Francis follows Denise until they leave the confines of the maintenance tunnel and exit out into a maintenance area. It’s cleaner than any he would find in the lower levels, but it still isn’t clean. The place has clearly been neglected for many years, even if it is occupied now.
Francis sees three other people dotted around the open space. Several of the access hatches have been blocked by heavy containers while someone is working on welding another shut. Francis can tell the welder is a man. He’s hunched over, face covered by a mask as the sparks spit in all directions. Francis has to admit he is wary of being here. He doesn’t know these people, even Denise. They said very little to one another of their short trek through the tunnels.
“I’m back.” Denise calls. She has to admit the Cain Guards were so hot on her and Francis’ tail that she was sure they’d find the hatch and catch up to them. But thankfully they hadn’t. Though, it is clear to her that Francis is on edge. She can fully believe he isn’t a rebel, but doesn’t get why the Cain Guards were chasing him. Surely they weren’t focusing resources on things other than the revolution. But she hadn’t asked on their journey through the tunnels. She realises now that maybe she should have. After all, she doesn’t know Francis. He could be a plant. Maybe sent by the Cain Guards to find their hideout and then rat them out. She doubts it though. Something about Francis tells her he wouldn’t be suited for such things.
“About time. Where you…” A large man says as he turns toward her and Francis, who is following a few paces behind.
“Who’s this?” The large man then asks.
“Relax Wayne the Cain’s were after him.” Denise says holding her hands up trying to reassure the hulking Wayne Burrows and his six foot two inch frame. Wayne’s green eyes bore into Francis as he stares at the young man.
Francis visibly shrinks as the large man stares at him. It suddenly dawns on him that maybe this wasn’t a good idea. Maybe he shouldn’t have followed Denise. He thought she was alone up here, but he doesn’t know why. Stupid, he says to himself as the others close in.
“How do we know he’s not one of them?” Wayne then asks as the welder takes off his mask to reveal his face and blue eyes. Francis notes that the welder is maybe a few years older than him by looks of things. Though, his expression is hard and unyielding. He clearly isn’t happy to see Francis too. The look on his face is much like the last member of their little group, a woman with short black hair and brown eyes. He guesses she’s a couple inches taller than Denise but a few years older than the twenty three years he’d guess Denise is. He isn’t about to ask, of course. But that would be his guess.
“They were chasing him. They cornered him in one of the gardens.” Denise defends.
“That doesn’t mean he isn’t with them.” The guy with the welding torch offers.
“Relax Bart. He’s good. His name’s Francis. He’s from the lower levels like us.” Denise continues as the three of them stare at Francis. He is sure there is no way he couldn’t feel any more uncomfortable than he does right now.
“So what are you?” The woman asks with narrowed eyes.
“Farmer.” Francis answers honestly. Though it takes him a few attempts to actually get the word out. He is sure this trio are going to jump him any minute. This really was a mistake, he thinks to himself as his eyes flit between the owners of the staring eyes.
“Where?” The woman then asks. She isn’t willing to let Francis off easily.
“Sec-sector 3.” Francis manages with a gulp that raises eyebrows.
“Know a Charlie Stout?” Bart queries.
“No.” Francis blurts without thinking. He knows he’s never heard the name, but still he regrets reply on instinct alone.
“Good. Cause nor do we.” Wayne offers before they all erupt into laughter.
Francis doesn’t get it. It can’t be a joke he’s sure of it. Though, if it is he can’t see how it’s a funny one that can illicit the response it has.
“You guys.” Denise manages while still laughing as she turns to Francis.
“Relax.” Denise urges him, but Francis doesn’t see how he can.
He really is uptight, Denise thinks looking at him.
“It’s a default Cain Guards response. It’s one of the ways you can outwit them.” Denise explains with a smile and a chuckle.
“Oh.” Francis manages before chuckling to himself now that he has the context.
“Come. Don’t be shy Francis. We don’t bite.” The woman offers as she gestures for Francis to come closer to them and look less petrified.
“No, the rats do enough of that.” Bart adds as one just so happens to run across his path. He swings his leg back and boots the rat, which goes flying across the maintenance space before it scurries off to safety once it lands.
“How they ever survived I’ll never know.” Bart then adds.
“Rats are like Cain Guards…They never give up.” Wayne replies with a smile as Francis joins the little group around a central point in the room. He guesses that it serves much like a fire would, though he hopes they don’t actually light fires in this low ceilinged place.
