Resistance: Urban Guerilla

Written by: Mall Rat Matt

This is a sequel to last year’s one-shot Resistance: Day In The Urban Jungle, which was a request from Strider over on the official forums. Set some months after that fic, Urban Guerrilla sees Ebony stepping up her campaign against Mega’s oppressive regime, training up a new militia and planning a strike on a Techno supply depot. But with Mega’s forces increasing, and tensions rising within the Resistance itself, is Ebony’s raid already doomed? Intended as a one-shot but it got a little long so I’ve split it into five parts to make it less daunting to read!

Features Strider’s original character Kyle, used here with permission.

Chapter 1: Commitment


Ebony’s braids whipped across her face as she turned her body to the side, taking a step in that direction and thrusting her hand out, palm forward. A trio of pigeons, startled by her change of direction, shot up from the low concrete wall now in front of her and flew away from the building.

‘Hya! Hya!’

Two more steps, two more jabs, bringing her to the wall. From up here the city stretched out around her, all the way to the edges of forested hills, beyond which lay the town of Liberty - out of sight, just like its namesake. Between those hills and the rooftop on which she stood, Mega’s communications tower rose up into the sky, a great T-shaped structure, its metal limbs sprouting aerials and satellite dishes aplenty. It was a monument to the Techno regime. Big Brother is watching you.

Anger bubbled up inside of her but she fought it down; she needed to be calm, in control. Closing her eyes, she brought herself back into line with the rhythm of her own heartbeat.

Ba-dum. One. Ba-dum. Two. Ba-dum. Three. Ba-dum. Four.

With a cry of channelled fury, she swivelled, kicking high in a move that would have placed her bootheel in the chest of anyone standing behind her. A volley of punches followed, lightning swift, moving her away from the wall once more. She grunted with the force of them.


One last kick, and in her mind’s eye she watched as her invisible opponent staggered back several steps, doubling over in pain from a direct hit to the gut before collapsing to the floor. Taking a breath, she relaxed and turned to face the rest of those gathered on the roof of the mall. Dozens of pairs of eyes watched her, some in admiration, others with something approaching fear, but they all watched, transfixed. She nodded inwardly.

‘Now you,’ she instructed, bending to pick up a hammer which she used to bang a small gong set up behind her. The note trembled in the air, leaving a sense of anticipation hanging after it, an alertness in the expressions of the assembled crowd. Once more she hit the gong, and as one her followers sprang into their first position, fists punching the air. She continued to beat the gong and they moved in time, practising their lethal dance.

In total around fifty people filled the roof in ordered rows behind her two generals, Kyle and Slade. She recognised May, looking determined in the front row, and she thought she’d caught sight of Jay further back, but otherwise everyone here had been carefully approached, recruited from the best of the city’s warriors - those she could trust, at least. She hadn’t wanted to be too open with her recruiting parties, not until she had a solid core of fighters who could train up a new militia for her. As the group turned in synchronicity she allowed herself a nod of approval. These fifty had worked hard since she had gathered them. Impressive as they were, however, they were not nearly enough to overthrow Mega. It had taken time for her to build up a new network of scouts, since the Techno leader had corrupted her previous agents, but reports were starting to come in that the Technos were also stepping up recruitment, and that their numbers were growing ever larger.

The next bang of the gong had her recruits turning once more, with those on the far left now leading a section of punches. An inconsistency caught her eye; someone’s timing was out. In front of her, Slade was staring at Kyle’s back - glaring murderously at it, actually. His punches were coming just a little too early, as if he were trying to catch up to Kyle with each one. He glanced at her briefly and saw that she was looking at him before falling back in time, still glaring at Kyle’s back, though not before he had thrown off May and some of the others in the next row who took a little longer to find their rhythm again. She rolled her eyes. She had finally ended things with Slade last night. For all that he had been the one virtually ignoring her for the last few months, he had been surprisingly affected by the split, and there was no doubt who he blamed for it. True, it had been Kyle who, indirectly, had made her realise that her relationship with Slade was going nowhere, but that had been Slade’s own doing, and it wasn’t as if she had left him for Kyle. She didn’t have time for those complications now - she had a war to fight.

The muffled clunk of somebody running up the stairs came from inside the mall and soon Sammy emerged on the roof, panting.

‘Amber says there’s a Techno patrol coming closer,’ the boy reported. Ebony sighed, continuing to bang the gong until the end of the section, then putting down the hammer.

‘Good work everyone,’ she shouted to her militia. ‘Take a break.’

It galled her to have to hide. The whole point of training up here was so that the city folk would hear and know that the resistance against the Technos was alive. Amber, however, thought it too dangerous. This had been their compromise, to send scouts out to signal the arrival of Technos in the area and to keep a low profile until they were gone. It made them look scared, and who would want to join a force that showed such weakness? But the Mallrats had a reputation, and she needed their backing to make this work, which meant she had to keep Amber on side. For now, at least.

‘Was there something else?’ she snapped at Sammy, who was still loitering, watching her troops with envy. He had made no secret about wanting to join her, and she would probably let him when she started recruiting properly, but right now he would just be in the way.

Sammy tore his eyes from the militia regretfully. ‘Ram’s finished the first batch of zappers,’ he said excitedly. ‘He says they’re ready to test now.’

Ebony nodded in satisfaction. Finally! The biggest advantage the Technos had was their weapons, and now the Resistance would have their own. Everything was falling into place.

‘Take me to him,’ she told Sammy. ‘Slade, Kyle, you’re with me; everyone else, meet in the car park in an hour for weapons training.’

These weapons would even the playing field. Mega might not know it but the fight had well and truly begun.

Mega giggled to himself as he watched Ebony and her cronies descend into the depths of the mall on the screen in front of him. ‘Tell Omega Unit to pull out of the Sector,’ he ordered, not bothering to look back to see which of his commanders would carry out his instructions. He knew he would be obeyed, that was the important thing. ‘We’ve scared them off for now.’

From his headquarters here at the base of his grand communications tower - the spire of his very own cathedral, visible throughout the city to remind his people who their master was - in what had been the city’s television studios, Mega could survey the entire city from his own network of surveillance cameras as well as links to satellites still orbiting the planet from the days of the adults. This was the very heart of his empire, the centre of his web, and there was nothing he did not know. How pathetic Ebony’s little resistance was! He had been annoyed when she had escaped his ambush at the factory, even if the main intention had only been to keep her occupied while he sprang his other trap for the Resistance, one that had worked exactly as he’d planned. He had since come to realise, however, that he had overestimated her. This was the best she could do? A handful of thugs prancing about on rooftops, soiling themselves whenever his men came too close? He was glad Ebony still lived; she provided what little amusement he had these days.

Even so, it didn’t pay to be complacent. ‘See if we can get anyone into her little coterie,’ he added. ‘Just to make sure we don’t have any surprises.’

‘Woah, buddy! What’s the rush?’ Kyle chuckled as Slade shoved past him on the stairwell.

I’m not your buddy, Slade thought angrily, ignoring him. He continued clanging his way down the metal stairs until he finally caught up with Ebony at the bottom, catching her arm to get her attention.

‘Ebony, we need to talk about last night,’ he said in a harsh whisper. ‘Clear things up.’

Ebony made an exasperated sound and shook her arm free. She continued walking, forcing him to trot alongside her to carry on the conversation. ‘I thought I made myself clear enough last night,’ she snapped as they emerged onto the upper floor of the mall proper.

