Twenty minutes later and Joshua, along with the remainder of his squad, plus Alpha Four are all squeezed into one of the seldom used freight elevators. That’s ten bodies in total and with all the gear they have on none of them can move as they stand shoulder to shoulder waiting and watching as the floor count continues to tick ever higher. They’re passing floor two hundred and three. Aksara territory, according to intelligence, starts at floor two twenty four, so they’ll be stopping at two twenty one. They could in theory stop at the floor below, two twenty three, the beginning of Aksara territory, but strategic operating procedure suggests that could result in more casualties than is deemed within acceptable parameters. And yes there is a section within LevelSec procedures that denotes what is and what is not considered acceptable loss of civilian life. Once they reach two twenty one however they’ll climb the remaining floors to two thirty nine where Ricardo LeBon was last spotted.
Joshua’s expression is blank as he stares at the rising digital number on the display in the elevator. He hasn’t got his bullpup rifle in hand, but has got his hand on its grip. His finger extended along the edge of the weapons casing so not to accidentally catch the trigger. Not that it would matter as his weapons safety is currently on. Still, he refuses to become reckless at a time of great import. After all, it isn’t every day that LevelSec squads risk braving the upper levels anymore. For the most part the gangs and the citizens on those floors are left to their fates, whatever they may be. It isn’t how things are supposed to be done but the fact of the matter is that there simply aren’t enough LevelSec officers to control all of Megarise Six anymore. There hasn’t been since Bloody River, and even before that it had been difficult, according to the accounts Joshua has seen. Citizen numbers were and are still simply too great for anything short of an army to have a chance at controlling every storey successfully. And while LevelSec are numerous, totalling sixty squads at any one time, but a little over four hundred officers overall, they are nowhere near numerous enough to police over three hundred and fifty floors of the massive towering block which sits eight miles outside of the ruins of place once known as Oxford. Not that anyone inside Six knows where they are located geographically, or that the next completed Megarise stands in the centre of what was once the city of Donetsk.
As the elevator passes floor two hundred and eleven Alpha Four and Five’s radios light up. The ten tightly packed bodies exchange confused looks and mutters in the couple seconds before all of them have their ears filled with the sounds of gunfire, explosions, screamed orders and cries of pain. It’s a mess. A giant mass of sound that makes each layer almost indistinguishable from the last, until one voice cuts through all of it to screech, “It’s a trap!”
Just as that cry comes over the radio and into Joshua’s ears, and the ears of the nine other men and women around him, a wall of bullets tear through the metal doors and walls of the elevator carriage from two separate positions. One is from ahead while the other is from the Joshua’s right. Instinctively Joshua tries to drop to the floor of the elevator, seeking cover. He half succeeds but collides with other bodies. At first he thinks they must have been quicker than him to drop but soon realises, as the cacophony of gunfire and scrapping metal on metal sounds fill the air, that they are dead. Their bodies were the unlucky ones who’d been ahead of him and in perfect line with the bullets as they speared through the elevator doors.
Joshua can hear nothing but the sounds of weapons fire in his ears as he presses his head down as deep as it will go into the blood and gore of his dead comrades. Yet, the elevator is still moving. He is sure they must have passed the floor by now, perhaps even two and yet the bullets continue to fly and whizz all around him. He doesn’t dare raise his head however to look. He is convinced if he does he might lose it entirely and he honestly doesn’t wish to die here today. So instead he is left to wonder how he will get out of this, how many of the nine others around him might still be alive after all these zigzagging bullets and most of all, how Aksara knew LevelSec were on their way. He hasn’t an answer for any of the questions cluttering his mind, and for the first time in his life that terrifies him. He wonders if this is how Aaron feels, but to be frank he has never seen his constantly questioning friend panic. That only dawns on him now and he feels unprepared for the revelation, as though it is proof that his friends questioning nature would keep him level in a moment like this. How he can suggest that Joshua cannot comprehend as there is no way of knowing if Aaron would be able to keep his panic in check like he is currently failing to do. There is a chance no one would be able to keep themselves calm in a moment like this and yet his mind, he, is confident that Aaron would. But Aaron isn’t here and isn’t a Lieutenant, Joshua is, but can’t bring himself to move as the bulk of his bullpup rifle digs painfully into his chest. He wonders whether he should return fire, but on who. He hasn’t an ounce of an idea as to where their attackers, who must be Aksara, might be. Is it even an us anymore? He can’t say. There is a good chance he is the only one left alive. Especially, he considers, as he doesn’t feel another living presence in the cramped space with him. He did before the bullets started flying. It was impossible not to with them pressed into the elevator the way they had been. But that had been before the death and wanton destruction. Now however he has to admit that he doesn’t feel anyone. In truth, he doesn’t feel much except for the wet sensation of blood and copious amounts of boundless fear. The fear is suffocating and only helps to further fuel the panic he can feel squeezing his chest tighter than he is convinced should be possible or is survivable.
