Tags

, , , , , ,

Continued from Part 1.

Part Two: Knight’s Journey

The Torture

Tarzi.

Handcuffs bound me. Two goons in grey shoved me down and shackled my ankles to a metal chair that was bolted to the floor below a single incandescent bulb. The room smelled like piss and puke. A single vent the size of a postcard near the ceiling had given up on moving the air. Blotches and splatters of dried blood decorated the walls. To one side, a stainless-steel tool chest with a dozen drawers held contents I preferred not to imagine.

Shondra dismissed the soldiers with orders to guard the thick metal door, shut it behind them, and rested her bum against the tool chest. She raised one eyebrow as if my silent glare amused her. “This is one of the places where the Port Authority deals with pirates.” She lit up a smoke, took a drag, and held it out to me. “Have you met any pirates?”

The offered cig repulsed me. Not the smell of smoke. Just the offering. I spat on the floor. “Mags will fucking kill you.”

Shondra threw back her head and laughed. “She might!” Then she leaned in closer. Her eyes drilled into me. “Your precious Mags is a psychotic bitch from hell.[1] A murderous ball of boundless rage. And you know what?” Shondra ran a hand between her thighs and shivered. “It’s one of the things about her that turns me on. Not to mention that frisky tail. The way she paints her lips in red and black. Maybe she’ll smother me to death in her massive titties. Would that make you happy?”

“Sod off, slag. You are sick in the head.”

“Tarzi, you don’t know the half of it. Take this fag before I smoke it myself.”

What the hell. If I was about to die, I might as well have a smoke.

No sooner did I have it in my cuffed hands than she lit another. She said, “You don’t like me very much.”

“Fuck no I don’t. I’ll like you less when you’re torturing me to death. So let’s get it over with, you scab-faced, knob-gobbling, herpes magnet!”

Shondra looked around the room as if she were noticing it for the first time. “Is that why you think you’re here?”

I blew smoke at her. “Fuck you.”

She brushed ebony curls away from her face. “Such fire! No wonder Mags likes you. She tells me wonderful things about her favorite nephew, did you know that?”

When I didn’t answer, she continued. “Have it your way, then. I will show you the implement of pain I’m about to use on you. And I promise you, Tarzi, after the twisted shit I do to you with it, you will beg to cooperate.”

I expected her to open the drawers of the torture toolbox. Instead, she slid her hand into her pocket and withdrew a single object.

“This key,” she said, “unlocks those cuffs and leg irons.” She rested her other hand on the pistol at her hip. “And this nine-millimeter will send you to an early grave if you try to fight me. I suggest you relax. There are some things you don’t know, and we need to have a little chat. A meeting of the minds. Got it?”

“Not in the slightest,” I said. “You want to let me go?”

“Not until you listen to me. But I think you’d be more inclined to listen if you weren’t chained to that goddamn chair.”

I held up my hands. “Fine.” Maybe I could have tried to meditate deep enough in that moment to slow my perception and grab her pistol, then put it to her head before she realized what was happening. But that solution left me with a locked door and guards on the other side, and no clue about the building’s entrances and exits. I decided to listen.

Shondra unlocked the shackles then the cuffs, though she held her pistol to my temple for the latter. She stepped away, out of range of my fists, and holstered it.

I let the fag dangle from my lips while I rubbed my wrists. “What’s this all about, then?”

“Rosie’s got big plans for Mars. I’ve played along to protect my interests. But the truth is: Mags is right. Fuck Earth and fuck the mega-corps. I hate them all. We don’t need them sinking their fangs any deeper here. We need to cut them off. Stake them in their goddamn hearts like vampires. Now is the time for a truly independent Mars. Don’t you agree?”

I dropped the fag end on the floor and ground it out with my heel. “I do. Keep talking.”

“Rosie’s been good to you, and she’s been good to me. She’s been good to Mags, too, in her own way—at least until today. But that sly cunt will be good to anyone so long as it advances her goals. When they’ve outlived their usefulness, they can kiss their arses goodbye.”

“You’re trying to tell me you’re any different?”

“Tarzi, Tarzi, Tarzi. Do you think Mags is any different?”

We locked eyes. As angry as I was with Shondra, I could see what Mags found attractive about her. Not just on the surface, but the way her eyes glistened with amusement and a savage confidence that the entire universe, including me, was her plaything—a toy to bring her pleasure. It was a quality I’d seen a million times in Mags’ eyes, and Patches’, too. A feline view of life.

