Part One: Homecoming
HE PATIENTLY waited for the moment to make his move. Normally, he went about things in a much quicker manner than this, but the problem was that this woman looked old. Really old. There were a lot of elderly people around here, but she had to be the most ancient he had ever seen! She looked about one hundred years old at least. He just couldn't do it. Could he?
He had been following the old woman around the ‘Sky Blue Shopping Centre’ for about half an hour now, trying to pluck up the courage, and engaging in a battle with his own morality as to whether he should go through with it or not.
He didn't enjoy stealing from old women, but they were easy targets, and during times of financial hardship, you had to do what you could to survive. Well, that’s how he justified it anyway.
Eventually, after a moment of deliberation, he went for it. The old bag had made the mistake of drawing some cash from the ATM machine, and that’s when he decided to strike.
It was all over and done with fairly quickly. He took a deep breath, prayed to God to forgive him, and charged at the elderly woman, just as she had taken the cash from the machine. In one swift yet clumsy movement, he managed to grab her purse and shoulder barge her over. She went flying as well, the poor old dear.
He sprinted as fast as his legs would take him, towards the large, glass double doors that were the entrance, and importantly for him right now, also the exit, to the ‘Sky Blue Shopping Centre,’ where the sun shined bright, and the bargains were unbeatable.
Then, as the overweight security guards pointlessly gave chase, he ran towards the elevators that led away from the cities favourite consumer paradise, and back to the dark, lower regions.
Back to the steel skies...
Jason clasped his hands around the handle of the suitcase and with a heave lifted it up. He tried his best to hide the fact that it was heavy, and that he was struggling with it slightly. It would have been pretty embarrassing to be seen as weak, especially where he had just come from.
“Want a hand with that mate?” He did.
The taxi driver shrugged his shoulders and continued to sit and wait for his passenger, who with some effort chucked his suitcase onto the back-seat, before climbing in himself.
“The airport please.”
The taxi driver set off, leaving Jason to have one last quick look at the life he was leaving behind, through the cab’s back window. God was he glad to get away from there, he thought to himself, a relieved grin on his face as the huge iron gates that had held him captive for what had felt like an eternity, grew smaller and smaller in the distance behind him.
“Do long?” asked the taxi driver, curiously.
“Long enough,” replied Jason, “long enough.”
They sat in silence for a moment, the taxi driver studying him closely. He didn't really know what he had expected when he got the call to pick someone up from outside the prison, but it certainly wasn't the man who had climbed into the back of his car. This man seemed quiet, nervous, almost feeble looking. Brown hair, short like his stature.
Then again he did think he had noticed a horrid smirk spread across the young man’s face when they had met eyes in the rear view mirror, but when he looked again, his passenger was staring blankly out the window. This guy didn't look dangerous, that was for sure, but you never knew nowadays.
The taxi driver couldn't help but wonder what this young man had done to deserve to be locked away in a place like that. He could only imagine how horrible those places must be on the inside, after all, they looked bad enough as it was on the outside. Huge unwelcoming looking place’s with massive electrical gates. He shuddered at the thought of it.
A few moments more of silence.
Jason stared out of the vehicle's window at the droplets of rain that were beginning to sprinkle down upon the car, connecting up with each other as they struck the glass pane, getting larger and larger, and coming quicker and heavier the closer the car got to the edge of the runway and the raging sea below. Jason couldn't remember the last time he saw the rain. He had forgotten how beautiful it could be. Just one more thing to add to the list of things he used to take for granted. But not any more.
“Bet you’re glad to be out of there hey? You going anywhere nice?” enquired the taxi driver, doing his best to break the uncomfortable silence, but then immediately regretting speaking.
Jason turned his gaze from the window to the man behind the wheel.
“Is there anywhere nice left?”
The taxi driver thought he saw that horrid smirk again.
“I guess not,” he replied.
Silence. Only the quiet, controlled hum of the car's engines as it prepared to retract its wheels and begin its sharp incline into the black sky.
“So where are you going then?”
