Rot Of The Rise

Hi! This week I’ve got a post-apocalyptic story (about 14,200 words long). I don’t feel comfortable calling it Sci-Fi as the technology (bar two examples which I’m not mentioning because I don’t want to give anything away) is entirely at the level of what we have now. Not got anything else to say about the story really so lets get into it.

Megarise Six is one of more than a dozen completed vestiges of humanity that litter the surface of the now human vacant world. The atmosphere has long since become too polluted for people to be able to live out in the air that they were once born into. As a result these massive towering buildings of metal, concrete and armoured half metre thick glass were constructed to save as many as it was possible to before it was too late.

Megarise Six, though the sixth of these massive slabs measuring half a square kilometre at the base and reaching up more than three hundred and fifty stories in height to hit the two kilometre mark was not the sixth to be finished. In fact, Six as it is more commonly referred to was the third Megarise to be completed. As such it is one of the oldest inhabited Megarises. And while they may have been built as the dawn of humanities next age they have never lived up to their promise. Due to technology failures, caused in part because of the swiftness with which these mammoth edifices were built, and the worsening of storms that rage across the Earth’s surface most of the annihilation protection shutters are locked tight and have been for several generations. Plus, the Megarises are no longer able to communicate and check-in with one another. Because of this, no one knows if any other Megarise still stands. Not in the literal sense but in the sense of whether they have stayed functional from a civilised perspective. In the case of Six, though it is functional many of the towers upper levels are plagued with poverty, violence and suffering.

It was always bound to happen. Humans confined in any space, no matter how large, will in the end lose patience and if no other avenues are available, resort to violence, and they did. Yet, Megarise security known as LevelSec has managed to keep relative calm amongst the vying factions that have evolved. Or to be more accurate they had until roughly forty years ago when the factions realised they had greater numbers and control over the floors they inhabited and operated on than LevelSec. With that realisation came the end to the uneasy peace that had existed up until that point and since the outbreak of endless violence the upper floors have been branded free fire no go zones for the wealthy civilians of the base floors.

Many may find it odd that the wealthiest reside at the lowest levels of the tower. However, with money came importance and because of said importance it was deemed that if humanity were ever able to venture out into the air of Earth again then it should be the ‘best’ that would go first.

The upper levels had never agreed but even with all the power the factions had built they were unable to assault and take the lower floors. The closest to ground they ever got was the hundred and first floor. There the temporarily combined factions of criminality and violence were met with the full force of LevelSec, who managed to beat them back and dissuade the factions from ever wishing to consider another such attack. Following that a truce was implemented and which still holds to this day. There is no reason to believe that it won’t. After all, the factions, who should really be referred to as gangs, are not stupid. The overwhelming force that met them was insurmountable and to attempt to retry a previous failure is tantamount to insanity, as far as they are concerned.

However, that does not mean that the factions, forever fighting amongst themselves since the bloodbath that was the failed attempt at taking the lower levels, managed to stay united. They didn’t and couldn’t. Their differences in ideals and philosophies was simply too great. Yet, one faction, a new spawn still in the early years of its life, have devised a way they think could turn the tables and permit the factions to once again unify and take on LevelSec and prevail. First, the faction known as Aksara must show the other factions that LevelSec are not unstoppable. In Aksara’s eyes that is how the other factions now see LevelSec. Yet, the factions had managed to grab more than two hundred floors from the hands of LevelSec during that uprising, which the factions refer to as Descendancy.

“Any idea as to what this briefing we’ve been summoned to is all about?” Aaron Hawk queries to his friend and LevelSec colleague Joshua Penn as the two men stride quickly down one of the near identical looking corridors of Megarise Six.

The walls are grey, fashioned from concrete and littered with overlapping posters adhered to the bare cement at random uneven angles. Many of the posters are faded and grubby, which the yellow overhead lights do nothing to hide. Apparently, the lights are supposed to mimic the glow of the sun. Neither Aaron nor Joshua can say whether that is true. It’s just what they’ve been told, their entire lives. They’ve never seen the outside world. The shutters on all but the top maybe fifty floors are sealed. Again, so they’ve been told. They’ve never been up there. As far as they know, no one from the lower levels has. At least not since the gangs staged a coup a little over four decades ago and which ended maybe three years later. That was before either of the men were born, but even the older citizens don’t seem to remember a time when visits to the summit occurred. Aaron finds it strange that no one remembers. Joshua on the other hand is a good LevelSec and accepts what he’s told and heard. He sees no reason not to. After all, what reason would now retired LevelSec officers have to lie? In his eyes none. It’s why he accepts that in their advancing years as aging human beings some of the memories from their earlier days have been lost. Aaron on the other hand has never been a good LevelSec officer. That is especially true back when he was in the academy. It’s not a life he chose. It was a life that was chosen for him, like everyone’s life, role and position chosen in the Megarise. Assigned to him because of some reason or another that he’d never really listened to or cared about, other than that his pathway was predetermined before his birth.

