Mother stirred the contents within the large, strangely shaped, cauldron of random items. They’d not had a reasonable meal for a few weeks, with the scraps seemingly running thin. The air, outside, was becoming far too treacherous for older lungs to handle.
She smiled, her mind drifting away as it often did, recalling the day she’d arrived to this sanctuary. Lost, mentally vacant, only to find the care and consideration of others that become her whole world. She’d initially been given the task of looking after the youngsters, for a few hours a day, while the parents foraged for whatever they could find. It was a simple task, an easy task, yet it afforded her the chance to find a new life meaning. The children asked her question after question but, to her heart, she felt wanted and useful. She missed the pods, her previous life, which eventually started to drift away. A speck of thought within her memories.
Young smiles, tender voices, with her given name being that of ‘Mother’. Moment by moment, her inner monologue become real words, actual expressions filled with such care and warmth, that she’d even impressed herself. At the age of seventy-two, being called, ‘Mother’, made her heart skip and her energy return. She, once again, had a place to call her home. It wasn’t much, but when you had nothing, the smallest of treasures could mean everything. A heart, priceless, a kiss, timeless.
She adored them, all of them, especially as she’d watched all of the newcomers form bonds with ease. The lovers, the huggers, the dreamers and the nightmare screamers, all finding calm under the tree that seemed to reassure each of them. A new world. A different world and place to call their own. Such a simple thing, a singular tree, but so important to the many that had never actually seen a real, authentic tree before. She’d initially found it quite odd, even fascinating, watching people hug the tree and endlessly feel it’s tough bark against their skin. She found their actions to be that of children with brand new toys.
Brie was her favourite, the bright eyed, tender loving, soft hearted romantic that hadn’t yet experienced the loss and heartbreak associated with many, many moments of life. She was always upbeat, caring, while also having a special place for Mother within her thoughts. They’d bonded immediately, despite Mother’s craggy old face. Brie had stated that Mother’s lines were the art of years of struggle, the chaos and life lessons of time. Mother, instead, would call it the lack of moisturiser and too much sun. Either would do, as either suggestion was close to the truth.
Then, one day, Seb arrived. Mother knew that there was something different about the man. Hardened, troubled, traumatised by what he’d either seen, or done. Battle scared, his body covered with marks and memories Upon his arrival, the man had stood in front of the tree for over thirty minutes. His eyes had never seen such a wonderous spectacle. He’d said that he’d never seen such a sight, a living, breathing, creation of nature that had mostly been long forgotten. Trees were more or less extinct when he was born, with Mother remembering a fair few that were held in long destroyed parks.
Mother recalled, that after those thirty minutes of standing with an amazed gaze, he was then softened by another view. Brie. He’d watched her appear from behind the tree, slowly, casually, drifting as she did. His eyes found her, distracted for a second as he looked back to the tree, before returning his view. His mouth had fallen open in amazement and, just as Mother had noticed, a few other people had started laughing at they witnessed his obvious attraction. It was, as she later realised, a dual love at first sight.
Mother continued stirring the pot, sighing, finding her drifting thoughts comforting. She’d foraged for herself a few times, finding a few items and, as today was a special day, simply wished to provide all of them a beautiful, warming, tasty meal. After all, this was what a Mother should do, would do, for the people that she loved more than anything else in life. She glanced to her right, taking in the view of the glorious tree overhanging the area, surrounded by the building’s concrete. They’d found a home. A home with a very special life, afforded by a simple, timeless, tree.
She closed her eyes, the weight of her actions returning to haunt, her. She held onto the makeshift spoon, realising exactly what she’d done. It was, at this moment in time, far, far too late to un-do what she’d set in motion. She loved them, each of them, as they’d given her genuine emotion and care without asking for anything in return. They’d afforded her a place to call her own, a space within life to create something beautiful. Mother, instead, chose to return to her old life. She’d chosen to live her remaining days with comfort, warmth and a fresh set of clothing each and every single day. She opened her eyes, glancing at the tree, admitting to herself that mistakes, once made, were for life.
What was done, was truly just that.
Daniel held the grip, steady, assured, keeping himself calm and rested. The process, each time, exactly the same. His eyes, closed, listening to the sounds around him. He could hear the rattling of the various metallic items, the laughter from the squad in front of him, as well the wheel bearing that would shortly need replacing. He’d been here on many, many occasions and this would, hopefully, run like that clockwork operation that he aspired to.
