“Matriarch, LevelSec are in the stairwell and heading for two thirty nine.” One of Annabelle’s numerous minions advises while down on one knee with their head bowed so that their hair is falling forward to obscure sections of their dipped face.
Annabelle snaps the fingers on her left hand loudly and utters, “Bring up the feeds.”
The redheaded woman with dreadlocks, purple lips, a half dozen gold coloured piercings and hazel eyes is sat reclined in a seat that is fashioned out of slabs of concrete cut from the walls of one of the rooms that once made up this apartment space. It couldn’t be called an apartment now. Instead, it more closely resembles a mixture of a throne and server room combined. Tens upon tens of metres of cables snake lazily all across the floor and then up the walls to varying points through which they disappear headed to lord knows where. It’s all very makeshift and cobbled together but it gets the job done and permits Annabelle to survey any of the feeds on the two hundred levels that are under the faction’s protection, plus a few others here and there. No one outside of her gang know of the presence of this room or the true capabilities it holds and yet only a seldom few have ever tried to expose its existence. None of those few still breathe. A couple are mounted on her walls, only after having been preserved in concrete. The others will never be found. At least, no great part of them will. They were sliced into little pieces and have since been used to fertilise but some of the crops that are grown to feed the people in this part of Six.
Several seconds later and one of her techs, blind souls who are wired directly into her server farm, brings up the feeds of the LevelSec officers. To Annabelle’s delight and disdain there are only three. Barely worth bothering with, yet she will bother. The other squads destined to strike at her are dead. They never stood a chance. Again LevelSec in their arrogance, a common pervasive issue that plagues those who dwell within Six, underestimated the true might of an adversary. It will be their downfall and why the redheaded woman has a wide smile on her dark lips as she stares at the feed which effortlessly flicks from one camera to the next. She would have thought that LevelSec officers would be cognisant enough to disable the camera feeds as they progress. Not that it would have mattered up here in this part of Megarise Six. Here Annabelle has complete control. She knows it, her followers know it, the residents on the floors she controls know it, the other gangs know it too if they deigned to be honest with themselves and soon LevelSec will know it too.
“Eliminate them. Scum like that shall not be permitted in my territory.” Annabelle orders with a casual wave of her hand as it sits propped atop her raised right knee.
“As you command Matriarch.” The minion, Annabelle doesn’t bother to learn the names of those who serve her past the ones that are already known to her, says with a reverent tone. Seconds later he has backed away and is busily issuing orders into an untraceable headset built from a design plotted by Annabelle’s own hand. You see Annabelle is not some upper level degenerate without brains that resorts to violence without good cause like those of the lower levels would have everyone believe. No, she is an educated and intelligent woman who was not willing to stand by and watch as LevelSec and the establishment of the criminality in Six tore this vestige of humanity apart piece by piece with their arrogance and stupidity.
“Matriarch?” The same minion says having scurried, nervously, back into her bubble of personal space.
Annabelle looks at him with a sideways glance that is both damning and annoyed. It lasts for a handful of uneasy seconds and is meant to force him to consider whether this return and interruption are truly necessary. The minion thinks it is and so she will hear what he has to say. She rolls her shoulders in much the same way an irritated bird would ruffle its feathers and then demands, “What is it?” Her query leaks from between gritted white teeth which in the blue light of the room glow a strange blue-white colour.
“There are civilians all over that sector. Should we…” The minion gets no further as Annabelle turns her attention fully on him, a snarl across her slender face that accentuates and scar which runs from that same corner of her now snarling mouth up the side of her face before ending a little above her thin groomed black eyebrow.
“I care little for the casualties. This is war and in war there is collateral damage. Mark those souls as that and move on. Is that understood?” Her tone is vicious, verging on angry and is punctuated with the tip of her tongue sliding out from between her upper and lower sets of teeth to lick at the blue-white enamel on show.
The minion takes too long to answer. His panic is too much for him to appropriately consider and issue his response, so by the time he is able to speak judgment has already been passed. Annabelle’s eyes flick away, burning intently, and silently issue a command to Jan, who without any hesitation pulls his weapon and fires a single slug into the back of the minions head. The minion never sees it coming but Annabelle does and the explosion of the bone, brain matter and blood brings a smile to her face. She cackles, like a witch might.
