Written by: Mall Rat Matt
« on: August 05, 2012, 10:35:51 PM »
Perched on a rickety chair in the hideout she had appropriated for herself, a dilapidated bedsit on the top floor of an old apartment building, Ebony peered through a pair of binoculars at the equally nondescript group of buildings across the street. It was an old factory complex, the original red-bricked structure surrounded by a variety of whitewashed outbuildings with low flat roofs, all enclosed by a brick wall broken only by a tall security gate of thick wire mesh directly opposite her.
At least, that was how the complex was supposed to look - she knew differently. All her sources had now independently reported that the factory building she now found herself watching was being used by the Technos. And they were right. Through the twin lenses of the binoculars, the magnified forms of two Techno grunts appeared before her eyes, coming in from different directions to meet in front of the keypad-protected door of the building.
“Hello again, boys,” she said under her breath, clicking the button on the stopwatch she kept on her lap and putting the binoculars down for a moment to record the time in a notebook she kept propped open on the window ledge. “Right on time.” She had been sat here for over an hour now, and had made other visits to the compound since receiving the tip-offs from her spies, and if there was one thing that could be said for the Technos, it was that they were rigidly punctual. None of the patrols she had observed on any of her visits had lasted much more or less than four and a half minutes.
Catching a glimpse of movement below, she raised her binoculars once more, expecting the start of another patrol. Instead what she saw caused her to knock the chair to the floor as she raced to kneel by the window, as close as she could get. One of the Technos was approaching the door! Zooming in as far as the binoculars would allow she watched, seemingly in slow motion, as he punched numbers into the keypad 3-7-9-1. A light flashed green, the door opened, and Ebony let out the breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding as the world sped up once more. The Techno entered the building then re-emerged soon after wearing a coat. After a brief word with his companion the pair started up their patrol once more. With a triumphant grin Ebony put down her binoculars and dashed out of the room, heading straight for the stairwell.
The Mallrats had all advised caution when she had reported what her scouts had told her, particularly Amber, who warned her not to try entering the compound, but how could they not want to get as much information as possible about what the Technos were up to? Project Ultimate Sanction may have been a failure, but in the chaos of the aftermath Mega had slipped out of their grasp and somehow managed to build his forces back up stronger than before. Who knew what kind of advances he had made in his biochemical programme since then? She for one didn’t want to wait around to find out. If there were any viral experiments going on in that factory, she was going to nip them in the bud well before they bore any fruit.
As she reached the ground floor of the building and stepped out onto the street, she took a moment to gather her thoughts. As she reckoned it, she had just enough time to climb over the gate and hide herself among the factory’s outbuildings before the two Technos finished their patrol. Of course, she could just wait until the next patrol before attempting to scale the gate, but where was the fun in that? Besides, she wanted to show Slade what he was missing. She remembered the days when they had relished going into danger together. The excitement, the tension; it used to ignite something in both of them. Not anymore. Since joining the Mallrats, Slade had been more interested in playing tribal politics, acting as a go-between with the other tribes that made up the Resistance. With Ruby. It turned out that running her saloon back in Liberty had given her a knack for smuggling supplies into the city, through Mega’s barricades, and now the pair of them were spending entirely too much time together as far as Ebony was concerned. Slade had always been so proactive when it came to the fight against the Technos and trying to reform his brother, but now it was like the old spark had gone - for her at least; he seemed to have passion enough for his new role. With Ruby.
Spurred on by her anger at Slade, she ran towards the factory compound, practically launching herself at the gate. The wire mesh provided plenty of hand and toeholds and she soon made her way to the top. Swinging one leg over the gate, she tried to do the same with the other, only to hear the rip of material and feel the tug of something holding her leg in place. Peering down, she saw that a loose end of wire from the gate had become caught in her trouser leg.
