He felt Amelie shift next to him and grimaced. It wasn't like he hadn't enjoyed the whole event, but... he felt guilty. Guilty for doing what felt like taking advantage of a sweet girl. The date had been fun, for God's sake! He actually liked her!
And here he was, a betrayer tangled in her bedsheets, staring at her ceiling as the sun came up and cast the world in gray before returning color to the world and to human eyes. He had a duty to execute, and he didn't want to do it.
So what was a man to do?
What was a Fred Nelson to do?
As far as he could figure, there weren't a lot of possibilities. He needed access to the ArkLabs complex, and she had it. He could take her I.D. card, check himself past the ferry, and then shoot his way in. He could get her to take him in as a guest, but he guessed that would take a lot longer than just this one time. He could come clean to her and risk losing his one shot.
None of these were on a fast enough timetable. None of them guaranteed results. None of them ended well for either Fred or Amelie.
He puffed out his cheeks and blew out a breath in exasperation. He wanted a cigarette.
He didn't want one. Imagine that. Too nervous for one.
Amelie snuggled up to his side and he started formulating an exit plan.
First things first; I gotta find her card and my drive. Second, I need to get to the ferry terminal before she realizes it's missing. Third, gotta get into ArkLabs and get that risea seed sequenced.
He nodded to himself and slipped out of the bed.
That was, of course, when she woke up.
There it was again. That damned double happiness glyph.
Chen roared, but it came out like a moan. He swung out of his bed and gripped his face, wiping away sweat he had excreted in the night. He needed a bath, he needed to talk to Markus, he needed Qian back in his life-
He realized that he wasn't in his apartment.
So I hallucinated that glyph? Then where in the hell am I?
He looked around and coughed, clearing a great deal of rust dust from his face and his lungs. He was lying on the ground in the road, along with several other people. Many of them were in various states of undress and consciousness. That is, if it could be called consciousness.
Chen woke up when a sudden impact with the side of his head cleared his mind of whatever fog he was in.
"Get up, Guest. You got work to do. No, never mind; it's obvious you're too hammered to help with whatever the fuck it is you do," a gendarme spat, voice rich with contempt and malcontent.
Chen climbed to his feet unsteadily.
"Do you have any idea what happened last night?" he slurred, lurching toward the guard and grabbing his shoulders.
"No! And even if I did, I wouldn't tell you! You smell like a gallon of shit!"
Chen groaned as a jolt of pain shot through him with the realignment of his inner ear. He fell to his knees and retched into the dust, disgorging a jet of alcohol and acid from his throat. He was too tired for it to burn as it went up, but it still did. He continued to vomit until his stomach felt like somebody had rolled it up like a recalcitrant tube of toothpaste, getting every last cent I paid for this damn thing out.
He puked again and stood up, legs shaky and head throbbing.
There must have been alcohol.
Chen didn't react too well to alcohol.
He staggered down the road aimlessly until he found Markus, who was lying naked in the communal wash, the filter jammed by vomit and the water line cut off.
"Markus, you idiot," Chen gasped, "wake up!" He slapped Markus across the face and Markus gasped, then started coughing up water from the wash that he must have swallowed last night. He planted a knee, then levered himself up.
"Joey, where are my pants?"
"You lost them playing strip poker? How the hell am I supposed to know?"
Markus looked around, his face bright red in a splotchy parabola from his jawbone through his nose. Despite its obvious effects on him, Markus could hold his liquor. Chen had found that out the hard way when the Hollander destroyed him in a drinking match back in San Francisco. Markus had gone home in his own car, while Chen had woken up on Markus's couch, having shamed the Chinese people in their little competition among men.
Markus finally located his pants; they were thrown over one of the washboards near the pool at the center of the wash. His boxers were there too. He pulled both articles of clothing on and yawned.
"Well, that was a hell of a night," Markus remarked.
"Yeah. What happened?"
"I can't remember completely. I think it had to do with something down by GP2. Some guy broke into the Founder complex across the water. Kicked Security's ass. At least, that's what I remember from before I was drowned in saltshine."