Right after Jan nods to indicate he will carry out Annabelle’s orders. He turns, weapon back in its holster, and presses his middle finger to his ear. He has no index finger on his left hand; it was his gift to Annabelle for an early failure. He’d given it gladly so that he could be permitted to serve her following that blunder, and serve her he has as her second, in every way. Annabelle licks her lips as she feasts on Jan, whose has a shaved head, ice blue eyes and is dressed in tight clothes she can’t be sure the colour of in this blue hued lighting. It’s a mild disappointment but not enough to stop her lusting.
Twenty six seconds later Jan turns back and without a hint of emotion or a change in his expression gives a curt nod. It’s his way of saying that her orders have been issued. Annabelle smiles, the fingers of her right hand dance in the air and then she turns her attention back to the camera feed. Her techs have continued to track the trio of LevelSec as they finish climbing the stairwell to the two hundred and thirty ninth floor of Megarise Six. The anticipation is palpable for the Matriarch and is why Annabelle licks greedily at her lips as the officers open the access door only to be met by an immediate hail of gunfire.
Colin is shredded. His body torn to strips of bloody confetti by the wall of projectiles unleashed upon him, Joshua and Mary. He never even had a chance to hit the deck. Joshua, who had been right behind him, did and is now pressed hard against the concrete floor. For the first time in all his life the Lieutenant wishes the floor would open up and give him the option of falling through to the level below. It won’t and it’s a stupid thing to wish for but as the trajectory of the bullets continue to be lowered Joshua becomes acutely aware that remaining where he is will only spell disaster and so her rolls away. He’d intended to go left but went right instead because of a flurry of rounds that seemed to anticipate his intention.
Mary, meanwhile, has collapsed into a breach position on the other side of the doorway. Bullets chip away at the thick concrete that is her cover but thus far it’s holding. She has her sidearm at the ready. However, she isn’t about to step out and attempt to return fire. Doing so would cost her her life and she isn’t inclined to waste it so recklessly, especially after surviving the elevator ride. She’d ask what the Lieutenant’s orders are but he’s still on the floor. She thinks he might have got hit. He’s covered in blood. Well more blood, because they’re all covered in dry blood from the slaughter in the elevator. It hasn’t even dawned on her yet that Colin is dead, not properly. She knows his body is there, shredded and lifeless and yet the reality has not hit her yet.
Joshua shakes his head violently, dragging himself from whatever trance like daze he’s been suffering up until that point. A couple seconds after that he notes that the hail of gunfire has ceased. In his mind that means that they are either laying a new trap in which they hope the officers, only he and Mary now, will be foolish enough to push forward, or are reloading. He cannot say which, though another option does offer itself in the form of them possibly retreating. That he eliminates immediately as idiotic. His gut tells him that their enemies are setting another trap. Still, it’s not like we can stay here, he thinks. Not long after that he hears shouting voices and the pounding of footsteps, maybe nine of more, thundering upon the steps below them. Joshua contemplates bounding to a higher storey of the building, but within seconds of that thought entering his head another group of voices can be heard chattering from above. They’re trapped. Joshua would like to curse, in the manner that Aaron has the tendency to, but resists the urge. It has never been in-keeping with his character, nor have a whole raft of other things and yet you’ve indulged in them too.
“Lieutenant, what are your orders?” Mary’s voice is panicked. She too has taken note, it would be impossible not to, of the voices coming from both above and below them in the stairwell. She regrets following this Lieutenant now. But she’d given in to peer pressure and her ever present call of duty.
“Only way out is through. Stack ready to breach. Confirm?” Joshua utters as his training takes over and urges him to push forward. He knows the odds. He doesn’t have to consider them, not that he can with as little intel as is available to him.
“Confirm.” Mary mutters in reply not at all convinced this is the best course of action. Yet, she hasn’t an alternative solution to offer.
“On my count.” Joshua announces loudly as the thundering footsteps continue to build toward a crescendo, filling both his and Mary’s ears.