Straddling the top of the gate, and with time ticking away in her head, she frantically shook her leg, pushing and pulling against the piece of metal and gritting her teeth as it scratched back and forth against her skin. It was no use, and she was running out of time! Any moment now the Technos would round the far side of the factory and see her atop the gate. She pulled harder, and with another rip the wire came loose, sending her hurtling over the gate. Grabbing wildly, she managed to catch hold of the mesh, wincing at the jolt of pain as she stopped falling. Finding focus from somewhere, she scrambled down the gate until she was a safe distance from the ground, then dropped down and ran behind the nearest building, which had probably been a small storage unit for the factory’s raw materials. Once safely hidden she leaned against the wall and slid down to the ground, breathing heavily. Already she could hear the booted footsteps of the two Technos approaching the factory door. That had been too close. A spark of anger rose up inside her. Why did Amber always have to be right? And why isn’t Slade here? a voice in the back of her head piped up, before she quickly stamped it back down again. She didn’t need Slade; she’d come this far hadn’t she? Once she got back to the mall with the knowledge of what was behind that door, she’d soon have him wrapped around her finger again; he liked strong women after all, not soft cows like Ruby!
Counting in her head until she was sure the next patrol must have started, she made her way stealthily around the side of the storage unit towards the factory door, her confidence growing with every step. She was already reaching out for the keypad by the time she heard the voice.
“We’ve been expecting you, Ebony.”
She spun around in shock. The boy in front of her was approaching from the entrance of the storage unit she had hidden behind. He also wore the unmistakeable uniform of a Techno.
“Nice entrance, by the way,” he smirked. She narrowed her eyes and started advancing towards him. “Ah ah ah,” he admonished, waving a finger at her. “Boys!”
At his call, the two Technos she had been watching appeared from around the corners of the factory building, one at either side of her and each with a zapper aimed directly at her. She could do nothing but look on as they came closer before carefully putting away their weapons and restraining her.
The Techno general started walking towards her. “We’ve been watching you…watching us…for some time now,” he said slowly, finishing up only a few inches from her face. He leaned down and whispered in her ear. “Your spies were so easy to buy.” She growled and struggled against her captors but to no avail. It had been a trap all along!
“You should feel honoured really,” the general continued. “Mega ordered me to deal with you personally, to stamp out the Resistance at its very heart.” He took a step back and started strapping on a zapper of his own, while at the same time her two captors forced her to her knees. She panicked. Was she going to be executed right then and there? Anger spiked through her fear once again. Trust Mega not to get his hands dirty! The coward!
“Goodbye Ebony,” the general intoned, raising his arm. Behind him something dropped to the ground, as if falling from the sky. The general jumped around to see what was happening. It wasn’t something, Ebony realised, but someone, rising from the squat position he had landed in. Where had he come from?
“Oh. Hi there!” the intruder greeted jovially. “Am I interrupting something?”
“Where…? How…?” the general spluttered, looking up at the sky, equally as confused as she herself was.
“Just call me Superman,” the stranger shrugged, almost apologetically. Then, in an instant, the friendly mask dropped and he was seriousness personified, making a fist and dropping the general to the floor with a lightning-quick punch to the face. The other two Technos immediately aimed their weapons at the attacker, but that was all the distraction Ebony needed. She rose to her feet, taking out one of the Technos with a swift uppercut as she did so, before kneeing the other in the groin and knocking him out with a karate chop to the back of the head.
“Nice moves,” she greeted the boy. He was a couple of years older than her, as far as she could tell, and wearing a long-sleeved black t-shirt and urban camouflage trousers.
“Thanks,” he said, wiping a fringe of dark blond hair out of his eyes ostentatiously. “Right back at…” He was cut off by the opening of the factory door; half a dozen Technos streamed out of the building towards them. “Run!” he finished, giving her a push start. They both sprinted away from the factory, with Ebony veering towards the gate she had climbed on her way in.
“Not that way!” her new companion called, grabbing her arm and yanking her in the opposite direction. “Follow me!”
She acquiesced, for the sake of her arm, but was less than impressed when she realised they were running straight towards the wall of another outbuilding.
“Are you mad?” she cried. “They’ll have us cornered!”
“Trust me!” he yelled back, increasing his pace but still heading directly for the wall.
