Please note: The following is a transcript, taken from Haven City's official files, of recent announcements made by Baron Praxis via the radio broadcasting terminals situated throughout the city.
"I'd like to make an announcement regarding the group of protesters that's sprung up recently, calling themselves 'Rebels'... Apparently these people are unsatisfied with the job I'm doing, protecting and running this city. After all my hard work, my personal sacrifice and dedication just isn't enough for these Rebels. Well. Let me tell you something, you Rebel rats, wherever you may be. THIS IS MY CITY. You should be ashamed of yourself! Your foolish protests cause unrest and dissent among perfectly content citizens. Your antics are breeding disobedience and disloyalty among my loyal people! Your so-called peaceful demonstration led to a riot last month. This is a trying time for all the citizens of Haven City, and we must be united as a civilization in order to overcome it. Do you really think that standing in the streets and waving signs is going to help improve the situation? All you're doing is caused confusion and anxiety! I've put up with your foolishness for long enough. For your own sake, you'd better end these protests..."
The day was grey and cold in Haven city. Dark storm clouds were swirling and gathering overhead, a chilling wind blowing through the ruined streets.
Everything had changed since Baron Praxis had taken power. The Metal Head war had escalated, and the city was reportedly losing Eco power. While King Damas still ruled the throne, they'd fought their battle with the terrible creatures outside the city. Now the Metal Heads were finding ways to attack the city from within, creeping through holes in the city's shield walls. Entire sections of the shield had lost power and went offline at times, allowing Metal heads to swarm in, wrecking buildings and killing innocents in their wake. Whole areas of the city had been destroyed, leaving many citizens homeless and poor. The Baron insisted forcefully that the reports of the city's falling Eco supplies were simply rumours, that he would destroy the Metal Heads in due time, and that the citizens of Haven City were safe and had absolutely nothing to worry about.
They knew better.
Sector Nineteen of Haven City had been almost completely destroyed in the last attack. Once a peaceful, middle-class area, most of Nineteen now laid in ruins. Bits of broken, twisted metal and chunks of plaster and brick lay smashed across the road. Sector Nineteen also happened to be home to a teenaged boy whose home had, thankfully, been left more or less intact. He was one of the lucky ones.
Today this boy sat alone quietly by the side of the road, using a chunk of torn-off metal as a makeshift bench. The strong wind whipped his rust-coloured, dreadlocked hair in his face. His icy blue eyes were quiet and watchful. His face was pale and thin, his arched features even more dramatic now that the war had made food hard to come by; he'd become no stranger to hunger in the past few months. There was still a shadow of adolescent freckles spattered across his nose and cheeks, a cruel reminder that the boy was really still a child, although pain and hardships had aged him beyond his years. He was wearing a thin grey-and-red sweater, a pair of ragged grey jeans, and a long grey coat which he gripped tightly to his thin frame. Last month he'd turned fourteen years old, his birthday (and he himself, it seemed) forgotten in light of the war. His name was Torn.
A blue and grey transporter bus screamed past him, tearing easily over the ripped-up pavement as it broke through the air, it's worn-down engine wailing, leaving a trail of black smog in it's wake. Torn's blue eyes narrowed as he watched the transporter land yards away from him. It's metal doors slid open to allow a single, small figure to exit, her ruby hair blazing like a beacon against her dreary surroundings. As if escaping the scene of a crime, the transporter closed it's doors and rushed away on the wind. Torn jumped up and ran to meet the redheaded girl. The others walking on the sidewalks moved away from him hurriedly, their eyes worried and suspicious at the quiet boy's sudden show of life and enthusiasm.
"Hi, Torn." The red-headed girl's snake-green eyes seemed to sparkle as she looked up at her brother.
"Hey, Star." Torn's voice was oddly rough and gentle at the same time. He took off his coat, even though the wind and cold were already eating into him, and wrapped it around his sister's shoulders. Side-by-side, the two began their long, lonely walk home. Torn knew he and his sister were some of the few fortunate ones; they still had a roof to sleep under and their own warm beds, but after the Metal Head attacks their lives had still changed, albeit in a more subtle way. Torn's parents had once been loving, caring people towards their children (well, Star, at least, Torn thought with a hint of bitterness) but now they were distant and withdrawn. It seemed their parents had given up, just like so many others; given up their faith and their wills and their lives, and lost hope of ever being saved from the Metal Head monsters. Torn and Star mostly fended for themselves now.