Shut up! He thought to himself, you never know…
Jason met the taxi drivers gaze in the rear view mirror and his eyes glinted.
“I'm going home.”
This time the taxi driver was sure he saw it.
A horrid an evil smirk spread across the young man’s face…
For one heart-wrenching moment, Jason had thought that he was back in that tiny space you couldn't even call a room. Not quite high enough for you to stand up, and not quite wide enough for you to sit down. Crouched in complete blackness for hours, and hours, and hours.
He had almost cried with relief when he had realised it was only a dream, the constant rumbling of the helicopters propellers slicing through the thick air above, reminding him that he was on his way home.
Jason shifted uncomfortably in his seat and looked around at the other passengers on board. Many of them were also sleeping; some were playing electronic games or reading. People of all sorts, travelling across the never ending, constantly rising and growing oceans that now covered most of the earth’s surface, swallowing up cities, countries and continents as it slowly drowned mankind and everything it had worked so hard to create, achieve and eventually destroy.
The various passengers, all on their way for whatever reason to the largest city ever known to man. The Great City.
The biggest urbanised area left on the planet, situated on the largest piece of dry land matter left on the planet.
And they weren't far now.
Jason could feel it.
He could feel his home calling out to him through the torrential rain and black thundering clouds around them.
And then, he couldn't just feel it, he could see it.
The city loomed from behind the thick grey mist of the clouds, appearing suddenly as if from nowhere, the breathtaking and monstrous steel towers previously masked from view, but now dominating Jason’s entire eye span.
The edge of the city looked completely black against the dark blue brilliance of the night sky and the grey dullness of the surrounding rain, with its steamy mist, that rose from the oceans like an upside down waterfall and evaporated somewhere in the heavens above.
The cities immense skyscrapers were a silhouette, just a profile. Jason thought to himself that he could so easily be flying into the city of hell.
It was only when flying into the city and seeing it from that far away, and at that height, that you really appreciated just how big this man-made metal jungle actually was. The sight of it completely took Jason’s breath away.
As the helicopter rumbled and glided its way closer and closer to the city, Jason’s face pressed up against the small round window, and he became entranced at the sight of it.
He now fully understood why they were calling this ‘the age of urbanisation,’ or the ‘the urban era.’
The 'computer age' was long dead. A few decades before, mankind had eventually hit its technological peak. Advances in the development of artificial intelligence had drastically slowed down, and as fuels like oil and petroleum slowly ran out, as did the potential for further progression of the human race. The limit of what was possible had finally been reached.
Scientists now believed that they could cure 99.9 percent of all disease known to man. Space exploration continued, but the search for alternative fossil fuels and habitable planets that could possibly be used to combat the earth’s mass over-population problems were slow and often unrewarding, and the years and years that had been spent looking had currently made no impact on the battle to save the human race. New discoveries were also rare, causing many people’s interest and faith in space exploration to dwindle.
Not a single significant new invention had been produced in years, and many people said that the inevitable technological regression that the world was going to experience over the next few decades had signalled the beginning of the end for the human race. And it would be an optimistic and probably foolish man who would disagree with that statement.
For it wasn't just a deterioration in the development of new technology that threatened to contribute to the extinction of man.
Mother Nature, with a little help from mankind itself, began to play its part as well.
For decades, the warning signs were there…
The helicopter eventually touched down on the landing pad, which was situated high, as part of a huge bridge that connected two adjacent steel towers, each over five hundred storeys tall. Jason stepped off the vehicle and looked around, taking in his surroundings.
He was finally home.
But his homecoming wasn't going to be a pleasant one…
Jason had forgotten how small the apartments in the lower regions were. In fact, when he thought about it, he couldn't remember ever being in a lower region flat before.
But now, this was all he could afford.
Bastards! He thought. Some welcome home this was!
Stepping into the tiny apartment for the first time didn't remind him of how glad he was to get out of that place like it should have done. Instead, it reminded him even more of the awful place he had just come from.
That tiny, tiny cell…Well, at least he could stand up in here. But only just! It was very small.
