Zugzwang

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Chapter 7

Ari floated through the doors of the building. The pain in her shoulder radiated down her arm with each passing breath. It corrupted her chest and curled her toes as the minutes drew on. She was barely aware of the shouting of the crowd; it seemed like nothing but intense murmurs to her ears. It seemed to take the generators an eternity to finally set her down in a room that was crowded with the moans of the dying and the stillness of the dead.

Ari hardly paid them any attention, she focused on her breathing. She felt her skin grow cold and become slick with sweat. She grabbed one of the generators as it started to move away, “where the hell are you going,” she croaked, “Fix. Me.”

The generator slipped from her grasp without a backwards glance, disappearing through the dark entrance. Ari growled as she let her arm fall back to her side.

She closed her eyes. Her breaths sounded labored even to herself. It took everything she had to lift her arm and press it to her bleeding shoulder. The pain of the pressure brightened her vision and sent dark stars flashing before her eyes. She took a deep breath and looked around for the first time. The generators had put her in a room that looked more like a storage room. There were no windows and only a dim light coming through the hallway directly opposite her. Bodies littered the floor around her, some of them moved, some of them were breathing, but a greater number of them were still. All of them wore burnt uniforms. Ari jumped as a scream echoed from down the hall.

A drone floated past the door. Ari watched it go, holding her breath suddenly not wanting to be seen. Something wasn’t right.

She pushed herself to her feet, knees almost buckling as her vision blurred again. She leaned against the wall, closed her eyes, and listened. There were the sounds of distant moaning, the distant shouting, but there were no sounds of drones. No sounds of generators scanning patients or healing. Ari opened her eyes and pushed off from the wall allowing her hand to fall from her shoulder.

She quickly picked her way through the bodies. Once she made it to the door she grabbed the frame and edged around it, she became very aware that she didn’t have a lazer in her pocket. Only darkness shone through the hall. Ari sighed and stepped back into the room and turned to the bodies.

She did a quick scan but none of them looked like peacekeepers. None of them would have lazers on them. That would have been too easy. She stepped to one of the bodies and knelt beside it. It was a woman, her blank eyes were staring at the ceiling, her brown hair matted with blood, and her arm was twisted in an unnatural angle. Ari kept her gaze away from the woman’s eyes.

Holding her breath, Ari tore the front of the uniform. Pain shot down her arm in a blinding flash and she felt the thickness of her blood as it seeped from her shoulder but she tried to force the pain to the back of her mind. She turned away from the dead woman and her dead eyes and bluing skin and began to rip the piece of uniform into strips. With shaking fingers she slipped the make-shift bandage that Dmitri had tied off, it fell to the floor with a wet slap.

Ari took another deep breath and began stuffing the strips of uniform into her wound. Her hands began to shake and her breaths came in pants as she worked but finally she was tying it all in place. She sat and breathed for many moments trying to force away the pain, the dizziness, and the dark stars that had started to dance. She stood and walked to the door.

Peering around the frame, no one was there. Ari looked each way but could only guess where to go. Left. She stepped into the hallway, slowly. She kept her back to the wall and took each step with care as she made her way down the hall but she met no drone. The distant moans became clearer the nearer she came to the corner.

She took a deep breath and edged herself closer to corner of the hallway, forcing herself to look at what was beyond. Before her stretched another long hallway, this one had one window looking out that gave the hall some light. Ari glanced behind her to reassure herself that no one was following and silently dashed for the window. Staying hidden in the shadows, she looked out. A massive crowd had formed before the doors of the emergency building, she could see the anger in the Citizens eyes and see their mouths opening to shout but she couldn’t hear them.

She vaguely remembered pushing through a crowd with Lexie. She could barely remember the murmured curses but it hadn’t been that large when she had gone through it. How long had she stayed in that room? She thought she had only been there moments. Ari swept a shaking hand across her brow; it came away dripping with sweat. Her shoulder continued to ache but it didn’t have the stabbing pain of a few moments ago. That almost worried her more.

Something moved out of the corner of her eye. Her head snapped up, she jumped away from the window, “Shit,” she breathed into the empty hallway as a large stone shattered the glass before her.

A wave of chaos stampeded through the hallway. The screams and curses from the crowd beat at her ears driving all the silence from the building. Ari stared at the broken window, her mouth hung open as she listened to the demands of the crowd. “Save us,” pleaded a voice of a young woman, “please, my children!”

“Where are the Lords,” screamed an older mans voice, “They swore to protect us!”

“Kill the students,” came a demand.

“Down with the Lords,” shouted more then one.

Ari heard more glass shattering. She heard the sound of flesh hitting metal but she couldn’t bring herself to look to see who was hitting. Eventually there was a cheer followed closely by a loud whistle. Ari held her breath. “Citizens,” a mans voice shouted, “Citizens, hear me!”

Slowly the noise of the crowd died. Ari slowly rose to her feet, curiosity over ruling reason. Below the crowd had stopped its angry shouting, some of the Citizens in the front held pieces of drone in their hands, but everyone stared at a young man who stood on the steps of the emergency building with his hands up held.

