manages to dislodge the wooden length. Francis leaps back to avoid the one end that comes crashing toward him. It misses him and Francis lets out a sigh of relief. That would have broken his foot, he is sure. How would I have worked for rations then? He wonders as a smile creeps across his face. He’s proud of his achievement even if it looks like he’ll have to do much the same to at least two more wooden sections. After all he isn’t trying to clear the blockade, just make an opening wide enough for him to squeeze his five foot eleven inch frame through. He is thankful he’s slim he thinks as he tugs at the next beam. He quickly discovers that this length is more resistant to his attempts and that irks him.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” A deep booming male voice calls from behind Francis who freezes in place as panic sets in. He knows he’s in trouble. He should have just gone back to the street and headed for the next alley so that he could get to his shift. Now he has no idea what is going to happen. Being late and docked rations would have been the lesser of two evils.
Francis slowly turns round to find two Cain Guards standing in front of him, both armed with batons which they are slapping into their other open hand. Both look angry from what of their faces Francis can see. Seeing as all Cain Guards, this pair included, wear trademark full head helmets. The face is the only part that isn’t covered in the dull gray metal that securely hugs their heads.
“I…I was just trying to…”Francis begins, stammering as he speaks.
“We know what you’re doing rebel.” One of the two Cain Guards spits angrily.
“No…no…I’m not a…rebel.” Francis replies confused. Usually Cain Guards would call him a dissident, does that mean that…
It dawns on Francis that there must be a rebellion taking place in the lower levels. It makes sense to him now why all the avenues he’s tried to take to the farms have been blocked and why there have been so few, almost no one, on his journey to the farms. His eyes are wide with fear as he stares at the two guards. He has to reassure them that he is not a rebel. That he is content with his life and fast.
“I’m not a rebel. I was just trying to get to the farms.” Francis says trying to explain, his hands held up to show he is no threat to the Cain Guards.
“Not a rebel. You’re all rebels down here. Except those old enough to remember the last stupid attempt you lowers made.” The other guard says sure Francis is lying.
“No really. I’m just trying to get to the farms.” Francis continues hoping that he can still convince them.
“I bet you want to get to the farms. So you can join up with all your rebel buddies and cause trouble.” The first guard that spoke says now with a snarl.
Francis begins to back away hoping to keep some distance between him and the Cain Guards. It is clear they don’t believe him, but he’s telling the truth. Why don’t they believe me? He wonders as his raised hands shake uncontrollably.
“Not only a rebel, but a coward rebel.” The second guard taunts.
“What do you think we should do with him?” The first asks his colleague.
“Beat him ‘til he’s dead.” The second replies.
“Great idea.” The first confirms. They both smile evilly as they begin to close in on Francis ready to beat him with their batons. They are sure he won’t last long. He looks weak to them. But Francis begging for mercy will entertain them. They don’t care about lower levellers, which Cain Guards often refer to as lowers. They’re scum that breed dissent. Exile is too good a punishment in their eyes.
Francis’ heart is thundering in his chest. He wonders what he can do to placate them. He knows the answer is nothing. They don’t believe him. They won’t believe him. If he stays here he knows he will die. There is no question of that and Francis doesn’t want to die, so he does the only thing he is sure he can do, run.
He explodes into a sprint as the Cain Guards lurch toward him. He evades the first and then the second, narrowly. He isn’t sure how, but he isn’t going to ask questions he decides as he races back up the alley and back onto the main street. It’s still deserted. Francis finds relief in that, but he can hear the two guards tearing after him shouting profanities and violence. He already knew what they were going to do to him before, but now what they’re spouting is somehow much worse. Francis though, isn’t about to stand around and wait for it as he speeds down the street. He isn’t sure where he’s heading but anywhere has got to be better than here, he is sure.
Francis dives down another street. The calls and spits of rage from the Cain Guards are quieter now, but still present. They aren’t giving up easily and Francis, though young, isn’t sure how much longer he can run. In fact, he doesn’t even remember the last time he ran. It must have been when he was young. Its only young kids that run the streets of the lower levels and even that is discouraged. Francis doesn’t know why, he just obeys it and has done since he was old enough to understand that there were many rules and all of them had to be obeyed if he was to survive. He doesn’t know whether he agrees with them, he’s never thought about it until now. Never saw a reason to, or the option for that matter, as he dives down another street. He must be getting close to the reactors now. Maybe he can find somewhere to hide there. It’s a big section with lots of nooks and crannies, not like the farms. Sure, they’re big, but they’re open and uniform as well, especially in the case of the potato farms. He just hopes there are no more blockades that will stop him reaching the reactors. Though, he can still hear the guards chasing him, cursing as they do. He wonders how long they can realistically keep going, but guesses that it’s probably longer than him.
