Rick is a Peacekeeper--an officer of the law. He guards the remnants of civilization in a city that is the last bastion standing after the cataclysmic events of the far future. One fateful night he meets Andy, a mysterious young man who seems too good to be true... and who may endanger the lives of everyone Rick has sworn to protect. But Andy knows things about Rick's city that he ignores, including the monstrous secret hiding deep underground...
This is the third chapter of 'Spark'. A new chapter will come out every week. Any comments or questions can be directed to the author at nothlit(at)hotmail(dot)com
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people or events is entirely coincidental.
"Hey!" I yelled, hurrying after Andy. "Stop!"
Of course he didn't stop. I saw the door to the dressing rooms slam open ahead of me with Andy's passage and I rushed after him, gun in hand, dropping all pretense of stealth. Surprised Plant workers stopped to look at me but I scarcely noticed them. This was it. If Andy got away it could be over for all of us.
I surged into the corridor, looking wildly left and right. I caught a glimpse of movement to the right, away from the main entrance. My boots squeaked on the floor as I changed direction and sprinted after him.
Andy stopped for an instant at the end of the corridor maybe five seconds ahead of me. He stuck a small something onto the wall, pressed a button and disappeared down a side corridor. The thing he'd put there beeped once, and then started to glow.
"Mainlander!" I yelled, pointing, to alert any guards that were within earshot since nobody was reacting to the chase. Several people turned at the sound of my voice, but in the next second an earsplittingly loud alarm noise started blasting off every speaker in the damn compound. Red lights started flashing intermittently and everybody panicked at the same time. Whatever Andy had stuck on the wall was the source of the disturbance; as I ran past it I recognized the machine. A remote trigger for whatever had started the alarm.
I made a hard right and barely caught sight of Andy running down a flight of stairs. People were in my way now, hurrying in the opposite direction, and I shoved them roughly away in my haste to catch up to my quarry. They seemed to be deliberately delaying me, and with so many people everywhere I couldn't even fire a shot and risk hitting an innocent bystander.
"Out of my way!"
It was infuriating. I rushed down the stairs, my heavy boots clanking on the metal steps, but by the time I got to the bottom Andy had already disappeared.
"Fuck!" I yelled in frustration, shouldering somebody aside. He started to protest, then saw the gun in my hand and decided against it.
The corridor branched out in three different directions, and there were two elevators leading further down into the compound. I took out my pad. There were no guards on this level and I had no time to go look for them. I also couldn't just take off down a random path and hope to find Andy. I had to think.
I knew from basic training that the Plant had been designed with several failsafe measures in mind. In the event of a catastrophe, either human or natural, the different levels would seal off sequentially to prevent the spark source from escaping safe containment and creating an even bigger catastrophe. Whatever Andy had done appeared to have started the emergency containment procedure, judging from the information updates flashing through my pad and the throngs of people hurrying to get out of the lower levels. I hadn't even thought it was possible to hack the failsafe system and fool it into thinking that a natural disaster or whatever was happening in the first place. The Mainlanders had just cracked a supposedly uncrackable system. Not that it mattered. I had to deal with the mess now.
The lower levels would be the first to close off automatically, regardless of whether everybody was out or not. Upper levels would seal off at regular intervals after that, rendering the entire facility impenetrable for as long as a security lockdown was in effect.
Of course. I stopped dead in the corridor I had been crossing, forcing the workers to hurry around me. If it was a suicide mission, and if the Mainlanders managed to get inside the genesis chamber before that level closed off, then there would be no way to get to them at all until the security lockdown was lifted, by which time they would have had plenty of time to destroy our source of spark. Once those huge containment barriers slammed shut, there was no forcing them open quickly at all.
It was a perfect plan, or would have been except for the fact that Andy had probably had to trigger the alarm earlier than he thought when I'd recognized him. If he was hurrying down to the genesis chamber, then that meant that there was still time for him to get there. And if he planned on getting inside, then that's where I had to go.