For a while the two siblings seemed content with the silence that had stretched between them, like during so many other long journeys home, but then Star spoke. "How was work?" she asked her brother hesitantly, plucking at threads for conversation.
Torn's job for the city was always miserable. He and boys like him had been hired by the Baron to move the wreckage out of the streets. It was hard, back-breaking manual labour, picking up pieces of brick and metal and plaster and hauling them into a transporter. At the end of his shift, every part of his body seemed to ache and his fingers bled. They were paid very little for their efforts. "Work was fine," Torn said simply. "How was school?"
"Fine." She didn't mention that a girl in her class had pulled out a knife that day. Star didn't want her brother to worry about her more than he already did, and they both knew that her junior high school was on the verge of being shut down, just like Torn's high school had been the year before. It was only the law that kept Star going to school at all.
Their short conversation died there, and again the air filled with silence as they traversed the ruins of Sector Nineteen. Torn looked up at the sky, grey storm clouds gathering thicker. He considered making some inane comment about the weather, then decided he liked the quiet better. It was almost comforting, in a way.
Something small and cold crept into his hand; startled, Torn realized Star had just slipped her fingers into his palm. He looked down at her, surprised, but she preferred not to meet his eyes, instead becoming fascinated with the broken pavement beneath their feet. Was she blushing? It didn't matter; he squeezed her hand reassuringly. Funny, she'd never done something as affectionate as hold his hand before. But then, a lot of things had changed. Before, they'd been no more than littermates, siblings forced to share lives which they believed should've belonged solely to them. He remembered how they had squabbled endlessly like Crocadog puppies over the most meaningless things. Now Torn was watching out for his sister, protecting her, filling in for the job his parents had abandoned.
"HALT!" Someone barked a command at them in a shrill, slightly muffled voice. Torn stiffened, his back becoming a rigid exclamation point. He turned around slowly. As he'd suspected, a Krimzon Guard stood watching them. Star didn't say a word, but the way she gripped his hand told him all he needed to know. She was scared.
The Krimzon Guard were the Baron's army. They patrolled Haven's streets in order to keep the city safe from Metal Head attacks. But instead of being revered by the citizens as the guardians the Baron assumed they would be, they were mostly feared. Because, Torn knew, as did most of Haven's citizens, that patrolling the streets was not the only purpose of the Krimzon Guard. Their other job was to enforce laws, particularly the harsh ones the Baron had passed since he came to power.
The Krimzon Guard's job was to keep everyone in line.
Decked out in full red armour and carrying a large, dangerous-looking weapon, (called a shock blaster - for good reason) this particular Guard was a good six feet tall. "Where are you kids going?" He demanded. Torn chanced a glance at his sister; her eyes were wide and frightened like those of a cornered animal. And although he replied in a perfectly calm voice, Torn was scared as hell, too.
"My sister just got out of school. We're going to our house on the East side."
The Guard stared at him for a long moment. Torn met the man's eyes, concealed by two orange disks of metal planted into his mask, and stared back, unblinking. "Alright," the Guard finally said, grudgingly. "Move along."
Their walk home was otherwise uneventful.
When Torn and his sister turned the last corner and their house came into view, he knew something was wrong. The door had been left open, swinging and beckoning them in the breeze. Their parents would have never done something as foolish as to leave there front door unlocked and hanging ajar, especially in an area as full of homeless and criminals as Sector Nineteen had turned out to be. Torn felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. His mind began to race, presenting him with dozens of possibilities for what had happened, a handful of them hopeful - if deluding - most of them dire.
Though neither of them said anything, Torn's sense of dread grew with every step. Feeling as if he was going to be sick, he led his sister through the wreckage and towards their home. Star's thin, icy fingers gripped his hand tighter than ever, cutting into his palm. Still he said nothing.
Their house had been scarred on the outside from the last attack. What was left of their home was more than any of the houses around theirs, but it was still little more than a broken box constructed of brick and plaster. Now as the siblings passed through the open door, Torn saw it was scarred on the inside as well. The entrance hall had seemed deceitfully intact, except that the single photograph hung on the wall had fallen to the floor, it's frame bent, glass scattered around it.
Star finally let go of her brother's hand and wandered into the rest of the house. The air was still, deathly silent.