Suddenly the deafening sound of bullets tearing through metal and the distant but unmistakable sounds of weapons fire end. Joshua can scarcely believe it. In fact he doesn’t believe it and waits for the onslaught to resume. It doesn’t, but he makes no attempt to move still. No one does. In his mind that solidifies that he is the only survivor and yet he cannot be sure as to what extent he has survived. He doesn’t think he’s suffered injury. Though, feels no confidence in declaring as much. Something, a gnawing feeling, picks away at him as it reminds that he very well could have been hit and that adrenaline has kept him going, but reminds that it won’t last. Not with the hail of violence having sputtered to an end leaving everything in deathly silence.
As if on cue Joshua begins to feel tired. It’s not a normal tired. It’s more akin to exhaustion but amplified. As if he’s ran endless drills for days on end without sleep. He hasn’t and the ordeal has lasted perhaps thirty seconds, he can’t say for sure it’s just a guess. After all, he hasn’t a clue what floor they are passing now. Then it dawns on him, the elevator is still moving. That surprises him. He hadn’t expected that but it is unmistakably true. I need to look, he tells himself but his declaration has no impact on his still body which refuses to obey. He wants to scream at it but doing so would hold little merit for it is he who has paralysed his own body with his acceptance of fear. You’re an embarrassment, he tells himself hoping that his own chastising words will spur him into action. They don’t and he continues to lie there, motionless. The feeling in his arms and legs is numbed, dulled. He wouldn’t call it pins and needles. It’s something else. Another sensation that inclines him to believe his status is far worse than he would like to admit. Tell me something! Joshua screams in his own head expecting an answer. He gets only echoes of his own voice that breaks the silence in his mind.
The frustration is almost too much to bear when all of a sudden he feels movement. His eyes go wide in response. Then a smile creeps across his face and he rejoices mentally. However, his celebration doesn’t last because he realises that the movement is not his own. He finds that heartbreaking and damning of his own condition. So he berates himself for a second time. He still receives no reply from his body. That isn’t entirely out of the ordinary for the Lieutenant. What is unusual is the lack of procedures and so forth instilled in him by LevelSec. He finds it both terrifying and unacceptable. So think about your procedures and strategies! Are the words he finally screams to himself which is just enough to get him to try. And he really does try to think like he normally would, but it seems no matter how much he attempts to force himself to think nothing comes to mind. Then for the first time in what feels like a very long time he hears a voice in his head shout; if it isn’t you moving then who is it? Joshua blinks rapidly over and over unable to consider an answer to the question he has just issued within his own head. He doesn’t know but he could know if he moved. It’s sad to have to admit that he shouldn’t be this slow. He was trained to be so much better and until this point would have agreed that he was much better, but now he isn’t. He’s stumbled and fell, hard. He is lost, wading in… Just move! The voice is angry and for a few seconds Joshua isn’t sure that it’s in his head. Finally, he concludes that must have been and so not wanting to anger it, himself, any further than he already has, tries to move. To his surprise his body complies immediately. Slowly, but complies and sees him shift his right arm left. Still, the movement is difficult and the sensation is very weak. However, it doesn’t change the reality that after several attempts he is rewarded with the first glimpses of his right thumb. It’s stained a deep crimson. The Lieutenant flexes the digit and discovers he feels no pain. That draws a smile to his face and so he soon feels inclined to continue the movement. After all, he has to assess the rest of his right hand.