I didn't hesitate. I had a basic understanding of the layout the facility from earlier and I knew that the fastest way to the chamber was down the elevator. I hurried over to them. They had shut down automatically with the alarm, but I could override that. I hoped. I yanked open the access panel, exposing the emergency scanner. I waved my badge in front of it. Nothing. I did it again. I got an error, saying I was already in one of the elevators.
Of course. Andy had cloned my badge.
The pad I was still carrying in my other hand beeped. I looked at it, staring at the little query underneath the Special Ops logo that asked if I wanted to override the security system for this elevator. Surprised, I clicked yes. The elevator doors swung open.
I wasted no time. I hit the button at the very bottom of the long list of floors and was pleased when the elevator doors closed promptly and I began to descend, fast. I hit the button several times for good measure, although I knew perfectly well that it wasn't helping. I had to get there. I couldn't be too late, or Andy would seal himself inside the chamber with whatever other agents had come along to finish the job. If they were successful, then the entire city would go dark in a matter of days and all our automated systems would start failing. Our life support system would go last of all, and with it everyone in the city. I couldn't let the Mainlanders do something that monstrous to so many people, no matter what political motivation they had for their attack.
The floors whizzed by as I went deeper and deeper down into the earth. I'd lived in the Mainland myself for a while. I knew what they thought of us here in the City, how they resented that the inhabitants of such a small island could still live with many of the benefits of technology and hold so much political power simply because we had spark. Mainlanders were either soldiers or farmers for the most part, living in primitive dwellings, having to brave the brutal winter months using coal stoves when we had air conditioning, having to walk along miles between their scattered ruined cities when we still had a working subway and cars. They hated us. I could understand their point of view, but that didn't mean I would let them destroy the one thing that kept the city going.
The way down was taking forever. I fiddled with my gun, itching to burst out of the doors and fight, even if it meant taking down Andy by my own hand. It was strange, thinking about him now. Mixed in with the cold determination of completing my mission was also a surprisingly sharp sense of disappointment at finding out why Andy had sought me out in the first place last night, why he had seemed so perfect and eager to please. I tried to recall the sense of happiness that I had felt just this morning, but I couldn't. I knew it had just been a one-night stand, and that I probably would never have seen him again either way, but finding out that he had pretended to like me and probably orchestrated the entire encounter so he could more easily accomplish his murdering of thousands of innocent people was like a kick in the crotch. It made me angry. But, unavoidably, it also made me sad. It was a strange destiny for me to have to kill the one person I had felt close to in more than a year. I had even, stupidly, entertained half a dream that I would maybe see Andy again and start something with him. I grinned ruefully. Small chance of that now.
The elevator stopped and I swallowed, making my ears pop from the rapid descent. I was deep underground now, probably sealed off from the outside world by thick steel plates that would not open for several hours. I wasn't worried so much about that as about being too late for what I had to prevent.
The elevator doors opened. I rushed out, gun ready in my hand.
What I saw was unexpected. I imagined a corridor just like the ones above me, but as I hurried down the shortest way to the genesis chamber I saw that I was crossing a very old, corroded-looking pathway that looked more like a tunnel than a hall. My footsteps echoed in the emptiness and silence of the tunnel. There was no hint of the blaring alarm that had been going in the upper levels, and the lights here were very dim, almost reminding me of firelight. The illumination came from elongated light bulbs ensconced into the walls of the tunnel, but many of them flickered and a few of them had gone out altogether. I walked carefully, noting that the air here was several degrees hotter than in the upper levels. Of Andy there was no sign. Either he was hiding, waiting to pounce up on me, or he was already inside the main chamber and beyond my reach. I hoped it was the former, even if it grated against my nerves to know that I was walking into a trap.
The tunnel began to turn, winding down in a gently-sloping spiral, going ever deeper. I passed other wider corridors branching off from the main pathway, but after stopping cautiously at each one I continued in my main route. This was the shortest way to the genesis chamber so there was no point in exploring alternate ways more thoroughly. I walked quickly but silently, placing one foot before the other carefully, my gun poised and ready to fire at any moment.