“Did the rebels send you?” The woman then asks.
“Sandra. Introductions first, then business. The poor guy deserves to know who he’s speaking to.” Wayne interjects before Francis can answer.
“Sorry, Wayne.” Sandra replies with a shrug. She is eager to hear news of the revolution and is sure that Francis has been sent here to deliver an update. Maybe even tell them that the next phase can begin. She really hopes so. She is getting sick of just hanging around here. Hell, they all are, she knows.
“I’m Wayne Burrows, I take it you’d have guessed that.” Wayne says with a chuckle.
“This is Sandra Khan.” Wayne says motioning to the woman at his side, who is a lot smaller than Wayne who like her has short black hair, though he has green eyes.
“And this is Bart Santos.” Wayne says motioning to the guy with the welding mask, who nods in response to his introduction.
“And you’re Francis, was it?” Wayne asks. He knows that’s the young man’s name, but still he feels it appropriate to ask, for no other reason than courtesy. In fact, this whole introduction is courtesy as there is a good likelihood he knows that Francis caught each of their names as they were mentioned.
“Ye-yeah, that’s me. Francis Marr.” Francis utters still feeling a little uneasy. Somehow he has managed to run into rebels twice in one day. He wonders how much worse his luck can get.
“Pleased to meet you. If only it were under better circumstances.” Wayne continues.
Francis has to admit that for such a big man he is remarkably polite and quietly spoken and wonders what each of their professions are. He guesses Bart’s is welder. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch seeing as that is what the man was doing when he walked in, and by looks of things rather expertly at that.
Francis though simply nods in response. He can’t find the words to say anything. He knows what will be coming next, questions. But he doesn’t have answers. He isn’t a rebel. He isn’t a part of their cause, though they clearly don’t know. It doesn’t surprise him, but he wonders whether he should tell them. Will I have a choice? Francis asks himself as he stands there. He doesn’t know. It seems unlikely. They’ll want to know why he’s here. He can tell they’ve been waiting for something. He has no idea what however. He didn’t actually know anyone from the lower levels had made it this far in a very long time. All the stories say that no one can or is able to, but then both this group and he are proof to the contrary.
“The rebels sent you?” Bart then asks. He can’t contain himself any longer and just like Sandra he has to know when they can move. He’s bored of being here. There is only so much welding of hatches even he can cope with. He’s being dragging it out. He could have had them all sealed in a day, but they’ve been here for more than a week.
Bart thinks Francis is an unlikely rebel. He seems petrified, but then any willing to join the cause is more than welcome. Bart knows that they need as many bodies as they can get to free themselves from the oppression of Donald Cain and his zealots.
“He isn’t a rebel.” Denise offers seeing as Francis is still nervously trying to work out what to say and is lost for words as a result.
“What?” Sandra and Bart both exclaim confused, while Wayne simply stares and ponders. The big man’s expression is impossible for Francis to read and he doesn’t like it. It makes him feel even more on edge, but he doesn’t know why. After all, Wayne has done nothing to make him uneasy. In fact, he’s been welcoming. That is since he and others have been reassured that Francis is not a Cain Guard.
“So…what are doing up here?” Wayne asks after a short silence. He doesn’t know whether he should trust the young man stood before him. There is nothing suspicious about him, as far as he can tell. But he’s a farmer in the upper levels who isn’t a rebel and he can’t imagine why else he’d be up here. It can’t be to start a new life. No one from the lower levels can start a life up here and surely he wouldn’t be stupid enough to be planning to try. Then again, the revolution must be in full swing by this point so why would the Cain Guard be chasing him, unless they too think him a rebel. It’s a possibility, he thinks. But it still doesn’t answer why he’s up here.
“I-I was running from the Cain Guards. It’s a big misunderstanding.” Francis begins. He isn’t being entirely honest, he knows. But then he isn’t being dishonest either. Instead, he is just leaving out some of the details. He’s being economical with the truth. Like the fact that the rebellion is over and that the rest of the rebels are dead, as far as he knows. He didn’t see everything, but he saw enough from that dark alley to know that it is over and that the Cain Guards won.
“They think you a rebel?” Wayne asks much to the shock of Denise, Sandra and Bart. None of them had considered such an option. Denise had assumed Francis had been caught stealing, but Wayne’s option makes far more sense she realises now.
Francis simply nods. He can’t bring it upon himself to say a word as he continues to mull over whether to tell the whole truth.