‘But after all we’ve been through together,’ he argued. ‘Your sisters, Josh, Liberty. We can’t just end it there.’

Ebony looked up at him in surprise. ‘This relationship didn’t end last night, Slade,’ she said. ‘It was over a long time ago, we just didn’t want to admit it.’


‘It’s over, Slade,’ she cut in, raising her voice. ‘You’re just going to have to get used to it. I’m going to need you to be on your game these next few days.’

He scoffed. It was like that was it? She didn’t want to be with him but still expected him to lead her militia. Alongside Kyle no doubt; that guy had had his eyes on her since he first arrived at the mall! They probably thought it all a big joke. His hands formed fists, then relaxed again. No, he needed to stay calm; he wouldn’t let them wind him up like this. When Ebony turned off towards Jack’s workshop, where Ram had ensconced himself, he took the other direction, needing to clear his head.

‘Slade? Where are you going?’ Ebony called after him. ‘You’re supposed to be leading on the weapons training.’ He ignored her, and carried on walking. ‘Slade? Slade!’

He made his way through the mall, not really paying attention to where he was going until he found himself back in his room. His and Ebony’s room. Just Ebony’s room now, he supposed; he should probably move out. That wouldn’t take long, he didn’t have much in the way of possessions. He gathered them up, stuffing everything into a small bag. Now he just had to find another room to move into.

Or did he? Why did he have to stay in the mall? What was left for him here? He had given up everything for Ebony; his traveller’s lifestyle, his bike, even his hopes for a reconciliation with his brother, all to help her protect a city he cared nothing for. The only other person he felt any affection for had been Ruby, and she was dead, killed in a Techno raid on the black market she had been running on the same day Ebony had brought Kyle back to the mall.

He slung his meagre pack on his shoulder and looked around the room. It was hard to tell he had ever been there. So where to now?

Perhaps there was one place he could go.

‘Ah, if it isn’t the warrior princess herself!’ Ram announced, grinning at his own joke, as Ebony entered the workshop, followed by Kyle and Sammy. ‘To what do I owe…’

‘Cut it out, Ram,’ she interrupted in a no-nonsense tone. ‘I’m not dealing with your games today on top of everything else. You know why I’m here, you sent for me. Now, what have you got for me?’

A dark look passed over Ram’s face and was gone almost as soon as it appeared. He was a dangerous one. She knew he hated her; he probably still blamed her for Java and Siva’s deaths. But if he hated her, he despised Mega, and that made for something of an alliance between them, however temporary.

‘The new weapons you asked for,’ Ram said casually, waving in an off-hand gesture as he led her and the other two to a workbench at the other end of the room. His tone implied that his creating them and her asking for them happened to be coincidental, and woe betide anyone who even suggested he was working for her. He was, of course, as far as she was concerned, but as long as he did what he was told she was happy to let him believe what he wanted.

‘They’re late,’ she said. Well, maybe a little assertion of her authority could be allowed; it was fun to watch him squirm. And they were late. ‘You said they’d be ready a week ago. This supply raid needs to happen a week today, the militia won’t have much time to train.’

Ram’s right eye twitched at the comment and he picked up one of about half a dozen wristbands that were lying on the bench, turning it over in his hands. Fondling the gadget seemed to calm him down.

‘This is brand new technology,’ he all but purred. ‘These aren’t your regular Techno pulse weapons.’ He dismissed those with a grimace then stared fondly at the thing in his hands again. It did look different from the zappers she was familiar with; the wristband itself was white and looked to be made of some kind of stretchy rubber, while the weapon itself looked more complex than normal, though most of it was enclosed so she couldn’t see the inner workings. ‘This here is a self-contained static electricity generator,’ Ram continued. ‘With variable charge settings and a motion-sensitive release system. It doesn’t need to be recalibrated as often as Mega’s weapons will, and he won’t be able to disable them with a sonic disruptor.’ He laughed then, a nasty sound that gave her goosebumps. ‘That’ll surprise him.’

‘Woah. Cool!’ Sammy breathed, reaching out for one of the weapons. Ram grabbed his wrist before he could touch anything, giving him a glare, and when he let go the youngster rubbed his wrist and muttered under his breath.

‘Nice work,’ she said, taking the weapon Ram offered her and looking at it more closely. ‘I’m impressed.’ And she was. If these were half as good as Ram said they were, maybe they would finally have a chance against Mega’s forces. Most of the Technos were an untrained rabble, only dangerous because of the weapons they carried. Now that wouldn’t be so much of an advantage. Ram watched her studying his handiwork with his chest puffed out proudly. Then he realised what he was doing and frowned, annoyed at being pleased by her compliment.

‘Where are the rest?’ she asked.

Ram’s eyes widened. ‘Haven’t you listened to a word I’ve been saying?’ he spluttered. ‘This is a self…contained…generator.’ He emphasised each word carefully. ‘With?’

‘Different settings, motion-sensitive, yes, I get it,’ she interrupted.

‘I don’t think you do,’ he said, snatching back the wristband he had given her and holding it protectively. ‘This…this is a work of genius! And genius takes time.’

‘How long?’ she asked through gritted teeth.

‘I can’t say,’ he replied. ‘You’ll have them as soon as they’re ready.’

‘We need those weapons, Ram,’ she said. ‘Each one evens the odds between us and the Technos that little bit more.’

‘You don’t say! Do you have any idea how carefully these babies need to be wired? The number of safety checks they need to?’

‘Alright, fine! Fine!’ she conceded, throwing up her hands. ‘But I’m sending Jack to help you.’

‘Great!’ he exclaimed in such an outpouring of joy that it had to be faked. ‘I’d best get onto it then, hadn’t I?’ He turned his back to her, muttering as he tinkered with a half-finished zapper grabbed from a shelf behind him. She managed to catch ‘sausages for fingers’ and ‘thought she wanted them more quickly’ before she stopped listening. At least he was working.

She turned to Kyle, who stood to one side with his arms folded, considering her. Tall and athletic, dressed in his trademark black and grey, he was an imposing figure, especially when he remained so silent. The usual twinkle in his eye was gone as he frowned at the weapons on the bench.

‘What are you thinking Kyle?’ she asked her general.

He shrugged his broad shoulders. ‘I’m no fighter, Ebony,’ he replied. ‘I told you that the day you met me. I’m not a fan of weapons.’

‘And I told you,’ she countered. ‘The way things are in this city, you’re going to have to be. You’ve seen what the Technos have; we have to have some way of matching them.’

‘I know,’ he said. ‘And I understand why we’re doing it. But I don’t have to like it.’

‘Well you’ll have to at least get used to it,’ she said. ‘You’re going to be the one training the militia.’

‘Me?!’ Kyle exclaimed, shaking his head, his mop of dark blond hair swaying as he did so. ‘I thought Slade was going to handle that side of things?’

‘Slade’s AWOL,’ she argued. ‘You’re what I have, there’s nobody else I trust.’

‘Can’t you do it?’

‘No,’ she said firmly. ‘I want to observe. I need to see if anybody takes to this too well.’

‘You think Mega has people inside the militia? He knows about us?’

‘I wouldn’t bet against it,’ she admitted. ‘Even with all the precautions we took in recruitment. He knows me too well, Java saw to that. As soon as I escaped his trap he’ll have known what I was thinking, that I would come for him. That’s why we have to act quickly. I can’t wait for Slade to sort himself out. I need you, Kyle.’