I had been ready for an attack from the sides, from behind me and from right in front. Not from above.
There was loud clanking noise right above my head, and something heavy and metallic hit my shoulder only a split second later, throwing my aim off as I wildly fired a deafening shot. Next thing I knew, a man had fallen from the ceiling to crash right on top of me, throwing both of us to the ground. I lost my gun in the impact, and I barely had time to twist away from a gloved fist that was holding a knife.
The blade struck the metal walls of the tunnel with a loud, sharp noise, missing me by less than an inch.
It startled me. And when I'm startled, I usually get angry.
I struck out with my arm in a wide arc, swinging blindly. I was lucky. My elbow connected with something hard and I heard a grunt of pain from my attacker. I hit him again, savagely, trying to put as much strength into the blow as I could in the close quarters we were fighting in. I connected two more punches that only fueled my anger and then I rolled, trying to get on top of him and strangle him. He wasn't done yet, though. He recovered quickly and pushed me away with both his feet, giving me a hard shove that sent me sprawling backwards over the uneven surface of the tunnel. Instead of resisting, I went with the motion and used the same momentum as I fell to do a backwards roll that brought me back to my knees. From there, I quickly stood up, fists at the sides and ready. I saw the other man stand up as well.
It was Andy, of course. Only something was different. It was the look in his eyes, determined and furious and so different from the man I had known last night that for a second I actually felt a spark of fear at the sight of the hulking, panting man that wanted to finish me off. A trickle of blood ran down the corner of his lip from where I had hit him. It was bright red against flushed, pink skin. I had only a moment to register it before he rushed at me with his knife in hand.
My training kicked in automatically; otherwise I would not have been able to recover quickly enough to block his next attack. He swung the knife in a deadly stabbing motion when he was in range, but I instinctively turned, shifting my center of gravity to avoid the attack and at the same time deliver a punch to the arm that was holding it. This time I succeeded in knocking it away from his grip, and in the same motion I turned and aimed another vicious hit with my elbow to the side of his face. It did not connect and Andy recovered fast enough to twist out of the way and respond with a kick to my midsection. I barely blocked it with my palms, but the force of it destabilized me. I caught a glimpse of Andy snatching his leg away, and then somehow he was kicking again, but this time high, his heavy boot aimed right at my head.
I ducked, dodged and then came back with a kick of my own, but Andy turned just enough to take the brunt of the impact with all his body rendering the blow ineffective. I got in closer, aimed a punch to his jaw and had the satisfaction of feeling it connect, scarcely registering the pain of the impact on my knuckles as Andy's head was whipped to the side by the force of my punch. He swayed on his feet and I drew my fist back for the finisher. It never came.
He moved so fast that I couldn't react in time. He let himself fall to the floor, then rolled and came back onto his feet in a perfect imitation of the move I had pulled off moments ago. This time, however, there was something in his hand. Something small which he aimed at me.
There was a loud snap as he pressed the trigger. It hit, biting into my torso, and our eyes met for a split second. I was confused. He was triumphant. Then Andy pressed the button to activate the taser and all I knew was agony.
I cried out involuntarily, my body overtaken by uncontrollable spasms as the fiery current crackled through my body. I hit my head when I fell to the floor, and vaguely I saw Andy take off running down the corridor. I didn't black out, but it was close. The burst was so intense that my entire body jerked on the floor for a good three seconds before the battery died on the weapon and I was left lying there, twitching, trying to get my brain to work again.
I took a shaky, uneven breath and tried to stand up as soon as I could. I didn't make it. I slumped back down to the floor, waited for the space of three long breaths and then tried again. This time I did. The effects of the shock were fading fast, and I tore the two needle-sharp prongs that had dug into my clothing, yanking them and the cables they trailed away from me. I looked both ways to get my bearings again, and then rushed after Andy. He was running down the tunnel, going deeper still. I could hear his far-off footsteps. Time to give chase.