All that stood between the far left wall and a tiny, mouldy brown sofa was a table that was equally small in comparison. A small television sat in the other far corner. There was one window, tiny and to the left as you walked in.
There was a steely colour to the light of the room, giving it an atmosphere of solid emptiness.
Bright, but unwelcoming.
He chucked the bags that were much heavier than he would care to admit onto the small brown sofa, and after he had made sure that he had firmly closed the door, and that he was definitely on his own, he put his hands over his face and burst into tears.
Foolishly, he had got it into his head that when he left prison his family would welcome him back. Would forgive him for his mistakes and out of pure love and them having missed him so much, all would be forgotten and he would go back to living in his father’s place.
His father’s mansion in the sky.
But no. His good old man hadn't forgotten. He hadn't been missing him, in fact, he apparently wished Jason was dead.
Jason believed him.
He had been disowned. Disgraced.
Just because of that one mistake he made…
And this was his life now.
In the lower regions.
The same city.
But not the city he knew.
This was totally different. This was scary and violent.
Jason didn't want to live here.
He wept a little bit more.
This was all he could afford with the bit of money he had saved from before it all happened. Before his bastard father had forced him to go away.
All of his inheritance gone!
He cried some more…
When Jason finally stopped his weeping, something he felt hugely ashamed of afterwards, he spent the next couple of hours staring out the tiny window at the city on the other side.
It was incredible.
By the year 2050, three-quarters of the earth’s population were living in cities. And that number steadily grew until eventually, around ninety-five percent of mankind lived in built up, urbanised areas. And the more the seas rose, the less land there was to build on, and the less space there was to house everyone in these urbanised areas. And so the buildings, like the oceans, steadily rose and got bigger, and bigger, and bigger.
But no matter how tall they made the buildings, the rising overpopulation problem just didn't go away. Soon enough, entire families were living in the tiniest apartments, in the worst, poorest conditions imaginable. The further down the depths of the skyscrapers you went, the flats got dirtier, and they shrank smaller, and smaller, and smaller.
People from all different countries, cultures and ethnic backgrounds, slowly found themselves all living, not only in the same country but, the same building. The governments tried their best to separate them all in an attempt to combat racism. But it hardly helped. The people who had been lucky enough to live somewhere that wasn’t washed away by the relentless waves, now found that their precious country was filled to the brim with foreigners and immigrants. And that made a lot of people very angry. Tensions grew…
These things had never really affected Jason before today. He hadn't cared. Why should he have done? His father was the owner of a shopping centre and a rich and successful businessman. He lived in a world where money didn't matter and the sun shined bright.
But things were different now. The sun didn't shine any more. Not down here.
This was as bad as being back in that godforsaken cell!
Things were going to be tough from now on for Jason. The horrible life he'd thought he had left behind now looked like it was only just beginning.
However would he manage?
No matter how hard he tried to stop himself, he couldn't, and against his will, he started crying again.
But this was the last time…
He felt sick as he walked through the huge automatic doors into the ‘Sky Blue Shopping Centre.’’
His father owned this place, and yet he was here, needing to buy something. He was here to pay for something. He should be able to have anything he liked from any one of these shops! He thought to himself, the rage building up inside of him.
But he never ended up buying anything from there that day. Instead, an incident occurred that made him change his mind.
That changed him forever.
The whole thing was basically over before it had started. A young, nervous looking lad, probably no older than sixteen or seventeen, robbed an old lady whilst she was drawing money from the cash machine.
The poor old dear was innocently shopping in the cities ‘best’ place for bargains, when he ran over, shoulder barged her, grabbed her purse and legged it up the escalator.
A couple of security guards hopelessly gave chase of course, but he was gone.
No-one else tried to stop him. No-one even bothered to help the poor old woman up, as she lay sprawled on the floor screaming something about her being one hundred and two years of age and how this was a bloody disgrace.
Jason didn't bother to help her. But he did see the whole thing. And he burst out laughing.
Oh, how he laughed. It was uncontrollable. Soon everyone around him was staring at him, including the old woman, who should have been dead years ago anyway, and still lay on the floor, now screaming at him for his insolence and downright disrespect!