Kyle was silent for what felt like an eternity. Finally he sighed and picked up one of the zappers. ‘So how do you work these things?’ he asked.

Written by: Mall Rat Matt

Chapter 2: New Weapons

Mega stood on the gantry surrounding one of the sets in the television studio, looking down into an area that had been decked out like the corridor of an alien spaceship. He vaguely remembered the TV show it had been used in, Galactic Spawn; it had been one of his favourites. Down either side of the corridor ran a row of organic-looking space pods, which the aliens in the show would have hatched from. A pulsing light came from inside the pods and he could just make out the outlined forms of people in each one, his new recruits, every one of them wearing a Reality Space visor. This was his training room. A single Techno commander sat with a laptop at the far end of the room, overseeing the proceedings. This was a far more efficient system than that of Ebony’s ragtag army. Physical combat was for Virts; training in Reality Space gave his troops all the skills they needed to use the weapons that made them so superior, saved on space and resources, and virtually eliminated training accidents. Once the programme was complete his men would emerge from their pods, reborn as fully-trained Techno soldiers.

Footsteps on the gantry announced the arrival of another of his commanders, who saluted him.

‘Sir, there’s a Virt at the entrance asking to see you,’ the soldier reported, sounding scandalised. ‘He says he’s your brother.’

Mega raised his eyebrows slightly, the only indication of his surprise.

‘Forgive me Sir,’ the commander said, bowing his head. ‘I should have sent him away.’

‘No, wait,’ he ordered, raising a hand. Slade hadn’t tried to contact him in months; he had thought the man had finally given up on his attempts at reconciliation. Why was he here now? Had Ebony sent him? ‘I will receive him,’ he said finally. ‘Studio 1, I think.’

The commander smirked in satisfaction at the mention of Studio 1, as well he might, and went to fetch Slade. Mega followed, but turned a different way upon reaching the bottom of the scaffolding surrounding the training station, heading deeper into the studios.

Studio 1 was the largest room in the complex, though in fact the actual set constructed there was tiny, most of the space being taken up by tiers of audience seating. The set itself was made up of three walls of a grand throne room from a medieval drama, decorated with crossed swords and halberds. The throne still stood atop a raised dais but Mega had added to it since moving his forces into the building. The back and arms of the great chair were surrounded by monitors, stacked high in a shape that made them seem part of the throne itself, all but one would be linked up to carefully placed cameras around the room when turned on, and that one stood above the throne’s headrest, displaying the Techno ‘T’ logo on a loop like a spinning halo. Mega climbed the steps to the dais and sat down, laying his arms along those of the chair, fingertips poised over a set of controls he had placed at each end. Soon after, the seating opposite him began to be filled with Technos ordered here by the officer who was bringing Slade. Anyone facing Mega here would always do so with an army of Technos at their back.

When the seating was sufficiently full, he pressed a button that cut the lights, leaving only a walkway leading to the throne marked off with luminous tape. Then he waited. After a short while the sound of approaching footsteps could be heard, and a figure was marched up the walkway. The Technos who had accompanied the figure retreated back to the edge of the studio, their footsteps receding into silence. Mega waited some more, until he heard nervous shuffling in front of him. Satisfied, he pressed a button and the monitors around him were turned on but not activated. Not yet. A soft hum emanated from them and their silvery light silhouetted the throne. He pressed another button and rows of candle stands sprang alight to either side, rippling out from the throne and fully illuminating the set. Slade appeared before him, holding an arm in front of his face to shield his eyes from the sudden light. On cue, the assembled Technos cheered and the Mallrat whirled around, realising their presence. Mega pressed a final button and settled back in his chair. Slade turned back to face him and gave a start. Mega smiled; he couldn’t see for himself but he knew that all the monitors surrounding him now threw his brother’s terrified face back at him.

Slade swallowed and licked his lips. ‘Pretty impressive,’ he said finally, putting on a brave face though he was clearly intimidated. Mega had expected nothing less; Slade had never been one to give in to fear easily, though he was still affected by it. The theatrics were over now; it was time to get down to business.

‘Thank you,’ he said flatly. ‘Now, what do you want Slade? Or should I ask what does Ebony want?’

Nerves already frayed, Slade’s hands tightened at the question. ‘I don’t care what Ebony wants anymore,’ he growled. ‘I’m not her lapdog. And I want what I’ve always wanted, to fix things between us.’

Mega studied him over steepled fingers. Quite a vehement response. Was there really a rift? Or had he just come too close to uncovering the truth behind his brother’s visit? ‘You know my thoughts on that particular matter,’ he replied.

‘Oh come on, Josh, we’re family!’

‘My name is Mega!’ he said, letting his emotions get the better of him as he raised his voice.

‘Fine…Mega,’ Slade conceded through gritted teeth. ‘But I can’t leave without trying one last time.’

He leaned forward on his chair. ‘Leave?’ he asked. Could he be telling the truth?

‘There’s nothing to keep me here now,’ he said. ‘You’re the only person I have left in this world. But if we really can’t put the past behind us…I’ll be leaving the city tomorrow.’

Mega settled back again. Strange to be surprised by this piece of news. Certainly he had wanted nothing to do with Slade since he had appeared in the city, but all this time he had still known where the other man was. But now…there was a finality to Slade’s announcement. Mega’s own feelings hadn’t changed on the matter, but perhaps there was a way to use this situation to his advantage, and to keep an eye on his brother at the same time.

He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair, thinking. ‘Perhaps…’ he said at last. ‘Perhaps you’ve been too hasty in leaving the mall.’

Slade looked puzzled. He opened his mouth, then closed it again, thinking things through. Finally the penny dropped. ‘You want me to spy on the Mallrats,’ he said.

‘If we’re ever going to…rebuild our relationship,’ he answered, trying not to cringe at the thought. ‘I’m going to have to be able to trust you again.’

He looked into his brother’s eyes. Yes, Slade knew he was using him, he could see it. But there was something else there as well. Hope. It was almost touching.

Finally Slade lowered his eyes and bowed his head. ‘Ok’, he agreed. ‘I’ll do it.’

‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing?’ Darryl asked.

Not a clue, Kyle thought to himself as he turned his back on the other Mallrat and walked away, measuring out a distance of ten strides.

‘Ram’s shown me how these things work,’ he replied instead, turning to face Darryl again. He spoke loudly enough for the rest of the militia to hear too, gathered among the pillars of the multi-storey car park attached to the mall. ‘It’s quite safe.’ He looked to Ebony for reassurance but she was too busy eyeing the others for traitors.

Darryl had replaced May for this training session, though Jay was still present among the crowd. That was the way it was with the Mallrats, the way Ebony and Amber had agreed it. Mega might choose to inspect the mall at any time and so only those members of the tribe who were supposed to be out in the work parties would report to Ebony for training. The Techno responsible for monitoring the work parties was a friend of Jay and turned a blind eye to the Mallrats’ absence in exchange for their protection when Mega was finally overthrown. In the event of a raid on the mall, most of the tribe would co-operate with the Technos, giving time for the militia to escape across the rooftops or through the sewers according to agreed routes that Kyle had laid out.

It made sense for another Mallrat to demonstrate the new weapons with him, but why did it have to be Darryl? He liked the guy; it would be unnatural to shoot him. Well, it would be unnatural to shoot anyone as far as he was concerned, but especially someone he had come to know as a friend in recent months. Darryl was a natural follower and Kyle had taken him under his wing in many respects, away from Lex’s influence. He was already one of the best students in the free-running sessions Kyle instructed.