His shoulder is pressed into the concrete wall, his bullpup rifle in one hand as his other signals three, the count they’ll be going off. It’s pretty standard operating procedure but it only hits Joshua now that they could have first stripped Colin’s body of weapons and ammo before embarking on this push. Too late now, he hears himself say under his breath as he begins his countdown.
Then the countdown is over and with it Joshua surges forward through the ruined doorway into the open walkway with its multi-level stairs and gaping wound that descends all the way back to the two hundred and twentieth floor, where they escaped the gory confines of the elevator. Ahead of him are a large group of well spread out armed men and women. Some look barely into adulthood but most are definitely closer to his own twenty nine years of age. Nevertheless they all look surprised to see him. At first he doesn’t understand why and simply continues to raise his weapon, ready to fire. Then it hits him. His eyes go wide and he tries to cut his forward momentum so that he can spin round and save Mary. It’s too late, he’s too far ahead and back in the stairwell the Aksara gang members, all twenty three of them, are in position. They open fire from both above and below on the stairwell. Mary is trapped and before she can break free of the cage of the stairwell the bullets rip her to pieces.
Mary screams as burst of pain after burst of pain overwhelms her senses. Yet, she manages to fire off over half her sidearm’s magazine before her body slams to the pot marked concrete where it will be left.
Mary is dead, her eyes glossy and glazed over, staring into the distance. She managed to take down five of the Aksara gang members who ended her life however.
Joshua, aware that Mary is dead and that he is the last of the LevelSec officers on this deployment, feels rage boil up from deep inside him. He can’t control it, not anymore. He wants blood for the lives that have been so cruelly ended, which is why he reverts his attempts to slow himself an instead forces his legs into a sprint.
The Lieutenant rushing headlong toward the gangbangers who can do nothing to hide the shock on their faces as the officer barrels toward them and certain death. Suddenly, Joshua raises the barrel of his bullpup rifle and fires off nine three round bursts. Six hit targets. Not necessarily their intended targets but targets nonetheless. Five Aksara members go down. Bloody smears across the walls beside and behind where they had been.
Joshua ignores those felled but does drop to his knees just as the gangbangers open fire. He slides right under the projectiles aimed at chest height and straight into cover where he ejects the magazine from his weapon and slaps in a fresh one. He hears the familiar click meant to inform that his weapon is ready once more to be unleashed. He finds comfort in that, strangely.
Shuffling footsteps indicate the closing proximity of his enemies to his location. He doesn’t move. Instead he stays crouched in cover and waits. The first gangbanger rounds the low concrete block that is the LevelSec officers cover only to be met with a point blank single three round burst that starts between his nipples and ends at the centre of the man’s face. The attacker topples backward. Joshua never sees it as he takes the opportunity to burst from cover, grab a hold of his next target, put a concentrated three round burst, with the barrel pressed against her chest, into the gangbanger and then rush forward using her limp smaller frame as a dead human shield. It works perfectly. The gangbangers unloading their weapons into the lifeless body in his one hand. But with his grip beginning to fail Joshua releases his hold on her vest and shoves her aside. That in itself catches the gangbanger’s off-guard and affords the Lieutenant an opening during which he puts down seven separate targets that are spread out across the area ahead of him, clearing his path. Following that he is forced into cover again, but not before being clipped in the left shoulder. Joshua grunts, sneers and lets out a heavy growl of pain once he is in the cover of an open doorway. He wonders what this doorway connects too and then catches sight of it, bodies, young and old. Without doubt they are civilian. Horror wraps its invisible tendrils around him and threatens to wrench away his anger and send him into a vast pit of utter despair. He resists its pull, ejects another magazine, quickly replaces it and then waits.
Still, the hail of bullets that are hurled in his direction have not abated and so he is forced to wait. However, he is acutely aware that the longer he is static the more likely it becomes that the Aksara gang members descend upon and corner him. After all, they will know this storey and all the others around it much better than he will. There is no doubt that they will be aware he is currently cornered in a tiny apartment unit.