I ran as fast as I could, surging down the corridor in a burst of speed fueled purely by my adrenaline. If Andy got to the main doors before I did and sealed them behind me, I would not be able to get in. I couldn't let him do it. I needed to catch up.
The way down was longer than I had expected at first, and winding still in that slight spiral, further down into the earth. I ran for a full minute and I still had not caught up to Andy, although his running footsteps sounded louder, closer. I started sweating, although I wasn't sure if it was from the effort or from the very noticeable change in temperature as I descended along with the tunnel. It got from mild to increasingly warm and then started getting borderline hot. Then Andy's footsteps stopped altogether, and I pushed myself to go as fast as I could. Had he arrived? Was he in already? I wiped some sweat off my brow as I turned a curved section of the tunnel—there! I saw Andy kneeling by a huge set of metal doors, punching numbers into a large panel. Next to him, somebody was lying facedown on the floor. Whoever it was, he was wearing the same clothes that Andy was wearing but he wasn't moving. Close by, slumped against the door, the bodies of two security guards lay at awkward angles. It was too quick to tell, but to me they looked dead.
"Stop!" I yelled at the top of my lungs, just as Andy was standing up. A light above the metal doors flashed green once, and the way into the chamber began to open.
Andy looked back quickly, and his eyes widened in surprise at seeing me come charging down the hall towards him. He squeezed through the opening in the doors when it was barely wide enough to it admit him, and immediately tried to make the doors close again.
"No!" I yelled, and put everything I had into a last desperate burst of speed. I launched myself up at the opening the doors, shoulder first and body low as if I were going to tackle somebody.
Andy appeared again at the opening at that exact moment. I went through and crashed into him, then past him, and both of us tumbled into the room in a heap while the doors beeped loudly behind us and an alarm began to wail from right outside the corridor.
I banged my knee on something when I hit the metal floor, hard. I was stunned for only a second, but it was more than enough time for Andy to recover first and grab one of my arms. I tried to shake him off, but suddenly he was on top of me, straddling my back with his legs, his weight pinning me to the floor. I thrashed where I lay, trying to push him off me, but he wouldn't move. He only leaned closer, securing his grip on my arm and twisting it to the point where it was unbearably painful. My eyes darted all around, looking for anything I could use as a weapon with my free hand, but there was nothing within reach.
"Stay still, or I will pop your arm from the socket," Andy growled right next to my ear. His iron grip tightened, and he twisted more. My left shoulder began to feel like it was being slowly ripped apart. I fought him with all my strength. "Give up!"
I struggled once more, fighting against the pain, but then thought better of it and suddenly relaxed. My ruse worked. Andy's grip slackened just a little bit, and the instant I felt it I braced my free arm on the floor, pushed myself back with all my strength and slammed the back of my head against Andy's face.
It hurt, more than I expected, but I felt something crack under the force of the impact and I hoped it had been Andy's nose. He gave a wordless cry of pain, instinctively letting go of me to clutch at his face. I was free for only a split second, but I used the opportunity. I twisted under him, throwing him off balance, and managed to push him away from me enough so that I could roll away. This time I was quicker, and I got to my feet before Andy did. The alarm still wailed earsplittingly loud all around us, and an automated voice recording was counting down the seconds to total security lockdown.
"Fifteen seconds to chamber isolation."
Andy rose to his feet, his hands covering his face. Behind him, the heavy metal doors were closing again, slowly but inexorably. I knew that once the security lockdown was in full effect there would be no way in or out of the genesis chamber unless somebody from outside started a complicated deactivation procedure that would take hours. Too late to ask for backup. On the plus side, the same was true for Andy. Nobody else had made it in. It was just the two of us in here.
Andy uncovered his face, wiping his hands on his shirt. His nose was bleeding profusely, and I was grimly satisfied to see the damage I had inflicted. If I had thought that the pain would discourage him, though, I had been mistaken. Andy glowered at me with a mixture of fury and determination. He balled his bloody hands into fists and took a fighting stance.