“Not the foggiest, so cut the chatter and let’s double time.” Joshua replies unwilling to consider why this or why that. In his eyes, blue in colour, Aaron spends entirely too much time caring about why something is happening. He should just do. It’s what a good LevelSec does and while he knows his friend resents that this life was chosen for him, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s the only one he’s got. He can’t change it. None of them can. Not the doctors, the scientists, the farmers, the shopkeepers, the other officers, none of them. And he should be thankful. If his family had not been one of the first into the tower then he’d have been stuck on the upper levels surrounded by violence and suffering. Aaron has seen it with his own eyes, not in person but through the thousands of camera feeds that dot every square millimetre of Megarise Six. It isn’t pretty. Not in the slightest.

“Yeah.” Is the overly short and incredibly unsatisfied reply that leaks from between Aaron’s lips as his amber eyes perform a quick roll and then he complies.

Aaron knows Joshua hasn’t given him an order. Though, he could. His tone sure as hell had the same edge to it that it does when he is issuing orders to lower ranks however. Joshua is a Lieutenant whereas Aaron is a Sergeant, begrudgingly. The number of arguments the two have had over how Aaron should stop questioning everything and just follow orders is innumerable but they always end the same. Why they even both engaging in the war of words neither man is sure, yet to not would feel traitorous somehow. It’s odd and Aaron cannot explain it other than to say he’s sick of it. It’s part of the reason they don’t get together as often as they used too, he thinks. In fact, today had been one of the rare occasions when they’d decided to hang and both been off-duty at the same time. That rarely happens anymore. Though, whether by coincidence or planning Aaron still isn’t sure. Something tells the LevelSec officer with the short black Mohawk that it’s the latter. Especially as a Lieutenant, Joshua has the ability to alter and reassign the roster, so he either isn’t bothering, or is so that he consistently has a reason why they can’t meet up anymore.

Aaron shoves the thoughts aside as he and Joshua rush into the briefing sector only to find it packed to the brim. Joshua and Aaron exchange glances, both of which reveal a decent helping of unease and apprehension to the other before several more LevelSec officers file in seconds prior to the security doors sliding shut. They’re silent and in a much better state than a lot of the lesser used doors on the levels Aaron has passed on his endless security sweeps.

“Ladies and Gentleman…” LevelSec Superintendant Boris Mikkelson, a man with a white head of hair and contrasting dark brown eyes, says as he stands in his ceremonial dark green uniform adorned with many sparkling medals that cover his entire left breast. In addition to the medals there is also the relevant insignia that informs everyone of his rank. It isn’t necessary. Everyone on the lower levels knows Superintendant Mikkelson. Not in person perhaps but certainly by reputation. He’s the oldest member of LevelSec and actually served, as a fresh recruit, back when the gangs had revolted. Aaron is sure that is why he ended up with the job of Superintendant. Joshua on the other hand had reasoned that it was Mikkelson’s long and highly decorated career in the agency which were but some of the reasons for his insertion to the very top of LevelSec.

“…may I have your attention?” With that command the already quiet infrequent chattering comes to an end. It is at that point Superintendant Mikkelson continues after having waited patiently with his eyes intently and furiously to scan the mass of officers before him. “First, my apologies for having to cancel leave on everyone with such short notice. I know that won’t be easy to swallow.” A round of chatter sparks up around the room, which in the dark Aaron cannot get a proper picture of. He’s sure he’s been in here before. Probably a hundred times at the least and yet he can’t be sure as to which room they’re all crammed into. Not that it matters.

The chatter quickly thins and then dies under the glaring brown eyed gaze of the Superintendant.

“However, the reason for your recall is of the upmost importance, I assure you and you all know what weight my assurances carry.” Mikkelson looks round the sea of faces all focused entirely on him as if to challenge anyone to speak out and contradict the words that have just, seconds ago, flowed from between his thin tightly pressed lips. No one does. Boris cannot say if that is because none of them have their reservations and doubts about him or whether they simply aren’t willing to voice them. No matter, he tells himself, and then continues, “I need you all to listen to what will be said next. But understand no circumstances can it leave the four walls of this room. No one can know. This is priority level Omega, understood?” His question is rhetorical. Everyone knows it and so they keep quiet. Mikkelson has been Superintendant long enough, seven years, for all officers to know when and when not to respond to something he has to say. This is one of the times when he isn’t actually after a response. It sounds like he is and for a new officer it’s an easy mistake to make, but no one, on this occasion, has made it.