More time passes and in that time there are more awkward movements until his right hand, and by extension his arm too, are free of the weight that had been stacked atop them. They’re unharmed. He is incredulous to discover that, though wastes no time in prying his left, much more disabled arm, free of the bodies woven around it. Joshua isn’t sure how his arms ended up as tangled as they were, but with them both free and intact, he breathes a sigh of relief.
He rests his head on his now bent right arm as though it is a pillow while the ringing in his ears continues to subside. He hadn’t noticed it before but has become, since the recovery of his arms, acutely aware of it. However, the Lieutenant does not panic over the presence of the ringing or its dissipation. Rather, he accepts it as it is. A strange development he has to admit and not one he’d been ready for in the moments prior to him again realising that the elevator is still in transit.
Joshua lifts his head, the right side of which is now smeared with thick red blood, and cranes his neck up painfully to look at the display. Two hundred and eighteen is the number he sees tick on to the display as his eyes come into focus following a couple of hard and purposeful blinks to try and clear some of the haze away. He nods subconsciously and tastes the smell of death all around him. He hadn’t been aware of it previously but is now. It grows ever stronger with the passing of every moment, urging him to get out of this small box suspended high above the ground. That’s why he feels compelled to kick his legs. To his utter shock they reply. He doesn’t understand because they were so reticent before. He quickly tosses that confusion aside as he thrashes about with what little energy he feels he has available. Several exhausting goes later he manages to dislodge something from atop them both which allows him to turn on the spot and then angle himself just enough so that he ends up sitting, instead of being tangled and splayed out as he had been previously.
For the first time Joshua takes in the sight of the dead around him. Really takes it in. He knew they were there, the bodies, the death, but he hadn’t focused on them before. Now however he does. His hands begin to shake and then chills shoot up his back from somewhere he can’t quite determine. His only explanation is that they come from lower.
“He…Help.” Are the quietly uttered words that break the silence of the still air not long after.
That sudden obliteration of silence almost causes Joshua to leap out of his skin, and the elevator car, in surprise as a result. His heartbeat, which had already been thundering, has now exploded into a gallop and all while he considers who and where the voice, as weak as it sounded, might have come from.
The answer is obvious, or at least seems it, because it’s the only answer it can logically be. Especially, as the voice clearly came from inside the elevator car. Still, it takes a while for Joshua to reach the same conclusion that it is from one of the bodies he previously determined to have been dead. The Lieutenant has forgotten that he’d felt movement earlier and even now with the proof laid before him still doesn’t recall.
With his mind forced back into the moment by the voice, proof he is not the only survivor; the Lieutenant thrashes his head left and right searching. He can see nothing but death even as a hand extends to reveal its owners position and single to the Lieutenant where they lie. Joshua still can’t see it and blinks over and over. He knows there has been a change to what lies before him but simply cannot see it. Then it finally hits him and once it does he wastes no time in scrambling over the other bodies. He is sure they are all dead, if they are not he will apologise later, heading for the aid seeking LevelSec officer.
Once at the officers’ side, he concludes, with relative ease, that this woman is not one of his squad. He knows, knew, the faces of all the members of his squad and he certainly doesn’t know this woman.
“Are you hurt?” Joshua queries as his blue eyes probe at the mass that is the woman’s body. He ignores the other limbs and masses that are not, he thinks, hers.
“No, I-I don’t think so. But I can’t move. I’m stuck. I think Billy’s body is the one my legs trapped under.” The woman answers naming an apparently now dead colleague as though Joshua should know the name and who it belonged to. He doesn’t and so is left with his gaze fixed on her until she indicates with a brief shift of her eyes which body he’s supposed to be shifting.
The Lieutenant regrets his ignorance immediately but wastes no time in quickly and very briefly assessing that the body, Billy as he had been, is definitely dead. There is no doubt about that from what Joshua can see; the mass of tattered bloody flesh has at least a couple dozen bullet wounds in it. He can’t be sure of the exact number but that is his guess. However, he knows there could be many more rounds than that which shredded the poor former LevelSec officer, especially with all the lead that had been flying about.