He was methodical, studied, an authentic military man through and through. He continued to listen, the roaring laughter nearly making his own lips form a brief smile. They were a good bunch of crazy idiots, even if he could liken them to uniformed thugs, psychos or dreamers. He knew that none of their dreams would come true, but at least upon their final day, they’d have tasted enough adrenaline to last their lifetimes.
His fingers moved across the new ‘NMP’ badge emblazed onto his uniform. Their new ideals and instructions being exactly the same as before, but with a supposed new enthused vigour that equated to jack all. Same job, different day. The ‘New Militarised Police’, doing what they do, the same as always. He snapped away from his thoughts, as his arm band vibrated ever so slightly, set to medium vibe, which immediately resulted with his entire demeanour changing. This was it, time to do what they did best and, no matter what happened, to certainly return home alive. He’d lost a few over the years. Good people. Young, eager, mostly stupid, but full of ‘in your face’ ego.
He let go of the hand grip, as the Combi-vehicle came to a stop. Each of the group, in front of Daniel, ceased whatever they were doing and looked towards him. They knew when to listen, when to stop, when to shut the hell up and when to do what they were told. This was regimental discipline and, unlike the rest of the world’s fairy-based politics, he demanded nothing less.
He glanced at each one of them in turn, showing them the respect that they deserved, despite wanting to slap a few around the head. Each of them had earned their place beside him. He wanted each of them to be his equal, despite their skill set, as they all brought something different to the team. As he selected a G36c from the rack, with a rotex three silencer, he started to run through the standard drill.
“Listen up. This is a basic seize and demo operation. Nothing special. Watch your six, cover your second and most of all, raise those eyes!”
The six of them nodded, knowing exactly what, where and how to take care of business. Daniel waited a few seconds, loading his belt with spare mags, expecting some type of banter to start but, uncharacteristically, none of them muttered a word. Raising an eyebrow, he knew that they had to have a little fun before they stepped from the Combi.
Daniel started the conversation the only way he knew how… insults, “Hey, unlike Henderson, try not to get your balls shot to shit. Even you ladies!”
Cassie laughed, “Heck, I’d better be extra careful as my balls are bigger than all of em’!”
Debs nudged Cassie, “Definitely bigger dicks!”
Henderson, jokingly kicked the side of a bench, “You haven’t seen mine ladies, it’s glorious!”
“Ha, I’ve seen it. It broke the zoom on my pod!”
“Fluck you both!” replied Henderson, grabbing his crotch and moving around the contents.
Daniel wouldn’t change any of this, or any one of them. It took time to create a team. A reliable, dependable, construct formed of many individual parts. Just like the human body, all living, vital, doing what they did. He didn’t want the absolute best performers, the brown-nosed trainees that wanted to reach the sky, as they would soon find their limit. He wanted people that could trust each other. When the shit hit the fan, you needed someone that would stand with you, take a bullet, crawl until they could no longer move, dragging your sorry backside out of the fire. The world was full of cowards, which meant that you had to have the willing and able by your side.
This was what he had, a team, a triangle that could topple, fall, but get right back up and break you in two. If anything, even though he might never admit it, he was proud of them. Even Henderson, who seemed to constantly be fighting or trying to bed anything that moved. Debs and Cassie were magnificent. They could never be compared to men, which he’d never do, as they equalled and excelled at each opportunity. The other three, Rich, Dave and Roberts, were the heavy hitters, with the brawn resting between their skulls, often misunderstood. Each capable, each brutal, with all three consuming more protein than Amrazon sold in a month.
The cabin turned red, the silence descending, as their tactical G77 helmets descended around their heads. Within seconds a full display appeared in front of each squad member’s eyes. The display provided a complete auditory, oral, olfactory, as well as complete field of view of their intended area. Hardly state of the art military grade tech, but they had what they had, and they made it work. Daniel tapped against the small chest plate which, after a second, expanded around his chest and back. This was quite new to the squad, a polymer that absorbed shocks and brunt trauma, depending on their stance and awareness of attack.
The door slid open, the air within the Combi replaced with a putrid smell and taste of re-treated, recycled air. No matter how many times they faced this situation, they simply did not acclimatise to the air. Daniel, being the oldest, could recall a day when the air was something different, a time long gone and mostly forgotten. He was a child when the big change took place. The catastrophic, disastrous moment, when the very air they could breath, became a foot note within the history books. Times changed. Trash was still trash, orders were orders and the innocent, were no longer considered to even exist. This, all of this, was about a small, simple tree.