"Saltshine? Aiya, that explains the hangover then," Chen replied. The Ark had a strict no-alcohol-for-Guests policy, but as men are wont to do when denied intoxicants, they began to brew their own, using salt water and fermenting sugar from their bread rations using yeast stolen from ArkFoods. It was a double whammy when it came to intoxication because not only was it alcoholic, it was based on salt water, which doubled its dehydrating power.
"Yeah. I don't get hammered that easily, but that stuff is… just... ugh." He made some vague hand motions to indicate his level of intoxication, but then abandoned all hope to communicate the liver-scourging, blood-thinning power of saltshine.
The two of them rejoined the streets, evidence of the bacchanal still strewn freely through the dust. ArkSec had come during the night, and was maintaining order while they handcuffed men and women suspected to be instigators or criminals and dragged them away.
"Oi! You two!" a gendarme shouted as they passed him.
"Yes?" Chen called.
"I've been told I needed to find you gents. Markus Flijcher and Joe Chen, right?" he asked, his thin brogue mangling the both delicate and rough pronunciation of Markus's surname.
"Yes…?" Chen said. Markus crossed his arms.
"Sirs, my name's Corporal MacLeod. ArkConstruction's requested your presence."
Chen narrowed his eyes and Markus shifted.
"Tell them it's a Sunday," Markus said, a tang of caution and confusion swirling through his words.
"It's not to do work, it's to get some. They've got a job for you."
Markus and Chen locked eyes, both confused. The Founders would probably have heard about the party, so they probably knew what would have happened to the both of them. So why do they want us now? was the unspoken question hanging in the air between the two men.
Markus looked over at MacLeod, smiled, and nodded. "Alright. Take us to your leader, then."
MacLeod led them past a Security checkpoint in the harbor and onto a transport boat, which roared to life and accelerated out into the open water.
ArkConstruction's central offices were on Alpha Pelgo, in the rotunda at the base of Founders' Tower. It was the most Guest-trafficked area on said pelgo, to the point where a dedicated port had been opened in an extension to the ArkCon building to allow for the large influx of Guests proposing improvements to their pelgos. There were several Guests waiting in the port, Chen observed, as the boat shot into the Alpha Pelgo harbor. As the boat pulled even with the mooring, Chen could see that the line went on for quite a ways, onward into the building and to a desk, where a receptionist was accepting architectural drafts and bills of materials and filing them away.
Chen and Markus skipped the line.
The corporal stepped off the boat, motioned for the two Guest builders to follow, and led them out past the line into the lobby, then to an elevator behind the Reception & Filing desk. Chen and Markus filed into the lift, MacLeod scanned his I.D. card on the panel, and it started up, smoothly accelerating out of its bay and delivering them to the… second, third, fourth, fifth floor of the building with little more than a whooshing noise.
The gleaming white doors slid open and the three men stepped out of the elevator.
They were standing in a boardroom, decorated in austere white Arkoral shot through with ribbons of teeth-freezing icy blue and some sort of laminated soft wood. The long curving table in the center was made of the same, with two annuli of Arkoral and plastic on the outer edge and the wood in the center. White ambient lights lit the room and scattered off the Arkoral, lending the room a soft glow all its own. A panoramic window faced toward Founders' Tower; the building was on a parallel curve to the rotunda, very nearly perpendicular to the narrow split down the kilometer-high Tower. An interior designer might have called the room perfect.
Chen and Markus had no time to appreciate it.
"Apologies for bringing you down here so early after your party last night, but we've got something that needs doing, and you're the only ones who we know can do it," a heavily built man in a black suit enunciated, his voice rich and deep, scattered sound waves eaten by the Arkoral. It was like standing right next to him, though he was at the far head of the table about twenty meters down the length of the room.
"Have a seat," said Suit, gesturing to the seats. A benevolent tone entered his voice.
Chen and Markus looked at each other. Markus was the first one to sit, lowering himself carefully as though the chair were rigged to explode if he were to sit down too hard. Chen followed Markus, sitting across from him in the chair adjacent the head at their end of the table.