He walked over to the shattered picture, bent, picked it up, held it gingerly in his hands. He remembered what the picture had originally been of; he and his sister, two years younger, his freckles only beginning to fade, his body still in it's awkward adolescence. Star was a bit shorter, a little less developed than she was now. They'd all been told to smile, and Star flashed her teeth; Torn did so only grudgingly. Their parents had been posed in the background. The top half of the photo, where their parents had been, was torn off, and the edge had been blackened by the ugly scorch marks left from a Krimzon Guard blaster.
"Torn!" Startled, he looked up. His sister stood in front of him, her face pale. "I think you should see this." He dropped the ruined photo and followed his sister. Later he wouldn't remember what he'd done with it, the last piece of his happy memories.
Star led him first into the kitchen, which was as still and empty as the entrance hall, only this room gave him a better clue to what had happened while they were gone. The dining table was overturned, the glass in the kitchen cabinets smashed and strewn across the counters and the floor. The cabinets hung ajar, the plates and dishes they once contained now lying, broken, across the pretty blue flower-patterned linoleum tiles.
"My Gods…" His voice rang in the eerie silence, sounded cracked and broken. As his eyes shifted across the room, he could imagine the struggle that had taken place… here, their parents had tried to hide behind the table. There, the cabinets had been shattered by gunfire. The scene played itself out in his own terrible imagination.
Stop it, he told himself firmly. Catching a glimpse at his sister's face, he knew she was becoming more upset by the moment. He wanted to say something comforting, to tell her it was going to be alright, but he couldn't seem to get the words past his lips. He'd never lied to his sister before.
They wandered into the living room next, the floorboards creaking beneath their dirty boots. Torn swallowed dryly, passing his eyes forlornly over the destroyed furniture. When he noticed the scorch marks on the walls, his face paled and his stomach clenched.
"Who… what… how…" He heard his sister say. Her voice sounded muffled to him, as if she was some distance away, although she was still standing right beside him.
Torn clenched his jaw and forced himself to try to put some sense into the situation. He remembered his parents had been involved in some sort of protest, something the Baron didn't like… Closing his eyes, Torn recalled how his mother and father had been part of a "demonstration" outside the Baron's palace. He'd been very young at the time. They'd gathered in front of the gates, waving signs and flags, yelling and chanting. There were Krimzon Guards there, shouting, ordering them to desist. "THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING," he remembered one of them screeching, and the sound of the Guard's voice had sent terror through him. But they'd refused to leave. Then there was the sound of gunfire, shots fired into the crowd, screams, shrieks of pain, panicked people running in every direction, confusion.
He remembered the whispered conversations his parents had had while they thought their children were asleep. "Don't worry, the Baron can't touch us," his father had assured his worried mother.But Praxis had his citizens on a tight leash. The City Council couldn't stop him - in fact most of them supported the Baron since he'd managed to brainwash them. No one could stop the Baron Praxis. He crushed anyone and everyone in his way.
Torn turned sharply to his sister. "Our parents. The Baron was angry at them. He sent the Krimzon Guard, and now they're-"
He stopped short, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He'd heard something.
"Torn?" Star whispered, her eyes as wide as dinner plates. "What is it?"
"Shut up!" He hissed. He'd heard a voice, and now there it was again, growing steadily louder.
"…and now the Baron wants us to destroy the evidence."
"Does that mean we get to blow it up?"
"Yeah, that's what it means, you idiot. But first, search the house and see if you can find the kids. Praxis doesn't want any Rebel rats running around the city."
They're talking about us, Torn realized. Panic shot through him. He grabbed Star by the wrist.
"Star! Remember the fire escape? Out the back door, through the yard, and into the trees. Go. Now. Run!" That was all it took. Star ran, with Torn close on her heels. Behind them Torn heard one of the Guards' disembodied voices, questioning and mildly curious.
"Hey, did one of you guys hear something…?"
Author's Note: I've had this story in my mind for some time. It's one of those stories - authors, you know what I'm talking about - that no matter what you do, no matter what else you've got going on in your life, it keeps coming back to you and you're itching to put it on paper. Or to the word processor, in my case. Torn is my favourite character in the Jak series, hands down, and I've been wanting to write sort of a biography for him, fill in all those missing spaces. I just hope I can do him justice.
Thank you for reading the first chapter. Constructive criticism is welcome and appreciated!