It takes a couple attempts but Joshua manages to get the dead weight that had once been Billy, he can’t seem to forget the name now or stop referring to the body as such, off the female officers’ leg.
“How does that feel?” Are the words that soon spring from the Lieutenant’s mouth.
“Stiff and numb.” The woman, Mary, replies trying desperately not to look at the pile of bodies around them both. She’s a recent addition to LevelSec. In fact, this is her first proper assignment since graduating.
“Let me check you over.” Joshua declares barely a second before someone else chimes in, “When you’re done with her how about giving me a hand. I can’t move I’m pinned and this gal is heavy.”
Joshua whips his head round, a little too fast which makes him mildly dizzy, in the direction he thinks the voice came from. He didn’t jump out of his skin this time like he did the last but he quickly locates the voices owner, a guy trying desperately to push a decidedly heavy set body off of him. Joshua recognises the man immediately, even with his face smeared with blood as much as it is.
“Be right there Colin.” The Lieutenant mutters before quickly turning back to the woman to inform, “I’m just going to get him free and then I’ll check you over like I promised, OK?”
Mary nods a couple seconds before Joshua crawls off on his knees through the thick pool of blood that blankets the floor of the elevator. He can well imagine that some of it is sloshing about enough with all the bullet holes that it is dripping down the elevator shaft back to ground level because of both his and the cars movements.
“Lieutenant?” Colin queries in disbelief. He honestly doesn’t recognise the face of his commanding officer even though it is now up close, in his face and beginning to heave the bulk of a dead female LevelSec officer off the top of him. Colin doesn’t recognise her, at least well enough to know her name. He thinks he might have seen her before, but she must have been a member of Alpha Four.
Colin gulps hard finding it difficult to come to terms with how lucky he is to be alive, especially as the bullets should have hit him first. The woman atop him, pinning him in place, had been stood behind, so if anyone should have survived it should have been her, not him. Apparently it didn’t work out like that and that makes Colin feel undeserving.
Joshua demands, “Colin I need you to help by pushing. I can’t move this body on my own.”
Those words wrench Colin from his internal meanderings, his over thinking, and force him back into the moment. “Yes Lieutenant.” Is the confirmation Colin gives in reply to the order issued to him. The words leave his lips just as he puts all his insignificantly sapped reserves into pushing against the body and while Joshua pulls it.
“Almost there!” Joshua roars almost a full minute of desperate fighting later, and those words spur Colin on as he commits the very last of his energy to pushing.
The body rolls free, almost crushing Joshua who narrowly manages to avoid such a fate. Colin meanwhile sucks deep breathes down into his lungs. It’s refreshing to be able to inflate his lungs properly again, even if the air he’s pulling down into his lungs tastes of iron and leaves him grimacing.
“Thanks Lieutenant.” Colin utters with a nod of his head.
“You injured?” Joshua questions feeling like a commanding officer now that he knows at least one of his squad is still alive. Four are not though so should you really feel like a commander?
“No sir. You tend to the lady over there. I just need to catch my breath and then I’ll be good enough.” Colin assures with a forced smile and words that Joshua isn’t sure he quite believes. Yet, he’s been reminded of the surviving female officer he aided previously. It hits him like a slap to the face and why he does an about turn and hurriedly scurries back over to her.
“Sorry for the delay…” He can’t finish his statement now he is back at the woman’s side and starting to check her over for injuries because he doesn’t know her name.
“Mary…My name’s Mary Trujillo.” Is the weak reply from the woman as she attempts to keep her breathing even. She hasn’t a clue as to whether she is injured or not but feels compelled to regulate her breathing so that she is braced her any possible bad news that may soon be coming her way.
“All clear Mary, no wounds.” Joshua announces following almost a minute of checking, much to the surprise of Mary who had braced herself expecting the worst.
“We’ve stopped moving.” Colin declares barely a second afterward.