All of a sudden the relentless gunfire ends. Joshua waits a couple seconds unsure whether this is some sort of ruse to lure him out and then gun him down. But all he hears are the frantic scrapes and scratching sounds of the desperate attempting, poorly, to reload their weapons. Joshua doesn’t smile, at any other time he might, but not in this situation after what he’s been through. Rather, he bursts out of his diminished cover heading for another doorway several metres further forward that he barely took his eyes off the entire time he was in the apartment with the dead civilians. It’s the next and only available cover that will allow him to close the gap. Before he gets their however he fires off several more three round bursts from his bullpup rifle and its thirty round magazine. Each burst, aimed well enough, hits its mark but doesn’t necessary end the life of its victim. Then Joshua is in cover. Strangely there is no wall of lead cast his way. He finds that odd, his brow furrows in deep consideration but cannot discern the reason as to why he hasn’t been fired upon. So he takes a chance and with a run-up breaks from cover in a slide heading vaguely toward his attackers. He fires three more bursts, leaps to his feet and launches into a run. His goal is twice the distance from where he started compared to the last cover position he held. The Lieutenant is well aware there is a more than decent chance he won’t make it, but he isn’t about to give up now. Four more bursts, four more targets down, and his enemies are only now about to open fire once again. Joshua feels his heart flutter. He’s only two thirds of the way to cover. If they open fire now he’s a dead man. Desperate, he expunges the remainder of his magazine, taking down as many of his adversaries as he can with single shots instead of bursts. It’s risky and could cost him his life but with his chances already as slim as they are he concluded that single shots could increase his chances of survival more than it might negatively impact it.
All of a sudden there is a loud shot. A second later Joshua feels an explosion of pain in his right thigh. He looks down, daring to take his eyes off the gangbangers ahead of him, and notes that he has a bullet wound to his leg. His eyes go wide and then his leg crumples beneath him. He pitches forward, sharply, and then stumbles, drops to his knees and hears two more bangs. Less than a blink of an eye later he feels massive surges of pain in his back, two. They marry with the two explosions he heard which must have been shots he realises now. He screams at the top of his lungs. He can’t stop himself. His rifle flies out of his hands and he flops forward unable to feel anything other than the pain in his back. His jaw and cheek bounce off the concrete floor sending his head spinning and his vision full of twinkling star-like lights. Yet, the LevelSec officer refuses to accept defeat.
Annabelle screams with joy and throws her arms high above her head. Then realises the LevelSec officer is still moving. Her joy evaporates and is replaced by a sneer as she growls angrily.
“We will finish him Matriarch.” Jan assures as he begins to turn away to issue the order and shows displeasure over the fact that the LevelSec’s life has not already extinguished.
“No! I want him brought here.” Annabelle’s tone shifts from angry to cunning during her briefness order.
Jan complies without a word. All he does is nod once, turn away and issue the command as Annabelle has spoken it.
Twelve minutes later and the barely conscious Lieutenant Joshua Penn is dragged into the room. His head is bowed, trails of blood follow in his wake and his breathing is laboured. He’s dying. Annabelle has heard such noises from the already damned several thousand times before in her life. Most brought about by her own hand.
Joshua is dumped, unceremoniously, on the floor at her feet. He hasn’t the energy to fight or move so simply lays there delirious.
“Haul him up. I wish to speak with him.” Annabelle demands with a swift wave of several of her fingers.
Seconds later Joshua is grabbed by either shoulder and picked up off the floor so that he is on his knees. His head still down, is soon wrenched back following a quick glare from Annabelle, so she can get a good look at the man before her. She feels contempt and disgust for the man. Before she’d seen his face she’d felt nothing but seeing the face of her enemy makes her feel sickened.
“Do you know who I am?” Annabelle demands to know.
“Anna…” Joshua trails off. His vision is doubled and blurred; his throat is tight and dry. He feels weaker than he ever has before in all his life but at least the pain is largely gone. He knows that means death is close, but he doesn’t care. In fact he welcomes it.
“Good. Then you aren’t as dumb as you look. But you must have questions. I know you do. I also know you’ve lost too much blood to utter them. So just nod if what I say is what you wish to have answered. Understood?” Annabelle stares intently at Joshua who after several seconds weakly nods in the affirmative.