When he’d first read the directive, he asked himself if the orders were authentic. He questioned them, which is something that, in all his years, he’d never done before. His remarks, however, were expected and met with the simple answer of, ‘Air is money’. Humanity had to work for clean, premium, fresh air. He could not question his orders, he would not stand aside from them, which meant that he would have to do what any loyal soldier would do.
Brie, sat next to one of the large exposed roots, her space away from her habitat, snuggled into the warm blanket that sat above the beautiful earth. She loved this place, her special little spot, where she could nearly hide but, at the same time, see the comings and goings of all the people around her. She loved them all, this small group of hers, the rag tag ensemble of nothings. She didn’t like the term, ‘nothings’, but that’s what the media called them before they’d escaped their previous lives.
She touched the side of her neck, reminding herself, remembering, the time when freedom meant everything to them. The outcasts, barely able to pay for their air, despite being surrounded by all of the technical marvels and advancements the modern day could provide. The screens, the Pods, the Combis, all costing next to nothing, while the air they breathed, costing more than life could consume. She knew, even from an early age, that she was trapped. They, were all trapped, until they broke free from their imposed slavery.
She closed her eyes, remembering the violence when the ‘nothings’ were forced out of their homes, no longer affording the rising tax upon their very living lungs. She felt the tears rise within her, as she embraced and recalled the anguish and abandonment. That was then, and this very moment that she found herself within, was more than beautiful. She’d found a paradise. A tranquillity through such simplicity that the very ideal, to her previous self, would seem alien or even a wild fantastical dream.
She smiled, knowing that she was no longer a slave to the conglomerate overlords. With her breathing pod removed, she was completely and utterly free. She used to feel ashamed, worthless, her own self-worth reduced to the fact that she could not afford the basic fee for even a podison of air. She’d worked hard, every single day and all of the hours presented, with the life-giving air being shared between six of them. It wasn’t enough, as two of her family members had died from oxygen deprivation poisoning.
She pushed aside the thoughts, knowing that they’d return, despite the utopia surrounding her. Scars. Broken love. Abandoned moments. No matter the escape, the memories remained, haunting, taunting, reminding her that some trauma, even when the moment had faded, would always remain within. She looked at the clump of daisies in front of her, smiling, as she picked a few to make a necklace. She adored the serenity of this place, as well as the peace of these moments.
As she knitted the daisies together, glancing to her side, she noticed movement, “I can see you!” she whispered, with her smile growing bigger, expressed with her playful tone and words. Seb bounced from around the large tree root, falling to his knees to rest against upon his legs. He leant forward, his flirtatious nature in full view.
“Hello beautiful you, how is this day treating you?” he asked, with his blue eyes beaming as they usually did. The glow from the sunlight above, through the various windows, always seemed to provide that shimmering look to his face. She adored him, even loved him, despite not yet admitting her feelings. He was a rogue, that scoundrel, the flirty naughty person that her Mother had warned her about many, many years previous. She didn’t care, especially when he said, did what he did and held her close. Whenever he was near, she felt his warmth, with his little side smirks and taunts teasing her. He was, if she were honest, the man that she’d waited for her entire life.
“My day has suddenly darkened!” she replied, sticking out her bottom lip.
“Oh no, why would that be?” he quizzed, with a solemn look upon his face, as he moved his bottom lip forward to match hers.
“I was about to finish this beautifully crafted daisy necklace, and then someone stopped me!”
“How can I make it up to you?” he said, his smile beaming and eyes softening as his head leaned to the side a little.
“Well, I think…” Before she could finish, he moved forward and kissed her. A small kiss, gentle, reminding her of why she missed him so much. As was often the case, that small kiss turned into a full embrace that would shame most people. He was intense, at the right time, understanding when needed, as well as a great big pain in her backside when he was being his ever-childish self. This place, this man, all seemed to be the gift that life could and should give to every single one of them.
She adored the innocence, the calm state of mind that the tree surrounding them afforded, as the kiss slowed to a more emotionally connective, embracing tempo. As they snuggled into the blanket, looking up to the mighty behemoth of a tree, they both felt the connection to something larger than the both of them. The very earth, the very aura surrounding them, breathing life without the toxic, evasive, disgusting air tax that had been thrust upon every single living human being upon the planet.