He heard a cough and realised he was stalling. Ebony was glaring at him. He sighed.

‘Right, well,’ he began, raising his arm. The rubber strap of the weapon felt snug on his wrist.

‘Goodbye cruel world!’ Darryl cried melodramatically.

‘Not helping, Darryl,’ he said flatly. The other Mallrat grinned sheepishly. ‘There are five settings on these gizmos,’ he continued, addressing the militia. Why did it need five different settings? Ram was a sadist; there was no other explanation. ‘And for training purposes we’re going to use the lowest.’ He carefully adjusted the small dial on the side of the device, making sure it was at the minimum level. A stray spark of static hit his fingers and he pulled them away sharply, shaking them.

‘Is it supposed to do that?’ he hissed at Ebony.

‘Just get on with it!’ she whispered back.

Just get on with it, he told himself. He held his arm out straight. ‘The sensor in the device is programmed to release the charge at a sharp backwards jerk,’ he explained. ‘Like this.’ Pointing his arm towards Darryl, he pulled it back quickly. The weapon fizzed and crackled, and a shot of blue flashed out of the end. Darryl grunted and collapsed to the ground, and Kyle sighed regretfully. The militia were silent.

A wisp of smoke rose from Darryl’s chest.

‘Oh, hell!’ he cried, snatching off the wristband and letting it fall as he ran toward his friend, dropping to skid the last section on his knees as Ebony reached him at the same time. She thumbed back Darryl’s eyelids while he checked his wrist for a pulse. Not feeling anything, he reached over the blackened section of the Mallrat’s shirt to try again at the neck. In vain.

‘I…I’ve killed him!’ he said hoarsely just as Jay broke through the front of the crowd to join them. A steady murmuring began to pass through the militia and some began to slip away quietly. Others ran.

Ebony raised her head, looking around in dismay as her army broke apart. ‘Jay, try and round them up!’ she pleaded. ‘I can’t lose them now!’ Jay nodded and stood, heading back into the throng, raising his voice to be heard amid the growing panic. Ebony crouched over Darryl once more, his head in her hands, her eyes narrowed. ‘Safety checks my left ankle!’ she muttered before shaking her head and lowering Darryl to the ground. She stood up and dusted herself off.

‘Ram!’ she roared in fury. ‘Where is he? Someone bring me Ram!’ She sounded as if she were calling for his head.

Kyle knelt open-mouthed as the chaos unfolded around him, Jay and Ebony shouting on either side of him, their words lost to his ears. None of it registered with him. He had killed Darryl.

Written by: Mall Rat Matt

Chapter 3: War Games

Three days after Darryl had been laid to rest, Slade found himself crouching behind a pillar in the car park, a white-banded zapper attached to his wrist. He frowned at it suspiciously. Ram had said the things were safe now, but he had been wrong before. At least Ebony had seen sense and demoted that idiot Kyle. Slade was back in charge of weapons training now, and Jay had taken over those ridiculous sessions Kyle had set up, climbing walls and jumping in and out of buildings and the like. As the balance of power went, that gave Slade the edge, since Jay hadn’t been training with the militia full time beforehand. Perhaps, given time, he could win Ebony over after all. Perhaps, he thought guiltily, he had made a mistake in going to Josh. To Mega, he corrected himself. Then again, he was sure that now he had made the connection he could find some way to win his brother over too, and he didn’t want to abandon this chance to finally fix their broken relationship. He had spent too long tracking him down in the first place to give up now. Maybe, if he was careful, he could play both sides and win both Ebony and Mega.

‘They’re coming,’ Jay called softly from behind the next pillar along. Slade nodded and made a series of gestures with his hands, indicating that Jay should move to the next position. This was a joint training session they had worked up between them, incorporating elements of weapons, hand-to-hand combat and stealth. The two of them, plus a handful of the remaining militia, were to defend this end of the car park while the rest attacked. All around were makeshift walls and other objects to hide behind or make use of, and ropes and ladders gave access to the rigging for the lights above, which criss-crossed the entire area. Ahead, Jay had trotted over to one of those ropes and now began climbing it awkwardly, attempting to reach a higher position to make better use of his own weapon. In truth Jay had not been the natural choice to take over the more…athletic…aspects of the training that Kyle had overseen, but Ebony had wanted a Mallrat, and Jay was the best of that group. Darryl had been better.

He shook his head. Darryl, dead. The man had narrowly avoided death by zapper once before, but had survived thanks to Slade’s care and attention. For what? To suffer the same fate in a stupid move by Kyle! Slade had thought Kyle’s splitting up of him and Ebony had been a low act but this was something else! Could the man be trying to sabotage the Resistance? Darryl had been progressing well in his training, after all. And he still questioned the coincidence of the man turning up on the same day Ruby was killed. It was all too much, taken together.

A ball of electricity flew past his head, making his hair lift, and a soft thud sounded behind him. Was Jay trying to kill him now, on top of everything else? No, wait, what had that noise been? He peered around the corner to find one of the opposing militia members lying on the other side of the pillar. It was Sammy; Ebony had been forced to take on new recruits since the incident with Darryl. Some of her original militia returned day by day, as they realised the risk of training accidents was a better bet than continuing to live under Mega’s rule, but it was too slow, and the scouts reported that Mega’s supply trucks were already on their way to the city. The day of the raid was fast approaching, and the Resistance still numbered fewer than two dozen, less than half the force it had been before Darryl’s death.

Grabbing Sammy by the armpits - he still lived, of course; Jay at least knew how to work these new weapons - he pulled the boy further into the defended section of the car park and hid him behind a wall of oil drums, nodding to Jay as he did so. He shouldn’t have been caught out like that, not by Sammy, who had barely started his training! It was Kyle again! Winding him up so he couldn’t think straight. At least Sammy hadn’t had a weapon; Ebony still didn’t have many of those to go around, and she wouldn’t dare give those she had to new recruits.

Giving himself a shake, he poked his head over the drum wall and instantly froze. Kyle, the object of his hatred, was coming his way, moving silently from pillar to pillar, his grey camouflage trousers suiting the terrain of the car park perfectly, though he hadn’t noticed Slade. Like Sammy, he was unarmed; he had refused to touch a weapon since killing Darryl, though that was easy to say when nobody was likely to let him near one anyway. Several other members of the militia were coming in from different directions now. So, they were going for the ‘softly, softly’ approach were they? They must have known they were being watched, since Sammy hadn’t returned, but Slade didn’t care. He only had eyes for Kyle, and he had almost breached the defended area. Slade’s pride wouldn’t let him allow that.

Hardly realising what he was doing, he cranked his weapon up to maximum capacity. With a snarl he jumped out from behind the drums and pulled his arm back violently, his fist in line with Kyle’s chest, just a few metres away. This was for Ruby, and for Darryl! The body of the zapper fizzled, louder and louder. There was a pop, and then a ball of lightning the size of two fists shot out of the end.

The sound of a weapon charging nearby was all the warning Kyle had. Turning, he saw Slade, looking like an enraged beast, a glowing light at the end of his arm, which pointed straight at Kyle’s heart.