“Bastards!” Bart spits in response while Sandra simply shakes her head.
“So we’re still stuck here?” Denise then asks. She feels as deflated as Bart and Sandra, whose shoulders both drop as she issues her question. They too both had the same thought.
“Looks like it.” Wayne confirms. He wishes it could be different, but he knows they will hear from Angus soon. He knows the man well, as Wayne too is an Engineer and close friend of the rebel leader. Though, he would have thought they would have heard something by now.
“So we’re just going to wait?” Bart then asks, impatient.
“We should do something.” Denise offers.
“Like what?” Wayne questions with a raised eyebrow.
“What we were tasked to do.” Sandra answers with a fire in her eyes.
Wayne appreciates the dedication to the revolution, but they have to wait for word from Angus. If they go too early they could doom the revolution and their chance to stop the oppression upon all of those that call the lower levels home. He can’t, no he won’t, do that he tells himself. He was tasked to wait here until word came and he’ll do just that. He has faith in Angus. His old friend has never let him down and he knows he won’t now. There is no way.
“We have to wait.” Wayne reasons with a stern voice. He has to keep them inline and he knows it. He is in charge here and they will follow his orders, like it or not. It is for the best.
“But how long will we have to wait Wayne?” Bart asks.
“We’ve been here nearly ten days. The revolution should have started by now. We should have heard something.” Bart continues. He doesn’t want to entertain the prospect that something might have gone wrong, but maybe it has. They have no idea. They’ve been up here. He knew they should have had a constant connection between them and the lower levels, but no one had wanted to hear it.
“And we’ll stay here ten more if we have to. Angus will send word. We just have to be patient.” Wayne returns bluntly asserting his authority as he glares at Bart, who is a couple inches shorter than Wayne. However, the welder isn’t afraid of the bigger man, who has a lot more muscle than him.
“What about Francis?” Denise asks after what feels like hours of silence between the members of the group.
“He can stay with us. It’s safer than walking the streets of the upper level waiting for the Cain Guard to catch him.” Sandra offers.
“What about when we deploy?” Denise then asks trying to be hopeful. She isn’t sure she is, or if Wayne really is, but what other choice is there. Wayne is right, to a point; they can’t just go through with the plan without backup. If they do they’ll just be throwing their lives away. Assaulting Cain Tower will be no easy feat. They will need numbers to do it and four of them just won’t be enough.
“He can stay here.” Bart states with a shrug. He doesn’t know. They weren’t supposed to have another body. At least not until word came for them to assault Cain Tower, that is.
“No. The zealots could flush these tunnels when we begin our assault. He’ll have to come with us.” Wayne replies.
“I need to say something.” Francis then says still unsure whether this is a good idea or not. But he has to tell them. He can’t leave them in limbo. It just wouldn’t be fair. They’re waiting for something that will never come and he won’t be able to live with himself if he isn’t honest.
“What is it Francis?” Denise asks with an attentive look. The others are all gazing at him and he gulps in response suddenly afraid again. He hopes only he can hear the sound, but he doesn’t know and isn’t actually sure if it matters.
“No one’s coming.” Francis states with lowered shoulders and a look of defeat in his eyes.
“What do you mean?” Sandra questions. Her suspicions have flared again in response to his words as she narrows her eyes and gives Francis sideways looks.
But Francis says nothing. He knows he has to tell them and he’s even gone too far now to be able to back down, but still he doesn’t know how to tell them.
Bart races across to Francis and grabs him by the shirt and pulls him close.
“What do you know?” Bart roars.
“You’re one of them, aren’t you?” Bart accuses as his face twists into a snarl.
“You’re a fucking Cain.” Bart bellows as he unfurls his right fist from gripping Francis’ shirt and pulls his arm back ready to beat the young man. Francis’ eyes go wide in shock as he sees Bart wind his fist back ready to strike. Francis then quickly squeezes his eyes shut bracing himself for the inevitable impact.
“No. No I swear. I’m not a Cain Guard.” Francis begs with his eyes tightly shut. His hands are up but he doesn’t know what to do.
“Let him go Bart.” Denise says as she tries to get between Bart and Francis, but can’t.
“No. He’s a plant. A spy.” Bart roars as he goes to punch Francis, but his arm stops. He tries to throw his fist but he can’t and looks back to see Wayne has hold of his arm.
“Let go Wayne.” Bart thunders.