"You men are the best foremen on the Guest Pelgos. The best foremen on the Ark, perhaps. Would you mind… helping us with a project?" He paused for a response. When none came, he continued.
"A scientist of ours recently discovered a way to accelerate Arkoral's life cycle to a level three times beyond that of its current growth rate. We are testing this new technology by building a new residential and farming pelgo. We want you men to supervise the construction process."
Chen and Markus looked away from the man's face and locked eyes for a moment, then returned to the speaker.
"You will be required to execute these plans-" the man pressed a button and a hologram flickered into being between the two Guests, directly over the table, "-in the minimum possible time. Allowing for fabrication time, variances in labor skill, and minor errors in construction, the project should take about a week.
"Any questions from either of you?"
Markus raised his hand.
"Yes?" asked the man.
"Will you be selecting a construction crew for us?"
"No. That will be your job. Food and water rations will be tripled for anyone on your workforce."
Chen and Markus shared another glance, then nodded, and Chen raised his voice.
The ArkSec powerboat was screaming across the surface of the water as it sped Devin, Gretchen, and Parson away from the Security forces, both 750-kilowatt, 1500 newton-metre engines exchanging hydrogen fuel for force and applying it to the water with huge turbines.
"Do you even have a plan beyond the whole 'bust me out of prison and steal a boat' thing?" Gretchen shouted to Parson as he worked the controls, the wind noise and redlined engines deafening.
"No, not really!" he shouted back.
Devin was hunched in a corner, occasionally looking up and over the thick titanium landing shield to see if they were being pursued.
It wasn't long before the ArkSec forces mobilized and a small flotilla of boats pulled into the powerboat's wake. Devin began to snap off pistol shots at them. Remarkably, he was able to land a few shots on the boats, the speed at which they were travelling causing the bullets to strike the attacking police boats as they closed the gap between Parson's boat and the iron fist of the law. Unfortunately, at this speed, on a boat, there was simply no way to hit the oncoming gendarme boats with a pistol. Devin eventually just stopped shooting.
"It's time to start making a plan!" Gretchen shouted at Parson.
"I have made one! HOLD ON TO SOMETHING!" he screamed at the top of his lungs, radically shifting direction. They were now headed straight at a canal cut into the rusting sides of a Guest pelgo.
They entered the narrow artificial river at high speed, spraying water all throughout the containers adjoining the canal.
"FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-" Devin and Parson roared as they careened down the narrowing strait. Gretchen just screamed. They were all cut off by the boat smashing into the side of a house in the Pelgo, disintegrating a dining table, throw rug, the bottom half of a refrigerator, and a small couch, and experiencing a near instantaneous onset of unconsciousness.
Parson awoke to the snapping, sputtering sound of gunfire and the body of a shotgun being stuck into his face.
"Can you use this shit?" a large, burly Asian man shouted into Parson's face, offering a hand and the aforementioned shotgun. He pronounced shit as sheet.
"Sure," he said, wrapping his left hand around the barrel/pump assembly and taking the man's hand with his right. He was bodily yanked up and left standing in the middle of the devastated room, a shotgun in his hand.
"There's some ammunition in the freezer," the Asian said, rushing over to the doorframe of the container. "Shoot for the blue motherfuckers." Again, he mispronounced his English profanities; motherfucker became madafacka. Parson chuckled inwardly and opened the fallen freezer, reaching behind a large box of frozen meals and finding about thirty-six extra shotgun shells. He slipped six into rings on the side of the stock and the rest into his cargos' zip-up pockets.
"You seen a little girl or a teenage boy around here?"
"Yeah. They took 'em to the hospital. The girl was roughed up. Madafackas looking for them."
The 'blue madafackas' arrived quickly; they were ArkSec troops, carrying submachine guns and wearing full body armor. The Asian man released the bolt on his M4A2 carbine, raised it, and began shooting at them as they passed.
"There's a hole in the ceiling cut up into a bridge! Take it, head across, and engage them from the other side!" the man with the assault rifle shouted over the deafening racket of gunfire exchanges. Parson nodded and scanned the ceiling. There was a square hole positioned over where the fridge had been before the powerboat smashed into the house and cut it in half. Parson leapt up, grabbed the edge of the hole, and hoisted himself up.