‘What the…?!’ he began, then launched himself into the air, grabbing a rope that dangled above his head and swinging his legs up as high as he could get them, his muscles complaining. He felt the charge pass beneath him and dropped to the ground with a grunt, then quickly threw himself out of the way as it hit a stack of empty drums behind him, sending them scattering in every direction with an almighty crash. Militiamen, hiding behind them, scattered too, though some lay groaning on the concrete. Panting, he collapsed against a wall.

‘What was that?!’ he glared at Slade as Jay and the other defenders rushed out of their hiding places to help the injured. One of them supported a groggy-looking Sammy.

‘I…I don’t know,’ Slade replied, taking off his wristband carefully. ‘It must have overloaded!’ Had Kyle imagined the look on the other man’s face before? He certainly appeared horrified now, eyes wide and face pale. Surely Ebony would see now that these weapons were a bad idea?

‘What’s going on here?’ the woman herself demanded, strolling through the chaos like a Valkyrie. She took one look at the weapon in Slade’s hands and stormed over, grabbing it. ‘Lowest setting, again!’ she growled after examining it, throwing the thing to the floor in disgust. She immediately had to jump back as it emitted a small charge in response to the movement. ‘Right, that’s it!’ she cried. ‘Nobody touches one of these until Ram sorts them out, and properly this time!’ She marched back out of the car park, her face a thunderhead. Slade followed at her heels.

Kyle rested his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. He felt sick. He hoped Darryl had not felt the terror he had just felt in those last moments.

That evening, Slade sat on the bed in the new room he had chosen for himself in the mall, head bowed, his hands shaking. What had he done? He had tried to kill Kyle was what he had done! What was wrong with him? He hated the man, it was true; distrusted him, certainly. But to make an attempt on his life? This wasn’t him, he wasn’t an angry man. Only, somehow, now he was. There just seemed to be so much to be angry about recently - the state of the city, and the unwillingness of its citizens to stand up for themselves, pulling him into this awful war; the senseless deaths of his friends, Mega’s manipulation of him, Ebony’s rejection, and the growing sense of his own uselessness to those around him. He had to fix things with Mega; maybe that was his purpose now? To make his brother see how he was treating the city and change his ways. But to do that he needed to earn his trust, and so, for now, that meant he had to betray the Mallrats.

And perhaps it would be wise to stay away from Kyle.

Ebony sat at her desk, studying the plan of the Techno supply depot she was planning to raid. Slade occupied one of the chairs on the other side; the second was empty. It had been two days since the last malfunction with the new weapons, and Ram still hadn’t managed to work out what had gone wrong. He claimed the zapper Slade had used worked perfectly; clearly that wasn’t the case. That left her with a difficult decision. The raid on the truck was due to go ahead tomorrow. Could she really take these weapons into battle if they were likely to cause just as much damage to her own men and women as to Mega’s? She knew she couldn’t, not if she had any hope of keeping her army together. That was another problem, of course. She had managed to convince some of the deserters to return - Darryl had been good at keeping up morale, and was popular with the troops. Kyle’s close call with Slade’s weapon had apparently been enough to absolve him of any guilt in some of their eyes and they had agreed to work with him again - but only some. Even with new recruits and an extra handful of Mallrats tomorrow, her numbers were still only in the region of thirty-five. It should be enough - it would have to be - but she had hoped for more. Fewer troops and no weapons; it was hardly an encouraging thought, but there was no question of calling off the raid now. That would spell the end of the Resistance just as well as Ram’s death traps exploding in their faces.

The door opened and Kyle walked in. ‘Sorry I’m late,’ he said.

A look of surprise appeared on Slade’s face, and not a pleasant one. ‘Him?’ he whispered to her. ‘I thought Jay was going to be here.’

‘Jay’s handled the training well enough,’ she replied, just as softly. ‘But I need my best tomorrow. That’s you and Kyle.’

‘Not talking about me, are we?’ Kyle quipped as he sat down. He was met with silence. ‘Ooookay, obviously we are,’ he muttered. ‘Look, I’m not touching those weapons again, so you don’t have to worry about any friendly fire from me.’ He sounded as close to angry as she had ever heard him, but then she supposed she would be angry too if everyone was doubting her trustworthiness. In fact she had been, on several occasions. The Mallrats were a fickle bunch in her view.

‘Nobody has to worry about that from anyone,’ she replied. ‘There won’t be any weapons tomorrow, I won’t risk it.’ Kyle looked relieved. Strangely, so did Slade.

‘Right, let’s go through this one last time,’ she said. ‘Slade.’

‘I’ll bring my scouts through the sewers here,’ he said, pointing to the corresponding position on the plan. ‘If the coast is clear I’ll bang on the pipes twice. If not, it’ll be once, and we’ll fall back.’

‘Good,’ she said. ‘If I hear the signal for all clear, I’ll pass that on to Kyle’s lookouts on the rooftops and follow you in.’

‘And I’ll flank around the outside of the building, this way,’ Kyle added, drawing a line with his finger around one side of the warehouse.

‘Who have you chosen to take the other side?’ she asked.

Kyle hesitated. ‘Lex.’

‘Lex?’ Slade scoffed.

‘Jay will be with your group to provide covering fire with his zapper if you need it,’ the other man explained. ‘Lex is the next best. He’s good enough.’

‘Lex it is then,’ she said firmly, silencing Slade’s mutterings. Kyle nodded in thanks.

‘We’ll signal at these two windows when we’re in position,’ he continued, marking two points on opposite sides of the building.

‘Then it begins,’ she said. ‘On my signal.’

The three sat discussing their plans well into the evening, looking for any cracks, anything they might have missed. They discussed the supply truck, what it might contain, how many Techno guards would be with it, and how they would handle each scenario. Eventually they kept coming round to the same points, and it was clear they could add no more. Ebony’s stomach churned. It was finally happening. However things played out tomorrow, Mega would know the meaning of Resistance. That, or they would all be dead. Either way, there would be no more need for hiding.

Slade stood. ‘I’m going for a walk,’ he announced. ‘I need to clear my head.’

‘You’re going out?’ she asked, incredulous. ‘Now?’ He had taken to spending a lot of time out of the mall these last few days. It was good that he wasn’t following her about anymore but still, the city could be dangerous at night and a lot hinged on Slade’s part in tomorrow’s proceedings.

‘I can’t sleep with all this going around in my head,’ he explained. ‘I could almost think you were worried for me. I’ll be fine.’

She threw up her hands in defeat. It was none of her concern if he wanted to go haring off into trouble at the last minute. Actually, it was very much her concern, and she would probably spend the rest of the night discussing contingency plans with Kyle in case Slade got his head clubbed in by a Techno patrol, but she was too tired to argue with him about it.

He walked to the door and opened it, then paused, turning to face her, ignoring Kyle. ‘It’ll all turn out for the best tomorrow, Ebony,’ he told her. ‘You’ll see.’

He closed the door behind him and she shivered, feeling a sudden chill.

Written by: Mall Rat Matt
####Chapter 4: The Raid

The morning of the raid had arrived. The sky was clear, and birds sang in celebration of the new day. Kyle had expected something more…atmospheric.

In truth he didn’t know how he should feel. Nervous? Excited? Fearful? He felt a little of all three. He was proud, though, proud of the members of the militia gathered around him. They had done well in their training, had really embraced the concept of the urban jungle, and he could be confident in their abilities today. He squatted on the edge of a rooftop, a few buildings over from the supply warehouse where the truck would arrive. He eyed that building warily; despite his confidence there was every possibility that some or all of his men would not make it back out, especially when the Technos they would be fighting were armed. He didn’t regret not having their own weapons - Ebony had made the right choice there as far as he was concerned, but he wished he knew how many Technos would be with that truck. He was eager to get inside and find out, but at the same time he wasn’t.