To breath air, to breath real uncycled air, to the both of them, all of them, was the finest natural luxury that life could afford. They felt blessed, free, spiritually and emotionally lightened, with the simplest, most transient moment, never being taken for granted. This was home. The very magic of life giving them nothing but peace. This place, apparently, was once called a shopping mall. A location that many people would visit to buy things and to chat. She liked the idea, since local gatherings were now outlawed in the shining cities that they’d all be castigated from.
She looked at him, as his soppy, silly eyes, reaching into her create to make butterflies within her stomach. He ran his fingers along her arm, taking her hand in his, smiling with that calm smile he’d perfected. It was time. It was the time. She’d waited so long, over the past few months, with that time waiting for neither of them. To be pod locked was one thing, but to actually decide who you loved, was another freedom that she intended to brandish with all of her strength. She’d rehearsed the three words many, many times, despite her fear crushing her motivation to dust. She could do this, she would do this, under the great tree of life.
She smiled, knowing, trusting, that the silly fool in front of her would hold her forever. She knew that he was a good man, with hidden suffering and darkness just behind those tender eyes, but that was okay as she was the exact same. The shielded heart, the wondering imagination, the yearning to be held as if the world was about to end and, more. She wanted more. All of him. Every single part of him. She wanted to literally wrap herself around him and never let go. Despite the fear, ignoring the suffering and vile nature of the world, she believed and never wished to do otherwise.
She smiled again, as he looked at her with an almost uncanny awareness of what was being rehearsed within her mind,
Before her words could escape, Mother appeared in the middle of the chamber, proclaiming with her sternest voice, for all of them to listen. Brie had only heard her speak this way on two other occasions and neither were pleasant. Whatever was happening was serious, a moment that they might never forget. Everyone stopped what they were doing, whatever they were carving or creating, turning to face Mother.
Mother braced herself, rallied the energy to tell them of what was to come. She knew that she’d given each of them away, thrown aside their love, to return to her previous life. She wouldn’t tell them of her actions as, instead, she simply wished for them to continue with their freedom in whatever way they could find. “They’re coming. Leave everything behind. This place and this tree are lost to us. I’m sorry. I’m so very, very sorry.”
Brie’s heart fell from her chest. This place, these moments, were her life. Her mind failed to grasp the information, as the others rapidly dashed backwards and forwards. She watched Mother walk across the room to stand in front of them. She nodded to Seb, his facial expression immediately changing. He knew what he had to do and, above all, what this moment meant. Brie held his arm as he started to stand, “Where are you going, we should leave?!”
Seb knelt beside her, kissing her forehead, “I’m afraid that I have to say goodbye!”
“I don’t understand,” proclaimed Brie, with utter confusion and pain within her voice, “we’re supposed to be together?”
Seb glanced at Mother, who immediately understood the situation and what to do. Seb stood, stepping away from Brie, as Mother wrapped her arms around her. “I don’t understand?” asked Brie, with pain and fear within her words.
Mother smiled, running her hand through Brie’s hair, “My child. There are moments of great beauty within this world. There are people of grace that can shine through such suffering. That would be you, my Dear. Then, there are people that are born to protect and fight. Seb is such a person.”
Brie, partially understanding Grand Mother’s words, felt the tears appear upon her eyes. She watched as Seb walked across the chamber, as he turned to smile, his sad eyes eventually falling from hers and then, she whispered the words, “I love you”, under her breath. Mother grabbed Brie’s hand, more or less lifting her from the ground. They both ran around the tree, rushing towards the small gap made within the chamber walls. Their exit. Their escape. Their tunnel to whatever would greet them next.
Seb tried to push away the emotional weight surrounding him. He’d found innocence, despite his many sins upon the world. He’d found a place of freedom, a luxury seldom afforded to a person of his worth. He’d been crushed many, many times, only to find a saviour within the soft, tender smile of another. He cursed himself. He knew that he was an idiot to think that the world would offer him a happy ever after. She was, to him, the most beautiful creature. He’d presented himself to her with such childlike glee, which surprised him, as he would hardly ever call himself soft. She’d found something, within him, unlocking a gentle heart from within a simple giant.
He shook his head, realising that the moment was now gone. He would do what he was trained to do. Protect. This was his life before, this would have been his life after and right now, it was the best he could do for her. He knew that they’d send a squad, lightly armed, so there was a chance of surviving. He also pushed those thoughts away from his thinking. ‘Fight to die’, was the way he was taught. He had everything to live for but, in order to save what he loved, he knew that he had to give everything he could, even his life, to protect them. No remorse, no emotion, just cold hard brute tactical violence.
