The upper levels of Shamballah aren’t how Francis imagined them. Sure the streets are clean, as is the fresh sea air, while the light from the sun’s rays are warm and bright, but it’s deserted. The towers of the upper levels, which are in fact a single level, sit as his only companions. This isn’t what Francis had been expecting. He’d thought this part of Shamballah would be bustling. Filled with people toing and froing as they go about their daily lives, but this place seems almost abandoned. He is sure it isn’t, but that is how it seems from where he is stood at the opening of a maintenance tunnel.
That’s not to say that this place isn’t much better than what he is used to. The air tastes of salt instead of it being stale with notes of decay. And the buildings of seemingly endless glass that tower high above him are marvels to behold. He never knew humanity had ever managed to build to such heights or with such uniformity. It makes him smile, but he doubts he’s safe. He is sure he heard voices in the tunnels and wonders if the Cain Guards are searching for him. He hopes not, but that is why he’s made his way up here.
The journey was not an easy one. Francis had to clamber and squeeze through tight spaces, leap perilous gaps and avoid crushing pistons as well as navigate severed ladders. He feels exhausted. He hasn’t eaten since yesterday and needs to rest. But where to rest he just simply doesn’t know as he hears movement behind him and spins round in response. He sees nothing but that doesn’t mean there is nothing back the way he came. He listens carefully as blood soaks the makeshift bandage he has wrapped around the upper section of his left arm. He caught it while scaling up toward this place and had seethed at the wound inflicted upon him. He’ll need to dress and properly attend to the wound sooner rather than later he knows, but before that he has to find somewhere to lay low. As he listens he hears voices. They have to belong to Cain Guards he concludes as he wonders where he can go. His only option is the empty city streets of the upper level of Shamballah. He hates the idea but this maintenance tunnel can take him no further. He just hopes there are fewer security systems watching this level than there are back in the lower levels.
With that Francis breaks from the relative cover of the maintenance tunnel and races across to a towering wall of glass. He presses his back against it and hurriedly moves along its length to the corner. He knows he has to hurry, but first he must know what awaits him around this corner. He takes several deep breathes before finally and slowly peering round the metal corner support of the short tower. But Francis finds nothing except an empty street. There is no one there and that brings him a decent amount of relief he realises. Though, he instead decides to scan for cameras but has to admit he can see none. He doesn’t know it that is because there really are none, or whether they are simply hidden from view. He wouldn’t know what they might look like if they are hidden. In the lower levels they are plain to see, but perhaps things are different here. He simply has no idea. This place is so different to him, but he can’t delay any longer he knows. So he breaks from cover and races across the street heading for the other side. As he does he notes that the streets aren’t clean like he had been told, but simply much cleaner. There is dust and small piles of debris that have formed in corners, but nothing like he is used to. Piles of grime, dirt and rubbish are common in the lower levels and not just in corners.
Francis reaches the far side of the street but is distracted by an opening beyond which he can see green. He knows he should keep moving but his curiosity has got the better of him as he slips through the partially open metal gate into a small square patch of green grass. Francis has never seen grass before and his jaw drops at the sight of it. He is used to greys, browns and blacks. There is no diversity where he is from and as he casts his eyes further he finds that past the green grass are an array of colours and flowers. He can’t believe his eyes or the beauty of the flowers as he drifts across the small garden to them. As he gets close he can smell sweet scents mixing together in the air. It brings a smile to his face as he drinks the scents in. They are strong and fill his nose as he closes his eyes and stretches out his arms toward the flowers. His hands reach them and the petals feel silky smooth to his touch. He chuckles amazed at this place as his eyes ease open again. All he wants to do is study each and every one of the flowers as he kneels down and touches the soft grass that rebounds as he runs his hands across it. So versatile, Francis thinks, but then he hears the voices again. They are closer now, he realises as he springs back up to his feet and out of his squat.
Francis looks round desperate for escape and is relieved when he spies another gate. This one is closed, but he pays no notice to that as he quickly crosses the garden. He makes sure to keep to the grass as much as possible as it deadens his heavy footsteps.
He tries the gate but finds that it’s locked. He winces and curses himself for his curiosity. If only he still had the wrench the engineer had given him, he thinks. But do I even know how to fight? Francis asks himself. He doesn’t know, but it would be better than nothing.
“Pst. Over here.” A female voice calls. Francis can’t work out where the voice is coming from; he just knows that it isn’t the Cain Guards as he spins round searching.
“Up here.” The female voice offers after a short delay.
Francis looks up and much to his surprise there is a young woman, maybe a few years older than him he’d guess, with shoulder length brown hair on top of a flat section of wall. The rest of the wall is covered with short decorative spikes. They look blunt to Francis, but he wouldn’t want to put that assumption to the test.