He looked over the rooftops. Across from him, on the other side of the warehouse, huddled another group of Ebony’s militia, led by Lex. They looked just as restless as his own group. On a different rooftop, between his group and Lex’s, crouched a lone figure. Sammy. That was another good decision on Ebony’s part. As signalman, Sammy wouldn’t have to take part in any of the fighting today, and if he followed orders he would be safely back in the mall before it was all over.

Suddenly Sammy stood. This was it. Slade had reported that the coast was clear and Ebony would now be on her way through the sewers to join him with her own force of militiamen. It was time for him to do his part.

‘Let’s go,’ he told his troops, picking up the coil of rope that was at his feet and looping it over his shoulder. Across the way he saw that Lex’s group were starting to move too. He ran to the edge of the rooftop and leaped across to the next, his eyes on the window that was his destination, the others following him. As he ran he had a sudden thought. It seemed Ebony had turned him into a fighter after all.

Ebony climbed the ladder that led from the sewers into the warehouse, Salene and the rest of her force of militia following. Her heart pounded with excitement but she knew she would have to wait a little longer once she was up there so she forced herself to remain calm. Her head cleared ground level and she found Slade waiting for her. He offered her a hand.

‘Thanks,’ she said, letting him help her the rest of the way out.

‘We always did make a good team,’ he smiled.

‘What now?’ Salene asked, emerging from the sewer behind her, and she let go of Slade’s hand, spared from having to reply.

‘Spread out around the room,’ she told her forces. ‘There’s plenty of crates to hide behind. Quickly! The truck will be here soon.’ She waited while the last of her people climbed up into the warehouse and everyone was in position before settling down behind a crate by the sewer entrance with Slade, Jay and Salene. Here they faced the roller shutter through which the truck would come, and they could also see the windows from which Kyle and Lex would signal their arrivals. The sense of anticipation was almost overwhelming.

Finally there were signs of movement outside and the rumble of an engine. The roller shutter began to open, daylight creeping further and further into the large room as it did so. Ebony watched it flood around her, safe in the shadow of her crate. The Techno who had opened the shutter waved the truck through, the engine sounding louder as it echoed through the building. Slade twitched beside her.

‘Keep your cool,’ she whispered to him. He nodded impatiently. Above his head she saw a hand waving at the window and gave a sigh of relief. Kyle was in position, but there was still no sign of Lex, or Salene would have said so.

The roller shutter squealed in rusty complaint as it was pulled closed. The light retreated and she chanced a look over her crate. One guard and the driver, this could just be her lucky day! If she struck now…No, she had to wait, follow the plan.

The truck’s engine fell silent and the shutter clunked as it reached the ground. Then everything seemed to happen at once.

With a yell, Slade rushed out from behind the crate, heading for the truck. Too soon! Far too soon! Jay gave a frustrated grunt as he was forced to follow with the rest of Slade’s force, taking out the guard at the shutter with his zapper before he could open it again and call for help. Then the covering of the truck was ripped away and dozens of Technos spilled out, firing indiscriminately at her people.

‘What do we do?’ Salene cried. ‘We have to help them!’

‘Attack!’ Ebony screamed, leaping over the crate and into the fray. Her militia followed, and she heard the sound of breaking glass as Kyle’s people swung through the windows on her left side. Where was Lex?

This was not how she had planned it.

Slade ran to the side of the truck, still screaming, and pulled open the door. The Techno driver inside was startled but recovered quickly, lifting his facemask.

‘We were told to expect you, Sir,’ he announced. ‘Everything is going according to plan.’

‘Yes,’ Slade agreed. ‘It is.’ And he punched the Techno in the face.

Kyle buried his face in his arms as best he could to protect himself from broken glass as he smashed through the window, his rope secured from the roof. He let go, landing on the back of a Techno and bringing them both down, fortunately knocking out his enemy in the process.

‘Thanks for the soft landing,’ he said, getting his breath back. Around him the building was in chaos. More Technos than he had expected were engaging the militia, though the arrival of his contingent, streaming in through the now empty window, was helping to push them into close quarters where they had difficulty using their weapons. Not all of them were so impeded, though, and Jay couldn’t pick all of those off on his own, as much as he was attempting to, trying to look in every direction at once. Kyle had to roll out of the way as soon as he spoke, feeling the pulse of one of those weapons pass by with only inches to spare. That put him in front of another Techno who raised his own weapon. Kyle pivoted and kicked, just as Ebony had taught, taking the man in the stomach. The Techno fell to his knees, collapsing to the floor with a wheezing sound. In the space that opened up in front of him he saw another Techno with enough space to raise a weapon, only not to him this time - to Ebony, who was too caught up grappling on her own with three more of the black-garbed soldiers to notice.

No! Not her! he thought.

A window smashed behind the Techno who was taking aim, heralding Lex and his group of militia, who ran straight for the attacker. They weren’t going to be quick enough, though. With a cry of frustration he ran as fast as he could towards Ebony.

Ebony cast quick glances between the two Technos facing her as they circled around each other.

‘What are you afraid of?’ she spat. ‘Come and get me!’

One of the two complied, yelling as she ran at her. Ebony spun around her, using the woman’s own momentum to push her out of the way, flailing her arms as she stumbled on.

‘Looks like it’s just you and me now,’ she told the other one. Or at least it was, until another of Mega’s goons grabbed her from behind, pinning her arms to her chest. She grunted, wriggling around, but her captor was too strong. The other Techno smiled and finally came at her, the coward! With a heave, she used the man holding her as a support to lift herself up and kick out at her assailant with both feet. Surprised, he staggered back into the path of one of her militia. Good; he was somebody else’s problem now. Dropping herself back down, she stamped on the remaining man’s foot, using his momentary lapse in strength to free her arms enough to throw him over her shoulder. Panting, she dispatched him with a jab to the neck, then swivelled to kick the first woman, who had come back for more, in the gut.

Finally! she thought as the attacks stopped coming, then she heard the sound of a zapper and something crashed into her from behind, sending her tumbling. She twisted as she fell, landing on her back. Kyle was on top of her, his face - so close to hers - full of concern.

‘Kyle?’ she said breathily. ‘What…?’

Kyle’s eyes rolled up in his head and he slumped forward onto her. She struggled for a moment, tired muscles refusing to work, but adrenaline gave her the strength to roll him off. Heart pounding, she checked for a pulse, fearful of what she would find.

He was still alive!

Now she just had to get him out of the fighting while she and the others finished off the rest of the Technos. She looked around. Whoever her would-be attacker had been, they were now lost in a scrum of Lex’s militia; they had arrived - finally! - but talk about cutting it fine! But how had anyone managed to take a shot at her anyway? Where was Jay? Her eyes scanned the warehouse. She found Jay, eventually, sprawled on the floor, a trickle of blood leaking from his mouth. A Techno was stripping the zapper from his wrist. Now that she paid closer attention to what was happening around her, she noticed that everywhere she looked her people were being pushed back, and that some of the Technos were reaching for their zappers again. Still, not all was lost. Now that Lex was here she could rally her troops and…

‘Ebony!’ a familiar voice piped up. ‘Ebony!’ Sammy ran up to her, dodging zapper fire and grabbing Techno hands. ‘Ebony,’ he panted, dropping to his knees. ‘The Technos are sending reinforcements from the other buildings. I saw them coming and came through the sewers to tell you, they’ll be here any minute!’