He was inside a series of welded-together containers about forty-five metres long. It wasn't a long run to the other side, where he found a loaded bolt-action sniper rifle, five extra magazines for it stored in a small backpack, and a wide, narrow window. Parson hefted the rifle, set the bipod on a narrow ledge welded in beneath the window, and slammed the bolt forward, locking it down in one smooth motion. He put his eye to the scope and tuned it to triple magnification. Then, he waited.
It wasn't long before an ArkSec officer rushed through his sights. Parson lined up his sights on the man's back, around where his sternum would have been, and pulled the trigger. The gun gave a sudden, heaving kick, the barrel rose about a hand's-width, and when he re-centered the gun, the man he had fired at was strewn across the ground, his legs draped over a concrete barrier at an impossible angle. Parson set his jaw and yanked the bolt back, emptying the chamber, springing a new round up from the magazine into the bolt, and charging the hammer.
It wasn't long before another one rushed into his sights, so he slammed the bolt forward, locked it down, and pulled the trigger. The gun jerked and the man dropped.
He continued to snipe at the Security forces for some time, until the assault rifle exchanges beneath him ceased.
"…the hell?" he whispered to the new silence. Gunfire still continued in the background, but the street was almost completely silent.
Parson's question was answered in rather short order when a gendarme wearing a gray baseball cap poked his head up through the hatch at the other end of the container skybridge. Without thinking, Parson raised, shouldered, charged, and fired the sniper at him. The unfortunate point man's head exploded as a 7.62x51mm round blasted through his forehead.
It was now shotgun time.
Parson swung the backpack on, secured the rifle over it, and grabbed his shotgun as a second man clambered up into the container. He snarled at Parson as he heaved up, up up-
The shotgun heaved in his hands as he depressed the trigger, emitting fire, sparks, supersonic pellets of lead, and a noise like an unbelievably loud and percussive throat-clearing. The man fell from the square aperture and made a thudding noise as he hit the ground.
They continued to flood up through the narrow entrance, raising submachine guns only for Parson to cut them down with more sprays of lethality from his shotgun. At one point a man made it up into the skybridge, but Parson simply stopped reloading, pumped the shotgun, and pumped his chest with death.
Eventually, the furious onslaught on the little chokepoint stopped; they had run out of people to kill Parson with. He confirmed this by swinging back down into the house.
The Asian man was dead. He was lying in a pool of his own blood, covered in the bodies of men in bulletproof armor whose lives he and Parson had ended. Parson took his carbine, threw it over his back and strapped it on, then took his leave.
The street was muddy with iron oxide and blood; it caked to Parson's trainers and turned his pants' legs red-orange as he ran towards the sound of gunfire. There were, intermittently, bodies strewn across the winding street; some were in a state of half-slide into the parallel canal, having been shot from narrow crenellations in the windows across the street, and Parson could see the shooters scanning the street with automatic rifles and snipers. They were, thankfully, not targeting him. The Security forces were easy to distinguish from the Guests by their dress, being blue, generally tidier, and better equipped.
It was maybe half a kilometre before he came upon a Guest-operated gate at a narrow choke-point in the street; Guests were firing down into a force of Security officers armed with high-explosive charges as they frantically tried to apply them to the gate and blow it open. An adjoining street flooded more gendarmes onto the apron in front of the gate.
"Shit," Parson whispered. He began to back away from the overwhelming melee ahead; there had to be a way up into the gate!
Suddenly a thin gendarme carrying recon gear and a pistol came tearing across his field of view; he was racing for a sealed storehouse doorway in the street. Parson swung around behind a wall and peeked out to watch the man. He applied a series of electronic devices to the door, plugged them together, and began operating a program on some sort of tablet computer. Eventually, the door unlocked and he ran in. Parson followed him into the storehouse and out into some alleys along another canal, covered high above the street by layers of tarps and corrugated steel.