In the middle of wondering whether he really was crazy, and if she’d have a better chance of escape by taking on the pursuing Technos, she gasped as the blond-haired boy approached the wall, but instead of crashing into it he ran up it, two steps, before launching himself up to grab the low roof of the outbuilding with the third. “Come on!” he gestured after he had pulled himself up.
“Are you kidding?” she replied incredulously, skidding to a halt by the wall. “I can’t do…that!” She waved an arm up and down as if miming the action.
“Wait there, I’ll be right back,” the boy called out before running off out of sight across the wall. He was true to his word, however, returning only moments later. “There’s a crate on the other side of the building,” he explained. “Climb on it and I’ll pull you up.”
Looking over her shoulder she saw that the Technos were almost on them. Some were even raising their weapons. With no choice but to trust the stranger she dashed around the other side of the building. Thankfully he had been speaking the truth; there was indeed a crate pushed against the side of the wall. She pulled herself up onto it and cupped her hands around her mouth. “Hey! Whoever you are!” she called. “I’m here!” A strong-looking arm lowered itself from the roof and she grabbed it, walking her way up the wall to ease the burden as it pulled her up, bringing her face to face with its owner.
“Hi!” the smiling-faced youth said as she got to her feet, shaking the hand he still held. “I’m Kyle, nice to meet you!” He laughed as he let go of her hand and walked over to the edge of the roof, where he hopped across to a ledge running around the outside of the main factory building. “Come on, let’s go.”
She folded her arms and planted her feet deliberately - she wasn’t going to play this time, at least not without some answers. “Why should I go anywhere with you?” she asked. “Why are you even doing all this? Helping me? And who are you anyway?”
“I told you,” he said with a smile. “I’m Kyle.” His smile slipped slightly then, probably at the expression on her face. “Ok, ok,” he added. “But let’s walk while we talk. Those Technos aren’t going to wait around down there forever.”
He offered her a hand and she walked over and took it - though more out of courtesy than for actual assistance - before hopping over to the ledge herself. “Ok then,” she said. “Start talking.”
“Alright then,” he said, leading the way along the ledge. “For starters, I already know who you are - you’re Ebony, of the Mallrats - so there’s no need to introduce yourself.” She narrowed her eyes at him, or rather at his back. It had been a friendly jibe, but a jibe nonetheless. “I started noticing Techno activity here a couple of weeks ago,” he continued. “I thought I’d see what I could find out, then report it to the Resistance and let them deal with it, but then I heard what they were planning - a trap to catch one of the Resistance leaders.”
“So you thought you’d be a hero?” she retorted dubiously.
“Well, I could have written you a note, or gone to the mall, but would you have believed me over all your trusty spies?”
“Fair point,” she noted grudgingly, struggling to keep up with Kyle in her heeled boots. She was thankful when he took her hand once more to lead her through an open window into the deserted factory itself. There was nothing of interest here, she realised. The whole building was nothing more than an empty shell, its sole purpose to entice her into the Technos’ trap. She followed Kyle inside, jumping down from the window ledge to the bare floorboards below, sneezing at the dust they brought up between them.
“So,” she asked. “Do you make a habit of running up walls and taking shortcuts through abandoned buildings?”
“Don’t you?” he joked, but in a way that implied a serious point behind his words. “The world’s changed, Ebony,” he explained. “Most of the buildings in this city are empty, yet we still just walk around them, following the streets the adults built, when in reality we can go wherever we want, reach wherever we want, if we only lift our eyes up from the ground and start looking at things differently. We’re living in a true urban jungle.” She looked at him askance, not quite sure what to make of this philosophy. He noticed and laughed. “Plus,” he said. “I got really good at running and hiding when I was at school!”
She frowned. Kyle was tall and quite athletically built - hardly the type she imagined to have been bullied. She said as much.
Kyle just laughed again. “I was a lot scrawnier back then,” he admitted before turning serious once more. “Even before the Virus I learned that if I wanted to survive I had to adapt - become bigger, stronger and faster. I’m not a fighter, like you, but I know how to look after myself.”
“Lucky for me that you do,” she replied, giving him a look of respect.