As he continues to run he is sure he hears something, but he maybe he’s wrong. It sounds like lots of people, but at the same time he wonders if it’s everything racing through his head, or the result of overexertion. He doesn’t know because he isn’t sure he has ever been overexerted from running before. But as he rounds the next corner he realises that he really was hearing people, lots of people. His eyes go wide as he finds many of the lower levellers, like him, locked in a battle against more Cain Guards than he has ever seen before. There are bodies, tools, weapons and blood everywhere.
There really is a rebellion, he realises as he blinks slowly trying to drink in everything he is seeing. Its carnage and chaos mixed with brutality. He has no idea who, if anyone, is winning, but all he wants to do is get away from here. He thinks about running. Maybe he can just keep running until he loses his pursuers, or at least until he finds a part of the lower levels that isn’t consumed in violence. Maybe the trade schools district?
“Stop him!” A voice roars.
Francis turns his head to see the two Cain Guards. They are much closer than he thought they were as he turns his head to find several more Cain Guards rushing toward him from the opposite end of the street. He blinks in shock as it becomes clear that he isn’t going to be able to keep running. Both ends of the streets are now occupied by Cain Guards. Maybe he can evade them, maybe he can’t. He decides not to risk it and instead rushes headlong toward the battle ahead of him. This is such a bad idea, he thinks to himself.
Just before Francis reaches the mass of bodies battling one another he launches himself off his feet slightly leading with his right shoulder as he goes. His shoulder slams into a pair of Cain Guards who are sent forward, one impaled by a fork while the other is stabbed by shears. But Francis is oblivious to the deaths he has caused as he lands and continues to race forward. The Cain Guards after him can no longer pursue and are instead left to join in the battle.
Francis trips over someone’s foot and is thrown forward. His stumble is brief but sees him slam straight into Angus Henrikson. Francis doesn’t know the man, but he absorbs the impact with ease before issues a solid kick to Cain Guard that knocks them off balance. While the Cain Guard is still reeling Angus slashes him across the face with a wrench. The Cain Guards head snaps violently right. His neck is broken from the force of the strike that sees his body topple to the ground as Angus turns and offers his hand to Francis. The young man takes the large paw of a hand moments before he is hauled back to his feet.
“Careful brother. One wrong move could prove fatal.” Angus says warmly before delivering several slashes of his wrench to two new Cain Guards. Both go down with ease before they can even attempt to swing their short blades. Angus has never seen Cain Guards with swords before. He concludes they must be used for special occasions, like revolutions.
Francis is in shock. He has no idea who this man is, but he has to admit that he can fight. The Cain Guards are seemingly no match for him. Francis never would have thought that any one person would be able to stand against their armoured bodies, but he realises now he was wrong.
“You seem to be without a weapon.” Angus continues before pulling a smaller wrench from his waistline. Francis follows the length of the man’s arm back to his body to find that the muscular guy has a half dozen of the tools fastened round his waist. Each one is shiny and perfect. Francis guesses at this point that this man must be an engineer. He’s met their type before. They take the greatest of pride in their tools, which without they would be unable to keep Shamballah functioning. And unlike him an engineer’s tools are his own. Francis doesn’t know why.
“Thank you.” Francis says as he takes the small wrench offered to him. He smiles briefly before Angus returns to hacking at a group of Cain Guards, now with a wrench in each hand.
Francis meanwhile stands there gazing at the tool in his hands, having completely forgotten about the battle that is raging around him even as more Cain Guards pour into the area and join the fray. They are trying to overwhelm the rebels with sheer numbers.
“You might want to use it.” Angus then bellows as he motions toward the guards racing toward Francis. But Francis realises too late what Angus had been trying to warn him about. However, the engineer jumps in and batters the Cain Guards back with the help of several other rebels around him.
“What is wrong with you brother?” Angus then questions loudly, though his voice is still almost lost in the cries of pain and anger all around them.
“I’m not…” Francis begins.
“Not what.” Angus says helping to fend off another couple Cain Guards that throw themselves at him.
“A rebel.” Francis finishes as he looks up at the slightly taller engineer before him.
“Then I suggest you run.” Angus roars as he bludgeons another Cain Guard to the ground, killing him without a single care for the zealots’ life. He sees no reason to feel remorse for those that have helped to make his and everyone else’s in the lower levels a misery. However, he feels no ill toward the young man, nineteen he’d guess, stood before him. Fighting is not for everyone Angus knows, but if the man stays here like this he will die.