“Relax Bart. Let Francis go.” Wayne orders through gritted teeth. Wayne doesn’t know what Francis has to say, but he doubts he’s going to like it. Nevertheless he wants the young man to be able to say it, without Bart beating it out of him. If they go down this path they’ll be no better than Cain and his zealots.
“Like hell I am. This guys a zealot and Denise led him right to us.” Bart roars.
“Shut up Bart.” Sandra says as she joins in by punching him in the jaw.
Bart is stunned and let’s go of Francis as he turns to whale upon Sandra, but Wayne is quicker and restrains the smaller man in a headlock.
“Stop. We are not your enemy Bart. Now relax.” Wayne says calmly into Bart’s ear.
“The rebels are dead.” Francis blurts. He can’t find an easy way of saying it and things are escalating too fast. He knew he needed to say something, but he still doesn’t like that he has to do it this way.
“What!” Sandra, Wayne, Denise and Bart all exclaim.
Wayne releases Bart, who slumps to the floor. Wayne’s mouth is agape and Sandra simply stands motionless shaking her head lightly from side to side in disbelief.
“What do you mean?” Denise asks. She is the only one able to get words out, but she is in just as much shock as the others.
“Cain Guards thought I was putting up a barricade. But I was on my way to my shift. They chased me through the streets. I ran right into the rebels and Cain Guards. They were fighting. There was so much blood.” Francis recounts as he stares off into the distance. He can still see, hear and smell what he experienced and it haunts him. He’d never seen dead people before that day, especially not cut down, lying in the street with their eyes open and bodies cut to ribbons. He still wants to vomit even now just recalling it.
“What did you see Francis?” Denise urges him to continue. She can see that he is in shock and that the memory haunts him, but she, they, have to know, everything. Maybe he’s wrong, a voice in her head says. She hopes so. She really does.
“I fell. This huge guy, like you Wayne, picked me up. He gave me a weapon, but I couldn’t. I was frozen with fear. I just stood there. He urged me to run as Cain Guards continued to pour in. I ran for an alley. I lost the wrench he gave me. The Cain Guards just kept coming. They overwhelmed the rebels.” Francis says sickened by what he saw. The memories are so fresh in his mind that it actually feels as though he is still there. The screaming, the pain, the blood still so vivid to him even though he is stood here in a maintenance area of the upper level of Shamballah.
“What did the guy that gave you the wrench look like?” Wayne asks. He doesn’t know if it was Angus but he feels he has to know. He and Angus weren’t the only engineers in the revolution, so it could have been anyone, he tells himself.
“Short brown hair with green eyes. He was armed with wrenches. Lots of them. All hung round his waist. He wielded them like axes in both hands.” Francis says with a distant stare as he recalls the man that saved his life.
Wayne closes his eyes. He knows Francis is describing Angus; there is no doubt in his mind. He has to know what happened to him, for everyone’s sakes.
“Francis, what happened to him?” Wayne asks terrified of what the answer could be.
“He…I couldn’t see it all. I’m sorry.” Francis replies as his head lowers.
“Is he…” Sandra asks. She knows a description of Angus when she hears it and by the look on Wayne’s face she can tell he does too. The engineer can’t bring himself to talk though as he stands there.
“You mean to say you hid in an alley and watched them all die?” Bart fires accusingly while still down on his knees.
“There is nothing I could have done. There were too many of them.” Francis responds without thinking. He can hear himself answer but it feels like someone else is talking. Like he and his body are no longer one person.
“Bullshit! You could have fought. You should have fought. Coward! You let him die. You let them all die!” Bart spits as he climbs back to his feet, sneering at Francis.
“I…I…” Francis starts but never finishes. He doesn’t know what to say. He feels a void in his chest as he stands there. If they killed him he wouldn’t blame them. How could he? It was his fault. He should have done something, but he didn’t. He was too scared, too weak.
“It’s ok Francis.” Denise says resting a hand on his shoulder.
He looks to her and sees her smile faintly at him.
“No its not.” Bart roars.
“Shut up Bart. You weren’t there. None of us were. You couldn’t have done anything either so don’t try and be the hindsight hero.” Denise barks at Bart who is surprised at her ferocity. He didn’t know she had it in her as he holds his hands up and walks away, but only a couple metres. He is in shock and can’t believe it. All the planning and plotting and they’ve failed before they even got their chance. He doesn’t know what he’ll do now. He can’t simply go back to his shifts and that’s if such a thing is even possible. Maybe the Cain Guards know he’s a rebel and are hunting him down. This is such a mess, Bart thinks as he stands with his hands wrapped around the back of his neck, his back to Francis and Denise.