The agent kept running through a series of dark, narrow doorways and passages, pistol at low ready. Parson followed as quickly as he could until suddenly the man disappeared.
And suddenly around the corner he came, pistol raised, snarling like a wolf.
"FUCK!" Parson shouted and he pumped the shotgun and pulled the trigger and the gendarme's head turned into a mass of splintered bone and vaporized brain tissue, some of which splattered against and stained Parson's shirt deeply. The corpse toppled to the ground bonelessly, and Parson gingerly stepped over it.
He continued through the darkened passages between the houses, carefully checking his corners with his shotgun before entering the next alleyway, once again following the sound of gunfire. It wasn't long before he reached his destination; the alleys adjoined the gatehouse. He watched Guests rapidly organizing behind the gate, raising weapons, reloading, setting up automated defenses.
A Guest slowed from a run to a stop in front of Parson. "Who're you?" he asked.
"Err… Gregory Parson?" Parson shrugged. "What's it to you?"
"You ArkSec? You don't look it…"
"Good. You willing to help us out? The ArkSec bastards are coming after the two escapees from the Orphanage; damned if we're gonna let them get the kids. You're packing some serious heat. Got anything else up your sleeve? Hacking? Engineering?"
"Yeah. I'm a mechanical engineer. Or, well, I was before I came here."
"High-tail it back there." The Guest gestured back behind the front lines. "They're setting up a last line of defense before they reach the Rue d'Hospital. That's where the kids are staying. They get to the Rue and it's a clear shot to the hospital and they'll be taking the kids to prison for dissent if we don't stop them there."
"Aren't you guys holding them at the gate?"
"Well, then, let's stop the blue bastards."
"That's the spirit."
Parson shouldered the M4 he had taken from the dead man down the road and released the bolt. "I get the feeling it's gonna be a long day."
"Oh, trust me, it is. Now that things have come to a head they're never gonna go back down."
"You fucking bastard!" Amelie shouted, slapping Fred across the face. "You think you can just leave? Ask me out and then take me to bed and then fucking leave?" Her face was burning with anger; her body was rigid, muscles in her neck standing out like steel cables and fists tensed into balls; her mind was on fire with rage and betrayal.
"Amelie, it's not that!" Fred fired back, standing in his shirt and Amelie's living room. "Hell, if I'd have known you were going to wake up I would never have even tried! It was a long shot!"
"What was a long shot?" Amelie shouted. "That you'd get laid? Cause it worked out fine in the end!"
"The whole plan I concocted! I need… Goddamn it, I need to do something that only you could do!"
"Then why didn't you ask me before we had sex?"
"BECAUSE I DIDN'T HAVE TIME!" Fred roared. "You have no idea what the hell I am trying to accomplish!"
"WELL, WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH?"
"SAVING THE ARK!"
The room fell silent and Amelie stared at Fred. "Wow. I'm so impressed. I got used by an altruist, how sweet," she finally said.
"Like I said, you have no idea what I'm trying to do." Fred reached for his jeans, but Amelie beat him to them, grabbing them and holding them out of the window over the water.
"You want to actually go out like nothing happened, you're gonna give me an explanation. Now."
Fred took in a deep breath and exhaled in an explosive sigh. "Alright. Alright, sure.
"You remember the Flood, right?"
"…yeah? What's that got to do with this?"
"I used to work as a molecular biologist and genetic engineer in Washington before it. I had been working on a plant called risea. It was supposed to be capable of growth in salt water. I have the full genetic code of the plant on a CD. I needed to sequence a seed."
"Then why didn't you just ask? I could have done it for you! It would have been perfectly fine!"
"Well, why won't you now?"
"I never said I wouldn't! And you never answered my question!" Amelie cried.
"Because I thought it wouldn't work!"
The room fell into a deathly silence. Amelie stared at Fred. Fred stared at Amelie. They stared at each other some more.
Then Amelie grabbed him by the wrist, pulled him into her bedroom, and slammed the door behind the two.
A/N: I'm ba-aaaack! Two chapters posted. The story's at about half to 66% done right now.
fred and amelie, sittin' in amelie's bed...