Joshua hadn’t noticed but the corporal is right, they have stopped moving. The doors haven’t opened. That in itself is strange. It gives the Lieutenant reason to pause as he casts a wary glance from Colin to Mary and back again. Colin, with a blood soaked length of ripped cloth wrapped around one thigh, shrugs. Mary by contrast stares at the heavy perforated pair of elevator doors but offers no reply. Light is bleeding through the pair of doors from the outside, not a lot but just enough. Sadly, from the angles they are each at none of them can get a view of what is on the other side.
Joshua raises his hand, index finger extended vertically upwards, over his lips. He doesn’t quite touch his lips with the finger stained red but makes sure his free hand is wrapped tight around the grip of his bullpup rifle. It’s still slung across his chest, which he hadn’t realised until just now when he’d instinctively grabbed it ready to fire at any unsuspecting attackers hoping to get a drop on them, for what would be the second time. Colin too has hold of his weapon, also a bullpup rifle. Mary on the other hand has no rifle; she doesn’t know where it is. More than likely it is buried under the pile of bodies and now is not the time to go rummaging about for it. That time has passed. It passed the moment the elevator came to a halt. So she pulls her sidearm instead, along with a detonator stick. Joshua can guess what she is thinking. He doesn’t like the idea and yet is not about to argue and issue orders that demand she stows it.
The Lieutenant’s hand changes gesture from one of silence to a countdown, starting at three. Slowly he drops each digit until finally his fist is balled. Colin stabs at the button to cycle the doors of the elevator open. They comply and slide apart to reveal that they are between floors. Joshua’s head snaps up to assess the digital readout and finds that they are apparently on floor two hundred and twenty one. He balks at that clearly unsatisfied with the declaration that they are at their intended destination when clearly they are not, or to be more accurate are only very partially.
To be honest, they are not even half way between the two floors. Instead, they are largely on the floor two twenty with only the top fifth of the elevator at the storey above. Both sets of doors for the stories are open however, which is how the light is bleeding in from the space beyond. The immediate vicinity of both seems to be clear however. It’s difficult to know for sure for floor two twenty one, but as they haven’t been assaulted or attacked in any way Joshua is inclined to stick to such a conclusion, for the time being.
Mary lowers her sidearm, her arms too tired to keep it held out in front of her any longer, while Colin looks to his commanding officer Lieutenant Penn for orders. Joshua isn’t sure. He doesn’t like where they are, what has happened and most of all how few of them remain. Screw what you do and do not like! We have to get moving! Stay here, you die! Is the screaming voice in his head. He already hates it and wishes it would fall silent again, like it had done many years earlier when he’d been a boy and decided that it didn’t serve him to question things just for the sake of it. That’s Aaron’s influence rubbing off on me, he tells himself and then quickly moves on.
“We need to get moving. We have a job to do and now more than ever it needs to get done.” Are the words that leap from between his lips.
“You can’t be serious?” Mary says with incredulity. It’s the last statement she was expecting to hear and in no way marries with her own thoughts on the matter.
“I am dead serious.” Joshua replies extending his hand toward Mary, so that she can get back on her feet. The sooner she does that the sooner they can get moving.
“Lieutenant, there’s only three of us and the radios are down. We have no way of knowing what we’re going to face. It seems the odds are heavily stacked against us.” Colin replies neither willing to confirm nor deny his acceptance of Joshua’s order. He is simply laying out the facts of their situation to Joshua. Colin isn’t sure his Lieutenant is aware the radios are down. He hadn’t been until a few seconds ago when it had hit him to check.
“The odds are always stacked against us corporal. That’s the life of a LevelSec officer. You know it like I know it like Mary knows it.” Is the blunt reply from Joshua in the seconds before he pulls his bullpup rifle from being slung across his chest so that he can bring it to bear.