“Good. I knew I could count on the men and women of the agency. So without further ado…” The Superintendant trails off but says nothing else. Rather, he nods to someone off to his right and then begins to step back, reversing the way he came when he walked out onto the raised platform that isn’t a stage but looks very much like one, to Aaron. He’d even mistakenly called it that once and got a reprimand as a result. Three days of having to clean gear in the armoury, but not the guns oh no nothing that decent. Instead, Aaron was forced to clean other officers’ armour, used for weeks without cleansing. Principally armour belonging to the inexperienced, or the on the verge of retirement. It was then that Aaron learned just how similar the two groups were. It was like both were incapable of keeping their kit in serviceable condition. The inexperienced new recruits Aaron could understand, to a point, especially as it seemed to depend on which academy they qualified, but the officers near retirement? That was just laziness. Though, to call the any of the academies that is more than a little generous. In truth they are glorified school classrooms, except they are devoted solely to those who will one day be LevelSec. Aaron had tried, during his young and most rebellious years, everything he could conceivably think of to get expelled or excluded. He didn’t want to be there. He’d had friends from before he was forced into that ‘school’ learning environment and he’d wanted to go back to them.

It didn’t work and it had been made clear to him that short of a terrorist act that caused casualties he would be a LevelSec officer and serve to protect the great Megarise Six and all its citizens no matter how severely he resisted.

Later he’d learned that that statement was itself a lie and that he wasn’t to serve all its citizens, just those of the lower level. The ones considered the cream of the crop. The best of what this massive box has to offer. That discovery had sparked another rebellious phase. Far more short lived than the first and in truth purely as a last ditch attempt to prove that he could decide his own future; he couldn’t and finally, begrudgingly, accepted his place and future in Six. Well, partly accepted it. He never truly stopped being himself. He refused too.

The academy is where he met Joshua. They didn’t get off to a good start. Josh didn’t like how Aaron always refused to conform and kept causing trouble, mainly with his questions. Even from the young age of eight Joshua was a conformist to the great machine that is Six. So the differing opinions of the two boys ended up in them getting into a fight, a physical one. Neither had won or even been in a fight before. In fact, looking back Aaron doubts it should’ve even been called a fight. More accurately he thinks it should have been termed a flail because that is all either of them really did.

 Aaron and Joshua laugh about it now but at the time it had all been very serious and yet it was what had sparked their friendship. Albeit a tenuous and often strained one filled with plenty of arguments throughout.

“Thank you Superintendant.” Chief Patrice Oxlong nods as he steps forward to take centre stage of what is not allowed to be termed a stage. In comparison to the Superintendant, Patrice is shorter, a full head, than Mikkelson, though he has thick black hair the sides of which are shaved. His green eyes scan about the room. Not the faces but the room itself. He, unlike Boris Mikkelson, isn’t looking for someone who might wish to challenge him. He feels no need. He’s well known and liked among the officers, while the Superintendant is equal parts feared and respected. And how could people not respect him. After all, he served during what the gangs call Descendancy but the citizens of the low levels term Bloody River. The name Bloody River comes from the literal streams of blood that could be seen running down the stairwells all the way to floor nineteen.

“Officers we have a grave situation.” With that the section of wall behind Chief Oxlong changes from a blank grey to an illuminated and perhaps a little blown out picture of a young man. The man has floppy blond hair that is shorter on the back and sides than it is on top, a cheeky smile, good looks and a pair of grey eyes.

Chief Oxlong takes a single deep inhale and half turns so that he is side on to the oversized image and also the gathered LevelSec officers. Following that he continues. “This is, as some of you may know, Ricardo LeBon. Son of Megarise Six’s President, Cynthia LeBon.” Patrice pauses as officers across the room exclaim and mutter to one another. That minor conversing ends when Mikkelson sends a glare out across the sea of faces.

Once silence has fallen and been left to linger for several uninterrupted seconds Chief Oxlong speaks once more. “He went missing a half day ago, but was spotted hours back on floor two thirty nine by one of our undercover intelligence agents. Sadly, the agent took a dive…” The image behind Patrice changes to that of a bloody smear, deep red in colour.

Many in the room let out sounds that are unmistakably those of repulsion and Aaron can fully understand why. It isn’t a pretty sight but he can guess how the intelligence officer ended up that way. Every sixty floors, past floor forty, there is a reception area where the twenty floors above it are exposed internally to the stories below. In plain English those twenty floors have a continuous balcony, of sorts, that looks down upon the reception level. It’s easy to fall, or throw, someone off. Its how most suicides are committed in Six, is never a pretty sight and one of the few times Aaron counts himself as fortune for being a LevelSec and not born into the life of having to be a member of the janitorial team. Not that many of the upper floors, from what he’s seen on the feeds, or heard, ever manage to keep the gangs levels in any state that could be considered something other than vile. Rubbish is piled everywhere, in every nook and unwanted cranny. Some of it food waste left to rot, most blood stains, vomit, other bodily fluids in addition to traces of narcotics like needles. Those kinds of sights are prevalent on the upper levels. It’s how the gangs keep many from dreaming up some big idea about trying to force them out, with their greater numbers, to make their neighbourhood, as they would term it, safer.