I saw him relax as he slipped effortlessly into the first of fighting poses, as they had called them during my military training in the Mainland. I mirrored him, reevaluating the strategy I had been about to take. Andy was obviously a trained fighter, and of a very high level at that. I hadn't fought anyone that good since my own instructor, and that had been many years ago. How could I have been so stupid? In all my career here, in all the brawls and fights I had participated or broken up, my fighting style had been a huge advantage precisely because there were very few people here who had perfected their own way of fighting in the Mainland. Now, my lack of practice was a liability. I was probably stronger than Andy, but he was quick, impossibly quick. I needed to find an opening and finish him off, sooner rather than later. I could not afford to lose.
I changed into third pose and attacked. Despite his broken nose, Andy reacted quickly and blocked my first punch. He delivered one of his own, which I was too slow to block, and immediately followed it up by bringing up his knee in a savage upward kick that caught me right in the stomach. The incredible force behind it left me slightly off my feet, and the impact of the hit knocked the air out of my lungs and left me gasping.
I doubled over, eyes wide as I tried to move despite the pain. As I was trying to right myself, Andy brought his elbow down on my back, hard. He jumped away as I was driven to my knees by the blow. Then he suddenly was behind me, grabbing my left arm again, twisting it painfully. He secured his grip effortlessly and locked me in a painful grasp that did not give me even an inch of freedom. Even as I tried to recover, still gasping for air, I felt him searching for something in my pockets and then suddenly felt the cold bite of handcuffs clamping onto my wrist. He grabbed my other arm, yanked it towards my back and closed the handcuffs securely, the loud click of the metal signaling the finality of my defeat.
"I told you to give up," Andy panted from behind me. I felt a drop of something warm fall on the back of my hand. Probably blood from his nose. "Now I will make sure you stay down."
I still had my eyes opened wide, unable to believe it. He had beaten me. He was going to carry out his plan, and everybody in the city would die. It couldn't be happening.
I heard the swish of air as something heavy was swung rapidly behind me, and a split second later that something hit the side of my head. Pain exploded red in my skull, and my eyes unfocused as everything went black.
I wasn't sure if I was dreaming or remembering.
Jane and I were putting on our uniforms, strapping on gear and securing our weapons in the coed locker room of the improvised Peacekeeper headquarters out in the Northern Wastelands. It was right before that last mission gone horribly wrong where I had only been able to save Smith. The memory of each moment was crystal-clear in my mind and I already knew what would happen, but I couldn't change it. Only watch.
"Rick, snap out of it," Jane was saying.
"Huh?" I asked, distracted.
She sighed and brushed some light brown hair off her face. "It's not the end of the world, you know."
"The infiltration does look risky," I said. "It's just you, Smith and I with no backup. And the compound is heavily fortified. If retrieval is only a little late or if those criminals spot us before we're ready..."
She rolled her eyes at me and gave me a little friendly push. "You know I wasn't talking about that, Rick. Don't play games with me."
"I don't know what you mean," I hedged.
"You do, too, so don't give me any of that nonsense," she said to me. "Don't think I haven't noticed how hard this thing has been on you. You barely even talk to me anymore; you have this empty look when you come to work that creeps me out. You avoid everyone. Please, Rick, talk to me. I can't help you if you just close up like that and try to deal with everything yourself."
I had to meet her eyes then. The doubts I'd been feeling for weeks ever since coming out to the force, the shock at the unexpected backlash—all of it was visible right there on my face for the duration of that unguarded moment.
I realized I couldn't hold it in silently, not anymore.
"Maybe I should just quit," I said in a strained voice, feeling the heavy truth of the words as I spoke. "I just can't take it anymore, Jane."
Damn tears were threatening out of nowhere and I hastened to quell them even though Jane and I were alone for the moment. I would not show weakness. I would not prove them right.
Jane's gaze softened. "Oh, Rick."