I said, “Mags is different. She has an agenda, but it isn’t all about her. It’s about her friends.”

Shondra applauded. “You are so perceptive for a little boy!”

“I’m not a little boy, you fucking hose-beast, and you know what? This is the shittiest way I can think of to spend my sixteenth birthday. Get to the point!”

Shondra laughed. “Happy Birthday!” She looked me up and down like a piece of meat in a market. “Mags would never forgive me if I gave you birthday spankings. But come see me in a couple years, and I might blow out your candle.”

She set her hands on one arm of my chair and leaned in until her face almost touched mine. Her perfume smelled like sandalwood and tobacco. Underneath ran her natural scent, a hint of sweat and engine oil. I could have counted her eyelashes and the flecks of green and brown dancing in her hazel irises. She was way too close.

“The point is,” said Shondra, “we’ve all got goals, and we all use people to the extent we can get away with. You, me, everyone. In this case, Mags’ goals and mine converge. The person who has outlived her usefulness is Rosie. She just hasn’t realized it yet.”

I gestured for another smoke. “Great ethics lesson. What does all this have to do with me?”

“Everything, Tarzi. You’ll help me take down Rosie and do it in such a way that she becomes a martyr to the cause of Martian liberation—the kind of liberation both Mags and I want. And, I suspect, that you want, too.”

“Rosie has the entire Martian Resistance behind her. You want to take on all of them?”

“Just a few. Rosie, her bodyguards, her inner circle. All in a way that implicates Port Authority loyalists in her death, so that when I step up and take her place, the movement will rally around me. Instead of Rosie assuming control of Mars—” She pantomimed a curtsey with a nonexistent skirt. “I will.”

“Just like that?”

“We’ll have a bit of bloodshed first. Right now, all over Mars, my people are responding to Rosie’s little coup.”

“You were right there in her office! You could have stopped her!”

“Right,” said Shondra. “And I could have had my hide perforated by bullets or wound up in chains like you and Mags. No thank you. But when the dust settles, I need propaganda. A touch of disinformation. The important thing is unifying the people and the Resistance behind something they already want and are willing to fight for: our liberation. With Rosie gone, the movement will gravitate toward a natural leader.”

“Mags plans on being that leader.”

Shondra cackled. “Mags is fucking delusional! Listen to me, boy. She’s bitten off more than she can chew. She has her hands full with Ceres, and there’s no way she can control Mars, too.”

“You can?”

“Tarzi, I absolutely can. As head of the shipyards, I am the most powerful industrialist on this godforsaken rock. I have political connections and powerful friends, and I’ve treated my workers well. They would go to war for me, and they are proving that right now, from the major cities to the settlements. No one knows Mars better than me, and no one else—not even Mags—has the resources and cash to make this happen.”

I hated to admit it, but Shondra was making a hell of a lot of sense. I shrugged it off. “Great, then. You’ve got it all sewn it up. What do you need me for?”

Shondra licked her lips. “I thought you’d never ask.”

☠️

The Exit

Tarzi.

After she finished explaining, Shondra knocked on the door with a rhythm that must have been a code. When the door opened, a guard stood to each side. She shot one in the face. Before the second could react, she shot him, too.

Shondra handed me the nine-millimeter. It felt good in my hands. Perfectly balanced. A comfortable grip. It didn’t surprise me that a builder of her caliber would have great taste in firearms. She’d probably made Mags’ custom Desert Eagles.

Shondra pulled two magazines from her belt. “Armor piercing. You’ll need these.”

My shirt pocket held a copy of the map she’d given me, which she had not drawn herself. It was a printout of the facility’s fire evacuation plan. She’d highlighted a path in bright yellow. It began about halfway up the fifty-story building and snaked through a series of corridors, through fire doors and stairwells, and ended outside at ground level.

I’d already memorized it—a task that should have taken ten minutes but, when Shondra shut up and let me concentrate, took ten seconds.

I pocketed the magazines in my cargo pants. “You need to free Mags. Where the hell is Patches?”

“I don’t know, but she’s—”

At the thump of heavy, running footfalls in the hall around the corner, Shondra pulled a second pistol from a shoulder holster.

Three guards. The first one who came into view, Shondra dropped with a headshot. She missed the second, but I put two rounds into his torso. The third guard halted just out of sight around the corner. I fired three shots through the edge of the wall.