He entered the long code, then opened the large locker in front of him. Within sat a case, with the designation X12e scribed across the top. He actually thought that he’d never see it again. He punched the locker, again cursing the events that were about to unfold. The world was not fair, the world didn’t care about his feelings or emotion, as they were all equally, disgustingly, equal when it came to the mercy of fate.
Removing his clothes, he stepped into the fibre woven nano-pod suit. He’d fight, he’d take the punches and the knocks, but the ballistics would be ricocheted away by the multi-vector triangulated force shields. This suit, upon detecting incoming high velocity weapon fire, would create a vectored square upon multiple locations around his body. He was, in effect, impervious to most weapon fire.
He’d always loved how the suit looked. Completely black, with protrusions every five inches, to create the orange vectors. He didn’t enjoy violence but knew what had to be done. With the suit fitted, he walked from the small room, back to the main chamber. Silence greeted him. The glow, from the surrounding lamps, as well as various skylights, highlighted the tree’s beauty. He admired the very aura of the tree, making it seem almost translucence in nature. He felt his neck itch, a little, reminding him of the day when he had his own air-pod removed. It had always felt wrong, despite being with him since birth while, this place, had only ever felt completely perfect. Fresh, free, beautiful air. He stood by the tree, placing a hand upon the stern bark. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply, slowly, understanding that this might be the last time that he’d have a chance to do such a thing. This was a dream, within a life filled with taxed slavery and idiotically tempestuous marketing entities.
He smiled, remembering the days when he believed the taxation to be a sensible option, that the very air they breathed, albeit manufactured due to the world’s greed and consumption, should be taxed and regulated like every other facet of their very lives. Nothing, absolutely nothing, upon this world, was free. Not even the air. As he’d just found, even love had a price to pay.
Thankfully, eventually, on one stupid long-lost day, he’d seen his idiotically blinded nature revealed to him through the eyes and smile of another. The world was what it was. His ideals were what they were. But then, just then from within the blink of an eye, everything changed.
He engaged the suit’s HUD, enacting the start-up sequence, as his very aura energy became the suit’s power source. He had thirty minutes before his energy could no longer sustain the suit’s requirements and to him, that was more than enough time for all of the others to escape. Now or never. Today was the day. He glanced towards the small opening, wishing that he could follow them, be with her, but instead, all he could do, was recall hearing the words under her breath as he walked away, saying, ‘I love you’.
Seb stood perfectly still, legs slightly apart, arms crossed, waiting for the inevitable. Things might work out for the best, the resulting calm being afforded to common sense, but he knew that the likelihood of that happening would be slim to none. He listened, the only noise being the echo of silence. He loved this place, adored every single inch, wishing that time had provided him a different outcome. Even, a new ending to the chosen path of guided life.
Over his existence, he’d accomplished more than he’d ever dreamed of, despite the violence being something that he’d often been proud of and even enjoyed. The next second, not so much. He’d hurt people, ended them, taken the very life of another with his bare hands. He knew, more than most, that if it came down to him or them, it would always be the other person. If someone tried to take your life away, then take their life instead. The simple math of life, that equation that seldom appeared within a normal moment.
He felt sorrow rise within him, the remorse, only to remove the feelings, to return to the last few months. This place was a spectre of beauty. Haunting, the splendour pouring through the very roots of something as simple as a tree. He’d never have thought, not even for a second, that he’d find the person he’d found in such a place as this. The world worked in many, many mysterious ways, but at the same time, the cold and indiscriminate ways of nature chilled him to his very bones. Life blossomed from whatever corner it could find yet, extinguish the very same life within moments. He was the same. He’d found someone that he wished to create life with, a life, but in the very next breath, he gave all of it away to simply, easily, stand in the near dark.
He knew that his life would always be given for another, the others, as his training demanded nothing less. That sacrifice, the blood, all of the pain for a moment’s glory and triumph. He’d laugh, cry, scream or even smash his fist against a wall if, for a second, he could actually feel something. Anything. He’d felt his very blood rush, when faced with the warmth of Brie’s beautiful words, actions, deeds and smile. If he could un-do whatever made him the way he was, he would. He’d often question his motives, despite being self-sacrificing and honourable, as the human race was statistically the most selfish disease to spread across the planet and universe.