She took me in her arms then, and just... held me. At first I held back, stiff and uncomfortable. But Jane persisted. She knew me better than anyone, after all, and without really meaning to I was suddenly crying, holding her as if she were the only anchor I had to life in the midst of a roaring river that had almost swept me away. I broke down and let all the doubts and hurt come pouring forth in a sudden outburst of bitterness and sorrow. I thought of the squadmates who wouldn't talk to me now, of the anonymous notes taped to my locker door, even that petition to have me switch patrol partners because the guy I'd worked with for two years could not stand the thought of working with me anymore. Every single thought burned.
Jane let me cry. After a while, she reached up to pat my head in an oddly comforting gesture.
"You're being really selfish, you know," she said gently.
I pulled away slowly, wiping my eyes. "What?"
She smiled. "You're the finest Peacekeeper in the force and you know it. If you quit, you'd be abandoning us, and breaking your sworn vow to do your duty."
I shrugged. "There's some people who couldn't care less about that. People who just want me gone."
"Fuck them," she said, surprising me because she never swore out loud. "This isn't about what they think. This is about you, Rick, about not giving up the job you love just because a couple small-minded idiots can't let go of a prehistoric prejudice."
"Let me finish. I hate what they're doing to you, because you're twice the officer any of those cowards will ever be. They're jealous; that's all there is to it. They know they can never be as good as you are.
"I'm not the only one who thinks that, you know. Several people here look up to you, including me. And you want to know what I admire the most about you? That you care. You're not in this for the money or the authority. You truly want to protect others; it's who you are. You can't let yourself forget that. People depend on you. They smile at you when you're on patrol; they call you if they're in trouble, you specifically, not just whichever Peacekeeper comes first. And they do it because they know you're the real thing."
I nodded slowly. "I always wanted to be a Peacekeeper."
"I know. We went to school together, remember; you used to tell everybody who would listen that you'd enlist as soon as you graduated. And you want to know a secret? You want to know why I joined the force in the first place, the year we enlisted?"
She looked down briefly, even blushed a bit. "Because of you, Rick."
She met my eyes, still blushing but defiant. "Yeah. I used to have a huge crush on you, you know. Did for months until you opened up and told me that you liked guys; then I knew I was hopelessly barking up the wrong tree. But even afterwards, I learned from you. I looked up to you and I still do. You've taught me not only how to assemble and throw a MG-54 charge in fifteen seconds flat, but also how to do my job with honor. You're an amazing man, Rick. Please don't give up. Even if only a single person will need you, if you'll be the only thing that saves that one life in the future like you've done so many times in the past, then it's worth it to stay. Don't go. We can't afford to lose you."
She looked at me as if daring me to contradict her. Her words were slowly seeping into my mind, comforting me even if I wouldn't admit it to myself right then.
"I... don't know what to say, Jane."
She gave me a quick kiss on the lips and winked. "Just promise you'll remember what I said before you decide what to do, okay? Don't rush into making a choice you can't unmake."
"I'll hold you to that. And now let's go get `em. I'm itching to try out this new stealth suit."
The memory faded, and as I woke up I tried to yell, tried to warn her not to go; our stealth suits would fail at the worst possible moment and we would be spotted, then shots everywhere... and she would not make it back from that mission. That had been the last time I had spoken to her.
I woke up fully and saw I was... standing. Somehow. I tried to raise my head and it triggered a stab of pain from the right side of my skull. I felt woozy and confused; the memory and reality were mixed up in my mind. Where was I? I moved my eyes instead of my head to look around. The sight of the metal walls, the computer consoles and Andy sitting in front of the biggest interface panel I had ever seen brought everything crashing back to my mind, erasing the last traces of the memory. We were underground. And Andy was going to kill every Islander in the city.
Chapter 4 will come out next Monday!
Shameless plug time:
If you enjoyed this story, make sure to check out my other Nifty stories, `Learning with a Man' and 'Bear Hunter' at:
And visit my author website at http://www.windschlag.com
Donate to keep Nifty going!