“You want to know how I knew where you’d be, don’t you?” Joshua makes no attempt to nod. He does wish to know such things but isn’t willing to play this game. However, he’s underestimated Annabelle who in response to his lack of response snaps her fingers. It’s a silent order that Joshua be made to understand that non-responsiveness will be punished and it is as a thug, who has hold of Joshua, buries his thumb into one of the two wounds in his back. Joshua screeches in agony but still doesn’t nod. Annabelle isn’t impressed, but suspects she is supposed to be, so changes tact.
“I know why you’re here you know. You came for the President’s worm of a son, Ricardo. Pathetic child of a man. Thought himself in love you know. Didn’t even realise it was little old me stringing him along. By the time that dawned on him he was already in my trap, caged. Would you like to see?” Annabelle sounds gleeful as the words pass her lips.
This time Joshua nods weakly. She knew he would. LevelSec are nothing if not predictable and so Annabelle gestures.
Less than a minute later Ricardo LeBon is wheeled into the room, locked inside a cage half the size it needs to be for a man of his size. Not that Joshua feels comfortable in gauging accurately Ricardo’s size. What he is comfortable in concluding is that the young man looks gaunt as if he hasn’t eaten in weeks. Joshua doesn’t know how that is possible but that is not the full extent of Ricardo’s change in appearance. His eyes are sunken, barely open and rolled back into his head, while his head is shaved, badly, with nicks and cuts all over him. Not all of those cuts are on Ricardo’s head however. Many cover his white knuckled hands, arms, face and shoulders. Joshua expects they extend across the young man’s entire body but he can’t see anymore of Ricardo to be able to confirm that.
“Spark the feeds and broadcast across all bands.” Annabelle demands of her techs without turning her gaze away from Joshua or the caged and broken Ricardo who are side by side.
“Broadcast live.” Is the succinct and swift confirmation that is issued a little over a dozen seconds later and much to the satisfaction of Annabelle. A wide smile slips across her face as she turns her attention to the camera ahead of her. At one time it had been in the corner of the room but that had been before she’d had the space remodelled.
“Hello to you all, the ladies and gentlemen of Megarise Six. Most of you will not know who I am. So I will introduce myself. I’m Annabelle, Matriarch of Aksara. You may be asking yourselves what that means and why am I being broadcast to you across all bands. Well, the answer is simple. I have control over many systems in Six. And the day has come, long overdue, for LevelSec and the lowers to acknowledge us on the upper levels. We no longer will abide being ignored. That is why I have a demonstration for you today.” Annabelle snaps her fingers again to silently order her techs change camera feed so that Joshua and the caged Ricardo are being broadcast instead of the image of her face.
“The man in the cage, who is barely a man at all, is the son of our great homes President, Cynthia LeBon. Most of you will never have seen, met or even voted for her. Yet she has been installed by the lowers as the latest captain of our ship.” Annabelle pauses, sniffs and then continues. “The other is a member of LevelSec. The last of a small group of teams tasked with ending our quest for freedom…” Annabelle trails off and with a quick flick of her wrist issues her silent order. A second later Jan pulls his pistol, levels it and then fires. Joshua’s head explodes and his body falls forward to thump with a wet thwack into the concrete floor.
The feed cuts back to Annabelle’s face which is now adorned with an expression of seething anger. “This tower belongs to the people, all people of the Six. Not just the privileged closest to the surface of our now inhospitable world. Try and force us out and you will find just how far I am willing to go to remind you, LevelSec and the lowers, of just how much you have to lose.” Annabelle snarls into the camera feed and then gestures with a slight movement of her fingers and sees the feed cut.
With that the lights blink on and Chief Oxlong, dressed in body armour and full tactical gear, announces to all the remaining LevelSec officers, “This is the extremism with which we are faced. We will not let it stand. Today will mark the end of this violence. Order will be restored. The gangs will be purged. We will all be free.”
All the LevelSec officers in the room rejoice, except for Aaron who just stands there waiting, and then the doors open and all the officers hurry out eager to put an end to the violence that has been promised against the people of Megarise Six by Matriarch Annabelle and her Aksara.