The woman offers her hand to Francis who isn’t sure of who this woman is or why she is offering to help him. He wonders whether this is some kind of elaborate trap by the Cain Guards to lull him into a false sense of security so they can capture him.
“Come on. They’re coming and you don’t want them to catch you. I promise you that.” The woman then says urging Francis to take her offer of aid and quickly.
If this is a trap then it’s pretty believable, he thinks. Are you willing to take the chance that it is? The voice in his head asks. I wouldn’t. The voice adds.
A few seconds later Francis concludes that he agrees with his subconscious as he reaches out to take the woman’s hand, but as he does the Cain Guards enter the garden.
“You. Stop!” Francis hears a voice call. He doesn’t look round to see how many of them there are as the woman leans back trying to heave him up onto the top of the wall. But she realises quickly that she might not be able to. Nonetheless she continues to haul with all her might, while Francis tries to ease her struggle by bracing his feet against the wall. Then the woman losses balance and as she does she goes tumbling backward. But her loss of footing saves Francis who is pulled to the top of the wall just in time to evade the Cain Guards grasp. The zealots shout and call after Francis as he lands on the other side of the wall and offers his hand to the woman. She rubs the back of her head still unsure as to whether she should have aided this man or not. It is clear he is like her, a lower leveller, but she still wonders if it was worth the risk. It won’t take the guards long to reach them.
“Thanks.” The woman says as she takes Francis’ offered hand and is hauled back to her feet.
“We better get out of here.” Francis replies with a nod confirming her thanks.
“Follow me. But we have to move fast. Can you do that?” The woman asks.
“Sure.” Francis confirms moments before the woman breaks into a run.
He quickly races after her. He wishes he didn’t have to go back to running, but it’s better than being caught by the Cain Guards. Even if he still doesn’t know whether he can trust this woman or where they are going.
Please don’t let this be some elaborate trap, he says to himself as they cross an empty street and then dive down an alleyway. He guesses it’s what passes for an alleyway up here on the upper level, but it’s more than twice the width of the alleys he is used to. In fact, it’s wide enough that four people could walk abreast down it. He can barely believe the grandeur of this place as they leave the alley and rush headlong down a new street. He doesn’t like being in such an open space when the Cain Guards are clearly so close, but he feels he has to trust the woman. She says nothing as they press onward. He doesn’t know if that’s a good sign or not, but time will tell he assumes as they dive down another road. This one clearly is somewhere between an alley and a street. He doesn’t know what to call it but the buildings are marvellous. Each of them is somehow a different shape and colour, the sun light reflecting off their polished surfaces.
“Not much further now.” The woman calls back to Francis as he hears shouts behind them. It has to be Cain Guards, he thinks, but he refuses to stop as they dive down another alley and into a seemingly small dead-end space walled on all sides.
Francis curses to himself. He should never have listened to his subconscious he thinks. This woman has led him right into a trap. Why did he trust her? But as he thinks that she opens a maintenance hatch camouflaged to look like the rest of its surroundings. He can barely believe it. This is brilliant he thinks. He feels terrible for doubting her, even though she doesn’t know.
“This way, quickly.” She says moments before she drops through the hatch.
Francis wastes to time and does the same. He falls, briefly, before landing hard. He curses his bad landing as he looks around to find the woman still above him. She is on a ladder that is bolted to the edge of the hatch, which she quickly closes and seals.
Francis can hear the Cain Guards hollering back and forth to one another as they try to search for them. The voices grow louder as they get closer and closer.
Francis is sure they are overhead now and keeps deathly silent as he looks upward to the street above his head. Then suddenly the voices begin to grow distant again. He hopes that means they’re leaving, but he knows he can’t be sure. The woman is still clinging to the ladder, motionless. Francis has no idea how long they wait in frozen silence until the woman descends the rest of the way down the ladder to join him.
“Are you ok?” The woman asks motioning to his leg.
“Yeah, thanks.” Francis says as he clambers back to his feet. His leg hurts a little from the impact but he is sure that it’s nothing serious.
“I’m Denise by the way. Denise Taylor.” The woman says with a smile and an outstretched hand.
“Francis Marr.” Francis replies as he takes her hand a few seconds before shaking it. Francis knows this is an old gesture from before the floods, but somehow it has persevered.
“You a rebel?” Denise asks.
“No.” Francis replies honestly and with a shake of his head. It’s a subconscious action and Francis doesn’t even think about it as he does it.
“So what you doing up here?” Denise questions curious. Her head is tilted slightly to the side as she stands there with her arms crossed across her chest. Her clothes are filthy and frayed at the edges as she stands before Francis, a good six inches shorter than him.
“Escaping the Cain Guards.”
“Aren’t we all?” Denise offers with a smile.
“Come on. I’ll take you to our hideout. You’ll be safe there.” Denise then says moments before she turns on her heels and goes striding off down the tunnel.