But Jason didn't care. After he stopped laughing a thought came to him. Why should I have to pay for anything in this place?
I should just be able to take want I want!
Like that kid did.
This place is my damn inheritance!
And he went home, back to his tiny apartment with its mouldy brown sofa, to the tiny cupboard where he kept his belongings. And he got out his gun.
And if someone had been in the room with him, they would have seen what looked like a horrid and evil smirk spread across his face.
He returned the next day.
Jason picked his store very carefully. He had decided on the electrical goods store on the ground floor of the ‘Sky Blue Shopping Centre,’ his father’s pride and joy. He chose the electrical goods store because for a start it was close to the exit, and secondly because he knew for a fact that it was one of the most expensive and popular stores in the complex.
He hid his gun in a shoebox, and carried it into the store in a plastic carrier bag.
The electrical store was large. Aisles packed with all sorts of goods from televisions to toasters ran down the middle of the store, as well as filling the large window displays. It was brightly lit, the light taking on a bluish tinge. Jason spent no time browsing for bargains and walked straight to the counter in the far right corner. There was no-one else there apart from the cashier, which made things slightly easier.
“Can I help you sir?” asked the girl. Dark hair, plain looks.
“Yes, umm, I…umm”
Get a hold of yourself! He scolded himself; you've been in much scarier situations than this before! Without further thought, he grabbed the black handgun from the shoebox. The shoebox tumbled to the floor by his feet and the gun soared its way up to his eye line, its barrel pointed straight at the head of the now petrified young girl behind the counter.
“Give me all the money in the till now!”
He screamed at her, his adrenaline pumping, his eyes blaring. She said nothing at first, and merely stood there shaking and crying, panic rising within her.
“Are you deaf? He screamed even louder this time, becoming more enraged yet excited with each passing second, “I said open the god-damn till! Quick!”
She snapped out of her initial state of shock and with shaky, fumbling fingers punched a couple of buttons on the touch screen and the till tray opened with a high-pitched ‘bing!’
“Give it to me now!” he chucked a bag at her which she duly started emptying his loot into.
That’s when Jason heard the cry of,
“Put the gun down!”
“Shit! He thought to himself, the Enforcement!
He had no choice. Without a second thought, he spun round to face the two Enforcement officers who stood about five metres anyway from him, using a tall stack of shelves as cover.
Two, three, four bullets fired. All from Jason’s gun. The officers didn't even get a shot off. There was one through the head for the man who had shouted to him, his helmet proving no use as the bullet smashed through his visor in a cloud of red. And it was the shelves that proved no use for the other security officer, one of the slugs, fired from Jason’s powerful, military standard firearm, ripped through them and straight into his neck. He went down like a gargling brick, twitching and making a sound like he was drowning in his throats own blood as he did so.
This made the poor young girl behind the counter scream even more as she poured the last of the money, just a few hundred credits, into the bag and slid it back to Jason. He hurriedly grabbed it and was gone, sprinting towards the exit to the store. He ran back into the outer complex of the Sky Blue Shopping Centre and looked toward the big, glass double doors that led to the elevators. He had to get out before backup arrived!
But backup arrived way before he got out of the shopping centre. Three more armed officers ran through the entrance, the very entrance he was so desperate to exit. One of the officers actually managed to get a shot off this time. But he missed. The bullet flew past Jason’s shoulder and into a huge fountain behind him, situated in the middle of the ground floor. He was dead a second or two later. Jason had shot him and his two colleagues the instant they had entered ‘the best place in the city for bargains.’
As the fallen officers collapsed around him, Jason was out the door, even hopping over one of the unfortunate corpses who lay in the doorway. He sprinted down the bare corridor which led to a series of elevators, which in turn led to various other levels of the city. And his escape.
He clutched his prize in one hand and his gun in the other. The gun in which he was now conscious of its remaining ammunition. There could only be five shots left, he thought to himself as he pressed the elevator button and impatiently waited and prayed for the door to open.