The young man had blonde hair that stood on end, his clothes was soot stained like most of the clothes the Citizens wore. His sparkling green eyes regarded the crowd with a strange sort of calm that made Ari uneasy. A slow, knowing smile spread across his face. “The Lords have held us under their thumbs all of our lives,” the man shouted to the crowd, his voice echoed off the buildings of the street, the sound of it sent Ari shivering, “They have promised to protect us, they promised that no harm would come to us! But look at us! Our city is burning around us! Their drones leave our sick for dead! They steal our children and turn them into killers! We are nothing in their eyes!”

The crowd stirred. Ari could see the angry gleams in their eyes. She could see the white knuckles of determination. She knew that it was only a matter of time. She took a deep breath and raced down the hallway. The man’s words followed her as she raced about the building.

“It is time we took what is rightfully ours,” the man shouted, the crowd started to cheer.

“Out,” Ari screamed as she flew down the stairs she could remember being brought up, “Out! They are coming in! Hurry!”

No one answered her cries, the halls were empty.

“I think we should take this city for our own! First this city and then the Lords will know that humans are not puppets for their games.”

Ari dashed around corners calling out. She burst into rooms and cried for them to rise but not one of them could lift themselves. Not one of them could defend themselves. She left them to their moans and raced on.

“It is time to slay the monsters of our nightmares! It is time to protect our children from the Lords of old!”

Ari wheeled around another corner and a beam shot mere inches from her head. She back pedaled and leaned against the corner, catching her breath. “You fuckin’ idiot! Do you not hear that loon! We need to get out! I’m here to help you!”

No one replied.

“If we start here,” the man’s voice continued to echo off the tiled halls, “No one can stop us! It will carry from this city to the next and soon the world will be rid of the Lords filth! It takes a spark to make a fire, Citizens! And that spark is struck now!”

Ari peaked around the corner and jumped away as the beam blasted where her head had been. Ari sighed. It was a bloody drone. “Shit,” she panted, wishing with all her strength that she had a lazer.

She ran back through the halls, past the moaning Citizens that were soon going to die, past the windows that had shattered emitting noise of the cheering crowd, past hall after hall that never gave way to a door.

“This is our city now! But we must burn away the disease! We must find the loyal Citizens and the true humans! We must rid the city of the brain washed and raise up our own nation! And I plan to start with this building!”

A massive cheer erupted from outside the building. Ari skidded to a halt, falling head over heels over herself as she tried to listen. She only heard the sound of the cheering crowd for many moments. Some windows shattered. More cheering sounded. Then she smelt it. Smoke.

“Fuck,” she breathed, jumping to her feet and sprinting away. She past through the halls looking for anything: a window that led away from the crowd, a door that led down, a lazer, a lead pipe. Anything. But the only things she found plenty of were the dead. She ground her teeth in frustration as she rounded another corner and was met with a wall of flames.

Ari cried out and dashed into a room, shutting the door to the heat. She knew it wouldn’t help but it made her feel better. Ari took a deep breath and smelled cold air. She whipped around and found a window on the opposite wall was stood cracked open, drapes swaying slightly in the wind.

Ari raced over to it and shoved it open with her good shoulder. It faced a small alley away from the crowd’s eye. The crowd could still be heard from around the corner cheering as it moved down the block. Ari had no doubt they would be looking for more places to burn.

Ari brought her attention back to the alley floor; it was a long way down. She didn’t really have a choice. She sat on the ledge and swung her legs around. She took a deep breath and let herself fall. For a moment it was like flying, the cold air rushed at her face and she felt lighter then air. She forced her legs to relax as the ground neared. She rolled as she landed and stopped herself with her good hand, jumping to her feet to watch the opening of the alley. She waited but no one was shouting, no one was giving an outcry that something had escaped the fire. She knelt in the shadows for a few more moments before turning to look as the other end of the alley.

Someone was standing in the shadows. Ari tensed. “They said you would be coming this way,” his voice purred out of the shadows.

Ari shivered. The voice made her uneasy whether it was echoed in the emergency building or in a dark alley. The man stepped out of the shadows, his green eyes sparkling with madness she hadn’t previously seen. He ran a long hand through his blonde hair, making it stick up in strange angles and smiled crookedly. “Hello Ari,” the man purred.

Ari swallowed, slowly moving her feet apart so it would be easier to run. The man shook his head, “I wouldn’t do that,” two men were suddenly by his side, one held a lazer pointed at her head, “I thought students were smarter then that.”

Ari’s gaze shifted from the two bodyguards to the smiling man in the center. She slowly raised her hands in surrender, biting back a wince as pain shot through her bad shoulder. The man’s smiled brightened, “There’s a bright girl,” he turned to her guards and nodded.

One of the dark men came forward while the other continued to point a lazer at her. She was forced to her knees while her hands where bound behind her back with a rope that Ari assumed the dark man had in her pocket. She never took her eyes of the smiling man before her. “Do you know who I am, Arianna?”

Ari ground her teeth at the name, “No,” she snapped through barred teeth.

The man laughed, “My name is Vex,” he came forward a few steps, the man with the lazer not far behind him, “I’m the leader of the mob now. I could give you to the mob and have them tear you limb from limb…but I won’t.”

Ari could feel her ears turn red with rage and frustration, “why,” she spat.

Vex’s eyes sparkled in the dim light of the alley, the fire from the building next to them shining brightly in his stare, “I have something better planned,” he purred as he brushed a stay strand of hair from her eyes.

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