He cleared his mind, holding onto the image of her face, wishing, wanting, desperately needing to simply turn and run to her. It was too late. It was done. Committed. Sacrificed. The path ahead clear, as clear as the air surrounding him. They wanted the tree, which meant that they’d have to go through him. Either way, he knew the outcome and his last few moments would ensure that Brie would make it away from this place.
Daniel stepped from the Combi, tasting the acidic air, bitter, the tang bringing a grimacing look to his face. He hated coming out here, no matter the reason. The others did what they usually did, the clockwork procession enacting with near grace filled movements. He looked at the building in front of him, which was once a place of gathering. He remembered such places from when he was a small child. He searched for the description, recalling his mother’s long-lost voice, as the words ‘shopping mall’ appeared within his thoughts. Places such as these vanished during the big quakes. A time of great struggle for Humanity, where the very planet itself wished to throw them all from the very surface.
Daniel crouched, opening a black case. Within sat a small drone, its controller, as well as a heads-up display. He removed the contents, closing the case, as he placed the drone onto the ground. Henderson slipped on the HUD, taking the controller as the drone flew into the air. A few seconds escaped, as Rich complained about how the air tasted funny. None of them appreciated being here, but they had their given task and until completed, none of them would be returning.
Henderson, pressing the various buttons, quickly and easily ascertained the required information. He pressed the homing button, removed the HUD and nodded to Daniel, “One non-mover inside, next to the target!”
They had a go. Daniel knew that whoever was inside, would be covering the escape of the others which, to him, wasn’t even remotely what they had to focus upon. It was the tree. Just the tree. Daniel nodded to Henderson, who quickly gestured to the others to move forward. They quickly covered the ground between the Mall and the Combi, as they stopped at the Mall’s entrance. Cassie rolled a small round pod towards the doors, checking the area for any possible traps. Ten seconds expired, as Cassie nodded that the area seemed to be clear.
Slowly, like a well-oiled machine, they worked their way into the complex. By the numbers, with ease, as well as all corners covered. They could advance a little faster than suggested, due to there only being one person inside.
Seb heard them, the inevitable coming for him, taunting him. His adrenaline started to rise. His nerve endings firing, ready, expecting nothing less than violence. It always went the same way, no matter the words, actions or descriptive punches. He wished that the world worked in different ways, a more eloquent understanding, but that wasn’t the case Heck, if everyone would engage their heart, at least, things would, could and should actually change. He shook his head slightly, not believing his very thoughts. He could see them and, they could now see him.
Seb pushed aside his emotions, engaging the logic within. He preferred this avenue, with violent anger being the secondary option. He had to try. “We don’t have to do this! You could just leave and say that you burned everything to the ground. Please, I do not wish to do this!”
Daniel heard the words, immediately appreciating the token gesture for what it was. He also heard the person’s authenticity but, regardless of the expression, he couldn’t change the outcome. Stepping into a small amount of sky light, he addressed the person in front of him.
“By the power presented within Article 247b, within the charter of the ‘New USoA’, please desist your action and stand aside!”
Seb, reaching behind him, lowered his head, sighing, expecting nothing less. He muttered a few words under his breath, understanding, realising, that his ideals would, one day, get him killed. “I tried,” he said, the disappointment obvious from the tone of his voice, “but you people never, ever listen.” His hand, now placed within the Orb holder, flexed a little. It wasn’t a brutal weapon, meant more for crowd control, but his vow to protect this place meant that he couldn’t viciously hurt another. He could have chosen many options, with this was the most suitable to get his point across.
Seb, from the corner of his eye, noticed one of them moving, trying to flank him. He quickly, fluidly, raised his right arm and, as his fingers let go of the orb, pushed forward. The orb, the ball, flew forward with incredible speed, smashing straight into the side of Rich’s protective head armour. Daniel’s eyes followed Rich, as he flew across the mall, his head banging into a metal shutter, as the ball returned to Seb. The game set, the match about to begin, he knew that all hell was about to let loose upon his world.
Daniel watched as Rich flew across the mall. He’d not seen a weapon, like the one in front of him, for a very, very long time. It would, in most cases, be considered ancient. It was used within baseball games, albeit a softer orb, but hardly a lethal weapon. He closed his mouth after his initial confusion hit, quickly acclimatising to the odd circumstance in front of him. The tree, just behind the combative, was all he was here for. He glanced across to Henderson who, at that moment, was looking at Daniel with his face armour open, silently stating ‘wtf’ with his lips. Daniel engaged his pod com and, within seconds, expressed his desire to see the person ahead ground into the very mall’s surface. Cassie and Debs, reversed their direction and headed off behind Daniel, Henderson, Dave and Roberts.