“…This was Intelligence Agent Helena Durant. She…gave her life, as you can see, to get us the intel that Ricardo is being held by the Aksara’s. I hope you will pay her the respect she deserves in whatever manner is most fitting to you.” That’s the one thing about Chief Oxlong the Superintendant cannot stand, the religion. Patrice is a devout man of the Zilon faith, and Boris is about as far as anyone could be from religious. He finds the concept an anathema, an outdated and zealous throwback to an era of humanity which led to the decadence of what caused the construction of the Megarises in the first place. If only they’d spent more time considering their actions and less on themselves, had always been his feelings toward his ancestors from the old world. Yet, he cannot argue that Chief Oxlong is a remarkably capable officer in the agency, which is why he tolerates, with difficulty, the occasional religious outburst.

With several seconds of silence having past, during which those who are believers were supposed to pay their respects and did, Patrice continues. “The Aksara’s are a relatively new addition amongst the gangs. They are still young and firebrand. Intent on bringing about change of some kind it seems. As such they care little for the established order of things and have managed to carve out a territory of thirteen floors.”

Murmurs break out amongst many of the officers. Aaron takes no part in the chatter. He doesn’t need to. Finally, this briefing, as it is clear to him now that that is what this is, is getting somewhere. He isn’t eager, he’s simply ready. Joshua on the other hand is eager and almost foaming at the mouth. He’s waited his whole life for a chance like this, to attack the gangs, push them back and show the overwhelming force of LevelSec. His eyes dazzle brilliantly as they stare, unblinking, at Chief Oxlong. Aaron doesn’t get it but says nothing. He doubts even if he did he’d manage to get through to Joshua while he’s in this state. A state which he’s never seen his friend in before this moment, but has to admit he finds unnerving. The single-mindedness of devotion to LevelSec borders on almost religious fanaticism and yet Aaron doubts the Superintendant would take issue with it. That in itself is remarkable as the man’s disdain for religious fervour is legendary. Then again, one man’s religion is another man’s occupation. In Aaron’s eyes it seems to be anyway, though he seriously doubts Superintendant Mikkelson would agree with him on that. In fact, he’d probably reprimand him and make him clean gear for the rest of his days. He isn’t an easy man to like. At least he isn’t as far as Aaron is concerned. Joshua, on the other hand, thinks he is and adores the floor he walks on. If he could Joshua would serve as a personal officer to the Superintendant. Such things are unnecessary however, but if they were Joshua would be the first to volunteer.

“Aksara seem to be led by a Matriarch, as they call her, who goes by the name Annabelle. It’s all we have of her name and her background is even more of a mystery. She simply showed up one day drenched in blood and cut through The Hand with a small group of fanatics. Took their territory and has been growing and expanding ever since. What we do know is that they are the most violent of the gangs now and pay no mind to how the old gangs wish things to be done. Yet, from what we can gather they are not an anarchist group like Inversion were.” Patrice pauses to let his orders sink in. There is a little chatter but not enough that he would make him inclined to wait for it to end before continuing. He knows the Superintendant would, but that’s his choice not Patrice’s.

“And I know you’ll all be thinking and wanting to know demands, but they haven’t issued any. In fact, we’ve heard nothing from them at all. That is why…” Chief Oxlong begins only to be cut off as Superintendant Mikkelson butts in to take over. It’s common but still viciously irritating.

“…we have to strike while the iron is hot. So red hot that its skin searing to be precise. This Aksara, or whatever they call themselves, need to understand that there is a line that should never be crossed. They seem to be unaware of that, so we, LevelSec, will remind them of their place. War will not come to Six. There will be no repeat of Bloody River. I will not allow it and neither should you.” Boris, having given his little speech, takes a deep breath and exhales. It has the desired effect and sees the previously popping veins in his neck and forehead sink back into obscurity. Yet, his left fist is curled tight and mildly shaking as it hangs down at his side almost, but not quite, hidden by the jacket of his ceremonial uniform.

“Yes, like the Superintendant has said. So with that squads Alpha One through Five get yourselves geared up and ready for a stealth assault rescue.” Are the last words, an order in truth, that leave Chief Patrice Oxlong’s mouth in the moments before the doors slide silently open and everyone begins to shuffle out.

Aaron looks to Joshua, but his friend is already rushing off, leaving him behind. He isn’t surprised, especially as Joshua is in command of Alpha Five, the last squad assigned to undertake the effort to rescue Ricardo LeBon. Aaron will, like all other LevelSec, he held in reserve and kept on standby. It’s standard operating procedure, a just-in-case line written into the manual to cover all eventualities.

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