Mary, now back on her feet, looks over to Colin in hopes of getting some indication as to whether the corporal intends on complying with his commanding officers orders or not. Colin doesn’t like it but Lieutenant Penn is right and so he too pulls his rifle from across his chest, shoulders it and prepares to move out. Mary sighs, deeply. She doesn’t like this one bit. In her opinion it’s suicide but she isn’t about to defy an order, however mad it seems, because to a point the Lieutenant, not her squads commanding officer but the commander of Alpha Five, has a point. LevelSec are always outnumbered in truth but that has never stopped them in the past. Perhaps, she thinks, it should have. But if it had then the violence and desperation of the upper levels would have taken hold on the lower levels too. She hasn’t the foggiest where that would have left her family, or any other for that matter, so she releases the magazine of her sidearm, checks that it is fully loaded, even though she hasn’t used it, and then once it is replaced clasps it tightly in both hands. No one with any sense fires a weapon, even a sidearm, one handed. There is too much recoil, too little control. That is what she’d been taught as a young cadet and continues to mull over so as not to fixate too much on the moment, the here and now. If she does that she is convinced she’ll make a mistake and she can’t afford to make a mistake. That was true before the bloodbath in the elevator but it is doubly true now there are only three of them.
“Ready?” Is the next word that leaves Lieutenant Penn’s mouth as he seeks confirmation that the two other officers are willing and able to continue with the assignment, mission, he’s never been sure what to call them. Normally, he’d he inclined to say assignment but on this occasion the word doesn’t feel befitting.
“Yes Lieutenant.” Colin declares with certainty a couple seconds before the much less convincing reply from Mary. “Yes sir.” She sounds sceptical and who can blame her, Joshua certainly can’t, but he isn’t about to let her or Colin know that. He’s in command here, so he has to lead by example and from the front. And that is precisely what he intends on doing as he ducks through the lower than normal gap of the elevator stuck between floors and hops down onto the thick solid painted grey concrete floor. The Lieutenant doesn’t understand why the builders bothered to paint concrete, especially when grey. But he shoves the thought aside, again displeased that his youthful questioning has made a resurgence. He’ll have to fix that when this is all over. If you survive this, his internal voice reminds rather unhelpfully. He ignores it and having checked the immediate vicinity and determined it clear holds a position hugging the only wall, to the left of the elevator shaft, which gives him the ability to cover a number of sight lines. Not that he can see much with all the stalls, piles of rubbish, support columns and collections of tables and chairs that are dotted about cluttering the space. Still, he finds it suspicious that it’s all vacant. The feeds always show plenty of activity, even with all the violence of daily life, but there is nothing, no one, except for them. Joshua gets an uneasy feeling as Mary hops off the elevator and onto the concrete beneath their feet.
“Where’re we heading sir?” Colin queries now that he is off the elevator, as the last member of their makeshift ‘squad.’ He can only imagine how they must look. How people, the citizens of floor two twenty, would react if only there was anyone present. That revelation hit him within seconds of stepping off the elevator but he ignores their absence and keep his eyes moving all around, wary of possible ambushes. After all, they’ve already been caught off-guard by the Aksara’s once and don’t have any intention of being so again. Still, something seems off about Lieutenant Penn. He can’t put his finger on it but something. He never considered that of all people his Lieutenant might be the one to break under such circumstances, if that’s what it is. He thinks that it might be. Corporal Brar just hopes he’s wrong and that his CO doesn’t lead them into oblivion. Colin’ll have to watch for that he knows.
“Stairwell; it’s the easiest, quickest and safest way to floor two thirty nine.” Joshua replies without breaking his searching gaze. He is adamant that someone is out there. He feels eyes on him. He just can’t see them. It’s unsurprising but reminds him just how little he knows this place because he’s never been up this high before in Six. No LevelSec officer has for decades. This territory is without doubt within the realms of the gangs. But it’s most unlike the gangs to forego an opportunity to strike LevelSec, at least from the historical accounts Joshua has read in the public archives.
“How do we know the President’s son is even still on that level?” Mary asks making a fair point that none of them want to consider.
“We don’t. We just have to hope. It’s all the intel we’ve got.” Joshua replies surprisingly more blunt than either Mary or Colin had been expecting. They do not attempt to argue though. They haven’t a better idea. Especially, as it is clear that the elevators are on lockdown. None of the trio can say whether that is the doing of LevelSec command or the gangs, Aksara or otherwise. So they make a move, slowly, cautiously, not wanting to make their presence and limited numbers any more obvious than they will undoubtedly be.