“Run or fight. Decide quickly.” Angus roars making sure the young man knows the only two options that he has available to him.
Francis looks up just in time to see a large group of Cain Guards about to descend on Angus.
“Behind you!” Francis roars as he stumbles backward, the wrench skittering across the ground away from him as Angus turns.
The engineer and leader of the revolution sneers at the Cain Guards and their swords as he calls for his fellow rebels to unleash everything they have. They do and the two sides clash, violently again. Francis watches as Cain Guards and rebels fall to the opposite sides blows. He knows he has to escape.
“RUN!” Angus bellows at him just as several blades are stabbed into his back and legs. The engineer roars with a mixture of pain and rage as he turns, swinging his wrenches wildly.
Francis manages to scramble back to his feet, his head whipping round as he looks for a possible route of escape. He finds one and makes a break for it, dodging weapon swings from both sides as he ducks and dives until he is close enough to the narrow alley that he can throw himself into it.
The alley is dark and his landing is painful. He winces in response to the impact and wonders if his leap was entirely necessary. He knows it was, but he still regrets it as he crawls through the dark and deeper into the alley. He is alone here, though still refuses to clamber to his feet to run. Instead, he thinks it is best he keeps low. I just want to return to my life, how it was before today. Francis thinks while surrounded by the darkness.
Angus meanwhile roars as he beats and batters Cain Guards back until he manages to secure a brief respite before the next wave of them washes over him. As he looks around though he realises he and the rebels are outnumbered, badly. He never imagined Cain would have so many zealots willing to don the armour of oppression, but he can see now that the revolution is done for. They cannot win this. That doesn’t mean he’s willing to accept defeat however as he races toward the Cain Guards. Both rebels and guards are shocked by his tactics. But he is joined soon after by other rebels who also run headlong into the next fray with him. Except unlike the other Cain Guards this group, an elite outfit, are led by the most brutal of their order, Captain Lars Penbrook. The man’s armour is decorated and he wields a long thin rapier which he thrusts and swipes across rebels as he advances. His face is scarred down the left side, made uglier by the snarl on his face. He hates the lowers; they are the scum of humanity to him. If he had his way he’d lock each and every one of them in shackles and work them until they die. That is all they are worth, in his eyes. But that is not the will of Cain and he serves the great man, their saviour, without question. He even hopes that one day he will receive the honour of meeting and speaking with the man himself. But first he must finish this rebellion. It is why he has been sent here. He is the Captain of the Cain Guard and there is no one better to end this than he, like his father did so many years ago. He feels honoured to have the opportunity of eliminating dissenters. They will not receive exile. That is a fate too easy for them. No, he will cut them down himself; he thinks as a group of rebels rushes towards him. He finishes cutting down a young rebel as he retracts the thin blade of his sword from the scum’s throat. The blood sprays as the young man tries desperately to stem the flow, but Captain Penbrook knows that it is already over for the rebel and it makes him smile. He is ready for the next fight, but he doubts these rebels rushing to their inevitable doom are.
Angus begins to swing his wrenches, battering at the lead Cain Guards. He flattens them along with the rebels at his side. Ahead of him he can see a man with a thin blade taking pleasure in dispatching the injured and unarmed. It sickens Angus and while he doesn’t know who this man is, he will stop him. The rebels might be outnumbered but it is still possible to deal a devastating blow to Cain’s followers, he is sure of that as he hurls one of the wrenches. The tool spins end over end until it slams into the unprotected face of a Cain Guard. The guards’ nose is crushed and his teeth shatter in response to the impact. Blood sprays into the air as his body is knocked to the floor. Angus though pays no mind as he pulls another wrench from his waist and returns to flailing wildly. He hopes that young man who claimed he was not a rebel made it out. He has no idea how the teenager ended up in this battle. It was like he had been unaware of what was occurring on the lower levels. It didn’t surprise Angus, at least not entirely, he concludes as he kicks a Cain Guard who goes flying backward crashing into several others. They are all knocked off their feet and in the moments that follow several rebels collapse upon them bludgeoning and stabbing their enemies. But at that point Captain Penbrook and his team reach Angus’ group and begin to cut through them. They do it with ease. It is clear that these guards are much better trained than most. Or perhaps they are just more violent and bloodthirsty.
Angus swings and hurls his wrenches, taking several more Cain Guards with him before he feels a slice at his back. He spins round to find Lars smiling cruelly. Angus tries to lunge for the Captain but simply comes crashing to the ground. His achilles tendon has been severed and he can do little more than crawl, but as he does he finds that most of the rebels are either dead or dying around him. Then he feels Cain Guards pile atop him stabbing furiously at his back. He screams and roars in pain as he thrashes and tries to fight them off, but he can’t. There are too many.