She made an exasperated noise and shifted Kyle to grab him under the shoulders. ‘Help me get him into the sewers would you, Sammy?’ she asked.

Sammy took Kyle’s other side and they half ran, half stumbled to the sewer entrance. ‘What about the Technos?’ Sammy pressed as they lowered their injured comrade down into the depths.

Ebony surveyed the battle once more. She could turn this around, there was still time. If…No, no she couldn’t. It was over.

‘Retreat!’ she called out, though it pained her to say it. ‘Gather the wounded and fall back!’ She waited long enough to hear that the call was being spread about before motioning for Sammy to climb down into the sewers.

‘Aren’t you going to shout at me for not going back to the mall?’ he asked.

‘Are you kidding?’ she replied. ‘You just saved our lives.’ She looked around the warehouse, at all those who were down. Some groaned, moving feebly on the floor. Others didn’t. Some of our lives at least, she added to herself. This had all been for nothing! She hadn’t even been able to get near the supply truck!

With a shake of her head - there was nothing more she could do here - she followed Sammy down the ladder.

Slade shoved the Techno he had been fighting to the ground and rubbed his sleeve across his face; it came back bloodied. He looked around. It was chaos in here! Ebony had finally called the retreat - he had to get out of here!

He turned to run, and the Techno he had just floored grabbed his ankle. He tripped, crashing to the floor and grunting as the wind was knocked out of him. The grip on his ankle relented and he started to rise. The sound of a zapper charging stopped him and he looked up, into the eyes of the Techno who had been driving the truck. His eye was puffy where Slade had punched him.

A quick look around showed that those of Ebony’s militia who were going to escape had already done so. A group of Technos were guarding the sewer entrance now - there was no way out. All in all about twenty Resistance fighters remained in the warehouse; the dead were left where they lay, but the captured and wounded were being lined up by the supply truck on their knees. Jay was there, his face bruised and lip cut.

‘Get him up,’ the driver ordered. Two Technos grabbed him, one of them the one who had tripped him, forcing him to his feet.

‘Come on guys,’ he pleaded in hushed tones, making sure none of the other prisoners could hear. ‘I couldn’t not fight.’ The driver didn’t lower his weapon. ‘I made sure our weapons were out of the picture.’ Ok, so that hadn’t been on purpose, but what did they know? He was going to take the credit if it got him out of here alive. ‘This wasn’t exactly a disaster for you, was it?’ A quick look around showed as many Technos as Resistance still on the ground, but there were more Technos standing than there were militia who had escaped, and the reinforcements were just arriving, ducking under the half-open shutter into the warehouse. Today’s losses hadn’t even scratched the surface of the Technos’ forces.

The driver deactivated his weapon. ‘Fortunately for you,’ he said, ‘Our orders were to let you go.’ He sounded disappointed. Slade made an angry noise in his throat - he had been toying with him all along! The Techno walked over to the truck and slid out one of the packages that had been inside. He threw it at Slade, leaving him no choice but to catch it. He grunted. The package was about the size of his chest.

‘A gift from your brother,’ the driver said loudly, for all to hear. ‘To keep the lady sweet. Now go!’

A shuffling came from the line of prisoners. ‘Traitor!’ Jay cried, scrambling to his feet and lunging towards Slade, snarling. He wriggled as three Technos jumped in to restrain him, trying to get free. One of the Technos backhanded him across the face, blood from his lip spraying onto the face of the next prisoner in line, who flinched. Jay sagged to his knees.

Slade glared at the driver, who made an impatient gesture for him to leave. He turned to walk away, leaving Jay and the rest of the prisoners behind. The guards at the sewer entrance moved to let him pass.

‘You bootlicking piece of scum!’ Jay yelled hoarsely to approving mutters from the other prisoners. There was another sound of fist meeting flesh and Jay was silent. Slade closed his eyes and heaved a sigh, then stepped down the ladder awkwardly, holding the package to his body with one arm.

There was an echoing splash as he reached the bottom, and the grating sound of the sewer cover being pushed back into place above, before he was cast into darkness.

Darkness, and the muffled sound of laughing Technos

Written by: Mall Rat Matt

Chapter 5: Loyalty

Ebony stood in silence, staring into the eyes of the mask she held in her hands. It was a full head mask, with a respirator and thick breathing tubes sprouting from the front like tentacles; there had been several of them in the package Slade had managed to liberate from the supply truck. She had thought him captured at first, but he had somehow managed to escape and join the rest of the militia - what was left of it, at any rate - back at the mall. That had been one of the few bits of good news she had had all day, perhaps the only one.

With a grimace, she threw the mask onto the table in front of her to join its counterparts. They were useless to her without the oxygen tanks they would be connected to.

‘I think we all know what this means,’ she said to the others standing around the table with her. They all nodded, even Sammy, who shouldn’t strictly have been part of this meeting. She hadn’t had the heart to send him away though; he had done a good job today. Perhaps she could find a use for him in her scouting parties. She was wary of who she sent out now since Mega had bribed her last set of agents, but surely she could trust Sammy. She tapped a finger on her lip thoughtfully.

Lex picked up one of the masks, turning it over in his hands. He wasn’t her first choice to be here either, but as Kyle’s second he had a right to it. Kyle himself was still recovering from the shot he had taken for her.

‘So Mega’s playing with the Virus again,’ the Mallrat mused.

‘Not just playing this time,’ she clarified. ‘If he’s shipping these things into the city in bulk for his Technos then I think it’s safe to say whatever experiments he’s doing this time are at an advanced stage.’ Lex tightened his grip on the mask as if imagining it was Mega’s head in his hands.

The fourth person at the table, Slade, stood opposite her, frowning thoughtfully, but with a distracted look in his eyes as if he were thinking of something else.

‘You did well, Slade,’ she said, trying to reassure him. ‘I know it’s disheartening but we needed to see these. We needed to know what’s coming, what we might have to face next time. It was a risk, rushing in there ahead of everyone, but it paid off. You were the only one of us to get near that truck.’

He looked at her. ‘I was just thinking about Jay,’ he said.

She shook her head. ‘There was nothing you could have done. You were lucky to get out of there yourself.’ Slade’s face was covered in bruises, and there were flakes of dried blood on one cheek that he had missed when cleaning up. She had her share of injuries too, of course, as did most of the remaining militia, though Lex had come out mostly unscathed. That was probably because he had turned up late, she thought dryly.

She became aware of someone else in the room, and turned to see Salene standing at the door, sporting a black eye of her own. That wasn’t the only reason for her sombre expression though.

‘The others asked me to come and get you,’ she said solemnly. ‘It’s time.’

Slade hung back a little as the others followed Salene out of the room. Nobody noticed. By the time he caught up they had already joined the rest of the Mallrats gathered around Ellie’s computer, on which the CityNet logo flashed and chimed in announcement of an imminent broadcast. There were no free chairs left so he stood at the back, but that suited him. Ebony and Lex stood close by.