Daniel nodded at Roberts who, immediately, ran towards the combative. Non-lethal force, as each civilian based operation dictated, at first, being his current option. He reached the individual, Seb, firing his hand stunner. The bolts, just as they seemingly hit Seb, were met with two orange, glowing, flat energy shields. As the bolts fell to the floor, Roberts bridged the gap and threw a punch. Seb pushed aside Roberts’ arm and, within a second, raised his foot to place it against Roberts’ upper leg, raising Seb into the air slightly. Roberts didn’t even have time to comprehend what happened as Seb placed his left hand onto his head and, with the weight of Seb’s suit, pushed Roberts’ head into the ground as his legs flew into the air.
Roberts’ facial armour took the brunt of the damage, which didn’t stop him from being knocked out cold. Seb ran sideways, firing the ball straight towards Dave’s mid-section. Dave moved but, as the ball struck his side, it still sent him spinning. He flew backwards, a few ribs breaking and a leg shattering, as he smashed into a cement wall.
Daniel couldn’t believe what was happening, his unit being taken down with ease. “Live fire engaged!” he barked, as he felt a small amount of anger reach into his soul. Henderson, crouched on one knee, flipped the safety, targeted, then fired. The bullets hit the target, as his satisfaction rose from within his armoured enclosed headpiece. The feeling within Henderson fell flat, as the flashes of orange, deflected each of his rounds into the surrounding structure. The combative had a shield.
Henderson looked across, again, to Daniel, shrugging his shoulders. “He’s using an x12p suite. Fuckers bullet proof!” retorted Daniel. The both of them, silent, thought of their options until, after a few seconds, Daniel recalled such a suit being used many years previous, “Henderson, get to the Combi. Bring back magazine 443. Lock and key!” Nodding, Henderson hightailed away from Daniel, not quite knowing what the heck ‘lock and key’ meant. Either way, he’d get the job done.
Seb exhaled, breathing in slowly, trying to lower his heart rate. It had been a while since he’d had this much cardio and it showed. He watched as Henderson approached him, slowly, weapon stowed behind his back. He knew that whoever they were, they were out of options. Although the x12p was one of the long-forgotten weapons of the near past, it still held itself together when based with conventional weaponry. He stood his ground, as he stood in front of the tree.
Seb felt his compassion, his emotion, rise within him. “Your men will live. I did try to warn you! Please, let this go. It’s one tree!”
Daniel sized the man standing in front of him. Medium bulk, athletic, probably ex-military, “You know that we cannot do that,” he replied, “you know that orders are orders!”
“Oh, I know they are, but it’s not that we’re hurting anyone here!”
“If it’s only one tree, then why don’t you be the one to walk away?”
Daniel had heard all of this before, a few times, when the big change arrived. The marketing companies, the big businesses that remained, made the very air into a commodity overnight. He appreciated the argument, even understood and agreed, but there were people that made decisions and then, there were the many that simply did as they were told. He needed to buy time, a few more minutes at least.
“and?” replied Daniel, the reply obviously showing a disregard for Seb’s words.
“And?” Seb grimaced with disgust, “Since the very day you were born your parents have paid to feed you, cloth you and move you through life. You then pay taxes for the rest of your adult years. Then, THEN, the very air is taxed! Air is free.”
Daneil felt the anger and rage finally rise within him. He simply wanted the pain to end, the fighting, the wounds, the memories of failure and violence to fade. He took one step forward, with anger in his voice.
Daniel nodded, appreciating the point of view, still stalling for time, “and what would you suggest we do?”
Outside, Henderson reached the Combi, practically jumping through the widening door, not allowing a single second to escape his given task. He rushed to the front of the vehicle, reaching the ammo section. “Lock and key?” he said, over and over again. Cursing, a few select words in between. His eyes scanned up, then down, each column of drawers. Finally, to the right, he caught sight of a drawer with a Lock and key on the front. “Sweet Baby Jesus!” he exclaimed, as he opened the drawer to locate mag443. He pushed aside a few items and then, right there, sat 443. He smiled, kissed the air, turned and ran from the Combi.
Seb continued his tirade, “Water, food, clothes, shelter, warmth and then air. What next? Each of us fined and scolded if we cannot pay for our very emotions? Please, leave the tree and go!”