A scream, and the body fell into view, lifeless on the floor.

Shondra said, “You should conserve your ammo.”

“You should aim for center mass.”

She blew nonexistent smoke from the barrel of her pistol.

The gesture brought a smile to my face. “You’re as crazy as Mags.”

“I doubt that.” Shondra stepped over the bodies and advanced around the corner, keeping watch while I worked. “Hurry up! You need to go. Go!”

I raided the corpses for extra firearms and magazines. “Promise me you’ll set her free.”

Shondra said, “If you think anything can keep me from seeing my kitten again, you’re insane. Now get out of here.”

I did. In my wake, a series of explosions belonged to Shondra, creating a diversion. The fire alarm went off. It bought me time to get to the ground floor, and I only had to shoot six people to do it. At the bottom of the stairs, I sprinted for the exit door.

I hit it so hard I bounced off.

I stumbled and spun and was lucky I didn’t fall on my face. The goddamn thing was supposed to be open!

Several floors above me: shouts and footfalls. I tried the door again. Nothing. Had the system malfunctioned? I heard explosions outside. Was the door blocked by debris?

I didn’t have a clue. But the last place I needed to be was trapped between a sealed exit and an angry mob of guards and prisoners.

I ran back up the stairs to the floor above.

☠️

The Yard

Tarzi.

The door on the second story opened to reveal a courtyard full of prisoners and dozens of guards, bounded on one side by the building and surrounded on the remaining three sides by a two-story fence. On the two corners farthest from me, sentry towers held more guards and swivel-mounted machine guns that could sweep the entire enclosure.

Those guns were, for the moment, silent, despite intermittent bursts from semi-automatic rifles in the towers. I supposed the sentries didn’t want to strafe the crowd with so many of their own caught in it, fighting for their lives in hand-to-hand combat.

I needed to get through the chaos before the tools in the towers changed their minds, and before the crowd in the interior stairwell reached the door at my back. The gate in the fence between the towers seemed like the best escape route. Judging from the surging tempest of bodies already there, a cluster of inmates had reached the same conclusion.

I ran down the concrete stairs and into the melee. So much for a clean getaway.

I pushed my way through, trying to take advantage of any brief opening in the mob, dodging the fights around me as best I could.

It wasn’t good enough. I caught a fist in the side of my head, and the force nearly broke my neck. I stumbled and fell against a guard, only recognizable from his uniform’s rough, grey wool. I clawed at the fabric and struggled to remain on my feet. What I saw of his face before he shoved me away was a red, misshapen disaster missing half its teeth.

I would have fallen again, but the bodies pressed even closer. The people in the stairwell joined the crowd as their fight spilled out of the building, through the door I’d taken, and down into the yard. In every direction, a mosh pit without music lost any semblance of sanity and became a violent blur.

God, the stench of it. Even the rusty Martian wind couldn’t sweep away the fermented sweat, the breath from mouths full of rotting teeth, the piss-stained prison uniforms that hadn’t been cleaned in years and barely held on by their last synthetic threads. I pressed toward the gate, clambering up and over people where I could—people hardly recognizable as individuals but one seething blob of muscle and hate.[2]

In the moments where my head bobbed above the crowd, casual slaughter confirmed my decision to go through it instead of attempting to scale the fence. All along the iron perimeter, prisoners began to climb the bars. Many of them had no choice. People at the edges were being crushed against the enclosure.

Climb or die.

The tattered rags of their orange uniforms hardly clinging to their bodies didn’t surprise me. In my months of snooping through Port Authority files when I was supposed to be working for Rosie, I learned that a PA prison was just about the last place in the system where you want to be held. Torture was common. Food and hygiene were not.

Those orange rags scaling the fence made easy targets for the men in the towers. The machine gunners, freed from the fear of killing their fellow guards on the ground, swept the fence with abandon. Bullets shredded the prisoners. Some held on by one hand, grasping an iron bar as their last breaths left their bodies. Their flaps of skin snapped like tattered flags in the dusk before falling to the ground.

The killing cowered no one. It only fueled the rage of the living.

They were no longer alone. Outside the gate, a second crowd gathered and also appeared to be trying to destroy the barrier. Between the chaos, gunfire, and the setting sun, I caught only glimpses as the mob alternately swallowed me and spit me up.

I could perceive this much: The crowd outside wasn’t the grey of a PA uniform. It lacked any uniformity at all, and that told me it was either part of the underground resistance or Shondra’s people. Or both.