I can’t give in; Angus tells himself as he summons all the energy he can muster to climb to his hands and knees and batter the guards back. He succeeds but his success is short-lived because as soon as he tries to stand he is stabbed by Captain Penbrook. The thin blade of Lars’ sword sinks deep into Angus’ chest. The blade pierces between Angus’ ribs, through his lungs and finally his heart. The blade doesn’t skewer him, but still Lars smiles. The Captain knows that he has won. Angus grabs a wrench from his waist. He has to end this monster even if it kills him but as he raises the wrench above his head he is stabbed by a second blade and then third, fourth, fifth and sixth. With each new wound Angus howls and feels a little more of his energy drain away. Then the blades are withdrawn, almost in unison, except that is for the Captain’s. He holds his ground as he stares into Angus’ eyes. The rebel, a similar height to Lars himself, sickens the Captain. He’d spit on him if he thought the rebel was worth spitting on. He knows this man is the leader, Angus. He had been informed as such by their great monarch Donald Cain.
Angus uses what little energy he has left, which is failing rapidly, to swing the wrench but Lars anticipates the attack and simply retracts his sword. Angus’ pierced heart spraying blood into his chest cavity as the punctured walls of his lungs begin to let in blood. His eyes go wide as he feels his life ending, but he stays conscious just long enough for Lars to slice his throat with a single clean swipe.
Angus’ body crumples to the floor, blood pooling and mixing with the blood of others as it drains from his body. Lars knows the rebellion is over. The rebels that are not dead yet will be soon. The Cain Guard will offer no mercy or exile. Death is all that awaits the rebels now and that brings him joy as he cleans his blade.
The cacophony of noise has finally come to an end. It reached its crescendo moments ago and Francis knows that the battle is over as a result. He has no idea how many lives were lost, but what he does know is that he caught glimpses of Cain Guards stabbing the man that had saved him more than once. He doesn’t know if he’s alive and he can’t bring himself to look back and find out encase he is spotted. He fears the worst. There were so many Cain Guards and he is sure they won, so he makes a break for it and rushes down the alley away from the reactors. He has no idea where he’s heading. He just knows that he has to get away from here, as fast as possible. The voice in his head asks: where are you going to go? He really doesn’t know. Where can I go? He wonders. It certainly isn’t safe for him on the lower levels. Then go to the upper levels, the voice in his head soon offers. That’s madness, he thinks. He can’t get to the upper levels. People from the lower levels aren’t allowed up there. And even if they were, how would he even get there? It’s not like he’d be able to simply waltz past the security checkpoints. They’re always manned by Cain Guards. What other option do you have? The voice then asks. He hates to admit it, but the voice, his subconscious, is right. How though? The maintenance tunnels, the voice offers. That’s right, he shouts in his head as a smile creeps across his face. Now all he has to do is get to one of them. He isn’t sure where he is, but he knows they are spaced periodically around the lower levels. He just has to find one.
“Captain.” One of the Cain Guards says as he peels off a salute.
“Yes.” Lars replies with a sniff of satisfaction. He has to admit he’s been waiting his whole career for the lowers to try something as stupid as a rebellion again and now that it has happened he has to admit he loves the violence of battle. His father said it was magnificent and Lars has to admit he was right, though he definitely downplayed how addictive and joyous it is.
“Cain has advised that a young man, a rebel, got away.” The guard offers. Lars knows he’s an intelligence officer sent to deliver a message of upmost importance and he has. Even if the message he has brought Lars is a message that makes his blood boil.
“Importance?” Lars asks wanting to know with what level of brutality his response calls for.
“He was seen conversing with Angus Henrikson, Captain. Report is he is a part of the upper echelon of the rebels’ leadership. His name is Francis Marr.” The intelligence officer advises.
“Inform Cain it will be dealt with. Do I have full authorisation?” Lars asks with a sneer.
“You do.” The intelligence officer confirms. He knows the Captain’s record and understands exactly why a man like him has been unleashed during this time of dissent. He is much like his father, the officer thinks, recalling the successes of Lars’ father, Mikael.
“Good. Where is he?” Lars smiles disgustingly.
“He’s headed for the upper levels.” The intelligence officer responds.
“Blasphemer!” Lars spits sickened by the idea that a lower leveller, or lower as zealots like him call them, would dare to try and sully the great towers of Shamballah and its devout citizens.