Henderson noticed the two red flashes to the side of his HUD, the signal that Henderson was ready to take the shot. In another world, another time, he would consider leaving the tree behind. If he was a better person, a person that cared for such things outside of the constrained outlined world he lived within. If he wasn’t on mission, he would smile at the thought. This tree, this place, was the very last rogue location. All the other trees, contained within mass manufacturing plants. The air, fed to those that could pay the price for such a luxury. This was the world to which they all agreed with. To do nothing, was to agree.
Daniel stepped back a few paces, his face armour rising to cover his mouth, as he engaged the internal com, “Cassie, Debs? You in position?” Two red lights flashed. “Okay, Henderson, fire upon my command. Cassie, Debs, fire the moment I fire!” Daniel raised his hand, pressing the small button to the back of his head armour. His eyes flicked to the side, allowing his head armour to retreat.
“Look, I agree with you. There is no reason for us to tear down this tree, to hurt the people that are free, but that’s not the way the world works. You will be silenced, even if you have no voice. That’s what we’re here to do!”
Seb, out of options, raised his right hand and watched as the orb started to spin, “Then you leave me with little choice…”
“Now!” shouted Daniel, as Cassie and Debs stepped from the shadows, weapons unleashing their content at full auto. Seb’s orange shield flashed to life, two patches appearing upon his back, to his left and right side. Henderson, raising his weapon as his head armour returned to cover his face, also firing at full auto. Another shield appeared, ricocheting the bullets away from Seb. Daniel stepped to the side, lowering to a knee, “Henderson!”
Henderson breathed, relaxed, taking another micro-second to locate the perfect target. Mid body, the chest area, just next to Seb’s heart. He lightly pressed the trigger and, with an almost slow-motion effect, his HUD slowed his view of events. He watched as the slug flew forward, a bullet slightly longer than anything he’d seen. As it moved, the bullet split into five separate slices.
Seb stepped back, just a step, as something hit his chest. He looked down to see the orange glow, protecting him. His eyes focused through the shadows, finding a sliver of light. He could see the four small objects drilling into the shield, with a fifth object at the centre. He opened his mouth, knowing exactly what was about to happen. His suit, able to deflect multiple bullet impacts, could have small, weakened areas depending on the current situation. The bullets, hitting his rear, from both sides, as well as the bullets from his front, would weaken the distributed power.
Henderson re-located his sight, firing another two times, realising what he was firing. The bullet slices hit Seb, another two orange squares appearing. A second expired as he, with his last breath, watched the first bullet’s middle slice move past the orange energy shield. He felt the bullet enter his chest, his sternum cracking, the very breath being removed from both lungs. He heard the small explosion, before he felt the pain. Blood appeared from his mouth, as he fell backwards. He’d breath, if he still had a trachea to do so.
Daniel raised his arm, as the others stopped firing. It was done. Over with. He turned, walking away from Seb, his very presence no longer even being a factor within his life. Seb, to Daniel, was a minor inconvenience in order to get to his chosen goal. The tee. Henderson walked up to Seb, looking into his eyes, nodding ever so slightly with a modicum of respect for what Seb had tried to do.
Seb felt the pain leave his body, life no longer allowing his consciousness to remain. His mind flashed, his thoughts screaming, as he focused upon the overhanging branches. The purity, the beauty of being able to live as he’d lived, for the shortest of times, filling his last thoughts with peace. He’d smile, if he even remembered how to do so. His thoughts started to fade, as her face appeared just in front of his eyes. He heard the words, he felt the emotion, the moment of ‘I love you’ warming whatever was left of his being. The light faded, the moment done, as he left the living and escaped the world.
Daniel looked at the tree, as Henderson, Cassie and Debs joined him. He glanced to the left, accessing a secondary menu, checking upon Rich, Dave and Roberts. All green, despite their injuries and current state. He looked down as the menu vanished, once again filling his view with the tree. He pressed the armour button, flicking his eyes, as his head armour opened. He breathed in, a full, longing, healthy breath. They all stood still, admiring such a creation, the natural nature of such a spectacle that they’d only seen as children, or from a text pod. It was, to each of them, beauty beyond their understanding. A symbol of freedom.
Daniel turned and walked away, turning his back, from the very last known tree. The very singular remaining symbol of freedom.
“Burn it down!”
Originally written 06.04.2020. Mostly proof read. :)