It hit me just how meaningless those distinctions had become. What the hell had Rosie and Shondra done?

Rosie held one of the highest positions in the Port Authority, but she was also a leader in the resistance. Shondra had organized her workers into a separate fighting force, but her shipyards worked hand-in-hand with the Port Authority while covertly supplying the resistance and making things for Mags.

Many people from those different factions worked side-by-side and lived in the same neighborhoods. The only differences were the colors of their uniforms and who signed their paychecks. But few of them were happy with the way things were run on Mars, and who was running them, and all those pent-up tensions had been set off like a bomb.

It all came to me in a flash I had no time to ponder. A sentry tower exploded, showering the scene with iron shrapnel. I caught a piece in the shoulder, and it sliced me open. The riot drowned my cry. Before I knew it, strangers crushed me against the gate.

At least I’d made it that far. Someone’s hand covered half my face, but through one open eye I saw a man outside reloading an RPG, presumably to take out the second tower. If that tower went down, I could climb the fence—as long as I wasn’t smashed into a puree against it.

I drew my pistol. Without much room to aim, I shot the man behind me. His hand fell from my face and gave me space. I shot the guy behind him in the head. A grey-clad fist from beside me landed in my stomach.

Since I’d met Mags on that fateful night exactly two years before, I’d been hit, strangled, captured, shot at, bombed, crashed, toppled from cliffs, set on fire, and landed in more than my fair share of fights. But I had never been punched as hard as that guard hit me.

Three bullets in the torso were his reward. I couldn’t even breathe.

But I could climb.

No sooner had I gripped a vertical bar in the iron fence than the second tower burst into a ball of fire and metal shards. It was louder and closer than the first one. The blast hit so hard that everything around me faded to a muffled, indistinct blur. The cuts and bruises from the explosion didn’t register at the time. I was so amped on adrenaline that I don’t even remember climbing the fence.

The next thing I knew, I hit the ground on the other side. All around me, people shouted and pumped their fists in the air. I was the first over the fence, but not the last. Bodies landed beside me, some on their feet. I stumbled forward, and someone caught me.

I couldn’t hear what she said, but her lips formed the words, “You’re a free man, comrade!”

I raised my fist in salute. “Long live the resistance!”

Someone went for my pistol. I swung my fist blindly to the side and throat-punched my assailant. That crowd was no safer for me than the last. I pushed forward, away from the gate and the yard, into the streets of Hevelius.

Night fell on Mars.

☠️

The Hub

Tarzi.

Approaching the hub, I ejected a magazine and replaced it. Mags was nowhere in sight. I put the thoughts of the people I’d killed far from my mind and took a second to appreciate the island of calm around the hub. Few if any of the average citizens knew the true function of the tower disguised as an agricultural administration building.

Shondra certainly knew, and she knew my PA clearance would give me access, assuming Rosie had been so busy setting off a revolution that she had not yet changed the codes. According to Shondra, Rosie intended to use the hub to control all Martian media broadcasts for propaganda purposes. Shondra wanted that power for herself. Whichever one of them could control the hub would command the flow of information for the entire planet.

Mags’ idle conversation at brunch seemed a lot more prescient to me then.

I typed a code on the panel beside the ground-level entrance and pressed my right palm onto a flat sensor.

I was in.

I passed an automated retina scan in the lobby, but no one guarded the metal detector. I climbed over a railing and went around it. From the other side, I saw dead bodies crammed underneath the reception desk. I didn’t recognize their faces, but the PA uniforms marked them as lobby staff and security.

Sucked to be them. I hoped I wouldn’t end up the same way.

An elevator took me to the top floor. The whole way up, I crouched in a corner, pistol drawn, ready to blast anyone that appeared on the other side of the door. But no one did.

I crept down the hall until I came to the main room. Inside awaited wall-to-wall racks of servers and consoles that could assume control of all Martian communications and media, from the radio towers at spaceports to the streaming news channels and satellite data.

Shondra had warned me. I knew I’d find Rosie there.


[1] Shondra has in mind the 2004 Horrorpops song Psychobitches Outta Hell. On Hell Yeah!, Los Angeles, CA: Hellcat Records.

[2] Tarzi lifted the phrase “muscle and hate” from Nitzer Ebb’s 1987 song, Join in the Chant. On That Total Age, Mute Records (UK) and Geffen/Warner Brothers (US).