When it did open, he was prepared for what was going to happen. Now only three bullets left as two more officers were shot in the face the second the big metal doors parted open. They never knew what happened.
He jumped into the elevator and slammed the FLOOR 450 button.
Shit, Level 450, he thought to himself. Quite a long way to go down to the docking bay where his car was parked. He was on level 500 at the moment, The Sky Blue shopping centre being situated at the very top of the city, with the sun shining through its colossal glass ceiling. Well, screw the sun, Jason thought to himself, he had seen plenty of sun in his lifetime. He scorned people who lived in the poorest areas who had never seen the sun.
As the elevator eventually slowed down, as it reached the 450th floor of one of the city’s largest and most prestigious skyscrapers, Jason prayed that three bullets would be enough to get him to the car he had stolen earlier that day.
When the doors slid open he already had his gun cocked and primed in front of him. Sure enough there were two more officers stood there waiting. Bang, bang! Two shots and they were down. Jason wasted no time and sprinted out onto the docking bay. A couple more officers came charging at him, one firing and missing, the other one never having a chance to fire as a bullet came splintering through the top of his helmet and into his skull.
Click, click! Shit! No more ammo! Jason ran and dodged his way into the path of the charging officer, shoulder barging him and knocking him onto his back. Jason was not a big man, in fact, he was quite a small man. But he was quick, and he managed to grab the officer’s weapon as he went down. He clubbed him round the side of the face as he lay sprawled on the floor, and then finished him off with a bullet through the eye from point blank range. Executed in the most merciless and demeaning manner possible.
Jason wiped the blood from his eyes. He didn't want this, he hadn't come here with the intention of killing. But he had done it before, and he didn't mind doing it again. And he would be lying to himself if he said he didn't enjoy it.
He left his latest victim without another thought of him, ran to his car as quickly as his legs would carry him, and jumped in.
He had a quick look around. It was clear. Back up would be here very shortly, but he had time to race down the depths of the city to freedom.
Chucking the bag of money onto the passenger seat beside him, he started the car and zoomed away from the landing pad, slamming his foot on the accelerator, forcing the machine to fly as quickly as it could, submerging himself into the black chasm that was the lower depths of the city. Becoming smaller and smaller yet no less insignificant.
Jason sat on his mouldy brown sofa, shaking with excitement. That was like nothing he had ever experienced before. He had shot people before, and he had seen people shot before, but that was different. Before it had been terrifying, it had been pure horror. This was exhilarating.
And he had gotten away with it as well.
His loot hadn't been large. Around five hundred credits. But even though Jason had gone there needing money, he'd discovered that the money was a just a bonus.
This day would change the city forever.
If anyone else had been in the room at that very moment, they would have seen what looked like a horrid and evil smirk spread across Jason Kane’s face…
How many times was that now then? Three? Four?
In the space of a couple of months!
It was shocking. And it was getting worse and worse.
April Flowers 2 hurried into the elevator as quickly as her old legs would carry her.
She wanted to be away from this wretched place as soon as possible.
She remembered when this used to be a safe place to do the shopping on a Saturday afternoon! Well not any more. This was the fifth time in as many months! At least it bloody felt like it. And it was a terrifying experience!
She wondered if she would have a heart attack next time.
Well, she wouldn’t stand for it anymore. Next week she wouldn’t be going to the ‘Sky Blue Shopping Centre’ to do her weekly shop, she would be going to the place on the other side of town. It was much further of course, but worth it if you didn’t get yourself robbed! That was the last time someone robbed April Flowers 2!
Even at one hundred and two years old, she was no pushover, not April Flowers number two.
That reminded her.
Of that cow!
Whoever April Flowers number one was.
Of all the names!
Such a pretty and original name she had been blessed with, and she had thought that she was the only one!
But no, apparently there was another ‘April Flowers’ who had been born first.
This whole number thing was bloody ridiculous anyway! She thought to herself. And now apparently they were planting chips of some kind into people at birth, to monitor population!
What had the world come to?
It really was shocking.
The old woman carried on mumbling, as the elevator continued its slow and welcoming descent…