A fanfare sounded and the face of the CityNet presenter filled the screen. ‘Welcome once again, fellow citizens,’ she announced cheerily. ‘To the Punishment Programme on CityNet!’ As an applause sound effect was played, the camera panned out to show the set of a courtroom at Mega’s studio headquarters. ‘You’re too kind!’ the presenter said as the cheering died down, feigning modesty for the equally fake audience. ‘Well, loyal citizens,’ she continued. ‘What do we have for you in today’s programme? Well, you’re in for a treat, I can tell you! Today’s miscreants are all rebels, arrested this very morning and charged with attempting to seize important medical supplies from our great leader Mega that were intended for you, dear citizens!’ The presenter sounded scandalised, and the fake audience booed.

‘That’s a lie!’ Lex cried, stabbing a finger in the direction of the screen. ‘She’s trying to turn the city against us!’

‘Of course it’s a lie!’ Ebony spat. ‘What did you expect from CityNet?’

‘And you know what that means,’ the Techno presenter said in a sing-song voice. ‘That’s right, friends, today the stars of our show will be facing the ultimate punishment - execution!’ The crowd oohed. ‘So how about it?’ the presenter announced. ‘Let’s meet today’s guests!’

The tension grew in the room as about a dozen prisoners were led bound and gagged into the courtroom to the sound of artificial cheers, with some booing mixed in for good measure. They stood in the rows normally occupied by the jury, the camera panning across their faces. Jay was there of course. At the front of the group of Mallrats, Amber stiffened.

‘Why are we watching this?’ Gel suddenly cried, standing and looking around at the rest of her tribe for an answer. None came. ‘Well, I can’t do it! I…I just can’t!’ The younger Mallrat pushed through the crowd and all but ran out of the room. Slade didn’t realise he had moved until he found himself taking her vacated seat in the front row.

‘Let’s bring on our first guest,’ the presenter continued. ‘You all know him, it’s none other than Mallrat and former Techno rebel, Jay!’ The camera switched to the dock, where Jay had been escorted by two Techno minders who stood to either side of him. He stood slightly slumped, his face a mass of bruises and a defeated look in his eyes above his gag.

Slade shook his head guiltily. He had not meant for Jay to get caught up in all of this when he told Mega about the planned raid. He had hoped that by rushing in and drawing out the Technos hidden in the truck before the others started fighting that Ebony would see they were outnumbered and call an immediate retreat. Instead, she had come in after him. It made him want to be sick, but at the same time gave him hope. Maybe all was not lost between them.

‘So, Jay,’ the presenter said, addressing him now from the judge’s seat. ‘You’re hardly a stranger to this position, so let’s get straight to it. How do you plead?’

Jay mumbled something inaudible around the gag. ‘He pleads guilty,’ one of his Techno minders said.

The presenter nodded, expecting no less, then suddenly gave a secretive smile. ‘You know,’ she mused. ‘You do have a history of rebellion, don’t you Jay? I’ve always wondered why you’ve kept on fighting. Or maybe you’ve seen the error of your ways at last? Maybe we should hear what the prisoner has to say for himself?’

Slade frowned. This was new.

‘What’s going on?’ Trudy asked from her seat next to Amber. ‘Are they going to let him go?’

There was a moment of silence. Dare they hope that somehow Jay had managed to perform a miracle? Slade was just as anxious, but for different reasons. Jay knew the truth.

‘No,’ Ebony replied finally. ‘I don’t think so. I think they’ve broken him. Mega will have had some sort of speech prepared for him to read out, confessing to everything.’ Her comment was met by silence. If the mood had seemed sombre before, it grew more so now. ‘I just wonder how much they managed to get out of him,’ she added.

‘Do you ever think about anyone other than yourself?’ Amber snapped, her voice shaky.

‘I’m thinking about all of us,’ Ebony replied tartly. ‘We’re all a part of this.’ Some more than others, her tone seemed to imply. Amber had hardly thrown herself into the Resistance.

‘Quiet, both of you,’ Lex said softly, nodding towards the screen.

Back on set, Jay winced as one of his minders tore the tape that had served as a gag away from his mouth. The camera switched to a close-up of Jay’s face; yes, this had all been carefully planned.

‘Well?’ the announcer prodded.

Jay’s head was slightly bowed, his eyes closed. ‘I…I do have something to say,’ he admitted. There was a long pause, then he raised his head and opened his eyes. Slade felt a chill; it was like he was looking right at him. Then he noticed something. The defeated look had gone from those eyes, replaced by defiance. Suddenly Slade was very scared. ‘We were betrayed!’ Jay cried out. ‘The Technos knew we were coming, that’s why there were so many of them! Watch your back, Ebony! It was…’

A hail of zapper fire sounded through the computer’s speakers as the Technos finally realised what was happening. They cut to a general shot of the courtroom in time to see Jay slump forward across the dock, the presenter looking shocked. One of Jay’s Techno minders had fallen too, caught by friendly fire in the onslaught.

Slade slammed his fist down on the desk, hard, partly out of anger and partly relief. Some of the Mallrats looked at him; most didn’t, too shocked at what had happened. Amber half-stood, her hands gripping the desk, whether to steady herself or to keep her back from the computer screen Slade didn’t know. Back in the courtroom, Technos were removing the bodies of Jay and the minder, while the presenter had regained her composure and was introducing her next ‘guest’, another of the captured militia. The man looked terrified.

Why, Jay? he thought, all the anger he had tried to suppress since shooting at Kyle finally bubbling up. You were already dead! Why try and bring me down too? He flexed his fingers; his hand hurt. Trudy raised a comforting hand to Amber’s shoulder but the Mallrat leader shrugged it off, scraping back her chair and hurrying out of the room, barging past Ebony on the way. Trudy sighed and nodded in response to whatever it was Salene was murmuring to her.

‘Talk about a blaze of glory,’ Ram noted. He sat alone in a corner of the room; Slade hadn’t realised he was there. ‘Too bad it was all for nothing though. What a waste.’ In the group of Mallrats Ellie sniffed and threw herself at Jack, who regarded the former Techno with a withering look.

‘Shut up, Ram,’ May sneered from the back row of those seated. Behind her, Sammy looked as though he were about to be sick, while Ebony and Lex stood looking at each other, weighing up Jay’s last words and how the Resistance would progress from here.

Kyle walked into the room.

‘I just saw Amber,’ the newcomer said. ‘They really did it then.’ It was not a question.

To Slade’s surprise, and apparently her own, Ebony rushed over and flung her arms around Kyle. ‘You’re alright!’ she cried. ‘I was worried - you wouldn’t wake up and…’ Abruptly she let go of him and composed herself. ‘That’s twice you’ve saved my life now,’ she said levelly. ‘I’m racking up quite a debt.’ He smiled at her, and after a while she smiled back. They just stood there, smiling at each other.

Something snapped inside Slade. He had risked his life - had almost been killed, even! - in that raid! He had been forced to leave one of his friends to die, and had seen the hatred, the utter contempt in Jay’s eyes when he found out what he had done. He had narrowly avoided being denounced as a traitor to the whole city. All to keep the two most important people in his life close to him. And now Kyle just waltzed in and…and…

He couldn’t do it anymore. He couldn’t keep playing both sides, hoping to keep everyone happy, he could see that now. Ebony had made it clear just now where her loyalties lay, and that made Slade’s decision for him. Blood was thicker than water, after all. And Kyle’s would spill.

‘That’s all for today,’ the Techno presenter twittered, unheard, as the limp form of the last of the Resistance captives was carted away from the dock. ‘Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for your daily dose of Justice!’ She climbed down from the stand, approaching the camera.

‘And remember,’ she added with a wink. ‘Be good!’