Kyle led her to the end of the room, hardly making a sound at all in his soft-soled boots, to where a large pair of double doors was set into the wall. He motioned for her to open one of them, pulling it inwards while he did the same with the other, each door leaving a quarter-circle of clean-swept floor in its wake.
“What’s your plan now, Tarzan of the urban jungle?” she asked despondently as she stared out of the doors to the city beyond. She could see the exterior wall of the compound below them, but it was much too far even for Kyle to jump, and there were no ledges or outbuildings to save them this time. All that lay between them and a three storey fall was a wire and pulley system that ran from the top and bottom of the door space down to corresponding points in the loading space of a warehouse below them, outside the compound. Before the Virus the system would have been used to winch supplies or perhaps machinery into the factory.
“They must be up on the next floor!” a voice called out from below, followed by the sound of boots marching up the stairs at the other end of the building. Once again it seemed as if they were trapped.
“Looks like that’s our way out,” Kyle announced, fishing through a pile of rubbish and producing an old strap used to secure goods to pallets for transportation. He twirled the ends of the strap around his hands and pulled it taut to test its strength, causing a cloud of dust to escape from the fibres. Looping it around the top length of wire on the loading system, he turned to her and grinned. “Coming?” he asked.
“Are you serious?” she cried. “Have you even done this before?”
“Never!” he replied simply.
“There they are!” the Techno general pointed as he burst through the door with the rest of his men. Ebony immediately forgot her reservations and threw her arms around Kyle’s waist.
“Go!” she screamed.
“Hold on tight!” Kyle instructed as he took a running jump out of the loading doors. Ebony felt the pulse from one of the Technos’ zappers fly over her head as they plummeted down the makeshift zip-wire, screaming all the way.
“I don’t mean to alarm you,” Kyle shouted over the screech of the strap against the wire and the rush of air past their ears. “But I don’t think this is going to hold for much…” The strap snapped with a rip that silenced the screech of friction, and the two fugitives found themselves freefalling towards the ground.
Something soft broke Ebony’s fall. Something soft and smelly. They had landed in a rubbish skip; she retched with the stink of it, but never had she been more thrilled to see garbage than she was at that moment. Kyle’s head emerged from a mound of newspaper and rotting vegetables next to her and he whooped with joy, throwing his hands in the air in delight at their survival. She gave him an exasperated shove but couldn’t help laughing herself. They had made it!
After the pair had helped each other out of the skip, and picked off most of the garbage that clung to them, Kyle offered her his hand once more. “Well, it was nice to have met you,” he said. “Though I can’t say I’d want to go through that every day. You should be careful who you trust in future!”
“I will,” she said seriously. “And thank you.”
He gave her a mock salute and a wink. “See you around,” he said, before turning to leave. She watched him go, suddenly realising that this was the end of their time together and not entirely sure how she felt about that. It had been good to know that someone had her back today; she hadn’t felt that for a long time, and certainly not with Slade recently. And what Kyle had said kept going round in her head. She needed people she could trust.
“Kyle, wait!” she called out to his retreating back.
“What is it?” he replied, turning around. “Do I have trash on my back?” She shook her head and smiled.
“You said you weren’t a fighter,” she pointed out. “But maybe you need to be. Maybe we all need to be now. You’ve seen what the Technos are capable of, and the Resistance have been reacting to Mega for too long now. We can’t go on like this; we need to get proactive again. I’m thinking of starting up a proper militia, training people up to fight against the Technos.”
Kyle walked slowly towards her, stopping in front of her and scratching his chin thoughtfully. “Is this your way of saying you want me to come home with you?” he asked.
She punched him in the ribs and watched him double over in pain. “You interested?” she asked, as if nothing had happened. “With your skills, you’d certainly have a lot to give.”
He took a few seconds to recover before righting himself and replying. “You know what, Ebony?” he began. “I think this is going to be the start of a beautiful relationship.” He quickly stuck out a hand before she could respond with violence. She stared at it a moment before shaking it.
“As if,” she replied flatly, but with a twinkle in her eye. “You smell like dead fish.”