“What do we do now Wayne?” Sandra asks. She doesn’t expect she’ll get an answer, but she knows if she doesn’t ask someone else will before long.
“Are you sure he’s dead?” Wayne queries. It’s not that he thinks that Francis is lying, but he has to know for sure. Maybe it was someone else; Wayne tells himself not wanting to admit what he knows is true.
“He was stabbed.” Francis replies still looking at Denise.
“He could have survived that. One stab.” Bart reasons turning back toward the group again.
“It was more than one. I saw several but my view was obscured. I don’t know how many Cain Guards there were in all.” Francis adds honestly. He wishes they would just accept his words, but he understand why they haven’t. He isn’t even sure he wants to accept it and he didn’t know the man, who was the leader of the rebels. It shocks him to know that. He’d never known a leader of anything, other than Cain and he’s the tyrant that caused this mess with his greed.
“I’m sorry old friend.” Wayne says with a whisper as he looks up at the low ceiling above him, his eyes pointed toward the heavens.
“What are we going to do?” Sandra then asks. It might not be the best time, but she doubts there will be a best time.
“Finish what Angus started.” Wayne replies suddenly.
“What? How?” Denise asks. Of all the things she thought someone might say she never expected that, especially from Wayne.
“Are you serious there are only four of us?” Sandra spits in surprise.
“What else can we do?” Wayne replies as he looks between those gathered around him.
“Wayne’s right.” Bart offers.
“You really think we can take the tower?” Sandra then asks.
“I don’t know but for all we know the Cain Guards will be looking for us.” Bart reasons. He doesn’t know if the others have thought that they might be on a list. He doesn’t even know if there is a list, but he does know that he has no intention of being another victim. They are so close to the tower. They can even reach it using the maintenance tunnels, so why not do it.
“Francis?” Denise asks wondering whether he knows anything that can either confirm or deny Bart’s words. But the young man simply shrugs. He doesn’t know. He has no way of knowing, but it wouldn’t surprise him.
“Bart’s right.” Wayne agrees with a nod.
“Wayne you’re not thinking. I know Angus…” Sandra begins.
“No you don’t know. Angus has never failed me. Not ever. Now he’s gone. I’m still here. We’re still here and I intend to make Cain pay for everything he’s done. So you can either join me or not. It’s your choice. But I won’t go back to the lower levels and live like that again. I’d rather die.” Wayne says seething. He isn’t angry with Sandra, Bart, Denise or Francis, especially Francis. And he doesn’t blame them if they don’t feel the same, but he has to carry on even if it is certain doom.
“I’m with you Wayne.” Bart declares without hesitation.
“So am I.” Denise offers much to Sandra’s shock. She never thought the younger woman would throw herself in with such little regard for her own safety, but she understands why. Denise lost her parents when she was young, they were outspoken critics of Cain, and since that day had been struggling to survive off the rations she earned as a cleaner. Seven years old and left to fend for herself. It just wasn’t right, Sandra thinks.
“Sandra?” Wayne asks.
“I’m in.” Sandra soon declares her intention to stay with them and push against all odds for the top of Cain Tower. What does she have to lose? Very little, she knows as returning to the lower levels would be a return to conducting maintenance on Shamballah. Those tunnels are death traps, they often suffer collapses or pipe ruptures that flood sections or vent extreme heat hot enough to melt skin. She’s seen too many people of all ages die horribly and she for one doesn’t want to end up that way. Few people get the choice, Sandra knows, but she has and she’s making the choice for herself. It’s a choice that means she will throw in with her friends no matter the cost.
“I’m coming too.” Francis then declares much to the surprise of everyone.
“You don’t have to Francis. This isn’t your fight.” Wayne offers warmly.
“Maybe not, but doing something is better than waiting to die.” Francis offers. He knows if he stays here he won’t survive. And his only other option would be to try and return to the lower levels. He knows his chances will be even worse down there. Someone will rat him out, for rations. He wouldn’t blame them. It’s just how it works when people are desperate. They’ll do anything for food, for a respite from the never-ending grind of it all. Even if it only helps to keep them down and prolong their suffering.
“Ok then.” Wayne accepts with a nod.
“We’re coming Cain and we’re going to make you pay for what you’ve done.” Wayne promises as he looks up at the low ceiling above him on top of which sits one of the many towers of the upper level of Shamballah.